A deranged and desperate defence of De Wet…

A common, though disappointing, human trait is to decide on one’s opinion, and then try to twist reality to fit it, discarding anything that challenges one’s preferred prejudice. One can see this habit demonstrated by fanatical Defenders of the Myth™ on a regular basis, a good example of which was sent to me recently after a ‘debate’ about my Atlas on Facebook.

One chap asked the assembled horde if there was ‘ANY’ truth behind the statements I made about De Wet fleeing the field at Bothaville[i], leaving his men to their fate during his disastrous invasion of the Cape[ii], and ensuring he was among the first to gap it as soon as the net tightened at the Brandwater Basin[iii]. Of course, De Wet’s not-so-heroic actions in these events (to take just three) are well documented, and his habit of saving his own skin (and to hell with his men) was summed up in this passage, written about De Wet and Steyn abandoning the OFS forces in the Brandwater Basin:

‘The disaster which subsequently befell the army left inside the Basin has been attributed to Prinsloo’s incapacity or even to his treachery, but the chief cause undoubtedly was this sudden evasion by de Wet and Steyn, which cannot be qualified otherwise than as culpable neglect almost amounting to desertion of their post. It is certainly the only occasion on which such a charge could fairly be brought against Steyn, but the whole incident illustrates de Wet’s selfishness as a commander, which militated more than anything against his becoming a really great general’

So I think the fair-minded reader would agree that there is plenty of truth behind my statements, and plenty of references to support what I said.

Of course, this unfortunate reality meant nothing to one especially enraged (deranged?) True Believer™, by the name of ‘Christo Geldenhuys’, who jumped in to furiously tap out this badly-written rant:

Not only is Geldenhuys unable to spell ‘abandoned’, ‘Court Martial’, ‘disease’ or ‘hygiene’, but what is worse is that he is also clearly unable to refute the inconvenient truths that I dared to raise.
The fact, for example, that De Wet fled from Bothaville as soon as the first shots were fired (de Wet commanded 800 men and six guns, and was initially attacked by just 67 men of the 5th Mounted Infantry and two guns of ‘U’ Battery RHA – but De Wet wasn’t hanging about!).
Or that, a few weeks earlier, De Wet had slipped away in the middle of the night, dodging Imperial forces as he abandoned over 4000 of the men he had foolishly led into the Brandwater Basin.

So, instead, what Geldenhuys tries (desperately, and rather comically) to do is to equate De Wet running away the second bullets started flying / hours before the net closed in on his beleaguered command, to Lord Roberts formally handing over supreme command in the theatre to Lord Kitchener.

This perfectly demonstrates the farcical lengths that True Believers™ need to go to so as to uphold their fantasies. If Lord Roberts had fled the field when his position was attacked, bullets whizzing round his ears, or had ensured he was the first to escape an encirclement (one which he was entirely responsible for leading his men into), I would be the first to point this out. But he didn’t: the enemy capitals taken, and their forces scattered, several months later, Lord Roberts calmly handed over to a replacement and took his leave.
To pretend that this is in any way comparable to a panic-stricken and bewildered De Wet fleeing the laager at Bothaville the moment the shooting started, for example, shows the depths that Defenders of the Myth™ now have to sink to so as to maintain Apartheid-era propaganda.  

I’m still not sure if it is pathetic, or amusing: probably a bit of both.


[i] Maurice, Vol.3, p.487, Jackson, p.152

[ii] Maurice, Vol.4, p.85

[iii] Conan Doyle, Ch.27

[iv] Amery, Vol.4, p.318


  • Geoff Posted December 27, 2020 7:07 pm

    Given that De Wet as a person was more important to the Boers continued resistance than whether he stood his ground in a particular engagement or not, it was his duty to ensure that he as a person did escape any British Imperial force or engagement if the odds were or appeared to be against him. So running away at Bothaville etc. WAS his duty

    • Bulldog Posted December 27, 2020 7:12 pm

      Well, Geoff: at least you agree that he did run away – that seems to be hard for some to accept.
      As I mentioned, the odds at Bothaville were very much in De Wet’s favour when he gapped it, and I’m not sure I would agree that it is really a commander’s “duty” to repeatedly save his own skin, and thus leave hundreds (or in the case of the Brandwater Basin, thousands) of his men to their fate. That’s certainly not the sort of commander who would inspire me to keep fighting!
      Would we hero-worship Custer for galloping off, and leaving his men behind at the Little Bighorn? Or General Gordon, for jumping on the first boat out, and buggering off up the Nile, leaving the garrison of Khartoum?

      • Geoff Posted December 28, 2020 1:10 am

        In the conventional sense, yes I would agree that a local commander should stay with his men. However, De Wet was the Chief Commandant. Would his presence at Brandwater Basin have made any difference to the result? If President Steyn and De Wet had been captured, would the Orange Free State commandos have kept on fighting? I believe those questions are more important than his personal bravery (or lack thereof).
        As an aside, the US Army’s campaign against the Indians was not hindered by Custer’s loss and I’ll have to watch Charleton Heston to pass judgement on Gordon! Sticking to the South African connection, General Gott volunteered to command the Tobruk garrison in 1942, but his offer was not taken up as he too valuable to risk being captured.

        • Bulldog Posted December 28, 2020 2:40 am

          Fair point, though Brandwater Basin was fought when the war was still – arguably – in the conventional phase of the war. As De Wet was responsible for the disaster there, and the later disastrous attempt to invade the Cape, I am not sure that his continued presence in the field really helped their cause much! Either way, and whether or not one thinks De Wet was right to repeatedly gap it, and leave his men behind to be captured, the fact is that it happened, and that is what I state in my writing… much to the fury of some.
          Clearly the Boers’ guerrilla war / terrorist campaign was also not dependent on De Wet remaining free, as they surrendered when he still was.
          A Sunday afternoon spent watching Charleton Heston’s heroic, but doomed, attempt to defend Khartoum is never a bad idea.

  • Damian O’Connor Posted December 27, 2020 10:39 pm

    Geoff has a point, it has to be admitted. A commander must sometimes keep himself out of the hands of the enemy if he thinks that he can raise further resistance. Generally speaking, down at unit level it was usually the 2ic who would be ordered by the CO to gap it. However, the comparison with Roberts handing over is not valid.

    Loving the Atlas.

    • Bulldog Posted December 28, 2020 2:46 am

      No argument on that, Damian. What I do in the Atlas is demonstrate that he had a bad habit of leading his men into disastrous situations, and then skedaddling. This is either entirely denied by the True Believers, or – in this entertaining case – surreally compared to Roberts handing over command to Kitchener.
      Glad you are enjoying the Atlas – I think it turned out really well.

  • Jaco Posted January 7, 2021 4:07 am

    Kom ons voer die debat in Afrikaans en sien hoe Ash vaar met die spelling

    • Bulldog Posted January 7, 2021 10:40 am

      Well, Jaco, even if ones tries to perpetuate them in Afrikaans, the Apartheid-era myths are still rubbish.

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