The Polish Connection
Today, 24 May 2020 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts who was born on 24 May 1870, at the family farm, Bovenplaats (Riebeek West), near Malmesbury, in the then Cape Colony. Jan Smuts was a South African statesman, military leader, and philosopher. In addition to holding various cabinet posts, he served as as Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924 and from 1939 until 1948. Smuts subsequently lost the 1948 election to hard-line nationalists who institutionalised apartheid (based on Nazi ideology). He continued to work for reconciliation until his death in 1950.
Jan Smuts and his friend General Louis Botha fought in the South African War (Anglo-Boer War) of 1899-1902. Even although the English military forces resorted to a scorched earth policy and to herd innocent women and children into concentration camps where large numbers of women and children perished in horrific conditions (crimes against humanity), Jan Smuts and Louis Botha actively sought reconciliation with the then English Government to take the Union of South Africa forward.
Louis Botha, briefly commanded a British Expeditionary Force to Poland to stabilise a precarious situation whilst Poland consolidated it newly regained independence. Hopefully further research will reveal whether Louis Botha provided any feedback to Jan Smuts on his experiences in Poland. It is a tragedy that Louis Botha died soon after returning from Poland. Smuts and Botha would have together achieved greater heights with their enlightened and conciliatory views.
Very simply, ignoring the hardlined opposition of the Nationalist Party, Jan Smuts put his foot down and agreed that 500 Polish Children be provided with a place of refuge in Oudtshoorn. As Alekzandra, our oldest daughter, mentioned over lunch today: "We are here because of Jan Smuts!"
A member of Jan Smuts' cabinet whom you should take note of is Harry Gordon Lawrence (1901-1973). Harry Lawrence served as Minister of Home Affairs from 1939 to 1943 and also played a positive role in ensuring the wellbeing of the Oudtshoorn Children. Lawrence was on the liberal wing of Smuts' United Party. He was the most senior of the MPs who broke away and founded the Progressive Party in 1959. The Progressive Party has evolved to be the current Democratic Alliance (DA).
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jan Smuts, Cobus Rademeyer and myself had a paper accepted to be delivered on the Polish Children of Oudtshoorn at a history conference in Stellenbosch this coming week from 27-29 May 2020. This conference has been postponed to 2021.
With the above as background, further information on Jan Smuts and his role in the Oudtshoorn Children can be found on the following site:
Photo of General Smuts extracted from the recently published book "Dankie Generaal" with the kind permission of its author Nico Moolman. Smuts is one of the Anglo-Boer War generals Moolman thanks for their contribution, through the strength of their leadership, to his own fascination with the Boer War and whose lives in many ways, consciously or subconsciously, helped shape his own.
To quote further from the publisher's notes:
"Hierdie pragtige kleurboek bevat meer as 100 rare foto’s uit die Anglo- Boereoorlog waarop Nico die afgelope paar jaar in sy ‘speurtogte’ as leke-historikus afgekom het. Dit sluit in etlike glasnegatiewe uit die oorlog waarvoor hy ’n spesiale skandeerder moes laat maak het om dit te digitaliseer. Die foto’s bied ’n baie intieme blik op Boerekrygers en Britse soldate te velde en in hul kampe en bevat wonderlike detail oor praktiese werklikhede van die oorlog. Tussendeur die foto’s vertel Nico die verhale van sy ontdekkingstogte oor die jare. Van die dagboek van 'n Boerekrygsgevangene wat op die vullishoop van die DBV gevind is tot die oorlogslagveld wat hy herontdek het."
"This book contains a selection of rare photos from the Anglo-Boer War, including a number that have been beautifully colourised. It also tells the fascinating story about the author’s far-reaching efforts to preserve these photos and objects from the war."
Talk on the Geology of Smuts Farm
Prominent Visitors and Guests at Smuts House, Doornkloof
Excerpts taken from Jan Christian Smuts as written by His Son J C Smuts – published in 1952 and distributed by Heinemann & Cassell South Africa (Pty) Ltd – Cape Town
‘My mother, Sybella Margaretha Krige (better known as Isie)…. (whose) home was in the fine Dutch gabled house “Klein Libertas”, alongside the beautiful oak-lined avenue of Dorp Street…. She was the daughter of Japie Krige, a well-known and respected wine and dairy farmer, and their home was a pious one. She was as serious-minded as my father. Photographs show her as a lovely girl, slender and small, with curly brown hair and blue eyes. She was two-thirds French by extraction, and had inherited their daintiness rather than the more ponderous build of the woman of purer Dutch descent. My mother’s forbears were Huguenots who came to South African at the beginning of the eighteenth century.
