Chapter 17: The Boers (Our Lives and Wars)
The Afrikaner Nation and Boers feature prominently in my story of bacon. The first and second Anglo-Boer war shaped our land and provided the motivation for setting up the bacon company. Here are photos from the time immediately before and after the second Anglo-Boer War (ABW). It allows the reader to visualise the context better. I dedicate this section to my friends who bring to life the Afrikaner, referred to as Boers, the Brits, and the black and coloured South Africans who fought in these wars and lived through these times.
I started collecting photos from the Anglo-Boer War. These photos serve to remind me and my descendants not only of what the Brit did to the Boer, but how the Afrikaner did the same thing to the black South African, of all tribes. Irrespective of faith or creed, it is true that the heart of man is more deceptive than all else and that all humanity has within its soul the propensity to perform unspeakable evil. The art of living is, like the skill of making bacon, something which does not come naturally to us. To embrace all that is good in life, to be tolerant, to give, to have the courage to build up and not destroy; to know that our time on earth is short and is best lived by compassion and caring for those around us is something we have to nurture in our children and in our own hearts, every day. It is easy to kill, tear down, belittle, destroy and look down on others. True greatness is far more difficult – to respect, honour, and value all life – this is hard work but is by far the most excellent way!
Most of these photos are also available on Google Photos in the following album for easy sharing: https://photos.app.goo.gl/NgBRUJwEapTMDv1A6
Americans in the ABW
Annexing the Orange River Colony
Australians in the ABW
Black Refugees, soldiers and ordinary people
Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1876-1932) Historical Papers Research Archive, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa; Sol Plaatje during his visit to England. The driver of the car is Henry Carsle, an Estate agent from Sussex, and next to him his wife Louise. Also in the car are their children Mary, the oldest of their daughters, Eleanor, Faith and Brock.
Martin Plaut writes about the role of ‘black Boers’, as they refer to black people fighting for the Boer nations, and says that the role of these ‘black Boers’ is captured in this British ditty:
‘Tommy, Tommy, watch your back
There are dusky wolves in cunning Piet’s pack
Sometimes nowhere to be seen
Sometimes up and shooting clean
They’re steathy lads, stealthy and brave
In darkness they’re awake
Duck, Duck, that bullet isn’t fake.
Chris Pretorius posted a quote about Plaatjies: “In 1932, Solomon Tshekisho (Sol) Plaatje, intellectual, journalist, linguist, politician, translator and writer, born at Doornfontein near Boshof, OFS in 1876, passed away in Soweto at the age of 56. He was (amongst others) court translator for the British during the Siege of Mafeking and diarized his experiences, which was published posthumously.”
Brandwater Basin (Where my great Grandfather surrendered to the British – ABW)
Bermuda, Hawkins Island
Canadians fighting in the ABW on the side of Britain
Children, Concentration Camps and War
Crossing the River
Genl. De la Rey
Genl. De Wet, Christiaan.
The newspaper article is from a 1950’s Sunday Times article. Who is the “Pieter” referred to in the article? There was a Pieter de Villiers Graaff who was known as the Cape Rebel (Kaapse Rebel). He was a cousin of Sir David de Villiers Graaff, who is featured prominently in my work on bacon. Pieter participated in 25 battles in the ABW against the English and on 24 March 1901 he was captured and sent to India as a POW where he remained for the duration of the war. I doubt if the Sunday Times article refers to him. He did, however, have a son, also named Pieter de Villiers Graaff. He was born on December 16, 1911 and passed away on July 11, 1988. He was 76.
Diyatalawa and Ragama, Ceylon (Diyatalawa is where my great grandfather was a POW – ABW)
My personal interest in the Diyatalawa camp is that my grandfather’s brother, Timo Kok, was held there as a POW. I record the account of his capture and subsequent incarceration in The Castlemaine Bacon Company. Below the Smuts photos, I also have a photo section dedicated to him. Dirk Marais gives us the following details about this camp:
The Diyatalawa Garrison is a common name used for collection of military bases of the Sri Lanka Army located in and around the garrison town Diyatalawa in the Uva Province. Sometimes it is referred to as the Diyatalawa Cantonment. It is one of the oldest military garrisons in Sri Lanka. It is home to the several training centers of the army, including the Sri Lanka Military Academy and has a detachment of the Gemunu Watch. The Sri Lanka Army Medical Corps maintains a base hospital in Diyatalawa. SLAF Diyatalawa is situated in close proximity.
