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JS Verheem - Lieutenant, Transvaal Staats Artillerie & Bermuda P.O.W. 1 year 5 months ago #65222

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Jacobus Stephanus VerheemPrisoner of War

Lieutenant, Transvaal Staats Artillerie – Anglo Boer War

- Anglo Boere Oorlog Medal to Luitenant J.S. Verheem

Jacobus Verheem was born in Pretoria in the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (South Africa Republic) in 1881 the son of Dutch-born parents, Johannes Jacobus Verheem and his wife Catharina Verheem, born Kuneken. His father had been born in Utrecht, Holland – ironically the South African town of the same name was to feature in his life in later years.

As was often the case for the times in which they lived, the family was a large one with Jacobus the youngest born of eight children. He was joined in the family home by siblings Nicolaas Louis Verheem, Sybrand Abraham Verheem, Anna Wilhelmina Verheem, Catharina Verheem, Johannes Jacobus Verheem, David Jacobus Verheem and Maria Susanna Verheem. Mr Verheem was a “Koster” or Beadle in the local Dutch Reformed Church, ensuring that the Verheem brood would have had a strict Calvinist upbringing.

In early 1899, at the age of 18, Verheem joined the ranks of the 3rd Battery, Transvaal Staats Artillerie, as an Artillerist (Gunner). Talk of war would have been everywhere at the time, the actual outbreak, on 11 October 1899, would thus not have come as a surprise. Indeed, preparations placing the Artillerie on a war-footing had been underway for weeks.

As we have seen Verheem was assigned to the 'Franse' (French) Battery, the third of the three batteries of the Staatsartillerie and so called because it was equipped with six 75 mm breech-loading guns from the Schneider works in Le Creusot, France. This weapon was very effective and extremely difficult for the enemy to locate, as the low profile and the use of smokeless powder made it almost invisible. The main problem experienced with the gun was its brake, which was insufficient and could not control the kick. The other batteries were armed with 75 mm Krupp quick-firing field gulls, the 55 mm siege guns known as 'Long Toms', 37 mm Maxim Nordenfeldt 'pom-poms' and various other assorted weapons.

Discipline in the Staatsartillerie was similar to that of the Prussian Army, where a number of the Boer officers had attended courses, and European instructors had been seconded to mould the force into an efficient fighting unit. Daily drill and inspection parades were carried out and the garrisoning of the recently completed Fort Schanskop formed part of their duties.

Almost immediately after war was declared one half of the Staats Artillerie was sent to Zandspruit, while the other half was despatched to serve under General Cronje at Mafeking and Kimberley. At Zandspruit the Staats Artillerie was further divided - the 3rd Battery to serve under General Lukas Meyer at Dundee, while the 1st Battery took up a position on the Transvaal border at Charlestown and Newcastle.

At the artillery camp in Pretoria, action was feverish on 28 September 1899. Captain Pretorius, in charge of the 3rd Battery, had his men up before dawn. They paraded and then marched past the President's house and up Market Street to the station. Here the scene was festive, the artillery band under Lieutenant Maggs played stirring music, women wore their best clothes and hundreds of guests and well-wishers came to see the departure of the contingent. Loading commenced and sixty men, six guns, eight ammunition wagons and 105 horses were entrained. To the strains of the Volkslied and the applause of the bystanders, the train pulled out. After a journey of three monotonous days, interspersed with interminable halts, the train finally pulled up at Zandspruit, a siding about 15 km from the Natal border. As far as the eye could see, the veld was speckled with tents and wagon laagers as new burghers arrived in a continuous stream. The horses and equipment were off-loaded and a camp was pitched. The republican flag and a large marquee on the left of the tracks announced the presence of the commandant-general, Piet Joubert, and councils of war were already in progress.

For the next few days a holiday atmosphere prevailed, hunting parties went out and braaivleis and Boeremusiek were the order of the day.
The war council was already experiencing the disagreement that was to plague the Boer forces throughout the war. Every general wanted his own artillery detachment and the Staatsartillerie ceased to exist as a cohesive unit as guns and men were allotted piecemeal to the various commanders. The 1st and 3rd batteries were attached to the 2 000-strong commando of General Lukas Meyer.

General Joubert addressed the men from the saddle. Pointing at Majuba, which was clearly visible from the camp, and to Natal beyond, he reminded them how that country had been stolen from their forefathers by the English and of the victory they had achieved on the mountain in 1881. He urged them to take it back.

