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A Bookkeeper in the Boer War - John Deary of Cradock 2 years 7 months ago #57016

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John Deary

Lieutenant and Quartermaster, Cradock Town Guard – Anglo Boer War
Major, 6th Dismounted Rifles (Midland Rifles) – Rebellion & German South West Africa

- Queens South Africa Medal to Lieut. & Q.M., J. Deary, Cradock T.G.
- 1914/15 Star to Capt. J. Deary, 6th Dismtd. Rfls
- British War Medal to Mjr. J. Deary
- Victory Medal to Mjr. J. Deary

John Deary’s father came out to South Africa, settling in Grahamstown in 1864. At some point thereafter the family moved to the small Karoo town of Cradock where they established themselves as Grocers

Our first encounter with John Deary comes courtesy of the Anglo Boer War. A resident of Cradock at the time it broke out; Deary and others could have been forgiven if they thought at the time that the fight would never come their way. They would have been, initially, correct on that score as the war was, at its very beginning in October 1899, confined to the territories and districts closely bordering the two Dutch Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

Strategic towns such as Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafikeng were invested and, with the small number of British troops in the country being stretched to the limit it all seemed to be going the way of the Boers. With the influx of additional manpower from overseas as well as the raising of many small colonial-based regiments, the tide began to turn and the Boers found themselves on the back foot. First Bloemfontein and then Pretoria fell but neither signalled the collapse of the Boer effort – instead small highly mobile Commando’s replaced the large cumbersome fighting forces harassing the British lines of communication plundering what they could before riding off into the sunset.

A few of the Boer leaders in the field decided to go on the offensive in the Cape Colony infiltrating that territory from the southern border of the Orange Free State. What was their objective? To entice Cape Dutch farmers and townspeople to rally to their cause. There was also a secondary imperative – to occupy small towns and fleece them of their supplies and other essentials required to sustain the Boer war effort. The Boer threat had suddenly become very close and very real to all the small hamlets dotted around the Eastern Cape – this led to the creation of Town Guards whose single purpose was to provide protection of both life and property for the inhabitants of these towns.

Sleepy Cradock, nestled in the heart of the Karoo, was no exception and the call went out to all able-bodied men who had not already joined one or other of the colonial outfits to come forward. Deary, by now a 34 year Bookkeeper by profession, answered the call, enlisting initially as a Corporal but soon after being promoted to the commissioned rank of Lieutenant and Quartermaster of the Cradock Town Guard. The fortunes of the various Town Guards dotting the Eastern Cape landscape varied with some not destined to have sight of any Boers let alone take aim at them whilst others were called upon to do exactly what they were intended for – to protect their town from marauding Boer Commando’s.

Cradock, as an important town, saw quite a bit of action as the following newspaper articles attest. The first was reported in the Bradford Observer of Wednesday, 9 January 1901 in an article which foretold of possible things to come and which read:-

“Cradock, Monday

There is no further news as to the exact whereabouts of the invading commando, but it is believed to have broken up into small bodies. The vanguard of the commando is said to be wearing yellow puggarees and neckties. The enemy do not appear to be soliciting the assistance of the colonials. But they commandeer poultry, bread and other foodstuffs. Otherwise they have done no great damage. They intimidate the people by threats against anyone who gives information or assistance to the British troops. The Cradock Town Guard now numbers 200 men”.

The Lancashire Daily Post of Friday, 27 September 1901 informed their readers of an action that took place a few days before involving the Town Guard:-

“A mounted patrol of the Cradock Town Guard surprised five Boers early on Wednesday morning. They captured 10 horses and 14 saddles. Two Boers were wounded.” The pace of things was definitely speeding up.

The Gloucester Journal of Saturday, 25 January 1902 under a banner “British Patrol Surprised – 50 men missing” informed their reading public that:-

“A Reuter message from Cradock reports that on Sunday a patrol of 50 men of the Cradock Town Guard went out from the Tarkastad Road and were surprised in the early morning by some of Wessels’ Commando who, to the number of about 200 strong, have been moving about the neighbourhood for some days. One man of the guard was wounded and only a few others returned to town. The rest, at the time of telegraphing, were missing.” Whether or not Deary numbered among the 50 is not known but, as was the trend at this point in the conflict, any P.O.W.’s would have been stripped of their belonging and let loose a few miles from home – the Boers simply didn’t have the capacity to feed and harbour prisoners.

