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Default British Boer Wars 1889 to 1902 in Africa

British Boer Wars 1889 to 1902


With the 1886 discovery of gold in Transvaal, thousands of British and other prospectors and settlers streamed over the border from the Cape Colony (annexed by Britain earlier) and from across the globe. The city of Johannesburg sprang up as a shanty town nearly overnight as the uitlanders (foreigners) poured in and settled near the mines. The uitlanders rapidly outnumbered the Boers (boers meaning farmers) on the Rand, but remained a minority in the Transvaal as a whole. The Afrikaners, nervous and resentful of the uitlanders' presence, denied them voting rights and taxed the gold industry. The tax on a box of dynamite was five shillings ($0.50) of the cost of five pounds ($10). These mines consumed vast quantities of explosives and President Paul Kruger gave manufacturing monopoly rights to a non-British operation of the Nobel company, which infuriated the British.[1] The so-called "dynamite monopoly" became a major pretext for war. However, one of the underlying irritants for war occurred in 1894–95 over the railway and tariffs problems. Kruger wanted to build a railway through the Portuguese colony of Mozambique to Delgoa Bay, bypassing British controlled ports in Natal and Cape Town and avoiding British tariffs.[2] The Prime Minister of the Cape Colony was Cecil Rhodes, a man with a vision of a British controlled Africa extending from Cape to Cairo. Angered by these problems, pressure arose from the Uitlanders and the British mine owners to overthrow the Boer government. In 1895, Cecil Rhodes sponsored the failed coup d'état backed by an armed incursion, the Jameson Raid. Of this raid, Jan C. Smuts wrote in 1906, "The Jameson Raid was the real declaration of war...And that is so in spite of the four years of truce that followed...[the] aggressors consolidated their alliance...the defenders on the other hand silently and grimly prepared for the inevitable."

Paul Kruger and the President Martinus Theunis Steyn of the Orange Free State both understood that the failed raid was the precursor to a war and commencing in 1896 placed orders for Mauser rifles.[3] The failure to gain improved rights for Britons became a pretext to manufacture a case for war and to justify a major military buildup in the Cape. The case for war was justified and espoused as far away as the Australian colonies.[4] Several key British colonial leaders favoured annexation of the independent Boer republics. These figures included the Cape Colony governor Sir Alfred Milner, Cape Prime Minister Rhodes, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain and mining syndicate owners or Randlords (nicknamed the gold bugs) such as Alfred Beit, Barney Barnato and Lionel Phillips. Confident that the Boers would be quickly defeated, they planned, schemed and organised to precipitate a war, based on the Uitlanders' real or imagined grievances.

President Steyn of the Orange Free State invited Milner and Kruger to attend a conference in Bloemfontein which started on 30 May 1899, but negotiations quickly broke down, despite Kruger's offer of concessions. In September 1899, Chamberlain sent an ultimatum demanding full equality for British citizens resident in Transvaal.

Kruger, seeing that war was inevitable, simultaneously issued his own ultimatum prior to receiving Chamberlain's. This gave the British 48 hours to withdraw all their troops from the border of Transvaal; otherwise the Transvaal, allied with the Orange Free State, would declare war.

News of the ultimatum reached London on the day it expired. Outrage and laughter were the main responses. The editor of the Times laughed out loud when he read it, saying 'an official document is seldom amusing and useful yet this was both'. The Times denounced the ultimatum as an 'extravagant farce', The Globe denounced this 'trumpery little state'. Most editorials were similar to the Daily Telegraph, which declared: 'of course there can only be one answer to this grotesque challenge. Kruger has asked for war and war he must have!'.

First phase: The Boer offensive (October – December, 1899)

War was declared on 11 October 1899 and the Boers struck first by invading Cape Colony and Natal Colony between October 1899 and January 1900. This was followed by some early Boer military successes against the scattered British. The Boers were able to besiege the towns of Mafeking (defended by troops headed by Colonel Robert Baden-Powell), and Kimberley (defended by troops headed by Lt-Col Kekewich) on the borders of the Transvaal. The major British concentration was in northern Natal under Sir George White. White's troops, who were dangerously dispersed, were defeated separately, and were besieged in Ladysmith.

