It was typed verbatim from his handwritten notes by me, his grandson Tobias Johannes Winterbach during July 2003 and translated into English during July 2006 (thanks to my friend Cecil Auret who edited the English translation). The original manuscript is in possession of my cousin Dirk Jacobus Winterbach, also a grandson of “Grandpa Dirk”, who wrote the original. Here is a part of the relevant family tree:
By the Loving Grace of God I write these memoirs of that which happened during the Rebellion of 1914. It will certainly be of value to my children and grandchildren; I hope that they will also read other people's accounts of the Rebellion which describe the causes in detail and present the statements of the judicial and parliamentary commissions.
It was a turbulent time, emotions were very tense and nobody new what the feelings of his fellowmen were. The Boer War (1899-1902) against the British took place just twelve years before. We were still feeling bitter and could not forget; my oldest sister Maria and two of her children died within days of each other in the concentration camp at Middelburg, Transvaal.
Now there is war between Britain and Germany. The leaders in our country, inter alia Generals Botha and Smuts, wanted to help England. The Parliament first decided that no burgher would be sent outside of our country's borders. Later Gen. Botha and Smuts decided to attack German South-West Africa (Namibia) with our burghers. Then open protest started and things started to look bad, in spite of advice from our old combatants like Pres. Steyn, Generals de Wet, De la Rey, C.J. Beyers and many more. Pardon me for citing what Gen. Hertzog stated to the parliamentary commission of inquiry to the reasons of the Rebellion in 1915:
”The question of independence is one that has been, I suppose, in the minds of people since peace, in an academic and theoretical way. I do not think there is one man in South Africa who does not believe that eventually, in 50, 100 or 500 years’ time, we are going to have independence. That! I think, (especially amongst the Dutch-speaking people of the Union) has always been, and is today, their hope – and after all that is the highest hope any nation or people can entertain – namely independence.”
An English writer (L.E. Neame) also stated: ”To think that the South African Dutch would readily forget the grievances and the ideals of a hundred years, was to misread their dogged characters. ”
Then the clashes between Gen. Hertzog and Gen. Botha started. Two convictions took root with Gen. Hertzog and his followers: it would be fruitless to try and work together with the English, unless they were prepared to accept the rights of the Afrikaner; the relationship between the Union and Britain was based on a principle which was incompatible with the Afrikaner’s idea of freedom. What Gen. Hertzog personally envisaged was not the withdrawal of the Union from the British Empire. At this stage – and he returned to this ideology in later years – he only wanted more freedom for the Union and to establish this freedom on a proper judicial basis.
Many people came together in Bloemfontein on 7th January 1914 where it was decided to form the National Party. The war between Britain and Germany broke out on 4th Aug. 1914 and the question was: what would the Union's government do? Some people felt that a definite decision was needed from the word go. Gen. de la Rey was one of them. Within a day or two after Britain joined the war, notes were sent around in the Lichtenburg district with orders to the burghers to present themselves in Treurfontein on 15th August with their weapons and (food) supplies for eight days. That was typically done in the old Republican style. The magistrate of Lichtenburg, Mr. J.C. Juta, heard about this on 11th August and immediately informed the government.
Gen. Beyers was asked to use his influence to persuade Gen. De la Rey not to take improper action. By chance, Gen. Kemp was also in Lichtenburg and went to speak with Gen. De la Rey concerning this matter. However, Gen. Kemp's warning fell on deaf ears. Gen. Beyers sent a telegram to Gen. De la Rey requesting a meeting with him in his office in Pretoria on the Friday before he was to address the meeting in Treurfontein on the Saturday. In the meantime Generals Botha and Smuts had also asked Gen. De la Rey to come to Pretoria.
The number of requests made had the desired influence and on 13 August Gen. De la Rey arrived in Pretoria where he was met by Mrs. Botha at the station and taken to her house before anyone could speak to him. Generals Botha and Smuts and Min. H.J. de Wet and Gen. Schalk Burger tried for the best part of the night to have Gen. De la Rey change his mind. He then went back to Lichtenburg to address the burghers and urged them to stay calm, which was a disappointment to everybody.In the meantime the British troops in South Africa were sent back to England.
All the commandants of the Transvaal and leaders of shooting organisations were summoned, while officers of the Permanent Force were also present. The purpose of the government was to explain the measures to be taken now that the British troops were out of South Africa. Nothing concerning other issues (like the attack on German South-West Africa) was mentioned, which caused a lot of discontent. You can believe me when I say that there were many stories doing the rounds that Germany has crossed the borders and was planning large scale invasions.
