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Coetzee, Abel Daniel. Burger 7 years 7 months ago #28696

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Coetzee, Abel Daniel. Burger 3 years 6 months ago #63860

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Abel Daniel Coetzee

Burger, Marico Commando – Anglo Boer War

- Anglo Boer War Medal to Burg. A.D. Coetzee
- British War Medal to Burg. A.D. Coetzee, Marico Kdo.
- Victory Medal to Burg. A.D. Coetzee, Marico Kdo.

Abel Coetzee was born in the Marico area of the Western Transvaal on 11 May 1881, the son of Abel Daniel Coetzee, a Farmer, and his wife Anna Francina Coetzee, born Roos. The family farmed on Straatsdrift in the Marico district.

Life for the Coetzee’s would have consisted of entirely pastoral activities – there were no towns of any size to speak of and young men would have been taught to ride, shoot and hunt from an early age, both for sport and for their survival. This invariably meant that any Boer boy or young man older than 12 or 13 would have been comfortable in the saddle and a crack shot, even whilst firing on horseback – traits that were to give them the upper hand in many a combat situation when war was declared.

Coetzee was to bear arms for the Transvaal Republic during the Anglo Boer War which commenced on 11 October 1899, specifically as a member of the Marico Commando.

Within days the Marico Commando, along with its neighbour, the Rustenburg Commando, headed towards Mafeking in what is now known as Botswana but at which time was part of the Cape Colony under British rule. Although barely more than a village in size, Mafeking was deemed by the Boers to be of strategic importance and a town that had to be invested and taken. The Siege of Mafeking, which had started on 13 October 1899 proved to be a difficult trial for the Commandos.

The Marico Commando and the Rustenbergers, initially a total of about 3500 men, were left to hold the perimeter of the town. The Daily Telegraph of Saturday, 21 October 1899 carried one of the first reports to trickle through from the frontline. Under the banner, “BOER VERSION OF THE FIGHT” it read as follows:

I have succeeded in obtaining a copy of the Standard and Diggers News, containing the Boer version of the fighting on the Western border. It says: “On Thursday morning 500 men of the Rustenburg and Marico commandos were detached from General Cronje’s commando. They left Bultfontein, and crossed the border, and immediately began to destroy the lines of communication. The railway track and bridges at Kraaipan were wrecked with dynamite. The Marico Commando entered Ramathlabama, which was looted. Three men, a police constable and two gangers were taken prisoner. Whilst engaged in the destruction of the line the Burghers espied an engine and two trucks steaming from Mafeking.

When the train reached the siding seven miles north of the town the Burghers rushed from their cover, and opened a well-directed fire, at the range of 300 yards. The driver of the train uncoupled the trucks, and switching the engine onto the down line, returned at full speed in the direction of Mafeking. The deserted trucks were riddled with bullets. They contained dynamite and a terrible explosion resulted, the trucks being blown to atoms. There was no casualties among the Burghers.

The Burghers south of Mafeking were not molested until night, when shortly after 11 o’ clock, an armoured train, consisting of an engine and two wagons, and carrying detachments of Colonel Baden-Powell’s men, was seen to be approaching. A desultory fire was opened, and an irregular fusillade was maintained all through the night until daybreak. A heavy fire was directed against the train, which surrendered.

Meanwhile Burghers reinforced by the Marico Commando approached Mafeking from the north. After they had passed Oaklands Junction scouts reported that a second armoured train was approaching. The Burghers again formed in battle array and poured in a withering volley at a range of 1000 yards, but the armour rendered the fire ineffective. The flat nature of the veldt yielded no cover, and the men were compelled to be prone on the open ground. The British repeatedly raked the lines of the Boers. Two Burghers were killed and four wounded, one dangerously. One man was accidentally killed by a comrade.” Reuters Special Service.