"The Kriges were an able family, many of its members having reached the top of their various professions. They were also noted athletes and Ruby players. But like most people in Stellenbosch they did not love the English.After matriculating, my mother spent five years at Helderberg, near Stellenbosch, as a school teacher.On their way to school, my father and mother chatted animatedly as they walked under the massive oaks, some planted in the seventeenth century by Simon van der Stel. Sometimes my father carried her books for her. In this quiet way the friendship ripened and they studied and read books on botany and poetry together.
The Smuts and Krige families did not know each other till these Stellenbosch days. “It was at this stage that I first met the girl, then my class-mate, who was to become my wife ten years afterwards,” my father was to write years afterwards in a diary. “Less idealistic than I, but more human…she first liked the spirit of poetry in Goethe, recalled me from my intellectual isolation and made me return to my fellows.”There was nothing particularly romantic about the courtship. They were rather reserved and undemonstrative and from questioning and teasing our mother, we decided that it was rather an odd and old-fashioned courtship. The town young people, though probably not oblivious of their fine surroundings, saw more of the beauties of the classics and the poets than of the fine scenery around them. But what the courtship lacked in impetuosity it gained in depth of friendship and understanding. That friendship, unscathed and undiminished, withstood the test of time and was the basis of a fruitful and exemplary married life.”
Excerpts from Richard Steyn’s ‘Unafraid of Greatness’:“Sybella Margaretha Krige, Isie, his long loved wife, was by all accounts a slender pretty girl with wide awake intelligent eyes, bursting with mental and physical energy. The Tea Garden is named after her.When he proposed to her, he wrote: ‘...that we may be bound together in soul and spirit and true love.’ “
THEY WERE MARRIED FROM 1897 TILL HIS DEATH IN 1950 (53 YEARS). Oom Jannie and Ouma Isie had 9 children altogether. Three died at a young age and the couple raised the remaining six, and fourOf these in the very ‘Blikhuis’ in Doornkloof.
SMUTS LIFE CHRONOLOGY
This is an interesting article written by Dudley Basson for the RAF Centenary celebration in November last year. It covers aspects of the history of the RAF and, in particular, General Smuts' role in its establishment. Many of the aircraft types used used during both World Wars are discussed, with links supplied to other articles and videos for additional interest.
Smuts drew up a 7-page report on the formation of the Royal Air Force. He also proposed the coercing of British industry into the production of aircraft. With Smuts in the chair, the Aerial Operations Committee was enlarged to become the War Priorities Committee, charged with bringing together all of the country’s industrial resources to bear on the war effort. The Royal Air Force was established on 1 April 1918. For this huge achievement, Smuts has become known as ‘The father of the RAF.’
New Smuts Statue Unveiled
A life-sized statue of former South African Prime Minister, Jan Christiaan Smuts, has been unveiled at Rustenburg in the North West. The unveiling forms part of this month's heritage celebrations. The sculpture depicts Smuts on his horse Charlie. Click on the image below to view the 2 minute SABC News video.
General Smuts and his Secretary Henry Cooper
by Hayley Hynd.
Henry Cooper was the last of Smuts’ private secretaries. Hayley Hynd (née Cooper),his great-niece, inherited a quantity of Smuts memorabilia that had previously been archived and forgotten about. Her pursuit of a suitable home for for these treasures led her to the Smuts Foundation to which she kindly donated several items, including Smuts' travel grooming bag, his passport and various other travel documents shown below.
Hayley writes about her life with the Legacy of Jan Smuts as follows:
Ever since I can remember, Jan Christiaan Smuts has been a prominent figure in my life. I knew his name before I even knew some of my family’s names. His bust was prominent in our lounge, and there were trunks filled to the brim with memorabilia, photos, letters and exciting treasures.