Training camps were erected, about which Gen. Muller wrote as follows: “Among others I met Gen. Coen Britz and I asked him ’if we also must go and shoot Germans.’ Very agitated he answered: “I’m not going to shoot any Germans, because I haven’t lost any Germans.’” Gen. Muller further wrote: “With a few exceptions the whole assembly was against joining the war.”
A lot of probing into the general feeling took place until there was a definite division; the pro-Unionists (government) on the one side and the pro-Republicans on the other side. Gen. De la Rey visited the training camp at Potchefstroom and agreed with Gen. Kemp that, if Parliament approved of the plan to attack German South-West Africa, he would return to the camp to manage the dismissal of the officers.
There was an atmosphere of expectation of great things to come. Gen. Kemp and many of the officers declared openly that they would not participate in an attack on German South-West Africa. Up to now there was no hint of a rebellion, save for a few in the training camp who said that they would hoist the Vierkleur (the old Republican flag) on the return of Gen. De la Rey.
In Parliament, just now in session, Gen. Hertzog explained very clearly why he was against the proposed expedition. To test the feelings of the troops, Gen. Kemp addressed three of the four regiments on the morning of 15 September at a parade. He asked them how many of them were willing to participate in an expedition against German South-West Africa. Of the close to one thousand men, only 130 were willing while 800 were totally against it. Sure about the vote of their men, the officers could now await the return of Gen. De la Rey.
Against all expectations Gen De la Rey did not go to Potchefstroom by train via Kimberley but via Bloemfontein and departed from Johannesburg on 15 September. Gen. De la Rey had already noticed from Cape Town that he was being followed by detectives. After a tremendous inward struggle Gen. Beyers decided to relinquish his post as Commandant-General, as he could not associate himself with the decision to attack German South-West Africa. Gen. Beyers saw his resignation only as a protest against the resolution of the Parliament. Gen. Beyers was persuaded to go with Gen. De la Rey to Potchefstroom by motorcar. Gen. Beyers’ only purpose to go was to explain to the men in the camp the reason for his resignation. The two men never reached Potchefstroom because, while still in Johannesburg, the police were busy searching for a band of robbers and shot at the car in which the two men were travelling, which killed Gen. De la Rey. This caused a lot of confusion and uncertainty.
When the body of Gen. De la Rey was laid to rest in Lichtenburg on 20 September, the situation for the government did not look at all rosy. A few thousand people gathered together in Lichtenburg. Under those present were Generals Botha, Smuts, De Wet, Beyers and Kemp. The reception for the first two was not pleasant at all. Two persons even suggested to Generals De Wet en Beyers to arrest the two men from the government. At the open grave Gen. Beyers solemnly declared that he was not contemplating a rebellion at all.
Generals Botha and Smuts tried to calm the situation by giving the assurance that only volunteers would be used. On 28 September, Gen. Botha stated publicly to a large assembly of his constituents in Bankstasie that only volunteers would be used for the forthcoming expedition. These assurances were never accepted by the Afrikaners who were against the expedition and they decided to arrange protest meetings. The first protest meeting took place only the day after Gen. la Rey’s funeral at Lichtenburg. The following resolution was accepted unanimously:
“This meeting has taken cognisance of the fact that the Government has decided to attack German South-West Africa and the ratification by Parliament by sending part of the citizen force to the border and their involvement in battle, all without giving the subjects of the Union a chance to speak their minds, and declares its profound conviction that the said actions of the government were against
and we respectfully urge the government to take steps to end the military operations and to call back the officers and the Union forces. We respectfully request the government for an answer before next 30 September in order to discuss it during a public gathering.”
- the wish of the majority of the Union’s population;
- our Defence Act; and
- our honourable Christian traditions
A commission consisting of Generals De Wet, Beyers, Kemp and Liebenberg was appointed to act in this matter. A telegram with the protest meeting’s resolution was sent to the government in Pretoria. It was also requested that an answer be sent to Gen. Beyers. No answer was received however. The government simply decided to ignore the matter.
Gen. Hertzog declared before the parliamentary commission a few months later: “Few people can realize the shock that it (the decision) gave to the Free State.” Gen. Manie Maritz was in command of the government troops close to the German South-West African border. When the government realised that he was not totally in agreement with them to attack South-West Africa, a direct order was given to invade South-West Africa. Just before this he had submitted his resignation as officer, but it was ignored. Nowhere was there any proof of talks of a rebellion and there were also no cases at all that could prove that the foremen were organising a rebellion. It was a protest against the government’s decision to use us to carry out England’s war of conquest. It was brought to the attention of Generals Botha and Smuts that it was against the religious belief of the Afrikaner to carry out conquests on behalf of the British Empire and which made the feelings of most Afrikaner revolt against. Even the mere thought of doing conquering work for the English was enough to make us furious. You must understand that the English did not want to co-operate on equal terms, because the idea of “British supremacy” was deeply rooted in those who looked down upon the losers. That caused the great clash when Gen. Hertzog tried to have our language recognised on equal terms.
