Saturday 26 September 2020

200th Anniversary of Wolraad Woltemade (South Africa, 1973)

Wolraad Woltemade was born in Germany but moved to Cape Town, South Africa to work for the Dutch East India Company.

On 1 June 1973, a sailing ship called De Jonge Thomas was pushed into the shore by storms. Sailors tried to swim to shore but the water was cold and the storm fierce.

A crowd gathered on shore, including our man Wolraad Woltemade, now aged 65. Motivated to help, he jumped onto his horse, Vonk (who may be the truest hero of the story), and rode out into the waves. He urged two sailors to grab hold of Vonk’s tail, and pulled them back to shore (you see what I mean about Vonk?). After the first rescue effort, Woltemade and Vonk went out to sea a further six times, rescuing 14 sailors in all. As the ship broke up further, a now exhausted Woltemade and Vonk made one more attempt – six sailors grabbed at Vonk, but the weight was too much and man, horse and sailors all disappeared beneath the waves.

Woltemade’s body was found the next day but Vonk was lost forever. Several South African medals and citations for bravery now bear Wolraad Woltemade’s name.

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