Read CHAPTER XXIII - SYSTEM EMPLOYED BY THE SECRET COMMITTEE of The Petticoat Commando Boer Women in Secret Service , free online book, by Johanna Brandt, on ReadCentral.com.

Mr. Willem Bosch, a cripple, unable to take active work upon himself, acted as Secretary to the Committee, Mr. Els was old and infirm, and Mr. Botha, as we have heard, had been struck by lightning and was frequently prostrate with headaches of an intensely severe nature.

But for these infirmities these men would have been on commando with their brother burghers.

The wider circle of conspirators consisted of ten or twelve men and women, who carried out the instructions of the Committee, but in no case attended their meetings or conferred with them in the presence of the spies from the field.

Their work chiefly consisted in finding out men anxious to escape from town and ignorant of the way to go about it an exceedingly difficult and dangerous task, with so many National Scouts and other traitors in their midst.

In order to protect themselves from the danger of being led into a trap, the following precautions were taken by the Committee and strictly carried out by their fellow-workers:

When a man was found anxious to join the Boers, he was instructed, under the most binding injunctions to secrecy, to keep himself in readiness to depart at a given moment, on the shortest possible notice. The arrival of an escort from commando was then awaited.

They did not have long to wait, as two or three times a week, without fail, a small escort of armed men was to be found at a certain spot in the vicinity of the capital, while one of their number was sent into town to inform the Committee of the fact.

The fugitive was then instructed to walk slowly in a certain street, from one point to another at a given hour. Here he was met by a man unknown to him, usually one of the four, who signed to him to follow him.

He was not allowed to speak to or follow his leader too closely. It was not known to him beforehand whether his destination lay north, south, east, or west. He had but to follow and to find himself, as darkness fell, in the hands of the armed burghers.

The men in town were unarmed. It was one of the first rules of the Committee that no spy entering the town should carry arms of any description, this rule having been made to safeguard them from death in the event of their being taken by the enemy.

Too often was this precaution disregarded by young and hot-headed spies, who took the risk upon themselves, preferring death to falling into the hands of the English.

Captain Naude’s case was recognised by the Committee as an exception when once it became known to them that a heavy price had been set on his head.

Incidentally I may remark here that this sum was known, during the early part of the war, to be L500 and that it was gradually increased to L1,500, as the Captain became more notorious for the daring nature of his enterprises. He was told by an English officer; after the war, that the British had spent over L9,000 in the vain attempt to capture him. This statement may, or may not, have been correct, but certain it is that nothing was left undone to put an end to his activities, numbers of men and women being employed, under liberal payment, to trap him when he visited Pretoria.

In the field, too, his life was known to be even more precarious than in town, for many were the hirelings surrounding him, watching their chances to capture him and hand him, dead or living, into the power of his foes.

It was therefore an understood thing that Captain Naude should at all times be armed, heavily armed, in the field and when he came to town.

Not so the Secret Committee. What might be his only safeguard would, in the event of their arrest, prove to be their undoing, and this they fully realised as they remonstrated, not once, but many times, with the young spies who worked for them.

The violation of this rule, which they wished to see enforced so rigorously, was sometimes followed by most terrible consequences.

That this brave band of earnest men should have continued their work so long, beset, as they were, with a thousand dangers and difficulties, is a marvel indeed. With so much treachery in the air, it is a wonder to us still that they were able to carry out their daring enterprise with so much success and to escape detection for so long.

But they were prudent and cautious, they knew and trusted one another, and they observed, with conscientious thoroughness, the unwritten motto of the Committee:

“Think quickly, act firmly, calmly, prudently, without fear. Speak as little as possible.”

Terrible were the experiences of some of the men on their secret visits to the town.

Captain Naude, arriving one night at the house of his friend Mr. Hattingh (the spies naturally did not take shelter in their own homes), was informed that his mother lay dangerously ill in her house close by. It was feared that she would not recover. In the shadows which enveloped her she seemed to have forgotten all about the war, and her only cry was for him, her son.

What was he to do? His mother was surrounded by nurses, and the house was filled with relatives and friends.

As Captain of the Secret Service, his name was too well known. He could not show himself at such a time, when he had every reason to believe that the enemy was watching him with extra vigilance.

The next news, while he was still in hopeless deliberation, was that his mother had passed away.

It needs a strong man’s most powerful self-control to “act firmly, calmly, prudently,” at such a time, and yet even then he restrained the impulse to go to her.

Of what avail to kiss that icy brow?

Next day, from his hiding-place behind the window curtain, he watched his mother’s funeral procession, passing by.

His comrade, Johannes Coetzee, nicknamed Baden-Powell, the man who had left the town with him on his second expedition, once had a miraculous escape from death.

He was leaving for commando with a bag containing clothes, a number of Mauser cartridges which the Committee in town had collected by degrees, when he was taken prisoner by the enemy just as he was nearing the wire enclosure.

He was immediately taken to the Commandant, who examined the bundle containing the contraband articles, and ordered him to be escorted to another Department. Of his guilt, proof positive had been found, but this fact was not conveyed to the armed soldier who was about to escort him to his doom.

On their way, he knew not where, Coetzee pleaded with the guard to release him.