Eventually the rebellion came into the open when the government troops started to shoot. Small commandos formed spontaneously and mostly independent of each other. Close to Pretoria Gen. J.J. Pienaar and Comdt. Josef (Jopie) Fourie defeated the government troops a number of times. In time Gen. Pienaar was captured. Eventually Jopie Fourie and his men were also captured on 16th Dec. 1914. He was brought to Pretoria where he was sentenced to death by a court martial. After Dr. D.F. Malan, Rev. C.A. Neethling and other Afrikaners had tried in vain to have Gen. Smuts change the sentence, Jopie Fourie was executed by firing-squad on Sunday morning 20 December 1914 in the Pretoria jail.
With absolute perseverance Gen. Kemp managed to reach Gen. Manie Maritz in German South-West Africa with a handful of men. A wonderful achievement! Their hazardous venture through the Kalahari is one of the most brilliant achievements in the annals of military history of the Afrikaner nation. It is a story of decisiveness, courage and endurance.
We waited in tense anticipation in Lydenburg because there was a rumour that Gen. Muller was on his way there with a commando. The government were swearing in special policemen to patrol the town every night; commandos from surrounding towns like Sabie, Pelgrimsrus and others were already camped on the show grounds. I belonged to the shooting club. Then field-cornet Willem Lombard came to me with a commandeering letter (still in my possession) and sent me to a farm 9 miles out of town to call up C.F. van Rensburg and Sam F. Hoffman. They were busy with the funeral of the late father of C.F. van Rensburg when I arrived; I had to wait until after the proceedings before I could read them the letter. We then went to town with about 10 other men, because the others were curious to see what was going on.
While the town was busy with soldiers, burghers and defence force lads I could not keep it in: I had to play pranks on them. Firstly: I stayed a short distance out of town and Dick Hide came to fetch me to take two girls to a concert. We cycled to town and hid the bicycles. Before we had left I had stuck a 12-inch long “bomb-cracker” in my belt under my jacket. We picked up the girls and went to the concert. We left during interval and at the intersection of Viljoen- and Church streets, I put the cracker down and ignited it whilst the others walked on; it exploded with a deafening noise. Now there were a series of foregoing events that coincided with our “bomb” planting incident. In the first place, there were strong rumours of a Kaffir uprising. Only half an hour earlier, a certain Koekemoer had arrived breathless at the charge office to report that an impi of Kaffirs had crossed the river and had attacked him. The constables and warders were on their way to investigate the report and had to pass close to the explosion. The Freemasons were leaving their meeting, which was close by and the concert goers were still in the cafe. Just think of the total chaos that reigned. We quickly took the girls home and then went back to help search for the town’s “attackers”, but went straight to our bicycles and went on home. Two days later I had another chance. Two nieces of Dr. and Mrs Weilbach arrived from Johannesburg to pay them a visit. That was the time when the Germans used the Zeppelin to attack London; there were even rumours of them attacking us as well. I found some big dung beetles of the type with the big horn in front similar to a rhinoceros and put them in a box, which I sent to Weilbach’s nieces. They put it on a shelf and forgot about it. Just as they sat down to dinner, the thing flew out of the box with a whirring sound. All of them had a big fright.
That evening we went visiting and again I took a bomb-cracker with me. We ignited it in front of the gate, knocked and were invited in. After a while we looked at each other because the bomb had not gone off. I made an excuse that my umbrella was open on the veranda and that the wind might blow it away; one lady came with, but as I opened the front door I noticed that the fuse was almost at its end and I quickly slammed the door shut. There was a massive bang which made the windows rattle and the people scream! When everything was normal again we laughed and talked a lot. In the military camp there was also chaos because the first thought was that the rebels were attacking the town. Apparently they spent the whole night through running around and searching. Early the next morning they noticed the pieces of paper in the street in front of Dr. Weilbach’s house and knocked on his door. He came charging out with his gun and threatened to shoot them for waking him up.