It is not exactly known as to when Diyatalawa became a training station for troops, but available records show that it was selected around 1885, when the British Army first established a garrison at Diyatalawa. At that time training was conducted at the Imperial Camp, which is presently occupied by the Gemunu Watch troops. In 1900, the British War Office constructed a concentration camp in Diyatalawa to house Boer prisoners captured in the Second Boer War. Initially constructed to house 2500 prisoners and 1000 guards and staff, the number of prisoners increased to 5000. During World War I an internment camp for enemy aliens was set up.
Early in World War II the camp was reopened and German nationals resident in Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as many sailors, like those removed from the Asama Maru in violation of international law, were housed here. Also imprisoned were Buddhist monks of German extraction like Nyanaponika and Govinda Anagarika who had acquired British citizenship. In June 1941 most of the sailors were transferred to Canada. The section for Germans was sensibly divided in a pro- and anti-Nazi wing. There was also a section set up to house Italian POWs. After the Japanese started bombing the island, inmates were on 23 February 1942 transferred to camps on the mainland. Males usually went to Dehradun.
After independence the facilities of the British Army were taken over by the newly established Ceylon Army, and Diyatalawa became the primary training grounds for the young army with the establishment in 1950 the Army Recruit Training Depot later renamed at the Army Training Centre. Several of the army’s regiments were resided here, 1st Field Squadron, Ceylon Engineers (1951), Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment (1956), Gemunu Watch (1962).
The Royal Navy had a rest camp, HMS Uva, which was situated at Diyatalawa with recreational facilities; this was later taken over by the Royal Ceylon Navy in 1956, commissioning it as HMCYS Rangalla and established its training center there. They had to move out in 1962 and it was taken over by the Gemunu Watch.
On 14 March 2013, the Security Forces Headquarters – Central the youngest of the seven commands of the Sri Lanka Army – was formed at Diyatalawa. Prior to this Diyatalawa served as an Area Headquarters.
Germans fighting for the Boers in the ABW
Howick British Concentration Camp for Boer Women and Children
Indigenous Houses (Used by Boers in the ABW)
Irish fighting for the Boers in the ABW
Meat of War
Scorched Earth (Verskroeide aarde)
Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts(24 May 1870 – 11 September 1950) was a South African statesman, military leader, and philosopher. In addition to holding various cabinet posts, he served as prime minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948. Smuts lost the 1948 election to hard-line nationalists who institutionalised apartheid. He continued to work for reconciliation and emphasised the British Commonwealth’s positive role until his death in 1950.
In the Second Boer War, Smuts led a Boer commando for the Transvaal. During the First World War, he led the armies of South Africa against Germany, capturing German South-West Africa. He then commanded the British Army in East Africa.
From 1917 to 1919 he was also one of the members of the British Imperial War Cabinet, and he was instrumental in the founding of what became the Royal Air Force (RAF). He was appointed as a field marshal in the British Army in 1941. He was the only person to sign both of the peace treaties ending the First and Second World Wars. A statue to commemorate him was erected in London’s Parliament Square.
A word from The History Society:
Jan Christian Smuts was born on 24 May 1870.
A divisive figure during his lifetime and long after his death, Smuts’ accomplishments and alignments were multifaceted.
He first rose to fame by fighting against the British Empire as a general in the Boer resistance during the South African War (1899-1902). Thereafter he started a long career in South African politics, most notably by playing a leading role in the constitution of the Union of South Africa in 1910. He was Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister on and off from this point almost up to his death in 1950.
An international statesman and military strategist, he also played a leading role in both world wars, attaining the rank of Field Marshal in the British Armed Forces. Thereafter he was also instrumental in drafting both the Atlantic Charter that in part inspired the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and later the Preamble to the United Nations Charter.
Toward the end of his life, Smuts was more popular in the international arena than he was in his home country. Afrikaners regarded him as being too cozy with English South Africans and the British Empire, which they regarded as an impediment to their own interests, and non-white South Africans, particularly Indians and blacks, had lost faith in him bringing an end to a system of racial segregation he had a hand in creating.
Had he lived longer and remained in power, South African history might have been different. Smuts rejected the Apartheid policy of the National Party, which came to power two years before his death and identified himself with the Fagan Report, which finally recognised blacks as a permanent feature in “white” South Africa.
Whatever one’s view of Smuts, there can be no denying that he is a figure deserving of study.
Below: Gen Smuts set the pace whilst leading the way during the royal visit of 1947. (own collection, Nico Moolman)
Below supplied by Melanie Von Steen
Below: President Paul Kruger’s funeral.
Stéphan Pretorius supplies the photo below with this comment about Smuts’ sixth sense
Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Jan Smuts accompanied one another just after the D-Day landings to General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s headquarters, 12 June 1944.
Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O’Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Here these Allied commanders are seen looking up at aircraft activity overhead.
An interesting snippet of history happened during this visit by Smuts and Churchill to Monty’s headquarters. While visiting the headquarters and as senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister (Churchill), Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, ‘There are some Germans near us now…I can always tell!’” and low and behold, just two days later, “two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby Rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along (they had become isolated from their unit, seeing that they were unable to rejoin when they chose to surrender). Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill (and Smuts), everything would have changed.
Below, Gen Smuts..The mountaineer by Nico Moolman.
J. C. Smuts, the son of Jan Smuts wrote in the biography on his dad, “Jan Christian SMUTS by J.C. Smuts” that “In May, 1923, my father scrambled briskly up Skeleton Ravine to the summit of Table Mountain, where he unveiled a memorial at Maclear’s Beacon to those who fell in the First World War. He was in a buoyant mood, as he always was on the mountain tops, with the distant panoramas stretching away into the hazy hinterland and the mists swirling in the crags below, and the crisp air of the lofty spaces fanning the heated brow. Here, to a group of hardy climbers squatted on the grey rocks around him, he delivered the greatest and most inspired oration of his life. It has been compared to Lincoln’s oration at Gettysburg. I shall quote this speech fully. It came to be known as the “Spirit of the Mountains”.
Those whose memory we honour today lie buried on the battlefields of the Great War, where they fell. But this is undoubtedly the place to commemorate them. Nothing could be more fitting and appropriate than this memorial which the Mountain Club of South Africa erected to the memory of their members who fell in the Great War.
And this, the highest point on Table Mountain, is the place to put the memorial. The sons of the cities are remembered and recorded in the streets and squares of their cities and by memorials placed in their churches and cathedrals. But the mountaineers deserve a loftier pedestal and a more appropriate memorial. To them the true church where they worshipped was Table Mountain. Table Mountain was their cathedral where they heard a subtler music and saw wider visions and were inspired with a loftier spirit.
Here in life they breathed the great air; here in death their memory will fill the upper spaces. And it is fitting that in this cathedral of Table Mountain the lasting memorial of their great sacrifice should be placed. Not down there in the glowing and rich plains, but up here on the bleak and cold mountain tops. As Browning put it:
Here, here’s their place,
Where meteors shoot,
Lightning’s are loosened,
Stars come and go.
Here for a thousand years their memory shall blend with these great rock masses and humanise them. The men and women of the coming centuries, who will in ever-increasing numbers seek health and inspiration on this great mountain summit, will find here not only the spirit of Nature, but also the spirit of man blending with it, the spirit of joy in Nature deepened and intensified by the memory of the great sacrifice here recorded.
Geologists tell us that in the abyss of time Table Mountain was much more of a mountain than it is today. Then it was more than 18,000 feet high, of which barely one-fifth remains today. And in another million years no trace may be left of it. Here there is no abiding city, neither is there an abiding mountain. Human life itself may be but a passing phase of the history of this great globe. But as long as human memory lasts, as long as men and women will remember and be interested in the history of their storied past, so long the Great War – perhaps the greatest in human history – will be remembered, and the memory of the great sacrifice here recorded will endure as part of it.
Standing here today as we do on the summit of Table Mountain, may I add a few words in reference to the spirit of the place? The attraction of the mountains for us points to something very significant and deep in our natures. May I illustrate the matter by a little story which is not quite true, but neither is it entirely mythical, and it finds some support in the testimony of science.
Once upon a time, in the far-off beginning of things, the ancestors of the present human race lived far down in deep blue pools of the ocean, amid the slimy ooze from which they had themselves sprung. There they lived and developed a long time, and in the sounds of the sea, in the rhythm of the waters, and of the rising and falling tides they learnt that sense of music which is so mysterious a faculty in us, and which is in a much smaller degree shared by so many marine animals.
The music in a sea shell pressed to our ears carries us back to the very beginnings of life on this planet. It is a far-off echo of our most ancient experience as living things. As our ancestors thrived and developed they gradually found the pressure of the waters too much for them. They felt stifled and longed for more freedom to breathe. And so they rose slowly on to the beaches, and finally emerged into the air on the seashore. What a blessed relief was there, what an unconscious sense of lightness and exaltation! No longer submerged in the stifling depths, but with full lungs expanding in the invigorating air. The rising from the sea was the most glorious advance in the forward march of terrestrial life.
