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Battlefield correspondence 7 months 3 weeks ago #92229

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Not many of the original written messages that were exchanged between commanders of opposing armies during the Boer War have survived. There was little reason to hang on to ephemera that had already served its purpose, especially in a war where horses were the main mode of transport and speed and mobility of the essence. Even documents that were meant to be kept were often lost, or later discarded after suffering from bad storage conditions or exposure to the elements. Add thereto the sad fact that many of the documents that survived the war disappeared subsequently in over-enthusiastic spring cleanings, and it is easy to understand why most Boer War battlefield correspondence no longer exists.

One of the saving graces in this regard, however, was the tendency of senior British officers to move around the battlefields with grooms, desks, Vuiton travel cases and mahogany shaving mirrors. Lord Kitchener was even rumored to have travelled with an upright piano to entertain his fan club of freshly-faced young officers. This, coupled with the fact that the boys from Aldershot were often better educated than the backveld farmer about the potential historical significance of such ephemera, largely explains why field correspondence had a better chance of survival in the hands of the British than in the hands of the Boers.

One of the British officers that looked well after paperwork in his possession was one Herbert Eversley Belfield, a full Colonel and A.A.G to Lord Methuen during South African campaign. Belfield got the bright idea to write a book about the war as soon as he set his foot on the African Continent and noted down facts and observations in his diary as well as in hundreds of letters to his wife. More important in this context, however, was the fact that Herb preserved much of the actual field notes received by Lord Methuen from the Boer Commanders fighting the British troops. The correspondence collected by Belfield -some 35 items, in many instances with contemporary translations- covers the period 14 December 1899 to 15 October 1901 and ended up with the Boer War obsessed Kenneth Griffith. Griffith’s collection was dispersed in the UK in various sales around 2006 and ended up with the author of this proza. Although these field notes should probably be in a museum, I have decided that there is a better chance of reaching an interested audience by sharing them on this platform. Time allowing, I intend to do so over the coming months, in chronological order and with context if possible. As you will notice some of that correspondence is of a house-keeping nature, others are poignant and unapologetic. One thing that will strike everyone though is that, notwithstanding the horrors of the battlefield, the correspondence between the opposing commanders was on the whole very cordial.

Cronje to Methuen, aftermath of Battle of Magersfontein

December 14, 1899, message from General Piet Cronje authorizing Lord Methuen to have his dead troopers collected from the battlefield. This message was sent in response to a request by Methuen in the aftermath of the for the British disastrous Battle of Magersfontein three days earlier. The text of the message stated that the British had to complete the work by 6PM that day. This was wrongly translated refer attached contemporary translation (“Should be here by 6 PM”) and that possibly caused confusion.

Boer losses in the battle of Magersfontein were killed: 71, wounded 165. Of these no less than 19 killed and 20 wounded belonged to the Scandinavian corps.
The British lost 22 officers (including General Wauchope) and 188 other ranks killed, 46 officers and 629 other ranks wounded, and one officer and 62 other ranks missing.

The (London) " Standard " war correspondent, writing from the battle-field (January 8, 1900), bore the following testimony to the humanity of the victorious Boers:
" In the intervals of armistice which were subsequently arranged, the enemy behaved with great courtesy. They had given water to our wounded of the Highland Brigade early in the morning after the battle. These poor fellows had lain all day Monday under heavy fire and hot sun, and all Monday night, which was particularly cold, without water, and they had had no food since Sunday evening. The Boer Commander, General Cronje, was exceedingly courteous and kind, assisting in every way possible. He further offered 50 burghers to help to bury our dead. Lord Methuen sent a letter of thanks to General Cronje for his courtesy."
The English dead were very badly buried, and General Cronje had to communicate with Lord Methuen on Wednesday to point out that the work was so hastily done that limbs were protruding from the too shallow pits in which the bodies had been interred. I was solemnly assured by the Bev. Mr. Marquardt, of the Dutch Beformed Church, who was present during the scene, which he described with a shudder, that the second burial party [possibly after reception of attached document, efv]sent by Methuen were all intoxicated while performing the gruesome task of re-burying their comrades. Drink was, it appears, deemed to be necessary for the burying party, owing to the rapid decomposition of the bodies after lying some days in the broiling sun. Some of the Tommies jumped on the covering of the pits so as to press down the bulging carcases of the dead. A horrible and sickening scene, truly; but it is only by the painting of war in its true and ghastly character, and not in its tinsel trappings, that the victims of war—the working men—may be induced not to lend their support to those who wage war for other than noble and patriotic ends.
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Battlefield correspondence 7 months 3 weeks ago #92230

