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The Anglo-Boer War
24 minutes | Jun 14, 2020
Episode 143 - Characters of the war an omnibus final edition with a great deal of Smuts
Thanks to those who’ve sent messages of support in the last few weeks – the level of interaction has been remarkable from all my listeners around the world. For some we started this journey together in September 2017 and here we are almost 36 months later and the Three Years War has ended. This podcast was always designed to track the war week by week and it’s now time to bid adieu. So yes, it’s an emotional time for this has been an intense three years and I’d like to thank Jon who listened to the series with his father who passed away during our series. Jon, thanks for sending me notes through this time. To Samuel who has donated so much to this podcast series and Thomas who’s constantly spoken to me over the past two years and also helped fund the Soundcloud account – thank you two in particular. Gustav – thanks for brightening up my day with some of your observations and unusual comments. To Andrew and Martin of History by Hollywood, thank you for sharing your time with me and for your professional help. To Sean the real professional historian who is also known as the Historian who sees the future and who has taken the time to make contact – thank you. To Susan from Canada who suggested I talk about two veterans of the Anglo-Boer war who went on to great things during the First World War. One is Lieutenant Edward Morrison who I mentioned in episodes dealing with the Eastern Transvaal, and the second is John McCrae. He wrote a poem called “In Flanders Field” which features the poppies and is now the reason why people wear poppies for remembrance when it comes to the First World War. Another direct link between this little African fracas and the utter disaster of the Western Front. As we know, the link between the Boer War and the First World War is inescapable. It was 12 years later which sounds a long time, until you get a little older like me then a dozen years is really a short hop in time. To Michael who has listened to the whole series – and told me this week he’s gone back to Episode 1 to start again. If that’s not a vote of confidence then nothing is – Michael I reckon you’ll need a medal for bravery. Ryan, who’s shared such detail I have stored for a day when our Covid lockdown lifestyle comes to an end – I’ll be making that trip to Lindley in the Free State and a few wee draughts of Brandewyn and coke.
23 minutes | Jun 7, 2020
Episode 142 - The winners and the losers – counting the cost
This week we count the costs of the war and follow some of those involved as they begin the long process of recovery. First, the cost. There is still debate about some of the statistics as there always is after a war. However the general consensus is that more than 100,000 men, women and children died between 1899 and 1902. At first glance it appears to be insignificant compared to – The Somme, for example during the first world war, where on one day 40 000 British casualties were recorded – or Stalingrad where 44 000 civilians were killed in an air raid on one day in September 1942. What you have to remember is that the total population of South Africa in 1899 was around 4 million. Britain lost 22 000 - 5 774 killed by enemy action, the rest died of disease. The Boers lost around 14 000 men killed. More than two thousand of these were foreigners, Italians, Americans, Dutch, German, French, Swede, Norwegian, Russian who were fighting against the British. However it was the non-combatants who dominated the death roll with at least 26 000 Boer women and children estimated to have died. Some say this figure is closer to 30 000. Then the total number of black South Africans who died in the Concentration camps and in war-related conditions topped 30 000 although the latest research suggests more like 36 000. In the case of the Boers, the number of women and children who died in Concentration Camps amounted to almost 10 percent of the population of the Republic of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. These deaths are particularly bitter in the memories even to this day. tale of the father who comes home from St Helena seeking his wife and children in Bloemfontein only to be told that all died in the concentration camps. The British servicemen returning home by the end of the war are treated as heroes, but there were many in Britain who questioned the civilian deaths and the veterans were very sensitive about criticism – which veterans always are. Awaiting many of these men is the horror of trench warfare as they became part of the British Expeditionary Force or BEF in Flanders and France fighting and dying in the Great War of 1914-18. The Uitlanders in South Africa were incredulous at the terms of peace. The Boers would pay no reparations, in fact, it was the British who would fund rebuilding of the country to the tune of 3 million pounds. They supported Lord Milner’s view that Boers should be crushed and a whole new population be brought in to run the country.
21 minutes | May 31, 2020
Episode 141 - Peace!
