The engagement at Langverwacht


By February of 1902, the war in South Africa had devolved into a series of hotly contested guerrilla engagements between mobile forces of the British Empire and a small collection of Boer Commando units who were to become known as the ?Bitter Enders?.

The commander of one such band of mounted Dutchmen was Christiaan De Wet, perhaps the most elusive, enigmatic and successful Commando leader of the entire war.

In order to stamp out the last of this resistance, the British High Command had approved a plan by Kitchener to fence off the Veld into areas of cantonments, bordered by barbed wire and blockhouses, wherein large hunting parties would make sweeping manoeuvres designed to flush out the remaining resistance: much like a good old-fashioned grouse hunt.

In the early hours of the 23rd of February, 1902, the roughly 700 men under De Wets command, attempted to make a breach in the British line and ran directly into the New Zealand 7th Contingent who numbered a little under 100.

The force of the strike initially broke through the line and the Boer vanguard began to sweep down the New Zealand pickets in an attempt to open up a breach large enough for the bulk of the Commando to break through.

This breach, however, was soon closed due to the assistance on the New Zealanders flank by the New South Wales Mounted Rifles who quickly came to their aid.

Working together, the Australian and New Zealand troops fought desperately to not only hold off the Boer attack but press forward aggressively. This unexpected resistance gave the attacking Boers some pause and De Wet himself was forced at one stage to resort to cajoling his fighter?s forwards with the use of his sjambok.

The bitter fighting which ensued, made more confused by the darkness and panicking herds of cattle, left 23 New Zealand troops dead and over 40 wounded. Seven of the eight officers were among the dead.

As elusive as ever, De Wet himself was able to escape through the lines and avoid capture however this proved to be the last major engagement he was involved in.

If you look for information on this event you will be hard pressed to find anything of substance or accuracy. It took me some time but I finally came across this website. None of the New Zealand based sites were any good and some of them had information that was glaringly inaccurate. Perhaps this is a reflection of our general lack of awareness or interest in our own history.

Another good source of information is Arthur Conan Doyle?s account of the war titled ?The Great Boer War?. It stands apart from other books as it has a focus on the entire war from start to finish and does not focus almost entirely on the first six months as most others do.

A memorial marks the place where the action at Langverwacht occurred. In 2003 it was crushed by a fallen tree.

To the best of my knowledge, it remains in ruins to this day.