In a report entitled “Fighting near Mafeking” the Rhyl Record and Advertiser provided another version of the above:

On the morning of the 14th instant, a train going north passed Nine Mile Cottage, and found the Boers in possession. It appears that they had taken the ganger prisoner, and under the pressure of threats persuaded him to signal “Stop the train.” The men in charge of the train realising the position pushed forward, and were surprised at meeting with no interference. They found the solution of the question, however, a mile or two further, when a large body of Boers were sighted, whereupon the train began to return under a lively fusillade from the Boers, hidden in the bushes at close range. Many bullets, principally Martinis, passed through a saloon in which some ladies were sitting. The ganger’s wife and family were brought to Mafeking. Marico’s commando, 150 strong, made a descent on the railway on the 15th inst. The line was destroyed and the telegraph cut. An armoured train came into action, and afterwards escorted back the down mail.”

The 217 days of the Siege were largely repetitious and monotonous, and the Boers became increasingly depressed and demoralised with matters coming to a head after the Siege ended on 17 May 1900, when demoralised Boers left both the Marico and Rustenberg Commandos in droves. A report by a researcher, Wulfsohn, reported that by 29 May 1900 the Marico Commando was reduced from 1250 to 110 men. “In this state of virtually total breakdown in officer control, lack of discipline, disillusionment and ill health, the Commandos were tailor made for Lord Roberts’ proclamations encouraging Burghers to sign the oath of neutrality.”

The Boer laager was at once broken up after the siege was lifted and the men trekked with all speed, probably in the direction of Rustenburg. They were so anxious to leave that the burghers in the fort and those on patrol were not even advised, and made their way home at a later stage. Stores were not destroyed but simply left behind. The Boer hospital was taken over by the British who, however, subsequently advised the Boers that they could take away their patients and equipment.

The Marico burghers were ordered to proceed to Ottoshoop. On the way they were ordered to halt, but the order was ignored. They eventually formed a laager on the east bank of the Malmani River where, on the morning of 21 May 1900, General J P Snyman and Assistant State Secretary Piet Grobler unsuccessfully exhorted the men to make a stand. On Tuesday afternoon, 22 May, General Koos de la Rey arrived at the laager and was not impressed with its position as, according to him, the burghers could not offer any resistance from there. Discipline for the Boers was always a problem, coupled with, at times, poor leadership.

Their numbers decimated by desertion the Marico Commando needed time to regroup - the next engagement in which Coetzee saw action was that of Kleinfontein on 25 October 1901. On this occasion, five Boer commandos of about 500 men under the overall command of General de la Rey attacked a column consisting of approximately 1 000 men, with five pieces of artillery and two pom-poms under Colonel van Donop, en route from Mafeking to Zeerust, in a wooded valley between Groot Marico and Zeerust. After a fierce battle, the British succeeded in repelling the attack, losing at least 30 men who were killed, and 54 wounded; the Boers lost at least twenty killed and 31 wounded. The Boers suffered more casualties that usual. Fortunately Coetzee wasn’t one of them.

What followed next was the battle of Brakspruit where Lt-Col W B Hickie, with a force of mounted troops and infantry, totalling about 870 men, was engaged in covering the construction of blockhouses on the Schoonspruit. On 13 November 1901, Hickie lost heavily at the farm, named Brakspruit, 32km north-east of Klerksdorp, when two squadrons of Imperial Yeomanry (drawn from the 103rd and 107th Coys, 2nd Bn, and the 107th Coy, 6th Bn, IY), whom he had sent forward to reconnoitre, were destroyed by, among others, men from the Marico Commando. Ten men were killed or mortally wounded, eleven were wounded, and 64 were taken prisoner. In this action, the Boers lost four men killed and eight wounded.

The last action that Coetzee claimed to have taken part in was a seminal one – that of Rooiwal on 11 April 1902 – just over a month before the end of hostilities. Near the confluence of the Brakspruit and the Great Harts River, approximately 1 500 of Kemp’s burghers (including the Marico Commando) attacked two of Kekewich’s columns (comprising 3 000 soldiers and six pieces of artillery). At this stage, De la Rey was participating in negotiations on the possible cessation of hostilities and was thus not on hand to take control.

