War, Ruin and
Military preparedness before 1899
All Free State communities were expected to be ready for war, and regular shooting competitions were held - as in this photo in 1895, when Philippolis competed with Ward Seekoeirivier. Almost all Burghers could ride and shoot, and all men between the ages of 16 and 60 were expected to do commando service (although foreigners were exempted).
After the surrender
As news of the disaster at Paardeberg spread in early March , the Philippolis commando on the western front joined a frantic Boer retreat from the frontier areas, trying to prevent the fall of Bloemfontein.
The commandos regrouped on the farm Rondefontein, 2 km west of Springfontein. About 300 Burghers from the three southern commandos came together, not knowing what was going to happen in the war. Commandants Jan Jacobs (of Fauresmith) and Dawid Lubbe (of Jacobsdal) were present, as well as Mr CWH van der Post of Fauresmith, the appointed representative of the Free State Government. Van der Post climbed on an ox-wagon and informed the Burghers about the current state of affairs. Bloemfontein had been captured; the enemy was advancing from the south along the railway line, and these commandos were in imminent danger of being surrounded.
But, said Van der Post, they must not despair. The Boers’ cause was righteous in the eyes of God. The day of triumph was not far off; if the Boers could last another six months, they will be saved, because the European powers will intervene – the Russian attache had informed him of this. Van der Post was followed by the intrepid Commandant Lubbe, who inspired the Burghers to have faith and persevere. This was followed by three hurrahs.
The mood of militancy did not last long. The next morning, most burghers saddled their horses and headed for home, despite the fervent protests of the valiant Commandant Lubbe, whose eye was still bandaged from his recent injury. But the burghers were not going to sacrifice themselves for an uncertain cause. In excellent spirits, they set off for home. Usefully, the Burghers buried a great deal of ammunition on the farm Rondefontein, which General De Wet dug up in January 1901, en route to invading the Cape Colony [during the Third De Wet Hunt of February 1901].
With the fall of Bloemfontein in March 1900, it looked as if the British had won the war. Most of the Boers in the southern Free State were prepared to call it a day and quit. Many Boers felt that wars were typically of short duration – as had been the experience of the Basuto wars. Even the highly respected General ER Grobler, in command of the southern districts, was keen to go home to the farm, where their womenfolk had been managing farming operations.
CWH van der Post went back to Fauresmith, where he met a group of Dutch volunteers, equipped with mausers provided by Boers who were no longer interested in fighting. The Dutch group, together with 15 Free Staters, set off northwards to join General De Wet. Van der Post gave them letters authorising them to seize horses and rifles from farms on the way. A few days later, these Burghers they met up with the remainder of Commandant Lubbe’s commando.
This period of utter despondency lasted for about a month. Wisely, General de Wet sent his demoralized Burghers home to visit their farms, wives and families. After that, a new spirit of resistance set in. By late March, many Burghers came together again, ready to take up arms.
Commandant du Toit's war
Du Toit led his commando to the Stormberg victory, and then assisted in occupying Colesberg. The headmaster of Colesberg Collegiate School, Mr Arthur Scott, recalled being arrested by the Boer forces who occupied Colesberg: "On November 23 Mr Scott was as usual taking class at his school, when an ancient Boer [Du Toit was actually only 56 years old], Commandant du Toit of Philippolis, entered the room and told him he must consider himself under arrest". Mr Scott was then taken, under military escort, to the Court-house, where 8 other prisoners (all British) had already been sent. The Boers used the school as a store house for fodder. Scott was held for 96 days.
After the fall of Bloemfontein in early March 1900, Commandant Du Toit surrendered at Springfontein, and signed the oath of neutrality. He was first sent to Noupoort and from there to Cape Town as a Prisoner-of-War. After a few months in Cape Town, he was allowed to return to his farm (Vissershoek, near Philippolis), and remained there until 2 July 1901, when he was sent to Norvalspont Concentration Camp. His son continued fighting and then surrendered with General Prinsloo in the Brandwater Basin.
Going off to war
Philippolis commando consisted of two wards (veld-cornetcies). The westerly commando, Knapzakrivier, was led by Commandant Johannes Albertus Munnik (JAM) Hertzog (brother of Judge JBM Hertzog). In the early stages of the war, this commando fought along the western front, including Magersfontein. The more easterly commando, Dwarsrivier, was led by Commandant JH du Toit, and joined the battles at Stormberg and Colesberg.
