Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

Harrismith Author Leon Strachan

Harrismith History – Free State Fables – Rural Legends . . well told.

Harrismith has had a few published authors over the 171 years of the town’s existence. One day I’ll make a list. The best by far is Leon Strachan – imho of course! I have four of his books and am searching locally for the others.

– Leon Strachan’s four books on Harrismith characters’ achievements, foibles, shenanigans, pecadilloes and kakaanjaag –

In 1999 Leon wrote Blafboom, tales of Harrismith characters bravely told even when some may not have wanted them told! Admittedly some are told anonymously, but those in the know would know exactly who he was writing about . . and shudder. Some, I must confess, left me in the dark, but with a burning curiosity: One day I’d love to ply him with whisky – he drinks scotch, as like me, he has Scottish ancestry – and get him to tell me who the culprits, the instigators and the victims were! Known characters include ‘the man who swapped his wife for a bicycle;’ Petronella van Heerden, pioneer, leader, doctor and farmer; Caveman Spies, famous local mischievous strongman; He also tells the story of some Byrne settlers who moved to Harrismith from Natal – a step up.

Blinkoog followed in 2002. My mother Mary Bland grew up on Nuwejaarsvlei on the Nuwejaarspruit. Their neighbours were Badenhorsts on Stratherick, and Odendaals on Sterkfontein and Eskol. She told the story of how freewheeling downhill was known as ‘using Casper’s petrol’ – ‘ons ry nou op Casper se petrol’ she would say, smiling. He was known as Suinige Casper (Frugal Casper Badenhorst would be one way of explaining his nickname). Today the beautiful and precious wetlands and streams and valleys of Nuwejaarsvlei and neighbours are irreplaceably lost, drowned under Sterkfontein dam. Sacrificed to feed the industrial monster of Gauteng / iGoli / Joburg. Dead water waiting to be flushed downstream and then flushed down a toilet, where before an amazing ecosystem existed. You’ll notice I love wetlands . .

Botterbek in 2004 – I’d love to know the true identity (identities?) of ‘Botterbek,’ Leon’s narrator! More whisky! Characters who feature here include the very well known Kethlaan Odendaal, Jan Schambreel and jackal hunter Frans Olivier. Jurie Wessels’ remarkable ‘Harrismith Harem‘ is featured and explained in Strachan’s characteristic way: he seeks to understand the people involved; and while he will tell you the scandal and the rumours, he won’t simply leave accusations hanging without investigating them. And so it turns out the impressive building was really meant to be the most impressive home in the district for his wife. And it would have been had the 1914 rebellion not intervened . .

Bergburgers: his fourth book published in 2017 tells of Platberg, the beloved mountain that looms over the town and is visible for miles around; the book’s title alludes to the fact that the citizens of the town – past and present – all consider Platberg ‘theirs.’ The annual foot race up and down the mountain, started by an insult and a challenge; the geology of the mountain and how it formed over the millennia; Leon corrects the injustice done to the families living in the Lost Valley by telling their real story – a fascinating tale of quietly capable people living their own lives, yet interacting regularly with neighbours and townsfolk, not at all totally isolated; old Professor Bloch the violin teacher who lived down the road from us in Stuart street; old archeological and fossil findings by Arthur Putterill – one of them maybe the same as the one Donald found? and two boats built in our district, far from the coast, that sailed the high seas – one in 1886 to England and one in 1986 to the Caribbean;

Some of his stories are in the fine English he was taught by Mrs Ella Bedford, mother of Springbok rugby captain Tommy Bedford, but for most of them you have to be able to read Afrikaans.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

I know of three heftier tomes he has written:

Leon’s Grandad’s Story

– Charles Davie –

Probably all in suiwer Engels, Son of England, Man of Africa (2009) is the story of a Harrismithian who led the South African chapter of The Sons of England – Leon Strachan’s grandfather Charles Davie. Leon tells the little-known inside story of a secretive organisation for the first time. He then takes a look at other similar societies which took a leaf out of the SOE book. The SOE’s aim of uniting men who were loyal to England and wanted to remain ‘English,’ – sometimes more ‘English’ than their fellow countrymen ‘back home!’ – was based on the Freemasons; SOE was more influenced by the ‘correct’ political and religious powers of the day; plus they were more into charity work. The Afrikaner Broederbond, the Hebrew Order of David and the Caledonians based their organisations to some extent on the principles of the SOE. Ah, well, nothing exceeds like success . . and there was a time when little ‘England’ was the centre of the known Universe. Leon and I both had grandparents who lived secure in that knowledge!

