It was in the winter of 1901, while
Hansie was at the Irene Concentration Camp, as one
of six volunteer nurses from Pretoria, that Mrs. van
Warmelo began her first adventures with the spies,
and it has always been a source of keen regret to
Hansie that she was not in Pretoria at the time.
But one cannot have everything, and the knowledge
she gained in the Camp was more valuable to her than
any other experience she went through during the war.
I have merely touched on the Concentration
Camps in the previous chapter, for obvious reasons,
and propose to entirely omit the events of the two
months Hansie spent in the Irene Camp.
As the six volunteer nurses were soon
after expelled from the Camp by the military authorities,
there was, fortunately for her, no opportunity of
returning to her labour of love. Other duties
awaited her at home, however, and by degrees she came
into full possession of the facts connected with her
mother’s experiences during those months.
Amongst the men caught in Pretoria
on June 5th, 1900, when the British first entered
the capital, were two heroes of this book, Mr. J. Naude
and W.J. Botha.
These men were destined, through their
indecision in allowing themselves to be caught like
rats in a trap, to fulfil with honour a rôle of great
importance in the history of the war a rôle
unknown to the world, and without which this book
would probably not have been written. Mr. Naude who,
by the way, was well known in town as beadle of the
Dutch Reformed Church on Church Square immediately
opposite the Government Buildings had,
after the first few days of uncertainty and remorse,
no intention whatever of remaining long in durance
With a few comrades in the same predicament
as himself, amongst whom were Willem Botha and G.
Els, he laid his plans for a speedy escape, and for
the purpose of spying more effectually he used the
tower of the sacred edifice for which he was responsible,
as a point of vantage not only suitable but safe.
With a strong telescope he took his observations,
unobserved himself, from the highest point of the tower,
with the result that a certain route was chosen as
offering the best facilities for a safe exit from
Mr. Botha should have accompanied
him on this, his first enterprise; but because of
Mr. Botha’s physical weakness, he having been
struck by lightning at Pieter’s Heights while
on commando, and being subject to severe headaches
and unable to walk far at times, it was decided that
he should wait in town until Mr. Naude could come back
from commando, bringing with him a horse for the use
of his friend. It was as well that Mr. Botha
did not expose himself to the hardships and perils
of that first flight from the capital, for though
Mr. Naude, wearing an English officer’s uniform
and carrying his private clothes in a knapsack, escaped
with the greatest ease and safety, he and his companion
roamed about the veld for three days and nights without
finding a trace of the Boer commandos which they were
so eager to join.
They therefore ventured a return to
their homes in Pretoria and accomplished this successfully
at dead of night, except for a small adventure through
having been delayed too long on their homeward journey,
on account of which they reached the first outpost
just as day was breaking.
Naude’s companion, in great
anxiety, suggested making a detour, but Mr.
Naude, with the presence of mind which characterised
his every action, answered firmly:
“No; we must go straight ahead.
Perhaps the watch has already caught a glimpse of
us, and any indecision on our part would be fatal.”
Seeing some clothing hanging on a
line to dry near a Kaffir or coolie hut, Mr. Naude
annexed one or two garments, and, quickly changing
his uniform for the civilian clothes he had with him,
he made a bundle of his knapsack, uniform, and helmet,
tying them up in the stolen articles. With this
bundle under his arm and a handkerchief tied over
his head, he and his companion lurched uncertainly
over the veld towards the watch, after first having
taken a draught from their spirit-flask.
“Halt! who goes there?”
They halted, smiling at him in an imbecile manner.
“Show me your residential passes.”
His comrade fumbled in his pockets
and produced his, but Mr. Naude fumbled in vain.
He had no pass.
He shook his head. His smile became more inane.
He muttered hoarsely:
“Can’t find it. Must
have lost it last night. We have been on the
booze, old man.”
“I can see that,” the watch replied
and signed to them to pass on.
That their reappearance caused a stir
amongst their relatives and friends can easily be
understood, and it was found necessary to keep them
in hiding. The beadle had been missed from his
post, and it was an open secret among his friends
and certainly not unknown to the enemy, that he had
made a dash for liberty. Under the circumstances
he could not remain in Pretoria long, and after a
few days of more spying from the church tower he made
a second attempt in a different direction, with a
comrade of the name of Coetzee, the first man having
had enough of the dangerous game. This time their
enterprise was crowned with success, and they were
able to join a Boer commando under General Louis Botha,
but not before they had gone through an adventure
which might have cost them their lives.
