It would be a simple matter for me
to fill this volume many times by relating the thrilling
experiences and adventures of people unknown to me
personally and yet known sufficiently by intimate friends
who guarantee their truth and veracity, but this is
not my intention in writing this book.
A brief outline, however, of the history
of one of the principal members of the Secret Committee,
during the war, will not be out of place here, because
of his close connection with the “Petticoat
Mr. C.P. Hattingh, head keeper
of the Government Buildings under the South African
Republic and deacon of the Dutch Reformed Church under
the Reverend Mr. Bosman, played the part of an honourable
and staunch burgher throughout the war, and rendered
countless services to destitute women and children,
in addition to his strenuous labours on the Secret
On the morning of June 5th, 1900,
when it became evident beyond doubt that the British
would enter Pretoria that day, he removed the Transvaal
flag from Government Buildings and took it to his house
for safe keeping.
To his surprise he was not asked at
any time by the military what had become of the Government
flag, and he was able to keep it in safety until his
position on the Committee became precarious and made
it dangerous for him to preserve this precious relic
of the past at his own house any longer.
He therefore secretly conveyed it
to the house of a friend, Mr. Isaac Haarhoff, whose
wife carefully concealed it until the war was over,
and then handed it to him again. He gave it to
General Botha, who presented it to the Pretoria Museum,
where it is now preserved and exhibited as a priceless
Mr. Hattingh took the oath of neutrality
with the other burghers in Pretoria and maintained
his post in the Government Buildings for one month
after the occupation of the capital. He was then
asked either to take the oath of allegiance or resign
from his post.
He chose the latter alternative, although
he had a wife and family to support and knew not how,
in time of war, he would find the means to do so.
After some deliberation he decided
to begin a private bakery in a small building behind
his house, and then began what proved to be a desperate
struggle for existence.
With Boer meal at L8 per bag and flour
at L5 per hundred pounds, the unfortunate man tried
to make a small profit on the tiny sixpenny loaves.
There was no question of engaging hired help, and he
was obliged to work almost day and night in order
to make the business pay. Sometimes he had neither
sleep nor rest for thirty hours at a stretch except
while partaking of his frugal fare. When flour
became even more scarce he had to augment his supply
by mixing it with mealie meal, ground sweet-potatoes,
and barley, until, in fact, only sufficient flour
was used to keep the loaves from falling to pieces.
By hard work he was not only able
to pay his way, but assisted relatives and friends
in a similar predicament.
As one of the deacons of the church,
he came into constant touch with the wives and families
of fighting burghers, brought into town from their
devastated homes, and it was a common sight to see
a row of these unfortunates standing in his back-yard,
holding dishes and buckets containing their rations
of meal and flour, which they implored him to take
in exchange for his ready-baked loaves, because there
was a dearth of fuel.
Although their rations consisted of
what had perhaps once been flour, but was now a black
and lumpy composition, evil-smelling and swarming
with vermin, the good man never disappointed his petitioners.
His fame as a philanthropist spread,
and the rows of women in his back-yard increased.
While engaged in serving them he listened to their
tales of hardship and privation, watched their suffering
faces, made mental notes of the harrowing details
of each case.
There was an epidemic of “black
measles” going through the town at the time
in the overcrowded quarters of the “Boer refugees,”
as they were called. Scarcely a mother appealed
to him who had not lost one or more children, in many
cases all she possessed, within a few weeks.
Now, Mr. Hattingh would no doubt have
concerned himself with the peaceful occupation of
his bakery until the end of the war (for he had his
hands more than full), had his compassionate heart
not been wrung beyond endurance by the scenes he was
forced to witness every day. His conscience smote
him and he reproached himself with being in town when
duty should have called him to the side of his fellow-countrymen,
struggling against such fearful odds in their efforts
to preserve their independence.
Bitterness filled his soul.
What religious and conscientious scruples
he still had against violating his oath of neutrality
he laid before his most trusted friends, to be met
with the same answer everywhere, “The oath of
neutrality is null and void, a mere formality,”
as the enemy had declared in connection with the recruiting
of National Scouts from the ranks of the Transvaal
At this critical moment it was not
to be wondered at that he should have accepted Captain
Naude’s appointment of him on the Secret Committee,
not only without hesitation, but in a spirit of intense
Henceforth the mind of the baker dwelt
with ceaseless activity on the problems of the Boer
espionage, while his busy fingers plied the brown
and white loaves of bread.
Inspired by patriotism, driven by
love and compassion, he became in time the most resourceful,
the most ingenious, and the most trusted of Boer spies.
