Walkerville, South Africa ... Gauteng's Best Kept Secret!
What a wonderful surprise I had recently. We have been researching the Kamffer family for a while and during a recent visit with friends in Mondeor we were introduced to Isabella Kamffer (nee Van der Wezthuizen) the 87 year old widow of Johan Frederik Kamffer (Fritz). He was the youngest of Hendrik Jacobus Kamffer en Alida Maria Laubscher’s seven sons.
Also of interest was to hear that all of Hendrik Kamffer’s memorobilia that was in Fritz and Isabella’s possesion was donated to the Heidelberg Museum. Amongst the items was Hendrik’s revolver and a certificate signed at the Peace Treaty on the 31st May 1902. Unfortunately when the musuem was closed some years ago the items were not returned to the Kamffer family.
As far as can be ascertained the first white to settle in the Walkerville area was an unknown Voortrekker in about 1838. The remains of a hut built with the front axle of his wagon is near the Dairy Cottage on Woodacres Dairy Farm. This Voortrekker sold the Hartzenbergfontein property to Hendrik Balthazar Greyling in about 1859 and the whole property, in extent over 3,422morgen was transferred to Greyling on the 11th December 1861. This deed of transfer has been lost but is referred to in numerous other deeds.
One of the Greyling daughters, Aletta Maria Gertiena, married Christoffel Johannis Kamffer and they settled on their portion of the farm, just South East of Aloe Ridge School. This story is about two of their sons, Hendrik and Willem Kamffer.
Hendrik Kamffer, local farmer at Hartzenbergfontein, started out under the other local commander, Commandant Weilbach, who farmed at Faroasfontein. During the battle of Modderspruit on the 30th October 1899, Hendrik Kamffer was a lad of 20 years old. He had served in the Jamieson Raid three years earlier when he was only 17. With him was his younger brother, Willem, only 18. During one charge Hendrik's horse was hit and he somersaulted over his horse's head. "He rolled and dodged wildly as the others thundered by, then as Hendrik Greyling swerved past, he stuck out his hand and was lifted up behind his friend, then hung on grimly as they galloped to safety." Hendrik Greyling was killed at Ceaser's Camp (Platrand) on 6 January 1900.
Hendrik Kamffer was "one of the Klipriver men". During the battle of Ladysmith, 7 November 1899, Hendrik Kamffer had already been promoted to Corporal. "He was sent with a group of burghers to occupy a bushy hillock approximately 1,000 metres from the Platrand." On 7 December 1899 he was in charge of the guard on Lombardskop. Their duty was to guard the 4.7 Howitzer guns and a Long Tom of Major Erasmus. At 02h00 the British had stealthily advanced and surprised the sleeping guard. The result was the flight of everyone and the capture of the guns. This resulted in the suspension of Commandant Weilbach and Org Meyer who were held responsible.
On 24 January 1900 the battle of Spioenkop was fought. Hendrik and his brother Willem and three others were together. Willem was shot in the shoulder early in the morning. Willem Marais was killed when he looked over the sheltering rocks. Hendrik watched in horror as one of the others, David van Staden, was shot in the forehead and writhed in pain till he died. This sight Hendrik would never forget. Hendrik's rifle became so hot that as he levered a round into the firing chamber the bullet would go off. Van Schalkwyk, also with the Kamffer's, was shot later in the day and had to wait in pain till dark when Hendrik took him to the ambulance.
On 25 January there was a truce in order for the dead to be buried. Kamffer buried Marais and Van Staden on the northern edge of Spioenkop where burghers from Rustenburg, Middelburg and Pretoria Commandos were buried. "During the mopping up operations he noticed that blood ran in streams from the heaps of British dead."
During the following looting that took place, Kamffer noticed a Pretoria burgher, Wynand Els, take a rifle from a dead soldier. The Tommy's finger was still on the trigger and a shot went off killing Els instantly. According to Philip Pienaar in his book: "With Steyn and De Wet", Els was the only son of a widowed mother. Ironically Els was killed by a dead man. (p.26)
An interesting fact is that the famous General Christiaan de Wet had farmed near Heidelberg and fought with the Heidelberg Commando 20 years before. This Commando was sent to assist the Free Staters at Paardeberg where General Piet Cronje and his laager was trapped. The Heidelbergers were now under the command of Commandant Cornelis Spruyt. When he saw that the British Gloucester Regiment was moving against the position held by Org Meyer's Klipriver men, he went to their assistance himself. Hendrik Kamffer, and his brother Willem, were in the trenches and saw the British troops, with fixed bayonets, advancing. As the first line of troops were axed down, the next just kept on coming. Commandant Spruyt unfortunately rode right into the middle of the British column and had to surrender. Meanwhile Hendrik decided that he and Willem should retreat to where their horses were standing. On their way they saw a number of men had been killed whilst others lay writhing "with their intestines strewn about."
