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Today in Kimberley's History

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 26 APRIL

UPDATED: 26/04/2019

26 April 1874, SA cricketer James Anderson born.
26 April 1915, 2nd Battalion Kimberley Regiment suffers losses at Trekkopjes, SWA.
26 April 1932, The Transvaal Road Police station siege ends in the killer policeman Christoffel Viljoen being shot dead, a passerby being killed by Viljoen, and another policeman, being severely wounded.
26 April 1941, Major Ambrose Wright is first Barkly West resident to die in WW2, killed in flying accident.
26 April 1952, No 2 Location re-named Galeshewe.

DID YOU KNOW

It could have been a scene from a Wild West movie, as a policeman opened fire from the top storey of the police barracks on Transvaal Road at anyone and everyone who came into his rifle sights. The shootout, for that is what it became, began at high noon on 26 April 1932 when the policeman, Constable Christoffel Jacobus Botha Viljoen, decided that he had seen enough of life, that it was now time to depart, and he was going to make headlines by doing so.

By the time the tragedy ended, Viljoen would be dead, his fellow constable that he had coerced into helping him, Petrus Hendrik du Toit, would be seriously wounded; a passerby, Douglas Matahane, would die from his chest wound, and another two passersby, Thomas Drude and Elias Seboli, would be seriously wounded. An act of absolute bravery by a young teenage girl would add certain glamour and pizzazz to the entire shootout.

Christoffel Viljoen, a young man in his early twenties, had befriended farmer’s son Petrus du Toit. Viljoen was not cut out to be a policeman and had always been in one sort of trouble or another, mostly because he had a fondness for the ladies – and sometimes the ladies did not reciprocate his feelings. Indeed, for his nocturnal misdemeanors and unauthorized absences from work, he had just been on “orders” in front of his superior officer and was about to be dismissed from the police force. Men of his type were not the material the police needed to uphold the law in Kimberley.

The two young policemen played billiards in the billiard room of the barracks that evening of 25 April, Viljoen bemoaning his fate, and all the while consuming beer after beer. Du Toit was due to go on duty at 10 pm that night, but Viljoen urged him to report sick so that they could attend a movie together, but despite initially refusing to do as Viljoen requested, Du Toit did report sick and they went to watch the film “Man Trouble” at the Plaza on Market Square. The film starred Dorothy Mackaill and Kenneth Mackenna – “she knew men, she hated them too…”

Still depressed after the movie, perhaps aggravated by the content as well as by consuming more alcoholic beverages during the interval, Viljoen continued to express his views over what he thought was the injustice of his dismissal from the police. Even when Du Toit finally went to sleep at midnight Viljoen was still moaning and muttering. The alcohol had made him morose, and he wrote a melancholic letter to his mother. The letter, read later at the inquest, was tear stained, and only to be opened after his death, which at that stage was less than 24 hours away.

A few sentences from the letter (translated from Afrikaans) will serve to explain the state of mind Viljoen was in at the time – in that he believed that the whole world was against him.

“I am the Black sheep of the family…I am ashamed of myself for I have sinned against God and against you….alas, it is too late….I stand in darkness alone, yes, alone on the brink of a precipice….I cannot do otherwise than take my own life….please do not call me a murderer….I am not worthy of the mourning of a dear family such as ours….Why must I still live….mother, forgive me for the deed I am about to do….warn all my brothers so that they may not turn out to be what I was….I ruined my own life….The end of my time is near….Just a few minutes and I will be no more….My mind quails….I cannot put it off….I shall take my revenge….Blood will flow as never before….I am hard and hardened….the world is too small for me….why should I suffer longer….until our next meeting, your ruined son and brother, Christoffel.”

Viljoen was not at all mentally stable.

At 08h30 the next morning Viljoen woke du Toit and asked him to go with him to his sisters’ house. Despite du Toit’s initial protestations that he had to go to the doctor at 10h00, he capitulated to Viljoen’s appeal and accompanied him to not only his sister’s house, but also to a public bar where they each consumed three beers and two double brandies. It was way past 10h00 when the couple made their way back from their “last drink together”, stopping at the Swiss Café at 50a Dutoitspan Road for a sobering cup of coffee prior to returning to the barracks. Du Toit paid for the coffee and on the way back to the barracks Viljoen confided in him that he was going to make a “smash-up”, then take his own life. He also said that if Du Toit did not help him in his quest he would shoot him.

The two policemen made it back to the barracks shortly after 11h00, du Toit heading for his room to make himself presentable for his (late) medical check-up, while Viljoen went straight for his rifle and loaded it, one round in the chamber, and ten in the magazine. He then went to du Toit, and at gunpoint, forced him to accompany him.

The two then went to two adjoining barrack rooms, and, again at gunpoint, forced all the police within to hand over their arms and ammunition and then locked them up. This accomplished, the two renegade policemen, one with a mission and the other attempting to save his own life by agreeing with everything, went to the last room at the end of the building on the first floor. Mounted Constable J.P.C. van Zyl, who had only just arrived from Windsorton, was the only occupant. After a brief struggle where a single shot was fired at him, van Zyl surrendered, told to sit still and to not move at all on pain of death, and thus through fate, became the eye-witness to what was about to unfold.