Episode 141 is where the British and the Boers finally sign a peace treaty, but there’s quite a bit to cover as we go about watching the days between 19th and 31st May 1902. Remember how the representatives from both sides, Botha, Smuts, Hertzog, De Wet, Burger and De la Rey for the Boers, Milner and Kitchener for the British, had decided to try and write a treaty together rather than separately through a commission. Nowadays commissions seem to drag on for years – while the original concept of a commission was premised on the threat of a lack of quick action. There is no doubt that we have lost the ability in the modern world to think rapidly. Commissions in the 21st Century are proficient at wasting time pandering to expensive lawyers representing a thicket of politicians rather than a direct pursuit of an objective legal conclusion. Back in Lord Kitchener’s office in Pretoria in the week between 21st and 28th May 1902 the Boers were now aware that there was no way the British would ever agree to any sort of independence, and the British were aware that the Boers wanted to find an honourable way out of this war. Judge Hertzog put it in a nutshell when he said “I think that I am expressing the opinion of the whole Commission when I say that we wish for peace… we on both sides are really desirous of coming to a settlement…” This group of men then selected a sub-committee composed of Judge Hertzog and General Smuts along with Lord Kitchener and lawyer Sir Richard Solomon that drew up a schedule that included rules for those who refused to sign an oath to become citizens under the rule of his Majesty King Edward the Seventh. Before discussing that document Smuts asked “If we were to sign this document would not the outcome be that we leaders made ourselves responsible for the laying down of arms by our burghers?” To which the imperial hawk Lord Milner replied “Yes. And should your men not lay down their arms it would be a great misfortune.” And so they continued, debating each point but inevitably building trust and mutual respect. Nothing improves a relationship more than a desire to find an outcome rather than stating a position. The first draft had already been telegraphed to the British government on 21st May. Privately Lord Milner followed it up with a confidential note to Chamberlain saying he would have no regrets if the British Cabinet rejected or radically amended the proposals
23 minutes | May 24, 2020
Episode 140 - General Cronje demands a St Helena mounted guard & Peace Talks back on in Pretoria
The first large group of Boer prisoners were taken by the British at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October 1899. The army had failed to plan for prisoners because the idea was the Boers would be beaten in a few weeks so why spend money on POW camps? The first 188 Boers taken at Elandslaagte were temporarily housed with the naval guard in Simonstown on board the guard ship HMS Penelope. Several other ships were used as floating prisons until eventually permanent camps were established at Green Point, Cape Town, Bellevue and Simonstown. At the end of December 1900 more than 2500 Boers were placed on board the Kildonan Castle guardship where they remained for six weeks before they were removed to two other transports at Simonstown. The English army base at Ladysmith in Natal was used between December 1900 and January 1902 but was merely a staging area. Another staging area was established at Umbilo south of Durban in Natal where POWs would be placed on board ships and then routed to Cape Town. But it soon became clear that the Cape prisoner of war camps were targets for attacks and the British then shifted the burghers offshore. There were four main regions used to house Boer POWs, St Helena, Ceylon or modern day Sri Lanka, Bermuda and India. As you’ll hear in a moment, a few hundred were also taken to Portugal. During the war, the British captured around 56 000 Boer prisoners and eventually ran out of space in host countries. India was only used as a last resort after the other three main camps became overcrowded. Of course, the most feared of all these was the camp in St Helena, but by the end of the war disease was more rampant in the other regions – mainly because of the climate. St Helena has a fairly benign climate, its much cooler than Bermuda, Ceylon and India. One of the first contingents of Boers to arrive in St Helena included general Piet Cronje who was captured along with thousands of his men after the battle of Paardeberg in February 1900. Cronje and 514 his commando arrived on the island in the middle of the Atlantic after disembarking from the troopship Milwaukee on 27th February that year. Cronje had surrendered to Lord Roberts after being caught in the battle which shook the Free State Boers as Cronje was cornered with a powerful commando. Illustrating his arrival on the island of St Helena, Punch Magazine published a cartoon of the general saluting the ghost of Napoleon and saying “Same enemy, Same result..” Prior to the Boers arrival, the governor of St Helena RA Sterndale had published a proclamation which read : “.. His Excellency expresses the hope that the population will treat the prisoners of war with that courtesy and consideration which should be extended to all men who have fought bravely for what they considered the cause and their country” So as General Cronje prepared to make that winding march up the hill from the tiny port of Jamestown at St Helena, his men fully expected to be subjected to humiliation. Instead, there was silence, no jeering nor rude remarks, as the Boers passed the crowds of islanders on their way to Deadwood Camp inland. Being escorted along with Cronje was his wife, whom Lord Roberts had allowed to accompany her husband. The Boer general and his wife were accommodated at Kent Cottage, not in Deadwood Camp itself and were surrounded by a strong military guard which changed every day. Of course, Cronje was a general and for once, it was the Boers demanding special attention. Whereas the culture was supposedly based on a democratic principle of equality, Piet Cronje insisted that proper respect be shown to his rank and that a mounted guard should be provided.
23 minutes | May 17, 2020
Episode 139 - Emotions run high in Vereeniging as the Boers discuss English Peace terms
Episode 139 is full of peace and a smattering of love as the Boers gather in Vereeniging to discuss the British terms of surrender. As you can well imagine, the moment is bitter sweet. Men who have not seen their children for years are reunited on May 15th, while further afield, in the prisoner-of-war camps, the news is greeted with both joy and sorrow. So here we are, in Vereeniging on May 15th 1902. It’s a settlement our narrator Deneys Reitz passed on his way back from the Natal front “This is a small mining village on the banks of the Vaal River, where nearly two years before, I had watched the Irishmen burning the railway stores during the retreat from the south” he writes. Remember he’s riding with Jan Smuts and the other representatives chosen by Boers in the Eastern Transvaal. There will be representatives from the Free State who will be housed in an array of British army tents along with the Transvaal emissaries, each region with its own section. The British had prepared this tented camp with precision. It was laid out in a square, with the delegates meeting in a large central marquees, mess tent on one side, toilets were long drops as they’re known in South Africa – pit latrines. But where was the stern General Christiaan de Wet ? Also missing were a handful of the Free State Delegates. Eventually on the morning of the 15th May, the day of the meeting, de Wet and a few hardliners arrived – fashionably late. The other senior political and military leadership were already in Vereeniging, along with Commandant General Louis Botha and de la Rey, Vice President Burgher of the Transvaal, members of the two government and of course, Jan Smuts. Reitz senior was also present, with JB Krogh, LJ Meijer, LJ Jacobs. Each Boer Republic was represented by 30 delegates. For the Free State Judge Hertzog was present, along with Secretary of State WJB Brebner, commander in chief de Wet and CH Olivier. Missing was his the man who’d survived so many incidents and battles on the veld – President Steyn.
