I happened to be at the railway station on the night the President and Secretary Reitz left with the State documents and moneys, removing the capital and head of the Government from Pretoria.
Continuing The Boer War,
with a selection from Blue Shirt and Khaki by James F.J. Archibald published in 1901. This selection is presented in 4 installments, each one 5 minutes long and another (the first one) half that. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Boer War.
Time: 1902 (ended)
Place: South Africa
One day I was in General Botha’s headquarters, just before he was leaving Pretoria for good, when an old gray-haired burgher came in to see him. He waited some minutes, as the General was busy, but finally stepped up to his desk. He did not give the regulation military salute, but merely shook hands with General Botha and wished him health in the Dutch fashion.
“What can I do for you?” asked the Boer leader, still looking over some papers before him.
“I should like to get an order for a carbine from you,” answered the burgher.
“You cannot get a carbine, for they are very scarce just now, and everyone seems to want them; but I will give you an order on the commandant at the arsenal for a rifle,” said the General, and he began to write the order at once.
“Well, I’m sorry; but a rifle won’t do,” hesitated the man.
General Botha looked up, and said with some sharpness:
“I’d like to know why a rifle won’t do; you will use a rifle or nothing.”
The old burgher still hesitated, then finally said, ” I’d just as soon have a rifle, but I’m afraid my boy isn’t big enough to carry one.” He turned and motioned to a little smooth-faced lad to come forward.
He was not yet ten years old — a bashful yet manly little fellow, ready to follow his grandfather and to fight for the cause for which his father had died. Not big enough to carry a rifle, he must needs fight with a carbine. He got his carbine.
An air of suppressed excitement pervaded all Pretoria when the people knew that the Volksraad was in session to decide the fate of the city. It meant either a long period of suffering or British occupation within a very few days. Little knots of men gathered here and there to discuss the situation and to speculate on the result of the deliberations of the few men who held the fate of all in their hands.
Finally the word came — it was ” Retreat.” Once more they were to retire before the hordes of khaki that were steadily pouring in from all directions. No noisy newsboys were shouting ” Extra! ” No bulletins were placarded in public places. But the news seemed to proclaim itself in the very air. From mouth to mouth it flew, carrying with it feelings of terror, defiance, and sadness. The moment which had been half expected and dreaded for years had come at last. Their enemy was upon them in irresistible force, and they were to abandon their homes and their chief city to the foe. The little groups of men melted away as if by magic, and the streets were suddenly alive with a hurrying mass of people, each person with but one thought — to escape be fore the British arrived.
I happened to be at the railway station on the night the President and Secretary Reitz left with the State documents and moneys, removing the capital and head of the Government from Pretoria. About half-past eleven a special train, consisting of three or four luggage- vans, a few passenger-carriages, a few goods- carriages, and, at the end, the President’s private coach, was made ready. In a few moments a wagon drove hurriedly up, two men jumped out and gave orders to the driver to drive out on the platform near the train; this being done, they began to transfer a load of books and papers into the luggage- van. Another cart arrived before the first one was emptied, also containing huge bundles of papers and documents. During the next half-hour came a stream of vehicles of every description, loaded with bags of gold and silver. Even cabs had been pressed into the service of transferring the treasure of the State from the mint to the train. Bars of the precious metal were thrown out of the cabs or wagons like so much rubbish.
There was bustle and activity, but no noise and no excitement. A few burghers on the platform crowded about in the glare of the electric light, to watch the work; but hardly a word was spoken, except an occasional command from one of the clerks attending to the removal. Cab after cab drove up to the station without any guard whatever; some of them, containing as much as twenty thousand pounds in sovereigns, had been driven by boys through the dark streets from the treasury to the station. The cabs were hurriedly unloaded and sent back for another load, while the men on the platform were throwing the bags and bars into the car.
It was an extraordinary sight, under the glare of the electric lights, to see this train being loaded with all that was left of the capital of the Republic. It was done decently and rapidly. As soon as the last sack of gold was transferred to the train the doors were closed.
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