“I have been taken under false pretences,” he said. “I am innocent, an employee at the Lunatic Asylum. If you will escort me over the railway line, I will pay you.”

“How much money have you?” the man asked.

Coetzee took some silver from his pocket, counted it and said:

“I have only thirteen shillings.”

“That will do,” his guard replied, and conducted him in safety to the asylum, in the vicinity of which he found his tethered horse, still waiting for his return, the soldier himself holding his horse and assisting him to mount with the bag containing the ammunition.

Disregard for wise counsel from older men, head-strong self-will, and a sheer indifference to death and danger were the causes of much disaster in those days.

On the other hand, recklessness and the very disregard for death mentioned above brought more than one man safely through the fierce fires of adversity, as we shall see in the tragic and stirring events to be recorded in this and the next chapter.

One there was amongst the spies, noted for his extraordinary bravery, a hero of the rarest type, of whom we can only speak with bated breath and thrilling hearts. In the brief record of his heroic life and still more heroic death we have a rich inheritance.

Adolph Krause was his name, a man still young, a married man. He was a German by birth, but a full burgher of the State for which he sacrificed his noble life.

The first time Krause had left the capital he had been escorted out, with eight other Germans, by Mr. Willem Botha, while Captain Naude conducted seven or eight young Boers to the freedom of the veld.

There had been no adventures then.

Subsequently, in and out he came and went, with the greatest regularity, and as often as twice a week he would leave the town with large numbers of Boers and Germans, eager to join the burgher forces in the field. His services became more and more valuable.

One evening when, after two days’ rest in town, he was again preparing to depart for the commandos, his friend Willem Botha called to escort him through the town, as had been previously arranged.

Mr. Botha’s house was in Proes Street between van der Walt and Market Streets, while not far away his trusted friend and confederate Mr. Hocke lived, a man who rendered such innumerable services to the Boers that his name must not be forgotten here.

These two men met at Mr. Krause’s house and found him ready to depart.

Although a man of slender build, he had now attained to such gigantic proportions that his friends could scarce believe their eyes, and, incredible as it may seem, the following is a full and accurate description of what he had about his person that memorable night:

Two pairs of trousers; two shirts; two full Mauser bandoliers over his shoulders and crossed over his breast; a woollen jersey; a thick coat; a long Mauser gun thrust into one trouser-leg; a German revolver belonging to Mr. Hocke; his own revolver, and a bag of about two feet in length, containing Mauser ammunition, which had been buried by Mrs. Botha and was now going “to the front”; boots, soap, washing soda, cotton, and a number of other small articles, which had been ordered by the women on commando that unknown band of heroic women, fleeing north, south, east, and west with their men, for whom they cooked and sewed and prayed throughout the long years of the war.

Krause had been “shopping” in town for these brave sisters in the field, and I am sure his thoughts that night were not of fear for the perils he was about to face, but of satisfaction and pleasurable anticipation of the joy his arrival at commando would occasion the women at the front.

Would that one of their undaunted band could be induced to give the world a record of their unique and altogether wonderful experiences of the war!

Mr. Krause’s slight form was now twice, perhaps nearly thrice its usual size, and his friends, when they looked at him, laughed in incredulous amazement.

“Oh, man, what would I not give to possess a photo of you as you are dressed to-night!” Mr. Botha exclaimed between his fits of laughter.

It was now 7 o’clock and nearly dark.

The two guards, walking up and down the street on their accustomed beat, had just withdrawn; 7 o’clock was their dinner hour, this the plotters knew.

In a moment, Krause, with the bag over his shoulder and one leg of necessity held very straight, limped out into the open street, “Oom Willie” (Botha) following and crossing to the other side.

Close to a street lamp, at the corner of Market Street, Krause suddenly saw a soldier walking on ahead, upon which he immediately turned down into Market Street, with the evident intention of pursuing his way along Vermeulen Street. This his friend quite understood as, ever on the opposite side of the street, he watched and followed Krause in his course.

Again a soldier appears on the scene, this time walking towards them in Vermeulen Street. No time to turn back now; forward, boldly forward the fugitive has been observed.

Under one of the lamps the watcher on the other side sees to his horror that one of the bandoliers has pushed its way up to the neck and is showing plainly above the collar of the coat.

The British guard observes this too, for he turns under the lamp and watches the retreating form intently. Just a moment, and he raises his whistle to his lips, giving forth the shrill alarm.

The game is up. Mr. Botha, unarmed, can be of no assistance to his friend, who now must fight his way alone from death and danger. The Mauser gun, which has been impeding his every movement, is whipped out of the trouser-leg as he flies, weapon conspicuously in hand, through the well-lit streets of Pretoria, until, making a sudden dive, he disappears between the wires of a fence, into the seclusion of a peaceful private garden. There is no time to think. He rushes through the garden from one side to another, out into the next street, and so on; block after block he takes, until he finds himself alone in a quiet street, far from the scene of danger, and while his enemies are surrounding and searching the block into which he first had disappeared, he is many miles away, plodding weary and heavy-laden to friends and liberty.

Only half satisfied as to his comrade’s escape, Mr. Botha returned home in sore distress that night to watch and await developments, and it was not until Krause surprised him later with another and wholly unexpected visit that he learnt the sequel and happy ending of that memorable flight.