Danie Theron as a Hero of the Anglo-Boer War

The Just and Divine Right of the Boer to Stand Against British

On the 25th of April 1899 Danie Theron, a Krugersdorp attorney, was found guilty of assaulting Mr W. F. Monneypenny, the editor of The Star newspaper, and fined £20. Monneypenny, who had only been in the South Africa for two months, had written a highly derogatory editorial against the "ignorant Dutch". Theron pleaded extreme provocation and his fine was paid by his supporters in the courtroom.

So starts the story of one of the Anglo-Boer War's most illustrious heroes.

Danie Theron and the Cycling Corps

Danie Theron, who had served in the 1895 Mmalebôgô (Malaboch) War, was a true patriot - believing in the just and divine right of the Boer to stand against British interference: "Our strength lies in the justice of our cause and in our trust in help from above."1

Before the outbreak of war, Theron and a friend, J. P. "Koos" Jooste (a cycling champion), asked the Transvaal government if they could raise a cycling corps. (Bicycles had first been used by the US army in the Spanish War, 1898, when a hundred Black cyclists under the command of Lt James Moss were rushed in to help with riot control in Havana, Cuba.) It was Theron's opinion that using bicycles for dispatch riding and reconnaissance would save horses for use in combat. In order to gain the necessary permission Theron and Jooste had to convince the highly skeptical burghers that bicycles were as good, if not better, than horses. In the end, it took a 75 kilometre race from Pretoria to the Crocodile River Bridge2 in which Jooste, on a bicycle, beat an experienced horse rider, to convince Commandant-General Piet Joubert and President J. P. S. Kruger that the idea was sound.

Each of the 108 recruits to the "Wielrijeders Rapportgangers Corps" (Cycle Dispatch Rider Corps) was supplied with a bicycle, shorts, a revolver and, on special occasion, a light carbine. Later they received binoculars, tents, tarpaulins and wire cutters. Theron's corps distinguished themselves in Natal and on the western front, and even before the war had started had provided information about British troop movements beyond the Transvaal's western border.1

By Christmas 1899, Capt Danie Theron's dispatch rider corps were experiencing poor deliveries of supplies at their outposts on the Tugela. On the 24th December Theron complained to the Supplies Commission that they were severely neglected. He explained that his corps, who were always in the vanguard, were far from any railway line where supplies were unloaded and his wagons regularly returned with the message that there were no vegetables since everything had been carted off to the laagers surrounding Ladysmith. His complaint was that his corps did both dispatch riding and reconnaissance work, and that they were also called upon to fight the enemy. He wanted to offer them better sustenance than dried bread, meat and rice. The result of this plea earned Theron the nickname of "Kaptein Dik-eet" (Captain Gorge-yourself) because he catered so well for his corps' stomachs!1

The Scouts Are Moved to the Western Front

As the Anglo-Boer War progressed, Capt Danie Theron and his scouts were moved to the western front and the disastrous confrontation between the British forces under Field Marshal Roberts and the Boer forces under General Piet Cronje. After a long and hard struggle up the Modder River by the British forces, the siege of Kimberly had finally been broken and Cronje was falling back with a vast train of wagons and many women and children - the families of the Commandos. General Cronje almost slipped through the British cordon, but eventually was forced to form a laager by the Modder near Paardeberg, where they dug in ready for a siege. Roberts, temporarily indisposed with the 'flu, passed command to Kitchener, who faced with a drawn-out siege or an all-out infantry attack, chose the latter. Kitchener also had to deal with rearguard attacks by Boer reinforcements and the approach of further Boer forces under General C. R. de Wet.

