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TOPIC: VELS - Theodore Carl van Slingerlandt

VELS - Theodore Carl van Slingerlandt 5 months 2 weeks ago #62673

  • RobCT
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Some years ago Henk Loots was the consignor of the group of four medals awarded to Theodore Karel Van Slingerlandt Vels for sale on a local South African Postal Auction. (Refer to his separate posting under this topic for the actual catalogue write-up which he himself had drafted).

At that time I felt that Vels’ story may have some “legs” and I took a liking to the award of the French Croix de Guerre as it was a relatively scarce award to members of the South African forces - Forsyth recorded just 102 awarded with about half of these being awarded for the campaign in German South West Africa.

Then further members of my late wife’s family had a close connection with Kroonstad and experienced depravation in British concentration camps during the Anglo Boer War. While attending the Notre Dame High School in Kroonstad a young William Voigt Theron was awarded a music scholarship to attend the South African College School in Cape Town. On leaving S.A.C.S. he went on to study engineering at the University College. In 1914 he volunteered for service and served with the Dukes in GSWA. Inspired by Major Millar he interrupted his university studies further and joined the RFC in 1917. He qualified as a pilot but was tragically killed in a flying accident in September 1918. His death during the Great War and the “expiration” of his young twin siblings in the British concentration camps during the Boer War years before had a very profound impact on his sister she being the only one of a family of four to survive those terrible years. Years later I now have a young grandson named William.

I have rambled on but this is the background which led me to look further into Theodore Karel Van Slingerlandt Vels.

Henk has recorded a brief outline of Karel’s War service but this warrants some expansion.

During WW1 Karel attested as a Sergeant, No 235, in Thring’s Light Horse on 26 October 1914 and served with this “Commando” in the O.F.S. and the Transvaal during the the suppression of the Maritz inspired Rebellion of 1914. Thring’s Light Horse or simply Thring’s Horse as it was sometimes called was based in Military District No 10 and their service no longer being required after December 1914 they were dismissed. Their Officer Commanding was the well-known Alfred Lester Thring an Irishman who lived in Kroonstad and who had sided with the Boers during the Anglo Boer War which in due course qualified him for the award of both the Boer DTD and ABO to wear beside his DSO which he was subsequently awarded for his service during the campaign in German South West Africa.

After the collapse of the internal Rebellion the various O.F.S. Commandos were reformed as Brand’s Free State Rifles (5th Mounted Brigade) in January/February 1915. Karel as he was usually called was appointed as Sergeant Major to the 1st Regiment under Lt. Colonel Thring in the 5th Brigade on 9 February 1915. They formed part of Botha’s flying column of Boer Commando mounted men who were destined to bring the German resistance in South West Africa to a speedy conclusion. Theodore Vels was commissioned Lieutenant on 23 April 1915 and the subsequent 1918 wording of the relevant citation/recommendation for his Mention in Despatches was drafted as follows:

“for general distinguished services and for bravery displayed at Otavifontein where he rendered assistance to a wounded Officer at considerable personal risk.”

The fight at Otavifonein on 1 July 1915 was one of the very last clashes during the campaign. It is recorded that just 4 members of the South African forces were killed and eight wounded. I wonder who Karel was able to so gallantly assist. Perhaps further research will one day provide the answer. His appointment/attachment to the SASC and T&R during the campaign is indicative of the type of role which a well-educated and older man might have been called upon to play and it is therefore not too surprising that when he once again volunteered for further service in German East Africa he was given the role of Lieutenant and Quartermaster with the 3rd South African Horse. As was so often the case Karel soon contracted malaria and returned to the Union where he was hospitalised on 16 July 1916. He suffered greatly and never returned to the Front. He had certainly responded to Botha’s call to duty.

It is however the story of Karel’s Boer War experiences and that of his family from their first arrival to this precious land of ours which illustrates his real South African Story.

