Prominent People from the War

"How sleep the brave, who sinks to rest 
By all their country's wishes blest!"

From William Collins' poem: "How Sleep the Brave!"

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President S.P.J. Kruger - The Mountain of the Transvaal

President of the South African Republic during the Boer War. The old man who fought the greatest empire in the world for nearly three years and who died in exile in Switzerland. Kruger had spent his entire lifetime fighting for the dream of freedom from foreign oppression. The stories about Paul Kruger have filled numerous books over the years. He was a man who was much admired for his unusual wisdom, enormous physical strength and physical courage in times of battle. President Kruger was a man who ruled his country with the Bible as his book of law and instruction manual. He showed a remarkable grasp of military tactical matters and never believed in hating his enemies.

"The republics are determined, if they must belong to England, that a price will be paid that will stagger humanity."   - President Paul Kruger during and interview with the New York Herald.

Commandant-General Piet Joubert - the soft-hearted general

General Piet Joubert was a war hero of long standing, and had been president Kruger's most important political rival for the presidency for many years. Nevertheless, he served in Kruger's government with great loyalty. During the opening stages of the war, he was supreme commander over the combined Boer forces. At times a good strategist, his strategies were too reserved and slow for the modern warfare. He sought peace to the point where it cost him his battles. He allowed several priceless opportunities to score great victory slip form his fingers. Nevertheless, he remained a level-headed and much-respected leader of men. General Joubert was regarded as a gentleman and a stately figure - a natural-born leader of men.

Commandant-General Piet Joubert and Carolus Trichardt, son of the famous Voortrekker leader, Louis Trichardt.

The photograph was taken in 1891 in Middelburg, when Trichardt was already in his eighties. During the Boer war Trichardt must have been well into his nineties by the time that the invading British forces reached his home town. He lived long enough to hear the artillery fire as it aproached his town, but passed away that same night. He had been born under foreign rule, but in so doing, still managed to die a free man.

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Commandant-General Louis Botha - Farmer turned hero

Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Boer forces during the Anglo-Boer War. Although a young man for this position, he became world famous for his brilliant defence strategies. Louis Botha rose from being an ordinary private fighter, to becoming the chief commanding officer of the combined Boer forces during the first part of the War. 

He was a man who was physically loved by his men, and hugely admired for his uncanny manner of being able to lay out defences in a manner which had his enemies constantly baffled and totally surprised.

Botha was severely hunted by the British forces during the latter stages of the war, but despite the fact that his imminent capture was announced several times, he always succeeded in escaping. Botha lived to become South Africa's first Union Government Premier after the war.

General Philip Botha, brother of Commandant-General Louis Botha

De la Rey - Lion of the Western Transvaal

General Koos de la Rey is regarded as one of the greatest military leaders that the War produced. As a guerilla fighter, his tactics proved extremely successful. De la Rey opposed the war until the last, but when he was once accused of cowardice in a Volksraad session, he replied that if the time for war came, he would be fighting long after all those clamoring for war had given up. This proved to be the case. 

Although merely a farmer who spoke no English, De la Rey was noted for his chivalrous behaviour towards his enemy. When he captured a wounded general lord Methuen, he sent him back to his own lines for better treatment. Methuen was the only British general to be captured during the war.


The Elusive General Christiaan De Wet - Most Wanted Man in the War

General Christiaan de Wet was a farmer, turned officer, who became one of the most admired generals of his time. As commander of the Free State forces, he was constantly chased and hunted by the British war machine. It was believed that his capture would have eliminating a significant part of the brains, imagination and drive behind the Free State resistance, and that this would play a major part in bringing the war to an early close. His name became internationally famous when, during a series of "great drives," (these were essentially man-hunts styled after Burmese tiger drives), it was repeatedly announced that "De Wet has been enclosed in a trap from which there is no possible escape." Time after time, however, De Wet succeeded to escape against all odds. His bold tactics and astonishing escapes earned him the admiration of followers and enemy alike, and engraved his name as one of the most able and successful commanders in South African military history.

President Steyn - The pyramid of faith

President Steyn was the president of the Orange Free State republic. Although suffering greatly from bad health, he remained with the Boer forces in the field until the bitter end. Although he was never a military person, Steyn's jovial character and great physical courage inspired the Boer leaders and men in a profound manner.

