Smuts, Jan Christiaan

Date of birth:
May 24th, 1870 (Bovenplaats/Western Cape, South Africa)
Date of death:
September 11th, 1950 (Doornkloof/Transvaal, South Africa)
South African


Jan Smuts studied literature and science in South-Africa and law in Cambridge, England. He started a lawyer’s practice in Cape Town. Smuts became interested in politics and managed to become Attorney-General under Paul Kruger.
During the second Boer War, Smuts proved himself to be a skillful strategist and rose through the ranks to General of the Republican Army.
Following the defeat of the Boers, Smuts returned to his lawyer’s practice and at the same time he worked on a plan for an independant Transvaal and from there to a liberated South-Africa.
He subsequently became Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Defence and Secretary for Mining.
In World War One he excelled as a general during the German South-West African and East-African campaigns and was a member of the Imperial War Cabinet. He was also instrumental in the establishment of a Royal Air Force independant of the British Army. He was instrumental in the establishment of the League of Nations and became Prime Minister of South-Africa following the death of Botha in 1919. He lost the 1924 elections, went into the opposition and devoted himself to botanics. In 1939, after having served as vice-Prime Minister in a coalition government for a while, he became Prime Minister and member of the Imperial War Cabinet once more. Right after he was elected Prime Minister, he declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan and had fortifications erected along the coast against possible German attacks. In this he met opposition from Ossebrandwag, an anti-British and pro-German paramilitary organisation in South-Africa.
In 1941 he was promoted to Fieldmarshall in the British Army.
After the war he represented South-Africa in the establishment of the United Nations Organisation.
Due to his unpopular support of the British during the war and his being a confidant of Churchil’s who could count on widespread antipathy in South-Africa, he was beaten in the 1948 elections. Subsequently he retired from politics. He became commander of the Regiment Westelike Provinsie and Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University. He became notably depressed however because of the death of his son Japie in 1948.

In 1950, he died from a heart attack at the age of 80.

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First World War (1914-1918)
Awarded on:
July 26th, 1917
Croix de Guerre 1914–1918
Second World War (1939-1945)
Field Marshall
Awarded on:
January 1st, 1947
Order of Merit