If what theosophists say be true,
that thoughts are living forces, then it seems to
me that the subtle power and influence of a national
maxim must be far-reaching and powerful in its effect
on the national mind.
Of this we had ample proof as the war proceeded.
With “Might is right”
working ceaselessly in a hundred thousand brains,
some people in South Africa and England began to believe
that might was right, and with “All is
fair in love and war” held up by the united
force of a million minds, is it to be wondered at that
anything and everything seemed justified under martial
law? And yet, when we come to think of it, how
pernicious and demoralising the effect of such maxims
must be on the public in general and the uneducated
mind in particular. Under its influence a nation
may become, in times of war, dishonourable and treacherous,
may be dragged from one abyss of degradation to another,
deeper than the last, until all self-respect is gone
and the voice of conscience is silenced for ever.
Well may we guard against this growing
evil in South Africa! Well may we keep our national
I do believe that the Dutch South
African saying, “Geduld en moed, alles sal
reg kom” ("Patience and courage, everything
will right itself"), is responsible to a great extent
for the South African indifference to duty. It
was first spoken by President Brand, of the Orange
Free State, no doubt in all thoughtlessness of what
it might lead to, for no one could have foreseen that
the first part, “Geduld en moed,” would
fall into disuse and be forgotten, because these good
qualities do not come easily to men, and the second,
“Alles sal reg kom,” would be
made an excuse for a sort of lazy optimism, by which
anything could be justified which comes easiest to
us at the moment.
“Alles sal reg kom,”
yes, but not if we shirk our responsibilities.
“Alles sal reg kom” if we are
true, staunch, and honourable, if with perseverance
and patient endurance we fulfil our duty when its demands
upon us are most exacting and difficult.
Rightly interpreted, this popular
saying would have been a strong support to the Boers
at a time when they were assailed by the fiercest
temptation, and this brings us to the subject with
which this short chapter deals.
We were frequently told during the
war that it was Lord Kitchener’s policy to procure
the services of as many members of the opposing forces
as could be persuaded, for material considerations,
to take up arms against their fellow countrymen, a
policy which he had often employed in other countries
and to which he owed much of his success. This
may or may not have been the case in previous wars
in which he had taken a leading part, but in the great
South African war this policy was crowned with undoubted
success, in the formation of the National Scouts Corps.
The thought has occurred to me that
the words “National Scout” may convey
nothing to my English reader.
Would to God that it conveyed nothing to us either!
It will be necessary to explain.
The first downward step to becoming a National Scout
was the voluntary surrendering of arms to the enemy,
to become a “handsupper,” as the burghers
were called, who laid down their arms while the Boer
leaders were still in the field.
There were three kinds of handsuppers;
first, men who, through a mistaken sense of duty,
surrendered themselves to the enemy, in order to bring
the war to a speedy termination and so to save the
women and children from further suffering; second,
the men who, wearied of the strife, became hopeless
and despondent and only longed for peace, indifferent
as to who should prove to be the victor in the field;
and third, the men who, through their lust for gain,
fell an easy prey to the temptations offered them
in gold and spoil by the enemy, surrendering their
trusty Mausers in exchange for the Lee Metfords of
the enemy, with whom they thereafter stood, side by
side, in infernal warfare against kith and kin.
To the latter class of handsuppers the National Scouts,
better known throughout the war as “Judas-Boers,”
belonged. In most cases they were first employed
by the enemy as “Cattle Rangers,” to gather
in the livestock from the farms and protect them from
recapture by the Boer commandos. The next step
downwards followed as a matter of course, active service
against their brother burghers.
A few months after the occupation
of Pretoria the first public meeting was held in the
Rex Bar, now known as the Lyceum Theatre, on Church
Square ("under the Oaks"), for the purpose of recruiting
National Scouts from the ranks of the burghers in
Pretoria. Many prominent men attended this meeting,
which, it will be remembered, was presided over by
a distinguished British officer. These men went,
not to become members of the National Scouts Corps,
but to ask a certain question when the right moment
arrived and then they rose with one accord.
