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2 April 1882|
|Died||19 October 1944
|Occupation||Soldier, attorney, author, cabinet minister|
|Spouse(s)||Leila Agnes Buissiné Wright (1887-1959)|
|Children||Francis William Reitz|
|Parents||Francis William Reitz, Blanka Thesen|
While in exile in Madagascar, he wrote about his experience of the Second Boer War (1899–1902), so that, when it was eventually edited and published in 1929 as Commando: A Boer Journal Of The Boer War, it still had the freshness and detail of an account written soon after the war. Not only is the account very well written and an important source for the Second Boer War, but his family connections (his father was State Secretary of the Transvaal) and sheer luck provide for a unique account because he was present at virtually every major event of the War.
Second Boer War
At the age of 17, while visiting his father in Pretoria, at the start of the Second Boer War, the Field-Cornet's office said he was too young to fight and refused to enlist him. He met his father with the President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger, who took him straight to the room of the Commandant-General Piet Joubert. Joubert personally handed him a new Mauser carbine and a bandolier of ammunition. He and one of his brothers then joined the Boer forces "by virtue of having thrown our belongings through a carriage window and climbing aboard".
During the initial phase of the War, he fought several battles, including the engagement at Surprise Hill (Vaalkop) and in the Boer victory at Spionkop. After a string of Boer defeats in set-piece warfare and the British capture of Pretoria, Reitz was one of the fighters who remained in the field. He joined General Smuts who decided to conduct guerrilla operations, not in the territories of the Boer republics, but in the Cape Province. They faced immense difficulties, both from British forces and from nature, and when the majority did break through to the Cape they were on their last legs.
Battle of Elands River
On 17 September 1901, Smuts' commando encountered the 17th Lancers in the vicinity of Tarkastad. Smuts realised that the Lancers' camp was their one opportunity to re-equip themselves with horses, food and clothing. A fierce fight, subsequently to be known as the Battle of Elands River, took place, with the Lancers being caught in a cross-fire and suffering heavy casualties. Stunned by the onslaught, the remaining Lancers put up a white flag. Reitz encountered Captain Sandeman, the Lancers' commander, and his lieutenant Lord Vivian among the wounded.
In his book Commando, Reitz recounts how Lord Vivian pointed out his bivouac tent and told him it would be worth his while to take a look at it. Soon, Reitz, who that morning had been wearing a grain-bag, riding a foundered horse, and carrying an old Mauser Gewehr 1888 rifle with only two rounds of ammunition left, was dressed in a cavalry tunic and riding breeches, with a superb mount, a Lee-Metford sporting rifle, and full bandoliers. Reitz reports that he met Lord Vivian again in London in 1935, on excellent terms.
(Thomas Pakenham, in his introduction to the 1983 Jonathan Ball edition of Commando, reports a more elaborate story. In this touching account, Vivian overcame Reitz's reluctance to take the spoils of victory, and presented Reitz's original rifle to him in London in 1943. As Vivian died in 1940 this is impossible.)
At the end of the war, after remarkable adventures, Smuts' commando had made itself a relatively comfortable base in the west of the Cape Colony and was besieging the garrison of Okiep, Northern Cape.
Defeat and exile
Reitz formed part of the negotiating delegation from his commando, given passage to meet the delegates from the other commandos still in the field. He reports that "nothing could have proved more clearly how nearly the Boer cause was spent than these starving, ragged men clad in skins or sacking, their bodies covered in sores, from lack of salt or food, and their appearance was a great shock to us, who came from the better-conditioned forces in the Cape." Reitz's father was among the signatories of the surrender, but only in his official capacity; he refused to sign himself and was given two weeks to settle his affairs in Pretoria before leaving the country. Deneys felt that he had to stand by his father and so also refused to sign. He left for Madagascar with his brother, where they eked out a living convoying goods by ox-transport "hard work in dank fever-stricken forests and across mountains sodden with eternal rain". In his spare time there he wrote Commando, dated 1903 but not published until 1929.
Return to South Africa, active service, and public life
On the advice of his wartime commander, Jan Smuts, he returned to South Africa in 1906. The malaria he had contracted in Madagascar had so severely affected his health that he collapsed unconscious upon his return to South Africa. He was nursed back to health over three years by Jan Smuts' wife, Isie. He then completed his studies and in 1908 in Heilbron began his successful career as a lawyer. In 1914 he helped Smuts suppress the Maritz Rebellion in the Free State, and he served on Smuts' army staff in the "German West campaign" (in the German colony of South-West Africa) and in the "German East campaign" (in German East Africa) where he rose to command a mounted regiment. On the Western Front during World War I he commanded the First Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers until he was severely wounded early in 1918. He returned to active service to lead his men to the Rhine after the Armistice.
He joined Smut's South African Party, becoming the member of the House of Assembly of South Africa for Bloemfontein South, defeating Colin Steyn of the National Party by 101 votes in the first of their three contests for this seat. His principles during his political career included loyalty to General Smuts, loyalty to the British Empire as guarantor of South African freedom, and harmony between Dutch and English South Africans. He opposed the Ossewa Brandwag organization, which planned to take control of South Africa as soon as Britain had been crushed.
In 1920 he married Agnes Bussinné Leila Wright (Cape Town, 13 December 1887 - Cape Town, 29 December 1959). She was a social reformer, an outspoken advocate of women's rights and suffrage for women, and the first woman member of the Assembly (representative for Parktown in Johannesburg, 1933–1944).
On 3 August 1920 Steyn again stood against him in the same constituency. Reitz won again, this time with a majority of 141. In the general election of 1921, Reitz and Steyn contested Bloemfontein South once more. This time Steyn was returned with a majority of 47.
When the Smuts government fell in 1924, Reitz returned to his law practice. In subsequent years he visited the Kalahari, Kaokoveld, Congo and Angola. His last book, No Outspan (1943), describes this period.
The South African Party formed a coalition government with the National Party in 1933, next year establishing the United Party. In this government Reitz accepted the office of minister of agriculture and irrigation, later minister of agriculture. In 1939, he became Minister of Native Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister until 1943, when he was appointed as South African High Commissioner to London
Three volumes of an autobiography:
- "Commando: A Boer Journal Of The Boer War", first published in Great Britain in 1929, ISBN 0-571-08778-7
- "Trekking On", dealing with the Boer War through World War I, and
- "No Outspan", which covers life in South African politics between the wars and concludes with him as Deputy Prime Minister of South Africa.
Also published in one volume:
- "The Trilogy of Deneys Reitz", by Deneys Reitz, Wolfe Publishing Co., 1994 (Reprint), ISBN 1-879356-39-2
- "Deneys Reitz". ancestry24.com. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
- Reitz, Deneys; JC Smuts (2008). Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War. CruGuru. p. 336. ISBN 978-1-920265-68-7.
- Commando. Deneys Reitz. London 1929. No ISBN
- No Outspan. Deneys Reitz. Faber and Faber, London, 1943. No ISBN.
- Shearing, Taffy; David Shearing (2000). General Smuts and his long ride. Sedgefield: Anglo-Boer War Commemoration Cape Commando Series No 3. p. 248. ISBN 0-620-26750-X.
- Smith, RW (June 2004). "Modderfontein 17 September 1901". Military History Journal (Johannesburg: South African Military History Society) 13 (1). SA ISSN 0026-4016. Retrieved 30 April 2009.
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