The Philippolis commando consisted of 209 men at the start of the war.
The British promenade through Philippolis: March 1900
On 28 February 1900, the British captured Colesberg. On 7 March, the Inniskillings and Australians seized Norval's Pont, and they crossed the newly repaired bridge at Norvalspont on 16 March 1900. The British were ready to assert their authority over the southern Free State.
On the 17th March, Lieutenant Thorn commanded a reconnaisance party in the direction of Philippolis, composed of about forty Victorians. The advance party was led by Major Butcher (of the Royal Field Artillery) and Captain Mc’Leish (Victorians). The rest of the column consisted of the Inniskillings (under Major Dauncey), the Westralians, the South Australians, the New South Wales contingent, and the Tasmanians. Other officers were Colonel Hoad, Major Rankin and Captain Lascelles.
The purpose of the northward march was to “impress the locals” with the British force, and thereby ensure future acquiescence in British rule. At each of the farms, a big white flag was displayed. A brisk trade in farm products was conducted, as the British soldiers passed by prosperous farms. On 22 March, the convoy camped at Langkloof, about 5 km south of Philippolis. The next day, the lead convoy marched smartly through Philippolis, led by Col Bruce and the Victorians.
But the Clements column was denied its claim to be the first troops to enter Philippolis – for General Gatacre and the Derbyshire Regiment under Major Godley had raced across from Springfontein with 100 men, and occupied Philippolis on 21 March. Was this done deliberately to spoil Clements’ triumphant arrival? (The Derbys camped out on the north side of town, while General Clements’ column camped out on the south side, rather resentful about being upstaged).
The pro-British Philippolis people were glad to see these columns, but a number of Cape Colony rebels were arrested, and this caused some local resentment. All the local Burghers had to give up their fire-arms – which they did reluctantly. Clements then summoned everyone into the Town Hall, where he read Lord Roberts’ proclamations of the terms of surrender. Those Burghers who took an oath of neutrality would not be made prisoners of war. The old Government, Clements said, had ceased to exist. The burghers should stay quietly on their farms. If they assisted the enemy, they would be treated as spies. The burghers then had to take the oath of neutrality. The proceedings were ceremonial and impressive.
As Clements spoke, the rain started to fall. It continued throughout the night, so that the British soldiers, camped out in the open at Longkop, had a miserable time.
On Saturday night (24 March), the Tasmanians gave a concert in the Good Templars’ Hall, but very few locals attended. It ended with the singing of “God Save the Queen”.
On Sunday 25 March, the whole British column had a ceremonial march-through of Philippolis – a total of more than 7 000 men. The procession took more than three hours to pass the Town Hall. Each of the four regiments had a band. The locals were astonished – they had never seen such a large force before. There was little cheering, and other than the band-playing, it took place in funereal silence. It was also on this day that Commandant du Toit of Philippolis surrendered.
From Philippolis, the British column marched to Fauresmith, Jagersfontein and Bloemfontein.
On 16 May, the British installed a new Magistrate, Mr Gostling, in Philippolis. Gostling and his assistant, Lieut Tonkin, soon got busy. In a house-to-house search, they unearthed several guns and a stash of ammunition.
Gideon Scheepers attacks Philippolis, 18-24 October 1900
In early October, newly constituted Boer commando’s criss-crossed the countryside round Philippolis, Springfontein and Jagersfontein. On 11 October, General JBM Hertzog was involved in heavy fighting near Philippolis. Hertzog arrived in Petrusburg on 14 October 1900, and he soon had 1200 men under arms. The Boers attacked Jagersfontein, Jacobsdal, Koffiefontein and Fauresmith. Many local people still supported the Boer cause. The new Magistrate, Mr Gostling, and his assistant, Mr Tonkin, unearthed several guns and a quantity of ammunition during a house to house search in Philippolis.
On 9 October 1900, there were reports of Boer commandos north of Philippolis, advancing from Trompsburg. The town was defended by a force consisting of 11 members of the newly-styled “Orange River Colony Police”, a few members of Nesbitt’s Horse Regiment, and 18 local pro-British residents. Three local pickets, armed with rifles and cartridges, ventured to the hills surrounding Philippolis, to protect the town from the Boers.