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Magnificent, Everhard

I look forward to further instalments ....

Neville
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Battlefield correspondence 7 months 3 weeks ago #92237

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Field Cornet Daniels to Lord Methuen

Page crudely torn from a small, lined notebook, dated 8 April 1900, in which Field Cornet J.C. Daniels responds to Lord Methuen (mentioned as addressee at the back) stating he had received the message, with thanks, and that he would convey its contents to the President (Steyn).

In the sidelines Belfield has scribbled: “Reply to a suggestion [Lord Methuen’s, efv] under flag of truce to lay down arms.”


This is a rather curious correspondence -also unusually in English- by a junior Boer officer to one of the highest-ranking officers in the British army. Given the importance of the message it responded to, a reply from a Kommandant or Generaal would have been more likely or appropriate. Perhaps the Boers replied in this way for military strategic reasons i.e. not to let Methuen know who of the high ranking officers and officials were there. From Belfield’s map it appears that on April 7 1900, Methuen was at Zwartkoppiesfontein near Boshof (Orange Free State.)
A Kommandant Daniels is mentioned in Die Boere Offisiere as having participated in the Battle of Magersfontein and a Johan Cristian Daniels of Boshof, aged 33, is mentioned in the Bloemfontein museum database as POW 15157, captured on the 17th of May 1900 near Hoopstad. No Record of J.C. Daniels could be found in the DTD or ABO lists. Any information on this Field Cornet is welcome.
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Battlefield correspondence 7 months 3 weeks ago #92238

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Johan Christiaan Daniels was born in Beaufort West, Cape Colony in 1868. He had moved to Boshof in the Orange Free State by the time of his marriage to Amy Marais on 12 January 1897. He was recorded as being an Agent, living in Boshof, at the time of his nuptials. His wife Amy had an English mother, Emily Beck who, although married to an Afrikaner, raised the children to be fully conversant in her mother tongue. I suspect this was carried on by Amy who named her children Sydney, Madge and Teunis.

That, and his education (he wasn't merely a farmer) could also possibly account for her husband's fluency in English resulting in the letter.

JC Daniels was a practising Attorney who passed away in Bloemfontein on 1 April 1932 at the age of 65. See attached for his death notice.

In addition, there is this entry from the pen of Samuel Osborne of the Van Alen American Field Hospital who wrote: -

"Riding ahead, I entered the town of Hoopstad before the main body of the column, and whilst awaiting their entry got into conversation with an Englishman resident in the town. He proving to be an old bluejacket from H.M.S. Blanche, my heart immediately went out to him and I immediately got him to supply us with milk, butter and bread. At our midday mess his character was aspersed without knowledge, which I resented, though the charges afterwards proved to be correct. This renegade Englishman, who had deserted from the Navy, had been excused by the Boar commander of his district from fighting against his own countrymen, and having got his letter of exemption, excepted the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds from an old Boer farmer to in his stead. No wonder they had a bad opinion of Englishmen in that town. My quondam friend the following day found himself in the local gaol, with a court-martial hanging over him. What his ultimate punishment was I don’t know – shooting was too good for him.

The Boars now began to come in daily to surrender and give up their weapons and ammunition. A large bonfire to destroy the latter was burning for two whole days. Some prisoners, Generals Daniels and Dupree amongst the number (the notorious General Pretorius unfortunately escaped capture), wrapped up in vary loud coloured rugs and riding on an ox waggon, were taken along with us.