But it was not enough. The same process of development and advance continued on the seashore. In the course of time the heavy air of the sea levels became too much for the ever-forward movement of the forms of life. The pressure on the lungs was too great, and the forward movement seemed to be arrested in a sort of atmospheric morass, in which a great heaviness hung, on the spirit of life. At this stage a new great advance was registered. The rise to higher levels took place. Some animals developed wings with which they could fly upward and for longer or shorter periods remain in the high places and breathe a keener air. And in this rise they shook off their ancient sluggishness and lethargy, and developed a spirit of joy which had hitherto been unknown to them. The skylark, rising in an ecstasy of song high up into the air, is an illustration of the new great advance.
Other forms of life developed other means of locomotion and of ascent from the heavy low levels. As the dull, deadweight was removed from the lungs a new sense of lightness, of progress, of joy and gladness dawned on the ever higher rising forms of life. The great relief was not only of a physical character, but had the most far-reaching and spiritual values. And so it has come about that finally in man all mortal and spiritual values are expressed in terms of altitude. The low expresses degradation, both physical and moral. If we wish to express great intellectual or moral or spiritual attainments we use the language of the altitudes. We speak of men who have risen, of aims and ideals that are lofty, we place the seat of our highest religious ideals in high heaven, and we consign all that is morally base to nethermost hell. Thus the metaphors embedded in language reflect but the realities of the progress of terrestrial life.
The Mountain is not merely something externally sublime. It has a great historic and spiritual meaning for us. It stands for us as the ladder of life. Nay, more, it is the great ladder of the soul, and in a curious way the source of religion. From it came the Law, from it came the Gospel in the Sermon on the Mount. We may truly say that the highest religion is the Religion of the Mountain.
What is that religion? When we reach the mountain summits we leave behind us all the things that weigh heavily down below on our body and our spirit. We leave behind a feeling of weakness and depression; we feel a new freedom, a great exhilaration, an exaltation of the body no less than of the spirit. We feel a great joy. The Religion of the Mountain is in reality the religion of joy, of the release of the soul from the things that weigh it down and fill it with a sense of weariness, sorrow and defeat. The religion of joy realises the freedom of the soul, the soul’s kinship to the great creative spirit and its dominance over all the things of sense. As the body has escaped from the over-weight and depression of the sea, so the soul must be released from all sense of weariness, weakness and depression arising from the fret, worry and friction of our daily lives. We must feel that we are above it all, that the soul is essentially free, and in freedom realises the joy of living. And when the feeling of lassitude and depression and the sense of defeat advances upon us, we must repel it, and maintain an equal and cheerful temper.
We must fill our daily lives with the spirit of joy and delight. We must carry this spirit into our daily lives and tasks. We must perform our work not grudgingly and as a burden imposed on us, but in a spirit of cheerfulness, goodwill and delight in it. Not only an the mountain summits of life, not only on the heights of success and achievement, but down in the deep valleys of drudgery, of anxiety and defeat, we must cultivate this great spirit of joyous freedom and uplift of the soul.
We must practise the religion of the mountain down in the valleys also. This may sound a hard doctrine, and it may be that only after years of practice are we able to triumph in spirit over the things that weigh and drag us down. But it is the nature of the soul, as of all life, to rise, to overcome, and finally to attain complete freedom and happiness. And if we consistently practise the religion of the mountain we must succeed in the end. To this great end Nature will co-operate with the soul.
The mountains uphold us and the stars beckon to us. The mountains of our lovely land will make a constant appeal to us to live the higher life of joy and freedom. Table Mountain, in particular, will preach this great gospel to the myriads of toilers in the valley below. And those who, whether members of the Mountain Club or not, make a habit of ascending her beautiful slopes in their free moments, will reap a rich reward not only in bodily health and strength but also in an inner freedom and purity in an habitual spirit of delight, which will be the crowning glory of their lives.
May I express a hope that in the years to come this memorial will draw myriads who live down below to breathe the purer air and become better men and women. Their spirits will join with those up here, and it will make us all purer and nobler in spirit and better citizens of the country…”
My wife and I were so impacted by these words that we made it the basis of our wedding vows. See Our Manuka Bay Wedding.
Timo Kok is the brother of my grandfather on my mom’s side, Eben Kok. He was help in as a POW in the Diyatalawa camp in Sri Lanka. I record the account of his capture and subsequent incarceration in The Castlemaine Bacon Company.
New Zealand soldiers in the ABW fighting on the side of Britain.
New Zealand troopers from the Sixth Contingent move across open country in South Africa, 1901. This photograph may have been taken by Private William Raynes, a Waikato farmer serving with No. 16 Company.
Much of the conflict took place on open plains known in Afrikaans as veldt. Extreme temperatures made life tough for New Zealand troops. While trekking men would often be forced to endure severe daytime heat, while at night they would sleep out in the open with only an overcoat to keep the freezing cold at bay.