The Nesbitt’s Horse Regiment was a colonial unit, about 300 strong, raised in the eastern portion of Cape Colony in December 1899 by Col Nesbitt, "a veteran South African campaigner". After the fall of Pretoria, the Nesbitt’s Horse returned to the Free State, to participate in the various De Wet Hunts. The small contingent of Nesbitt’s Horse in Philippolis was under the command of Capt Tomkins.
On 18-24 October 1900, the young Commandant Scheepers attacked Philippolis with sixty men. (Gideon Scheepers would, in early 1902, be executed by the British for alleged treason. He was only 24 at the time). The Burghers at first numbered about 100, but with other commandos coming up, their force was increased to about 600.On Monday 22 October, strong commandos, led by Captains Fouche and Scheepers, overran the pickets in the kopjes, and entered Philippolis. Trooper Oscar W Porch, of Nesbitts Horse, was killed.
The oath of neutrality
"I promise that I, during my residence in this State, will remain quiet and calm and be obedient to the laws of the State, that I will give no information to the enemy of the State, or be in any way, directly or indirectly, of assistance to them."
South Australians in the fieldPictures by Frederick Howland, Australian journalist: State Library of South Australia, pic # PRG 248/4/41
Adam Small joins the Philippolis commando: " My weapon was a Martini-Henry and I had 250 bullets which I carried in a small bag, mother made for me, strapped around my body. It was quite a heavy load ... We heard the English had such light Lee-Metfords and it was from the start our desire to get hold of one of these guns at the first opportunity".
Occupation, looting, burning and evacuation
In some towns, all civilians had to move to camps, either for their own protection (to prevent them being intimidated by the Boer forces), or to remove them as a source of support to the Boer commandos. The upbeat terminology of “clearing the countryside” masked a terrible reality of rural destruction. Milner and Kitchener often described this grim process euphemistically, as “kraaling the Boers up into areas by lines of our patent blockhouses”, or “sweeping” the farms.
Major McIntosh's Seaforths started rounding up livestock and burning down dwellings of people suspected to be pro-Boer. On 4th November 1900, Gerhardus Hattingh's dwelling house in Rowelsfontein (Philippolis) was destroyed by fire by the Seaforths, and they also took Mr Pieter Erskine's livestock, on the farm, Nieuwerust, in October 1900. Erskine He claimed for damage to buildings, furniture, 6 oxen, 8 cattle, 8 horses, and several carts (Compensation Claims, 1903). Numerous other people suffered losses.
Just before Christmas 1900, the Driscoll's Scouts destroyed and burnt almost all the provisions in Philippolis, to prevent them falling into the hands of the Commandos. Several houses, including the NG Parsonage, were burnt down. The Scouts then left the town, and various Burgher units arrived and looted shops. Only on 26 December did Commandant Bothma restore some order.
In May 1901, Col Williams's column arrived at Philippolis. Mr Gerrit Sem found that the advance guard of the column had come in very early already and had broken into most of the unoccupied places, doing a great deal of damage and looting.During this "sweep", Williams netted 33 prisoners, as well as a thousand horses and a large number of livestock.
The South African Light Horse (SALH), a unit raised in the Cape Colony, played a prominent part in the "clearing" process around Philippolis, and was involved in several skirmishes. On 5 March, 2nd Lt EH Barker was killed in action at Kaliesfontein near Philippolis. The farm Kaliesfontein is located about 15 km due west of Philippolis, near the Orange River.
On 26 July 1901, Col. du Moulin’s column arrived. Gerrit Sem commented: “This is about the best disciplined column that has yet been here, all goes quietly and orderly ”. The local people were told to prepare to go to the refugee camp at Springfontein.
Burgher commandos continued to come and go. On 2 August 1901, Col. Pilcher’s column came to town. The townsfolk were notified that practically all who were able to travel will have to go with the column to Springfontein Refugee camp. The town would now be completely evacuated.
In mid-August, Colonel Byng was staying at Mr Bulterman’s house, and Colonel Du Moulin in the local school-teacher’s house. During their stay, the British held a concert in the town hall - "not a bad show at all and very funny and laughable", according to Mr Gerrit Sem.