It was at the house of General Daniels in Boshof, which was occupied as a residence by some officers, that I had the pleasure of dinning. Our march continued along the south of the Vaal River, which in some places reminded me very much of the Thames scenery. We then proceeded south to Bothaville and thence to Kroonstad. The entry to Bothaville was marked by some looting on the part of our soldiers, but not to any great extent. The taking of some 2 ½ d fans was brought one man, and there was a supposed order that anyone found looting was to be hanged and his regiment sent down to the Cape, we were all very fearful that the order would be carried out for this offence, although it was actually so trivial. Stellenbosch, a camp not far from the Cape, was the corner to which those were sent who had done wrong. “To be Stellenbosched” was synonymous to being reprimanded or punished, it became a familiar expression."




Regards

Rory
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Battlefield correspondence 7 months 3 weeks ago #92244

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Hoofd Kommandant (OVS) Christiaan de Wet to Major General C.E. Knox

Letter dated August 8, 1900 by Christiaan de Wet to Maj. Genl. Knox at Kroonstad. The letter (translation herewith reproduced including corrections in the Dutch original) is in the hand of a secretary and signed by de Wet.

Hoofdlaager
August 8, 1900
The Honourable
Maj. Genl. C.E. Knox
Kroonstad O.V.S

Honourable Sir,
As prisoners of war I have, among others, the following Lieutenants: F.W.E Johnson, Second Battalion Royal Fusiliers; W. Ainsworth, Durham Light Infantry; Norman Fraser, Cameron Highlanders; O.C. Borret, Kings O.R. Lancaster Regiments; which lieutenants with five six other private soldiers, I wish to exchange for nine ten of my private burgers now your prisoners of war, namely as follows:
1: Harry Morkel and 2: Georg Meiring, taken prisoner on the 3rd of this month near Holfontein Siding. 3: H. v.d. Schijff, captured on the 2nd or 3rd of this month near Rhenosterkop prior to the occupation of Bethlehem. 4: Jacobus v.d. Merwe captured at Wolhuterskop after the occupation of Bethlehem 5: S.J. du Plooy, 6: D. Pitou, 7: J. van Konijnenburg, 8: Du Rooi, 9: Willemse, 10: Stantien, the latter six persons were taken prisoner between Kroonstad and Lindley early July. Numbers 1,5,6,8 and 10 are wounded. I have afterwards taken another Lieutenant prisoner whose name is still unknown, and who I will exchange, if you have no objection, for Botha Visser who was captured by you near Kafferskop on the taking of Bethlehem.

I have the honour to be awaiting your Honour’s reply,
Your obedient servant,
C.R. DE WET, Hoofd Kommandant OVS

P.S. Please transmit enclosed letter addressed to Lord Roberts to your honour. f.du F, for Hoofd Kommandant.

Although the exchange of prisoners was not unusual during the war, this exchange most probably didn’t take place as per information gleaned from this website and that of the Bloemfontein museum. The British cast of prisoners, to the extent they were named, is interesting to say the least. 2nd Lieutenant F.W.E. Johnson (Royal Irish Fusiliers), taken on 21 July 1900 near Honing Spruit (40 kms north of Kroonstad) was released by his captors. Lieutenant William John Ainsworth, captured on August 3, 1900 near Ventersburg (50 kms south of Kroonstad) managed to escape and went on to make a massive nuisance of himself (from Boer perspective) earning himself a DSO. I don’t know when and where Lieutenant Percy William Norman Fraser, Queens Own Cameron Highlanders was caught, but judging from his many mentions in Dispatches and him earning a DSO, he obviously managed to get back to British ranks to be KIA in 1915 during WW1. I could not find Lieutenant Borret, not sure his name was spelled correctly and perhaps the medal men can help here.

