More Information about the 31 soldiers killed at Papkuilsfontein

I would like to thank Peter Slingsby from for the following information contained on his CD-Rom Beyond The Cederberg. Regarding this mystery.

The turn off to Papkuilsfontein is at the bottom of the Nardouw, on the eastern

side. The road is rough but passable for all vehicles; please close the gates

behind you. After four kilometres the road passes through the farmyard of

Saaiplaas farm. This farm, where the old mill has gears carved from Cederberg

cedar wood, is used as a base by Wildthing Adventures, a river-rafting

organization. After another four kilometres the road reaches a gate with the sign,

“Bundi”. Bundi is an outdoor adventure organization that uses Papkuilsfontein as

a base. Papkuilsfontein is an interesting old farm; the oldest house there was built

in 1839. It stands alongside an enormous old pepper tree which was apparently

planted at the same time as the house was built. Papkuilsfontein has simple

accommodation suitable for large groups, such as schools or students. There are

bunk-rooms, an outdoor cooking area and an ablution block

A few hundred metres from the farm house is a lonely graveyard, shrouded

in mystery. The farm owner, Mr Richard Kotze, showed us the graves, piles of

stone laid out in neat rows. Mr Kotze told us that old people on the farm had

told him that these were the graves of English soldiers, killed in the Anglo-Boer

War of 1899 to 1902. However, there is no memorial or inscription of any kind.

Surely, we thought, such a number of graves deserved some memorial. Mr Kotze

said that he thought that there were about forty graves; we did not count them.

All the graves were of adults, which suggested soldiers killed in battle, as a farm cemetery or the graves of                                people who died in an epidemic, for example,would include all sizes, graves of children too.

Later we contacted Mr Christo Paulsen of the Vanrhynsdorp Tourist Office, who is the

local expert on the Anglo-Boer War.  Christo showed us an extract from notes about the

operations of Manie Maritz, the Boer commando leader who harassed the British

in this area in 1901. According to the notes, on 27th July 1901 Maritz captured a patrol of 31 British Yeomanry at the Doring River, north east of Clanwilliam. “Captured” may be a euphemism:

Maritz apparently sometimes did not take prisoners. The information from Christo

seemed promising; however, British records state that on 27th July 1901

there was a skirmish near the Doring River involving the 22nd Battery of the

Imperial Yeomanry. Only one soldier was reportedly killed, with oneseverely wounded and one slightly

wounded. We returned to Papkuilsfontein to count – and map – the graves. There are exactly thirty-one

graves – the same number reported by Maritz. If thirty-one soldiers were killed, why did the British claim that there was

only one death? Even given the tendency of warring parties to exaggerate or minimise their losses, this seemed excessive. The layout of the graveyard may provide a clue. One of the graves is situated a little away from the others. Could

it be that this was an English officer who was in charge of Coloured or colonial

troops? The British were notoriously bad at recording losses of the Coloured,

Black and colonial White soldiers (even Australians and Canadians) who assisted their war effort.

The 1905/1906 Rebellion was an offshoot of the war; the rebels were

disillusioned Boers who refused to accept British hegemony. Two of these rebels

sought refuge at Papkuilsfontein after one had been shot in the leg in a skirmish

with a British platoon. Aware that the British soldiers would be looking for them,

they hid in the Papkuilsfontein pepper tree. From there they ambushed five

Coloured soldiers who came in search of them. One soldier escaped but the

other four were shot by the rebels, who then ran away across the Doring River.

When Mr Richard Kotze moved to the farm in the 1970’s there was a

grizzled old shepherd living there. He showed Mr Kotze an ancient pair of boots he had, which

he said he had taken from one of the dead soldiers when soldiers when he was a youth.

After this I cotacted Steve Wyatt of SAHRA (South African Heritage Resources Agency) this is what he wrote:

Hello Bryan Chitty,

Your email SAHRA has been sent to me.

In my database of all the Imperial soldiers who died in the Anglo-Boer war there is no information regarding the 31 British soldiers who are buried near Clanwilliam. (I have checked both the location and the regiment as given by you).

Best wishes,

Steve Watt


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