Top honour for Karoo soldier: John Clements of Middelburg

The Victoria Cross (VC) was awarded to 78 members of the British Armed Forces for bravery in action during the Anglo-Boer War. One of the recipients of this highest and most prestigious award for gallantry was John James Clements, a son of the Karoo. Clements was born in Middelburg, on June 19, 1872, and shortly after the outbreak of the war he enlisted in Rimington’s Guides at Noupoort on October 20, 1899.  Corporal Clements was a popular, well-liked man among the troops.  According to The Victoria Cross, Colonel Rimington said: “South African born, he had a splendid physique, was a good boxer and always ready for a ‘scrap’.”  He lived up to this when his scouting party was attacked at Strydenburg on February 24. 1900. Twenty-eight year old Clements was shot through the lungs by some Boers. According to the London Gazette of June 4, 190, he fell to the ground and lay there bleeding badly. The Boers came towards him and called upon him to surrender, however, instead of submitting, he leapt to his feet, dashed at the Boers and shot three with his revolver. He then forced all five in the party to surrender to the unwounded men of Rimington’s Guides. For this immensely brave act he was awarded the Victoria Cross. It was presented to him in London on July 1, 1902.  Clements recovered from his wounds and went on to serve in the First World War.   He died on June 18, 1937.


In presenting the Victoria Cross to Clements, Major-General Bruce Hamilton said:  I have personally enquired into the particulars of this case from those who were present, and especially from the late Lieutenant Harvey, who commanded the party. His testimony on such a matter is absolutely reliable. He told me that when he and Clements were wounded only two members of his party remained – intelligence officers Carlyle and Wilson. They were facing five unwounded Boers at close quarters, and that they would probably have been obliged to surrender had not Clements, who with conspicuous courage and devotion, despite the fact that he was already dangerously wounded, dashed among them and shot three of them with his revolver. As a direct result of Clements’s action our party escaped being made prisoners, and instead we captured the Boers, who surrendered by raising their hands in the air. We brought them to our camp, where two eventually died. The attack took place near a farm about 8 km south of Strydenburg.  This was not Clements’s only courageous deed. According to his superior officers, he constantly risked his life while out on scouting work.


Clements went to King Edward’s Coronation as a member of the Damant’s Horse Contingent, and was discharged on his return on October 15, 1902. He bought a farm near Newcastle in Natal.  He enlisted in Botha’s Scouts for the German South-West Africa Campaign and, at the outbreak of the World War l, enlisted again and served until the autumn of 1915.  He returned to South Africa and to his farm, where he died at the age of 65. He was survived by his wife and eight children.


© Rose’s Roundup,January 2012 (No 216)

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