Brevet-Major John Maximilian Vallentin, who was killed in action at Onverwacht on 4.1.1902, was one of the most enigmatic and impressive young Officers who fought in the Boer War. A veteran of Ladysmith and a man who had been Mentioned in Despatches four times, his untimely death robbed Kitchener of one of his most promising Officers. Vallentin had pursued the Guerilla War with an unusual zealousness and been particularly notable for the way in which he had employed the surrendered Burghers, 'National Scouts', under his command.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Thomas Cuninnghame described him in his memoirs:
'All this intelligence work brought me in touch more with the District Commissioner, Major Vallentin, then with the Command of the fighting troops. Vallentin, who belonged to the Somersetshire Regiment, was a man of amazing energy and resource. Not conciliatory by nature, but always cheerful when least accommodating, he loved a fight of any kind and was always ready for adventure. He had been one of the so-called "twelve apostles" who had been sent out by the War Office before the war to report on the state of affairs. He had very advanced views, not only on modern methods of fighting but also on the reorganisation of society. He was, in fact, a Crusader. Strangely impersonal in his aims, and therefore bound either to make his mark in troubled times, or to be removed as a nuisance by careerists in peace time, he was eager to take advantage of any opportunity for distinction. In his effort to find it he was finally shot in an obscure scuffle on the high veldt when serving with the Australian Contingent. I mourned him sincerely, for I admired him much. I think he would have come into his own in the world war, and it is sad to think that we lost so good a soldier in such a useless way' (Dusty Measure refers).
It was during his period as District Commissioner of Heidelberg, following his recovery from a bout of enteric, that he became best known in the Head Quarters and among the fighting troops in South Africa. 'In the autumn of 1900, while holding this position, he was sent out with one of F.M. Lord Roberts' Proclamations to a commando in his neighbourhood, and lived with the Boers for a week as their guest while the object of his visit was under discussion' (The Last Post refers).
During his time as District Commissioner, a role which is examined in detail in Heidelbergers of the Boer War, Vallentin set about clearing Boer Commandos from the district. In order to do that, he formed a Corps called "Vallentin's Heidelburg Volunteers", about which Stirling noted: 'This corps, which was largely composed of surrendered Boers, was employed on the Standerton line, their duties being chiefly to protect the line and the possessions of surrendered Burghers in the neighbourhood. But they did more active work, and on 24th May 1901 were credited with a smart capture of a laager, when they secured nine armed prisoners and much stock. Major Vallentin was wounded on this occasion. On 24th July a party of scouts fell into an ambush and four were killed. Guide Gorman was Mentioned in Despatches on this occasion for remaining behind with Major Vallentin to cover the retirement of four dismounted men of the Burgher Corps who would have been shot had they fallen into enemy hands.'
Vallentin himself earned two Mentions from Lord Kitchener, 'Major Vallentin (wounded) - In command of Heidelberg Volunteers rendered good service on 24th May 1901' (London Gazette 20.8.1901 refers) and 'For gallantry in action on 23rd July 1901' (London Gazette 15.11.1901 refers).
Vallentin's exceptional service in the Boer War came to an end on 4.1.1902. 'Vallentin commanded a mixed force which included 110 men of the Fifth Queensland Imperial Bushmen under Major F. Toll ... On the 4th a small party of Boers lured them toward a kloof, where they were ambushed by 300 Boers. Major Vallentin withdrew his force to make a stand on the ridge at Onverwacht. He ordered the withdrawal of the column's pom-pom, but the burghers worked around the flanks, shot the horses and the gun ended up in a donga.
Major Toll and a number of his men had been left in the rear on the high ridge at Bankkop. They were outnumbered by the Boers and forced to return on foot, then intercepted and a small number captured.
Vallentin was forced to make a last stand on a small ridge, which was virtually bereft of cover. The Boers under Kmdt. Opperman pressed their attack home with vigour, under the impression that they were avenging Bethal. Again and again they threw themselves at the small force on the hill and were thrown back. Two burgers fell within ten metres of the defenders. Vallentin strived to the last to avert defeat and rally his force, but when the Boers worked their way to his rear and began firing at 50m. range he knew that they stood no chance. Vallentin stood exposed to the enemy fire issuing instructions when he was shot down' (Heidelbergers of the Boer War refers).