Theodore Karel Van Slingerlandt Vels was born in Philippolis in the Orange Free State on about 18 February 1866. On the outbreak of hostilities he was appointed as the Acting Landrost (Magistrate) of Bultfontein a small town in the south western Free State. South African archival records suggest that Henk’s assertion that he had served with the Hoopstad Commando is probably incorrect. It would seem to be clear that even though he was held as a POW in India that he did not qualify for the award of the Anglo Boer War medal and that is the reason why he did not submit an application for the medal in 1921/1922! His medal group is therefore probably “complete”. In 1903 he submitted a compensation claim of £395 4s to the “Burger Fund” in the District of Krugersdorp. His covering letter was worded as follows:

“I, Theodore Karel van Slingerland Vels, at present a resident of Krugersdorp and clerk to Mr Becker, Law agent, being duly sworn state that I was a Burger of the O.F.S. I was a civil official of the State and a non combatant during the War. I was assistant Landrost at Bultfontein. I remained in my office until the British took possession when I took the oath of neutrality before Capt. G.H. Grant S.W.B. and handed him my keys. Capt. Grant only remained 6 weeks and during that time neither I myself or my property were molested. But when he left, a Lieut in the Australian Bushmen took his place and without any reason had me deported to India. The property scheduled in my claim was in my possession when I was sent away and I have recovered none of it. I attach an affidavit to this effect and in support of my claim. Capt. Grant even gave me a permit to retain my shot gun and cartridges.”

Although his claim was subsequently assessed at £300 he only received a paltry £51 20s in compensation on 24 March 1906!

Incidentally the South Wales Border Officer referred to was Captain George Hughes Grant who at that time was serving as Adjutant in the 3rd Battalion of the South Wales Borderers. The Officer of the Australian Bushmen was I suspect Lieutenant Thomas Lyttelton De Havilland who subsequently served as of Sergeant-at-Arms for both the Transvaal and Union Governments. During WW1 he gained the DSO whilst serving in France with the 6/7th (Service) Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers. He returned to France as a Lt. Colonel commanding the Guernsey Light Infantry being awarded a further C.M.G.

Karel is recorded as having been “captured” at Bultfontein on 18 December 1900. He was sent as POW number 16377 to the Ahmednagar P.O.W. Camp aboard the S.S. Hawarden. He subsequently transferred to the P.O.W. Camp at Fort Gobindgarh (sometimes spelt Govingarh), in Amritsar, Punjab where he remained until he was permitted to board the S.S. Safari on 22 July 1902 transhipping at Zanzibar to the S.S. Burgemeister which was due to dock at Durban on the 18th August. His wife Jessie was so anxious for his return that she had addressed a letter to Sir Alfred Milner in which she had offered not only to pay for the cost of his return home but also to reimburse the authorities for the cost of their telegrams! Today the historic Fort Gobindgarh is better known as Bhangian da Killa and has recently been developed into a unique live museum and the repository for the early history of Punjab.

In April 1903 Karel lodged a further application for a grant under the provisions of Government Notice No 224 of 27 March 1900 suggesting that he qualified for aid as he was “one of those who has not been reinstated in office, am therefore deprived of my occupation and am really in indigent circumstances.”
Stating further that

“I was an official under the late Free State Government and for years occupied the position of Landrost clerk and eventually became Assistant Landrost.

I was a prisoner of war for 2 years and 2 months of which I spent nearly 17 months in India.

I have lost everything I possessed during the war and I have sent in a claim for same which has been heard by the local Repatriation Commission.”

This application was summarily dismissed as such aid was only applicable in the Transvaal and had not been approved for Orange Free State officials!

Karel’s assertion that he was held as a Prisoner of War for 2 years and 2 months implies that he was first “captured” in about mid June 1900 and that his “nearly 17 months in India” presumably spanned from about December 1900 to July 1902. Presumably the recorded date of his “capture” on 18 December 1900 refers either to his embarkation date as a POW in South Africa or his arrival in India. In this regard it is to be noted that his wife and three children arrived in the Brandfort camp on 27 June 1901 and were moved to Kroonstad in July where subject to specific restrictions they were presumably permitted to live until the cessation of hostilities.

Theodore Karel Van Slingerlandt Vels was the son of Cornelis Johan Vels and Sarah Jones Hughes. His father Cornelius Johannes was born in Twello in Gelderland in the Netherlands on 29 July 1829 and died in Serkfontein in the district of Boshof in the Orange Free State on 11 December 1885 whereas his mother Sarah was born in Griquatown in the Cape Colony on 5 January 1839 and died in Kroonstad on 28 February 1896. His mother’s father, Karel’s grandfather was Isaac Hughes. He was a deeply religious man who came out to the Cape Colony in the early 1820’s. His parents were married in Fauresmith in the Free State on 19 February 1857. His father was an attorney and for many years had served as Attorney General for his adopted country.