Siege life took its toll on both the defending soldiers and the civilians in the cities of Mafeking, Ladysmith, and Kimberley as food began to grow scarce after a few weeks. In Mafeking, Sol Plaatje wrote, "I saw horseflesh for the first time being treated as a human foodstuff." The cities under siege also dealt with constant artillery bombardment, making the streets a dangerous place. Near the end of the siege of Kimberley, it was expected that the Boers would intensify their bombardment, so a notice was displayed encouraging people to go down into the mines for protection. The townspeople panicked, and people flowed into the mineshafts constantly for a 12-hour period. Although the bombardment never came, this did nothing to diminish the distress of the civilians. Many of the townspeople, now under siege, sheltered in the local convent, now the Mcgregor museum. Since the mining that occurred there, for diamonds, was open air, the people were not able to shelter in mine shafts. The mine is now known as the Big Hole, a popular tourist attraction in the area.

Major British reinforcements were arriving under General Redvers Henry Buller. He originally intended an offensive straight up the railway line leading from Cape Town through Bloemfontein to Pretoria. Finding on arrival that the British troops already in South Africa were under siege, he split his Army Corps into several widely spread detachments, to relieve the besieged garrisons.

The middle of December was disastrous for the British army. In a period known as Black Week (10 – 15 December 1899), the British suffered a series of devastating losses at Magersfontein, Stormberg, and Colenso.
At the Battle of Stormberg on 10 December, British General Sir William Gatacre, who was in command of 3,000 troops protecting against Boer raids in Cape Colony, tried to recapture a railway junction about 50 miles south of the Orange River. But Gatacre chose to assault the Orange Free State Boer positions surmounting a precipitous rock face in which he lost 135 killed and wounded, as well as two guns and over 600 troops captured.

At the Battle of Magersfontein on 11 December, 14,000 British troops, under the command of Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, attempted to fight their way to relieve Kimberley. The Boer commanders, Koos de la Rey and Piet Cronje, devised a plan to dig trenches in an unconventional place to fool the British and to give their riflemen a greater firing range. The plan worked and this tactic helped write the doctrine of the supremacy of the defensive position, using modern small arms and trench fortifications. [5]At Magersfontein, the British were decisively defeated, suffering the loss of 120 British soldiers killed and 690 wounded, which prevented them from relieving Kimberley and Mafeking.

But the nadir of Black Week was the Battle of Colenso on 15 December where 21,000 British troops commanded by Buller himself, attempted to cross the Tugela River to relieve Ladysmith where 8,000 Transvaal Boers, under the command of Louis Botha, were awaiting them. Through a combination of artillery and accurate rifle fire, the Boers repelled all British attempts to cross the river. The British had a further 1,126 casualties, and lost 10 artillery pieces to the Boers during the ensuing retreat. The Boer forces suffered 40 casualties.

Second phase: The British offensive of January to September 1900

The British suffered further defeats in their attempts to relieve Ladysmith at the Battle of Spion Kop of 19 to 24 January 1900, where Buller again attempted to cross the Tugela west of Colenso and was defeated again by Louis Botha after a hard-fought battle for a prominent hill feature which resulted in a further 1,000 British casualties and nearly 300 Boer casualties. Buller attacked Botha again on 5 February at Vaal Krantz and was again defeated.

It was not until further reinforcements arrived on 14 February 1900 that British troops commanded by Field Marshal Lord Roberts could launch counter-offensives to relieve the garrisons. Kimberley was relieved on 15 February by a cavalry division under Lieutenant General John French. At the Battle of Paardeberg on 18 February to 27 February 1900, Roberts surrounded General Piet Cronje's retreating Boer army, and forced him to surrender with 4000 men after a siege lasting a week. Meanwhile, Buller at last succeeded in forcing a crossing of the Tugela, and defeated Botha's outnumbered forces north of Colenso, allowing the Relief of Ladysmith the day after Cronje surrendered.

Roberts then advanced into the Orange Free State from the west, capturing Bloemfontein, the capital, on March 13. Meanwhile, he detached a small force to relieve Baden-Powell, and the Relief of Mafeking on May 18, 1900 provoked riotous celebrations in Britain.

