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Thread: Wolraad Woltemade, a Cape of Storms Hero

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    Wolraad Woltemade, a Cape of Storms Hero

    Wolraad Woltemade was born 1708 in Hesse-Schoumberg, part of present-day Germany. Like many other Dutch and German adventurers he ended up at the VOC's (Dutch East India Company) recruitment center in Amsterdam, where only the most strong and capable amongst an overabundance of applicants could become Companymen. He went on to serve at the Cape, and by 1752 he was a corporal in command of a Company outpost. From 1771 until his death in 1773 he was still in the Company's service, only now as a dairy farmer.

    In the very early morning of 1 June, 1773 (early winter in the southern hemisphere), a sailing ship, De Jonge Thomas, was driven ashore in a gale on a sand bar at the mouth of the Salt River in Table Bay. Many lives were lost as the ship started to break up but a substantial number of survivors were left clinging to the hull. The stricken ship was not too far from dry land and many sailors attempted to swim ashore. Most of those who did so perished; the water was cold and the current from the nearby Salt River too great. Apart from the very strongest swimmers, those who struck for the shore were carried out to sea.

    A crowd of spectators stood on the beach. Some came to watch, others to try to help and yet others were hoping to loot the cargo that was being washed ashore. A detachment of soldiers was in attendance, to keep order amongst the mass. Corporal Christian Ludwig Woltemade, the youngest son of the by now elderly Wolraad, was amongst those standing guard. As daylight came, Wolraad left his home on horseback, taking provisions to his son.
    As he reached the beach, Wolraad was filled with pity for the sailors marooned aboard the wreck. Seeing that nothing could be done by those on the beach, he mounted his horse and urged the animal into the sea. As they approached the wreck Woltemade turned the horse and called for two men to jump into the sea and grasp the horse's tail. After a moment's hesitation two men threw themselves into the water and did so, whereupon Woltemade urged the horse forward and dragged them to shore. Wolraad rode out seven times, bringing back fourteen men. By this time he and his horse were exhausted but at that moment, as they rested, the ship began to collapse. Wolraad once more urged his horse into the water but by now the desperation amongst the sailors was tremendous. Seeing this as probably their last chance to escape before the ship was destroyed, six men plunged into the sea, grabbing at the horse. Their weight was too much for the exhausted steed; all were dragged below the waves and drowned. Woltemade's body was found the next day. His horse was called "Vonk".

    Of the 191 souls on board, only 53 survived and of these 14 were saved by Woltemade.


    The Union of South Africa King's Medal for Bravery, instituted in 1939, bore a depiction of Woltemade's heroic act on its obverse. In 1970 the Woltemade Decoration for Bravery was instituted as the highest civilian decoration for bravery in South Africa. This was replaced in 1988 by the Woltemade Cross for Bravery. The Woltemade Cross was discontinued in 2002, as part of the move towards establishing a new South African honours system, following the advent of majority rule.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolraad_Woltemade
    http://www.mieliestronk.com/woltemade.html

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    Thank you Stormraaf, today, as the first time I read the story of Wolraad, it brought tears to my eyes. A story of a true hero, giving his life to save another. May we all be heroes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rooikat View Post
    [...] today, as the first time I read the story of Wolraad, [...]
    Interesting. I was first taught the story as a song when I was... seven, I think. I can't remember any of the words or even part of the tune, but it was very effective in teaching me about one of our earliest heroes at a very young age.

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