21 minutes | May 10, 2020
Episode 138 - The Zulu massacre Boers at Holkrantz on the eve of the Vereeniging Conference
We’re up to episode 138 and it’s a week to go before the all-important Boer Conference in Vereeniging starting May 15th 1902. Lord Kitchener has ordered his men in all intents and purposes to stop chasing the Boers, stop the burning of farms and to wait for the Boers conference. We have heard how Jan Smuts and Louis Botha met in the Eastern Transvaal, chose their representatives and now were making their way to the South Eastern border down on the banks of the Vaal River. That was on the 4th May 1902. The western Transvaal Boers were doing the same, selecting 30 representatives who would debate the future of their people, so too were Free State’s president Steyn and diehard General Christiaan de Wet – except for the outcome. They wanted the Boer conference to reject surrender and to push on to oblivion. Which is what awaited the hawks I’m afraid. Lord Milner the British High Commissioner also wanted the Boers to fight until they were totally crushed so that he could flood South Africa with English loyalists. In military terms, you know you’re in trouble when your most hated adversary thinks your strategy should be to fight to an inevitable death. That’s what the loyalists through South African wanted, the English speaking hard-core British iumperialists. Yes, they were shouting, keep it up Mr Boer until your terms of surrender at unconditional then you’ll be all but extinct and we can just take over everything you’ve built. The most vocal jingos of the day were actually despised the professional British officer corps in South Africa. The war needed to end so that they could get on with their careers. Winston Churchill was one of those who found what were known as loyalists as deeply concerning. He’d survived a Boer prisoner of war camp and many close calls and respected his former captors, there was very little rancor. While the Boers and the British were framing their views and devising their negotiation strategies, an incident in Natal on May 6th was to sharpen everybody’s minds. Some historians have suggested that what became known as the Holkrantz incident gave further impetus to the Peace Process and strengthened the hand of the moderate Boers like Smuts and Botha who wanted to end the war immediately. Steyn and de Wet on the other hand took the opposing view – fight on was their rallying call. Watching all of this closely was black South Africa. The massacre at Holkrantz shocked most Boers into accepting that the longer this war continued and the more unlawful the landscape would become.
19 minutes | May 3, 2020
Episode 137 -Smuts meets a ragged Louis Botha and a Boer spy loses her mind momentarily
First we join General Jan Smuts who has been waiting in Cape Town for the British to lay on a a train to take him inland where he will join the Boer political and military leaders at Vereeniging for a conference starting on May 15th. They gathered in order to discuss the British terms of surrender. Smuts was mostly silent while he waited with his brother in law Krige and Deneys Reitz our narrator. They were placed aboard the warship HMS Monarch in Simonstown. Just to set the record straight, I said last week this was an Orion class battleship but of course it was just a normal warship as her namesake was only launched in 1910. My apologies, but a quick description about both is in order. The Monarch was placed as Guardship in Simonstown port in 1900. This was one of the older vessels in Britain’s navy having been launched in 1868. It was also a symbolic vessel for Smuts, Reitz and Krige to find themselves. The design has been neither modern nor old. Built in the 1860s when sail was giving way to steam, wooden hulls were being replaced by iron, smoothbore artillery firing round-shot had been overtaken by rifled shell-firing cannon, heavy armour was being mounted on the sides. Mounted gun turrets were being mooted by the Navy top brass as well, but others more conservative opposed the upgrade. So she was a compromise and therefore pleased no-one. When it was built the Navy said steam engines were still not reliable enough so HMS Monarch was fitted with both engine, sails and even a forecastle. That prohibited the gun turrets from being able to fire forward – so in all intents and purposes she remained a man-o-war like the old wooden battleships of the 18th Century. After her renaming in 1902 as the HMS Simoon, the Royal Navy launched its new Orion Class dreadnoughts and the more modern HMS Monarch appeared in 1910. AS an aside, Monarch fought in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 and her shells damaged the German Dreadnought, SMS Koenig. Back in Simonstown Deneys Reitz, his general and the General’s brother in law waited for their train. They were hurried through the suburbs of Cape Town in the dead of night so that no-one would catch sight of the famous General Smuts, then switched trains at the main line at Salt River. The next day they awoke in Matjesfontein in the Karoo. It’s also time to rejoin Boer Spy Johanna van Warmelo one more time. She asked and was given permission to visit Irene concentration Camp outside Pretoria. If you remember she had worked there as a nurse months before, when women and children were dying at a rate of up to a dozen a day. At the end of April 1902 Johanna was finally allowed to visit Irene and dreaded what was awaiting her there.