After being forced to delay for several weeks at Bloemfontein due to shortage of supplies and enteric fever (caused by poor hygiene, drinking bad water at Paardeburg and appalling medical care), Roberts resumed his advance. He was forced to halt again at Kroonstad for 10 days, due once again to the collapse of his medical and supply systems, then finally captured Johannesburg on May 31 and the capital of the Transvaal, Pretoria, on June 5. (Before the war, the Boers had constructed several forts south of Pretoria, but the artillery had been removed from the forts for use in the field, and in the event the Boers abandoned Pretoria without a fight.)

British observers believed the war to be all but over after the capture of the two capital cities. However, the Boers had earlier met at the temporary new capital of the Orange Free State, Kroonstad, and planned a guerrilla campaign to hit the British supply and communication lines. The first engagement of this new form of warfare was at Sanna's Post on 31 March where 1,500 Boers under the command of Christiaan De Wet attacked Bloemfontein's waterworks about 23 miles east of the city, and ambushed a heavily escorted convoy which resulted in 155 British casualties and the capture of seven guns, 117 wagons and 428 British troops.[6]

After the fall of Pretoria, one of the last formal battles was at Diamond Hill on 11 – 12 June, where Roberts attempted to drive the remnants of the Boer field army beyond striking distance of the city. Although Roberts drove the Boers from the hill, the Boer commander, Louis Botha, did not regard it as a defeat, for he inflicted more casualties on the British (totalling 162 men) while suffering around 50 casualties.

The set-piece period of the war now largely gave way to a mobile guerrilla war, but one final operation remained. President Kruger and what remained of the Transvaal government had retreated to eastern Transvaal. Roberts, joined by troops from Natal under Buller, advanced against them, and broke their last defensive position at Bergendal on August 26. As Roberts and Buller followed up along the railway line to Komatipoort, Kruger sought asylum in Portuguese East Africa (modern Mozambique). Some dispirited Boers did likewise, and the British gathered up much material. However, the core of the Boer fighters under Botha easily broke back through the Drakensberg mountains into the Transvaal highveld after riding north through the bushveld. Under the new conditions of the war, heavy equipment was no use to them, and therefore no great loss.

Third phase: Guerrilla War September 1900 to May 1902

By September 1900, the British were in control of both Republics, except for the northern part of Transvaal. They however found that they only controlled the ground their columns physically occupied. As soon as the columns left a town or district, British control of that area faded away. The huge territory of the Republics made it impossible for the 250,000 British troops to control it effectively. The vast distances between the columns allowed the Boer commandos considerable freedom to move about. The Boer commanders adopted a guerrilla style of warfare. The commandos were sent to their own districts with the order to act against the British there whenever possible. Their strategy was to do as much damage to the enemy as possible, and then to move off and vanish when enemy reinforcements arrived.

The Boers were especially effective during the guerrilla phase of the war because Roberts had assumed that the war would end with the capture of the Boer capitals and the dispersal of the main Boer armies. Many British troops were redeployed, and replaced by lower-quality contingents of Yeomanry and locally-raised irregular corps.

Western Transvaal

The Boer commandos in the Western Transvaal were very active after September 1901. Several battles of importance were fought here between September 1901 and March 1902. At Moedwil on 30 September 1901 and again at Driefontein on 24 October, Gen. De la Rey’s forces attacked the British, but were forced to withdraw after the British offered strong resistance.

A time of relative quiet descended thereafter on the western Transvaal. February 1902 saw the next major battle in that region. On 25 February De la Rey attacked a British column at Ysterspruit near Wolmaransstad. De la Rey succeeded in capturing the column and a large amount of ammunition. The Boer attacks prompted Lord Methuen, the British second-in-command after Lord Kitchener, to move his column from Vryburg to Klerksdorp to deal with De la Rey. On the morning of 7 March 1902, the Boers attacked the rear guard of Methuen’s moving column at Tweebosch. Confusion reigned in British ranks and Methuen was wounded and captured by the Boers. The Boer victories in the west led to stronger action by the British. In the second half of March 1902, large British reinforcements were sent to the Western Transvaal. The opportunity the British were waiting for arose on 11 April 1902 at Rooiwal, where the combined forces of Gens. Grenfell, Kekewich and Von Donop came into contact with the forces of Gen. Kemp. The British soldiers were well positioned on the mountainside and inflicted severe casualties on the Boers charging on horseback over a large distance, beating them back.

