25 August 2013

Encounter at Groenvlei - 10th August 1901

I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend at Nylsvley Nature Reserve presenting a Nature Photographic Workshop when I came across this small monument at the side of the railway line. My hosts explained the events of the fateful day to me so I shot a few pics and on my arrival home, I Googled the event. It is quite a long but interesting story and I thought I would share it.

This from an unknown source on the internet:-

Along the road to Vogelfontein, 3.8 km from the Boekenhout Station railway crossing, there is a gate on the left-hand side that gives access to the railway line. On the other side of the tracks stands a monument that is barely visible from the road when the grass is high. It is within this area that a battle royal took place led by Capt. Jack Hindon of the Boer commandos.

Three simultaneous explosions shattered the quietness of the winter bushveld, during the midday siesta, over 100 years ago. The first and third were explosives derailing a train on the Nylstroom-Naboomspruit Railway connection and the second was the sound of thousands of water birds disturbed by the noise and taking flight over the Vogelfontein area at Nylsvlei. The date was 10th August 1901 and the attack was carried out by Capt. Jack Hindon and a commando of 60 men trained specifically to wreck the railway lines during the last phases of the Anglo-Boer War. Pretoria had fallen to the British on 5th June 1900 and peace negotiations broke down when, on hearing of the success of Gen. De Wet’s forces against the British on 7th June, Botha with his men moved fifteen miles out of Pretoria to prepare a position above the hills at Pienaarspoort. It was here at what was to become known as the Battle of Donkerhoek (Diamond Hill) that the new strategy of the Boer forces was formulated and the guerrilla format of the war came into existence. Men like Hindon, Trigaardt and Brand were instructed in the art of train wrecking specifically to obtain supplies and arms that had been denied them which, ultimately, led to the encounter at Groenvlei (Nylsvlei). 
Hindon and his men arrived in the area of Naboomspruit Station on 9th August and camped around the fountain and, that evening, made their way to Hartbeesspruit (Groenvlei) near the railway line. Hendrik Slegtkamp and Carl Cremer began preparing the explosives for derailing the train. The target had to be specifically a train carrying provisions, so the usual mine, which automatically exploded on contact, had to be discarded. As many trains used the line, an apparatus that could be manually triggered was required and this they devised by using a long length of copper wire that could be pulled, at the right moment, to detonate the mine. Half a mile from the railway line was a deep gully covered with trees and shrubs and the horses were hidden here. This gully extended to 30 yards from the line, directly in front of the point where the explosives were to be placed, and Slegtkamp and thirty of his men hid behind the undergrowth at this point. Hindon positioned himself with a group of men to the left of Slegtkamp and a small group led by Lt. van Rensburghid under the culvert below the rails. The most exposed position was that of Cremer and Jordaan who were crouched behind a dense thicket of bushes 20 yards from the explosives on the railway line, holding the copper wire that would detonate the mine. The first train to arrive after daybreak was an empty goods train and was left alone Then followed a procession of armoured trains from both directions and the frequency gave Hindon and Slegtkamp the impression that the British were expecting an ambush as twice they stopped in the vicinity of theBoers. The ‘bonanza’ train arrived in the early afternoon and the ‘Encounter at Groenvlei’ had begun. The explosion lifted the locomotive off the tracks and the train bumped to a standstill, eight trucks went over the low embankment while the engine and some other trucks remained upright, although derailed. The second mine which had exploded simultaneously, failed to move the armoured truck off the line and the Gordon Highlander escort opened up with a deadly hail of bullets which killed both Cremer and Jordaan, as Hindon and his men stormed the train. Frans Schmidt was the next to be killed. A quick retreat was made and as the Boers were regrouping, an armoured train with an Elswick canon and maxims arrived on the scene. A hail of bullets from both the armoured car and train forced a further hasty retreat by Hindon and Slegtkamp. Lombaard, Pos, Swart and Van Niekerk were killed and seven other Boers wounded. In his book recounting the battle, E.J. Webster describes the scene where they left the horses as ‘afgryslik’ (horrible). Wherever you looked lay dead and dying horses caught in the exchange of rifle and maxim fire and shrapnel from the exploding shells of the Elswick Canon. Jack Hindon eventually surrendered himself to the British on 16th May 1902. On 9th August 1930 the monument to those who perished at the Battle of Groenvlei was unveiled. The then Minister of Justice, Oswald Pirow, performed the ceremony on behalf of the Dingaansfees Committee of Nylstroom. 
The inscription on the stone panels reads as follows:
Van Vryheid en Vaderl and Deze burgers zyn gesneuveld te Groenvlei 10 Aug 1901

Carl Cremer geb. 29 Nov 1867 in Ostonnen Westfalen, Duitsland

Gerhardus Jordaan van Middelburg geb.6 Julie 1882

Cornelius Lombaard van Middelburg geb. 2 Aug. 1852

Cornelius Post van Middelburg geb. 7 Okt. 1864 in Hilversun, Holland

Frans Schmidt van Harrismith, OVS geb. 26 Okt. 1876

Petrus Swart van Bethal geb. 23 Junie 1876

Johannes van Niekerk van Bethal geb. 1868

The morning sunrise... slightly ominous...

Monument to those that died - unveiled 9th August 1930. Slightly neglected.

Coat of arms on the monument

The train line with the monument almost hidden on the far right hand side.

A long clear view to see when the trains come.

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