Storm over South Africa: The Rutherford Chronicles

Storm over South Africa: The Rutherford Chronicles

by Michael G. Bergen


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Storm over South Africa follows the lives and tribulations of a diverse group of characters through the Second Anglo-Boer War from 1899-1902 in South Africa. They belonged to different levels of the opposing societies and the story follows their actual life and death experiences in this conflict.

The characters include the seventeen year old son of a Boer president; a young shipbuilding dock worker and his military nurse girlfriend from the industrial north-east of England, and a young Canadian soldier who volunteered for Canada’s first campaign outside its borders. Involved too are such illustrious British participants as Winston Churchill, Field marshal Frederick Roberts and Generals Kitchener, Ian Hamilton and Robert Baden-Powell among others. Boer leaders involved include Generals Christiaan de Wet, Louis Botha, Koos de la Rey and Jan Smuts.

The reader is guided through the various twists and turns of the first major British conflict of the 20th century from its beginning through to its end. The naivety and excitement of combatants in the lead up to and beginning of the Second Anglo-Boer War was contagious. It pulled many naïve young men into the maelstrom of combat. The failures, frustrations, disappointments, disillusionments and sufferings soon emerge. It is a tale of imperial arrogance and determination, of stubbornness, innocence, love and loss experienced in a rugged and alluring land far from the heart of the British Empire.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781482861693
Publisher: Partridge Africa
Publication date: 08/17/2016
Pages: 234
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.53(d)

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Storm over South Africa

The Rutherford Chronicles Part 1

By Michael G. Bergen

Partridge Africa

Copyright © 2016 Michael G. Bergen
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4828-6169-3


Storm Clouds Gather

He surveyed the endless grassy plains below him before remounting his horse and continuing on his journey. He had climbed the road to the top of a small group of hills eroded by the searing heat and the thunderstorms of the South African Highveld summer.

It was early spring and under a deep blue sky the shrubs were bursting with bright young leaves and scattered blossoms. But since the rains hadn't yet started, the grasses that covered the plains were still in their golden winter colours. In the distance he could see meandering lines of green -- riverbeds lined with evergreen trees and shrubs -- splitting the flaxen plain as it faded into the horizon. He had observed this intoxicating scene often enough in his childhood. To him it was every bit as enchanting as an ocean with its rolling swell and waves. He had experienced the sea in his childhood, with his family at Plettenberg Bay and Capetown in the Cape Colony. This was the land of his birth and he wondered when he might see the sea again.

Several commandos, variously sized groups of Boer fighters, joined him along the way. They were several score strong, a loose gathering of fighting-age farmers called to action, armed and ready for war, which was, by then, inevitable. Boer fighters didn't wear uniforms as regular armies do. They wore their everyday working and hunting clothes in various shades of brown. Boers looked like the farmers, cowboys and miners of the American West, immortalised by writers and artists at the turn of the twentieth century.

They had different destinations. One group was heading north-west towards the Transvaal and the town of Mafeking, on the Bechuanaland border. Others were heading to Winburg where they would turn east through the north-eastern Orange Free State, to the Natal border. Yet another group of Commandos were heading from Bloemfontein to the western Free State border with the Cape Colony near Kimberley, the diamond mining town and British garrison. Still others were aiming for Pretoria, capital of the South African Republic, as was Deneys, our young hero. But they all had a singular purpose: to protect their Republics from the British preparing for war on their borders.

That evening they pitched camp at the side of the road and built a protective "kraal" of thorn bushes for their horses. Such kraals protect against leopards and lions in the bush. Then they pitched their tents, lit their fires and settled for the evening. They roasted springbok, shot that day, on spits, meat being the principle diet of the 'Afrikander' Boers.

Deneys made new friends on this excursion: others he already knew. They talked and sang around the fire, late into the night. When questioned by his comrades, he described his childhood as the son of a famous man. Born in Bloemfontein on April 3, 1882, his name was Deneys Reitz. His father, Francis William Reitz, was a South African lawyer, Member of Parliament of the Cape Colony and the fifth president of the Orange Free State. There were five sons, two older and two younger than Deneys. They grew up in a wild paradise, learning to ride, shoot and swim, from a very early age. They would often escape the town for the game-rich bush for weeks at a time, hunting, fishing and camping, only returning home when they bored of this temporary existence.