At first this was not overtly interesting to me, but as time wore on, I started asking questions as to who this man was, and why we had so much stuff about him, and of his. And the answer was quite simple, and yet still quite mystifying. My Great-Uncle, my dad’s uncle, was Jan Smuts’ last private secretary before he lost the elections and ultimately passed away. Henry Cooper was an amazing man by all accounts and somebody that my dad and my mom spoke very kindly about. He passed before I was born. He wrote a book while with Smuts, about all the walks they went on together, and spoke so fondly of the man behind the politician. The super intelligent brain, his need for strict exercise regimens, and his appetite for ever increasing mountain peaks to be conquered in his daily regimen.
When Smuts was ousted, he moved his offices into my Grandparents, Cissie and Willie Cooper’s, offices. Willie was Henry’s brother, and they had been fervent supports of Smuts during office, and were now not about to leave him in his hour of need.
Smuts was also my Dad’s Godfather and on his passing, Henry was left with much of Smuts belongings, including some of his shaving kits. These were, of course, out of bounds to me for most of my childhood. When I hit high school, we actually started learning about him. I begged and pleaded and was allowed to take the one shaving kit to school. Nobody believed it was actually something that had belonged to this great man. But I know the truth. My Uncle Henry was at the inaugural United Nations meet. He got to meet the most incredible international figures, including the Queen, of both Greece and England. What I wouldn’t give for a bounce on his knee and some late night story-telling.
My dad fell ill, about 4 years ago and was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was given the trunks of treasures, and needed to find a home for them. Or at the very least put them into some sort of order. I have since discovered that Olive Schreiner was also my relative, as was Austin Roberts. To most South Africans of my age, these names do not mean much, but over the past few years I have made it my mission to learn just who they were to us as South Africans and what legacy they left. My Granny and Grandpa wrote many well-loved South African songs, including ‘Jy is my liefling’ and ‘Die Donkie’. My great great grandfather was an Advocate in the Cape Colony, and wrote under the pseudonym of Samuel Zwartman.
In my pursuit for answers, I went to watch my Father’s Coat earlier this year, and was amazed at the story-telling and the tale itself. I asked Michael if he could assist me in my pursuit to find proper homes for the items. And he referred me to Brenthurst, and to Smuts house. And a rather joyful meeting a few weeks ago, led to me finally placing some of the missing artefacts in the hands where they had belonged the whole time.
And now I find myself wondering, what will my legacy be? Here is hoping I live up to my DNA!
Trailer of forthcoming Smuts documentary.
Chapter on Ouma Smuts extracted from the book "Women South Africa Remembers" author: Fay Jaff (1975).
Talk on Deneys Reitz presented by NICK COWLEY at the Friends of Smuts July 2018 supper evening.
'Genius' statesman Smuts's life recalled
As reported in the PRETORIA NEWS on 22 MAY 2018, 07:11AM by VIRGILATTE GWANGWA
A wreath being laid during the annual memorial for General Jan Christiaan Smuts on Sunday. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)
PIONEER, remarkable, genius and peacemaker were among words used to describe General Jan Christiaan Smuts during his memorial service at Smuts House Museum in Irene on Sunday. The memorial service is held annually and close to his birthday, which is on May 24.
Smuts died aged 80 on September 11, 1950, after he suffered a coronary thrombosis. He died of a subsequent heart attack at his family farm in Doornkloof. Men and women from far and near in military uniform gathered in honour of the late military leader and philosopher.
Chaplain Marius van Rooyen said many were breaking all that Smuts had worked hard to build, and said it was time that everyone reconciled.
“General Smuts understood the wisdom of unity and reconciliation and that's what he stood for; unity. Many of our lives are testimonials of unity and that is what we are celebrating here today.”
The Welsh Male Voice Choir of SA had the audience in awe with melodious voices, while the SANDF held a mini-parade.Smuts’s great-grandson Philip Weyers said it was sentimental for him and the family to see his great-grandfather remembered and honoured in such a dignified manner.
“Even though I'm too young to have known my great-grandfather, for me to have my South African people recognise and celebrate him like this means a lot. In as much as I have spoken about him all over the world, I have also heard a lot about him and I can tell you that this man was a complete genius,” he said.
