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Entries in Jan Smuts (3)



Winston Churchill escapes from Boers
Winston Churchill looks pleased with himself - dressed in civvies astride a horse. And, he probably has every right to be, after making a daring escape from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques, now Maputo, at the height of the Boer War.
(Photo : Sunday Times)

“A unique photograph of Churchill after
he had escaped from Boer captivity,
surfaced in the Sunday Times”

Farm tours at Summerhill and Hartford House are popular items. Students of history, fans of racing and those who are mesmerized by the Midlands and the mystique of our sport, travel from as far afield as Johannesburg for the day, take in the tour and a bit of lunch at the nation’s Number One restaurant, before they are back on the N3 northbound.

Others prefer to do it the leisurely way, and they check in for a couple of nights at Hartford. While we’d recommend the latter for its relaxation, we’d not want to deny you the pleasure, either way.

If you’ve done the tour, you’d know that in the summer of 1899, a young Winston Churchill was a visitor to the Moors of Hartford. We all know too, of his capture up the road from us, and his presence at the mother of all battles, Spioenkop. Remarkably, on Spioenkop that day (just 45 minutes from us,) and drawn together by dint of the peculiar attractions of our region, were five of the most influential people of the 20th century. Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of South Africa, (who together with Hartford’s Sir Frederick Moor and his brother, John (the former a colonial Prime Minister, and the latter a senator in the first South African government, attended a class of just 10 students at Hermansburg Junior School;) Deneys Reitz, former Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa and later a Field Marshall in the British army, he was there; our man, Jan Smuts, the man the world chose to write the charters for the League of Nations and the United Nations after the respective World Wars, and the man Churchill appointed as his successor in the war cabinet should anything have become of him, he was there. In the pantheon of great South Africans, you’d have Smuts up there with Nelson Mandela, who ironically was captured just to the south of us seventy two years later; Winston Churchill himself, later to become Prime Minster of England and arguably the greatest Englishman of all-time, he was on Spioenkop that day; and amazingly, the man who liberated India in 1947, Mahatma Ghandi, was there as a stretcher bearer.

Just recently, a unique photograph of Churchill after he had escaped from Boer captivity, surfaced in the Sunday Times. It’s apparently coming up for auction in England shortly, and there’s been a bit of a story about it. It turns out the picture was taken in our immediate vicinity, after Churchill’s escape from Boer custody.

From 1896 to 1897 Churchill served as a soldier and journalist in India. In September 1898 he fought at the battle of Omdurman in Sudan, taking part in what is often described as one of the last true cavalry charges. In 1899, he resigned his commission, and was assigned to cover the Boer War for the London Morning Post.

In October that year he accompanied a scouting expedition in an armoured train near Ladysmith, in what was then Natal, but was captured by the Boers. Although he was a war correspondent, he was armed with a pistol when captured, so was treated as a prisoner of war and held in what had been the Staats Model Skool in central Pretoria.

Churchill managed to escape, and the Boers put a £25 price on his head. Travelling by foot and train - where he hid under coal sacks - he eventually reached safety, 480km away, in Portuguese-controlled Lourenço Marques. The escape made him a celebrity back in Britain and he was elected to parliament in 1900.


International Racing Success : It's not limited to South African Thoroughbreds



We’ve all read so much about the achievements of South African racehorses abroad this year, but there’s a little known corner of this country that’s developing a growing reputation for the quality of the horses it produces. While the spectrum of breeders of endurance horses in this country is reasonably widespread, the reality is the bulk of the good ones are bred in the Eastern Free State, in reasonable proximity to where the nation’s Champion Thoroughbred breeders, Summerhill Stud, ply it’s trade.

Commenting on the depth of quality in South African endurance horses following the 200km Fauresmith Challenge, Chief Vet, Dr Henk Basson, said that “our local breds (Arabs and part-bred, Appaloosas, Nooitgedachters, Boerperde and others) are in great demand internationally, especially in the Middle East, and particularly in Dubai. South Africa now has one of the most consistent ranking lists in the world. A few hundred South African horses have achieved world records, and six out of the top ten are acknowledged horses of the Federation Equine Int (FEI)”. This means that six of the top ten in the world rankings right now are products of this country, and that’s a staggering statistic.

Yet this is not a new tradition. Students of the Anglo Boer War will recall the frustrating elusiveness of the Boer forces under General Jan Smuts, who straddled the length and breadth of the country aboard their Boerperde during the final 18 months of the war, galloping from their original base in the Free State as far as the furthest reaches of what is now known as Nambia, and back. While the British forces had fresh animals at their disposal, General Smuts’ cavalry comprised very much the team he started out with, and while the enormous distances they had to cover took their toll, no greater compliment could’ve been paid to these animals than that of the British Generals, who acknowledged their considerable toughness. It’s this legacy that’s taken them to the top of the endurance charts in modern times.


A Centuries Old Culture

Paleontologists will attest to the fact that Lesotho is home to some of the greatest testimonies not only to the history of mankind, but to all the creatures that inhabit its surface. This little nation’s association with horses doesn’t compare in age to the planet’s ancient past, but for those of our readers who are interested in horses (and we assume most are) these people have them in their hearts. Horses are not mere animals of draft or passage, there is a deep-seated pride and culture involving horses in general, and in particular in their indigenous herds of Basotho ponies.

These horses were bred from a combination of stock seized from the Boers during the early skirmishes between the great King Moshoshoe I’s armies and those of the invaders, and subsequently, around the time of the Second Anglo-Boer War, from British Military imports. Long renowned for their agility and incredible endurance, the Basotho pony is the only indigenous African horse outside of those crafted by the Berbers in North Africa. Its worth recalling the foundation animals, are drawn from the very Boer stock which General Jan Smuts and his Kommando used to run the British army ragged across length and the breadth of 1900 South Africa, gave them their toughness, while the mountainous terrain produced the agility.


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