The next evening I crossed the stream, passed behind the jail and close to the gate of the camp I set up five bomb-crackers in a row and ignited their fuses; before they exploded I was already past the jail. Oh well, they are still searching for the rebels who, as they thought, fired a volley at the soldiers. Shortly afterwards we were told to assemble at the show grounds one morning at 10 o’clock. What now? Everyone ventured guesses about that which was about to happen; we were either going to shoot rebels or were going to German South-West Africa to catch Germans. The situation was such that one could not speak to anyone or asked someone’s opinion, as there were so much suspicion and distrust that one’s best friend could be one’s enemy. There were also many scaremongering stories such as five year’s imprisonment or being sent overseas or being shot if one should refuse to go where the government thought best. With this unsure state of mind I went to the gathering place straight from work, for I used to work until half past nine.
When we arrived there, there were already various commandos at the grounds. We were ordered to line up and wait for the officers. After about an hour Comdt. Piet Swart, Lt. Hercules Jansen, Capt. Fanie Schoeman and others arrived and one of them read us the commandeering letter, which stated that we were called up to stand in duty of the government and were to obey the order to take up arms against the enemies of the state.
More than thirty of us then shouted that we refused to take up arms under the prevailing circumstances! All of those who refused were ordered to stand on one side and were asked to reconsider, but our decision was final. I was very surprised to see who my compatriots were. We were immediately put under military arrest and were caged on the stage with guards all around us. The whole day long they tried to convince us one by one to change our minds and join the government troops. Finally threats and terrible consequences were proffered.
Late that afternoon Comdt. Piet Swart came in person to address us; I got the opportunity to speak with him and asked if he would allow me to go with a guard to my home to say goodbye to my old mother and to make arrangements in case we would be away for a long time. Now I have to explain that I was the only support for my mother and two girls and that we lived from hand to mouth every month. If I had to be away for an indefinite length of time it would not have been a pleasant thought. Shortly before I had bought a stand and had to pay it off monthly; my salary was nine pounds per month from which we had to live and pay all extras. The commandant gave a very rude reply to my request: “You brought this upon yourself, you must see to it yourself; I shall not give you leave.”
I told him: “It is well, commandant, I will go and say goodbye to my mother without your permission.” He gave the guards extra orders and left. When it was dark I slipped past the guards and passed behind the jail and over the stream to my house. There I said my goodbyes and left everything in the Hands of God and trusted that He would take care, because He had never let us down. From my house I went to town to visit my cousin Angus Jansen. I gave him a promissory note for 25 pounds to the bank, explained the situation to him and asked him not to let hardship fall upon my mother. He promised me on his word of honour to get the money from the bank, but never did it. After I returned I had to pay that as well from the lack that I had, because I had also lost my job. I had to go and do road construction work. I helped to build the two bridges just outside of town on the road to Pilgrim’s Rest.
I went from my cousin to the charge office where a few of my friends were sworn in as special town guards. I told them, Andrew Joubert and Lens Middel, that I had run away and if they wanted to make a name for themselves, they should arrest me and take me back to camp. They didn’t believe me so I walked on. When I arrived at the building I entered through the big door on the opposite side of the stage (It rained a lot; the government didn’t have enough tents for the troops resulting in the building being used as sleeping quarters for the troops). It was dark and I had to step over the sleeping blokes with my muddy shoes and was also a bit careless; stepped on one here and kicked against another one further on. Understandably there was swearing and mumbling and asking of who was climbing over them in the middle of the night. When I arrived at the guard I simply climbed onto the stage and went to sleep between my friends. What could he do? Raving and scolding wouldn’t help; he was quite glad that I had returned. The next morning I picked up my muddy shoes and said: “One can see that I’ve been to town” and lo and behold, there were six or seven others who had also gone away and had come back. That evening we boarded a train under guard. Louwtjie Vosloo was in charge. At Belfast we had to wait for a few hours for the train from Lourenço Marques (Maputo). On the same train was a girlfriend of mine. Again I dodged the guards and she and I went for a long walk while chatting pleasantly, which quickly passed the time that we had to wait for the other train.
I only tell the story in the way it happened, not to boost my own ego, because everything was so unnatural! Our own people had to guard us as if we were rascals, but we hadn’t done anything wrong. The guards also saw it in that light. In Pretoria I simply disembarked from the train to have a cup of coffee; in the mean time the Pretoria guard took over the guarding duties. Then there was trouble because they didn’t know where I was. Luckily I realised what was going on; I slipped past the people into the train and came back out again as if nothing was wrong. We were marched from the Johannesburg station to Booysen’s camp, which was fenced off with 10 foot high chicken-wire. We had been there but for a few days when I had my first disappointment. We saw a guard arriving with a prisoner and out of curiosity we moved closer to the gate to see who it was. It was my best friend, Freddie Simonsen, who was bringing his friend Gysbert Taute to the camp.
