The Cape Colony

Posted on October 02, 2014 by Cape Rebel

From Commando - Of Horses and Men
by Deneys Reitz


‘The adventures of this handful of resolute men led by General Smuts forms one of the most interesting episodes in the whole course of the guerrilla war.’ – The Times History, v, 302.

The place of our meeting with General Smuts and his commando was in sight of the little village of Zastron, about fifteen miles from the Orange River, and his intention was to march nearer that day and cross during the night. By noon a start was made, and towards five o’clock in the evening we could see a dark line in front of us marking the gorge, at the bottom of which runs the river between high mountain walls.

Unfortunately this was not all we saw. Our side of the canyon was held for miles in each direction by a cordon of British troops, stationed there to bar our way. Whenever a footpath led down the cliffs, there stood a tented camp, and the intervening ground was patrolled by strong bodies of mounted men who clearly knew of our coming.

On seeing this, General Smuts led us back into a range of hills, where we waited until the next day, while men were sent in search of some neighbouring outpost to act as guides.

At dusk a young officer named Louis Wessels arrived with fifty men, a hard-bitten crew with whom he had been operating for over a year.

He reported enemy columns closing in on us from the rear, and said that unless we were able to effect a crossing that night, we’d be trapped. He said moreover that the river was everywhere difficult, owing to the depth of the gorge and the perpendicular cliffs, but that he had brought with him a veteran of the Basuto wars who knew of a path which might be practicable.

General Smuts decided to start at once, and in the falling dark our force rode out, accompanied by Wessels and his men, who agreed to enter the Colony with us. We travelled on, hour after hour in the dark, over rough ground, and then, towards three o’clock in the morning, we caught a glint of white far below, where the Orange River boiled and eddied in its narrow channel. It was still night when we commenced the final descent, but after toiling down the precipitous path to which our guide had brought us, and along which assuredly no other mounted troops had ever passed, we reached the edge of the water. In single file we began to cross the river, a strong and turbulent mountain torrent, not broad, but so swift that our horses could scarcely maintain their footing, and as dawn lit the cliffs above, the hindmost man was through, and I stood in the Cape Colony at last.


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