Deneys came from the top tier of South African Boer society. Occasionally his father took them with him on his long tours into the outlying areas of the Orange Free State. There was more hunting and more camping, and wapenshaws, held by the Boer commandos to honour his father. A wapenshaw, from the Old English for "weapon show", was originally a gathering and review of troops formerly held in every district in Scotland, but had been adapted by the Boers to be a gathering, usually in the presence of an important visitor.

He considered their small country a model one. There were no political parties, nor was there any bad blood between the Dutch and English. They had no railways then, and the noise of the outside world barely reached them. They were a contented community, isolated, hundreds of miles from the sea and the hustle and bustle of Capetown.

He noted the nods of recognition and agreement among his companions and continued. His companions all came from the same wild environments of the late nineteenth century Orange Free State. But that is where the similarities ended, since Reitz came from an elite family. Some had also been to wapenshaws and were well aware of, and in awe of, his father.

But there was trouble in the air. President Kruger and the Commandant-General Piet Joubert came often to Bloemfontein on official visits to his father, as President of the Orange Free State.

Stephanus Johannes Paulus 'Paul' Kruger, the President of the South African Republic (Transvaal), was born October 10, 1825 at Bulhoek in the Eastern Cape Colony. He was moved to the Transvaal during the Great Trek, as a child, during the late 1830s. Nicknamed Oom Paul (Uncle Paul), he had no education apart from the Bible and, through his interpretations of scripture, believed the Earth was flat! Kruger was at the Sand River Convention with Britain in 1852. He'd played a significant role in the forging of the South African Republic. He had led various commandos and resolved disputes between rival Boer leaders and factions. Kruger became vice president in 1877 before the South African Republic was annexed by Britain as the Transvaal. Over the next three years, he headed two delegations to London to have this overturned. He became the leading figure of the movement to restore the South African Republic's independence. This initiative resulted in the Boer victory of the First Anglo-Boer War of 1880-81. Kruger served as a member of an executive triumvirate until 1883 and was then elected president. In 1884 he headed a third deputation that brokered the London Convention, under which Britain recognised the South African Republic as an independent state.

Sir Henry Loch, Governor of the Cape, and Cecil Rhodes, a 'big florid man' who cracked jokes with the boys, visited them as well. They tried to prevent the Orange Free State from entering into an alliance with the Transvaal. But they didn't succeed, and a treaty was made by the Free State, with President Kruger, to stand by the Transvaal in case of war with England.

Interest picked up around the fire, with wonder and admiration for the fact that Francis Reitz had met and conversed with such famous and important men. Of course, the mention of Rhodes was met with derision and anger, since he had been the wealthy instigator and backer of the Jameson Raid. He was also a staunch Briton wanting to expand the Empire. He was detested and mistrusted by the Boers.

In 1895, Reitz's health had failed, and he had resigned. The family went to live in Claremont, a 'cramped' suburb of Capetown for them, compared to the wide, open plains of the Orange Free State. While in the Cape, the ill-fated Jameson Raid had taken place, and they found that, on their later return to the Orange Free State, tensions had arisen between the English and the Dutch.

The Jameson Raid was a bumbled raid over the New Year weekend of 1895-96, outside Johannesburg. It was carried out by British colonial statesman Leander Starr Jameson and his company mercenaries. These mercenaries comprised 'police' employed by Alfred Beit and Cecil John Rhodes' British South Africa company, as well as Bechuanaland policemen. Deneys said that even in the Orange Free State, where differences of this kind were unknown, there was so much animosity that people openly talked of 'driving the English into the sea'.

When his father recovered, he moved to the Transvaal and became Secretary of State under President Paul Kruger. By July 1899, the situation had become so grave, and since war with England by now seemed inevitable, his father ordered the family to Pretoria. Deneys returned to Bloemfontein with his brother for a brief visit and having now said goodbye to Bloemfontein for the time being, they leftrbehind them 'the peace of our past', to face what?

