H.F. Trew, commander of General Botha’s bodyguard was with General Botha as
they rode towards the rebel positions after a skirmish in 1914.
rode forward, and a little incident then occurred which showed me what a
terrible strain the whole affair had been on General Botha. We came to a place
where several dead men (rebels) were lying. General Botha halted his horse
beside one of them, and said, “This is terrible, that was Commandant XXX, he
was one of my best men in the Boer war.” Then with tears in his eyes, he went
on, “You Englishmen will never understand how hard this is for me.”
Stephanus Pretorius was one of “Botha’s men”, a Botha man in the Boer war,
during the 1914 rebellion and in the war in German South West Africa.
application forms for his Boer war medals place him as a captain on the Staff
of General Louis Botha. His WW1 medal application form shows him forming “Pretorius’
Calvinia Commando” after the outbreak of the Rebellion in North Western Cape
province. He then served as the Staff Captain of Southern Force, first engaged
in action against Manie Maritz and his rebels at Upington, then participating
in the advance into German South West Africa.
Right: General Botha during the Boer war
Above: The Medals of Major H.S. Pretorius, DTD, DSO.
many gaps in Pretorius’ career, the most frustrating one being where he served
before joining Botha’s staff in December 1900. His medal application form hints
at service elsewhere, but as is often the case, the details are very sketchy. One
can assume that appointments to Botha’s staff were went hand in hand with a
certain level of experience and qualification and it was therefore unlikely
that someone joining the Boer forces in December 1900 would have found such a
position when there were any number of eager young soldiers who had experience
immediate superior was J.P. Jooste who describes the job they did as very dangerous,
requiring men with initiative who were able to serve as scouts and despatch
riders taking Botha’s orders through enemy occupied territory to the leaders of
his various Commandos.
closely with Botha in the field Pretorius fought in Natal,
the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. He was wounded near Ermelo but stayed in field
until the end of the war.
staff his immediate superiors were P. Jooste and Louis Esselen, close friends
and associates of Botha in the years following the Anglo-Boer war.
outbreak of the First World War General Botha was convinced the only honourable
thing for the Union of South Africa to do was to enter the war on the side of
the British Empire. Many of his oldest Friends
were of a different opinion and South
Africa was plunged into a small but painful
rebellion in which old comrades found themselves on different sides of the
outbreak of the Rebellion Manie Maritz, commanding the Union of South Africa’s troops
on the border to German South West Africa took men from the commandos in his
district and started to act out his plan of crossing the border to offer his
services to the German Army who in turn were supposed to help him invade the
danger Botha rushed a group of select men into the area to take command of
Maritz’s commandos and secure the area. Amongst them was H.S. Pretorius who took
command of one of the fragmented sections of the Calvinia commando on the 14th
of October 1914. He commanded the unit until the 31st of January
1915 and officially left to join the staff of Colonel J.L, van Deventer on the
1st of February 1915. Pretorius was in Upington when Maritz and his
rebel forces attacked the town. The rebels were defeated and in the ensuing
chase the Maritz’s men suffered an embarrassing defeat.
away a group of German raiders under Major Ritter attacked Kakamas in an effort
to relieve the pressure on Maritz (See Here).
A number of Calvinia commandos were killed
before the Germans pulled back worried that the South African forces at kakamas
would be reinforced by troops from Upington.
1915 when Pretorius left to join van Deventers staff. The Calvinia commandos
were amalgamated to form the Calvinia-Kenhardt
commando. It was formed out of the following Commandos: Louw’s Calvinia Cdo.,
Pretorius’ Calvinia Cdo., Kenhardt Cdo., Vermaas's Scouts.
Pretorius was promoted to Major in the 4th
Mounted Brigade (Supernumerary list) and attached to the staff of Southern Force.
He was mentioned in Despatches for
distinguished service in the field and was awarded the Distinguished Service
Order (5th Sup. Lon. Gaz. 22.8.1918). It is interesting to note that
although awarded for “services rendered in connection with military operations
in German South West Africa, van Deventers original recommendation for the
award centered on the activities in the Cape
province during the rebellion.
“Had it not been for this officer who was a
highly trained staff officer my task in the North Western Districts of the Cape Province would have
been of the utmost difficulty. I recommend him for special recognition.”
In 1921 he was awarded the newly introduced
“Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst”, the Boer version of the D.S.O.
This was awarded for “Outstanding and
varied service on the staff of the commanding general”.
The combination of the D.T.D. and D.S.O. is
very scarce indeed. Very often it meant that an officer (like Pretorius) were
commanding units of men who 12-14 years before had been fighting each other.
A dispatch from Colonel J.L. van Deventer
shown below illustrates the confusion that reigned in the Northern Cape as soldier turned to rebel
turned to prisoner. Van Deventer was Pretorius’ immediate superior during the rebellion
and during the campaign in German South West Africa.
Van Deventer had known Pretorius and Maritz during the war when he served on
the staff of General Smuts.