They were captured by the Boers under
Acting Commandant Badenhorst and detained as British
spies, all protestations of their innocence proving
futile, until Mr. Naude informed the Commandant that
he had with him dispatches for General Botha.
Commandant Badenhorst demanded to see them.
He refused, saying that they were
private documents for the Commandant-General, and
that he was not at liberty to deliver them to any
His word was accepted, and he was
sent to the High Veld with a guard of men on foot
to escort him to the General.
The want of horses proved to be a
serious drawback and hardship to these men, so they
determined to provide themselves with horses, of the
very best, and appointed Mr. Naude as their leader.
Instead of proceeding straight to
the High Veld, these enterprising and resourceful
young fellows retraced their steps to the vicinity
of the Pretoria West Station, where Mr. Naude knew
that the enemy kept a number of magnificent horses
for the use of officers only.
With infinite caution they approached
the spot, keeping under cover until they were well
within rifle-range of the men on guard. The movements
of the latter were stealthily watched, and it was observed
that the guard, consisting of two men, well armed,
walked up and down before the stables in which the
horses were kept. Meeting at a certain point,
they turned abruptly and retraced their steps in the
opposite direction, until they reached the limit of
their beat and turned again.
Mr. Naude’s plans were quickly
made, and his commands given below his breath.
There was to be no bloodshed, he said.
The thing could easily be done without, if his instructions
were well carried out.
Two of the men were ordered to level
their guns at one of the guard when he had nearly
reached the point farthest from his comrade, while
the others stormed the stables.
It was the work of a few moments.
The first thing the unfortunate guard
knew was that he was looking straight into the barrels
of two guns.
Not a word was said on either side.
Those glittering rifles, held by unseen,
steady hands, flashed the unspoken challenge, “Give
the alarm, and you are a dead man.”
The guard stood still as if rooted to the spot.
Swiftly and silently Mr. Naude, with
his few men, approached and entered the stables, cut
loose the halters of the animals, and stampeded from
And yet the guard stood still, transfixed
by the unerring aim of those two deadly implements.
A moment more and every man was provided
with a steed, another moment and they tore across
the veld in mad, exultant flight, while behind them
the shots rang out and the bullets fell beside them
in the grass.
Eleven horses in all! Noble thoroughbreds,
well trained and sensitive to voice and touch.
No fear of cruel treatment from your
captors, beautiful steeds! The life you are entering
upon may be full of hardship for you, but it will
be free and wild, and you will be tended with all care
and gentleness. These men are brave and strong,
and it is only the cowardly and weak who would inflict
on you one single unnecessary pain.
Serve your new masters well.
Be swift and sure when Death is on their track.
God only knows what the future holds for them of suffering
Not on foot, but riding like lords,
these men reached General Botha’s force, and
the two men Naude and Coetzee, being among the only
burghers on commando familiar with the route through
the British lines, were thereafter employed by minor
officers to travel backwards and forwards to the capital.
At first their work consisted only of helping other
burghers to escape, but as time went on their duties
became more complicated and hazardous. There were
countless commissions to fulfil and information to
be obtained on every imaginable question.
The need of a body of organised men
in town began to be felt more strongly in the field,
and it was Captain Naude who introduced the system
of employing a set of reliable burghers as spies in
the heart of the enemy.
For this purpose he once again went
to Pretoria with the list of names of the men he wished
Mr. Botha was the first he approached,
and the former was only half pleased when he heard
that, instead of the escape from British martial law,
for which he had been keeping himself in readiness
so long, he was commanded to remain in Pretoria as
the head of a body of Secret Service men.
He protested vehemently, but his objections
were overruled by the argument brought forward by
Naude, a consideration for the state of his health.
This was certainly a point which carried weight.
He consented, and the names of the other men to be
appointed as his co-operators were submitted to him
C.P. Hattingh, G. Els, W. Bosch,
and J. Gillyland, a body of five men, which we shall
know in future by the name of “the Secret Committee.”
The Secret Service of the Boers was
now well established, and could not have been entrusted
into hands more capable, more undaunted, or more faithful.
Captain Naude had in the meantime
earned distinction for himself as the bravest and
most enterprising emissary employed in the field.
He was placed by General Botha at the head of a corps
of scouts, including the men who had captured the
British remounts, and it is on the foundation of his
adventures as captain of this body of men that this
story is built.
We now turn to Mr. Botha and his first
visit to Harmony.