The next morning the Klipriver men retook their former positions. The British bombarded their positions with liddite bombs and Hendrik was hit by a splinter in the fleshy part of his left leg. "Willem assisted him as he limped to the rear." Two Heidelbergers, Willem Johan Ritters and Petrus G. Roos, were killed at Paardeberg; and fourteen captured. The captured Commandant Spruyt managed to throw himself out of the train taking him to the POW camp. He walked for four nights and hid during the day. He had no food during this time.
Not all our local people were of the same calibre as Hendrik Kamffer. It is reported that one Koos Pienaar, of Jackson's Drift, pleaded with his Veldkornet: "Give me a good heart and not a good horse. Give this horse to another burgher who is a better fighter than I, and send me home." When the first terrific bombardment broke out at Driefontein (Abrahamskraal) on 10 March 1900, he rode home as fast as he could!
Local Commandant Weilbach met with severe criticism at various stages in the war. When he abandoned a critical position near Bloemfontein on 12 March 1900 he was bitterly criticised for his half-hearted efforts and lack of discipline. He was later removed as Commandant.
In an effort to hold their positions at Houtenbeek, near Bloemfontein, on 29 March 1900, Willem Kamffer refused to retreat. Hendrik tried to caution him, but to no avail. Willem charged forward and was killed by a bullet through the head.
At one stage Hendrik Kamffer was asked to lead a church service on a Sunday, something he had never done before. Uys says: "He wrestled with a tremendous internal struggle until eventually the Spirit came upon him and he then calmly faced his congregation and led them in worship. They were isolated and weary, their horses thin and no longer able to carry them. His fervent prayer for assistance from the Almighty put new strength into his comrades. The boy had become a man. This did not go unnoticed by his superiors, who marked him for promotion."
After the battle at Mauchberg, near Lydenburg, on 6 September 1900, Hendrik Kamffer was appointed a Veldkornet by General Piet Viljoen and instructed by General Louis Botha to return to Heidelberg to seek out those who had surrendered their arms to the British and to commandeer them. He took five men with him: A and G Marais; C and H Booysen and A Basson. They reached the Klipriver area the next day and found that Captain Danie Theron had been there a few nights before them. Danie Theron had died at Gatsrand, near Fochville, on the 5th September.
Hendrik and his men began rounding up burghers who had laid down their arms and ordered them to join him. They had horses but no weapons. So in order to arm them they ambushed small groups of British soldiers to lay their hands on these weapons. "Veldkornet Hendrik Kamffer was back in war with a vengeance." This was also the start of trainwrecking in our area. This was mainly done in order to obtain provisions and ammunition.
"The first engagement in which Hendrik Kamffer led an attack was, strangely enough, not only on his 21st Birthday, but also took place on his family farm, Hartzenbergfontein, north-west of Vereeniging." Of course we know Hartzenbergfontein! Uys describes the encounter thus: "They saw an English cavalry unit was dismounted, so Kamffer immediately led a charge directly at them. His horse outdistanced the rest of his commando and he found himself alone before the rapidly firing enemy soldiers. There was no time to wheel his horse about as bullets cracked the air near him, so he swung its head to the right and in a swirl of dust headed for the soldier on the perimeter. Kamffer sprang from his horse, holding onto the reins, then with a false bravado ordered the soldier to surrender his rifle. His bluff worked. As the troopers stood seven metres apart and as the soldier was on the end of the line, the man probably thought they had been outflanked. After disarming the soldier, Kamffer looked about for his commando and saw that they had taken cover in a stone kraal 180 metres away."
I'll let Ian Uys continue the story: "The other troopers paid no attention to Kamffer, as they must have assumed that he was their prisoner. They poured a heavy fire at the kraal and chips of stone and dust flew about as bullets ricochetted off the wall. The burghers were leaderless and lost heart under the concentrated fire, so soon galloped wildly out of the kraal and raced away. One of their rider-less horses ran towards the enemy."
"The Veldkornet recognised the horse as belonging to one of his youngest burghers, G.S.Viljoen, 14. Kamffer then threatened the trooper with his revolver, warning him that if he called out to his companions he would be shot. He then took the man's horse, threw its reins over his horse's neck, sprang on his horse and raced towards the kraal."