Freddie and I had been neighbours for many years; we had gone to school together and had grown up together. As he arrived at the gate, I greeted him and asked how it was going at home, but he didn’t want to answer me because I was 'on the other side’. His aunt was living in Booysens; the year before I had done that family a big favour. He told them that I was in the camp. The next day they walked past the camp outside the fence; I went closer and asked them if they were looking for me. Their answer was “We don’t know you while you’re behind the fence”. Oh what is man that he should do so?
The Gysbert Taute who was brought to camp by Freddie had a brother Frikkie who had had a very narrow escape during the Boer war of 1899 - 1902. There had been a hard-fought battle where Boer and British soldiers were in hand-to-hand combat. Frikkie’s horse had been shot dead under him and a lancer was charging straight at him with pointed lance. His gun was empty and he had no chance to reload, he then fell down behind a small ant-heap which gave him sparse cover under the circumstances, because the Tommy was upon him. He dodged, but the point of the lance caught him above the eye and grazed the skin up to his ear causing a very deep cut. Half-dazed and with blood streaming over his face he had to act fast to get a bullet into the gun, because the soldier had already turned his horse and was charging back at him. Frikkie could not see properly and was weak from shock and the loss of blood, but he managed to pull the trigger and hit the Tommy, who almost fell on top of him. I do not know for certain if the British took him into captivity there.
In camp we began organising to amuse ourselves to while away the time. We played ’pull-the-stick’, ’pull-the-tortoise’, ’kick-the-cock’, did the high jump and long jump etc. One day I saw how one of my friends, Jan Fourie, fainted; we had to try and bring him to by rubbing and by various other methods. It had happened like this: we did not have spades to loosen the ground and the few who were doing the long jump were landing on hard ground. One of the guys broke his leg upon landing and by seeing this, Jan fainted. He was a big, strong and reckless man and it was almost unbelievable to us.
We tied tent poles together to do the high jump. Two of us were better than the others. One day the officer miscounted, leaving two men short; they then searched for the two that could jump so high but never realised that it was impossible to jump over a 10 foot barbed wire fence with tent poles. All we could do was to laugh at them.
Dr. Weilbach’s two nieces came to visit us at the camp. Visitors came to the gate and then those that they wanted to see were allowed a few steps outside the gate to talk to them. The officer in charge of the guards at the gate was a young Englishman who noticed that these ladies of class were sitting on the ground talking to us. He took us to his tent and apologised to us that he didn’t realise that there were such respectable people under the prisoners. The ladies enjoyed their visit and visited us again. We had a good laugh about the bombs and Zeppelin in Lydenburg.
The government was a bit saddled with us, as there were more than a thousand in our camp; and then the order came that we could go home. Each one could lodge an appeal at one’s district magistrate by giving one’s reasons why one didn’t want to join the government troops. If the magistrate found the reasons valid, one could stay at home, otherwise one was returned to camp. Tom Naude (who later was the Speaker of Parliament and also Prime Minister) was also in the Booysens camp. Although it was forbidden, a portrait of Tom Naude and his men from Pietersburg was photographed through the fence. Luckily Luitingh and I were standing on one side and also ended up in the portrait, which I still have in my possession. Later (on 26th May 1949) the portrait appeared in the magazine “Die Brandwag”. Some time later (mister Speaker) Tom Naude and his men went home and no-one was returned because of his influence. Of the rest who went home to appeal, almost all were sent back to camp again. Some of us saw through the plan and did not even try to go home. They threatened us with bayonets to make us go, but the few stubborners stayed put. I want to relate a strange story here: a certain Harzenberg and a friend from Lichtenburg were also sent back home with a guard. On the train he and the guard had a fall out and the guard locked him up alone in a compartment. He climbed through the window and over to the next compartment with the train at full speed. When the guard went to look the window was open and he was gone. The guard thought that he had jumped off and wanted to stop the train to go back and search for him. Somebody then reported that he was sitting in the other compartment. At Park Station they disembarked from the train and marched back through the streets to Booysens’ camp. They argued the whole way back. Eventually, not far from the gate, they started fighting in the street in Johannesburg. The other guy took the guard’s rifle and walked back to camp. There he handed over the rifle and told them what was going on. They then sent a few soldiers to fetch the two.
