My Reminiscences of the Anglo Boer War

The British certainly meant business that day. It was baptismal fire of the Imperial Light Horse, a corps principally composed of Johannesburgers, who were politically and racially our bitter enemies. And that was more unfortunate, our guns were so much exposed that they were soon silenced. For a long time we did our best to keep our opponents at bay, but they came in crushing numbers, and speedily dead and maimed burghers covered the veldt.

This was the first, as it was the last time in the War that I heard a British band playing to cheer attacking “Tommies.” I believed it use to be a British war custom to rouse martial instincts with lively music, but something must have gone wrong with the works in this War, there must have occurred a rift in the lute, for ever after this first battle in Elandslaagte the British abandon flags, banners and bands and other quite unnecessary furniture.

About half an hour before sunset, the enemy had come up close to our positions and on all sides a terrible battle raged. To keep them back was now completely out of the question. They had forced their way between the kloof, and while rushing up with my men towards them, my rifle was smashed by a bullet. A wounded burgher handed me his and I joined Field-Cornet Peter Joubert who, with seven other burghers, was defending the kloof.

When the sun had set and the awful scene was enveloped in darkness there was a dreadful spectacle of maimed Germans, Hollanders, Frenchmen, Irishmen, Americans, and Boers lying on the veldt.The groans of the wounded were heartrending; the dead could no longer speak. Another charge, and the British, encouraged by their success, had taken, our last positions, guns and all.

Another last look at the bloody scene. It was very hard to have to beat an ignominious retreat, but it was harder still to have to go without being able to attend to one’s wounded comrades, who were piteously crying aloud for help. To have to leave them in the hands of the enemy was exceedingly distressing to me. But there was no other course open, and fleeing, I hoped I might “live to fight another day.” I go away, accompanied by Fourier and my Kaffir servant. “Let us go,” I said, “perhaps we shall be able to fall in with some more burghers round here and have another shot at them.” Behind us the British lancers were shouting: “Stop, stop, halt you——Boers!”

They fired briskly at us, but our little ponies responded gamely to the spur, and, aided by the darkness, we rode on safely. Still the lancers did not abandon the chase and followed us for a long distance. From time to time we could hear the pitiful cries and entreaties of burghers who were being “finished off,” but we could see nothing. My man and I had fleet horses in good condition, those of the pursuing lancers were big and clumsy.

My adjutant, Piet Fourie, however, was not so fortunate as myself. He was overtaken and made a prisoner. Revolvers were being promiscuously fired at us, and at times the distance between us and our pursuers grew smaller. We could plainly hear them shouting “Stop, or I’ll shoot you,” or “Halt, you damned Boer, or I’ll run my lance through your blessed body.”

Ben Viljoen, 1906

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