Viljoen locked the door of the room, and both renegades, according to van Zyl, took up positions on the balcony, opened a window that looked out upon Transvaal Road, and started shooting at everybody that came into their view. Two Africans, Elias Seboli and Douglas Matyalana (aka Matahana), and a coloured diamond digger, Thomas Drude, were the first victims to fall and they lay motionless in the street. Matyalana, wounded in his chest and shoulder, would die, while Seboli, shot in the back, and Drude, with a bullet to the jaw, would eventually recover. There were many miraculous escapes during the shooting. Constable P. Greyling, a medical orderly, was standing in the Charge Office hall when a bullet shaved his throat. Henry R Eden was in the Masonic Hotel bar some 100 yards away when a bullet came through the corrugated iron wall, the inside panel, struck a mirror and hit a partition missing him by mere inches. Two bullets hit the walls inside the Charge Office.

Nearby buildings were pockmarked with bullets as Viljoen fired continually and indiscriminately. A passing tram was shot at, the driver accelerating past while the conductor lay down for cover on the running board. Several policemen going about their normal activities were fired upon, all running or diving into the nearest cover. A motorist driving by had the fright of his life when bullets whizzed over, and he too, drove rapidly away from the scene down Transvaal Road towards the Market Square. Unbelievably, this same driver came back into Transvaal Road at the Roper Street intersection and was again fired upon. This time, he departed with not only the sounds of firing but also shouting from the people under cover.

Detective Head Constable W.G. Gunter was walking back towards the police station when he was warned by Sergeant Steve White to get out of the way as two policemen were shooting at anything that moved. Gunter asked White to repeat himself and as he was doing just that bullets came in Gunter’s direction, accentuating the comment and the Head Constable hurriedly dived into cover, but not for long, as he crossed the road, went behind the barracks and started organising some resistance. He ordered Constable Piet Grobbelaar, armed with a rifle, to lie waiting in the library for an opportunity to shoot at Viljoen if the window was visible, while Gunter went back into Transvaal road and settled on a parapet adjoining the Magistrate’s Court and the next door Divisional Council offices. He aimed his rifle at Viljoen’s window and waited.

In the interim there was a great drama unfolding within the renegade policemen’s room.

At the height of the firing around noon, 17 year old Elizabeth Turpin was walking down Transvaal Road away from Market Square when she noticed a crowd standing at the corner of Roper Street and Transvaal road. She took no notice and carried on walking past the police station down the tramway lines, and stopped in front of the window from which Viljoen was firing. She asked him what he was doing. Innocent people could get killed. “You should not fire into the street with revolvers,” she said. “Go on, Miss, I won’t shoot you,” replied Viljoen, whereupon she again queried his motives before moving away. While this brief interlude was happening, Phillipus Vermeulen rushed out twice and dragged Seboli and Matyalana into cover, while Drude was prudent enough to escape when there was a lull in the firing.

The unarmed Constable Van Zyl once again attempted to stop Viljoen by creeping up on him and then trying to tip him off the balcony and into the street, but was noticed and immediately fired upon, the bullet singeing him. Viljoen threatened to kill him if he carried on interfering, so Van Zyl sat back and lit up a cigarette, Viljoen asking him for a cigarette, which was then given to him. It was now only Du Toit firing into the street, not at anyone or anything in particular, but police sniper Piet Grobbelaar was not to know that. His first shot had been a little too high, so he adjusted his sights and the second shot hit Du Toit in the head, Du Toit collapsing unconscious on the balcony, blood streaming from the wound.

Viljoen saw his comrade fall, and with that decided that it was now the time for his final act. Initially pointing a revolver at Van Zyl, he then turned his head and put the barrel against his ear and pulled the trigger. He dropped down dead.

Van Zyl sprang into action and, waving a white handkerchief at the window, signaled the end of the shooting spree and what became known as the “siege of Transvaal Road”. He was lucky as Gunter had decided to shoot the next head that came into view and it was by mere chance that he spotted the white handkerchief being waved. Du Toit, wounded in the fleshy part of the head, soon recovered consciousness and was taken into custody, while Viljoen’s body was removed to the mortuary.

During the wait for Du Toit’s trial, Matyalana died from his wounds, and Du Toit went before Justice C. Botha and a jury on a charge of murder, despite the fact that he personally had not killed or wounded anyone, and that it had been Viljoen who did the damage according to the witness in the room, Van Zyl. David Cohen, for the defence, pleaded that it was Viljoen who had forced Du Toit to be his accessory, and the plea was successful, the jury returning a verdict of not guilty. The Judge had no alternative but to release Du Toit, but only after giving him a stiff warning about any future criminal activities. The police however, were not so lenient and he was dismissed from the force after an official enquiry. Sadly for van Zyl, the man who survived the shoot-out and a sudden death from both inside and out by being in the same room, he did not live out the month, dying on 31 May from pneumonia.

Eighty odd years later, it appears odd that Du Toit did in fact, get away with little or no punishment for firing a weapon at the very people he had pledged to protect, and that the same people, the public, declared him innocent of any wrongdoing.