Shortly after this Deary completed another attestation paper for the Town Guard wherein he claimed to have had prior service with the 1st City (Grahamstown) Volunteers. He also confirmed his next of kin as his wife, Ellen L. Deary.

On 31 May 1902 the Boer War ended and Deary returned to his civilian occupation on a full-time basis. This did not mean, however, that his days in uniform were a thing of the past – the School Cadet movement in South Africa was a well organised and efficient structure under the auspices of the military authorities and it was to Cradock High School Cadets that Deary directed himself. A letter from the Office of the Commandant General, Cape Colonial Forces, King Williams Town to the Under Colonial Secretary, Cape Town dated 24 January 1906 submitted “for the approval of the Honourable the Colonial Secretary, the appointment of John Deary as Lieutenant in the Cradock High School Cadet Corps, vice Bruce resigned, to have effect from the 20th December 1905.”

A letter on a Cradock High School letterhead directed to the same quarter on 17 July 1906 provided more detail. Entitled “Re-organisation of Cradock High School Cadet Corps” mention was made that “in order to make the Corps more efficient and to have Battalion Drill the Headmaster of the School, William Young Russell, M.A., desires to have two Companies. Company No. 1 Captain H.M. Cassels with Senior Lieutenant John Deary.”

One would have thought that this request was a fait accompli but this was not the case – on 6 December 1906 Cassels, as Officer Commanding Cadets wrote again to the authorities in King Williams Town as follows:-

“I may state that Mr Deary held the rank of Lieutenant during the late war in the Cradock Town Guard, and being a gentleman much devoted to sports of all kinds, I have every confidence is stating that he is just the kind of officer we require to place the Corps on a proper footing.”

A further accolade came his way on 16 March 1907 when approval was received for Deary’s promotion to the rank of Captain to replace Cassels who was transferred to the Umtata Public School Cadet Corps.

South Africa, post the Boer war, now entered into a period of peace combined with financial hardship for the war had been an expensive undertaking for almost all concerned. It is to be imagined that Deary went about his business in the normal way until, 12 years after the last shot had been fired in anger, war flared up again. On this occasion it wasn’t a localised fight but war on an international scale – ripples from the Great War that dawned on 4 August 1914 were soon felt in South Africa who were requested by the British authorities to invade and defeat the German forces in what was known as German South West Africa.

Botha the Prime Minister, along with Smuts his Minister of Defence, agreed to this undertaking but they had first to suppress a most unfortunate rebellion on home soil. This rebellion which pitted brother against brother in some instances, was instigated by a faction of die-hard Boers in the Orange Free State and the Western Transvaal who were in vehement disagreement with Botha’s decision to enter the war on the side of the British Empire – the very people whom they had fought against so recently. Now was the very winter of their discontent.

Many local regiments were called out by Botha to counter this threat and the Cradock-headquartered 6th Dismounted Rifles (Midland Rifles) was one of them. For the purposes of the Rebellion they reported into Military District No.15 based at Kroonstad with effect from 12 December 1914. Deary had put his Cadet training to good use and had enlisted with the Midland Rifles on 25 November 1914 with the rank of Captain. As a result he would have been, at the very least, a Company Commander of his regiment who were thrown into the conflict against the rebels.

As it turned out Botha and the forces at his disposal proved too much for the Boer Commandos and the rebellion came to an acrimonious conclusion allowing him to now, at last, focus his energies on German South West Africa. For this campaign the 6th Dismounted Rifles were attached to the Southern Force centred, initially, around Hopetown on 28 December 1914.

This force which had experienced organisational changes demanded by the Rebellion operations previous to January 1915, was composed of one Battery Field Artillery and 29 mounted commandos together with 5000 rifles under the command of Lieut General Sir J. van Deventer. It operated in five and later in four columns and on 24 April was combined with the Eastern Force to form the 2nd Division of the Southern Army which was demobilized on the 5th of May as the enemy had evacuate the Southern theatre of operations.'