Research on the burger names was more of a challenge as there are many men with the same initials and family name (Try Botha, Potgieter or Pretorius and you see what I mean). Also, with the frequent use of nicknames and various spelling of surnames, a Boet, Jan or Appie Kotzé may actually be Abraham Johannes Cornelis Coetzee esq. It is thus possible that one or more of the men listed below are wrongly identified; please feel free to make corrections or add information if you have that available.
Burger Gerhard Maritz (Harry) Morkel aged 22 was taken prisoner on June the 5th 1900 near Johannesburg and ended as POW in an unnamed camp. George Henry Meiring (33 years of age) was captured near Kroonstad, according to the Bloemfontein Museum website on 3 September 1900 but given the date of de Wet’s letter probably on the 3rd of July or 3rd of August. Meiring ended up in Diyatalawa. Burger Hendrik Cornelis van der Schijf (aged 25) was caught by the British on August 3, 1900 near Rhenosterkop and ended up in a POW camp tbd. Jacobus Johannes van der Merwe (21 years of age) was captured near Bethlehem on July 13, 1900 and was shipped to Diyatalawa. Schalk Jacobus du Plooy (21 years of age) was taken from the Lindley Hospital on June 26, 1900 and ended up in an unnamed POW camp. Pitou is probably Pitout and the only burger that could possibly fit is one Michael Johannes Pitout of Bethlehem, captured at Fouriesburg on the 30th of July 1900 and then sent with the Bavarian to Diyatalawa. For van Konijnenburg, Du Rooi and Stantien I couldn’t find anything, again the spelling used may be off. For Willemse, the closest match is for Felix Johannes Jacobus Maurits Willemse, taken prisoner on July 3, 1900 aged 23 near Lindley and sent to Diyatalawa. The last burger mentioned in de Wet’s letter was Rudolph Philip Botha Visser, according to this website captured near Kaffersdorp (the letter mentions Kafferskop) on the 3rd of July 1900 when 23 years of age and, like most mentioned herein, carted off to Diyatalawa.
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Battlefield correspondence 7 months 3 weeks ago #92297

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Hoofd Kommandant Christiaan de Wet to Officer in charge of British troops opposite his lines

Rustenburg, August 16 [1900]

Sir,
On the 9th of August ultimo (Thursday) Dr. A.E.W. Ramsbottom, in charge of the Orange Free State Ambulance, remained behind on the farm Buffelspoort near the Vaal river. I suspect that he is within your lines, and my courteous but urgent request is for him to be immediately released and sent outside your lines into this direction.
Your Obedient Servant,
C.R.DE WET, Commander in Chief, Orange Free State

To: The Right Honorable Officer in charge of the British forces opposite our lines.

In the documents left by Colonel Belfield there was also a Jeppe Map on which he noted his “Wanderings with troops during S.A. War”. From that it appears that Methuen’s headquarters moved from Rietfontein (farm reference 911) on the 13th of August, to Doornlaagte (417) on the 14th, then to Rietvalley (350) on the 16th from which it moved further west to Tweerivier (unreadable) on the 17th.

The timing of the message -written on paper with the shield of the OVS embossed- is interesting. De Wet and his commandos were being chased by a force of 40.000 enemy troops, all itching for a “Capture of De Wet” clasp on their QSA medal. De Wet (with other formidable men like Gideon Scheepers, Danie Theron, Piet Liebenberg, Philip Botha, Michael Prinsloo, Loffie Davel) had fought himself successfully out of many tight spots, notably at the battle at Vanvuurenskloof on the 7th. As per this message (sorry, cut off in picture), De Wet was in or near Rustenburg on the 16th, so very close to the enemy's HQ at Rietvalley. It was also around this time that Orange Free State President Steyn, with a lifeguard under Kommandant Koos Boshoff, left De Wet’s commandos to meet with Transvaal President Kruger in Machadodorp, just days before the last set-piece battle of the war at Bergendal (Dalmanutha).
A.E.W. (Albert) Ramsbottom, who found himself behind enemy lines on the farm Buffelspoort (668, southeast of Rustenburg), was a Bloemfontein medical doctor and an Administrator of the Orange Free State. After he lost his ambulance, Ramsbottom had joined Hertzog’s commando and stayed in the field until the end of the war.
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