The memorial included a wreath-laying ceremony in memory of Smuts.
Smuts served as prime minister of the Union of South Africa from 1919 until 1924, as well as from 1939 to 1948. He is the only man to have signed both of peace treaties which ended World War I and II. Although Smuts had originally advocated racial segregation and opposed the enfranchisement of black Africans, his views changed. He then backed the Fagan Commission's findings that complete segregation was impossible.
He continued to work for reconciliation and emphasised the British Commonwealth's positive role until his death in 1950. He led a Boer Commando in the second war for Transvaal and the South African armies against Germany, capturing German South-West Africa and commanding the British Army in East Africa.
Two years after his death, the international airport in Kempton Park was founded and given his name. It is now known as OR Tambo International Airport.
Article about Smuts House in The Pretoria News, 19 April 2018
Smuts and Churchill's Narrow Escape
Extracted from “The Southern African History Musings of Ross Dix-Peek” http://peek-01.livejournal.com/100528.html
Copyright IWM (B5364)
Prime Minister Winston Churchill looking at enemy and British aircraft engaged overhead with Field Marshal Jan Smuts, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, General Sir Bernard Montgomery and others in Normandy, 12 June 1944.
It was D-Day + 10 when South African statesman, Field Marshal Jan Smuts, accompanying the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, crossed over to Normandy to observe the action first-hand. Smuts was rather lucky to survive this visit, as both he and Churchill could very well have been killed while visiting Monty’s headquarters at Cruelly. The author Nicholas Rankin, in his book “Churchill’s Wizards, British Genius for Deception 1914-1945” relates that while visiting the headquarters and as “senior officers stood outside with the Prime Minister [Churchill], South African Field Marshal Smuts sniffed the air and said, ‘There are some Germans near us now…I can always tell!’” And lo and behold, just two days later, “two fully armed German paratroopers emerged from a nearby Rhododendron bush, where they had been hiding all along. Had they used their guns and grenades on Churchill [and Smuts], everything would have changed.”
It is also really amazing when one considers that Smuts, an erstwhile enemy of the British empire, was not only to reconcile himself to his former enemy over the succeeding years, but was also to be greatly respected by two British prime ministers: Lloyd George appointing him head of the war council that was ultimately to bring about the amalgamation of the RFC and the RNAS and the subsequent founding of the Royal Air Force during the closing stages of WWI, while he was also earmarked to have been Churchill’s successor should the British prime minister succumb for whatever reason during the war.
Royal Air Force Celebrates 100th Aniversary
One of the founders of the Royal Air Force in 1918 was General Jan Smuts. Watch this lecture delivered by Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier at the Royal Aeronautical Society's 100th Aniversary lecture in which Smuts is acknowledged as playing a leading role in the RAF's establishment on 1 April 1918.
A Kibbutz called Jan Smuts
Did you know that Jan Smuts has a kibbutz named after him because of his support in founding the state of Israel, and that this kibbutz was at the centre of the 1948 Arab Israeli War (or sometimes known as the Israeli War of Independence)?
South Africa's Exceptional History
The feared bloodbath in the transition to majority rule did not occur. As a proportion of the population, political deaths are among the lowest of all the major ethnic or racial conflicts since 1945. As General Jan Smuts famously said in 1949: “The worst, like the best, never happens [in South Africa].”
From Magersfontein to Westminster
South Africa’s Deny’s Reitz wrote ‘Commando’ while in exile in Madagascar after the Boer War, long before Lawrence wrote his version on what is guerrilla warfare. If it was not for the remarkable intervention of Isie Smuts (wife of Jan Smuts) the book would probably have probably died in Madagascar with Reitz. But Isie persisted and Reitz was returned to SA and went on to achieve much.
Fallen heroes remembered
SAXONWOLD – Military museum remembers heroes that fell a century ago. The museum, previously known as the South African National War Museum, was opened by Prime Minister Jan Smuts in 1947. In his speech, Jan Smuts said he hoped that the memorial would remind people of the horrors, the loss of life and the devastation of war and that it served as a warning to all people to create a world in which weapons of mass destruction would never be used again.
Video of Smuts' funeral