By now, British columns were frequently rounding up Boer prisoners.
The British resist the attack
The British force refused to surrender to the Boers. They resisted bravely, and the attack became a siege. The British were holed up in the local “fort” (“Philippolis Old Jail”), and they were eventually trapped on a hill on the western side of the town (now called Tonkins Koppie, just behind the municipal stores). All women and non-combatants gathered in the Dutch Reformed Church. The Boers managed to enter the town and took control of it for a few days. They looted the stores of Mr Webb and Mr Bamford, being the only merchants in town who took part in the defence of the town.
The Boers took several leading local townsfolk as prisoners. They were locked up in the local jail (now the Old Jail Guest House), along with about 50 British prisoners. Soon after, the Boers set the townsmen free, under condition that they would remain quiet and would appear when called up by the commandos.
On 20 October, the British commander sent Lieutenant John Hanna and 34 additional men of Nesbitt's Horse to assist. Hanna and his men had been stationed at Colesberg Bridge. Lieutenant Hanna approached Philippolis on the 21st October and posted pickets. These were heavily attacked early on the 22nd October by the Boers under Gideon Scheepers. The party of Nesbitt's Horse lost nine men killed and 12 wounded. Eventually, Hanna and only six men succeeded in joining Gostling’s encampment on the hillside outside Philippolis.
A local resident, Mr Wilfred Huby, described his experiences: "I joined the Town Guard which was formed to defend the town. We slept in the trenches for about five days before the actual fighting took place. After about five days fighting, we were relieved by Colonels White and Barker’s columns. Lieutenant Hannah of Nesbitts Horse reinforced the Town Guard with about 20 men. The Boers, during their occupation of the town, looted the stores of Mr Webb and myself, being the only merchants in town who took part in the defence of the town".
Strong Boer commandos, led by Captains Fouche and Scheepers overran the British pickets in the kopjes, and entered Philippolis, “causing most awful excitement” (Gerrit Sem). Two men were killed (Trooper Oscar W Porch, of Nesbitts Horse, and Corporal J Newman, of the Orange River Colony Police).
The Boers took several local notables as prisoners (including Andries Strauss, Hendrik Lategan, Abey Orkin and Gerrit Sem). They were locked up in the local jail, along with about 50 British prisoners. According to Sem, “we managed to get some cards and played whist”. Matters looked serious, and the prisoners were told that they would appear before a Court Martial. But soon the Boers set the townsmen free, “under condition we would remain quiet and appear when called up again at any time … Should we misbehave or speak anything disorderly, and against the Burghers, we were liable to be shot in the street at any time” (Gerrit Sem).
In the meantime, the Nesbitt's Horse contingent was approaching Philippolis from the Colesberg direction. It was a tough journey, as they faced off with several Boer contingents. One of these encounters was documented by young Jacob de Villiers, of the farm Tuinplaats (about 10 km south-east of Philippolis). About 50 Nesbitts, under Lieutenant William Chapman, came to his farm on 22 October 1900, and inquired if De Villiers had seen any Boers. He informed them that he had seen four men in the ridge about 800 yards from his house. He thought that they may be Boers, and they seemed to be going in the direction of Philippolis. Chapman took position round the homestead. He asked for food for his men and forage for their horses, which De Villiers gave them. While they were outside the house, the Boers in the ridge started firing on them. The firing continued till nearly sunset, when De Villiers saw some of the Boers leaving in the direction of Waterkloof.
The British soldiers went into the house to find some food. The Boers suddenly started firing at the house from behind a wall. The Lieutenant decided to surrender and asked his men who would walk outside with a white flag. None of them would do it and the Lieutenant asked Jacob if he would take the flag. He was reluctant but had no choice. His wife fastened a piece of white cloth on a reed and at great risk to his life, and under continuous firing, he went out with the flag. Lt Chapman and his men surrendered to the Boers. One of his men was wounded and De Villiers’s wife attended to him during the night. The British were grateful for his assistance.
