My Reminiscences of the Anglo Boer War

On arrival at Glencoe Station I recieved a telegram from General Joubert informing me that he had defeated the enemy at Nicholson’s Neck near Ladysmith that day (October 30,1899) taking 1,300 prisoners, who would arrive at Glencoe the following morning. He desired me to conduct them to Pretoria under a strong escort. To conduct prisoners-of-war, taken by other burghers!

However, orders had to be obeyed, so I sent one of my officers with 40 men to take the prisoners to Pretoria, and reported to the Commandment-General by telegram that his order have been executed, also asking for instructions as to where I was to proceed with my commando. The reply I received was as follows:—

“Pitch your camp near Dundee, and maintain law and order in Province, also aid the Justice of the Peace in forwarding captured goods, ammunition, provisions, etc., to Pretoria, and see that you are not attacked a second time.”

On the 1st of November, 1899, we reached the main army near Ladysmith, and I went at once to tell General Joubert in person that my men wanted to fight, and not to play policemen in the rear of the army. Having given the order to dismount I proceeded to Joubert’s tent, walked in with as much boldness as I could muster, and saluted the General, who was fortunately alone. I at once opened my case, telling him how unfair it was to keep us in the rear, and that the burghers were loudly protesting against such treatment. This plea was generally used throughout the campaign when an officer required something to be granted him. At first the old General was very wrathful. He said I disobeyed his orders and that he had a mind to have me shot for breach of discipline. However, after much storming in his fine bass voice, he grew calmer, and in stentorian tones ordered me for the time being to join General Schalk Burger, who was operating near Lombard’s Kop in the siege of Ladysmith.

That same evening I arrived there with my commando and reported myself to General Burger. We pitched our tents on the same spot where a few days before General white and French had been defeated, and there awaited developments.

At this place the British, during the battle of Nicholson’s Nek, had hidden a large quantity of rifle and ammunition in a hole in the ground, covered it up with grass, which gave it the appearance of a heap of rubbish. One of the burghers who feared this would be injurious to the health of our men, set the grass on fire, and this son penetrated to the ammunition. A tremendous explosion occurred, and it seemed as if there were a real battle in progress. From all sides burghers dashed up on horseback to learn where the fighting was taking place. General Joubert sent an adjutant to enquirer whether the Johannesburgers were now killing each other for a change, and why I could not keep my men under better control. I asked this gentlemen to be kind enough to see for himself what was taking place, and to tell the Commandment-General that I could manage well enough to keep my men in order, but could not be aware of the exact spot where the enemy had chosen to hide their ammunition.

My Reminiscences of the Anglo Boer War

Everything no depended upon the fleetingness and staying power of my sturdy little Boer, pony, Blesman. He remained my faithful friend long after he had got me out of this scrape; he was shot, poor little chap, the day when they made me a prisoner. Poor Blesman, to you I owe my life. Blesman was plainly in league against all that was British; from the first he displayed Anglophobia of a most acute character. He has served me in good stead, and now lies buried, faithful little heart, in a Lyndenburg ditch.

In my retreat Sunday River had to be crossed. It was deep, but deep or not, we had to get through it. We were going at such a pace that we nearly tumbled down the banks. The precipice must have been very steep; all I remember is finding myself in the water with Blesman by my side. The poor chap had got stuck with his four legs in the drift sand. I managed to liberate him, and a lot of scrambling and struggling and wading through the four foot stream, I got to the other side. On the opposite bank the British were still firing.

At dawn, when the first rays of the sun lit up Biggersbergen in all their grotesque beauty, I realized for the first time where I was, and found that was considerable more than 12 miles from Elandslaagte, the fateful scene of yesterday. Tired out, half-starved and as disconsolate, I sat myself on an anthill. For 24 hours I had been foodless, and was now quite exhausted. I fell in to a reverie; all the past day’s adventures passed graphically before my eyes as in kaleidoscope; all the horrors and carnage of the battle, the misery of my maimed comrades, who only yesterday had answered the battle-cry full of vigor and youth, the pathos of the dead who, cut down in the prime of their life and buoyant health, lay yonder on the veldt, far away from wives and daughters and friends for ever more.

While in a brown study on this anthill, 30 men on horseback suddenly dashed up towards me from the direction Elandsgaate. I threw myself flat on my face, seeking the anthill as cover, prepared to sell my life dearly should they prove to be Englishmen. As soon as they observed me they halted, and sent one of their number up to me. Evidently, they knew not whether I was friend or foe, for they reconnoitered my prostrate from behind the anthill with great circumspection and caution; but I speedily recognized comrades-in-arms.

I had gathered round me in charge of a field-cornet, and proceeded by train in Newcastle to collect the scattered remnants of my burghers, and to obtain mules and wagons for my convoy, for, as I have previously stated, it was Newcastle we had left all our commissariat wagons and drought cattle under a strong escort. On arrival I summoned the burghers together, and addressing them in a few words, pointed out that we should, so soon as possible, resume the march, in order to reach the fighting line without delay, and there retrieve the pride and honor of our commando.

“Our beloved country,” I said, “as well as our dead, wounded and missing comrades, require us not to lose courage at this first reverse, but to continue the righteous struggle even against the overwhelming odds.”and so on, in this strain.

Ben Viljoen, 1906