The Boers' plan of attack was to isolate the British garrisons in central Natal and then to press on to Durban. The Transvaal forces were divided into three columns: The left and centre were to attack General Penn Symons at Dundee whilst the right was to link up with the Freestaters and attack General White at Ladysmith.

On the morning of 12 October 1899, the great advance began. The right hand column, under the command of the 64-year-old General Kock had special orders to cut the railway line between Dundee and Ladysmith and occupy the Biggarsberg Pass. The centre, comprising the Heidelberg, Pretoria and Boksburg commandos under General 'Maroela' Erasmus, were to take Newcastle and then to attack the garrison at Dundee from the north-west. The left column under General Lukas Meyer was to follow the Natal border to De Jagersdrift and then to cross into Natal and attack the garrison at Dundee from the north-east. Strategically, the plan was excellent and should isolate the two garrisons.

The war was already seven days old and still not a shot had been fired in anger. The column had advanced some 90 kilometres and the Boers, especially the younger ones, were growing increasingly disenchanted at the lack of action. Commandant-General Piet Joubert, with the railway at his disposal, had only advanced 45 kilometres as far as Newcastle.

On the evening of 19 October, Meyer's force of about 4 000 men assembled at De Jagersdrift and, following a stirring sermon by Dominee Andersen of Vryheid, crossed the Buffalo River into Natal. Guided by a friendly Natalian, they made their way in the pouring rain across the veld and, after a brief engagement with a British picket, arrived at the back of Talana at 03.30 in the morning. Two Krupp guns and a Creusot 75 mm gun were labouriously hauled to the summit. Permission to build breastworks was denied by Meyer. As dawn broke and a gentle breeze cleared the mist, the enemy camp became clearly visible in the valley below and the battle commenced.

Determining precisely where Verheem (or any other Boer) fought is dependent on the details they provided on the Vorm B when they claimed their medal. This medal was claimed over a long period of time – commencing in about 1922 and continuing well into the 1940’s.

Quite naturally, as memories faded with time so too did the level of detail divulged. In the case of Verheem no mention is made of Talana although that is the very first engagement of any importance in which the 3rd Battery participated. Verheem mentions the following battles in which he participated, all of which we will explore in more detail – Ladysmith (this would have been the Siege), Colenso, Spioenkop, Dalmanutha, Chrissiemeer en meestal die andere gevegte - most of the other battles.

The Siege of Ladysmith

Ladysmith was laid siege to from 2 November 1899 after all British and Imperial troops in the area had been driven back into the town. Communications were cut and the Boers, initially a numerically superior force, placed men on the various hills and vantage points that surrounded the town. A bombardment of the town commenced almost immediately and was carried out, for the duration of the three month-long siege, on a daily basis, except Sundays. A very religious people, the Boers observed the Sabbath which meant that, for one day of the week, the military and remaining townspeople could go about their business free of any harassment.

Verheem and his fellows in the 3rd Battery were dotted around the hills and he would have been one of the gunners who would have lobbed any number of shells into Ladysmith – on most occasions to almost no effect although inconvenience was caused for the inhabitants who, thanks to the whistling noise the shells made as they approached, normally had the time to rapidly seek shelter.

Several sorties were arranged, most under cover of darkness, in an attempt to neutralise the Boer guns. These efforts met with varying success and were accompanied by loss of life on both sides. After an initial spurt of action, the Siege settled into a monotonous routine and, slowly but surely, Boer forces were syphoned off to combat the British men elsewhere.

Colenso - 15 December 1899

Verheem was one of those who battery was moved away from Ladysmith and sent down the twenty of so miles to the small town of Colenso. For an account of what transpired there we turn to the report compiled by General Louis Botha which details the role the Staats Artillerie played in what was yet another reverse for the Imperial forces. He wrote (abridged) as follows:

The enemy marched under the protection of a full battery to a distance of about 2 000 yards from our positions where the battery unlimbered, and then, under cover of a heavy shell-fire from this battery, the infantry began the attack. In addition to the guns mentioned, the attack was supported by two other batteries of four pieces each, placed approximately a thousand yards ahead of the enemy's big naval guns. The latter - four in number - mounted on the koppie immediately in front of the camp, also maintained a brisk fire on all our positions.

