The De La Rey Plaque in Langlaagte

I went looking for this memorial in August 2011 at Langlaagte Station. Admittedly this is (or was) an odd place to find a plaque, but the place has significance in the death of General Koos De La Rey and possibly the South West African Campaign in World War One. The place where he died was originally marked with a plaque which referred to him as “Die LEEU van Wes-Transvaal”. It was at the entrance of Langlaagte Station in Deville Street in Paarlshoop,

Langlaagte Station, site of original plaques

Langlaagte Station, site of original plaques

The remains of the De la Rey Plaque

The remains of the De la Rey Plaque

 Unfortunately, the plaque was gone, probably stolen for scrap metal.  leaving behind a varnished piece of wood and a smaller brass plate that read “Herdenking. Rapportryersfeeste 1949”.  All I could really do was mark this as an extinct monument.

Update: (27/01/2015)

New plaques were installed at the site in Sept 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of General De la Rey. René De Villiers was able to help me with images of the plaques as well as other related material.

The new plaque installed at the station

The new plaque installed at the station (opens in a new window)

Two other plaques have been installed at the site.

The second plaque (new window)

The second plaque (new window)

Third plaque

Third plaque

René also supplied the following information about the events around that time.

“General Koos de la Rey

By any measure the political situation in South Africa this year is unsettling. But it pales against the political turmoil in the country one hundred years ago in 1914. Following the assassination of the Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz-Ferdinand in June of that year in Sarajevo, the First World War (at the time referred to as The Great War) broke out on the 28th July 1914. Because of its connection with Belgium, Great Britain was drawn into the war within a week, on 3rd August; and by early September of that year the world was introduced to the horrors of trench warfare.

In South Africa, the Union Government  formed  in 1910 under the premiership of Genl. Louis Botha and with Genl. Jan Smuts as Minister of Defence  sided with Great Britain, and parliament in Cape Town resolved to invade German West Africa (today known as Namibia).  The Anglo Boer War had ended a scant 12 years before on 31st May 1902, and some of the “Bitter einder” generals  on the Boer side saw the Great War as an opportunity to reclaim their independence from Britain. Talk of an armed rebellion was in the air, although the protagonists referred to themselves as merely protesters. The immensely influential Genl. Koos de la Rey, fondly referred to as “Die Leeu van die Wes-Transvaal” and the hero of many battles in the Anglo-Boer War had not openly declared his intentions. 

In the meantime the four-member Foster Gang of bank robbers – predating the notorious American pair Bonnie and Clyde by some thirty years –  was active on the Reef, and various road blocks had been set up in and around Johannesburg in an attempt to catch the gang. One such road block was positioned  in Langlaagte where Deville Road (recently renamed Albertina Sisulu) meets Du Toit Street. On the evening of 15th September 1914, Genls. De la Rey and Christiaan Beyers were on their way, by car, from Pretoria, ostensibly to Potchefstroom. Beyers had, just that morning, resigned his post as Commandant-General of the Citizen Force, and the two generals, encountering the road blocks, were, apparently, under the impression that Jan Smuts was attempting to detain and question Genl. Beyers. They ordered their driver to ignore the roadblocks and at the Langlaagte roadblock one of the constables on duty fired a shot, reportedly aiming at the right hand back wheel of the car. The ricochet bullet entered the rear of the car, and a fragment thereof lodged in Genl. De La Rey’s heart, killing him instantly.

The armed rebellion eventually petered out, but to this day there is speculation about the influence Genl. De la Rey would have had, had he joined the movement. Conspiracy theories also persist to this day as to who was responsible for his death. The unanimous opinion, then and now,  is that there is no doubt that this tragic incident had a profound influence on the events of the day. As such, it is fitting that the centenary of the event be commemorated, and arrangements have been made to have a wreath laying ceremony on Sunday 14th September 2014 at 14:00 at the site in question.