This was the end of the war in the Western Transvaal and also the last major battle of the Anglo-Boer War.

Orange Free State

While the British occupied Pretoria, the Boer fighters in the Orange Free State had been driven into a fertile area in the north east of the Republic, known as the Brandwater Basin. This offered only temporary sanctuary, as the mountain passes leading to it could be occupied by the British, trapping the Boers. A force under General Hunter set out from Bloemfontein to achieve this in July 1900. The hard core of the Boers under Christiaan de Wet, accompanied by President Steyn, left the basin early. Those remaining fell into confusion and most failed to break out before Hunter trapped them. 4,500 Boers surrendered and much equipment was captured, but as with Robert's drive against Kruger at the same time, these losses were of relatively little consequence, as the hard core of the Boer armies and their most determined and active leaders remained at large.

From the Basin, de Wet headed west. Although hounded by British columns, he succeeded in crossing the Vaal into the Western Transvaal, to allow Steyn to travel to meet the Transvaal leaders.

Returning to the Orange Free State, de Wet inspired a series of attacks and raids from the hitherto quiet western part of the country. Many Boers who had earlier returned to their farms, sometimes giving formal parole to the British, took up arms again. In late January 1901, De Wet led a renewed invasion of Cape Colony. This was less successful, because there was no general uprising among the Cape Boers, and de Wet's men were hampered by bad weather and relentlessly pursued by British forces. They escaped across the Orange River, almost by a miracle.

From then until the final days of the war, de Wet remained comparatively quiet, partly because the Orange Free State was effectively left desolate by British sweeps. In late 1901, De Wet overran an isolated British detachment at Groenkop, inflicting heavy casualties. This prompted Kitchener to launch the first of the "New Model" drives against him.

The British had first erected lines of blockhouses to protect the railway lines. They now built fresh lines of these, linked by barbed wire fences, to prevent free Boer movement across the veld. They also allowed "New Model" drives. Unlike the earlier inefficient scouring of the countryside by scattered columns, a continuous line of troops could now effectively sweep an area of veld bounded by blockhouse lines.

De Wet escaped the first such drive, but lost 300 of his fighters. This was a severe loss, and a portent of further such attrition.

Eastern Transvaal

Two Boer forces fought in this area; under Botha in the south east and Ben Viljoen in the north east. Botha's forces were particularly active, raiding railways and even mounting a renewed invasion of Natal in September, 1901. After defeating British mounted infantry near Dundee, Botha was forced to withdraw by heavy rains which made movement difficult and crippled his horses. Back in the Transvaal, he attacked a British raiding column at Bakenlaagte. This made his forces the target of increasingly large and ruthless drives by British forces, and eventually, he had to abandon the high veld and retreat to a narrow enclave bordering Swaziland.

To the north, Ben Viljoen grew steadily less active. His forces mounted comparatively few attacks and as a result, the Boer enclave around Lydenburg was largely unmolested. Viljoen was eventually captured.

Cape Colony

After he escaped across the Orange in March 1901, de Wet had left forces under Cape rebels Kritzinger and Scheepers to maintain a guerrilla campaign in the Cape Midlands. The campaign here was one of the least chivalrous, with intimidation by both sides of each other's civilian sympathisers. Several captured rebels, including Scheepers, were executed for treason by the British, some in public. In most cases though, the executions were ostensibly for capital crimes such as the murder of prisoners or of unarmed civilians.

Fresh Boer forces under Jan Christiaan Smuts, joined by the surviving rebels under Kritzinger, made another attack on the Cape in September 1901. They suffered severe hardships and were hard pressed by British columns, but eventually rescued themselves by routing some of their pursuers and capturing their equipment.

From then until the end of the war, Smuts increased his forces until they numbered 3,000. However, no general uprising took place, and the situation in the Cape remained stalemated.