One evening, soon after dusk, while
he was engaged in his bakery, he heard a timid knock
at the door, which he opened, fully expecting to see
To his surprise he found there a Boer
with a long, unkempt beard a “backvelder,”
or, as we call it, a “takhaar,” of the
most pronounced type.
The man withdrew into the shadows
as the door opened, and with great apparent timidity
showed as little of himself as possible.
Mr. Hattingh asked him to come in,
and he ventured forward with shrinking hesitation.
“What can I do for you?” Mr. Hattingh
“Take me in,” the man
answered breathlessly. “Harbour me.
I am a Boer spy, straight from the commandos.”
Mr. Hattingh betrayed the greatest
amazement, as if he had never heard of the possibility
of such a thing.
“A Boer spy!” he exclaimed. “How
did you come in?”
The man described the route he had
taken, and in an instant Mr. Hattingh, with his intimate
knowledge of the actual route employed by Boers, realised
that the man before him was not from the field at all,
but a National Scout, employed by the British to betray
the loyal Boers a “trap,” in
fact, such as were in constant use against their brother
Mr. Hattingh asked him a few more
leading questions to satisfy himself of the true nature
of the man’s errand, and then, as if suddenly
recalled to himself, broke out in evident agitation:
“But I cannot harbour you, my
good fellow. I am neutral.”
“Surely you would not have the
heart to see me fall into the hands of the enemy!”
the man exclaimed.
“I am very sorry,” Mr.
Hattingh replied, “but I dare not take you in.”
“Tell me some news, then,”
he implored. “Our men are getting hopeless
and desperate, and when we bring them news from town
it gives them new courage to continue the war.”
“I know of no news to tell you.
I am neutral,” Mr. Hattingh answered
firmly, and the man left him with his mission unaccomplished.
Unseen himself, Mr. Hattingh watched
him depart, and saw him getting into a cab, which
was evidently waiting for him in the neighbourhood,
and drive rapidly away.
Mr. Hattingh immediately went to his
neighbour, Mr. Isaac Haarhoff, and told him what had
“What do you think I ought to
do? I am under suspicion without a doubt.”
“Report the matter to the authorities
at once,” Mr. Haarhoff answered, and our friend
accepted the advice with alacrity.
He mounted his bicycle and rode with
all speed to the nearest Charge Office, reporting
that a Boer spy had been to his house for refuge that
“Why did you not bring him with
you?” the officer inquired.
“I did not know what to do,”
Mr. Hattingh began, when another official made his
appearance and asked what the matter was.
The first related what had occurred,
and Mr. Hattingh, keenly watching the two men, saw
the significant glances they exchanged, and caught
“It is all right.”
“No, old man,” he thought,
“it is all wrong, and you have been my dupe.”
The men then turned to him, telling
him that if he were visited by a spy again he was
to take him in and report him at the Charge Office.
“Right,” he replied.
“I will do so.” And on his homeward
way he congratulated himself with the thought that
he had no doubt been entered on the lists as a “faithful
This incident was followed, as far
as he was concerned, by far-reaching consequences.
Not only was he left with his family in the undisturbed
security of his home-life after that, but he was able
to carry on his work on the Committee in perfect safety,
and when eventually the darkness closed over him in
his prisoner’s cell, he felt assured that this
would count in favour of his wife and family.
Many were the men led by him through
the streets of Pretoria to the spot where the burghers
awaited them, countless and valuable the services
rendered to the Boer commandos, innumerable the acts
of kindness and charity performed by this brave burgher
Mr. Colin Logan, who gave up an excellent
position in the bank, was one of the men escorted
out by him in order to join the Boer forces.
Riding slowly on his bicycle, with
Mr. Logan walking beside him, they passed through
a group of military tents, almost touching the soldiers
as they sat around their camp-fires.
Not a shadow of suspicion could be
roused by their calm behaviour, and they reached the
burghers without any difficulty.
While they were exchanging a few words
of greeting, the sudden, furious barking of the dogs
at the Lunatic Asylum, not far from them, warned them
of danger, and, taking a hasty leave, the burghers
disappeared noiselessly into the darkness, and Mr.
Hattingh literally tore home across the veld on his
bicycle, clearing holes and jumping over stones in
his mad career. He was able to reach his home
just in time to be under shelter when the “curfew”
rang 10 o’clock, the hour at which all respectable
citizens, carrying residential passes, were supposed
to be indoors.
What eventually became of Mr. Hattingh
and the other members of the Committee we shall see
as our story proceeds.