These anecdotes of the Anglo Boer War have been kindly added by Rob Milne from his new book of anecdotes.
1. Cor van Gough, brother of Vincent (the famous painter), committed suicide whilst in a British POW camp. He had served with the Boers, in the “International Legion”, which was made up of volunteers from all parts of the world.
2. General Ben Viljoen had occasion to reprimand some commandos who had taken absence without leave. While he was lecturing them, one of his two shirts which he had hung out to dry was stolen.
3. Baden-Powell’s simple grave in Nyeri, Kenya, only has his last name on it and the boy Scout trail sign for “I have gone home” – a dot within a circle.
4. Preparing for a visit to a farm one evening, Schikkerling managed to shave one side of his face with a borrowed razor before it became hopelessly blunt. “I posed side-faced all evening and, like the moon, showed always the same side of my face to the inhabitants of the earth.”
5. Roksak Redelinghuis acquired his nickname ” Roksak” (pocket dress), because he always carried one of his wife’s dresses with him. This served as a constant reminder of his wife, and on one occasion helped to save his life. Badly wounded, and touching the dress he remarked: “If I die the General will take my fair-haired wife”.
6. The last casualty at Spioenkop was Wynand Els of the Pretoria Commando, on the day after the battle. While looting from the dead British soldiers he grabbed a rifle by its barrel and it discharged, fatally wounding him in the stomach. The dead soldier’s finger had still been on the trigger.
7. Although this pre-dates the Anglo Boer War, I cannot resist including this reference to Matthew chapter 25, verse 23, which is a common inscription on many British War Gnraves. The grave of Captain Butler in the military cemetery at Calcutta has this inscription: “In memory of Captain James Butler, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who was accidentally shot by his batman. ‘ Well done thou good and faithful servant’. Erected by his brother officers”.
8. During the attack on Red Fort at Bell’s Kop, Ladysmith, Robert Reinecke was under severe fire from the British whilst trying to carry a wounded comrade to safety. The soldiers, realising his predicament, ceased firing, and even allowed him to return to the firing line unmolested.
9. Deneys Reitz accompanied his uncle on picket duty to a point just 400 yards away from the English defences outside Ladysmith. They drove out on a buck-board, to which they tethered the horses, and then slept on their feather bed, complete with pillows and blankets.
10. During the attack on Wagon Hill, Ladysmith, Reitz was pinned down by British fire in front of Bell’s Kop. Bored, he spent the day sleeping and reading a newspaper. Boers watching from the rear thought that he was showing a white flag as he turned the pages of the newspaper, and news spread throughout the laager that his force had surrendered.
11. This book is the direct result of the almost supernatural orders I was given on my first day at Frischgewaagt, described in my “Introduction” to this book. In “seeking and finding” I landed up with the war graves commission in Pretoria. It was here that I learnt that full records are kept of all English war graves on the one hand and all Boer graves on the other. I learnt that many of the British dead, buried at Belfast, were moved to Machadodorp and that the soldiers buried at the Bergendal monument had been collected from a wide area, and were not just the few who had died at Bergendal.
A retired colonel told me to visit the war graves at Waterval Onder, at Airlie and other spots down the Elands valley. Now “Airlie” used to be the farm “Nooitgedacht” where the Boers had a prison camp with about 2000 British prisoners, who were released just after the Bergendal battle. An old deserted store, which used to be a staging post for the old Zeederburg coaches, still stands next to the main tar road and there is a small cemetery just behind this store. A sign still points to “Airlie station” on the other side of the road. By the way David William Stanley Ogilvy – Earl of Airlie, after whom the farm was called, was a Lt.-Colonel who commanded the 12th Lancers and who died at Diamond Hill, near Pretoria, on 11th June 1900. Lord Airlie was one of Scotland’s representative Peers and a truly beautiful memorial was erected on Tulloch Hill, Cartachy in his honour in 1901. Anyway that is why the prison farm “Nooitgedacht” got a name change and why I found myself bashing through heavy undergrowth and thorn bush to look at 2 war graves. I found them and sure enough Captain A D Plomer of the Kings (Liverpool) Regiment is buried there. The inscription says that he died of wounds on 29th August 1900 received in action at GELUK farm on 23rd August 1900. It would have been more accurate to say that he had left GELUK and been wounded by the Heidelberg Commando on the farm LEEUKLOOF. He must have been captured, sent onto the prison camp at Nooitgedacht and died 6 days after the fight. The last grave in that small cemetery records that Major R L MACGREGOR 1st Bn – The Royal Scots died there on 2nd April 1901.