Now, at seventeen, he was hurtling towards the growing turbulence on their borders in those troubled times. And with that thought he fell into a pensive silence, to consider his situation while others related their stories around him until late.

The next morning they continued their determined journey across the plain at sunrise. This vast, flat, grassy plateau, positioned in the centre of the southern-most end of the African continent was in the Orange Free State Republic. It sits a mile above sea level on the Highveld, a high, level plateau covering much of the Boer Republics in the centre of the sub-continent.

South Africa then comprised British colonies and protectorates, plus the independent Boer Republics. These various colonies and states comprised native ethnic groups, Boers, and British settlers, as well a few 'foreigners'. They occupied a region of more than six hundred thousand square miles, twice the size of France, of wilderness and large, isolated farms punctuated by towns and cities.

Southern Africa was, and still is, a magnificent and diverse region. It varies in geography and climate. The Cape coastal region has a Mediterranean climate with winter rains and hot, dry summers. The arid Karoo space of the Cape Colony, north of the Cape Mountains, is a vast region of semi-desert with low and sparse scrub. It stretches from the west coast to the coastal mountain ranges in the east. The Orange Free State and the then South African Republic (or the Transvaal) are in the fertile summer rainfall areas of the Highveld. The Natal Colony is a sub-tropical region on the east coast.

Clouds gather in October over the Highveld Republics, signalling the start of the rainy, summer, growing season. But in 1899 the clouds of spring coincided with the clouds of war and a joyous and promising time of the year took on a dark and ominous atmosphere!

Until the discovery of gold in 1886, an uneasy balance had existed between the Boers and the British in South Africa. The British had conquered and ruled the Cape and Natal colonies. The Boers dominated the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, where they worked in agriculture and lived in close-knit, but isolated communities. Native tribes were of little consequence to either side of the growing divide between the Boers and newcomers.

The Witwatersrand, or 'ridge of white waters', comprising Johannesburg, Pretoria and surrounding areas, upset the balance. Johannesburg was moving towards becoming the richest mining city in the world. Promise of great wealth lured gold prospectors of many nationalities to the Transvaal. The Boers treated them as foreigners or 'Uitlanders'. They refused them voting and other rights. Tensions increased, as exemplified by the failed Jameson Raid in 1895.

By late 1899, South Africa was the setting for the first major war of the twentieth century. On the one side, the mighty British Empire, the wealthiest and strongest force in the world with its cast of illustrious characters, all trained and practised in the art of war. Pompous, confident, arrogant and all-knowing personalities, devoted to their queen and empire, to imperialism and glory, to expansionism and economic conquest ... to dominance. These were the great men of their time, lining up for their moments of glory under the South African sun, to protect and expand the interests of the imperial crown.

On the other side, a conservative, religious and rugged folk who only wanted to be left alone to farm, read their Bibles and protect their culture and way of life. They had escaped to these lands from the imperialism and arrogance of British rule in the Cape. Since fleeing, they had settled in what were by now the South African Republics, established for and by Dutch and Huguenot descendants who had migrated from the Cape Colony, known then to the British as Afrikanders. They wanted no interference from the natives, whom they had usurped by their invasion from the South. And they wanted none from the Uitlanders, who had arrived in large numbers to exploit the huge reserves of gold. The Boers had invaded these lands in the early part of the century. They had endured hardship from 1835 to1846 on a mass migration called The Great Trek into the unknown interior of Southern Africa. This was their search for a promised land where they could be free and independent burghers in their own free and independent states. Now they were to be invaded by their old nemesis from the Cape Colony.

* * *

This story's cast of characters on these pages, includes the likes of Deneys Reitz, the teenage son of a past Orange Free State Boer President; Winston Churchill, British aristocrat, descendent of the Dukes of Marlborough, acting as a war correspondent; William Hart-McHarg, the Canadian son of a Scottish soldier; and Joseph Rutherford, the teenage son of Irish immigrant labourers from County Durham, England. They were moving towards a parallel journey through this and later conflicts of the twentieth century.

