Brothers in arms

If someone mentions the word civil war, perhaps like me the first one that springs to mind would be the American Civil war of 1861- 1865 where nearly 850 000 Americans slaughtered each other on the battlefields of Gettysburg, Bull Run and Vicksburg. Many countries have had civil wars throughout their history with perhaps the longest running being that of Northern Ireland, to this day African countries in particular, seem to be very partial to having sections of the civilian population knock each other off on a regular basis

In 1914 South Africa had a brief civil war known as the 1914 Rebellion, apart from what I remember learning at school, “that being”, Botha and Smuts went from fighting the Khaki’s, to wanting to defend the very empire that had caused so much misery to the Afrikaner nation, I did not know much about the subject all.

A reference or two about the 1914 rebellion while researching the lives of De Wet, Botha, Smuts and other Boer generals piqued my interest and I decided to look for more information as to why, who, what and where.

It would probably be safe to say that most Afrikaners were against South Africa getting involved on the side of England in World War One, if anything most had an empathy towards Germany due to their support of their cause during the Boer war of 1899 – 1902, as well as many having family ties.

When the South African government under the leadership of Botha and Smuts were asked to invade South West Africa in August 1914 the newly formed NP (National Party) as well as some members of the South African Government voiced their concern at this development.

At the NP congress a resolution was taken to oppose the invasion of South West Africa and on the 15th of August 1914 a demonstration was held in Lichtenburg. The South African government viewed this invasion as a chance to incorporate SWA into South Africa and at a special session of parliament in September 1914 it was agreed, by large majorities in both houses that SWA should be invaded and that SA would enter the war on the side of England and her allies. Both Smuts and Botha did not realise the extent of the opposition against this decision.

On the 15th of September General C.F Beyers who was at the time Commander of the Citizen Force resigned his commission and that same evening he and JH de la Rey drove to Potchefstroom to raise the Vierkleur and spread the rebellion through the Western Transvaal, However fate was to play its part and at a roadblock set up by government troops to apprehend a criminal gang, Beyers and de la Rey failed to stop, the vehicle was shot at and it resulted in the death of de la Rey, while the government said it was an accident many believed it had been intentional and was the spark that lit the flame of Rebellion and turned many Afrikaners against the government.

The Rebel plan was that S.G Maritz, based in Upington and who was in charge of the military district that covered the SWA border, went over to the German side, with Beyers Naude and De Wet a short while later, after much consideration went into open rebellion and voiced their support for restoring independence to the Republics.

How did this affect Clarens, well as can be imagined there were many families who had suffered at the hand of the British during the Boer war and who would have been adverse to sending their men folk to fight for the very nation that had caused them so much misery, and had devastated many of their homes or farms. Clarens School unwittingly became a pawn in the rebellion with the following information being found in the 75th Anniversary booklet.

“During November 1914 the rebellion was in full swing and on the 30th of November and 1st December the supporters of the government occupied the school, so that for two days the children had an unscheduled holiday.”

Another story that I was told was that, the headmaster at the time Mr. J.S de Leeuw was a government supporter and he had heard that villagers and farmers in the surrounding area who supported the rebellion wanted to occupy all government buildings, this included the sandstone building of Clarens School, afraid that the school would be damaged, he gathered government supporters in the village and surrounds to occupy the school, it is rumoured that Mr. De Leeuw hid his saddle and rifle in the rafters of the school until the rebellion passed. It would also seem that that the villagers who supported the rebellion also wanted to take over the school committee, and in fact had members on the committee making it difficult to run the school efficiently for a short time.

The rebellion itself did not last long, and after a series of skirmishes between government troops and the rebels, but not before old soldiers like De Wet who had strong Nationalist feelings got involved. These convictions led him and his six sons to join a commando with the object of protesting against the country’s involvement in the First World War. The Memel Commando was one of the first to take up arms, and seventy men accompanied General Christiaan De Wet (who had come to live on a farm just outside the town), to Vrede. Towns were occupied, property damaged, and families split apart, before the government forces of Louis Botha and Jan Smuts got the upper hand. Of the eleven thousand rebels who took up arms against the government, one hundred and ninety were killed, “eleven from Memel”.

For Boer leaders who had become folk hero’s, respected statesmen and even celebrities the rebellion was the end of the line, with De Wet being taken prisoner on the 2nd of December, Beyers drowning while trying to cross the Vaal River, Japie Fourie who had not resigned his commission in the defence force was captured on the 15th of December, court martialed and shot by firing squad a mere 5 days later. Kemp who had captured Lutzburg only 80kms from Upington on the 15th of December surrendered to government forces soon after reading in local papers that the Rebellion had collapsed.

The rebellion had lasted a mere four months, and the government’s 32 000 troops with access to motorised transport had ensured a quick end to what political observers at the time saw as a bid to overthrow the Botha government, and establish a Boer Republic. The rebellion for the National Party was timeous as it had turned people into Nationalists, who had not been so before, the Nationalists cause also gained martyrs who would be used for political gain and eventually bring them to power in 1948.

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