Now I phoned our retired war graves colonel and told him of the overgrown state of the cemetery plus my findings. Unknown to me, he wrote to the manager of the farm – now called Ryton Estates – asking him to please clean up the cemetery.
Some months later, having learnt that “Airlie” had been the Nooitgedacht prison farm I dropped into “Ryton Estates” and met GEOFF YORK, the new farm manager, and his wife ANITA. I asked if he knew where the prisoner of war camp had been, but he explained that he had only recently came down from Zimbabwe and knew nothing of the history. He however showed me the “War graves commission” letter and his wife then told me their “spook” story.
GEOFF and ANITA had walked down to the cemetery with their little Jack Russel to see if it had been cleaned up properly. It had been, and their little dog trotted smartly in front of them to examine each grave – a sniff here and a lifted leg there. All went well till he came to the last grave. Here he froze, he growled menacingly and all the hackles on his neck rose. GEOFF and ANITA thought he had seen a snake but the area had been cleared and they could see no reason for his aggressive behaviour. Suddenly he turned tail and, with tail between his legs, he ran whimpering away. This in when GEOFF said “He must have seen a spook”. A few weeks later they saw an elderly couple poring over a large book in their car next to the old store. Thinking they were lost, they asked if they could help. The elderly couple said that they had just visited the war grave and did they know that Major R L Macgregor, in the last grave, had committed suicide!!!
Now, some month’s later we invited our White River friend James Macgregor to spend the weekend at Frischgewaagd. I was amazed to find that Major R L Macgregor was his great uncle and that he still had correspondence about his death at his home, Lochaber.
James dug out a letter from Lt. Colonel WILLIAM DOUGLAS, the commanding officer of the Royal Scots Regiment, explaining the circumstances leading up to this suicide. On reading this letter, James realised that his poor great uncle must have been suffering from an imbalance of lithiam which causes manic depression and is a disease still being experienced in the family. However, it had not been diagnosed and there was no one to help the poor Major who shot himself.
Now on my table I had the 4 volumes of H W WILSON’s books titled “With the flag to Pretoria” and “After Pretoria – the Guerilla War”. There are 1724 pages in these 4 volumes and they are full of illustrations and photographs. I wanted to photocopy the numerous pictures of horses so, putting Lt. Colonel WILLIAM DOUGLAS’s letter to one side, I chanced to open Volume 3 to page 585 hoping to find a picture of a horse. You can imagine my surprise when I found myself looking at a photo of Lt. Colonel WILLIAM DOUGLAS who’s letter I had just read!!!
Was this strange sequence of events just chance or had I unwittingly become a cog in the supernatural wheel that linked the departed Major with his great nephew? I’d like to think I was and that the desperately unhappy Major’s spirit can now rest in peace knowing that his family now know that his death was really due to illness.
12. At times a lighter side to the Anglo Boer war emerges, as in the case of the Scottish soldier who was buried in two graves next to each other in a Heidelberg graveyard.
The name that appears on both gravestones is that of Sergeant W Woodward. He died for King and Empire on August 8, 1900, reads the legend on the grave with a silver military cross. The weathered headstone on the grave next to it is of engraved stone.
Shortly before British forces occupied Heidelberg, Woodward had been attached to a Scottish regiment scouting the area. His story is recounted in a document incorporated in the estate of Jurie Swart who had been a teacher in Kroonstad in the 1940s.
Jurie Swart’s son, Koos Swart of Somerset West, said he came upon the hand-written document after his father’s death in 1978. Indications are that Swart senior recorded the information on January 20, 1949, as told to him at the gravesides by two witnesses, the priest and a local woman.
Swart wrote: “One day, after he (Woodward) was sent on a dangerous mission, he did not return to his unit – and no human being laid eyes on him again. The English inquired far and wide, but no news was ever received of the missing sergeant. “Then, one day, an English unit reported the discovery of his skeleton in the veld. Identification was incontestable as papers carried by the deceased Sergeant Woodward were still legible.”
Woodward’s remains were brought to Heidelberg and he received a funeral with full military honours.