It seems that Mrs. van Warmelo was
one morning, during her daughter’s absence at
Irene, surprised by the appearance of a stranger at
He introduced himself as Mr. Willem
Botha and handed a card to Mrs. van Warmelo, the card
of her friend Mrs. Piéter Maritz Botha, on which
were written the following words, “You may trust
the bearer as you would myself.”
No other introduction was necessary.
Mrs. P.M. Botha, sister of Sir
David Graaf, whose striking personality and unique
experiences throughout the war would alone fill a big
book, was one of Mrs. van Warmelo’s dearest
Any one coming from her to Harmony
could depend upon a hearty welcome.
Mrs. van Warmelo looked at her visitor
with her keen and searching eyes.
He was short of stature and carried
a little walking-stick for support, and his eyes,
when they looked into yours, were shrewd, humorous,
and true as steel.
A great little man he was,
and is to-day, God bless him!
I stretch out my hands to him across
these pages and clasp his in the sympathy and understanding
of what we went through together. True as steel!
Yes, that describes him well, for in all his dealings
he was a noble friend, an honourable foe.
Fate had been hard on him in leaving
him a helpless prisoner in the hands of his enemies
when his whole heart was with his brothers in the
field, but Providence was kind in giving him the power
and opportunity he required for serving land and people
under circumstances as unique as they were dangerous
From him Mrs. van Warmelo learnt of
the existence of the Secret Committee.
No names were mentioned to her, but
the general outline of their work was described, and
her assistance was invited in that branch of the work
which included the sending of dispatches to the President.
Her fame as an exceedingly clever
“smuggler” had evidently spread, and if
the plan of the White Envelope had been known to her
visitor at the time, he would no doubt have been even
more satisfied with the result of the visit.
That the Committee in Pretoria formed
only a very small part of the scheme of espionage
all over South Africa I am well aware, but it is with
this particular Committee that we have to do, and a
detailed account of the work carried out by them will
give the reader some idea of the system generally
employed by the Boers.
Not with the foolhardy young spy who
came into the capital to buy a pound of sweets or
a box of cigarettes, not with the reckless youth who
came in to spend a few days with his friend and to
escort his sweetheart to church on Sunday night, thereby
increasing the difficulties and danger of detection
for his more earnest fellow-countrymen, are we concerned
in this book.
These escapades were of such frequent
occurrence, and were so well known to many people
in town, that it would have been dangerous in the
extreme to use them for serious purposes.
From the earliest days of the occupation
Pretoria was always full of spies, and the English
were aware of it, but, do what they would, they could
not prevent it.
Although we always knew how things
were going in the field, I do not for a moment believe
that the accounts of British reverses brought unofficially
in to town by the spies were always reliable, nor do
I sanction the reckless coming and going of irresponsible
men. Alas, no! too bitter have been the experiences
of disastrous results brought about by their thoughtlessness.
The van Warmelos were warned from
the beginning against having dealings with them if
they really wished to be of service to their people,
to which warning they owed their safety and the privilege
of being able to help their countrymen till the end
of the war. General Emmet, as prisoner in the
Rest Camp, also sent a warning, saying that General
Botha had instructed him to tell Mrs. van Warmelo that
her name was known on commando.
As time went on, Pretoria was being
shut in more completely every day. Blockhouses
rose on every side; on the hills which lie around the
town searchlights played from commanding positions
over many miles of country, making darkest night as
clear as noonday; barbed-wire fences enclosed the
entire capital, and outposts were on guard night and
day with no avail!
The spies glided in and out like serpents
in the night, and some idea of the hardships and perils
they went through in order to achieve their purpose
will be given in this true story of the great Boer
war, some idea of the dangers to which their assistants
in town were exposed, and the part played by women
and girls in the scheme of espionage.
I believe the events related here
to be tame in comparison with some of the risks incurred
and heroism displayed by other Boer women all over
South Africa, but we must confine ourselves strictly
to Hansie’s diary, as it was written from day
to day, before time could obliterate the smallest
detail from her memory.
Hansie’s diary with all the
bitterness left out; Hansie’s diary without
its sighs and tears, its ever-changing moods, and deep
emotions; Hansie’s diary, shorn of all that makes
it human, natural, and real, surely what
is left of it must be tame and totally unworthy of
And yet it needs must be!
This book must be a calm, dispassionate
review of the past, a temperate recital of historical
events as they took place, and, as facts speak largely
for themselves, I leave the details to be filled in
by the reader’s imagination.