Generaal Koos de la Rey
Gemeet aan enige maatstaaf is die politieke situasie in Suid Afrika hierdie jaar onseker. Maar dit is maar bleek in vergelyking met die politieke onstuimighede in die land een honderd jaar gelede in 1914. In opvolging tot die sluipmoord van die Kroonprins van die Austro-Hongaarse Reik, Franz Ferdinand in Junie daardie jaar in Sarajevo breek die Eerste Wereld Oorlog (eertyds bekend as The Great War) uit op 28 Julie 1914. As gevolg van sy verbintenis met Belgie, is Groot-Brittanje binne ‘n week by die oorlog ingesleep op 3 Augustus 1914; en teen die eerste week in September daardie jaar  het die wereld kennis gemaak met die gruwel van loopgraaf-oorlog.

In Suid-Afrika het die Unie Regering wat in 1910 gevorm is onder die premierskap van Genl. Louis Botha en met Genl. Jan Smuts as Minister van Verdediging Groot-Brittanje se kant gekies; en het die parlement in Kaapstad besluit om Duits-Wes Afrika (vandag Namibie) in te val. Die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog het skaars 12 jaar tevore op 31 Mei 1902 geeindig  en sommige van die bittereinder generaals aan die Boere kant het die geleentheid gesien om hul onafhanklikheid van Brittanje te herwin. Sprake van ‘n gewapende rebellie was in die lug, alhoewel die leiers na hulself verwys het slegs as protesteerders. Die onmeetbaar invloedryke Genl. Koos de la Rey, na wie liefdevol verwys is as die Leeu van Wes-Transvaal, en die held van menige slagveld tydens die Tweede Vryheids Oorlog het nie openlik sy voornemens bekend gemaak nie.

Intussen was die vierledige Fosterbende bankrowers – wat die berugte Amerikaanse paar Bonnie en Clyde met sowat dertig jaar vooruitgeloop het – aktief op die Rand, en verskeie padblokkades is in en om Johannesburg opgestel in ‘n poging om die bende vas te trek.  Een sodanige padblokkade was opgestel in Langlaagte waar Devilleweg (onlangs hernoem Albertina Sisulu) aansluit by Du Toitstraat.  Op die aand van 15 September 1914 was Genls. De la Rey en Christiaan Beyers  per motor op pad van Pretoria, oenskynlik na Potchefstroom. Beyers het pas daardie oggend sy pos as Kommandant-Generaal van die Burgermag bedank, en die twee generaals was, toe hulle op die padblokkades afkom, blykbaar onder die indruk dat Jan Smuts probeer het om Genl Beyers aan te hou en te ondervra. Hulle het hul bestuurder beveel om die padblokkades te ignoreer en by die Langlaagte blokade het een van die konstabels op diens ‘n skoot afgevuur, soos berig, gemik na die regter agterwiel van die motor. Die opslagkoeel het die motor van agter binnegedring ,   ‘n fragment daarvan het in Genl. de la Rey se hart vasgeslaan, en hom onmiddelik gedood.

Die gewapende rebellie het uiteindelik doodgeloop, maar tot vandag word daar gespekuleer oor die invloed wat Genl. de la Rey daarop sou gehad het indien hy by die beweging aangesluit het. Sameswerings teorie volhard ook tot vandag oor wie vir sy dood aanspreeklik was. Die eenparige opinie, toe en nou, is dat hierdie tragiese gebeurtenis ‘n diepgaande invloed gehad het op die gebeure van die dag. As sulks is dit gepas dat die eeufees van die gebeurtenis herdenk word, en reelings is getref om ‘n kranslegging seremonie op die betrokke plek te hou op Sondag 14 September 2014 om 14 :00. “

I first found out about the new plaques on the Heritage Portal. Special thanks must go to René De Villiers for the images and her notes and speech, as well as Bev Small, and James Ball for their help in contact René, and to Boervolk Erfenis Bewaaring for the new plaque. Langlaagte Station can be found at Google Earth co-ordinates   26° 12.117’S, 27° 59.434’E

© DRW 2011-2018. Created 15/08/2011. Moved to blog 07/02/2014. Updated 29/01/2015

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