Final days of the War

Towards the end of the war, British drives and offensives became more successful, British troops were increasingly adept at handling the Boers' guerrilla tactics. This was due to the lines of blockhouses and wire fences which parceled up the wide veld into smaller areas. Also, the British were themselves using raiding columns to harass the Boers. These columns relied heavily on intelligence given by native Africans, who were becoming increasingly hostile to the Boers. Using these various methods, Kitchener's forces at last began to seriously affect the Boers' fighting strength and freedom of manoeuvre.

The concentration Camp

The English term "concentration camp" was first used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa during this conflict.

These had originally been set up for families whose farms had been destroyed by the British "Scorched Earth" policy (burning down all Boer homesteads and farms). However, following Kitchener's new policy, many women and children were forcibly moved to prevent the Boers from resupplying at their homes and more camps were built and converted to prisons.

This was not the first appearance of internment camps. The Spanish used them in the Ten Years' War that later led to the Spanish-American War, and the United States used them to devastate guerrilla forces during the Philippine-American War. But the concentration camp system of the British was on a much larger scale.

There were a total of 45 tented camps built for Boer internees and 64 for black African ones. Of the 28,000 Boer men captured as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. So, most Boers remaining in the local camps were women and children, but the native African ones held large numbers of men as well. Even when forcibly removed from Boer areas, the black Africans were not considered to be hostile to the British, and provided a paid labour force.

The conditions in the camps were very unhealthy and the food rations were meager. The wives and children of men who were still fighting were given smaller rations than others. The poor diet and inadequate hygiene led to endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery. Coupled with a shortage of medical facilities, this led to large numbers of deaths — a report after the war concluded that 27,927 Boers (of whom 24,074 [50% of the Boer child population died] were children under 16) and 14,154 black Africans had died of starvation, disease and exposure in the concentration camps. In all, about 25% of the Boer inmates and 12% of the black African ones died. However the precise number of deaths is unknown. Reports have stated that the number of Boers killed was 18,000-28,000 and little attempt was made to keep any records of the number of deaths of the 107,000 Black Africans who were interned in concentration camps.

A delegate of the South African Women and Children's Distress Fund, Emily Hobhouse, did much to publicize the distress of the inmates on her return to Britain after visiting some of the camps in the Orange Free State. Her fifteen-page report caused uproar, and led to a government commission, the Fawcett Commission, visiting camps from August to December 1901 which confirmed her report. They were highly critical of the running of the camps and made numerous recommendations, for example improvements in diet and provision of proper medical facilities. By February 1902, the annual death-rate dropped to 6.9% and eventually to 2% in the concentration camps for white inmates. "Improvements were much slower in coming to the black camps." [7]

Counterinsurgency techniques which were applied by the British in the Boer War were later reused by the British to fend off Malayan communist rebels during the Malayan Emergency.

"This was not a deliberately genocidal policy; rather it was the result of disastrous lack of foresight and rank incompetance on part of the [British] military" [8]. "Kitchener no more desired the deaths of women and children in the camps than of the wounded Dervishes after Omdurman, or of his own soldiers in the typhoid stricken hospitals of Bloemfontein." He simply wasn't bothered.[9].

Last edited by Xeric; Friday, May 15, 2009 at 09:45 PM.
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Default Part - II

POWs sent Overseas

The first sizable batch of Boer prisoners of war taken by the British consisted of those captured at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21 October 1899. [1] At first many were put on ships. But as numbers grew, the British decided they didn't want them kept locally. The capture of 400 POWs in February 1900 was a key event, which made the British realise they could not accommodate all POWs in South Africa. [2] The British feared they could be freed by sympathetic locals. They already had trouble supplying their own troops in South Africa, and did not want the added burden of sending supplies for the POWs. Britain therefore chose to send many POWs overseas.

