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    Personalized Binoculars: Death of General Beyers: 1914 Rebellion


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    Christiaan Friedrich Beyers was born in Stellenbosch on 23 September 1869.

    In 1854, his father, Christiaan Frederick Beyers had bought the farm "Zorgvliet" at a public sale for £2750 pounds. After the Manor house was partially destroyed by a fire, his father rebuilt the house in 1860.

    In 1865, a devastating phylloxera plague forced most farmers in the area to sell their farms. The phylloxera is a small but deadly grapevine pest.

    Beyers went to Europe with his whole family in search of a solution to the problem on the farm. The family spent 12 months overseas and he returned very knowledgeable on a broad range of subjects.

    Beyers Senior then proceeded to rebuild the road passing his farm and received commendations from government engineers on the insight and quality on completion of the final road project.

    The future General C.F. Beyers studied law at the Victoria College in Stellenbosch. After completing his studies, he moved to the Transvaal Republic at the end of 1888 and was articled to a legal firm in Pretoria. An avid and highly competent sportsman, Beyers played rugby for the Transvaal against a touring British team in 1891. He played in all the major South African rugby tournaments and had a formidable reputation for his agility and fearlessness on the field.

    In 1894, he qualified as an attorney and established his legal practice in Boxburg.

    Service in the Jameson Raid earned him his Transvaal citizenship and in 1897, he married Matilda Konig.

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    When Anglo-Boer War started, Beyers enlisted as a Burgher in the Boxburg Commando.

    After a few months, his courage in the field was noted and this led to his promotion to the rank of Assistant Field Cornet.

    When Lord Robert occupied Pretoria, Beyers was appointed Assistant Commandant General for the Zoutpansberg and Waterberg regions. One of the main reasons for the appointment was his influence on the farmers in the Waterberg region who often referred to him as "Their Lawyer".

    Beyers operated very closely with General De La Rey and the two Generals gained a resounding victory over General Clements at the Battle of Nooitgedacht. Beyers has not been regarded as a great general when he has been compared to the likes of Generals De Wet, De la Rey and Botha but he did play an active and consistent role in continuously harassing and attacking the British forces and columns during the guerilla phase of the Anglo-Boer War.

    General Beyers was present at the Peace Negotiations in Vereeniging that ended the Anglo-Boer War where he functioned as the Chairman for the meetings of the delegates from the fighting Commandos.

    After the war, he set up a legal practice in Pretoria and was later elected as the Speaker of the first Transvaal Parliament.

    At the time, he was a partner in the solicitor's firm of Beyers and Oosthuisen. He was respected by all sections of the House for his sound judgment. Beyers represented the Waterberg in Parliament from 1910 to 1912.

    After Union, he contested and won the Pretoria South seat in the Assembly. His influence over the farming community had increased greatly during this period.

    Commandant General Beyers resigned from this position in the Assembly after he was appointed as the first Commandant General of the newly formed Union Defense Force.

    In August 1912, General Beyers and Mr. G. Hofmeyer visited Europe to study modern military methods.

    Brig. Gen. Beyers was so impressed by what he saw regarding military aviation that when he returned to South Africa, he strongly recommended setting up a school of aviation.

    The Government subsequently contracted Mr. Cecil Compton Paterson to provide flying training to a select group of ten aviators at his flying school at Alexanderfontein just outside Kimberley.

    During his visit to Germany, he met and had various meetings with the German Kaiser, Wilhelm the Second.

    Beyers was undoubtedly very impressed with the Kaiser and treasured a large portrait that the Kaiser had presented to him.

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    The decision to occupy German South West Africa was not readily accepted by many former members of the Boer Commandos.

    On 15 September 1914,General C.F. Beyers resigned his commission and sent his car to fetch General De la Rey from Johannesburg to Pretoria as he wished to consult with him.

    Beyers stated the following in his resignation letter: "It is sad that the war is being waged against the 'barbarism' of the Germans. We have forgiven but not forgotten all the barbarities committed in our own country during the South African War", referring to the British atrocities he percieved had been committed during the Anglo-Boer War.

    The two generals then set out that evening for Potchefstroom military camp where General J.C.G Kemp had also resigned. They encountered several police roadblocks but refused to stop, although they had in fact been set to capture the notorious Foster gang. At Langlaagte the police fired on the speeding car and a bullet struck De la Rey's back, ending his life; his last words were "Dit is raak ('it hit')".

    Many Boers were convinced he had been deliberately assassinated, while others could not believe that he would have joined a rebellion, which implied him breaking his oath. According to Beyers the plan was to co-ordinate the simultaneous resignation of all the senior officers in protest at the attack on South West Africa.

    The theory of a government assassination holds to this day in come quarters in South Africa.

    In all, about 12,000 rebels rallied to the cause.

    The irony was that General Louis Botha had around 32,000 troops to counter the rebels and of the 32,000 troops about 20,000 of them were Afrikaners.

    General Botha used Afrikaners on the government side to counter the rebellion, where possible.

    The government declared martial law on 14 October 1914, and forces loyal to the government under the command of Generals Louis Botha and Jan Smuts proceeded to destroy the rebellion.

    General Maritz was defeated on 24 October and took refuge with the Germans in German South West Africa.

    Beyers gathered a commando to the West of Pretoria.

    The Beyers commando was attacked and dispersed at Commissioners Drift on 28 October, after which Beyers joined forces with General Kemp.

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    Beyers crossed into the Orange Free State with a composite rebel commando. Just outside Kroonstad, the Commando split into two separate groups and Beyers and 50 men rode towards the town of Bothaville. The government forces were in hot pursuit of him and his Commando. An engagement took place on the farm "Rietgat" just outside Bothaville where two members of the government forces were killed. Many horses belonging to the government forces were also lost.