"He held his rifle up, leaned over his heaving mount's flying mane and dug his spurs in, expecting a bullet in his back any second. When about 30m from the line of extended troopers, Kamffer was shot through his right hand and lost his rifle. Blood sprayed onto his body as he pressed his shattered hand against his chest. The soldier's rifle was slung across his back, but could not act as an effective shield."
"Kamffer's mother had meanwhile been standing at the back door of her farmhouse, watching the battle. She thought at first that the English had captured her son, then saw to her surprise and horror that he was racing back with a spare horse and was covered in blood. She covered her face in anguish, not knowing how seriously her son was wounded. Young Willem was already dead. Now Hendrik ...?"
"The horse skidded to a stop at the kraal. Viljoen grabbed the reins of the English horse, vaulted into the saddle and followed Kamffer as he raced away. They followed the route the commando had taken and rode into their camp at 9 pm. They were overjoyed to see the two men, who they assumed had been captured or killed."
"The burghers had bivouacked in large tobacco barns on Pienaar's farm near the Losberg. Kamffer was in great pain, as he had not had time to attend to his wound while searching for them. He ordered his men to remain there until daybreak and then ride to the Losberg and seek shelter there. He then went to the farmhouse for treatment."
"It was here that he met the young widow, Bosman, whose husband had been killed at Mafeking. She had been a Miss Pienaar who had married shortly before the outbreak of the war." "She saved Kamffer's life by immediately tending to his wound. The shattered hand was washed in warm water and the dead flesh cut away, then she soaked his hand in warm bran-water throughout the night. The following morning Mrs. Bosman bandaged his hand before he left to join his commando."
What a spectacle it must have been, right here on our doorstep, at Hartzenbergfontein!
By this time Kitchener had already begun destroying the crops and flocks of the Boers and herding their women and children into concentration camps. In so doing he thought that he could starve the Boers in the veld. This was wishful thinking as the Boers plundered convoys and trains for supplies. From their camp at Losberg they moved to Waldrif, Vereeniging, on their way towards Heidelberg. It's hard to believe that Waldrif then was difficult to cross. But is was. And in trying to cross a commando of 100 men engaged their commando. Kamffer told his men to veer right around a koppie and then to surrender to them. He and a number of younger men went the other way and as they came around the koppie on the left side, they started shooting at the enemy. His commando also retaliated and the whole commando was wiped out. Kamffer then moved his commando into the lower Roodekoppen hills where they could rest for a while.
At the end of January 1901 Kamffer's men were camped to the west of Heidelberg. One evening General Smuts and his adjudant arrived at Kamffer's camp and asked for his assistance as they intended attacking the English forces near Jachtfontein on the West Rand. Kamffer knew the area well and agreed to guide them to the forts in that area. Smuts would attack from the west and Commandant Breytenbach from the east.
They took fort upon fort and when dawn broke they advanced and scaled the forts walls and were in the camp. An English officer shouted: "Fix bayonets!" Where upon General Smuts shouted back: "If one of my men are stabbed with a bayonet, I will have you all shot. I am General Smuts." The soldiers chose to obey General Smuts' order and surrendered. It was later learnt that Commandant Breytenbach had been killed while taking the first fort east of the camp
As part of the spoils Hendrik Kamffer was presented with the English commanding officer's dappled brown horse and its full accoutrements. "After loading his new horse with all the supplies it could carry, Kamffer proudly returned to his own corps."
Ian S Uys’s book continues to describe Kammfer’s war experiences is great detail – from the betrayal by a family member to the many hardships the Boers had to endure. If you enjoy researching the Boer War history, this little book is a gem.
In 1902 Hendrik married his war time fiancée, Alida Laubscher. Two years later the Treaty of Vereeniging would be signed. The Kamffer family were very active in the area, even donating land for the “Hartzernbergfontein (132) Goevernment Skool” later to be renamed Aloe Ridge Primary School. Hendrik and Alida had eight sons and four daughters. In 1914 Kamffer served as a commandant during the Rebellion. In 1922 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and served actively during the Rand Strikes. In 1943 he was made a full colonel. He died in 1952, aged 73, at his home in Johannesburg, the day before his golden wedding anniversary.
After the Anglo-Boer War our Commandant Kamffer wrote a book which he called: "Herinneringe" (Memories). I have not been able to trace this book. If any of our readers know where one could lay hands on this book, please contact John Stephens at Walkerville. In February 2009, John Stephens was happy to report:
|(© 2008 Walkerville South Africa - design by EVP Designs|