18 minutes | Apr 26, 2020
Episode 136 - Deneys Reitz receives a record promotion and General Smuts takes a cruise to Cape Town
We’re back in the Northern Cape with General Jan Smuts. He’s been waiting in vain for more than two weeks for the British to send a relief force after he laid siege to the well defended town of O’Kiep having already seized Springbok and Concordia. Meanwhile, the first round of peace talks have already ended in Pretoria with the Boers undertaking to select representatives to appear at follow up talks set to take place at Vereeniging starting on May 15th 1902. Smuts has no idea that this meeting has already been agreed. As far as he’s concerned, the British will send a relief column by ship from Cape Town to Port Nolloth, and entrain from there to O’Kiep – which is a copper producing town of some significance. Compared to Kimberley and Johannesburg, hardly strategic, but important nonetheless. And with him is our young narrator Deneys Reitz, fighting on with the other bitter enders. “On the surface things looked prosperous..” he writes in his book Commando. “Five months ago we had come into this western country hunted like outlaws, and today we practically held the whole area from the Olifants to the Orange River four hundred miles away…” Except of course for a few garrison towns which had held out against Smuts. These were now hunkered down and the British inside the towns were unable to travel freely while the Boers roamed this vast territory at will. The success of Smuts’ commando were gratifying for the Volk back home in the Free State and Transvaal, as well as sympathisers in the Cape. Their spirits had been raised as reports circulated about General Smuts’ incredible attacks using hand grenades and trench type warfare at Springbok and Concordia. “Unfortunately while matters stood thus well with us, the situation in the two Republics up north was far otherwise..” Lord Kitchener’s drives and policy of scorched earth had worked in the end. Smuts had been out of touch from his own leaders since the previous September. That was almost nine months of no direct messages. Even guerrilla leaders must be in communication at some point or the entire idea of command and control evaporates in a mist of local delusion. “We had been out of touch with them for so long that we did not realise the desperate straits to which they had come..” Reitz along with Smuts had been trying to motivate the men while at the same time, realised that this war could not continue in the same vein. Something had to give. So towards the end of April, Smuts and his men were living in the town of Concordia which lies around four miles from O’Kiep. The British there were dug in and their defensive positions were too difficult to overrun. Smuts had assumed that eventually the relief force would arrive, and it would be large. This he believed, would mean the southern region of the Cape would have been weakened and then he could make a direct dash south and perhaps catch the British off-guard. Reitz presumed the dash included a possible attack on the outskirts of Cape Town.
19 minutes | Apr 19, 2020
Episode 135 - General de la Rey’s Mom turns 84 & the commandos run out of pap and vleis
While the Boer political and military leadership were huddled around a table in Lord Kitchener’s office, far off in the Northern Cape General Smuts and his commando had defeated the British at three small towns through the months of March and April 1902. We’ve heard about the assaults on Springbok, Calvinia and O’Kiep. Smuts was waiting patiently for the British to send their expected relief expedition via the Atlantic town of Port Nolloth to relieve O’Kiep. Smuts wanted to then head directly to Cape Town to catch the British unprepared. It was audacious but typically Smuts. He was not aware that he had literally missed the train to Pretoria and that Peace Talks were underway. He had ordered van Deventer and his commando to head twenty miles west and to monitor the main railway line from Port Nolloth to O’Kiep which was an important copper mining area. But 760 miles to the north East in Kitchener’s office, there was a slow change to the overall tenure of the discussions. Remember how the Boers had left the topic of the Boer Republics independence off their list of demands, in their view, this was non-negotiable. On the other hand, the British had expected the Boers to return to the negotiating table with the understanding that independence was impossible. Things became extremely complicated when Lord Milner joined Kitchener two days after talks began on 13th April – because Milner wanted unconditional surrender and he didn’t mind a few more months of war to subjugate the Boers completely. That was not the view of Kitchener and is aide – Ian Hamilton. At the same time the British standpoint was unequivocal, there would be no reversal of the annexation of the Republic of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Everything else however was open to discussion. President Steyn of the Free State was particularly stern in his opposition to the British position of fait accompli and in discussions with Acting President Burgher and General Louis Botha of the Transvaal, he managed to convince them of a last line of defence. The overall policy dominating Boer politics was the concept of a democratic decision taken by the people – they needed to poll the Volk for their point of view. Under the Boer constitution, argued Steyn, neither of the Boer government’s was empowered to authorise surrender without permission.
