Thursday, December 16, 2010

Early attacks - Uniondale & Avontuur

(For the sake of chronology I start this report somewhat into the ride, before returning to the beginning of the ride.)

In the late 1800's Uniondale became a major manufacturer of wagons, especially for the lucrative Ostrich and Ostrich feather industry, but when war broke out they found it difficult to supply the demand for wagons. The British responded by simply confiscating all civilian wagons, relegating the owners to travel by donkey cart or foot. This of course did not endear the British to the local population at all.

The largest garrison of British forces in the area was stationed in Uniondale and around the beginning of 1901 seven forts around Uniondale were being built. One of those forts survive to this day. It sits on top of a hill overlooking Uniondale:

More about the fort later.

On the morning of 20 January 1901 a Communion service was being held in Uniondale. The Dutch Reformed Church in Uniondale was built in 1856. The church still stands proudly in Uniondale today:

With almost everybody in town attending the service Commandant Gideon Scheepers simply rode into town with very little resistance. They surrounded the magistrates office and arrested the magistrate. They unlocked the prison and all Afrikaner prisoners were freed.

The magistrate himself was promptly locked up and the Union Jack was replaced with the Vierkleur.

Union Jack                                 Vierkleur

Gideon Scheepers then tied the Union Jack to his horse's tail and rode up and down the main street much to the delight of the local residents. He was applauded and the local residents gave his commando a couple of hundred pounds in order to buy provisions.

All the records in the Magistrate's Office were burned before the Scheepers Commando left town.

You can visit the fort in Uniondale that's survived since the Anglo-Boer War:

The small fort has been proclaimed a provincial heritage site.

The view over Uniondale from the fort:

On 27 January 1901 Gideon Scheepers and his men hit again. They occupied the town Avontuur and damaged the post office.

This is the Post Office in Avontuur today:

I am unsure whether this building is the same Post Office the Boers damaged. This Post Office building is too modern I think.

Another older building in Avontuur across from the Post Office:

Another Avontuur attraction:

The railway through the Langkloof has been approved in 1897 already, but the subsequent war delayed the project. During the war a lot of people fled to the coast resulting in rising unemployment figures, so despite the delays the project was probably started earlier than planned. Work started in 1900 in Humewood and by 1 November 1905 the line was officially opened to Humansdorp. In November 1906 the line reached Krakeel and by 4 Januarie 1907 the line was operational all the way to Avontuur. At 285 kilometres this is the longest 2ft gauge railway in the world.

Had this line been here during the war it would most certainly have been a target. Scheepers' main goal was to disrupt the British war effort, supply lines and communications and he was doing very well.

After the occupation of Avontuur Scheepers headed back to the Camdeboo area to continue his operation there. This was the first time Boer forces had penetrated so far behind enemy lines in this area.

It were these attacks at Uniondale and Avontuur that led to the building of a Fort in Knysna, but more about that later.

Sources: Langkloof


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