On the 25th of February, 1900, during the Battle of Paardeberg, Capt. Danie Theron bravely crossed the British lines and entered Cronje's laager in an effort to co-ordinate a breakout. Theron, initially traveling by bicycle2, had to crawl for much of the way, and is reported to have had a conversation with British guards before crossing the river. Cronje was willing to consider a breakout but felt it necessary to put the plan before a council of war. The following day, Theron sneaked back to De Wet at Poplar Grove and informed him that the council had rejected the breakout. Most of the horses and draught animals had been killed and the burgers were worried about the safety of the women and children in the laager. Additionally, officers had threatened to stay in their trenches and surrender if Cronje gave the order to breakout. On the 27th, despite a passionate plea to his officers by Cronje to wait just one more day, Cronje was forced to surrender. The humiliation of surrender was made much worse because this was Majuba Day. This was one of the main turning points of the war for the British.

On the 2nd of March a council of war at Poplar Grove gave Theron permission to form a Scout Corps, consisting of about 100 men, to be called the "Theron se Verkenningskorps" (Theron Scouting Corps) and subsequently known by the initials TVK. Curiously, Theron now advocated the use of horses rather than bicycles, and each member of his new corps was provided with two horses. Koos Jooste was given command of the Cycling Corps.

Theron achieved a certain notoriety in his remaining few months. The TVK were responsible for destroying railway bridges and captured several British officers. As a result of his endeavors a newspaper article, 7th April 1900, reported that Lord Roberts labeled him "the chief thorn in the side of the British" and had put a bounty on his head of £1,000, dead or alive. By July Theron was considered such an important target that the Theron and his scouts were attacked by General Broadwood and 4 000 troops. A running battle ensued during which the TVK lost eight scouts killed and the British lost five killed and fifteen wounded. Theron's catalogue of deeds is vast considering how little time he had left. Trains were captured, railway tracks dynamited, prisoners freed from a British jail, he had earned the respect of his men and his superiors.

Theron's Last Battle

On the 4th September 1900 in the Gatsrand, near Fochville, Commandant Danie Theron was planning an attack with General Liebenberg's commando on General Hart's column. Whilst out scouting to discover why Leibenberg was not at the agreed position, Theron ran into seven members of Marshall's Horse. During the resultant fire fight Theron killed three and wounded the other four. The column's escort was alerted by the firing and immediately charged up the hill, but Theron managed to avoid capture. Finally the column's artillery, six field guns and 4.7 inch navel gun, were unhitched and the hill bombarded. The legendary Republican hero was killed in an inferno of lyddite and shrapnel3. Eleven days later, the body of Commandant Danie Theron was exhumed by his men and later reburied next to his late fiancée, Hannie Neethling, at her father's farm of Eikenhof, Klip River.

Commandant Danie Theron's death earned him immortal fame in Afrikaner history. On learning of Theron's death, De Wet said: "Men as lovable or as valiant there might be, but where shall I find a man who combined so many virtues and good qualities in one person? Not only had he the heart of a lion but he also possessed consummate tact and the greatest energy... Danie Theron answered the highest demands that could be made on a warrior"1. South Africa remembered its hero by naming their School of Military Intelligence after him.


1. Fransjohan Pretorius, Life on Commando during the Anglo-Boer war 1899 - 1902, Human and Rousseau, Cape Town, 479 pages, ISBN 0 7981 3808 4.

2. D. R. Maree, Bicycles in the Anglo Boer war of 1899-1902. Military History Journal, Vol. 4 No. 1 of the South African Military History Society.

3. Pieter G. Cloete, The Anglo-Boer War: a chronology, J.P van de Walt, Pretoria,351 pages, ISBN 0 7993 2632 1.

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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Danie Theron as a Hero of the Anglo-Boer War." ThoughtCo, Oct. 9, 2021, thoughtco.com/danie-theron-hero-of-the-anglo-boer-war-43575. Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2021, October 9). Danie Theron as a Hero of the Anglo-Boer War. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/danie-theron-hero-of-the-anglo-boer-war-43575 Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "Danie Theron as a Hero of the Anglo-Boer War." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/danie-theron-hero-of-the-anglo-boer-war-43575 (accessed June 9, 2023).