The distinguished cast of British political leaders included: Prime Minister Lord Robert Cecil Salisbury; Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain; Governor of the Cape Colony and High Commissioner for Southern Africa, Alfred Milner, and businessman cum politician, Cecil John Rhodes.

Hardened and distinguished by the Empire's nineteenth-century wars, the British military leadership had shaped them, their names telling the story of British expansion and conquest:

The Cape Frontier Wars with the Khoikhoi, San and Xhosa from 1779 to 1879 in South Africa;

Anglo-Ashanti Wars in West Africa of 1823-1896;

First Anglo-Sikh War of 1846, in India;
The Indian Rebellion of 1857;
The Opium War and Anglo-Chinese Wars of 1856-1860;
The Red River Rebellion of the Métis, western Canada 1869-70;
The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, in the Natal Colony;
The Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1880;
The First Anglo-Boer War of 1880-81 in the Transvaal;
The Mahdist War in Sudan of 1885 and 1898, and the
Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896.

The best known of these distinguished heroes included Field Marshal Garnet Wolseley; Field Marshal Frederick Roberts; General Sir Redvers Buller; Lieutenant-General Herbert Kitchener; General Sir Bruce Hamilton; Lieutenant-General Paul Methuen; Lieutenant-General Sir John French; Lieutenant-General Leslie Rundle; Major-General Sir Archibald Hunter; Major-General Robert Baden-Powell; Major-General Andrew Wauchope, plus Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hamilton. They and many more gallant officers, including the ninth Duke of Marlborough, led fifteen thousand men at the outset. The Duke of Marlborough, Charles Spencer-Churchill, was Winston Churchill's first cousin and close friend.

These men came from Britain, the South African colonies, and the widespread colonies of the British Empire, in particular Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India.

At this time the officers of the British army were almost exclusively gentlemen of the realm, the sons of aristocracy or the sons of generals and heroes. The army had a long and fiercely protected tradition dating from long before the Duke of Wellington who declared that "the description of gentlemen of whom the army were composed, made, from their education, manners and habits, the best officers of the world, and to compose the officers of a lower class would cause the Army to deteriorate".

Lord Wolseley would declare that the differences between officers and their men was more than that.

"A senseless panic at times seizes the bravest soldiers; I know not why but it rarely spreads to the commissioned officer. He is better educated, and, accustomed to think for others, he acts less on impulse and more upon reason than the private. Taught the habit of command and trained to lead others, he is far less liable to this heart-sinking than the brave fellows who follow him".

By 'education' was generally meant attendance of one of Britain's top public boarding schools such as, for example, Charterhouse, Eton College, Harrow School, Rugby School, Shrewsbury School, Westminster School, and Winchester College. Some officer candidates would enlist directly when they passed out of their schools, but most cavalry and infantry officers attended the Royal Military Collage at Sandhurst, and artillery and engineering offers attended the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. They didn't receive degrees like their American or French counterparts and very few attended a university, preferring to press on immediately with their commissions. Still fewer achieved a commission by graduating from the ranks.

Britain would pour five hundred thousand combatants (including colonial forces) into this war, far more than any other earlier conflict. At its peak, there would be two hundred and fifty thousand British troops on the ground in the South African war effort. Most of these men had been recruited from the working classes or indeed from poverty stricken slums. A significant proportion of these soldiers of the time were Irish or of Irish decent.


Excerpted from Storm over South Africa by Michael G. Bergen. Copyright © 2016 Michael G. Bergen. Excerpted by permission of Partridge Africa.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1. Storm Clouds Gather, 1,
2. The storm begins (October-December 1899), 10,
3. Turbulence on the borders of the Republics (January-May 1900), 60,
4. The perfect storm – Lord Roberts leads his great army north (May-July 1900), 82,
5. Is the storm really over? (August-December 1900), 120,
6. Kitchener's nasty little war of attrition (January 1901-May 1902), 134,
7. The end of the storm (May 1902), 217,

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