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TOPIC: A Mafeking Defender with the Cape Police - N.J. Van der Meulen

A Mafeking Defender with the Cape Police - N.J. Van der Meulen 6 months 1 week ago #61895

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Van der Meulen was awarded a "double-issue" - two QSA medals with two different units. His silver fob watch engraved "N.J. Mafeking Siege 1899-1900" still works perfectly.

Nantes John Van Der Meulen

Private, Cape Police District I
Trooper, Bedford District Mounted Troops – Anglo Boer War

- QSA with clasps Orange Free State, Defence of Mafeking and Transvaal to 1833 Pte. N.J. Van der Meulen, Cape PD1
- QSA (no clasp) to Tpr. N.J. Van der Meulen, Bedford D.M.T.

Nantes Van Der Meulen came from faming stock in the frontier country of the Eastern Cape and, after his exploits in the Anglo Boer War, returned to that pursuit where he was to remain for the rest of his life.

Born on the family farm “Summerfield” in the Bedford district on 12 November 1873, he was the son of farmer, Nicholas Petrus Van Der Meulen and his English speaking wife Emily Ann, born Leonard. Put to work on the farm from an early age he had tired of the routine and, by the time he attained his 25th birthday, was ready for a change in his circumstances.

With his wife and a daughter

On 19 November 1898 at Bedford he completed the Candidate’s Paper for enrolment with the Cape Police, Division I which was headquartered at nearby King Williams Town. A large man at 5 feet 11 inches and weighing 160 pounds he confirmed that he was a farmer by occupation, was single and, although his home language was English, he could speak Dutch and Kaffir as well.

With brown hair, light grey eyes and a fair complexion he was found Fit for all Police duties. By way of distinguishing marks about his person he had the “mark of a wound on the outside of his right leg, the mark of a wound over his right shin and the mark of an abscess on his abdomen.” As next of kin he supplied his father, Mr N. Van der Meulen of Summerfield, Bedford. The Form of Engagement that he signed confirmed that his service would be for three years. Assigned no. 1833 and the rank of 3rd Class Private, Van Der Meulen commenced service with the Cape Police.

Little was he to know as he rode off to collect his uniform and accoutrements that he and many of his comrades and colleagues would be “in the thick of it” in less than a year’s time. What am I referring to? The close of the 19th century brought with it an escalation in the rhetoric between the two Dutch Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and the might of Imperial Britain – this led to an unreasonable ultimatum being issued by President Paul Kruger to the British Prime Minister. With no answer forthcoming by the date and time set Kruger declared war on 11 October 1899 and the southern tip of Africa was plunged into turmoil.

The Boers had come with a plan – this plan was, in part, to invest some of the major towns under Colonial rule preparatory to taking the fight to the coastal areas and, finally, “chasing the English into the sea”. To the east they descended on Ladysmith, to the west on Kimberley and on Mafeking – a small, dusty and almost insignificant little town on what is now the South African border with Botswana (then Bechuanaland).

Although small the town was, nonetheless, strategic as the railway line from the Cape Colony to the newly discovered Rhodesia ran right through it. Two days after war was declared, on 13 October 1899, Boer Generals Piet Cronje and J.P Snyman with about 8000 men laid siege to Mafeking which could boast a motley assortment of defenders, numbering about 1500, under the command of Colonel Baden-Powell. This garrison comprised the Protectorate Regiment with 448 men and 21 officers, the British South Africa Police with 81 men and 10 officers, the Bechuanaland Rifles with 77 men and 4 officers, the Town Guard of 296 untrained men, the Cape Police Division II under Inspector Browne of 54 men and 2 officers and the Cape Police Division I under Inspector Marsh numbering 2 officers and 45 men of whom Van der Meulen was one.

On 27 October a night attack was ordered against the Boer trenches which had, in the days leading up to the attack been creeping ever closer to the town. The night attack comprising a squadron of the Protectorate Regiment with a party of Cape Police, moved off at 9.30 p.m. in silence with magazines charged but no cartridge in the chamber – the order being to use bayonets only. The squadron attained its position on the left rear of the enemy’s trench without being challenged or fired at. The men, with a cheer, then charged into the main and a subsidiary trench, clearing both with the bayonet.

The enemy’s rearward trenches then opened a heavy fire, to which the Cape Police replied from a flank, in order to draw the fire on themselves, and so to allow the Protectorate Squadron to return unmolested. The whole operation was carried out as per instructions and was a complete success. Boer casualties, it was afterwards discovered, 40 killed and wounded with the bayonet and 60 killed and wounded by rifle fire.

