Stefanus Oosthuizen was born of farming stock in about 1869, presumably in the area where he was to later farm for his own account and eventually pass away – the Gatsrand part of Potchefstroom or, to be more specific, at a place called Bankstasie on the farm Rooiplaat. His father Stefanus Daniel Adriaan Oosthuizen had been born in what was known as Port Natal whilst his mother, Johanna Cornelia Fransina Louisa Oosthuizen (born Basson) emanated from the Cape Colony making a young Stefanus a combination of several Boer cultures.
Thirty years later the threat of hostilities between two belligerents – the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek (or Transvaal) and its ally the Orange Free State on the one hand and the might of the British Empire on the other finally spilled over into open warfare on 11 October 1899. The Potchefstroom Commando, of which Oosthuizen and approximately 550 other able-bodied burghers of the Gatsrand formed part were told to meet at the farm Kleinfontein. The Potchefstroom Commando, consisting of burghers of the various field cornet wards of the district of Potchefstroom, defended the western front of the Transvaal under command of General Cronje, with Mafeking as the centre.
The Vorm B (the document completed by Boer combatants when applying for their medals) which was completed by Oosthuizen in July 1922 clearly states that he was “in the field” with effect from 29 September 1899. This could very well be true because the Boer forces had been preparing for conflict for quite some time before the first shot was fired in anger.
That the Gatsrand burghers would have no shortage of weapons for the war, was clear from Assistant Field Cornet JF van der Merwe’s order for 20 000 Mausers and 10 000 Martini Henry rifles on 24 June 1899, it was thus already apparent at that stage that preparations were under way for war. Each of the mounted burghers in the Mafeking area was issued/equipped with a Mauser and 100 rounds of ammunition, but each individual was responsible for his own food supplies. Field Cornet Martins assisted General Cronje as commandant. After a lapse of two months, the general received orders from government to move his troops to the south in order to help the Free State troops that were still at Belmont to stop the British advance.
General Cronje had hardly joined the Free State troops when government commanded him to join up with Generals De la Rey and Prinsloo. The Potchefstroom commando (of which the men of Gatsrand formed part) with, inter alia, Commandant MJ Wolmarans, JT Martins and TFJ Dreyer took up position at Magersfontein near Kimberley early in December 1899. On 11 December 1899, the Boer forces defeated the British troops. General Cronje’s forces excelled during the attack and, by way of special acknowledgement, they received a telegram of congratulations from President Paul Kruger. After the battle of Magersfontein, Cronje’s troops remained in the Kimberley area for the purpose of forcing the British garrison that was in the town to surrender. For these forces that took up position near the Modder River, these tactics actually amounted to a long time of inactivity.
In a letter to Assistant Field Cornet JF van der Merwe, Commandant JT Martins mentioned that little was actually happening at Modderfontein, except that the enemy would fire a number of bombs at them every day. These, however, passed overhead and caused nothing but clouds of dust. A burgher of the Gatsrand, Field (Combat) General LLM Breytenbach, was ordered by General Cronje to take up position farther down the Modder River with 300 men to prevent their being surrounded by the British.
But then came the Battle of Paardeberg – this action commencing on 17 February 1900 and ending with the surrender of 4000 trapped men under Cronje was a major loss to the Boer forces. Before contact was first made Cronje had reached Vendutie Drift managing to get his wagons half way across the swollen swiftly flowing river. When this convoy was attacked Cronje fought a successful rear guard action.
Marksmen took up positions in deep trenches on both sides of the river. British troops were unable to get at them and incurred heavy casualties. On the next day Lord Roberts took ill and General Kitchener took command ordering a frontal attack on the laagered wagons. This was a disastrous move which continued sporadically all day with needless loss of life.
Roberts resumed command and forbade any further frontal attacks instead shelling the Boer laager with as many as 70 guns. With over 40 000 troops at his disposal compared to Cronje’s 4000 the odds were heavily stacked against the Boers. General De Wet had arrived to help Cronje and took control of some hills a few miles away. Cronje was trapped. Roberts then sent a message to Cronje offering terms which included safe passage for the women and children accompanying his force, Cronje refused and the battle evolved into a siege with no way out for Cronje. This was to last until Cronje surrendered on 27 February 1900.
To the Gatsrand burghers, this surrender was a setback, since the majority of the mounted burghers of the area were taken prisoner along with Commandants JT Martins and MJ Wolmarans to be banished to, amongst other places, St Helena. This was the fate too of Burger Oosthuizen – he was taken P.O.W. and sent to St. Helena.
Oosthuizen, again referring to his Vorm B, confirms his date of capture as 27 February. He also confirms having fought alongside many of the names mentioned above in connection with the Potchefstroom Commando – these include Assistant Veld Kornet van der Merwe; Veld Kornet Maartens (Martens) and Kommandant Wolmarans. His medal application was recommended by Kommandant Dreyer.
At St. Helena on 15 June 1922 Stephanus (note the difference in spelling) Daniel Oosthuizen took the Oath whereby he swore to serve the interests of King Edward VII as a loyal subject. He returned to South Africa in September 1902 and continued farming having to start over again. An initial setback was the death of his father at the age of 66 in December that year – only 3 months after his return.
Forty years later and long dead, Oosthuizen’s spirit lived on in the form of his son, Johannes Josefus Oosthuizen who, on 18 June 1940, attested for service with the 1st Mounted Commando Regiment. A farmer his address was the same as his father’s all those years ago.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Brett Hendey, Charl, ilna grobler
Hi! I found the history of Stephanus Oosthuizen particularly interesting as my one great-grandfather, also hailing from Gatsrand, also taken at Paardeberg and also having a picture taken (I have it courtesy of War Museum Bloemfontein) at Green Point, seems to have fallen off the map. I find no trace of him. His name was Hermanus Barend du Preez and his age was given as 55 on the relevant form.