Soldiers on trek often began their day at 4 a.m. and broke camp at 5.30 a.m. before spending up to 12 hours on patrol. To preserve the strength of their mounts, the soldiers alternated between riding and leading their horses on foot. Using this method, they could cover 30 km or more in a day.
The New Zealanders who fought in the South African War were the first soldiers from this country to take part in an overseas conflict. Prompted by Premier Richard Seddon, the First Contingent was rapidly assembled and became the first colonial contingent to reach South Africa.
Between 1899 and 1902 New Zealand sent 10 contingents to South Africa. The men who enlisted came from a variety of backgrounds and from all over New Zealand. Many had prior experience in the Volunteer forces but others were ordinary citizens who were skilled riders and marksmen. The contingents were often made up of companies that had strong regional identities and many were supported by local fundraising.
In addition to the men of the contingent, two small groups of New Zealand women served in South Africa. Hospital-trained nurses helped combat the ever-present threat of disease in the unsanitary conditions of field hospitals in South Africa. New Zealand also sent a contingent of female teachers, dubbed the ‘Learned Eleventh’, to teach Boer refugee children in the schools set up in British-run concentration camps.
(c) Dirk Marais
Northern Cape ABW
The Royal Irish Regiment recruited from the counties of Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny. It served in South Africa with General Hart’s Irish Brigade. Around 30,000 Irishmen saw service with the British Army in South Africa.
Iain Hayter writes, “There were a number of instances where Irish fought Irish in the ABW and many poems poems were written, the Irish being so lyrical………
We are leaving dear old Dublin
The gallant famous fifth;
We’re going to the Transvaal
Where the Boers we mean to shift.
We are the sons of Erin’s Isle –
The famous Fifth Battalion
Of the Dublin Fusiliers.
Let this conflict be a warning
To all Britannia’s foes;
Not to tease her ftirious lion
As on his way he goes.
For if they do, they’ll fmd they’re wrong
And won’t get volunteers
To stand in the face of a Regiment
Like the Dublin Fusiliers
On the mountain side the battle raged, there was no stop or stay;
Mackin captured Private Burke and Ensign Michael Shea,
Fitzgerald got Fitzpatrick, Brannigan found O ’Rourke,
Firmigan took a man named Fay – and a couple of lads from Cork.
Sudden they heard McManus shout, ‘Hands up or I’ll run you through’.
He thought it was a Yorkshire ‘Tyke’ – ’twas Corporal Donaghue!
McGany took O ’Leary, O ’Brien got McNamee,
That’s how the ’English fought the Dutch’ at the Battle of Dundee.
The sun was sinking slowly, the battle rolled along;
The man that Murphy ‘handed in’, was a cousin of Maud Gonne,
Then Flanagan dropped his rifle, shook hands with Bill McGuire,
For both had carried a piece of turf to light the schooh-oom fire …
Dicey brought a lad named Welsh; Dooley got McGurk;
Gilligan turned in Fahey’s boy – for his father he used to work.
They had marched to fight the English – but Irish were all they could see –
That’s how the ‘English fought the Dutch’ at the Battle of Dundee.
Russians in the ABW
Simons Town POW’s
St Helena, Broadbottom Camp, Deadwood Camp.
Treaty of Vereeniging, signed on 31 May 1902 (end of ABW2)
Gideon Jacobus van Tonder was born in 1864 in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape (then the Cape Colony). He passed away in 1924 in the Free State. He is buried at the Rustfontein Dam, which is located on the Modder River near Thaba ‘Nchu. He was the owner of the farm Brakfontein in that area. He also resided at 21 Hill Street, Bloemfontein. From 1894 to 1900 he was minister of Agriculture in the Orange Free State Government. Giel Venter from Fauresmith gave me this information. Giel is one of his descendants. If Gideon was still alive we would have spent many days talking about farming and animal husbandry and of course, bacon curing!
When President Steyn was out of the country or on leave, he acted as State President on numerous occasions. When the ABW broke out, he resigned from government after his son, Hansie, was killed at the battle of Magersfontein. Genl. De Wet wrote about it in his book, Three Years’ War.
De Wet wrote: “I can only remember three instances of anyone being hurt by the shells. A young burgher, while riding behind a ridge and thus quite hidden from the enemy, was hit by a bomb, and both he and his horse were blown to atoms. This youth was a son of Mr. Gideon van Tonder, a member of the Executive Council.”
I am planning a visit to Giel, as soon as it is permitted and will update this section with much more information.
Vredefort Concentration Camp ABW