Van der Meulen could be one of these men

Over the course of the next few months there was plenty of toing and froing with sorties organised by Baden Powell against the Boer emplacements taking place from time to time and with Boer attacks and bombardments of the town taking place sporadically as well. The siege dragged on until, on 12 May 1900, the Boers decided upon a last-ditch effort to subdue the defenders. At about 4 a.m. a very heavy long range musketry fire was opened on the town from east, north-east and south-east.

The alarm was sounded and the garrison stood to arms. The heavy fire continued for half an hour whereafter, at 4.30 a.m. 300 Boers made a rush through the western outposts and got into the stadt (the black settlement within Mafeking). The western defenders were ordered to close in so as to prevent any support from coming in after the leading body and the reserve squadron was sent to assist. This way a force of about 500 were driven off but, in the meantime, the Boers in the stadt had succeeded in rushing the British South Africa Police Fort; taking prisoner the 16 men and 3 officers of the Protectorate Regiment within.

In the darkness the attackers had got divided up into three parties, and as it got light it was possible to further separate them from each other, and to surround and attack them in detail. The first party surrendered, the second party was driven out with loss by three Squadrons of the Protectorate Regiment and the third, in the B.S.A.P. fort, after a vain attempt to break out in the evening, surrendered. 108 prisoners were taken including the leader of the Boer attack, Commandant Eloff, Kruger’s grandson.

The men “although weak from want of food and exercise, worked with splendid pluck and energy for the 14 hours of fighting.”

Five days later, on 17 May the long siege came to an end with the arrival of the relief force under Colonel Mahon. The garrison, although reduced by illness occasioned by lack of food and exercise, had withstood all that the Boers could throw at them. In certain quarters Baden Powell was criticised for allowing his small force to be besieged and not getting them away in time whilst on the other hand the Boer command was accused of, as was the case in both Kimberley and Ladysmith, allowing opportunity to pass them by and for not going for the jugular.

The relief of Mafeking, although not of huge importance in a military context, was celebrated with gay abandon in Great Britain once the news had filtered through. To this day medals and memorabilia of the Mafeking siege command a much higher premium than those of the other sieges.

Mafeking relieved Van der Meulen and his Cape Police comrades were put to work escorting convoys across the length and breadth of the Western Transvaal and Orange Free State. With the fall of the two capitals – Bloemfontein and Pretoria – the war, contrary to what many expected, had not come to an end but had rather forced the Boers to regroup and adopt different tactics to keep the struggle going.

Phase II of the war was now underway – a guerrilla-type war where small highly mobile groups of Boers would prey on the British lines of communication taking what supplies and materials they needed before riding off into the sunset. Oftentimes they would “denude” the troops they encountered thus of their clothes and set them free on the veld in their “birthday suits”. This was because the Boer infrastructure had entirely crumbled and they no longer had the resources to feed and accommodate prisoners of war. Besides, they had a more pressing imperative, they needed to feed and clothe themselves before they could turn their attention to others.

It was during one of these convoy escort duties that Van der Meulen and many of his comrades came a cropper. The story is told, succinctly, by the following which appeared in The Daily Mail in a telegram from Cape Town dated October 27th: :-

“The Cape Police had a severe fight near Hoopstad on Wednesday with two Boer Commandoes. The column left Wegdraai with a convoy for Hoopstad, under orders to patrol south of the Vaal, a portion of Dennison’s Scouts and two galloping Maxim’s accompanying it.

The Boers attacked the patrol, but were immediately repulsed, losing several men. When the convoy was near Hoopstad a further attack was made from dense bush. The enemy, who had been largely reinforced and outnumbered the police by ten to one, gradually encircled the force, doing much damage.

They directed their fire chiefly on the Maxims, which, despite a most gallant defence, had to be abandoned. Our horses stampeded, but the officers and men showed tremendous pluck, bringing in comrades who had lost their mounts.

Shortly before dark the police were reinforced by Yeomanry, and the Boers were effectually kept in check. The attacking force, which was under Generals Du Toit, Viljoen, Potgieter and De Villiers, showed great determination, advancing pluckily in the face of a heavy Maxim fire.

Our casualties for the day were: - Cape Police: Four killed, eight wounded, fifteen taken prisoners; Cape Mounted Rifles: Three killed; Yeomanry: Three wounded. The Boers stripped the dead and took the prisoners’ clothing. They refused to allow the Colonial troops to bury their dead, but granted the permission to the Imperial troops. The fight lasted two hours, and the enemy were completely beaten off.

