The One and Only Coen Brits

Posted on August 15, 2014 by Cape Rebel

From Trekking On - in the company of brave men
by Deneys Reitz

During the 1914 Rebellion

General Botha was still in the west, and for the moment old Coen Brits was in charge. I reported to him, and he greeted me with a slash of his rawhide sjambok, which was his idea of a military salute. He was an amusing character. He stood six foot six inches, did not know a word of English, drank enormous quantities of alcohol without turning a hair, and was celebrated throughout the Transvaal for his racy wit and Rabelaisian stories. But he was a good soldier. He had fought with skill and courage on the Republican side during the Anglo-Boer War, and General Botha was the only man who had any influence over him. When Botha wired him to mobilise his men for the South-West expedition, he wired back to say he was ready, but wanted to know whether he had to fight the Germans or the British. He was quite prepared to do either, for he worshipped Botha, and obeyed him blindly.

There was a Scotchman with me who owned a set of bagpipes, which he played around our campfires at night, and old Coen apparently took this to be a Scottish religious observance. One morning a Dutch Reformed clergyman wrote for permission to address the men. Coen, who was somewhat of a pagan, replied that he didn’t want any preaching in his camp and, turning to me, said that as he had forbidden the predikant to come, he must be fair as between the sects, and I was to stop that damned Scotchman of mine from playing the bagpipes!

German South-West Africa

General Botha ordered me to report for duty to Coen Brits, so Ruiter and I went to find him at Karibib, where the old man greeted me with the usual cut of his sjambok by way of welcome.

Old Coen was as genial and entertaining as ever. He provided me with a horse, and I rode to and fro on long journeys, carrying orders to outlying posts. Once there came a telegram for him from a Union citizen of bibulous habits, offering his services. Coen wired back: ‘Don’t come; all the liquor there is in South-West Africa I can drink myself.’

I was told that on the march from the coast his supply of alcohol had given out, and the only available bottle in his brigade was found to belong to a soldier. Coen was told that, as a brigadier, he was not supposed to drink with a private, but he easily overcame this difficulty, for he promoted the owner to second-lieutenant, and after the two of them had emptied the bottle, he reverted the man back to the ranks, satisfied that military conventions had been properly observed.

Posted in English