My Reminiscences of the Anglo Boer War

When it was known that I had arrived into town my room in the North Western Hotel had been besieged. I was approached by all sorts of people pleading exemption from commando duty. One Boer said he knew that his solemn duty was to fight for his country and his freedom, but he would rather decline. Another declared that he could not desert his family; while yet another came forward with a story that of his four horses, three had been commandeered, and that these horses were his only means of subsistence. A fourth complained that his wagons and mules had been clandestine (although officially) removed. Many malingerers suddenly discovered acute symptoms of heart diseases and brought easily-obtained doctor’s certificate, assuring me that tragic consequences would attend their exposure in the field. Ladies came to me pleading exemption for their husbands, sisters for brothers, mothers for sons, all offering plausible reasons why their loved ones should be exempted from commando duty. It was very difficult to deal with all these clamorous visitors. I was much in the position of King Solomon, though lacking his wisdom. But I would venture to say that his ancient majesty himself would have been perplexed had he been in my place. It is necessary that the reader should know that the main part of the population was composed of all nationalities and lacked every element f Boer discipline.

On the evening of the 29th of September, I left with the Johannesburg commando in two trains. Two-thirds of my men had no personal acquaintance with me, and at the departure there was difficulty because of this. One burgher came into my private compartment uninvited. He evidently forgot his proper place, and when I suggested to him that the compartment was private and reserved for officers, he told me to go to the devil, and I was compelled to remove him somewhat precipitately from the carriage. This same man was afterwards one of my most trustworthy scouts.

My convoy compromised about a hundred carts, mostly drawn by mules, and it was amusing to see the variety of provisions my worthy field-cornets had gathered together. There were three full wagons of lime-juice and other unnecessary articles which I caused to be unloaded at the first halting-place to make room for more serviceable provisions. It should be mentioned that of my three field-cornets only one, the late Piet Joubert of Jeppestown, actually accompanied my commando. The others sent substitutes, perhaps because they did not like to expose themselves to the changing of air.

After traveling two days we came upon Chief Free State Commandment Prinsloo, who afterwards deserted, and other officers.

Ben Viljoen, 1906

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