In completing this research, I have borrowed liberally from work done by David Biggins iro the town of Maraisburg,
Johannes Abraham Hartslief
Private, Maraisburg Town Guard – Anglo Boer War
- Queens South Africa Medal to 20 PTE J. HARTSLIEF, JUN. MARAISBURG T.G.
Johan Hartslief, as can be determined from his name, was of Dutch descent although, by dint of being resident in the Cape Colony, a subject of the Crown. He was born in the Maraisburg district of the colony on 9 June 1884, the son of Jacobus Hartslief and his wife, Sarah Johanna Gesina Hartslief.
Maraisburg was a small town in the Eastern Cape, 67 miles east of Middelburg and 40 miles north east of Cradock, in the shadow of the Bamboes Mountain range. It is approximately half way between Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth. Its modern name (since 1911) is Hofmeyr, after Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr (1845 - 1909), a prominent Cape politician and newspaper editor.
The centre of a sheep-farming district, it was linked to the salt pans, 7 miles to the west of the town. It was also populated by Dutch-speaking farmers in the main and it would have been a sore test to their loyalties when the Boer War broke out in October 1899 forcing them to make the decision to throw their lot in with the Boers, their kith and kin in the two Boer Republics at war with Britain, or do what was required of them as loyal subjects of the Queen – enlist with a Town Guard or one of the many Colonial outfits that were raised to assist the Imperial effort.
Both Johan and his father chose the latter option and enlisted with the Maraisburg Town Guard when it was raised for the defence of the town and district in January 1902 – seeing service in the last 6 months of the war. From the start of the guerrilla phase of the Boer War, the Boer Commandos, fragmented into small and highly mobile units, had begun incursions into the Cape Colony in search of fresh recruits as well as supplies and horses to bolster their dwindling supplies.
The Handbook of the Boer War noted how in 1901 'Kritzinger after fifteen weeks' activity in the Cape Colony had returned to Zastron a few days before Smuts' arrival. His incursion into the Colony in May occurred at an opportune moment, for the local rebels were being severely worried. He made at first for the Zuurberg, but being soon expelled from it and from the adjacent mountainous district north of Sterkstroom, circled back to the Orange and snapped up Jamestown. He now flung his grenades on all sides. One rebel leader reached the Transkei districts; others prowled between Graaff Reinet and the Cape Town Railway. Kritzinger himself captured a small British detachment near Maraisburg.'
Commandant Gert van Reenen with about 200 Cape rebels occupied Maraisburg for a short while on 7 March 1901 which must have set the cat among the pigeons and been very awkward for those who were not willing to support their cause, despite being kindred spirits.
There was further evidence of Boer activity in the neighbourhood with Conan-Doyle, in Chapter 35 (Guerilla operations in Cape Colony) stating that 'To continue the survey of the operations in the Cape, the first point scored was by the invaders, for Malan's commando succeeded upon May 13th in overwhelming a strong patrol of the Midland Mounted Rifles, the local colonial corps, to the south of Maraisburg. Six killed, eleven wounded, and forty-one prisoners were the fruits of his little victory, which furnished him also with a fresh supply of rifles and ammunition. On May 21st Crabbe's column was in touch with Lotter and with Lategan, but no very positive result came from the skirmish.'
Denys Reitz's in Commando (Chapter 22) noted 'Next morning we rode out of the mountain country into the open plains of the Karroo. In the face of great odds, we had broken across the successive barriers placed in our way, and although we had still many troubles to meet, the English had failed to turn us back. We now slowly marauded southwards. At the village of Maraisburg, a large number of troops was waiting for us, but General Smuts skilfully led the commando through at night without firing a shot, and we continued unmolested.’
Stirling’s comments on the Frontier Light Horse included a statement that they 'were in numerous little engagements and many pursuits, and frequently suffered casualties, as in the Maraisburg district in August and September 1901.' In the Bethune Mounted Infantry entry he says the men 'were in numerous little engagements and many pursuits, and frequently suffered casualties, as in the Maraisburg district in August and September 1901'.
All in all, Maraisburg was quite a hot-bed of activity. It was, however, as mentioned, only in January 1902, that the Town Guard was called into being. The medal roll recorded that 28 medals were awarded off the roll dated 10 September 1905. Those to the Hartslief’s were returned unclaimed and reissued on 9 February 1910. Hartslief and his father, having the same initials, were known as “Junior” and “Senior” respectively. The roll is of further assistance in that it provided their addresses – in the case of Johan it was c/o Greyvenstein Brothers, Molteno in the Cape Colony whilst that to his father was to “Blacksmith, Molteno.”
The medal roll also mentions, in the remarks column, that “The Maraisburg Town Guard did garrison work from some time in January 1902 until the end of the war. This list contains only the names of Europeans.” – this last statement suggests that there were a number of coloured locals who might have been on strength as well.
Post-war, Hartslief continued on as a Clerk in Greyvenstein’s employment. On 5 October 1910, at the age of 25, he wed 21 year old Magdalena Maria Opperman in the Dutch Reform Church in Molteno. She was from Sterkstroom.
At the Florence Nightingale Nursing Home in Brixton, Johannesburg on 25 January 1954, Johan Hartslief passed away with Carcinoma of the Pancreas. He was a retired Checker with the South African Railways living at 22 Isleworth Road in Brixton when he died.
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