The story did not end here. A month later, in November 1900, the British columns took Jacob prisoner, and sent him as POW to India. The British suspected him of being involved in the capture of the men under Lieutenant Chapman, on his farm. He appeared before the Justice of the Peace, Mr Francois Willem van Heerden, and gave the following statement under oath: and excitement, the Burghers cleared away”.
In the meantime, the Philippolis residents heard a lot of shooting in the vicinity of the town. On the 24th October, Lieut Hannah and only 6 men succeeded in joining the little British garrison in Philippolis. The party of Nesbitt's Horse lost 9 men killed and 12 wounded. It has been a very dangerous assignment.
By sundown on 24 October 1900, firing was heard, and “in great confusion and excitement, the Burghers cleared away.
Shortly afterwards, two English columns, estimated to be 800-1000 men, entered the town, and released the British prisoners. These were Col. JS Barker, who marched from Jagersfontein, and Col. WL White and some Imperial Yeomanry, having marched from Bethlehem. On 25 October, wrote Sem, “A good deal of destruction is done by soldiers in houses standing without occupants”.
All the key players, in this scenario, subsequently had eventual careers in the Boer War. The intrepid Lieut Hannah was wounded on 12 May 1901, and on 9 August 1901, Capt Noel Nesbitt was also severely wounded at Maraisburg (near Tarkastad). Mr William Gostling became the Superintendent of the Springfontein Refugee Camp, until his death from pneumonia in mid-1901.
Commandant Gideon Scheepers invaded the Cape Colony in November 1900, and was later captured and executed by the British in Graaff-Reinet, on 18 January 1902.
Relief for the British forces, 24 October 1900
Relief for the British forces in Philippolis came a week later, on 24 October 1900, when Col. JS Barker marched from Jagersfontein. Col. WL White arrived with a division of Imperial Yeomanry, having hastened from Bethlehem. Three members of the battered Philippolis Town Guard died in the siege, and almost half of Tomkins’s unit were injured. Scheepers’ commando apparently suffered no injuries, and the Boers were forced out of the town.
By sundown on 24 October 1900, the Burghers cleared away. Shortly afterwards, two English columns, estimated to be 800-1000 men (the men of Col JS Barker and Col WL White), entered the town, and released the remaining British prisoners.
In the aftermath of the Boer occupation, Major MacIntosh of the Seaforth Highlanders and some Lovat’s Scouts occupied the town.
On 25 October, wrote Gerrit Sem, “A good deal of destruction is done by soldiers in houses standing without occupants”. On 26 October, The British told the locals that all the people would have to leave to a refugee camp. “All undesirables (people regarded as pro-Boer) are notified to be ready to start with column to Springfontein next morning” (Gerrit Sem). The“undesirables” included Rev. Colin Fraser and his daughter, Emmeline, who left for Bloemfontein to stay with Colin’s other daughter, Mrs Tibbie Steyn (the wife of President Steyn). (Fortunately, Rev Fraser returned to Philippolis three months later, when General Hunter had removed the order detaining them as “undesirables).
Some people went voluntarily, and those who remained in the town,had to do so at their own risk.
After November 1900, Philippolis - like most Free State towns - faced ruin and destruction. This had not been the intention of Lord Roberts. During the early months of the British invasion of the Free State, Lord Roberts gave clear instructions that British soldiers were not allowed to enter private houses, or molest the civil population, or injure civilians' property. But as the guerilla war intensified, the towns were looted and destroyed.
The destruction of Philippolis: 1900-1901
After the ten-day stand-off, a period of uncertainty ensued.
The British forces left Philippolis, without leaving anyone in authority. Occasionally, Boer forces would enter the town to get supplies. The Boer occupiers raised the Free State flag in Philippolis. They told the townsfolk that their oath of neutrality would only hold as long as the British could protect them; if they were not protected, "the oath became null and void". On occasion, the burghers would also raid local shops.
In early November, the British came to town again. They forced local farmers' wives to move to Philippolis, where there were better controls. On 18 November 1900, the British put sandbags in the NG church tower, as part of the town's defense. They also started confiscating livestock on farms. By end November, the British began removing families to the camp at Springfontein.
