My Reminiscence of the Anglo Boer War

On occasions I read circumstantial reports of my death, and once a long, and by no means flattering, obituary (extending over several columns of a newspaper) in which I was compared to Garibaldi, Jack the Ripper, and Aguinaldo. On another occasion I learned from the British newspapers of my capture, conviction, and execution in the Cape Colony for wearing the insignia of the Red Cross. I read that I had been brought before a military court at De Aar and sentenced to be shot, and what was worse, the sentence was duly confirmed and carried out. A very lurid picture was drawn of the execution. Bound to a chair, and placed near my open grave, I had met my doom with ‘rare stoicism and fortitude.’ “At last,” concluded my amiable biographer, “this scoundrel, robber, and guerilla leader, Viljoen, has been safely removed and will trouble the British Army no longer.” I also learned with mingled feelings of amazement and pride that, being imprisoned at Mafeking at the commencement of hostilities, General Baden-Powell had kindly exchanged me for Lady Sarah Wilson.

To be honest, none of the above-mentioned reports were strictly accurate. I can assure the reader that I was never killed in action or executed in De Aar. I was never in Mafeking or any other prison in my life (save here in St. Helen), nor was I in the Cape Colony during the War. I never masqueraded with a Rd Cross, and I was never exchanged for Lady Sarah Wilson. Her ladyship’s friends would have found me a very poor exchange.

It is also quite inaccurate and unfair to describe me as a “thief” and a “scoundrel.” It was, indeed, not an heroic thing to do, seeing the chivalrous gentlemen of the South African Press who employed the epithets were safely beyond my views and reach, and I had no chance of correcting their quite erroneous impressions. I could neither refute nor defend myself against their infamous libels, and for the rest, my friend “Mr. Atkins” kept us all exceedingly busy.

That which is left of Ben Viljoen after the several “coups de grace” in the field and the tragic execution at De Aar, still “pans” out at a fairly robust young person—quite an ordinary young fellow, indeed, thirty-four years of age, of middle height and build. Somewhere in the Marais Quartier of Paris—where the French Huguenots came from—there was an ancestral Viljoen from whom I am descended. In the War just concluded I played no great part of my own seeking. I met many compatriots who were better soldiers than myself; but on occasions I was happily of some small service to my Cause and to my people.

Ben Viljoen, 1902

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