General Benjamin (Ben) Johannes Viljoen
Born in the Cape in 1868. He moved to the ZAR aged 16. He joined the Transvaal Mounted Police in Krugersdorp, and fought the Jameson Raiders in 1896. He also worked as a journalist. He served as a member of the Second Volksraad in 1898. At the start of the Boer War he served as Commandant of the Johannesburg Commando. He fought in the Battle of Elandslaagte and narrowly escaped capture. He fought in the battle of Modderspruit, Ladysmith, Colenso, on the Tugela and at Vaal Kranz. Winston Churchill described his capture of the Lady Roberts canon at Vaal Kranz “A Maxim-Vickers gun abandoned by the Boers in a donga was about to fall into British hands, when that notorious ruffian, the fearless Viljoen himself, brought back a team of horses and escaped with the gun, threading his way between the red flames and black clouds of lyddite shells which the British artillery concentrated on him – a feat that, were it done by a British officer, he would assuredly be covered with decorations”. After the siege of Ladysmith was lifted and the British started to move northwards out of Natal, he took up a position on the Biggarsberg mountains with the intention of stopping Lord Dundonald’s advance. He was then withdrawn to Johannesburg to assist in planning its defence. He was in action again at Diamond Hill. He was promoted to General in June 1900. General Botha asked him to hold the approaches to Middelburg at Bronkhorstspruit. At Bergendal, he commanded the centre of the Boer position. Later, during the guerrilla phase, he operated in the east and north east of Transvaal. He narrowly escaped capture by Lieutenant-General Sir Bindon-Blood in April 1901. In August 1901, he protested strongly to General Blood about the use of blacks in the war. He was captured near Lydenburg in January 1902 and sent to St Helena. in St Helena he wrote his autobiographical ‘My Reminiscences of the Anglo Boer War’. In a foreword to the book Col Theodore Brinckman, officer in charge of the prisoners of war in St Helena, wrote: “The qualities which particularly endeared this brave and justly-famous Boer officer to us were his straightforwardness and unostentatious manner, his truthfulness, and the utter absence of affectation that distinguishes him”. General Viljoen emigrated to the United States in 1904 to establish a Boer colony in Mexico. He also wrote the books Under the Vierkleur and An Exiled General whilst living in the US. He died in 1917, at his farm in La Mesa and is buried at the Masonic Cemetery in La Mesa, New Mexico.The grave of Genl. Ben Viljoen at the Masonic Cemetery in La Mesa, New Mexico.