'Some time after everyone was back again, the government sent a thousand rebels who were in the “Kaffir Compound” in Kimberley also to the Booysens’ camp. We formed a committee and selected a few to help them with finding tents in the sections where they preferred to stay together. We worked hard to give them some sort of a welcome. Late that afternoon I noticed something was amiss; there were strange glances in my direction and I sensed a hostile attitude against me. I asked one of my friends what was going on and he warned me that a few of the Kimberley rebels thought that I was a government supporter and were wondering what I was doing in their midst. That was the thanks that I received for all my pains, because they wanted to throw me over the fence before they realised that I was also one of them. There I met an uncle of mine for the first time and I was very glad. We talked for days on end. When post arrived (we were about two thousand men in the camp) someone at the gate shouted: “letters!” Everybody expected to receive a letter and stormed to the gate; those at the back pressing forward and those at the front against the fence notwithstanding the regulation was that no-one was allowed closer than one yard from the fence. The result was that the Jews that were standing guard outside were but too glad to use their bayonets and pushed them left and right through the fence. There was no time to dodge, because the pressure from behind was too great with the result that some men got very nasty wounds. This angered the Boers and they demanded to see the leader of the guards. They put their case forward and promised that if the same happened again, we would flatten the fence and the troops’ camp as well.
On the very next day we had a good laugh; we were sitting on rocks and stumps close to the fence, talking to each other. Schalk Schoeman was a real dry jester; if the sun was sitting in the west he would place his hat askance on the eastern side of his head with his pipe in his mouth. He would stand dead quiet like that for a long time, looking at the world as if it belonged to him.
The guard was patrolling back and forth outside the fence; it had rained a lot during that time, which had caused furrows to form underneath the fence. All of a sudden Schalk would crawl underneath the fence and walk behind the guard, but before he turned around Schalk was back inside, standing still like a pillar while sucking his empty pipe. That was too much for the older guys sitting around there watching the scene. They jumped up and while running to their tents shouted: “They’re going to shoot!”
Then again some or other rascal would towards dusk, cover himself with a blanket with a stick fastened to one end of the blanket and another stick fastened to the opposite end. It now looked like an ostrich; and he would run at the groups of guys standing around. You would be surprised at how the imagination can run away; some were running away as fast as they could while screaming like children to get away from this monstrosity. Those of us who had already witnessed this spectacle enjoyed it thoroughly and laughed at the antics of the ostrich!
Every morning when we were about to start eating, a young officer entered the camp with an armed guard and with his cane beat against the tents, ordering us to fall in to be counted. It took about an hour for everyone to stand in crooked rows, because it was a tall order to expect from untrained farmers to become soldiers within a few days. When they had completed counting one row, the prisoners sometimes walked through the other rows, which caused the Tommy to become red in his face and to order the soldiers to use their bayonets to keep the men in their rows. The poor things tried it once, but before one could say “jack-knife” they were disarmed. We then informed the chief that there would be trouble if armed soldiers ever would enter the camp again. That was the last time. They tried to count us like one would count sheep, i.e. two would form a gate through which we had to pass to be counted, but what a joke! The young guys at the back started to bleat and jump and stormed all together at the gate. It was impossible to manage them. There was a certain major Kroon who had fought in the Boer War and was caught by the English. He was sentenced to death and stood in front of the firing squad, but was pardoned at the last moment. Now for some or other reason, he was on the government’s side, maybe as a result of having fought together with Gen. Botha. Well on some Sundays he held a service for us in the camp, maybe because ministers at that time were cautious about preaching in public. I had my cornet with me and every afternoon we sang Hallelujah choruses accompanied by the wind instrument, which was met with approval. For many of us it was very hard to sleep on the wet ground, because we had a lot of rain that year which was unusual to us. I had a few blankets and gave two to my uncle as well. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and I devised plans to get more blankets.
At last about three hundred of us were put on a train and sent away; we had first appeared before a military court. Gey van Pitius defended us burghers from Lydenburg, but we were sentenced to twelve months detention. Where to? We all guessed differently. The train stopped for a very long time at De Aar. We were ordered to get out and to walk in a circle for exercise. A lot of spectators were standing around and made remarks; I told my mate that if we passed a certain Englishman again I was going to jump out of line and grab him by the throat. Luckily for him we were halted to take a rest. Then we were ordered back into the train before I could get to him.
Some of us had to sleep in stinking horse pits. Chris Jankowitz was very ill one night and none of us could help and the guards pretended not to hear. We arrived at Upington late one afternoon and had to cross the river with a ferry. It was already night when we were called to halt and we had to open our blankets under open sky to sleep. That night my stomach gave a twist; I jumped up and wanted to go to one side but the guard stopped me and all that I could do was to let go over his shoes. He was not allowed to shoot me for that.
