De la Rey was a reluctant warrior. He opposed war with the British until it was seen as inevitable and necessary to protect his country. In combat he was also reminiscent of the intensely religious Stonewall Jackson. He was frequently heard encouraging his troops with “I fear God and nothing else” and “God is on our side.” Despite the British war on the Boer civilians, their concentration camps, and the death of a beloved son in combat, De la Rey insisted on treating captured British soldiers with a near sacrificial degree of civility. The Boers did not have the material and additional food supplies to sustain prisoners, so after stripping them of weapons, ammunition, and valuable equipment, they simply released them following any medical treatment required. Though fierce in combat, Koos was not a man of vengeance and would not allow a spirit of vengeance to prevail among his troops. The Boers themselves knew that if they were captured, they would likely be sent to St. Helena or worse. The chivalrous Koos de la Rey severely punished any mistreatment of British prisoners.
In March of 1902, De la Rey, in a surprise cavalry attack on a British column, killed or wounded 189 British soldiers and captured another 600. Among the wounded prisoners was his arch foe and nemesis, Lt. General, Lord Methuen. Methuen had burned De la Ray’s own farm, and his son, Adaan, had been mortally wounded by Methuen’s troops. The British had shot some Boer officers in the past. Many of De la Rey’s men called for Methuen to be shot. But the deeply religious De la Rey treated his enemy with the respect he believed all Christian men deserved. Methuen was sent under a flag of truce, accompanied by a doctor, to the nearest British medical station. De la Rey even sent Methuen’s wife a message of sympathy, expressing concern for the seriousness of his wounds.
Despite their noble valor, the Boers were eventually forced to surrender. The British were able to inflict a significant military defeat on the Boers in the last month of the war, but the primary reason for surrender was to bring an end to civilian suffering. Lack of supplies and food had also brought the Boer commando forces near the limit of physical endurance. The British surrender terms offered to release all prisoners and granted amnesty to all belligerents. The Boers agreed to and signed these terms in Pretoria on May 31, 1902. While many in Britain cheered, many in the Transvaal and Orange Free State wept, including De la Rey, his wife, Nonnie, and their six surviving children. Nonnie de la Rey asked in tears, “Why was all this bloodshed and suffering? What was the purpose of it all?”
Although the British won the war they suffered greatly in world public opinion and in their own soul-searching. The Boers lost their independence only temporarily. In 1906 and 1907 the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were again granted a limited independence. A few years thereafter they became political divisions of the Union of South Africa. As previously noted, Boer Generals Botha and Smuts both later became Prime Ministers of the new Union of South Africa. In 1914, Koos De la Rey was mistakenly shot and killed by police chasing a band of criminals. Ironically, on his death the British honored him more than his Boer countrymen.
The British built a statue of him at the British cemetery on his farm and a hospital was built in his name. Lt. General, Lord Methuen and his famous commander, General, Lord Kitchener, were the first to contribute donations. The British also honor him by calling some of their elite troops, “commando,” the Afrikaans term for the grass roots militia organization of the valiant Boers. The fighting ability of Boer troops in the British Army during World War I and II was highly respected by both British and American commanders.
We should not forget the valiant struggle and determination of the Boers, nor Koos De la Rey, a man whose Christian character and convictions should be remembered and honored everywhere.
The great issue in South Africa today is whether the descendents of the Boers and their former British enemies of two Boer wars can remain safely and profitably in South Africa under the property confiscations, persecutions, and anti-white violence of the ANC majority government.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Mike Scruggs, Author and Columnist
a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs
Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.
He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.
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