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Then Matters Military:

Krygers en Skietpiete (2011): The 150 year history of the Harrismith Kommando, excluding the Boer War, which tale is told in his next volume. From Thabo Bosigo, through the ‘skietpiet’ period; to duty on South Africa’s borders; to deployment against fellow-citizens (though this was denied – ‘they’ were not citizens of South Africa, remember?!) in South Africa’s ‘townships’ – towns in which indigenous African people had to live by law. Leaders and interesting characters; the influence of political developments; incidents, good and bad.

– image from Leon Strachan facebook page –

Krygers en Guerrillas (2015). Experience the Anglo-Boer War as it was experienced by people in the Harrismith district, daily as the war unfolded; sometimes far and away and only read about, sometimes in their midst. See why the defenders, invaded by a foreign power, called it the Tweede Vryheids Oorlog – they were fighting for their freedom. Good tales and shocking deeds, including war crimes; the whole war time is unfolded from beginning to end. Comprehensive, the data includes names, casualties, Boer deaths, Brit deaths, prisoners, concentration camp deaths; ‘hensoppers,’ Boers who surrendered; ‘joiners,’ Boers who joined the British invaders; and ‘verraaiers’ who were outright treacherous. Boer Jews and Boer Irishmen and men of other nations who joined the Boers to help them against the invasion by the world’s biggest war machine, deployed by the world’s biggest looting and plundering machine. The war is presented from a local ‘on the ground’ perspective as well as a wide-angle perspective, showing how national and international decisions affected the people doing the actual fighting, suffering and dying.

~~~oo0oo~~~

A keen horseman, Leon leads an annual ride down into and through the Lost Valley every year.

– the author on the right on ____ –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions Wildlife, Game Reserves

Another Successful Campaign

A well-drilled, orderly troop of Queen and Empire Poms marched up Platberg. And when they were up they were up **.

– when I say ‘marched’ I mean drove – the easy way –

They reconnoitered the surrounding area looking for Boer commandos, ready to report any sightings to some grand old Duke, or Lord, or someone. Ridiculously dressed in anti-camouflage they stuck out like sore thumbs, but at least they were together and obeying the orders of Field Marshall Lello RSVP. This would not last very long.

Once on top the cohesion started to wobble and soon a small breakaway happened. Some of the troops began behaving like Boers, thinking they could just go home when they felt like it. Five of them headed off down One Man’s Pass, misled by a trooper who said he had local knowledge and ‘it wasn’t far.’

It was far and it was steep and soon more than just cohesion was wobbling.

The remains of the patrol, now only nineteen strong, headed East back to Flat Rock Pass – or Donkey Pass – where a further split took place with trooper Soutar suddenly developing a deep longing for his ancestral home, Howick. I know, who would want to go to Howick?

Down to fifteen, the remainder headed for the Akkerbos for lunch and booze, where another defection saw four more wander off the beaten track and puncture the one wheel of their Ford Platberg Cape Cart. Field Marshall Lello RSVP set off to rescue them, dispatching sergeant Garth, corporal Nigel and Generaal Leon to rescue the original five deserters. Who of course, didn’t need rescuing as they had the whole thing under control and knew exactly where they were as they had a knowledgeable local guide with them. (Right!)

Back at the Oak Forest – where the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had been kerfuffling in the bushes with equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend back in 1947 when most of us were busy being born – a laager had been formed and tables laden with provisions, especially booze.

A re-grouping took place and the size of the force stabilised at fifteen, with no wounds or injuries other than some grazes and some wobbly legs and some mild miffedness. (Justified, BTW). The disorderly conduct and the booze, together with the coating of dust and black soot on all the troops made the patrol look less and less like a plundering invading force from a small island, and more and more like good, patriotic, camouflaged local defenders.

Back down at the bottom of the mountain, the numbers swelled to nineteen and confidence grew to such an extent that a decision was made by the now almost completely Boer commando, to attack the blerrie Breetish in their blockhouse situated on the banks of that sparkling brook called the Kak Spruit. A clever encircling movement was made and we attacked the crows nest from above, putting the occupants to flight.

– if you look carefully you can see the pockmarks of our accurate rifle shots all over –

So ended another successful campaign by us Boer guerillas. Generaal Leon could heave a sigh of relief and return to his farm after successfully converting a motley band of misled ‘joiners’ and getting them to support the right side at last.

~~~oo0oo~~~

PS: I forgot to mention – During the whole campaign there was a westerly breeze.

** . . and when they were up they were up . .

– and when they were up they were up –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 5_Army days 8_Nostalgia sport

Conquered by the Boers, 2017

Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.

Here’s a dispatch to Mev Queen on the result of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament in 2017. It did not go well.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

“Boer War” Defeat – 2017 – Letter to the Queen

Her Majesty The Queen

Buckingham Palace,  London, England

5th June, 2017

Our Dearest & Beloved Queen,

It is with deep regret that I inform you that your courageous soldiers have been severely defeated, at the hands of the Boers, at the battle of Harrismith on 3rd & 4th June 2017.