20 minutes | Apr 12, 2020
Episode 134 - Commandant Potgieter’s charge at the last battle of the Boer War, as Peace Talks begin
This is episode 134 and its April 1902. The Boer military and political leadership has been permitted by the British to travel to Pretoria by train and will meet with Lord Kitchener to talk peace. All the fighting of the previous two years and 6 months have led both sides to this moment. And yet, there is one more major bloody battle left which is difficult to fathom – other than to say the Boers launched a cavalry charge that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Napoleonic era. It was a hugely courageous attack led by Commandant Potgieter and General Kemp on the 11th April that both surprised and was admired by the English troops who watched. Viewing the details of the Battle of Roodewal now you can understand Kemp and Potgieters’ act as a brave yet suicidal final salvo from a pugnatous people. Roodewal means Red Valley and the valley surrounded by gentle slopes would be spattered with blood by the end of the day. It could have been worse, as we’ll see, with Ian Hamilton doing a General Buller and hesitating when his foe was clearly defeated and the Mounted Infantry’s woeful shooting. Roodewal is two hundred miles west of Pretoria and the very day that General de la Rey with Botha and De Wet steamed into the Transvaal Capital, his men were receiving a terrible hiding. The success was not so much the credit of Ian Hamilton, as to the officers and men of the thirteen columns who had finally caught up with a large Boer commando. It was perspiration, inspiration and sheer luck that caused the enemy to make a bad decision. Afterwards Hamilton and Kekewich called it a real soldiers’ battle, fought out on the kind of terms that British Generals had despaired of every seeing again in their lifetime. As Thomas Packenham calls it, the final reassuring echo from the 19th Century. The British troops had been frustrated for 30 months as they marched up and down the veld, hunting the Boers who were like ghosts. The terrain didn’t help. IT was half wilderness, these plains to the West of Johannesburg and Pretoria. A huge diamond shaped box enclosed by the lines between Lichtenburg, Klerksdorp, Vryburg and the Vaal River – two hundred miles of rolling sandy plains intersected by shallow meandering river valleys. They were mostly dry except in the rainy season. The news of this momentous battle reached Pretoria. It was the 12th April and the peace talks were about to start. As I explained last week, Kitchener had purposefully left Lord Milner out of the first round of negotiations because he wanted some kind of wriggle room – knowing of course that Milner was hoping to have complete control over South Africa in the future without interference from the troublesome Boers. President Burger of the Transvaal was gloomy as he sat down with Kitchener, remaining mostly silent after the Boers handed over their proposal to the British Army commanding officer. Kitchener was taken aback by the affrontery of the Boer demands. He expected them to address the elephant in the room – that is the continued independence of Boer Republics which was no longer viable.
20 minutes | Apr 5, 2020
Episode 133 - Cecil John Rhodes dies and the Boers agree to Peace Talks
As we heard last week, the Netherlands government had decided by January 1902 that the South Africa war was no longer viable for the Boers. Even the latest successes in March where General De la Rey and Jan Smuts had been victorious in battles in the western Transvaal and Northern Cape respectively had failed to really convince their closest ally in Europe that they were likely to defeat the British. The successes by Smuts around Okiep were more good news but all of these skirmishes were in the non-strategic parts of South Africa. The Boers could do nothing now about the increased production on the mines for one, which began producing gold and other commodities. While much of the country was still denuded, burnt, destroyed, the main cities were functioning and things were slowly returning to a version of normal. There were around 6000 gold mine stamps in South Africa at the start of the war. These are machines that crush rock, before the all-important metal within is extracted. Whether it is copper, gold, silver or any other precious mineral inside a rock, the mine stamp was used to pulverise the material, from where the ore would be removed. Most were steam or water driven and the vast majority had been mothballed at the start of the war as miners fled Johannesburg. But by January 1902 at least 1 075 of these mine stamps were functioning in the Transvaal. Gold output was surging. From a lowly 7 400 ounces in May 1901 to a much more productive 70 000 ounces in January 1902. The financiers were happier, the British Empire was getting some of its money back, things were looking up. February production climbed still further, to 81 000 ounces, and by March 1 700 mine stamps were online and 104 000 ounces of gold found its way onto the trains south to South Africa’s ports. That was still some way off the 300 000 ounces the mines were pumping out before the start of the Boer war, but you can imagine how each ounce was putting the bounce back in the bankers’ steps as they read weekly updates in their smoking rooms in London. Lord Kitchener had accepted a request by the Boers for their generals and political leadership to meet to discuss possible terms after he reached out to President Burgher of the Transvaal. In England, Rudyard Kipling was churning out his poems and stories and he wrote at this time that “Not by lust of peace or show, Not by peace herself betrayed, Peace herself must they forego, Til that peace be fitly made…” Like Milner, Kipling believed the Boers must be made to come to the peace table with cap in hand – not as equals but as a vanquished people. Meanwhile, that icon of empire, Cecil John Rhodes had died at the age of 48. The sudden announcement on March 26th 1902 was a shock to many, although the man who gave his name to an entire country was not exactly loved. Remember how he had bullied and mentally tortured the poor Kekewitch, commander of the British forces in Kimberley during the siege? His stint in Cape politics had also been a disaster. And he was arrested in September 1901 in an extremely unsavoury fraud case involving a promiscuous Russian princess. I don’t have the space to cover that here, but if you’re interested go Google princess Radziwill. She was one of a kind.
