On 6 June 1901 the Commandant van Reenen and his Cape Rebel Commando decided to spend the night on the farm Ruigtevlei, south of Steynsburg.
It was bitterly cold and apparently guards were not posted. Shortly after midnight they were totally surprised by an attack of the 17th Lancers (the “Death and Glory Boys”) under Lt.Col. W P Wyndham. The leading squadrons, led by Capt. D’A Legard, rushed the farm buildings which sheltered the bulk of the commando and captured 23 prisoners (although the official Boer POW Register lists only 16 names and a Boer source puts the total at 18 and states their names).
A number of the Rebels, who chose to sleep in a nearby poplar-grove, managed to escape. In the action one Boer Rebel, Jan Kruger, was killed with a bullet through the heart. Capt. Legard was seriously wounded (and subsequently MiD for good service at Ruigtevlei) and two Lancers (Lanham & Turner) were mortally wounded.
The captured rebels had to walk to Steynsburg, where they were put in gaol.
During the following week the Rebels were tried by a Military Court: all of them were found guilty of High Treason under arms, while a number of them were also found guilty on a second charge: the murder of Pte. Lanham.
One of these men, P.W. Klopper, was shortly afterwards moved to Burgersdorp gaol where his death sentence was ratified on 19 July 1901 and he was hanged on 20 July 1901. On the same day the Steynsburg prisoners were marched to the Market Square where they were informed that all remaining death sentences had been commuted to penal servitude for life on Bermuda.
The following extract is from The Rebel Record by Taffy and David Shearing, which is the authoritative publication on Cape Rebels:
“Coetzee, Floris Andries Johannes: Rietfontein, Steynsburg. His name appeared in an undated General Index of alleged rebels as no 242. Joined Cmdt. G. van Reenen’s Commando on 16/03/1901 as a private in Corporal Kruger’s platoon. Captured at Ruigtevlei, Steynsburg on 07/06/1901. POW 20877. Sentenced to death on 14/06/1901 in Steynsburg; commuted to Penal Servitude for life on Bermuda for murder and High Treason under arms. Royal Commission reduced sentence to 2 years in November 1902. On SS “Sunda” to Tokai Gaol on 16/02/1903 from Bermuda as prisoner no 359. Released 19/01/1903”.
On the Vorm “B” medal application form Coetzee stated that he had already joined on 3 January 1901 and also saw service in the Zastron vicinity in the Free State under Generals Kritzinger and De Wet. The POW register notes that he was 16 years old when captured with his father (39) and elder brother (19).