De la Rey (also spelled Delarey) was born near Winburg, Orange River Sovreignty. He has been described as the only soldier of original genius to emerge from the Anglo-Boer War. Yet he was a pacifist and, although originally opposed to the war, once it came he was responsible for the first action in capturing an armoured train at Kraaipan. His trench emplacement tactics were employed to great effect at Modder River, and at Colenso to bring about a crushing defeat on the British Army. His son was tragically killed at Modder River.
De la Rey gained his military experience against the Bantu tribes. In politics he represented Lichtenburg in the Volksraad (parliament), opposing President Kruger. At the outbreak of war in 1899 he became a general and fought in the western campaign. On 1st July 1900 he assumed command of operations in the Western Transvaal and was especially successful in guerilla warfare.
After the war he visited Europe with other Boer generals to raise funds for reconstruction. He supported Louis Botha who was head of the Het Volk party he was a delegate at the national convention that preceded the formation of the Union of South Africa. From 1910 to 1914 he sat in the Union's first Senate. When World War 1 broke out he planned a rebellion to restore republican independence, but on his way to Potchefstroom to start the uprising he was shot dead by a police patrol on 15th Sep 1914.
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