The town was occupied by a series of British column: By Colonel Hamilton’s column after 8 December and by Major Driscoll’s column after 22 December. Col Hamilton's column enforced further removals of "undesirables" (civilians who were pro-Boer) to Springfontein, with the assistance of Magistrate Gostling and Mr Tonkin. Then Major McIntosh of the Seaforth Highlanders, who were based in Jagersfontein, came to Philippolis. He called a public meeting on 21 December, and announced that he had received orders to evacuate the town. So the town would remain unprotected, and he encouraged the civilians to move with his column to Springfontein.
Two weeks later, on 1 March 1901, the dishevelled Boers came back through Philippolis. It had been a disastrous campaign in the Cape Colony. The only success the Boers had achieved was that General De Wet and President Steyn had not been captured. Gerrit Sem commented: "“Most of the burghers look worn out and shabbily clothed. There are a good many who, though embittered against the English, feel that it is useless to continue the struggle and would rather it was all over."
But De Wet had other plans, and he reorganised his forces into regional commandos. General Hertzog would be in charge of the south-western Free State (including Philippolis), and General Froneman would command the south-eastern Free State, including Bethulie.
Then the British pursuers came through town. Brigadier-General Haig came into town, and settled into quarters in Mrs Louw’s house. (This was the famous Douglas Haig, who commanded the British forces in Europe, during World War I).
Guerilla war - from March 1901 to May 1902
As the British columns disappeared over the horizon, in pursuit of De Wet, small Boer commandos reappeared around Philippolis. In early March, a local Burgher Krygsraad was held and demanded that local Boer men join the commandos, and would be shot if they didn't.
Commandant Lategan of Colesberg appeared on 18 March 1900, searching for supplies in various shops and the hotel. On 26 March, Commandant JAM Hertzog and his men moved through town, going eastwards. General Hertzog, stationed at the farm Kaliesfontein, sent his Burghers to round up local men, to serve in the commandos.
By 10 April, the British responded firmly, when Col Hickman's column arrived in Philippolis, and escorted numerous townfolk to the Springfontein camp.
There were ongoing skirmishes in the area, and two soldiers of the Royal Lancashire Mounted Infantry, Captain John Laurie and Private Lacey, were killed near Philippolis near 12 April. Both are buried in the Philippolis cemetery. Capt John Laurie had been a Canadian Member of Parliament. The other casualty was Private Lacey. The British column also indulged in some destruction en route to Springfontein. The soldiers burnt houses and provisions at the farm Jackhalsfontein, Kalkgat and Slangfontein, and took livestock from Mooifontein and Oatlands.
On 10 May, Colonel W Williams and the SA Light Horse left Springfontein to conduct "clearing" operations near Philippolis. His column was involved in a skirmish on the farm Metz in the Fauresmith area, and two members of the SALH died. Thereafter, Williams scoured the Luckhoff district. On 20 May, Williams reached Philippolis with 33 prisoners, about 1 000 horses, and a large amount of livestock. Numerous Waterkloof people were brought to Philippolis, and had to go off with the column.
At the same time, and unbeknownst to the British, Commandant JAM Hertzog and 200 burghers were on the farm Grootvooruitzicht, about 30 km north of Philippolis. In fact, they were in touch with Mr Gerrit Sem of Philippolis, requesting him to come to the farm to discuss there whereabouts of various burghers! A week later, on 25 May, General Hertzog and his brother, Commandant JAM Hertzog, came to town, and stayed over at Orkin’s house. They stayed a few days, and then disappeared again.
On 28 May, Col Williams’ column arrived and took up his quarters in old Mrs Louw’s house. “He was rather strange and first threatened to take me to [Refugee] Camp again, however he changed his mind and I remained”, wrote Gerrit Sem. Shortly after Williams’ arrival, Colonel Byng also turned up, and took command of Philippolis the next day. His camp was just west of Rowelsfontein’s lower dam.
