The documents sent out to General
Botha, and referred to in Chapter XV, were connected
with the report of the Consuls, but the very first
thing sent to the commandos by Mrs. van Warmelo was
a copy of the first petition, tightly packed in a
walnut, one of a handful which she gave the spy, with
instructions not to eat any of them on the road.
He also took a verbal message to the
effect that though the condition of the Camps was
bad, everything was being done in town to bring about
the necessary improvements. Influential people
were at work to make everything public in Europe,
and the men in the field were urged to be brave and
steadfast and of good cheer.
On July 29th Harmony was visited again
by Mr. Willem Botha, bringing with him information
of a disquieting nature.
In some mysterious way he had received
a piece of paper from Mr. Gordon Fraser, brother-in-law
to President Steyn, and prisoner of war in the Rest
Camp in Pretoria, on which, in a disguised hand, was
written a message imploring the Secret Service men
to warn President Steyn and General de Wet that a
certain man amongst them, a prominent official, was
a traitor in their midst, paid by the enemy to betray
their plans before they could be carried out.
This information made the conspirators
very anxious, for it being full moon, there was no
prospect of spies coming into town, and in the meantime
incalculable mischief could be done. Neither was
it possible to send any one out who had not been before
and was ignorant of the route. The matter had
therefore to be left until the next suitable opportunity
came and Mr. Botha went home with a heavy heart.
Unlike his usual prudent self, Mr.
Botha did not immediately destroy the slip of paper
on which the warning was written, but folded it carefully
and placed it between the tattered leaves of an old
How he paid for this small indiscretion,
the only one of which he was guilty, with days of
anxiety and despair, and very nearly with his life,
we shall see as our story develops!
In the early days of August the troops
encamped around Harmony could, if they had used their
sixth sense, have divined an air of suppressed excitement
about the place.
Expectation of some sort evidently
charged the atmosphere. Visitors were, in fact,
expected, for Captain Naude and his secretary had
arranged to come in for the report of the Consul, just
before the new moon made its appearance, and now a
faint crescent of silver in the heavens warned our
heroines that their time was at hand.
Harmony had been chosen as a place
of refuge, as the safest spot in all Pretoria, with
so many troops around it!
For several nights in succession a
fire was kept going in the kitchen until a late hour,
and a plentiful supply of hot water kept in readiness
for the warm baths which the visitors would so sorely
need after their difficult and perilous journey.
Still they did not come, but on the
morning of August 4th Mr. Botha paid an early visit,
bringing with him the news that on the previous night
five spies had reached the town in safety.
He did not tell where they were being
harboured, it being one of the laws of the Secret
Committee that names were not to be used needlessly,
and that the people working for the Committee were
not even to know about one another.
So rigorously was this law enforced
that from beginning to end the van Warmelos had dealings
with Mr. Botha only, and did not see the four other
members of the Committee, nor even hear their names
The five spies had not come in as
easily as usual. They had persistently been followed
by the searchlights as they neared the town, but they
were able to get through the barbed-wire enclosure
in safety and had then separated and gone to their
various homes, unobserved as they thought.
But one of them, a young man whom
we shall call Harry, who was destined to play such
a terrible part in the history of the Boer Secret
Service, was followed home by three detectives, two
of whom stationed themselves at the front door and
the third at the back.
Fortunately when Harry became aware
of his danger, he rushed out at the back.
The detective, whose name was Moodie,
shouted, “Hands up, or I fire,” but the
young man drew his revolver with lightning-like rapidity
and, firing twice, escaped from town under cover of
The reported death of the detective
caused a great sensation in the town next day, and
it was not until many months after that we learned
of the fate of the unfortunate man, not death, but
mutilation worse than death a ghastly wound
below the heart and an amputated leg.
This event caused the British to enforce
a stricter vigilance, and many houses were searched
for the other spies, but without success.
The excitement in town did not abate
for some time, and wherever Hansie went she was told
what had taken place by people who would have been
surprised indeed to hear that she was in possession
of all the details, and even of documents brought
in from General Kemp by those very spies.
