My Reminiscences of the Anglo Boer War

An hour afterwards I was on board a train travelling to Johannesburg in the company of General Piet Cronje and his faithful wife. General Cronje told me that he was proceeding to the western districts of the Republic to take up the command of the Potcchef stroom and Lichtenburg burghers. His instructions, he said, were to protect the Western frontier.

I left General Cronje at Johannesburg on the 29th September 1899, an never saw him again until I mt him again at St. Helena nearly two and a half years afterwards, on the 25th March, 1902. When I last saw him we greeted each other as free men, as free and independent legislators and officers of a free Republic. We fought for our rights to live as a nation.

Now I meet the veteran Cronje a broken old man, captive like myself, far away from our homes and our country.

Then and Now!

Then we went abroad a free and freedom-loving man, burning with patriotism. Our wives and our womenfolk watched us go; unhappily and not at ease, but satisfied that we were going abroad in our country’s cause.

And now!

Two promising and prosperous Republics wrecked, their fair homestead destroyed, their people in mourning, and thousands of innocent women and children the victims of a cruel war.

There is scarcely an Afrikander family without an unhealable wound. Everywhere, the traces of the bloody struggle; and, alas, most poignant and distressing fact of all, burghers who fought side by side with us in the earlier stages of the struggle are now to be found in the ranks of the enemy.

These wretched men, ignoring their solemn duty, left their companions in the lurch without sense of shame or respect for the braves who fell fighting for their land and people.

Oh, day of judgement! The Afrikander nation will avenge your treachery.

After taking leave of my friend Cronje at Johannesburg station, my first duty was to visit my various field cornets. About four o’clock that afternoon I found my commando was nearly ready as could be expected. When I say ready, I mean ready on paper only, as later experience showed. My three field cornets were required to equip 900 mounted men with wagons and provisions, and of course they had carte blanche to commandeer. Only full enfranchised burghers of the South Africa Republic were liable to be commandeered, and in Johannesburg town there was an extraordinary conglomeration of cosmopolitans amenable to this gentle process of enlistment.

It would take up too much time to adequately describe the excitement of Johannesburg on this memorable day. Thousands of Uitlanders were flying from their homes, contenting themselves, in their hurry to get away, to stand in Kaffir or cola trucks and to expose themselves cheerfully to the fierce sun, and other elements. The streets were palpitating with burghers ready to proceed to the frontier that night, and with refugees speeding to the stations. Everybody was in a state of intense feeling. One was half-heated, another cheerful, and a third thirsting for blood, while many of my men were under the influence of alcohol.

Ben Viljoen, 1906

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