The first overseas (off African mainland) camps were opened in Saint Helena, which ultimately received about 5,000 POWs. About 5,000 POWs were sent to Ceylon. Other POWs were sent to Bermuda and India. Some POWs were even sent outside the British Empire, with 1443[3] Boers (mostly POWs) sent to Portugal. No evidence exists of Boer POWs being sent to the United Kingdoms's "white" allied countries such as Australia, Canada or New Zealand.[4]

The End of the war

In all, the war had cost around 75,000 lives — 22,000 British soldiers (7,792 battle casualties, the rest through disease), 6,000 – 7,000 Boer soldiers, 20,000 – 28,000 Boer civilians and perhaps 20,000 black Africans. The last of the Boers surrendered in May 1902 and the war ended with the Treaty of Vereeniging in the same month. But the Boers were given £3,000,000 for reconstruction and were promised eventual self-government, and the Union of South Africa was established in 1910. The treaty ended the existence of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State as Boer republics and placed them within the British Empire.

The Boers referred to the two wars as the Freedom Wars. Those Boers who wanted to continue the fight were known as "bitter-einders" (or irreconcilables) and at the end of the war a number like Deneys Reitz chose exile rather than sign an undertaking that they would abide by the peace terms. Over the following decade, many returned to South Africa and never signed the undertaking. Some, like Reitz, eventually reconciled themselves to the new status quo, but others waited for a suitable opportunity to restart the old quarrel. At the start of World War I the bitter-einders and their allies took part in a revolt known as the Maritz Rebellion. Those Boers who now formed the South African government, along with their English speaking allies, quickly suppressed the revolt. Compared with the fate of leading Irish rebels of the Easter Rising in 1916, the leading Boer rebels in the Maritz Rebellion got off lightly, with terms of imprisonment of six and seven years and heavy fines. Two years later, they were released from prison, as Louis Botha recognised the value of reconciliation. After this, the bitter-einders concentrated on working within the constitutional system and built up the National Party which would come to dominate the politics of South Africa from the late 1940s until the early 1990s, when the apartheid system they had constructed also fell.

During the conflict, 78 Victoria Crosses (VC) — the highest and most prestigious award in the British armed forces for bravery in the face of the enemy — were awarded to British and Colonial soldiers. See List of Boer War Victoria Cross recipients.

Effects of Boer Wars on Domestic British

The war highlighted the dangers of Britain's policy of non-alignment and deepened her isolation. The 1900 UK general election, also known as the "Khaki election", was called by the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, on the back of recent British victories. There was much enthusiasm for the war at this point, resulting in a victory for the Conservative government.

However, public support quickly waned as it became apparent that the war would not be easy and it dragged on, partially contributing to the Conservatives' spectacular defeat in 1906. There was public outrage at the use of scorched earth tactics — the burning of Boer homesteads, for example — and the conditions in the concentration camps. It also became apparent that there were serious problems with public health: up to 40% of recruits were unfit for military service, suffering from medical problems such as rickets and other poverty-related illnesses. This came at a time of increasing concern for the state of the poor in Britain.

The use of Chinese labour, known as Coolies, after the war by the governor of the new crown colonies, Lord Milner, also caused much revulsion in the UK. Australia also opposed the introduction of Chinese labour into South Africa. Workers were often kept in appalling conditions, received only a small wage and were forbidden to socialise with the local population — this led to further public shock at the resulting homosexual acts between those forbidden the services of prostitutes. Some believe the Chinese slavery issue can be seen as the climax of public antipathy with the war.

Many Irish nationalists sympathised with the Boers, seeing them as a people oppressed by British imperialism, much like themselves. Irish miners already in the Transvaal at the start of the war formed the nucleus of two Irish commandos. The Second Irish Brigade was headed up by an Australian of Irish parents, Colonel Arthur Lynch. In addition, small groups of Irish volunteers went to South Africa to fight with the Boers — this despite the fact that there were many Irish troops fighting with the British army.[10] In Britain, the "Pro-Boer" campaign expanded,[11] with writers often idealizing the Boer society

Empire involvement

The vast majority of troops fighting for the United Kingdom came from the UK. However, in the Second Boer War (South Africa War 1899-1902) a number did come from other parts of the Empire. These countries had their own internal disputes over whether they should remain tied to the United Kingdom, or have full independence, which carried over into the debate around the sending of forces to assist the United Kingdom. Though not fully independent on foreign affairs, these countries did have local say over how much support to provide, and the manner in which it would be provided. Ultimately, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand all sent volunteers to aid the United Kingdom. Australia provided the largest number of troops followed by Canada. Troops were also raised to fight with the British from the Cape Colony and the Colony of Natal. Some Boers fighters such as Jan Smuts and Louis Botha were technically British subjects as they came from the Cape Colony and Colony of Natal respectively.