The instructions were to see that
the information contained in those documents reached
the Consuls without their knowing how and when they
had been brought into town, and for this purpose several
copies had been typed and were slipped under the doors
of the different Consulates while the inmates were
Any day between August 5th and 10th
Captain Naude said he would come, and each evening
found Harmony prepared to receive him, but on the 9th
Mr. Botha brought a note from the gallant Captain saying
that he would be unable to partake of Mrs. van Warmelo’s
hospitality that month. A woman, whose name was
unknown, had conveyed this letter to the Secret Committee.
It contained no particular news except that August
8th had been celebrated as a day of thanksgiving for
our victories, and the 9th, the very day on which
the intimation was received in town, would be a day
of humiliation for our many sins.
When this became known to the “inner
circle,” private prayer-meetings were immediately
held in different houses in the town, while the men
in the field held their day of humiliation under the
open sky. In this way we worked together and
supported one another spiritually, morally, and practically,
in spite of searchlights and barbed-wire fences.
This was the first news received of
the Captain’s safe return to the commandos after
that eventful visit in July, and his friends were
thankful to receive it. Another source of thankfulness
was the fact that he was not coming in that month,
for the enemy was on the qui vive for more
spies, and consequently the dangers were multiplying
for the Boers. The reckless coming in and going
out of irresponsible men became a source of real danger
to the people who harboured them, and on August 12th
Mr. Botha came again to warn Mrs. van Warmelo against
having dealings with any spies except those sent by
the Secret Committee.
“You will only find yourselves
in jail or over the border,” he said, “which
would not be so bad if that were all, but it would
ruin our chances of assisting the Generals.”
He then reported that a young spy
had come in on Saturday night and that he had been
taken to Mrs. General Joubert’s house the next
morning while she was in church. The good lady
was anything but pleased, on her return home, to find
him there, for she had a houseful of people, and she
was obliged to stow him into a tiny room, where he
sat as still as a mouse, until he went back to commando.
Not very cheerful for him, but a good lesson for the
Five or six men who tried to escape
from town were captured near the Magaliesbergen and
placed in the Rest Camp, so Dame Rumour said at the
time, but the truth of the story, briefly related,
I have mentioned the nest of the spies
in the Skurvebergen not far from Pretoria in the western
This “nest” had been surprised
and taken possession of by the English while five
of the spies were in Pretoria, and they, cut off from
their own people as they were, were unable to escape.
One or two attempts were made, but
the men were fired on and they had to abandon the
idea for the present.
The curious part of this story is
that these men (one can hardly call them spies) were
Pretoria men who had escaped to the Skurvebergen for
the first time only three weeks previously, and had
gone backwards and forwards several times with small
necessaries. One of the five, a man whose name
I cannot mention here, for the sake of what is to follow,
had been so often, and was so much at home both in
Pretoria and the Skurvebergen, that his dearest friends
did not know to which part of the country he really
Well, he was in a nice predicament now!
The house in which he was being harboured,
with one of his friends, was unfortunately suspect.
He could not remain there, neither could he escape
Some one came to Harmony in great
distress. What was to be done with those two
men? To what place of refuge could they be moved
that night? The visitor looked imploringly at
Mrs. van Warmelo as if he expected her to offer Harmony,
but she, mindful of Mr. Botha’s warning, did
nothing of the kind.
“Death is staring them in the
face,” the visitor continued. “I don’t
know what to do!”
Hansie, who knew the visitor well
and trusted him implicitly, then pleaded with her
mother to no avail, Mrs. van Warmelo remaining
firmly obdurate, and saying distinctly, for the edification
of her visitor, “I have never harboured a spy,
and I hope I never shall.”
When the good man had departed, in
sore disappointment, Hansie grumbled a good deal and
said it was all very fine to assist these Secret Service
men when there was no danger in doing so, but her
mother took no notice of her for the rest of the day,
and subsequent events proved that she had acted wisely
in refusing to harbour men unknown to her.
What became of them at the time she
did not know, and a few weeks elapsed before the crushing
sequel to this escapade became known.