18 minutes | Mar 29, 2020
Episode 132 -The Canadians last stand at Boschbult aka Harts River & the Hague suggests peace
There are a few more skirmishes and one more big battle after this period with its frustrations for the British and determination by the Boer die-hards or Bitter einders to continue their war against an empire at its zenith. We will hear about General Christiaan de Wet and Lord Kitchener who are closer physically than at virtually any other time in the war. Kitchener arrived in the Transvaal town of Klerksdorp on the 26th March, de Wet has evaded Kitchener’s columns and blockhouses in the the Free State and is about to cross over the Vaal River to join General Koos de la Rey. More about that in a while. What these soldiers don’t know is that there have been peace moves afoot internationally for some time. The Dutch Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper, had sent a coded message to Lord Landsdowne, the British Foreign Secretary, on January 21st 1902. As was the case in those days, the language used was French - the language of diplomacy. And in his forthright way, The Hague was offering “en traite de paix” – a peace treaty between the British and Boers. The Dutch went one step further. They had already worked out a scenario. First the three members of the Boer Delegation which we heard about last year were still in the Netherlands. They would return to South Africa to confer with Boer leaders then return with an authorisation to conduct peace talks somewhere in the Netherlands. On the 29th January, Lord Landsdowne replied bluntly that the British government appreciated the humanitarian considerations that inspired the offer, but on principle declined the intervention of foreign powers in the South African war. Leyds, who was Paul Kruger’s secretary in Holland, heard about Kuypers offer through the newspapers and was not amused. Why had the Dutch Prime Minister not bothered to confer with him or Kruger? What also angered the Boer emissaries in Europe was the tone adopted by the Netherlands missive. The letter which failed to call on the British to end an imperialist war nor did it mention the abuses being suffered by Boer women and children in the internment camps. The Dutch message implicitly urged the Boers to give up a hopeless cause. Worse, that response came at about the same time another arrived from America which was negative. President Roosevelt told the Boers that his predecessor, McKinley, had offered his services as a mediator and had been turned down flatly by the British. So Roosevelt said any attempt at intervention would be folly.
19 minutes | Mar 22, 2020
Episode 131 -The Boers blow up a blockhouse & Lord Kitchener steams into Klerksdorp
General Jan Smuts and his commando have seized the small town of Springbok in the far northern Cape. As we heard last week, the town fell after a few hours of fighting and the surrender of the three forts that dominated its defences. After the town was taken, our narrator Deneys Reitz had fallen into a deep sleep have had no rest for three full days and nights. Reitz slept for 24 hours – and when he awoke it was to a surprise. “I found my friend Nicolas Swart sitting on the bed beside me. He was almost recovered from his wounds, and had just arrived from the south.” An extraordinary man, this Nicolas Swart. He’d been shot through the hip while leaning over and the bullet had passed through his body ending exiting through his chest. Reitz believed he was probably not going to survive. And that was only a few weeks after Swart had been shot in the arm, shattering the ulna. Yet here he was, less than a month after appearing near death. Meanwhile, in Pretoria, Lord Kitchener was tearing at his characteristic moustache. Remember how he had collapsed upon hearing about Lord Methuen’s defeat at the hands of General Koos de La Rey. How were the British to capture this large and well-fed marauder? He had escaped certain capture to turn on his pursuers three times in the last six months. First at Moedwil on 30 September 1901 when he had mauled part of Kekewitch column, then at Yzer Spruit on 24 February 1902 when he had devoured most of von Donops wagon convoy protected by a large force of 700 men. He’d seized 150 wagons of food and ammunition there. Then at Tweebosch, he had swallowed Lord Methuen whole. The British now regarded de la Rey as their biggest problem – far more deadly than both General Smuts and Christiaan de Wet. AS well as looting British bully beef and .303 ammunition, he had also looted six field guns, and machine guns. De la Rey’s men were now at the peak of their military power and of course the British were sending half trained yeomen into battle.
23 minutes | Mar 15, 2020
Episode 130 - Sniping and hand grenades in Springbok
After the blood and guts we heard about last week, there is more of the same this time in the Northern Cape where General Smuts and his commando are sowing a certain degree of angst as he took control of large areas of the region. The only real problem was that capturing towns like van Rijnsdorp and Springbok were not going to win the war for the Boers. But the news of what Smuts was up in this harsh desert region had given the Boers a great deal of optimism. Those in the western Transvaal who had witnessed the battle of Tweebosch which we heard about last week were convinced the English were beatable – General Koos de la Rey particularly felt that they were on to something. After Lord Kitchener had recovered from his shock of losing Lord Methuen and an entire column in the battle, he was in depressed state of mind. He’d also heard that General Christiaan de Wet had burst through a cordon in the Northern Free State and this made matters worse. Was nothing going right in the Western Theatre? De Wet had led his men on a goose chase – except some of the geese had been caught by the New Zealanders who had trapped over 800 Boers on their all important Majuba Day. De Wet focused his remaining commando on the relatively quiet area of the north West Free State and set out at sunset from the town of Reitz on the 5th March. There were only two really active areas of the battlefront left – the Western Transvaal and the Northern Cape. Neither was of any real strategic significance. The gold mines were slowly returning to normal, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange was dealing and trading, electricity was burning in the Kimberley streets once more. Remember Kimberley, oddly enough, was the first place in the world to use electric street lights, courtesy of Rhodes’ De Beers company support. No-one had yet told Deneys Reitz, our intrepid narrator, who was General Jan Smut’s scout, and at this point, believed emphatically that the British would one day turn tail and flee his South Africa. As Tabitha Jackson writes in her fantastic book called the Boer War which she compiled after producing the documentary series on BBC channel Four, the English would win the war but the Boers were about the win the peace. That would do nothing for soldiers like Deneys Reitz. He was currently in the northern Cape, sitting close to Van Rijnsdorp with Jan Smuts. Top the north of where they rested, around 150 miles away, was the important copper mining centre of O-Kiep. As I explained in episode 128, Smuts was convinced that if he created enough trouble for the Briitsh here, they would send troops out by ship, and leave the way open to the South for him to attack – perhaps even as far as Cape Town. Rmember I explained how Smuts had broken up his force into smaller units for the trip as there was not enough water for all to travel together. Finding the terrible massacre at Leliefontein, Smuts had continued onwards after a few days. They were heading for Silverfountains where Commandant Bouwer and his men were waiting, along with Maritz who’d managed to gather around him a large group of local rebels. Missing however, was Van Deventer commando.
