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Lifetime: 1876 - 1964 Passed: ≈ 60 years ago




South African Republic

Johanna Brandt

Johanna Brandt was a South African propagandist of Afrikaner nationalism, spy during the Boer War, prophet and writer on controversial health subjects.

Johanna van Warmelo was born on 18 November 1876, to Pastor Nicolaas Jacobus van Warmelo and his second wife Maria Magdalena Elizabeth Maré. Her father was a Dutch Reformed minister from the Netherlands whilst her mother's family had been early emigrants to southern Africa.

Brandt was educated for two years at the Good Hope Seminary for Young Ladies in Cape Town. When her father died in 1892, Johanna and her mother set out for a six-month tour of Europe.

At the start of the Second Boer War in 1899, Johanna volunteered along with three of her brothers. She served as a nurse until the British captured Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal. The Boers did not immediately surrender, however, and a long guerrilla war began.

It was during this second phase of the Boer War that Brandt, who was living in Pretoria, became active for the Boer cause. She organised women to spy on British officers and hid prisoners who were on the run. It was her actions that led to W. T. Stead running an article in the Review of Reviews about the appalling conditions in the Irene Concentration Camp, which contributed to a decline in British public support for the war.

After the war she wrote her own account of the Irene Concentration Camp, but her most well-known book was The Petticoat Commando, which told of her and her mother's exploits during the Boer War. The book is dedicated to her mother, "As a peace offering for having brought her into publicity in direct opposition to her wishes".The Van Warmelos' house, which they called Harmony became a centre for the British occupying force. Johanna (who calls herself "Hansie" in the book) is shown as headstrong, and she and her mother exploit the British estimation of the two Boer women as harmless.

It was simply taken for granted that the two women in question were hopelessly cut off from all communication with their friends in the field, and utterly helpless and incapable of assisting their fellow-countrymen.

Among the high-ranking British officers quartered nearby were Lord Kitchener, Lord Roberts and the Duke of Westminster.

The Van Warmelos were largely left in peace by their "guests". This misplaced trust may have been due to Johanna's brother-in-law, Henry Cloete, who was married to her oldest sister. Cloete was a former British agent in South Africa and had been elevated as Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George by Queen Victoria. In their role of harmless civilians, Johanna and her mother were able to collect information on the movements of soldiers and ammunition, and they smuggled this information out using letters written in invisible ink made from lemon juice.

In 1902 Johanna married a minister, Louis Ernst Brandt. She had become so well known that messages of congratulations came from the leaders of countries.

Books by Johanna Brandt

The Petticoat Commando Cover image

The Petticoat Commando

Memoir Non-Fiction
War Military

In introducing the English version of this book I venture to bespeak a welcome for it, not only for the light which it throws on some little-known incidents of the South African war, but also because of the keen personal interest of the events record...