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SIDECAR AFRICA
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Historical Trip to Hartbeespoort area

11th September 2011: On a beautiful Spring day on a date significant in recent and past history the sidecar ride along group set out for a day with a strong historical feel. We had a big group of enthusiasts, Ryno doing 3 up with Emma and Klara, Arno & Zeta, Jacquie & Jenna, Jude & Sheilagh, Richard & Eleanor, Mark, Steph & the boys, Ray & Bron and our ever loyal 2 wheeler friends Greg and Noel. Henry and Geraldine met us at the first stop, we very briefly saw Nick Loveday and Erhard and Rosi followed in their car.

Here is the story as told by Ken Dalglish (our fearless leader)

Stop 1: “The Oxwagon Ring”

Starting from the Skyview Garage on te R511 we travelled through the kloof at Skurweberg up over Saartjesnek then the indifferent path up the hill to the restaurant and B&B at The Oxwagon Ring. The beautifully restored ox wagons starting with the Voortrekker Kakebeen wagon and showing how the designs developed over time. I was reminded of the story told by the gentleman who restored the wagons (his name escapes me), he was asked to provide a wagon for a ‘Fees;’ at Hartebeestpoort, a farmer was to provide the trek osse. The whole procession was lined up, the wagon at the back led by a band with all manner of groups represented in between. Off they went, however the oxen were used to pulling a plough and accordingly they put their backs full heartedly into their task and brakes had to be applied to slow things down. This only made the oxen pull harder, soon the brake blocks were starting to smoke and water, cold drinks and whatever was in hand had to be poured on them. By this time the wagon had forced its way through any number of the groups ahead of it and finally the band had to give way.

Then down we went again like ducks in a row to the memorial cross of General Hendrik Schoeman. We walked up the path to the platform in front of the memorial. The original farm on the land that lay before us was at one time owned by Andries Pretorius and later by General Schoeman. In June 1900 both Pretoria and Bloemfontein had been captured by the British under General Roberts. Many on both sides felt that the war was over, but a Boer Council of war decided to continue fighting since they had been heartened by several Guerrilla victories. General Roberts made his declaration that the Boer farms would be burned and crops destroyed with women and children and farm labourers interned.
General Schoeman saw the impact of this. At the time there were 450 000 British troops in the field and never more than 70 000 burgers. Schoeman went to the leaders of the Commandos trying to persuade them to give up and spare the disaster that he foresaw. He was regarded as a traitor and was arrested. General Smuts who was Attorney General of the ZAR refused to try him and he was sent to General Botha to the East of Pretoria who had him put in prison in Barberton where he was later released and returned to Pretoria to try again, only to be once again imprisoned this time in Pietersburg. He was released from there when the town was captured by the British and returned to his house in Boom Street in Pretoria.
During the early part of the war at the siege of Colesberg a 4.7 inch lyddite shell fell outside his tent but did not explode, he kept it and had it in his home at the fireplace. It is said that he knocked his pipe out on it, it exploded and killed him, his daughter and a friend. Many said that it was improbable that a man with his experience would not have removed the explosive and that it was the work of ‘Bittereinders’ who rearmed it.
The inscription on the memorial reads “Melancholy is the path of the peacemaker; Remember Hess…Remember Petain…” So sad when you remember that 28 000 women and children and 30 000 black farm workers died in the concentration camps.

Stop 2: The Military Cemetery at Rietfontein
The area is so built up that earlier we had great difficulty finding the cemetery. Ryno found it following coordinates given by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Those soldiers killed at that battle at Zilkaatsnek were re-interred here. There are many that were killed by lightning. When you consider that the Magaliesberg has the second highest incidence of lightning strikes in the Transvaal and the ‘’Rice Block houses’ were simply two iron tanks one inside the other and the gap filled with sand and stone usually situated on high ground and excellent lightning conductors; it is no surprise.
It was not far from here that the road crossed the Crocodile River. Many years after the war Ikey Sonnenberg wanted to travel from Pretoria to Rustenburg and the only transport he could find was a Cape cart drawn by two horses, but the carter charged him 16 pounds. He reluctantly accepted. When they reached the Crocodile River they rested the horses. Ikey sat on one side and played with cards by himself. The carter eventually asked if he would like to play Poker, Ikey condescendingly agreed. Ikey won his fare back and went on to clean the carter out of money, then won the two horses, then the cart and the carter had to give up but not before Ikey made him sign an IOU for 16 pounds - fare to Rustenburg.

Stop 3: Battle at Zilkaatsnek
Garrisons had been placed on the passes over the Magaliesberg at Commandonek and Zilkaatsnek which were on the routes from Pretoria to Rustenburg. On the night of 10th July 1900 Colonel Alexander with the Scots Greys and four guns of Royal Artillery were joined by three under strength companied of the Lincolnshire Regiment under command of Colonel Roberts and they were posted at Zilikaatsnek. There were orders for Colonel Alexander to move to Hekpoort on the following day to join a force from Krugersdorp on its way to Rustenburg.

Colonel Roberts received intelligence reports of a possible attack by Boer Commandos and sent a message to Pretoria informing Lord Roberts HQ. The centre of the Nek is blocked by a small kopje with high shoulders of the Magaliesberg on both sides. Two guns had been placed East of the central kopje and Colonel Roberts failed to post sentries on the summits on both sides.
General de la Rey was to attack from the North side and he split the commando into two groups of 200 each and ordered them to climb on both sides of the Nek at 2 am on the 11th. When it got light at 5.30 they were spotted and the action commenced. The Boer force was in an excellent position to fire down on the British and they had the support of a Pom Pom gun.
The two British guns were badly positioned and could not be elevated high enough to reach the Boers, the signalling equipment was in an exposed position and could not be used to contact Colonel Alexander at Commandonek just seven kilometres away.
Colonel Alexander must have heard the firing but made no move. At about 9am a messenger reached him on foot and he sent two guns to the valley and they fired on the Boers on the East side of the Nek and were effective. However for some reason they ceased firing after less than an hour and withdrew.
General de la Rey’s force worked their way further South and the British were forced into a gap alongside the kopje. The fight ensued all day and by evening it was clear to Colonel Roberts that he could not withdraw (there was a bright moon) and he surrendered.
Meanwhile Colonel Alexander decided that the Nek had been captured and had withdrawn towards Pretoria, en route he came upon the relieving force sent in response to Colonel Roberts message and they all proceeded back to Pretoria. 30% of Colonel Roberts force were killed or wounded, including Roberts, two guns and a great deal of arms and ammunition as well as 189 men taken prisoner.

We walked into the gap next to the kopje and as I described the battle one of the party found what looks like the damage done by a Pom Pom shell. It is easy to imagine the predicament that Colonel Roberts landed in.

This battle along with several others gave the Boers courage to carry on fighting despite the odds against them. General de la Rey continued to be a major thorn in the British side. I reminded people that he had voted against the ultimatum in the Raadsaal and had said to President Kruger that despite not voting for war, he would be fighting long after others had left. It was on this day 11th September 1900 that President Kruger left ZAR for Mozambique to sail to Europe in the battleship sent by Queen Wilhelmina to fetch him.

The Bittereinders went on to the Chameleon Village for lunch and I was fortunate enough to go and watch the Springboks play Wales in their first match of the Rugby World Cup. I hope that I was forgiven but for me Rugby is not a matter of life and death it is far more important than that.”

Thank you Oom Ken for sharing your knowledge ... a most enjoyable day was had by all.