    Beyers again split his force into two and rode in the direction of the Zandspruit on the Vaal River. At this stage, he was being chased and pursued by Cmdt Botha. The force with Beyers was not his original Commando but seem to have been fighters who had agreed to escort him back into the Transvaal.

    On the afternoon of 7 December 1914, Captain Uys of Viljoen's Corps and Field Cornet De Necker of Commandant Van Rensburg's Commando received information that a small group of rebels had been seen near the Zandspruit or stream. Captain Uys was on the Transvaal side of the river with 25 men. Uys then sent word to Field Cornet De Necker and asked him to come and support him as soon as possible by also crossing the river into the Orange Free State.

    A Captain Cherry had also heard the information and started a forced march from the south with 30 men towards the Vaal River.

    Captain Uys had secured a boat and swam his horses across the river into the Free State.

    At approximately 20h00, he left Commando Drift for the farm "Greyling's Retreat".

    Captain Uys had crossed the Vaal River at 16h00 and on the morning of the 8th made contact with the rebels at first light on the farm "Greyling's Request" and a fierce engagement took place. This had been preceded by a hard ride on horseback through the night. Captain Uys's plan for the forces to converge on Beyers's group simultaneously was very well executed. The tactics used by the government forces took Beyers by surprise and Captain Uys outmaneuvered him on the right flank while De Necker did the same from the left.

    Captain Cherry was advancing from the North where the Vaal River formed a natural barrier and obstacle. Cherry and his force remained on the Transvaal side and took up a position on a ridge that commanded movement toward the river.

    The rebels immediately galloped North in the direction of the river. The skirmish lasted for 15 minutes and, during the engagement, General Beyers and one other member of the Commando attempted to cross the Vaal River and escape. Beyers was prepared to take his chances on the Transvaal side with Cherry's force. His reamining force of rebels took up positions in some small bushes and fired on the advancing government forces. Beyers then attempted his crossing.

    Even though he was told by his compatriots that capture was inevitable, he responded to a member of his force called Boshoff by stating: "So long as I have any life in me, I shall fight for it".

    Beyers then proceeded to remove his revolver, binoculars, spurs and other equipment and after mounting his horse, leaped into the river. A rebel, John Pieterse, acted as his guide and was also mounted. He steered his horse into the river after Beyers. The river was in flood and the current was very strong at the time of the engagement.

    When they were in the water, Captain Uys's forces fired at them and Beyers was soon in difficulties. His horse did not swim straight or directly across the river and Beyers was seen to fall off it. Pieterse had made good progress in crossing the river but turned back when he realized that Beyers was in trouble. Pieterse was hit by a bullet and fell into the river. Beyers was heard to scream for help but soon disappeared under the water after he had drifted downstream.

    A branch of a tree was extended to him from the bank by the opposing forces but it was to no avail.

    His revolver, binoculars and his dead horse were recovered at the scene. Beyers was heard to say "I am done" when he was about 300 yards from the bank. One of Captain Uys's men asked if he was wounded and Beyers replied that he could not swim as his greatcoat was hampering his legs.

    Due to the heavy fire from the rebels, it was impossible for the government forces to render assistance.

    While Beyers was struggling across the river, the rest of the rebels quietly surrendered.

    26 rebels were captured and no losses were suffered by the government forces. Beyers's body disappeared under the water and the forces waited in vain for it to surface.

    His horse, a grey gelding, was shot during the crossing and fell dead on the Transvaal side of the river.


    The body of General Beyers was recovered two days after the engagement at a place called "Vliegekraal".

    It was discovered close to the spot where he had been seen to disappear by the attacking governemnt forces.

    The body was examined by a doctor and no bullet wounds were found. Death by drowning was confirmed.

    Beyers was 45 years old at the time of his death.

    Mrs. Beyers went to the region and transported his body back to his final resting place and she was assisted by the governmental authorities.

    I have a letter of condolences from the captured rebels in Booysens Concentration camp which they had sent to her.

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    During his visit to Germany in 1912, Beyers purchased the binoculars that were recovered after his death on the site of the skirmish.

    The binoculars are engraved with his name on them and his initials are imprinted on the case.

    Beyers paid the then very expensive price of 27 British pounds for them.

    I purchased the binoculars a few years ago at an antique market.

    The binoculars were "liberated" by Captain Uys at the scene of the skirmish.

    Captain Uys went on to command Uys's Scouts in the German South West African campaign.

    The binocular case bears his name and was written by him in ink.

    I am not sure if Captain Uys carried and used the binoculars that belonged to General Beyers during the German South West African campaign.

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    You mentioned these before...

    Thea are a fantastic piece of history indeed... I am green with envy!!!!!

    The archives in Pretoria have a huge file with the transcripts of all the testimonies given in court after the rebellion... there is also a SA Govt gazette that I once had in my hands in the reading room of the IWM in London that is chock-a-block full of interesting info... Wish I had time to copy them all...

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    Hi Chris,

    I have been working on his story for a while now, specifically with regard to the rebellion and Beyers role and the final action that cost him his life.

    I have been using the contemporary newspapers of the time as sources and have found some very valuable information.

    They provide a lot of the tactical details and timings that the well known references tend to forget or ignore.



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    • 1 year later...


    Thanks Chris,

    As collecting and displays remain dynamic, I have also made some additions and I have changed the "Beyers" display over a period of time.

    I am unfortunately in a place in South Sudan where the internet is not very good at times.



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    The tin mug in the background was engraved by a rebel of Irish descent and this was done in one of the rebellion prison camps.

    Edited by sabrigade
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    • 5 months later...

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