Although there were no fatalities, the Boer Commando, led by General Wessel Hamman, showed immense bravery, superior marksmanship, and deft field skills in the heat of battle. Your loyal soldiers raised the white flag of surrender at 12 noon on this bloody Sunday.

The Royal Medical team of nurses, led by Sister Mandy Pollock on Spionkop, are still very busy treating your loyal and wounded troops. The most severe and common treatments, were for the after effects of the toxic Boer medicine ‘Mampoer’. All your troops are showing signs of making a full recovery. I would recommend that our soldiers be shipped back to London, and returned to Her Majesty’s Military Academy, Sandhurst, for further instruction in the skills of warfare.

Apart from this humiliating defeat, I have pleasure in advising Her Majesty, that your troops have been well treated by the Boer Commandos, and have enhanced the tattered relationship that existed between the Boer Republic and the British Empire. Our soldiers and their spouses were treated to a Royal Gala dinner, featuring a clash of British & Boer cuisine, expertly prepared by Afrikaner chefs, Anel Bekker & Lizet Du Plessis. Your troops were further entertained by guest speakers. Nick Leslie spoke eloquently about previous battles, and the bravery of both the Boer and British forces. Dr Braam Joubert, from The Orange Free State, added a good deal of humour to this illustrious occasion. It was a grand banquet indeed!

There was a fly-past, performed by a Royal Airforce squadron of fighter aircraft, led by Flight Commander Sir Gareth Pollock (MBE). The Boers entertained our troops with “Boere Musiek” and “Volkspele” dancers and singers. Our own Captain Venning (OBE), joined in to demonstrate the British version of these Boer dance moves.

In order to commemorate this battle, and to remind future generations to further develop Anglo Boer relationships in Harrismith, Captain Venning (OBE) has donated a perfectly “in-scale” model of an ox-wagon. I wish to appeal to you to consider rewarding Capt. Venning at Your Majesty’s Birthday Honours ceremony. (with some more alphabets?)

Other candidates to receive your Majesty’s recognition at this ceremony should include Major Gert van Tonder, who chose to enlist in Her Majesty’s Army, and then donated the battle dress to all the foot soldiers. There were others who have not only enlisted in your forces, but have made considerable contributions to this historical battle. These include Private George Galloway and the Scottish piper, Dr. Martin Reeve, who certainly stirred up the patriotic emotions of your troops. I respectfully recommend that the following be granted British citizenship with immediate effect, Dries Lategan, Steve Niewoudt, Justin van Tonder, and Quintin König. I was going to request that Kobus Bester should also be granted British citizenship, but on second thoughts, your Empire could do without this rascal.

Many of your troops traveled from the Last Outpost of your Empire (Natal Colony), as well as from the Transvaal Goldfields, in order to fight this battle. They too, should receive your recognition. These include Craig Surmon, Gary Bellars, Andrew Miller, Reggie Jelliman, Richard Butcher, Wayne Warburton, Gavin Scholefield and Chris Smith. I would sincerely appreciate your kind consideration of the above. Mark Bebington also answered your call to take up arms, and should be given Royal recognition.

I am under the impression that your troops are enjoying the warm sun in Africa, and may wish not to return to your United Kingdom. Perhaps Your Majesty could tempt them to return, with the lure of a “danger-pay” bonus, of a few Pounds Sterling.

I await your further instructions.

Your humble military servant,

Field Marshall Mark Russell VC

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

lekker – respectable

bitter-einders – to the bitter end; last to leave the pub

boerewors – secret sausage; used in hide-the-sausage games in bedrooms in the colonies

moer-en-soek – pointless game administered by the ancient Scots and Americans, proving that it’s pointless

‘Mampoer’ – moonshine liquor; anything distilled illegally; high octane rating

Mev Queen – that small tannie who wears the funny hats; the one with the rude Greek husband who crashes cars

tannie – auntie

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Sgt Culling on Kings Hill

One of Annie’s workers at the Central Service Station on the corner of Warden street and Southey street – the ‘Caltex garage’ as we knew it – was called Johannes. Because he looked so different from the other petrol attendants, we learnt his surname. He was Johannes Culling.

Today I found out a bit more:

The Boer War started in 1899 and ended in 1902, but a lot of British soldiers stayed on in Harrismith until 1913. One of these was Sergeant Culling, stationed on Kings Hill. He, in fact stayed on even longer, as he married a local lady and went to live with her in the ‘location’ called ‘Skoonplaas’ outside town, probably when it was south of Queens Hill on the far (left) bank of the Wilge river.

Dad knows of three children: Johannes, Henry and a daughter. They could not have had an easy life in the Free State of yore and Dad tells of problems: ‘run-ins with the police due to drinking and fighting.’

