From Trekking On - in the company of brave men
by Deneys Reitz
On the morning of 23 October 1914, a man came into my office and, locking the door behind him, whispered in my ear that David van Coller, the District Commandant, was coming with a strong force that night to take the town on General De Wet’s behalf, and that I was to be shot in my backyard. Having delivered himself of this at a gulp, he unlocked the door and quickly vanished.
I telephoned the information to General Smuts in Pretoria, and suggested that I should collect volunteers to defend the place. He gave me peremptory orders to do nothing of the kind. He said that if Van Coller came in and we fired on his men, the Nationalists would raise a cry throughout the country saying that we had started the trouble. He said he did not like leaving me in the lurch, but they were expecting outbreaks at other centres, so I was to look after myself.
In view of this, I saw no reason why I should tamely remain to be captured by my political opponents. I did not believe that I would be shot, for the Boers are not given to assassination, but in the heat of long quarrels I had made many enemies, and the least that would happen to me would be arrest and indignities.
I decided therefore to make my escape. I was able to ascertain that already, out of sight, there were rebel pickets on every road leading from the town, so a daylight attempt was out of the question, and my only hope was a getaway after dark.
In the meanwhile, I pretended to be ignorant of what was afoot, and attended to my affairs until four in the afternoon, when I went home to prepare for flight, and ordered Ruiter to get our horses ready. Ruiter had been with me for years. He was a bandy-legged, diminutive Hottentot, the ugliest and loyalest servant a man ever had. My horse was a thoroughbred named Bismarck, one of the best in the country, and Ruiter had a fast Basuto pony. When I explained matters to him, he said we had the legs of any animals in the district.
As we were waiting, ready saddled, for darkness to fall, two young farmers, Daniel Malherbe and Fritz Weilbach, came galloping to my house. They were Government men, and they had both taken a prominent stand in the political war, so they had decided that the town was the best place for them. They said that all the countryside had risen, that mounted bands were patrolling in every direction, and that it was only by hard riding that they had got through. When I told them of the orders received from General Smuts, they agreed to join my attempt to bolt.
By now, standing in my yard, we could see rebel horsemen dotting the skyline, so there was no time to lose, and the moment it was dark enough we set off and, slinking by the gaol and the municipal pound, slipped quietly out of town.
We left not a moment too soon, for we found afterwards that, within twenty minutes of our passing, every exit was occupied by pickets, which must even then have been closing silently in as we went.
Next DayTowards three in the afternoon we approached Wolwehoek Station, on the railway line that comes up through the Free State to Johannesburg and Pretoria. We had ridden twenty-five miles by then, and most of the rebels had dropped out. About a dozen of them, however, better mounted, or more determined than the rest, made a final bid to get within range before we reached the cover of the station buildings, and they came hurrying towards us in a cloud of dust. We were uncertain whether the station was held by rebels or not, but we were relieved, as we rode, to see the mail train steaming in from the south. It was the last train to get through before the line was broken up, and passengers leaned from every window to view what must have seemed to them like a cinema performance, three armed men and a servant riding for their lives, and something like a sheriff’s posse coming on behind.