That the southern forces were not superfluous to the campaign was evident from the fact that one rebel force succeeded in joining hands with the enemy. After the suppression of the rebellion the Southern forces were established on long lines of communication that had been laboriously created and it would have been unwise to abandon these before the Northern Force had definitely gained its first objective. Their strategic object therefore all through was to exert a converging pressure on the most suitable point somewhat North of Keetmanshop.

Deary was promoted to Temporary Major on 1 January 1915 at the very onset of the campaign. He was released from the army on 25 May 1915 only to re-enlist with the 1st Composite Regiment on 27 March 1917 with the rank of Captain. He fulfilled this role until being released from service for the last time, on 20 November 1917. Having already received his Queens Medal for the Boer War he was now awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal for his efforts.

A publication celebrating Cradock’s 150th anniversary as a town appeared in 1964 – page 18 refers to the role played by the town in the war and is offered as additional information to what has been stated above. The paragraph, translated from the original Afrikaans, read thus:
“Most of Cradock’s young men joined either the Midlands Regiment or the Cradock Commando, both of which served with distinction during the German South West campaign. During the war, a son of Cradock, Mannie Faulds, earned the highest honour imaginable, being awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry. The “Cradock Bricks” earned a reputation second-to-none but, nonetheless, the loss of life was large in relation to the population of the town, and the war memorial shows many names of those who lost their lives under the command of Commandant Philip du Plessis and Major Jack Deary.”

Post-war Deary started to make an impact on the civic life of Cradock – perhaps this is why, according to a memorandum from the Prime Minister’s Office dated September 1922, the following was sent to him: -

“Ministers have the honour to recommend that His Royal Highness the Governor General may be pleased to dispense with the services of Captain John Deary, 6th Dismounted Rifles (Midlandse Schutters), Active Citizen Force, with effect from 17th August 1922, for breach of military discipline in refusing to accept official correspondence addressed to him as an officer of the Union Defence Forces.

What was keeping Deary so occupied that he was no longer able to maintain his reserve of officer commitments? Simply the fact that he was now the Mayor of the town, a role he kept for most of the 1920’s – serving two terms – 1920-21 and 1922-28. Additionally, his wife, Ellen Louisa, had passed away at the age of 40 on 9 January 1918 from a miscarriage; further adding to his burden.

His son, Lionel Ignatius Deary had also joined the R.A.F. on 11 May 1918 after a 21 month stint in German East Africa with the 3rd S.A. Horse.

According to a History of Cradock, “For most of the 1920’s, Cradock’s mayor was an energetic greengrocer, John Deary. Deary would successfully pilot important new water and electricity schemes through the town council, part of continuing efforts to draw new white residents to Cradock and to burnish its image as a thriving “up to date” town. Deary and his colleagues on the council were responsible to an almost wholly white electorate that expected them to attract new business and residents.

In October 1926 he called a special meeting of the town council to propose building separate new locations for Africans and Coloureds stating that “The idea of this Council, and it has always been my own idea, is … that the Native and Coloured people should be separated.”

Having moved to Johannesburg at some point, Deary passed away at the age of 79 on 4 May 1946 from a Coronary Thrombosis. His death notice indicates that he was born in Scotland but we know that was not the case. He was described as a Retired General Dealer of own account and was the recipient of a War Veteran’s Pension. He died at 27 Evans Street, Forest Hill, Johannesburg.

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A Bookkeeper in the Boer War - John Deary of Cradock 2 years 7 months ago #57017

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Thank you Rory.......
Your work is greatly appreciated......

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A Bookkeeper in the Boer War - John Deary of Cradock 2 years 7 months ago #57023

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A fascinating write-up and very interesting story. Many thanks, Rory.
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A Bookkeeper in the Boer War - John Deary of Cradock 8 months 1 week ago #67048

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With new information (and a photo taken when he was Mayor of Cradock) coming to light, I have edited my initial story on Deary
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