That’s all I know . . .

Categories
4_Optometry Johannesburg 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal sport

Comrade Skim from DinDear

Six foot four inch Pete Stoute was running the Comrades Marathon, that foolish 89km exercise in torture held annually in KwaZuluNatal, when suddenly he heard a shout from around knee-level: “Yiss, Stoute, hoezit?”

He looked around, nothing. He looked down: There was Skim, short and round as a beachball, choofing alongside. Skim du Preez, kranige scrumhalf of the great Optometry rugby team of 1975.

Skim! What the hell are YOU doing here! he exclaimed. No, Stoute, I thought I must do this thing, seeing I’m a boykie from Dundee, said Skim. – Dundee pronounced “DinDear,” the Afrikaans way – it means ‘steenkool.’ Stoute pronounced ‘stotah,’ the Afrikaans way – it means naughty.

They chatted a few minutes and then Skim said, Oh Well, Be Seeing You and ran off into the distance!! Left the long-legged Stoute in his dust!

~~~oo0oo~~~

As often, one of my dodgy history lessons: Dundee, pronounced DinDear, is the famous site where British army troops, tired of being shot through their red coats and their white helmets, finally wore khaki uniforms for the first time in battle. I wonder if their commander Major-General Sir William Penn Symons KCB still wore his red coat that day, though? He got shot in the stomach and died three days later as a prisoner of war in Dundee.

These Boers would know: The caption says they were ‘watching the fight’ that day! Like a movie!

The British claimed a ‘tactical victory’ in the battle. Here’s the actual scorecard – a lesson whenever you read battle reports. To the Poms, this (as they were informed by their jingo press) amounted to a tactical victory:

British casualties and losses – 41 killed, 185 wounded, 220 captured or missing; Boer casualties and losses – 23 killed, 66 wounded, 20 missing. So – Total count 446 down vs 109 down, but “we won.”

And so the dispatch goes back to Mrs Queen in Blighty (perhaps sent by jingo war correspondent Winston Churchill?): “We won a tactical victory, Ya Majesty.” Maybe he at least added “Um, send reinforcements” – ?

Always remember that one thing all military outfits do without fail . . is lie.

~~~oo0oo~~~

stoute – the Afrikaans pronunciation “stotah” as in kabouter; it means ‘naughty.’

kabouter – Snow White and the seven kabouters

choofing – running like a gazelle

kranige – capable; brave; gallant; dashing

scrumhalf – not only a scrumhalf – see the comments

No – yes

DinDear – Dundee; coal-mining village; not in Scotland

steenkool – coal; or stone coal; you can’t say just ‘kool’ cos that would mean cabbage

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
8_Nostalgia

Generaal Koos de la Rey, Lion of the West, and me

Koos de la Rey was the son of Adrianus Johannes Gijsbertus, so like me he was lucky he wasn’t given his father’s names. I could have been Gerhardus.

He was Brave
He is generally* regarded as the bravest of the Boer generals during the Boere Oorlog and as one of the leading figures of Boer independence.
As a guerilla his tactics proved extremely successful. He ran the Brits ragged in the Western Transvaal. 

*well, by us, his descendants anyway . . .

Gen de la Rey 2

He was Pragmatic
Before hostilities, De la Rey opposed the war until the last, but once he started fighting he fought to the Bitter Einde. Once he was accused of cowardice during a Volksraad session by President Paul Kruger. He replied that if the time for war came, he would be fighting long after Paul Kruger had given up and fled for safety. This prediction proved to be exactly accurate. Once the war was lost, he spent a lot of energy getting his people to accept the Treaty of Vereeniging, even traveling to Ceylon to encourage Boer prisoners of war to come home.

He was Chivalrous
De la Rey was noted for chivalrous behaviour towards his enemies. At Tweebosch on 7 March 1902 he captured Lieutenant General Lord Methuen (whose arse he had kicked earlier at Magersfontein) along with several hundred of his troops. The troops were sent back to their lines because de la Rey had no means to support them, and Methuen was also released since he had broken his leg when his own horse had fallen on him. De la Rey provided his personal cart to take Methuen to hospital in Klerksdorp.

Lord_Methuen02 – arse kicked, life saved

His Earlier Life
As a child De la Rey received very little formal education, and as a young man he worked as a transport rider on the routes serving the diamond diggings at Kimberley (so he probably visited Harrismith?). He and wife Nonnie had twelve children and they looked after another six children who lost their parents.

Me
Oh, and Generaal Koos de la Rey had a sister; She had a great great grandson also called Koos.
That’s me.

lodderssoutars-baldy B&W2 me

.

  • thanks, wikipedia for the war history, and sister Sheila for the family history