Now for the twist. A different reconnaissance group had been active in another area at the time that Woodward’s skeleton was found. For months following his funeral they interrogated farm workers and Boer prisoners of war over the disappearance of the sergeant and, one day while camping on a hill of a small farm, with only the labourers present, they heard the following story:
“One evening, when the Boer owners were still on the farm, they saw two Boers bludgeon an English soldier to death with an axe and pickaxe handle. They must have spent a considerable time in hacking him to pieces, since the murder continued for some time. They then carried him to the hills, where they buried him.”
The scouts found “the murdered man’s skeleton” more than a year later and a hearse and coffin were dispatched to transport the skeleton to Heidelberg.
The new English garrison stationed in Heidelberg had no inclination of Woodward’s earlier funeral. The skeleton was placed in a coffin, by 10 Scottish privates.
In true Scottish tradition – the story goes – he was dressed in full Scottish uniform, bagpipes and all, as Woodward had been a bagpipe player of note, the idea being that the Scottish soldier would be in full uniform and fully equipped for the Resurrection.
Swart wrote; “Seldom had Heidelberg witnessed a more solemn event. All the soldiers and large numbers of the English and Scottish civilian community arrived at the graveyard to pay their last respects to the deceased. Around and in front of the hearse was a guard of Scottish Highlanders with guns upside down. In front of them were pipers and right in front was the Roman Catholic priest in devotional regalia. Pipers are best at rendering mournful funeral hymns. There was not a dry eye in the crowd. It was said the keening music at times overcame the crying of the women,”
Now the second twist: Many years later it was rumoured that the “murdered person” was not Woodward but rather a huge pet baboon. When the British forces were advancing, the owner of the Suikerbosrand farm decided to kill his pet before fleeing himself. But the story doesn’t end there. Someone apparently asked the priest: “And what will happen on the final day when, amid trumpet calls, the baboon appears among the English soldiers?”
“The embarrassed priest answered: ‘What they will do to the baboon I don’t know, but this I know full well – if he appears in the company of English soldiers in full Scottish regalia with bagpipes under the arm, even the angel in charge won’t be able to suppress a smile.’
Anecdotes Attributed to Winston Churchill
Sometime during the 1880′s a young English City boy was on holiday in Scotland and went for a swim in a lake. Suddenly he was seized by cramps and in danger of drowning, fortunately his cries for help were heard by a farm boy working nearby who plunged into the lake and saved him. Years passed before the boys met again and when they did the City boy asked the farm boy what his plans were in life. The farm boy confided that his ambitions were to study medicine. The City boy then revealed that he and his parents would be eager to provide this education.
More years passed, the farm boy studied and graduated with high honours and embarked on a career of scientific research.
During WW2 the City boy was stricken with pneumonia while on an epoch making journey with President Roosvelt at Yalta. His condition became serious and the new drug was flown out from England for the City boy. Within hours the drug had worked and the city boy was on the road to recovery.
This was the second time that the Alexander Fleming had saved Winston Churchill’s life, this time with penicillin.
The following extracts are taken from “Happy Despatches-Winston Churchill” by AB “Banjo” Paterson
One day when something had gone wrong and Johnnie French was in a particularly bad mood, Churchill said to me: “Come along up to HQ I am going to give French a turn. He was very rude to me last time we met.” On that particular day I would sooner have faced a Hyrcanian tiger and said so. But Churchill insisted. So off we went, Churchill striding along in front with his chin well stuck out, while I shuffled protestingly behind. Arrived at HQ, Churchill saluted and said: “General, I want to ask whether I am to report to-day’s operations as a success or failure”?
“French, choking down a few appropriate words that he would have liked to say; “Well Churchill that depends on how you look at it.
Churchill: “I am afraid that my point of view would not carry much weight sir. What I want to know is, whether from your point of view the affair was a success or failure.”
French, very dignified: “If you apply to Major Haig, he will let you see the official report. Good morning.”
Also from the same source:
Churchill was the most curious combination of ability and swagger. The army could neither understand him nor like him; for when it came to getting anywhere or securing a job, he made his own rules. Courage he had in plenty; but, like the Duke of Plaza Toro, he felt that he should always travel with a full band. As one general put it: “You never know when you have got Churchill. You can leave him behind in charge of details and he’ll turn up at the front, riding a camel and with some infernal explanation that you can’t very well fault.
For further anecdotes see Trivia