UPDATED: 26/04/2018

26 April 1874, SA cricketer James Anderson born.
26 April 1915, 2nd Battalion Kimberley Regiment suffers losses at Trekkopjes, SWA.
26 April 1932, The Transvaal Road Police station siege ends in the killer policeman Christoffel Viljoen being shot dead, a passerby being killed by Viljoen, and another policeman, being severely wounded.
26 April 1941, Major Ambrose Wright is first Barkly West resident to die in war, killed in flying accident.
26 April 1952, No 2 Location re-named Galeshewe.

(Pictured are the Kimberley Regiment graves at Trekkopjes in 1915 and again more recently).

DID YOU KNOW

The 2nd Kimberley Regiment left the main camp (in German SWA) together with the 2nd ILH on 10 February 1915, heading alongside the railway in the direction of Arandis. There were many hold-ups to explode booby traps left by the Germans, but with some good rain falling, the temperatures were fine to march along at a brisk pace and Arandis was reached on the 12th. 

PT-Kimberley_Regiment_Graves_at_Trekkopjes-1915

Kimberley Regiment Graves at Trekkopjes

The German aeroplane visited Arandis on the 15th, but despite some aggressive anti-aircraft fire from the Kimberley Regiment the German plane still dropped its two bombs and made off – no casualties being reported from either side.

Instructions to march to Trekkopjes – some 75 miles from Swakopmund – was given on 23 April and at 06h00 the column moved off, the Regiment reaching their destination at 10h15 after a breakfast stop. At the time the 3 Brigade forces were quite spread out – the 1st ILH and 1st Rhodesia Regiment were at Arandis, 20 miles west of Swakopmund on the Trekkopjes side, the Brigade artillery was at Swakopmund, while Colonel Skinner had moved to Trekkopjes with 3 squadrons ILH, the 2nd Kimberley Regiment and the 2nd Transvaal Scottish.

On the night of 25/26 April Colonel Skinner was on a reconnaissance with the Imperial Light Horse (and some Transvaal Scottish) to Ebony some 18 miles eastwards of Trekkopjes, having left Colonel T Rodger of Kimberley in command at the base camp at Trekkopjes. At 01h00 on the 26th a German force was observed marching towards the camp. The heavy dust storm did not allow Rodger to ascertain numbers, but the dust did allow Skinner to return post-haste to camp without being noticed. At 03h30 Rodger telephoned GHQ at Swakopmund explaining the situation and requested artillery support. A train with two 4-inch guns plus two squadrons Southern Mounted Rifles was sent immediately, while at about the same time Skinner called in to the Trekkopjes camp the 1st Rhodesia Regiment from Arandis who had been guarding the railway line to his rear.

At 05h45 the Germans destroyed the line to the north of Trekkopjes, a pointless exercise, as it did not deflect from any Union reinforcement coming from the south towards Trekkopjes.

PT-Kimberley_Regiment_Graves_at_Trekkopjes-1915

Kimberley Regiment Graves at Trekkopjes

Two batteries of German guns approached from the north and from 5000 yards shelled the camp coupled to an infantry advance, this at 07h40. This shelling lasted the entire battle, but despite this, the infantry fire from the shallow trenches as well as fire from nine armoured cars put paid to all assaults by the Germans, who at best, managed to get within 50 yards of the Union forces. The Rhodesia Regiment had arrived shortly before the German attack and had entrenched to the left of the 2nd Kimberley Regiment.

There were four assaults by the Germans. The first was against the Rhodesians who had just detrained; the second was against the Kimberley Regiment, the third against the right side of the Kimberley Regiment and the left side of the Transvaal Scottish, while the fourth was against the Transvaal Scottish.

Captain DR Hunt of the 2nd Transvaal Scottish said that:

“The 2nd Kimberleys suffered most on our side. They had a trench next to our left, with a high built up wall which made a good artillery mark for the Germans and we could see they were getting it hot, but they stuck well to their position.

The Germans withdrew from the field of battle at 10h30, coming under fire from the Brigade anti-aircraft guns.”

On the day’s work, the whole Brigade raises its hats to the Kimberley Regiment.

STRENGTH AND CASUALTIES OF THE BATTLE

Sources vary in their details.

The Germans had between 800 and 1500 men.
South African and Rhodesian forces numbered plus/minus 1500 men.

A minimum of 11 South African and Rhodesian soldiers were killed or died of wounds, while between 29 and 32 were wounded. The Germans lost between 9 and 14 killed, with 14 wounded and some 13 were taken prisoner.

Killed in Action or Died of Wounds

Kimberley Regiment

Anderson, WE Private
Cameron, TA Lance Corporal 
Filler, DA Lance Corporal
Good, AH Private (Died of Wounds same day)
Harrison, F Captain
Lambie, Alec Private
Manning, FE Private (Died of Wounds 10 May 1915)
Wells, JR Lance Corporal

1st Battalion Rhodesia Regiment

Hollingsworth, F Lieutenant 31 years old

Transvaal Scottish

Cameron, WM Lt
Reid, GS Private

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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