“What about our oath of neutrality?” They
were told that the oath of neutrality need not disturb
any one who wished to join the ranks of the enemy;
it would be nullified by the oath of allegiance, and
was declared to be “a mere formality.”
The noblest motives for uniting their strength to
that of the enemy, in the endeavour “to restore
peace to the land,” were laid before the burghers
of the Transvaal. Not only would the helpless
inmates of the Concentration Camps be spared further
suffering, but the deplorable loss of life of men on
both sides in the field would cease.
Then too, the pay was a consideration
not to be despised in days of so much hardship and
privation. Large sums were paid for the capture
of each brother burgher, and so liberal a share in
the plunder brought home by them that there are, at
the present time, well-to-do farmers, poor before
the war, now flourishing and well known in their districts
as successful “pocket patriots."
The National Scouts became a strong
and well-organised body of men, versed in all the
arts of Boer warfare, familiar with the country a
dangerous and treacherous addition to the difficulties
with which the faithful burghers were beset.
It must be clearly understood that
there can be no comparison between the act of the
men who, when condemned to death, saved themselves
by turning King’s evidence and the treachery
of the men who, voluntarily and for greed of gold,
took up arms against their fellow-countrymen.
Under the impulse of fear men may be guilty of a crime
for which they may have to do penance with lifelong
remorse, and for these we may feel pity, even if we
do not understand and cannot enter into the cowardly
weakness by which they were driven to betray their
comrades. But in the case of the National Scouts
there were no extenuating circumstances except perhaps
that the greater responsibility rested on the men
who paid in dross for the dishonour of their fellow-creatures.
It was the public recruiting of National
Scouts from amongst the burghers who had taken the
oath of neutrality that first induced the Boers who
remained true to their cause to use their influence
in bringing the war to an end. But they determined
to assist their fellow-countrymen, not the enemy,
and when the call came from the field they were found
ready to depart for active service or willing to devote
themselves to secret service in the towns, as the case
may be. I may say here that the appointment of
the Secret Committee did not at any time bear an official
Although the Boer leaders knew of
its existence and made use of information conveyed
through the members, they did not approve of the work
of espionage being carried on in the towns, because
of the great danger to which it exposed the women
and the needless risks incurred by the men.
The Secret Service of the Boers was
not confined to the burghers. In every department
of importance there were British subjects in the employment
of the Boers, especially in that part connected with
the registration of names of the men who joined the
From every part of the Transvaal the
names and addresses of Boers joining the English were
sent to British head-quarters in Pretoria, these lists
being again conveyed to Captain Naude, who passed them
on to Boer head-quarters in the field.
There was no break in this part of
the Boer espionage until the war came to an end.
In the Burgher Camps Department, as
the head-quarters of the Concentration Camps in Pretoria
were called, there were men at work for us too, men
who by smuggling through statistics of the high mortality
and other facts connected with the Camps, strengthened
the hands of the pro-Boers in England and acquainted
the world with the real state of affairs even before
the Blue books could appear.
Towards the latter end of the war
thousands of burghers had succumbed to their temptations,
and the appalling increase of the Scouts Corps preyed
on the minds of the Boer leaders more than any other
calamity. Everything that ingenuity could devise
was tried to stop the burghers from sinking deeper
into degradation, members of the Scouts Corps, when
captured by the Boers, being executed without mercy
and their fate made known far and wide.
Hell was indeed let loose in South
Africa and every man’s hand was turned against
his brother. The worst passions of mankind rose
to the surface, were deliberately played upon, making
havoc of every tradition of country and race.
In the towns, where the renegades
felt themselves comparatively safe under the protection
of the British troops, their work was carried on quite
openly. It would not be possible to describe the
feelings of the faithful Boers when they contemplated
this hideous aspect of the war.
Many futile efforts were made to stem
the tide of crime, but it was a woman in Pretoria
who devised a plan which would undoubtedly have struck
terror to the hearts of many waverers had it been put
to practice by the Boer leaders, after she had successfully
carried it out.
At her instance a trusted mechanic,
working secretly at dead of night, made half a dozen
tiny branding-irons in the form of a cross, to be
used for branding the traitors between the eyes, when
captured red-handed. This drastic measure was,
however, not resorted to.