- Queens South Africa Medal to 50 Pte. J.R. Meaker, Rosmead T.G.
John Meaker was born in the dusty Karoo town of Cradock on 11 April 1870, the son of Samuel Thomas Everley Meaker, a Farmer and second-generation 1820 Settler, and his wife Louisa Wilhelmina Meaker (born Gregorowski) – as can be established from her name, John’s mother was of German descent which would account for the “Reinhold” in his moniker.
Growing up on the farm in the arid Karoo (Mr Meaker farmed at Daggaboerhoek in the Bedford district) would have been a lonely life but, in his case, there were a plethora of siblings to keep each other entertained. The first born, John was followed in succession by Herbert Edmund, Martha Everley, Louis, Frank, Amy, Reinhold, William, Louisa Gregorowski, Minnie Gregorowski, Sydney Thomas Everley and Ernest – a total of 12 children in all.
The Meaker clan - no one is sure which of these chaps was John Reinhold
By the time the Anglo Boer War broke out on 11 October 1899, Meaker was already almost 30 years old and farming for his own account in the Rosmead area of the north eastern Cape Colony. Rosmead, previously known as Middelburg Road, was an important railway junction on the route into the hinterland of South Africa and was at the epicenter of the route the Boers were soon to choose as they infiltrated the Cape in their quest for a route to the sea and, as the war dragged on, for supplies and sympathisers among the local Dutch population who could be convinced to join their cause.
The urgent need for the creation of a body of local men who could protect their families and property from marauding Boers took hold in most of the small towns dotting the eastern Cape landscape. This led to the establishment of Town Guards, part-time soldiers, who were issued with rifles and ammunition and asked to keep an eye on things in their neck of the woods. Despite being a major railway junction and the scene of many regiments and brigades passing through en route to the north, the Rosmead Town Guard were the only permanent force available to ward off the Boers should they come and come they did.
Rosmead was an important junction
There is every indication that the small settlement was invested by the Boers early on in the conflict and, almost certainly, before a Town Guard could be constituted. The investment was short-lived and the Boers driven out but there were many incidents thereafter which were reported on.
On 30 December 1900 a train was held up 6 miles to the north of Bangor, between Rosmead and Sherborne. It was a goods train of thirty coaches and sixty men of the Prince Alfred's Guards were travelling in it on their way back from the front, while there were about 40 passengers, women and children. The enemy numbered 200. The soldiers defended themselves until their small amount of ammunition was exhausted, when all were made prisoner, but they were subsequently released. No passengers were hurt, but among the troops an officer and three men and a native were wounded, more burnt. After the train was brought to a standstill firing was maintained for at least 10 minutes.
The newspapers reported that the Boers had burnt an “empty goods train” and captured 60 Colonial troops who were later released. We know from the aforementioned report that there was more to the saga than what appeared in the Edinburgh Evening News of 1 January 1901.
On 11 April 1901 it was reported that 100 Boers had visited a farm near Roodehoogte and stolen 9 horses owned by Jew horse buyers, along with 2 horses from another farm. The railway line near Roodehoogte had again been blown up but only slight damage had been done. This incident had occurred in the Rosmead area.
Four days later, on 15 April 1901, it was reported that, “A Colonial column, 600 strong has left Rosmead, Cape Colony in pursuit of the invader Kritzinger.” Kritzinger, who had a farm in the Cradock are and was thus well acquainted with the conditions and the terrain, was proving to be a thorn in the side of the British war effort – popping up, as was his wont, in the most unlikely places where he and his Commando would loot small settlements and farms before galloping back to safety over the Orange River into the Free State.
As if to prove that ongoing vigilance was a requirement, it was reported from Rosmead on 10 August 1901 that: -
“The enemy in small parties are displaying renewed activity in the Midland district. Four armoured trains were engaged yesterday on different lines within 50 miles of this place. The enemy sniped an armoured train from behind a kopje near Bethesda Road, killing the Sergeant in charge. An armoured train shelled and scattered 50 Boers near Fish River. An alarm of Boers occurred 50 miles north of Rosmead, but it was apparently stopped by the blockhouses and an armored train was also engaged near the Hanover Road blockhouses. A Commando crossed the line to the south at Conway before daylight this morning. An English farmer reports that it was Kritzinger’s as he recognized several of the men in it. Kritzinger is evidently breaking back to his old haunts.”
As can be seen from the above, Meaker and his Town Guard comrades would have been on constant alert for a long period of time. In his own instance, from the time of his enrolment with no. 50 on 17 January 1901. Approximately 38 medals were awarded to this small unit.
Post-war Meaker returned to his farming pursuits marrying Jeanette Whitaker in nearby Middelburg at some point. She was to bless him with two daughters – Una Orr and Mavis Eila. He passed away at Frere Hospital in East London on 13 June 1932 at the age of 62 years and 2 months
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Just after I posted this story this afternoon I made a random call to a chap with the Meaker surname who lives in Somerset East. He turned out to be John Reinhold Meaker's great nephew. He has the family tree and, more importantly, was able to send me a family photo identifying the various members.
I append the photo below - my man is the lanky chap in the right of the back row holding the rifle.