The next day we had to go and strike the tents of a troop division and when we arrived at the first tent the person inside was still busy getting dressed. When he emerged from the tent we saw that he was a captain. One of our men recognised him immediately and said: “Hey, Duckie, do you remember that you lead my team of oxen when you were still a barefoot boy?” The captain was very annoyed and went back into the tent and we had to wait for him to cool down. Most probably he felt humiliated because a rebel talked like that to him in front of his troops. We knew him as Duckie Vogt and had played cricket with him.
The next day we were ordered to open the irrigation furrow because the wind had filled it up with sand. When we got to the front of the major’s building we stopped working and refused to continue if he didn’t come out and listen to our complaints. We told him that we were sentenced to twelve months detention and not hard labour. He told us to go back to camp; he would find out from the authorities how things stood.
The next day we were rounded up to wait for orders with the armoured guards around us, five steps from each other, when an officer came galloping towards us with his revolver drawn and shouting “shoot, shoot!”, but it was just a bluff. He ordered us to go two-two together to a tent about a hundred steps away. Now what? We waited for the first two to return and they told us that there were about six officers sitting at a table and recording everything as to why one was there and where one came from etc. Then they were searched and all their belongings taken away. My friend handed me twenty golden pounds which I hid in the seam of my jacket’s sleeve and collar. The money was never discovered. When it was my turn I took my pocket knife, scissors and a few silver coins and put them on the table. They asked me if it was all but I didn’t answer, I just picked up the knife, scissors and money, put them in my pocket, turned around and walked out. They were so astounded that nobody said a word or did anything.
Then the answer came that we had to obey the guard until a decision was made. We were sent across the river to unload carriages and put bags of maize and supplies for the troops on the pont. While we were busy someone released the brakes on one of the carriages and I was just busy passing a heavy load to someone on the carriage when I was hit hard in the back and squeezed tightly by the carriage. Of course I was out like a candle and lay on the ground in pain and they had to call the ambulance, which was on another errand and stayed away for hours. The ambulance stopped on the other side of the river and we had to cross the river by boat. I had so much pain that they had to put me in a blanket and tie the four corners to the roof of the ambulance, because it was a very bad road full of potholes and stones from the river to the hospital, which consisted of a few tents. I was hit on the kidneys which caused bleeding for a while. In hospital they operated on the appendix of the patient next to me and the doctor just told me to look the other way.
While I was in hospital Captain Leslie Damant came to visit me. He was an old school friend of mine and the son of Col. Damant, the magistrate of Lydenburg. He had heard about my misfortune and in spite of me being a rebel, he came to visit me because we were house friends. He asked the nurses to give me special attention. The day that I was discharged from hospital I attended the funeral of one of our mates.
One day the guards marched us into the veldt. There I became afraid of the desert sand which came blowing towards us like waves in the ocean. When we came to a farm I told one of my mates that we were going to eat quinces that day, but he told me that I was dreaming because it was the month of May and long past the time of fruit, but I told him that I could smell it and that that they were sometimes buried under the sand in dry areas. We asked the guard to let us drink water at the farm. They were our people and we talked and we mentioned the nice smell of the quinces. The owner sent his son to fetch a few, which he gave to us with the request not to give them to the guards as they were meant just for us. We turned around and went back to camp; unfortunately I have forgotten the name of those good people.
In town there was a wedding and one of the ladies who had visited us in camp invited three of us to the wedding. They had applied for a few of us to attend the wedding, but it had been decided that only three could go under strict parole. Out of 300 the following three were chosen to go: Happy v/d Walt, Chris Jankowitz, Dirk Winterbach.
It was a grand wedding, that of Miss Lombard’s sister and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The bride’s parents were strict church people and would not allow dancing, but the young people quietly got the barn ready and by means of the grapevine invited us there. As strangers between those people we felt a bit uncomfortable, but I noticed a girl who had not been asked often and I mustered some courage and made my curtsy. She accepted immediately and we waltzed together, a few more times I asked her until someone came to me and whispered in my ear that she was a Sap (i.e. someone belonging to the South African Party, which was pro-war) We could stay only until six o’clock, by which time we had to be back in camp.
The next day we were ordered to clean the water furrow a few miles out of town; the head of the guard told us that there were too few spades and that we had to work “two men per spade, one to work a little bit, one to sit a little bit”. We went down into the deep furrow when someone said: “Guys, put some spades down then we cover them with sand”. We did that until we had only one spade left. The guard noticed it but kept quiet, to later tip one of the farmers in the area concerning the heap of spades under the sand, of course for a reward.