By 14 June, Colonel Byng’s column came into Philippolis, and informed the remaining locals that they had followed Commdt Hertzog as far as the Riet River. They had collected many sheep and horses on their raids. The new column in town was under the leadership of Captain Dansey. He “wants things from shop and also takes a tent of mine, he orders that lights should be out”. Another convoy, under Col Forbes, came to town and most of the Waterkloof people were brought into Philippolis. “There is a good deal of destruction going on”. On 15 June, “About 200 men go out in civil dress to try and get some of the Burghers round about, but they only get a few men. Gerrie Snyman and Mrs Claassen were brought in. Mrs Louw’s house was turned into a hospital. Of the patients there, 2 die, both burial services by Mr Fraser”
On 20 June, a report was confirmed that in a nearby skirmish, one officer was killed and three men wounded. They were brought to the hospital. One of these men was Sergeant J Lister, of the Imperial Yeomanry, who was killed in action at Doornhoek near Philippolis on 20 June 1901. Doornhoek farm is located on the banks of the Orange River, about 20 km south-west of Philippolis.
On 17 July 1901, General Bruce Hamilton and roughly 3 000 men began a "clearing" exercise, from Jacobsdal to Luckhof. From now, Col du Moulin would be active in the south-west Free State. Col Williams would be deployed further north, along the Riet River.
The local skirmishes continued periodically. On 28 June, there was a skirmish near Waterkloof, and eight men of the patrol were captured by the Burghers, but the Boers had nowhere to send their British prisoners-of-war, they tended to simply disarm them, remove useful objects (such as shoes and clothing), and let them go. The Burghers were promptly pursued by 200 of Col Byng's men. But the Boers remained in the vicinity. About 15 Burghers - possibly belonging to Theron's Scouts - came into Philippolis on 5 July. On 8 July, more Burghers arrived in town, slaughtered four oxen and distributed the meat to the remaining townsfolk. In the afternoon, Commdt Hertzog came into town with many Burghers, and more follow them on 12 July, reporting that some British units were in the vicinity. Col Byng and Col Williams set off in pursuit.
At the same time, on 23 July, Brigadier-General Plumer set off from Bloemfontein with more than 1 000 men, "sweeping" westwards to round up Boer commandos, and pursued Commandant Jacobs' commando near Poplar Grove (west of Bloemfontein). However, by 30 July, he had not rounded up any Burghers yet. He then set off in a north-easterly direction, north of the Modder River.
During that week, Col Pilcher's column moved southwards from Thaba Nchu and Ladybrand, to conduct "clearing operations in the southern Free State, andhis column arrived in Bethulie on 26 July.
At this same time, on 18 July, General Hertzog arrived back in his operational area, based in Petrusburg (northwest of Philippolis). The scene was now set for numerous clashes near Philippolis. He held a meeting with General Smuts on 17 August at Touwfontein, south of Jagersfontein. From there, Smuts set off towards Smithfield (south-eastern Free State), to undertake his invasion of the Cape Colony. Soon after, on 21 August, General Hertzog was involved in a skirmish with some Manchesters at Heuningneskop (east of Bethulie).
On 8 August, Col Thorneycroft reached the Philippolis-Fauresmith road with 28 prisoners, 69 vehicles, 1 000 horses and a large number of livestock.
By 10 August, Lieut-General Elliot's "drive" in the Western Free State ended at the Orange River. About 17 Burghers were killed or wounded, and 260 captured. Several commandos managed to evade his column, but the whole area is now virtually completely depopulated.
On 27 July, Cols Rochford and Lowry Cole, with almost 1000 men and five cannons overran Commandant JJ Myburgh's laager near Jagersfontein. Myburgh was wounded and captured, along with 25 burghers. Soon after, they captured several burghers near Bothaville.
On 25 August, Col Lowry Cole attacked Commandant JAM Hertzog's laager at Liebenbergpan (west of Fauresmith). Hertzog and about 80 Burghers escaped, but 14 were captured.
At the end of November 1901, Commandants Brand and Kritzinger were scattered by Col Lowry Cole near Wepener, and fell back towards Philippolis. The Boers travelled through the devastated southern Free State countryside, towards Edenburg. The southern Free State commando, and several commandants, held a war council near Edenburg. They were attacked by Col Lowry Cole on 4 December, and a long day's fighting ensued. Most of the Free Staters managed to escape, but Commandant Joubert was cornered and captured.
On 8 December, General Brand and General Hertzog attacked a group of Sherwood Foresters near Edenburg.
On 15 December, Sem heard reports that 43 Boer prisoners were taken in the Philippolis district, and that this included 13 Philippolis burghers. In February, more columns passed by Springfontein, bringing new refugees and an ever-increasing number of prisoners of war, “showing undoubtedly that the commandos begin to realize that although their superiors urge them to continue the struggle, they’re getting tired of it and allow themselves to be taken prisoners”, wrote Gerrit Sem..