Karel was one of their nine children and married Jessie Muriel (Minnie) Addams at a ceremony held in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in about 1887. Jessie was the daughter of John Rodd Addams a medical doctor who had married Adrianna Maria Magdalena Hudson in Humansdorp on 27 September 1858. Adrianna’s father William Hudson was born at Broadstairs in Kent on 18 July 1809 and had married her mother Adrianna Maria Margaretha Rademeyer who was born Swellendam in 1810. Theodore or Karel as he was usually called (or even Charles) and Minne had three children - a son named Elgar Theodore and two daughters Beatrice Mabel and Gladys Sarah.

Much has been written about the unnecessary extended duration of the Anglo Boer War. The burning of farms, the Prisoner of War Camps, the hated National Scouts, “die Bittereinders”, the senseless continuation of the War by the Boers and all the “wrongs” of the War which subsequently, not withstanding the sometimes cited “magnamity” of the British in supporting the establishment of the Union in 1910, gave cause to so much bitterness in South Africa.

Through researching the deeper stories of the “Man behind the medal” we as medal collectors are uniquely placed to unravel some of individual allegiances of those who were caught up in this conflict. It is clear that Karel was not completely innocent of all complicity in the War. It is most certainly probable that he did not actually take up arms and serve with the Hoopstad Commando however it is clear that he supported the Boer cause by gathering horses for them and it is certainly the realisation of these activities that led to his deportation as a POW to India.

Karel Vels was an educated man. The War devastated his family. One gains a better impression of who he probably was by examining the background to his family. In so doing one touches on an earlier chapter of South Africa’s early history. His father Cornelis Johan Vels was born in Holland and had served as State Attorney for the Orange Free State. He was well known to the Cape Colonial and British Authorities. His maternal grandfather, Sarah father, was Isaac Hughes and his societal role compounds the tragedy of South African families who were caught up in the Anglo Boer War.

Isaac Hughes was born in 1798. As a young man he was deeply religious and was a member of a Calvinistic Methodist Chapel in Manchester. He was instilled with a deep desire to enter the mission field but it was evidently doubtful that he possessed “the gifts” or linguistic skills of a preacher. However such was his enthusiasm for the missionary cause that the Directors of the London Missionary Society were persuaded to send him out to the Cape Colony as a missionary “Artisan Blacksmith”. At first he spent some time in Sheffield and Rotherham where he received instruction in several of the “useful arts”. On 18 August 1823 he married Elizabeth Jones of Llangollen and shortly afterwards the two of them sailed from Gravesend on 24 September 1823. They were met on their arrival in Cape Town on 30 December by the well-known Missionary Robert Moffat and his wife Mary and accompanied them on their return to Griquatown and Kuruman. Isaac adopted Griquatown as his permanent station in 1828 and was recognised as a Missionary in his own right in 1839 some 5 years before the death of his wife, Karel’s grandmother, who died at Philippolis on 1 July 1845. Soon after her death Isaac Hughes moved to the Vaal River where he established a new Missionary Station at Backhouse where he married Anne Magdalena Vogelezang, the daughter of another missionary in 1850 and with whom he had further children. It was during those years that he would have become well acquainted with the Griqua Chiefs Adam Kok II and III and Waterboer and other Griqua Chiefs of that era. It was probably these associations which led to his son in-law Cornelis Vels playing a leading role in the various Treaties with the Griquas of Griqualand West and the resolution of the important boundary determinations following the discovery of diamonds in 1867. Karel’s father, Cornelius must have been very well known and a great friend of the British!

I had hoped to expand this lengthy family story further and perhaps locate a photograph of Theodore Karel Van Slingerlandt Vels by engaging with “johnsin” the initial poster of this topic. In his initial posting he had stated that Theodore was his great uncle and although he initially responded to my PM he has unfortunately not as yet responded further to my reply in which I suggested that he engage directly with me via E-mail. I note that he has not again “logged in” to this Forum since and I certainly hope that as a “fresh recruit” he did not assume that he had learnt all we as a Forum could offer following the limited information posted by Henk in his eagerness to respond to his query!

To those of you who might have read this far I say thank you. There is no end as to how far one can chase a story!


Always interested in medals awarded to members of the “Dukes”
The following user(s) said Thank You: djb, QSAMIKE, Rory, Charl

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