Colonel J.L. v. Deventer
General the Hon’ble J.C. Smuts, Pretoria
I have the honour to inform you that the strength of
my commandos is approximately the same (viz. 1800 to 2000 men) as when I
reported to you last. Since my first report there has been an addition of 150
men from Victoria West and 200 men from Springbok, but I have given permission
to approximately the same number of burgers to proceed with the carrying on of
their farming operations and vocations. With reference to my previous telegrams
I have to report that on the 25th instant at Breekkirrie 5 officers
(of whom 1 is a German Officer) and 94 rebels have voluntarily surrendered to
Capt. J. Naude with 2 maxims, 101 horses, 5 mules, 99 rifles, 118 bandoliers,
99 saddles complete, a quantity of ammunition and a pair of mules. On the 26th
and 27th instant 5 officers and 111 rebles were captured at
Brandvlei and Onderste Doorns together with 110 horses, 100 rifles, some
revolvers and 70 waterbottles; 111 rebels were captured and not 124 as
previously stated in my telegram. On the 29th instant 1 officer and
8 rebels were captured at Loriesfontein with horses saddles etc. In addition 5
officers and 45 rebels were captured. One of their officers Capt. or Commandant
Joubert and some rebels tried to escape at Katkop; Joubert and a certain Jan
Steenkamp were wounded on this occasion. John Wahl who in company with 5 rebels
left the Bokveld to join Maritz, was captured together with 5 rebels. A certain
Commandant Kamfer with 17 rebels fled in the direction of Langeberg. He had
escaped on the 27th instant at Loeriesfontein. In all probability
Capt. Baukes and 60 rebels will surrender today to Commandant Studer. As to
this you will receive my further report.
Above: Maritz (middle) and a couple of his men. At the end of the Boer war Maritz and his men fled to German South West Africa to avoid surrendering to the British. While in GSWA he made contacts that would facilitate his flight to GSWA during the 1914 rebellion.
The success is due to the rapidity with which I moved
my commandos. The rebels everywhere ran up against my commandos and there was
no chance for them to break through. The release on parole subject to bail of
the members of the Active Citizen Force, has given general satisfaction. Many
of the rebels are desirous of joining our forces but I have not availed myself
of their services. They state that they had been misled and the position
misrepresented to them. I would suggest that as soon as we have settled with
the rebels in the Free State and Transvaal the services of the rebels who
surrendered voluntarily be utilized in connection with G.W. Africa (German
South West Africa), for having compromised themselves with their whilom
friends, the Germans, they will have to fight for fear of falling into the
enemy’s hands. The rebel officers have been sent to Carnarvon whence they will
be taken by rail to Kimberly. As to this I have notified the D.S.O. Kimberly.
Where must the rebel officers who are captured at
Springbok be sent to? I would suggest that these be taken to Port Nolloth, if
possible. I am informed that the enemy was seen between Steinkopf and Groot River
and that they have destroyed a bridge. I was under the impression that General
Lukin had taken the necessary measures to operate against the enemy there, but
this does not appear to have been the case.
Hitherto I have not received any official information
as to General Lukin’s departure else I would have taken steps to prevent the
unrestrained movements of the enemy. I have now however made arrangements for a
few commandos to proceed in that direction. In the meantime I have directed Commandant
Studer and the Magistrate at Springbok to mobilize an additional 200 men to
resist the enemy, pending the arrival of the other commandos. I should like to
know the position in regard to the Free State
and Cape Province
to enable me to decide whether I should retain commandoes for the area between
Kenhardt and Carnarvon and Victoria West. A few commandoes are for the present
remaining at Brandvlei and Tweerivier with a view to eventualities. If there
was no danger of the rebellion spreading from the Free
State and Transvaal to this area,
I would strengthen my commandoes in the direction of Steinkopf and Springbok. I
will be responsible for the positions Steinkopf Ramansdrift etc., pending the
receipt by me of further instructions. With reference to a telegram received
yesterday from Defence Q.M.G. I beg to state that the saddles, rifles and
maxims captured by me are required by me for my commandoes and that I have
competent men to work the maxims. I should like to know in which direction the
commandoes at Upington, Kenhardt and Prieska are to move so as to enable me to
make the necessary arrangements for operating against the enemy. I should very
much like to have added to my commandoes if at all possible, an efficient
battery of field guns and a battery maxim guns. I should like to be informed as
to the actual position of the rebellion in the Transvaal and Free State. I will be necessary to crush the
rebels with the greatest possible expedition and at any cost. I can give you
the assurance that the rebellion is disapproved of in the districts controlled
by me and that they support the Government, especially as they are just now
experiencing what rebellion really means. Had I not acted so expeditiously the
consequences might have been disastrous. On my arrival here a general feeling
of fear and alarm prevailed amongst the people but owing to the success
obtained the position has been reversed. The public is cheerful and satisfied.
For your information I beg to enclose declarations by the following rebel
officers’ viz. Capts. Hattingh and A.
Louw and Lieuts. Dreyer and Rood and Commandant J. Wahl; also letters signed by
Major Ben Coetzee and Capt. de Villiers, which speak for themselves. The
letters were handed in at Struisvlei where they also left their arms. A list of
the prisoners’ names has been forwarded to Secretary for Defence