But the most determined and resolute commandos continued to harass British columns. On Christmas Day, General Nieuwoudt and Commandant JAM Hertzog attacked a British convoy with Christmas gifts for British soldiers, on the farm Kokskraal, near Philippolis. The overjoyed burghers captured 500 horses, 100 rifles, a great deal of ammunition, and various Christmas luxuries.
On New Year's day 1902, General Hertzog attacked a British column near Philippolis and captured a supply convoy.
On 27 January, General Nieuwoudt and Commandant Pretorius attacked Colonel LE Du Moulin's column at Abrahamskraal, where the Kalkfontein Dam is now situated. Du Moulin died in the skirmish, together with 11 other British.
The Clearing of the Orange River Colony
On 15 March 1901, Lord Kitchener announced his "clearing policy", which included:
All families and livestock on farms had to be removed to the nearest railway station
Any form of shelter had to be destroyed
Any supplies had to be taken by the British forces, or destroyed
All ovens and furniture had to be destroyed.
All these measures were in conflict with the Hague Convention.
The removal of local people to Springfontein
In the context of all this guerilla activity, the British decided to "clear" all the towns and farms, and remove the residents (whites and blacks) to "refugee camps" located near the railway. This would make it easier for British troops to be sent rapidly to deal with any guerilla attacks.
On 12 April 1901, the Philippolis community had to leave for Springfontein and Norvalspont camps. Col Hickman's column included Gerrit Sem, who wrote: “A good deal of looting went on that day and the confusion and consternation was great and the parting rather heartrending”. There were ongoing skirmishes in the area, and two soldiers of the Royal Lancashire Mounted Infantry, Captain John Laurie and Private Lacey, were killed near Philippolis near 12 April. Both are buried in the Philippolis cemetery.
Coming home to Philippolis
The Free State and Transvaal populations had been completely unprooted. Thousands of burghers returned from POW camps. Of the 24 000 PPWs in prisoners camps in St Helena, India, Bermuda and Ceylon, 11 685 were Free Staters. Out of 1 000 interned at Simonstown, 602 returned to the Orange River Colony. Out of 1 200 “prisoners elsewhere in South Africa”, the Free State claimed 547.
People also returned from the concentration camps, as well as from self-imposed exile in places like Lesotho.
The return to Philippolis was a gradual affair, as families re-united and combined their transport and assets for the long trek home to the town and the farms. Sem returned several times to the camp.
On 18 June, several Philippolis residents got passes to return to Philippolis. On their return in the town, they found that the Parsonage was entirely burnt out, as well as Dr Eagle’s property (5 Colin Fraser Street)and Joe Beddy’s house (7 Colin Fraser Street). The new magistrate, Mr van Heerden, arrived in the town on 25 June 1902. He wrote to the government of the Free State Colony on 5 July: “I made a thorough inspection of the town, and found (with the exception of one house that is occupied), that not a single house is habitable”. He managed to find some building materials and carpenters to start on the process of reconstruction.
Old Rev Fraser and his family only returned on 1 April 1903. Gerrit Sem, his brother Herman, and several others rode out to Houthaalberg to meet them. It was a very joyful moment for the Philippolis community.
Sem and Bulterman shop in Philippolis - destroyed in the war
Philippolis - De Wet's springboard for the invasion of the Cape Colony
In February 1901, General De Wet passed through Philippolis, on his next attempt to invade the Cape Colony. The British took this threat extremely seriously (fearing sedition in the Cape Colony itself). So De Wet was pursued by Generals Pilcher, Knox and Hamilton - and this became the Third De Wet Hunt.
The remaining residents of Philippolis experienced much excitement. By 7 February, De Wet's large commando had reached the farm Boesmansfontein, 10 km north of Philippolis. Some skirmishes must have taken place on 10 February, since ambulance carts brought several casualties into town. A large number of Burghers rode into town, raiding orchards and shops, and set of speedily again.
Then the British columns came through town on 11 February, asking directions to the Zanddrift crossing of the Orange River, south-west of Philippolis.