On numerous occasions he escaped being captured by British forced, only by the skin of his teeth. In one instance when he was cornered and completely surrounded with De Wet's commandoes, the men decided that they were so hopelessly trapped that resistance would be useless. At this, Steyn hopped onto his horse and charged straight at the advancing columns, shouting: "A Khaki (British soldier) can't catch a Boer!" - He was right. With the commando following him, he succeeded in bursting through to safety. 

In another humorous incident, Steyn escape so narrowly that he didn't even have time to get properly dressed or to saddle his horse. He was a great teller of stories - especially ghost stories - and used to amuse his men by playing the concertina for them.

Tibbie Steyn

Mrs. Tibbie Steyn, wife of the late president Steyn is showing items that belonged to her husband to young children. Mrs Steyn was a brave woman who supported her husband throughout extremely difficult times and stood by the cause of her country without flinching.

President Steyn Poses with his men at Ladysmith.

General Tobias Smuts

General Tobias Smuts was never a very prominent Boer general. He was a man who didn't exhibit much strategic insight, yet in times of great trouble, he occasionally rose to the occasion in an unexpected manner. He is leaning on a Krag Jörgensen rifle, which is a little odd, because one would have expected the Boer generals to be using the best modern weapon of the day: the model 98 Mauser. 

General Smuts commanded the Ermelo commando at the Tugela. He should not be confused with the much more famous general Jan Christian Smuts, who used to be the Transvaal State Attorney before the war. General Smuts was deprived of his rank after he sacked the village of Bremersdorp in Swaziland. He continued to fight loyally as an ordinary burgher until the end of the war.

General Kolbe (middle, back) and his sons on commando

General Kolbe was not one of the best-known generals, although the French General Count De Villebois-Mareuel spoke highly of him as a leader.

General Wynand Malan in old age.

Emily Hobhouse -- Angel of Mercy

This is the picture of the woman who took it upon herself to take on the plight of the Boer women and children in the concentration camps and to make it known to the rest of the world. The picture was taken years after the war when Miss Hobhouse was already much older. 

Although she was a British she is still regarded today as one of the greatest heroes in Afrikaner history. Miss Hobhouse's reports led to such public outrage overseas that this eventually led to the improvement of camp conditions. Her work undoubtedly saved the lives of countless people.

Military authorities eventually refused Miss Hobhouse permission to further visit camps and investigate, but she never relented in her struggle to make the injustices of the concentration camps known. The South African town of Hobhouse was named after her.

General OJE Erasmus

Colonel John Filemore Blake (seated on the horse), ex-Apache scout and commander of the Irish Brigade.

Colonel Adolf Schiel

Commandant "Rooi" Jozua Joubert (left), at Tintown prisoner-of-war camp, Ladysmith. Commandant-General Louis Botha called him "Morning Star," after his habit of rising very early.

British Notable Figures

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"Pushful Joe" or the "Birmingham Screw Maker" as he was called: Joseph Chamberlain.

The face of Joseph Chamberlain, premier of Great Britain at the time of the Boer War, and one of the chief instigators of the war. Often called "Pushful Joe" for his manner of getting his own way. The exotic orchid in his buttonhole, and the ever-present monocle became his trademarks. Chamberlain is widely regarded as one of the chief instigators of the Anglo-Boer War. As a politician, he was a ruthless  and cold man who was admired by some, but loved by few.

Chamberlain's family business had made a fortune with the invention of sharp-tipped screws.

"My own opinion is, as it has always been, that both Milner and the military authorities greatly exaggerate the risks of this campaign." Joseph Chamberlain to Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 7 Oct. 1899. As quoted in The Boer War., Pakenham, T.,Abacus., London., 1995., p. 84

"Dangerous as an enemy, untrustworthy as a friend, but fatal as a colleague." --British High Commissioner to South Africa, Sir Hercules Robinson on Prime Minister Joseph Chamberlain.

Field Marshall Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts of Kandahar--Commander in Chief of the British forces in South Africa

General Bruce Hamilton


Acknowledgements: Photos by courtesy of the SA National Archives in Pretoria, South Africa.