25 minutes | Mar 7, 2020
Episode 129 - Lord Methuen breaks a leg before Koos de la Rey executes soldiers
In this episode we will hear how General Koos de la Rey captures Lord Methuen in an act that will push Lord Kitchener over a psychological precipice. Remember when we ended last week I explained how Lord Methuen was particularly despised by both de la Rey and General Christiaan de Wet because the British commander had personally overseen the destruction of both of their farms. But de la Rey displays the kind of chivalry in victory last seen almost a hundred years before this war. He will also allow himself to be swayed by angry men to execute British troops in cold blood. As for Methuen, he was someone with whom the Boers had an axe to grind. And with the capture you would expect that the Boers may have played hard ball – do some kind of swap at dawn. A General for a general as historian Martin Bossenbroek writes. This is not to be. General Koos de la Rey had been itching for something significant in the western Transvaal as he was pushed hither and thither by the British, and in turn, pushed them back and forth. It all started on the 25 February 1902 at Ysterspruit which is around 10 miles from Klerksdorp in the Western Transvaal. De La Rey caught the English napping, swooping on a convoy of 150 wagons, most of which were empty. It was what was protecting that wagons that the General was after. A machine gun, two cannons and a huge cache of rifles, ammunition, 200 horses, 400 oxen and 1500 mules. This came at precisely the right point for the Boers, and exactly the wrong time for the English troops who were going to be shot up with their own weapons shortly.
23 minutes | Feb 29, 2020
Episode 128 -The Leliefontein Massacre & de Wet runs into British trenches
Episode 128 -The Leliefontein Massacre & de Wet runs into British trenches by Desmond Latham
20 minutes | Feb 22, 2020
Episode 127 -A treacherous spy meets his Nemesis and Jan Smuts heads for the beach
We’ll kick off where we left off last week – where Jan Smuts’ commando was near Calvinia in the northern Cape evading the English. But its also where commandant Bouwer was surprised by a mounted infantry unit of the British – killing or wounding 17 men who were mainly skewered by swords as they slept. Remember I explained how the colonial Lem Colyn had ingratiated himself with Bouwer’s commando, lying that he had been sentenced for treason and escaped. Deneys Reitz, who’s memoir I’ve used throughout this series, called him Lemuel Colyn, but his real name was Lambert Colyn. And he wasn’t English speaking, but a Cape Afrikander and the fact he was an Afrikander doomed him as we’ll see. Colyn was a British spy and playing a dangerous game. Remember he arrived at Bouwer’s unit claiming he’d escaped from a Clanwilliam prison where he was charged with treason by the British. That was a lie, he was being paid by the British. After he learned enough about the commando’s daily life, Colyn disappeared one day only to return with the British mounted infantry – leading them towards the men sleeping under the trees at Van Rijnsdorp at dawn in mid-February 1902. This incensed the Boers who swore revenge on him and his Nemesis would be Jan Smuts. After Commandant Bouwer’s force had been surprised, he was smarting from the setback. Not only had he lost good men, but the British were now following up their attack by advancing in force with the clear object to retake the town of van Rijnsdorp from the Boers. Smuts had moved further westwards towards the Atlantic Ocean, which was now only 25 miles from his camp on the Olifants river so he decided it was time for a bit of unusual Rest and Recuperation. Smuts called for Boers who had not set sight on the ocean to meet him. About 70 Boer burghers arrived from this part of the northern Cape within two days. First Smuts and his posse passed the famous Ebenezer Mission Station, and then towards afternoon, they glimpsed something remarkable. The glint of the sea through a gap in the dunes. This curious commando of beach goes topped the last dunes, and stopped their horses to stare in wonder. Of course, that was only for a second. In a moment they turned back into children, soon they were throwing their clothes off and that’s when Reitz and a handful of the others who had experience of the sea began to save their colleagues from their own zeal.