Our burghers as well as our artillery allowed the enemy to advance unmolested to a range of about 1 500 yards with their guns, and having allowed the infantry to approach to approximately 500 yards, they suddenly unleashed a heavy fire. The enemy had orders to cross the river at this point, and although they stormed repeatedly, the fire of our burghers and artillery was so well directed and had such good effect that only a captain, two lieutenants and a few men were able to reach the river bank. Here the enemy suffered a tremendous loss in dead and wounded.

The leading battery had meanwhile been transferred in a westerly direction to a cluster of trees approximately 1 500 yards from the Ermelo positions in the ditch. On the mountain right behind these positions stood our two Creusot guns (these were the guns manned by Verheem’s 3rd Battery), and on these pieces the enemy battery directed its fire - however without any effect. Our burghers soon perceived that this most forward English battery was within range of the Mausers. It was thereupon subjected to such a severe and accurate fire with Mauser and Creusot that it had to withdraw precipitately, leaving one gun behind in the agaves, as we discovered later - although unfortunately too late - when the enemy suddenly dragged the piece away again with a team of horses. The two Creusots, one of which was sited rather more behind the Soutpansberg positions, were of very great assistance to our burghers with their Mausers and inflicted awfully heavy losses upon the enemy, hurling their shells upon the advancing troops rather than engaging the hostile batteries.

If our burghers, as I have said, fought bravely and well, the Staatsartillerie, too, deserve a word of praise. Whereas our burghers sent away their horses or left them behind in their laagers, firmly resolved to fight unto death, so our artillery, too, were determined to do their utmost.

Under the heaviest fire, Captain Pretorius rode calmly from his one gun to the other so as to satisfy himself that everything was in order, that nothing was lacking and that the guns were working well. And our artillery did work well; the shots were fired accurately and only where and when necessary - no waste but also no misconceived parsimony. While the enemy had found the correct ranges by their bombardment of the previous two days, and our artillery still had to estimate theirs not having responded with a single shot, I was glad to see that they were immediately effective - right from the first shots of our guns.

A small force of not quite 3 000 men with five guns not only to resist, but to defeat - even with great loss - a strong and powerful enemy of 23 000 men with 36 guns, including some of the largest calibre, and armed with lyddite and dum-dum.

I have highlighted above only those aspects of the battle where the Boer artillery featured with Verheem as a young officer under Captain Pretorius – there was, of course, much more to the battle including the famous loss of the guns under Colonel Long and the heroism displayed by some of the British forces sent to retrieve them under an impossible fire.

Still Buller and his army moved ponderously onwards toward Ladysmith in an effort to relieve that place. Despite the various checks made to their progress, sheer weight of numbers had the Boers on the retreat. But what was to come was one of the most seminal battles of the entire Boer War and one which enjoyed massive press coverage at home in England – the disaster of Spioenkop.

Battle of Spioenkop – 24 January 1900.

This battle atop a hill by the name of Spioenkop was Buller’s third attempt to break through the Boer line across the Tugela River. Botha, a canny and effective strategist, concentrated the Boer guns fire on the British position on the summit. This effective deployment of the Boer guns meant that they were not visible to the Royal Artillery from their positions. An observation team was sent to the summit but failed to report back - there was, therefore no information received which could be put to use.

On this occasion the Boer artillery was commanded by Major Wolmerans who positioned himself with one of the 75 mm Krupp guns, alongside General Botha’s headquarters on the rear slope of Mount Royal. The Boers used three types of guns during the battle of Spioenkop – the 37 mm Maxim Nordenfelt (Pom Pom), a German 75 mm Krupp gun and Verheem’s battery’s Creusot of the same calibre. Despite their numerical disadvantage in guns they were used more effectively than their British compatriots.

Botha ordered Wolmerans to move the 75 mm Creusot guns, under the command of Lieutenant Friedrich von Wichmann, from Acton Homes to an area to the north-west of Spioenkop, at a range of 4200 metres from the summit. Together with the other Boer guns, havoc was created for the British men on the summit, with shells raining down on them with staggering accuracy.

The carnage was severe – although difficult to determine how many lost their lives or were wounded or mutilated by shellfire – the British lost between 322 and 412 killed and approximately 563 wounded, many blown to pieces. Verheem and his battery, sheltered and, for the most part unobserved, emerged unscathed from the battle.