The main Boer attack was carried out by approximately 800 men, under command of Combat-General Ferdinandus Jacobus Potgieter, over almost flat terrain that offered very little protection. Potgieter was shot and killed approximately 70 m from the British lines. Several Boers were killed alongside of him, and the British were able to repel the Boer onslaught. Kekewich’s columns did not immediately launch a counterattack, and other columns were also unable to exploit the British success. British casualties at Roodewal comprised approximately twelve killed and 75 wounded, while on the Boer side at least 43 were killed and more than 50 wounded, of whom 40 were taken prisoner. The British were able to retrieve two of their own guns and a pom-pom that had been captured by the Boers at Tweebosch.

With peace negotiations concluded on 31 May 1902 Coetzee and his comrades – the “Bitter eindes” laid down their weapons and returned to their farms. But what had they to return to? Thanks to Kitchener’s scorched earth policy and concentration camps, most farms and their homesteads had been raised to the ground with livestock and crops captured or destroyed. The elderly, womenfolk and children had been carted off to the camps where many were to die of disease and starvation.

This caused the blood to boil in the Boer veins and, for many years afterwards, anti-British sentiment was everywhere to be found.
Coetzee betook himself to the family farm at Wilgeboomspruit, in the Marico district where, at nearby Zeerust, on 6 September 1904, he wed 22 year old Charlotta Catherina Coetzee (possibly a cousin). He was all of 21 years old at the time.

For the next 10 years he and his wife set about building a family and rebuilding their lives. The peace was rudely broken in August 1914 when Great Britain found herself at war with Germany. This posed a dilemma for many Boers – wounds were still raw (as alluded to previously) and it was only the personal charisma of previous Boer leaders Louis Botha (now Prime Minister) and Jan Smuts (Minister of Defence) that carried the day and saw, after an initial internal revolt, the Commandos turn out in large numbers on the side of the Empire – their mortal enemies only 13 years ago.

Coetzee enlisted for service under his old Boer War Commandant, L van Niekerk, as a Burger (Private or Trooper) with his old outfit, the Marico Commando, with number 281. The Marico Commando was mobilised on 5 January 1915 as part of the 1st Mounted Brigade (Left Wing) and saw plenty of action in German South West Africa where, being highly mobile on horseback, they were able to chase the Germans up to the north of the territory where, on 9 July 1915 at Otavi, they surrendered to the South African forces.
As his next of kin he provided his wife, Mrs C.C. Coetzee, of Straatsdrift, Marico.

Coetzee’s service wasn’t without incident. On 14 April 1915 he was admitted to hospital at Swakopmund with Haemorrhoids before being transferred to the Hospital Ship “Ebani” on 23 April destined for hospital in Maitland, Cape Town where he was admitted on 1 May. On 9 May he was discharged as Unfit.

A Report by Medical Board completed on him on 4 May 1915 at the Cape Peninsula station confirmed that he was a Trooper (no. 21), with the Marico Commando and that he was 32 years of age. He had enlisted at Zeerust on 3 January 1915 and was a Farmer by occupation. It was said that he had suffered with haemorrhoids for seven years and had “marked external haemorrhoids which cause him pain on defecation.”

An operation to ameliorate the problem was suggested and refused and, it was noted, he also suffered with rheumatism which had troubled him for four years. The Board found that his condition was not a result of his service and recommended his discharge as unfit for any military service. He was awarded the trio for his service but there is a note on his service indicating that the 1914/15 Star was returned (It was sent separate to the others)

With that last comment ending his military career Coetzee returned to his farm and his livelihood. His first wife passed away on 26 November 1921 and, on 25 December 1925 in the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Vrede in the Orange Free State, he wed a 33 year old widow, Jacoba Francina Wessels (born Malan) living on the farm Ewart Fontein in the Vrede district. He was 42 years at the time.

Abel Daniel Joachim Coetzee passed away at the Swartland Hospital in Malmesbury on 30 November 1958 at the age of 77 years 6 months. His residential address was provided as 12 Piet Retief St. Malmesbury. His ABO medal was applied for on 26 May 1922.

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