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April 6th 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The NSW election and our incredible shrinking farming sector

SOCIETY The pervasive and pernicious online porn epidemic

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coffers are full but Treasurer will take spending cautiously

OPINION Judge treats Cardinal Pell to a spot of 'open justice'

NATIONAL AFFAIRS NSW Liberals re-election gives a boost to Morrison

ECONOMICS The Great Dragon uncoils all around the globe

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS President Donald Trump: an unlikely promise keeper Part 2

REFLECTION On the conviction of Cardinal Pell

FICTION Orange Years: The Japie Greyling Story

TERRORISM Lessons from Christchurch

ASIAN AFFAIRS Xi's imperious play prompts U.S. to repair Asian friendships

YPAT Getting with the program: one young person's story

MUSIC To market, to market, to sell a good song

CINEMA The LEGO Movie 2: Building a world

BOOK REVIEW A template for living alongside the world

BOOK REVIEW Catholic Maryland and early tolerance

LETTERS

POETRY

THE BUDGET Take your tax cuts and be merry, for tomorrow ... is another day

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FICTION
Orange Years: The Japie Greyling Story


by John Elsegood

News Weekly, April 6, 2019

In the winter of 1947 Jack Seely, the first Baron Mottistone, was depressed.

Jack Seely, the first Baron Mottistone

A second world war had ended less than two years ago with Britain again victorious, albeit impoverished, and his own life was drawing to a close, too, he suspected.

No doubt then the tributes would flow to him for his career in the military and politics that led him to being a general, a secretary for war and a career politician. His career had been impressive, with the usual highs and lows that those in authority have.

He had no regrets about backing the appeasement policies in what proved a futile attempt to prevent Hitler’s aggression. The earlier South African War against the Boers had convinced him that stand-and-deliver tactics belonged to highwaymen and not diplomacy. Indeed, Lord Alfred Milner’s diplomacy then had been akin to Dick Turpin’s and had convinced Seely of the need for moderation in the 1930s.

It was ironic that Milner, as the British Governor at the Cape, in that earlier era, had received support from his hawkish political master, Joseph Chamberlain, whereas the Colonial Secretary’s son, Neville, as Prime Minister in 1937–40, had been the exact opposite, a dove, striving to placate Hitler and keep Europe at peace.

The southern tip of Africa at the time of the Boer War, 1899-1902.

 

 

He vividly remembered the raid on that house where he demanded information from the 10-year-old Japie Greyling.Indeed, even though he believed in British imperialism when he thought back to that Anglo-Boer conflict on the veld of 1899–1902, he felt that his country had been diminished by the aggression against the farmers and their families.

Then Captain Seely was already sick of the Boers and their sullen hatred of the British Army as he chased those elusive “Orange Pimpernels” over the Orange Free State time and again before the day when he confronted that Boer boy at the farmstead.

Tipped off by an Afrikaner National Scout, Captain Seely had arrived at the farm to see the small Boer commando, led by Barend Greyling, galloping away.

Greyling left behind his family and Seely wanted information from them – and quickly.

“You will give the information of where your father and the commando are going,” Captain Seely had thundered, grabbing the frightened boy by the shoulders.

“I will not tell,” replied Japie Greyling.

“You will, or you will be shot,” Seely roared.

“I will not tell,” the young Greyling replied.

Barking at his young lieutenant, who had turned pale, Seely ordered him to form a firing party; and young Japie was placed against the farmhouse wall.

Japie Greyling and a younger brother
(Japie is to the right)

Moving alongside the younger officer, Seely quietly said he was not to fire, while Japie’s mother, Susanna, became hysterical at the thought of her young son’s imminent death. However, he continued to press the boy for information.

“Last chance to tell me where they have gone, lad,” Seely snapped.

“I will not tell,” the worried boy replied.

Seely saw clearly in the standoff that the boy was prepared to die rather reveal the whereabouts of his father and the other Boers; and Seely was not prepared to give the order to shoot.

“At ease men,” the captain said to his troops before approaching Japie. “I hope I meet you again one day, as you are the bravest young man I have met.”

The British then departed in forlorn search for their prey.