Dalmanutha – the battle of Bergendal – 21-27 August 1900

The war raged on, entering the old Transvaal as the Boers were relentlessly driven back. After Lord Roberts had consolidated his position in and around Pretoria, French led the British advance eastwards – an advance which was co-ordinated with Buller’s advance from Natal. On 27 July 1900, French took Middelburg, but he was then required to remain in the region for about a month so that Buller could be given the opportunity to advance further. When the British advance was resumed, General Louis Botha and 5 000 Boers blocked the British forces’ advance at and in the vicinity of Bergendal, north-west of Dalmanutha Station in the area of present-day Belfast. From 21 August, British forces, under the command of Buller, attacked the Boer positions. During the main attack on 27 August, British forces succeeded in driving the Boers eastwards. British casualties in this battle came to about thirteen dead and 103 wounded, while on the Boer side there were at least 50 casualties.

The battle, in which Verheem and the 3rd Battery also took part, was seen thus from the Boer point of view:

Louis Botha's commando, an estimated seven thousand men, with twenty guns, including several Long Toms, controlled the railroad between Belfast and Kruger’s headquarters to the east. They faced 19,000 British with 82 guns.

The battle of Berg and Dal, commenced on 27 August with an assault by the cavalry, followed by the usual artillery bombardment. Buller noticed the tactical key to Botha's position - the big red hill near the farm Berg en Dal, a jumble of rocks stacked over a distance of three acres. If he took this “kop”, he would split the Boer line in two and further threaten their retreat route. Unlike Spioenkop, the position couldn’t be supported from behind or from the sides. Botha entrusted the decisive action to sixty of his best men, the ZARPs, members of the Republican Police Force. They were given a pom-pom (fast-firing, automatic cannon) along with one simple command: hold the hill to the last man.

At dawn on August 27, General Maj. JF Brocklehurst and his 2nd cavalry brigade as well as the 4th Corps mounted infantry were already in motion. They must provide cover for the advance and especially seek out positions from where Berg and Dal and the northern slope of the hill can be bombarded.

Early on the morning of the 27th, Inspector Kommandant P.R. Oosthuizen and S. Van Lier (ZARPs) occupy trenches dug during the night. From there, the commanders go to the front guard post of the police on the hill. The group sat quietly behind their sconces, ready to take on the British.

However, there are concerns about the ammunition, which has shrunk significantly over the past few days. Immediately, a wagon with ammunition and Martini-Henry rifles is dispatched and at 8:30 the group on the hill can hear the cracking of the whip and the screams of the drivers. The wagon must travel across an open stretch of 220 yards to reach the waiting post.

An hour later, the shells rained down on police positions. Sometimes as many as seven shells explode on the hill. The yellow smoke and fumes from the shells are suffocating. Despite being bombarded for three hours, no one left his post. Everyone remained silent, waiting for the British to charge, Finally, at noon, the long-awaited attack began, when the British stormed the ridge. The British troops were trapped in the deadly fire of the Boers. The terrain over which British troops must move is broken and provides excellent shooting targets to the defenders on the hill. At around 800 yards, British soldiers are greeted by heavy fire from the police. The British soldiers go to ground to answer the fire.

Twice the British are driven back until they finally reach the relative safety of a steep incline about 800 yards from the Boers. When the British attacked for the last time, they were greeted with even more accurate fire than before. The artillery also fires with renewed vigour on the approaching British. British troops are being spurred on by their officers, pushing courageously forward. In the end, the handful of ZARPs on the hill must succumb, their ammunition spent. Some managed to reach their horses, others fled on foot. Nineteen of the ZARPs were captured by the British and fourteen ZARPs were killed in this battle. On the British side, seven officers were wounded and three killed, while a hundred men were wounded or missing and twelve were killed.

Chrissiemeer – 6 February 1901

The Times History of the War wrote of this battle: “Lake Chrissie is little more than a glorified "pan" filling up in the rainy season and partially dry in times of drought. It was here that Smith - Dorrian's column camped on the evening of 5th February. The Boer General, Botha saw this large convoy with all its supplies and ammunition as an irresistable target. The British camp was well defended but were surprised when at 2.50 am on 6th February, "..a tremendous fusillade broke out followed immediately by a rush of galloping hooves through the crowded camp.

The horses of the 5th Lancers and ILH had stampeded, causing a great deal of confusion on the plateau and an unsteadiness among some of the mounted corps which was greater than it need have been. " The Boers used the stampeding horses as cover and cut up some of the West Yorks pickets. They weren't able to overwhelm the camp totally and were driven off. Losses were about even at about 80 each.”

