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Deneys Reitz

Deneys Reitz (1882—1944) was a Boer Commando, South African soldier and politician and son of Francis William Reitz.

While still in his teens, Deneys Reitz served in the Boer forces during the Second Boer War. As a commando he fought in both the first conventional phase of the war and the second guerrilla phase. In the latter he accompanied Jan Smuts on raids deep into the Cape Province, he continued to fight to the "bitter end", and then went to live in Madagascar rather than sign the undertaking which every Boer soldier was called upon to sign, that he would pledge allegiance to the British flag.

While in exile in Madagascar he wrote about his experience of the Boer War, so that, when it was eventually edited and published in 1929 as Commando: A Boer Journal Of The Boer War, it still had the freshness and detail of an account written soon after the war. Not only is the account very well written and an important source for the Second Boer War, his family connections (his father was State Secretary of the South African Republic) and sheer luck provides for a unique account because he was present at virtually every major event of the war. For instance, while visiting his father at the start of the war and being too young to fight, the President of the Transvaal Paul Kruger spoke to him and gave him special permission to do so; subsequently the Commandant-General Piet Joubert personally issued him with a new Mauser carbine and a bandolier of ammunition.

On 17 September 1901, Smuts' commando encountered the 17th Lancers in the vicinity of Tarkastad. Smuts realised that the Lancers' camp was their one opportunity to re-equip themselves with horses, food and clothing. A fierce fight, subsequently to be known as the Battle of Elands River took place with the Lancers being caught in a cross-fire and suffering heavy casualties. Stunned by the onslaught, the remaining Lancers put up a white flag. Reitz encountered Captain Sandeman, the Lancers' commander, and his lieutenant Lord Vivian among the wounded. [1]

In his book Commando, Reitz recounts how Lord Vivian pointed out his bivouac tent and told him it would be worth his while to take a look at it. Soon, Reitz, who had been wearing a grain-bag and using an old Mauser rifle with only two rounds of ammunition left, was dressed in a cavalry tunic and riding breeches and armed with a Lee-Metford sporting rifle. Reitz thanked Vivian and indicated that he did not feel justified in taking them. Reitz recorded Vivian's reply:

"It's the fortunes of war, boy just the fortunes of war. You can't worry about such things, they just happen. If you don't take them, somebody else will. Besides, if I give them to you they will be a gift - which is better than loot"[1]

This story has a sequel. In his introduction to the 1983 Jonathan Ball edition of Commando, Thomas Pakenham recounted the following story:

Forty years after the Battle of Elands River, in 1943, when Reitz was South African High Commissioner in London, he met Lord Vivian again. Vivan appeared at South Africa House in London, carrying a brown paper parcel, and was taken to Reitz's office. He told him that they had met before in less auspicious circumstances, and perhaps he would recognise what was in the parcel. He then placed on the desk Reitz's old Boer War Mauser rifle - with his name carved on the butt, and with all the scratches and cuts made by his knife when he had cut his biltong, still visible. Reitz was absolutely speechless. [2]

That the Mauser rifle Reitz had discarded during the battle was returned to him in England is not disputed. However, it could not have been returned to him by Lord Vivian in 1943 as claimed because Vivian died in 1940![3]

On the advice of his wartime commander, Jan Smuts, he returned to South Africa in 1906. The malaria he had fought with in Madagascar had so severely affected his health that he collapsed unconscious upon his return to South Africa. He was nursed back to health over three years by Jan Smuts' wife, Isie. He then returned to public life. In 1914 he helped Smuts suppress the Maritz Rebellion in the Free State, and he served on Smuts' army staff in the "German West campaign" (in the German colony of South-West Africa) and in the "German East campaign" (in German East Africa) where he rose to command a mounted regiment. On the Western Front during World War I he commanded the First Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers until he was severely wounded early in 1918. He returned to active service to lead his men to the Rhine after the Armistice. He continued in public life as a Member of Parliament, Cabinet Minister, Deputy Prime Minister (1939-1943), and South African High Commissioner (1944) to London.

He was buried south of Mariepskop approximately 10 km east of the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga, South Africa at coordinates 24° 33' 56"S, 30° 53' 37"E.

Published works

Three volumes of an autobiography

  • "Commando: A Boer Journal Of The Boer War", first published in Great Britain in 1929, ISBN 0-571-08778-7
  • "Trekking On", dealing with the Boer War through World War I, and
  • "No Outspan", which covers life in South African politics between the wars and concludes with him as Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa.

Also published in one volume:

  • "The Trilogy of Deneys Reitz", by Deneys Reitz, Wolfe Publishing Co., 1994 (Reprint), ISBN 1-879356-39-2


  1. ^ a b Reitz, Deneys; JC Smuts (2005). Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 336. ISBN ISBN 1417925841, 9781417925841.  
  2. ^ Shearing, Taffy; David Shearing (2000). General Smuts and his long ride. Sedgefield: Anglo-Boer War Commemoration Cape Commando Series No 3. pp. 248. ISBN 0-620-26750-X.  
  3. ^ Smith, RW (June 2004). "Modderfontein 17 September 1901". Military History Journal (Johannesburg: South African Military History Society) 13 (1). SA ISSN 0026-4016. Retrieved 30 April 2009.  


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