21 minutes | Feb 15, 2020
Episode 126 - Jan Smuts makes a remarkable speech & we meet the treacherous colonial Lambert Colyn
This week we’ll find out what happened to Jan Smuts and his commando as they combine forces with Kommandant van Deventer who is in the middle of a major skirmish with the British near Calvinia in the northern cape. The war is sputtering, the Boers are faltering, the British are escalating – all in all – it’s a bit like the end of the line for Smuts and his men. But they’re not beaten yet. Many believe that they can give the British at least one more bloody nose, then perhaps sue for peace and keep their independence. This was hoplessly naïve as the British wanted the Boer Republics in their ambit partly because of world diplomacy and nationalism and partly because of the enormous mineral resources of the Transvaal and Free State. These had been developed into mines, and these mines were owned by English financiers. There was no way that such treasure would be allowed to fall into German hands, and the Germans were very busy both in the Eastern African region, and in nearby German South West Africa. While local issues were driving the short term responses by London, its eyes were very much on its own local European enemies. While the ramifications of this pre-World War one diplomacy is beyond the scope of this podcast series, we must keep in mind what was going on throughout the globe at the same time. Smuts however, was trying to make contact with another of his leaders, Commandant Bouwer who had been told to remain down on the plains near the Olifants River near van Rijnsdorp. It was time for Reitz to head off once more, now the main messanger for General Smuts as he had an uncanny knack of finding distant Boer commandos. It took him three days of riding, through the high plains, then the mountain passes, and finally he located Bouwer near Van Rijnsdorp camped along the Trutro river. It is close to the western coast of South Africa, where the icy cold Atlantic flows past bringing dense fogs. The town is on the edge of the Nama Karoo region and has ancient San or Bushman paintings – some of the oldest in Africa. Reitz was too busy to take much notice of its history. You see Commandant Bouwer had suffered a major setback on the previous day – and it was all because of a Colonial called Lambert Colyn. This one moment in the Boer war would later sully General Smuts’ name as he sought to reunify South Africa – this English speaker who told the Boers he would fight for their liberty.
19 minutes | Feb 8, 2020
Episode 125 - A sleepy blockhouse stymies Kitchener’s New Model Drive & Jan Smuts leaves Kakamas
February 1902 is full of surprises, not least for Lord Kitchener who has designed his great Drives which are similar to hunting Grouse on the moors of England. Lines of men walk side by side, twenty yards apart, driving the Boers before them until they are squashed against the blockhouses and posts where they are forced to surrender in droves. Well that is the theory. Sometimes is worked, sometimes not. In the case we’ll hear today where Kitchener’s second major drive was launched in the Free State, the theory and the practice were out of kilter. Because Major Rawlinson and his superiors were after the crafty fox, General Christiaan de Wet and President Steyn. Should they capture these two, the Boer war would surely splutter to a halt. De Wet and General Jan Smuts, along with General de la Rey were the symbols of freedom for the Boers, and it was vital for the British to bring them to book. In the Eastern Transvaal, General Louis Botha had fought his last battle as we heard in January, and was now making preparations for a shift in strategy – and region. He had decided that his commando would serve no purpose remaining in the Transvaal and he was headed to Northern Natal where he believed he would have more success. Lord Kitchener had an epiphany. Rawlinson had had one too – but far earlier. Other British commanders had similar moments when the phrase Eureka surely must have escaped their lips. The British drives had been designed as day-time operations, at night the thousands of men would stop and make fires for supper, which is when the Boers would slip between the clearly demarcated fire areas of sleeping English and make their escape. The epiphany was a set of orders that altered how the British army would deal tactically with their enemy - which they pretty much use to this day. In fact, when I was a soldier, we used some of the tactics which the Americans also employed in Vietnam. In a nutshell, it is understanding that owning the night is essential in any war. You control the darkness, you control the coming battle. When walking patrol or moving a group of men of whatever size, one of the most important things to do before the sun sets is to confuse the enemy by pretending to be in a place you are not.
20 minutes | Feb 1, 2020
Episode 124 -The incredible tale of the seven foot tall Coenraad de Buys and his independent clan
This week we’ll concentrate on surely one of the more unique southern africans of the 18th Century, who’s descendents feature as a small independent people in modern South Africa, and who found themselves stuck in a British concentration camp in the northern Transvaal town of Pietersburg in 1901. I was going to return to General Smuts, but he’s still meeting with rebels in the far northern Cape. So this week its all about Coenraad de Buys, his long strange journey through southern Africa and how he and his vast family ended up close to the Limpopo river – far away from the Cape Colony. And how his descendants ended up in a British Concentration Camp. Pietersburg was the northernmost Concentration camp in the Transvaal system during the Boer war, isolated and difficult to access, with the road constantly under threat by Boers. By May 1901 the frontier territory was under threat from various directions. The British had secured the town, but Boer commandos continued raiding the region. Insecurity was rife, African societies around the town had never been fully subdued by the Boers when they expanded northwards from the Cape in the 1830s. The frontier area was considered a lawless region and few British troops operated there, except for the notorious Bushveld Carbineers who we’ve heard about already – remember the Breaker Morant sage. Yet, one of the families living here were the de Buys people who origin dated back to the 1700s. Now they were based near the Soutpansburg to the north, and were regarded as what at the time was called the “In Between people” – in other words, somewhat black, somewhat white, not quite coloured. That sounds mysterious, and the de Buys people are enigmas. I need to explain as their provinence is somewhat extraordinary and probably needs a Netflix series to do it justice. The de Buys people are descendents of a Cape colonial Boer renegade called Coenrad de Buys who escaped from British rule in the late 18th century. You’ll see why I need to go back that far in a moment. As with things South African, this story is not one of black and white, it has shades of pink, champagne, salmon, brown, mustard, burnt umber, chocolate and cocoa brown. Not to mention Khaki and smokey topaz. There are many shades of black and white, particularly when you realise the story of South Africa is actually a story of pink and brown. This tale also has shades of surprise for most who don’t know about Mr De Buys and his adventures.
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