Despite being in on the action it is unclear what role the Staats Artillerie played in what was meant to be a surprise movement gone wrong. The battle, although a loss for the Boers, did slow-up the British advance eastwards as they had to replenish their supply of horses providing Botha with valuable time to regroup.

For Verheem the end of the war was fast approaching – near the dusty town of Paulpietersburg near the Transvaal border with Natal – he was taken prisoner by the British forces. Aged only 19 and already a Lieutenant in the Staats Artillerie, he was transported to Bermuda. As to what action was taking place on or near that date? Thanks to Meurig Jones we have been able to establish that between 18 and 20 June 1901, “the town of Paulpieterburg was surrounded by Lt-Col M.F. Rimington's column, but only seven burghers were captured as it had been evacuated.” Was Verheem one of the seven? And what would he have been doing there?

The answer could, partly, lie in what happened a few years later. Having been repatriated to South Africa after the conclusion of hostilities, Verheem joined the Transvaal Town Police, based in his native Pretoria. It was in this capacity that he, on 13 July 1907, married a 23-year-old Maria Elizabeth Kahts – a young woman resident with her mother in the town of Utrecht – prior to the war a part of the Transvaal and, afterwards, incorporated into the colony of Natal. Could it be that Verheem had a love interest which is why he was in the area when he was captured?

Could Verheem be part of this photo?

Whatever the case may be his wife was to be a source of great angst to him. The first hint of trouble came via a Minute from the Governor General, Transvaal’s office on 21 August 1909. The Prime Minister was approached “to receive petitions on behalf of the undermentioned prisoners praying for mitigation of their respective sentences.” Verheem’s name was among those listed, however, the Ministers were “unable to recommend that any remission be granted at present.”

What was the reason for Verheem’s incarceration? Sadly, all that is mentioned is that he had contravened C.S. 46 Ord. 32/02 (515/09) – a reference which I have failed to uncover the meaning of. Perhaps it spelled the first hint of trouble with his wife.

Not many years later, on 28 August 1913 and after he had served his time, Verheem appeared in the Supreme Court of South Africa, Wits Local Division, as the Plaintiff in an Illiquid Case concerning Divorce. The upshot of this was that his wife, the Defendant, was ordered to restore conjugal rights to her husband on or before 29 September 1913 “or show cause why divorce and forfeiture of benefits under marriage in community of property shall not be granted.”

In documents filed it was said that Verheem’s wife had, in or about the month of June 1911, maliciously and without just cause, deserted him and returned to her mother in Utrecht. In a hand-written statement before the court, Verheem stated that:

“I was married to defendant on 13 February 1907 in Utrecht, Natal. I was living in the Transvaal at the time. I went down to get married. I went to Natal in 1909 to live there (probably after being released from prison). I stayed there a little over a year. My wife was with me in Natal. I returned here in February 1911. It was agreed she would follow me after I got fixed up. I got work at once and in April 1911 I sent for her. I am settled in the Transvaal now. I wrote her in May 1911 – at first she promised to come in a month’ time and then she said she would not come at all. I saw her in February this year. I went to Utrecht to see her. She refused to come. She said she would live with me there, but she wouldn’t come up here. Her mother is in Utrecht and she is living wither mother. I am prepared to support her up here. There is one child born about 11 or 12 months after I left.”

The records show that Mrs Verheem did not return to her husband and the divorce was duly granted. What happened to her and the child which was clearly not his is unknown. Likewise, Verheem, of whom no further trace could be found.

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JS Verheem - Lieutenant, Transvaal Staats Artillerie & Bermuda P.O.W. 1 year 5 months ago #65224

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Thank You Rory a great piece of work about the other side..... I would like permission to be able to add the information with regards to the Artillerie movements and actions to the ABO medal that I have CHRISTIAN GEORG SNYMAN, SERGEANT MAJOR, TRANSVAAL STAATSARTILLERIE.....

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JS Verheem - Lieutenant, Transvaal Staats Artillerie & Bermuda P.O.W. 1 year 5 months ago #65240

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Of course you may Mike
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JS Verheem - Lieutenant, Transvaal Staats Artillerie & Bermuda P.O.W. 1 year 5 months ago #65244

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A great account from the other perspective, so to speak.
Dr David Biggins

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JS Verheem - Lieutenant, Transvaal Staats Artillerie & Bermuda P.O.W. 1 year 5 months ago #65263

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Thank you David - yes, I try to find, where possible, accounts from the Boer perspective, especially where ABO medals are concerned.

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