Seely, reflecting on the courage of Japie Greyling that day, flicked the pages of his memoirs. His current reflection was mirrored in his words of yesteryear. “As long as I live I shall never forget that love of father, home and country triumphed over certain death. Never shall I forget the expression on the face of that Boer lad when with his eyes brimming with tears he said: ‘I shall not tell.’”

Yet it would not be the last time that the citizens of the Orange Free State would rebuff him.

The General’s conscience had pricked him at the way he had treated the young boy and he had tried to make amends years later after the publication of his memoir.

He remembered the words of a famous actor: “Never share the stage with children or animals as they would always upstage you.” He had shared a very large stage with both, and the actor was right.

It was remarkable that a Boer boy and Seely’s own famous horse, Warrior, of the Great War, should epitomise to him the best and finest, the most courageous of all.

There was a knock on the door, and his son David entered.

“Hullo, Pater, you are looking pensive,” he said.

“Just reflecting on the courage of a person and a horse, David,” the Baron replied.

“Who, Winston and Warrior,” David asked?

“Well, you are half right. But no, not your godfather, rather a young Boer boy I met in the South African conflict,” the General quietly said to his son.

As the only child from Seely’s second marriage, David was well aware of the esteem his father had for Warrior, his famous war horse, the steed the Germans couldn’t kill; and his great friend and colleague, Winston Churchill, who continually crossed paths with him in war and in politics.

David had been thrilled as a boy when he had read of the exploits of his father’s heroic charge, on Warrior, at Moreuil Wood on the banks of the Avre River in France. With 1000 Canadian cavalry behind him, the British General had secured the riverbank, which had helped to stem the German Spring Offensive of 1918.

Seely remembered the mad adrenalin rush, the pent up anger akin to what he had experienced chasing the Boers during the “Orange Years” on the veld, yet different, somehow more honourable than the war waged on farmers. He also remembered the utter relief at having survived the charge and experiencing the same nervous anxiety in the aftermath of the charge as he had experienced after dealing with Japie. No wonder. A quarter of the men and half the horses had been lost that day at Moreuil Wood.

Fortunately for Warrior he went lame and couldn’t be ridden the next day, when the Major-General had two horses shot from under him and suffered from gassing.

By the end of the Great War, the pair had survived four years of shell and bullet and the mud and slime of Passchendaele. It was no mean feat.

Seely’s reverie on his favourite steed was broken as he grew aware that his son was pressing him on the Boer boy and the aftermath of the dramatic farmhouse meeting.

“I went looking for him in South Africa, in 1931, but he did not want to see me. However, I subsequently sent my lieutenant, Hawkins, out there and, through Greyling’s lawyer, who made the arrangements, they talked. Hawkins presented him with my book, Fear and Be Slain, and it was interesting what he found out from him.”

“What happened?” David asked.

“Well, apparently Greyling’s boy, also Japie, found out about his father’s wartime clash with me from his teacher, who had a book on child heroes featuring his father. When his boy went home, thrilled about his father’s courage, he had asked him about the matter. But Greyling simply said to his son: ‘You have read about it already.’”

“Greyling sounds like a very modest, decent chap,” David said.

“There was a quality about him. In the boy I saw the future man. He now farms quietly in the OFS, at Bethlehem. He is very modest and told Hawkins that he did not want his story being used as propaganda against the British and that people do things in war they would not normally do.

“I was touched by that because I think he was reaching out to me for an episode that I have always regretted.”

Pausing, Seely said to his son: “I write in the foreword of my book that the old adage ‘safety first’ is a vile one. Japie could have done that but he would not betray his father, or people, to me, des­pite having such pressure placed on his young shoulders.”

“He sounds like a character out of Kipling,” David said.

“Perhaps he was a South African version of Gunga Din, the Indian water carrier, David. Both were savers of life, in their different ways, and both prepared to give their own. Some of our politicians looked down on the Dutch as uncouth and uncivilised. They were wrong: those people had a quiet dignity and decency about them,” the Baron replied.

Shortly afterwards David excused himself from his father’s presence, leaving the study to prepare for dinner, as the Baron continued his private reflections on a war he was involved in as a young officer.