The column reached Hoopstad at ten o’ clock at night, the entire convoy with the exception of the Maxims, being brought away. General Settle complimented the Cape Mounted Rifles and Cape Police on their gallant conduct. The Boers have 15 000 men in the field, of whom nearly half are in Orange River Colony, divided into commandoes of two to three hundred men apiece, but capable of combination for large operations, such as the action at Hoopstad.”

The Western Morning News of Monday, 5 November 1900 under the banner “The Casualty Lists – Hoopstad” provided the names of those who were bested in the action: -

Cape Police: - 908 Trooper Thornton, killed; 904 Trooper D.C.D. Selsey, severely wounded. Missing – 1833 Trooper N.J. Van der Meulen, 1868 Trooper P. Peachey, Sub-Inspector Harvey, 32 Sergeant J. Ball, 297 Corporal W. Rogers, 380 Trooper R. Picock, 90 Trooper, J.A. Hastie, 902 Trooper J. Kelly, 777 Trooper J.M Griffen, 903 Trooper W.L. Simon, 899 Trooper C.E. Powell, 166 Trooper W.H. Reynolds, 909 Trooper F. Price, 905 Trooper W.A. Nickson, 687 Trooper J.S. Henderson.”

Van der Meulen would have been one of those subjected to wander the veld in his “birthday suit” until his comrades had provided him with a spare uniform.

On 3 December 1901 – his three year term of engagement expired – Van der Meulen took his discharge from the Cape Police and returned home to Summerfield and his family. For his efforts he was awarded the Queens Medal with the much coveted Defence of Mafeking clasp along with those the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

The war raged on and the Boers, frustrated in their attempts to operate optimally in their own backyard, ventured south of the Orange River into the Eastern Cape. This manoeuvre was to both secure supplies for themselves as well as to recruit sympathetic Cape Dutch men to their cause. The Cape Colony was a crown colony which meant that any inhabitant, Dutch or English, was a subject of the Queen and any effort to take up arms on the side of the Boers would be a treasonable act.

The small mobile commandoes referred to now began to invade and harass the small towns dotting the Eastern Cape landscape. This led to the formation of Town Guards to protect people and property within the confines of the towns; and District Mounted Troops – to take the fight into the countryside around the towns.

Bedford and its neighbouring towns of Somerset East and Adelaide were examples of this strategy – all had both a Town Guard and a D.M.T. – One such example was the Bedford D.M.T. – the one closest to where the Van der Meulen’s farmed. Already a “veteran” of the war, Van der Meulen needed no prompting to sign up.

It would have been a common sight to hear and see Dutch spoken amongst members of Town Guards and the District Mounted Troops. The Bedford D.M.T. certainly saw its fair share of exposure to the ever present Boer threat. The Dundee Evening Telegraph of 11 May 1901 reported on one such incident in which they were involved:-

“The Boers have been beaten off by the Bedford and Beaufort (Fort Beaufort a neighbouring town) district mounted troops. The Bedford men came into touch with the enemy near the town on Tuesday, and drove them off. The Town Guard has been in the trenches since Saturday. Business is altogether suspended. It is reported that the Boers are in a tight corner, as there are no serviceable horses left on the farms.”

This was a typical action and probably one of many the D.M.T. men were called upon to undertake in defence of their district.

The war over on 31 May 1902 the D.M.T.’s and the Town Guards were disbanded, their members earning the Queens Medal for their efforts. Being already in possession of a Queens Medal, Van der Meulen was not entitled to another but mistakes happen and he was issued with another Queens Medal – this time off the Bedford D.M.T. roll which stated in its remarks column “Called out and engaged in action.”

Van der Meulen returned to his farm once more his grand adventure over. He passed away at the dwelling house on the farm Summerfield on 23 July 1949 at the age of 76 years 8 months. He had married a Regina Dorothea Margaritha Petronella Janse van Vuuren who had given him eight children – all of whom survived him. Their names were Nicholas Petrus, Hendrik Balthazar Grey; Francina Maria, Nantes Johannes, Daniel Wilhelmus, Emily Ann, Regina Dorothea and Eileen Leonard.

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A Mafeking Defender with the Cape Police - N.J. Van der Meulen 6 months 1 week ago #61896

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Thank You Rory..... Great Submission.....

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A Mafeking Defender with the Cape Police - N.J. Van der Meulen 5 months 4 weeks ago #62070

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Rory, a stellar grouping with superb research; well done!
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