A few days later some men came to relieve our guard. There was only one spade so the 149 of us were just lying and sitting around. The guard became agitated and told us to act as if we were working. They were surprised when the captain of the new guard shouted: “Good day, guys, how are you?” and came to greet us by hand, because he was Capt. Fanie Schoeman from Rusplaas and a friend of ours from Lydenburg. He came and sat between us on the edge of the furrow, handing out cigarettes and telling us what was going on. The reason why he had to relieve the old guard was that two men had deserted; we heard later that they had arrived at Klerksdorp, their home town.
I have to mention that the water furrow went through a farmstead; we disappeared from camp and went to feast on the row of quince trees. Close by was a small shop and two or three of us got permission to go there together with one guard to buy something; just over the hill the guard gave his rifle to us because he was afraid that we would overpower him.
When we arrived in town (the author is referring here to the time when they were working in the water furrow ‒ TJW) where the main road ran alongside the water furrow, we noticed an officer approaching us on a white horse, wearing a glistening white suit and white helmet. One of the guys whispered: “Watch me”. When the officer passed us he threw a spade full of mud against the officer’s chest. Of course there was a lot of consternation, because the officer swore and cursed and shouted at the soldiers to shoot. They tried to find out who it was, using a lot of threats, but nobody wanted to split. Time passed and the story faded away.
Capt. Schoeman and his men left to take part in a big offensive in German South-West Africa; he and his men apparently performed an act of heroism for which the commandant got all the honour, which upset hime a great dealt. When they arrived back he stopped in front of our camp and shouted: “Be ready, guys, I’m coming to release you!” Then the guard was doubled and even the chefs were armed and had to stand guard. We heard later that Capt. Schoeman had gone to the Transvaal to explain what was going on to General Smuts, who had to coax him to calm Capt. Schoeman down again.
Again we refused to do hard labour and were sent to an empty piece of land where we had to stay without cover or a blanket for five days and five nights without food. Some were already fairly pale and weak when Col. van de Venter came to us and spoke to us in a hoarse voice and said, among other things, something about “you noble Afrikaner boys” when I shouted “Yes, and we are treated like barbarians by Christians”. Others also spoke their minds, whereafter they tried to find out who it was that had voiced their opinions so that they could be sent to the breakwater in Cape Town, but they never found out who it was.
Shortly afterwards we heard that we were going to be sent home, but not all together, only a few at a time. I was told to be ready the next day and was of course very glad and excited and my friends and I (we were ten in one tent for many months) could not sleep that night. Every time when I looked at my watch I noticed one or the other sitting upright until we were all sitting up and talking until it was time to get up. We boarded the train and left. Every time the train stopped in a town we walked down the street for a bit. The guys in front of me would jump with fright when I shouted “Halt!” and would look around, then we would laugh at the joke because there was no guard.
Everybody was glad that we were back safe, but my boss Jan Schwirnk (Schurink?) did not want to give me back my job in his shop, and then I went to Nooitgedag to dig for gold. One shop owner let me know that I could work in his shop for a while, because some of his staff was on leave. Afterwards he helped me to take over a butchery. Mr Jan Schwirnk had repossessed my stand which I had bought from him and for which I could not pay the instalments because of the temporary difficulties, after I had worked for him for thirteen years in his shop. When everybody who had been sent away due to the rebellion was back in town, some sympathetic townsfolk gave us a big welcoming party.
While I was busy writing this, an old girl friend came in and asked me what I was busy doing and I told her. She said: “I just came from Lydenburg where I met an old friend van Jaarsveld. We spoke about the rebellion and he told me the following:”
Van Jaarsveld: “I refused to take up arms to fight against my own people and was sent by the Smuts government together with a few others by train to Booysen’s camp. A lot of people were standing at the station. When we passed by them a woman spitted on the ground and said: ’Serves you right you dirty Boers’. My hair raised and my hat went up and down, but what could I do. Years later it happened that my son and her son belonged to a boxing club and stood opposite each other at a competition. In the beginning her son had the upper hand over my son, but then my son thought of his father’s hat going up and down so many years before, then he climbed in and knocked the other guy until his mother wouldn’t have recognised him and gave him another blow ’for keeps’.”
Now I remember something else that happened in the camp at Upington: The horse sickness was very bad that year and the government troops’ horses were dying by the hundreds: in a few days’ time over six hundred which we had to bury. We dug a huge trench of about four feet deep, when it was full we dug another one; when the legs stuck out they were chopped off. One of our mates was very strong and we would hit the pickaxe underneath a big stone in the hard ground, then he would come and break the handle with a few jerks. Because there was a shortage of pickaxe handles we could not work anymore. Then we had reason to complain because the blowflies were everywhere, even crawling into our noses, mouths and ears. We could not even drink water or eat anything.
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