Strange the impact that particular war had on men. He thought of Kitchener. At one stage K had said that the Boers only had a thin veneer of civilisation, yet he came to respect the Boer generals, particularly Louis Botha. If Milner hadn’t vetoed discussions on the Transvaal and Orange Free State independence, between the two generals, in February 1901, the final guerilla phase of the war could have been avoided. Instead there would be another 15 months of fighting, which ended on his 34th birthday, May 31, 1902, with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

A typical Boer farmstead; set afire by the British.

By that time the death roll of Boer women and children was close to 28,000, over 30,000 farms had been burned and 3.6 million sheep destroyed. As a consequence, the Boers had grown to utterly revile Kitchener and relations between the two white groups remained in tatters for generations to come because of the “methods of barbarism” employed.

The Boers may have lost the war but they won the peace. With the formation of the Union of South Africa, on another last day of May, 1910, the era of Afrikaner generals, as prime ministers, began: Botha, Smuts, Hertzog and Smuts again, the latter having again been at the helm since 1939.

Winston of course had come and gone. From being exiled on the government backbenches during the 1930s he had, like a shooting star, returned to lead the nation to success in war, before the voters had consigned him to being Leader of the Opposition in the last election, when they had moved en masse to support Clement Attlee and the Labour Party.

It was a different world, the Baron mused. His era – the Imperial Era – was over, globally. The age of socialism, both democratic and totalitarian, had begun.

It was time to go downstairs for dinner. The Baron poured himself a sherry and raised his glass. “Here is to you, Japie Greyling. You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

***

Japie heard the news of the death of his British bête noire from a neighbour, just before Christmas.

The Baron had died on November 7, 1947. As Japie had told Hawkins years previously, he did not bear Seely any malice and he now regretted not receiving the General in 1931, when Seely had come looking for him.

Greyling could hardly hate English speakers, as a group, because he had seen how many of the English-speaking officials turned out in defence of their beloved country when the fall of Bloemfontein, the Orange Free State capital, was imminent. Men like Braine, Brebner, Roberts, Fraser, MacHardy had joined their fellow burghers in the field – against invaders who may have shared their tongue but not their sentiments or loyalty.

Greyling had remembered General Barry Hertzog – perhaps the most famous Free Stater – recalling those facts during his long term as Union prime minister (1924–39). He also recalled how his parents had said that President Brand, during his record 24 years as OFS president, had developed good relations with the British and a deep friendship with Sir George Grey, who had been a Cape Governor before fulfilling the same role in New Zealand and later becoming PM of that country.

No, hate had never been part of the Greyling family make-up and he had taught his two children, Japie and Martha, to be of the same mind, despite the general bitterness that the South African War had engendered.

The title of Seely’s book was strange: Fear, and Be Slain. Greyling remembered he had been afraid, very afraid, that day, yet he had survived. The teachings of his parents and his dominee had helped. The words of Deuteronomy 31:6 had flashed through his mind at that grim moment and he had determined that, just as God had promised not to forsake him, so too would Japie neither betray his Heavenly Father nor the father he loved on earth. He believed his love of God and volk had saved him.

Reflecting some more on the Baron, Japie realised he had clearly been a brave man, as displayed with that famous charge at the head of the Canadians, which would have required him to overcome gut-wrenching fear. Yet that same man had clearly been troubled by the war in South Africa, despite the fact of having gone a long way as a servant of the greatest empire the world had seen.

Japie had also seen military and political giants in his home country and he believed that he was privileged that he could always say he had been a citizen of the Orange Free State, the model Boer republic, whose president and people had given loyalty to the bigger ZAR – the South African Republic – in her hour of need.

He missed the country of his childhood and, even though the OFS continued as one of the four provinces of the Union of South Africa, it was not the same as being an independent nation. The past was another country.

While the defeat of the two Boer repub­lics had been traumatic, there was much to sustain the Boerevolk for their historic role in those dramatic years. His own father had managed to elude the British, as had, more famously, President Steyn and General de Wet, despite some hair-raising adventures across the high veld, including the president riding away from the British in his night gown, like a latter day Wee Willie Winkie.

De Wet’s Christmas Day victory of 1901, at the Battle of Groenkop, had also thrilled him and reminded him of George Washington’s victory on another distant Christmas, at Trenton, as the Americans won a surprise victory against the British redcoats.

But above all his own mother and father had loved him deeply, as he had his wife and children. It was enough.




























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