The Australian climate and geography were far closer to that of South Africa than most other parts of the empire, so Australians could adapt quickly to service in the war. Initially the British army wanted trained foot-soldiers from Australia rather than mounted infantry.

From 1899 to 1901 the six separate self-governing colonies in Australia sent their own contingents. The colonies formed the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901, and the new federal government sent "Commonwealth" contingents to the war.[12] The Boer War was thus the first war in which the Commonwealth of Australia fought.

Enlistment in all Australian contingents totalled 16,175, though about a thousand men did a second tour of duty. A total of 267 died from disease, 251 were killed in action or died from wounds sustained in battle. A further 43 men were reported missing. Another five to seven thousand Australians served in "irregular" regiments raised in South Africa. Perhaps five hundred Australian irregulars were killed. In total, then, twenty thousand or more Australians served and about a thousand were killed.

Australian troops served mostly among the army's "mounted rifles".
When the war began some Australians, like some Britons, opposed it. As the war dragged on some Australians became disenchanted, in part because the sufferings of Boer civilians were reported in the press. In an interesting twist (for Australians), when the British missed capturing President Paul Kruger, as he escaped Pretoria during its fall in June 1900, a Melbourne Punch, 21 June 1900, cartoon depicted how the War could be won, using the Kelly Gang. [13] From that point on, the historical memory of Ned Kelly would help Australians fight future battles.

The convictions and executions of two Australians, Lieutenants Breaker Morant and Peter Handcock in 1902, and the imprisonment of a third, George Witton, had little impact on the Australian public at the time despite later legend. After the war, though, Australians joined an empire-wide campaign that saw Witton released from gaol. Much later, Australians came to see the execution of Morant and Handcock as instances of wrongful British power over Australian lives as illustrated in the 1980 Australian film Breaker Morant.
A few Australians fought on the Boer side.[14]The most famous and colourful character was Colonel Arthur Alfred Lynch, formerly of Ballarat, Victoria, who raised the Second Irish Brigade and appears in an Australian novel by Antony O'Brien called Bye-Bye Dolly Gray.


The unveiling of the South African War Memorial in Toronto Canada in 1908
At first Canadian Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier tried to keep Canada out of the war. [5] The Canadian government was divided between those, primarily French Canadians, who wished to stay out of the war and others, primarily English Canadians, who wanted to join with Britain in her fight. In the end, Laurier compromised by agreeing to support the British by providing volunteers, equipment and transportation to South Africa. Britain would be responsible for paying the troops and returning them to Canada at the end of their service. The Boer War marked the first occasion in which large contingents of Canadian troops served abroad. The 1st Canadian Contingent was comprosed of 1000 men recruited from the Canadian Militia to form the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment. This contingent served under the command of the Permanent Force officer William Dillon Otter.

The Battle of Paardeberg in February 1900 represented the second time Canadian Troops saw battle abroad (although there was a long tradition of Canadian service in the British Army and Royal Navy), the first being the Canadian involvement in the Nile Expedition of 1884-85.

On November 7, 1900, the Royal Canadian Dragoons engaged the Boers in the Battle of Leliefontein, where they saved the British guns from capture during a retreat from the banks of the Komati River. The Royal Canadian Dragoons would have three Victoria Cross winners: Lieutenant Turner, Lieutenant Cockburn, and Sergeant Holland.

Ultimately, over 8,600 Canadians volunteered to fight in the South African War. However, not all saw action since many landed in South Africa after the hostilities ended while others (including the 3rd (Special Service) Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment) performed garrison duty in Halifax, Nova Scotia so that their British counterparts could join at the front. The 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, took part in Bloody Sunday, where at the Battle of Paardeberg the British and Canadian forces suffered more casualties than on any other day of the war. Later on, contingents of Canadians served with the paramilitary South Africa Constabulary. Approximately 277 Canadians died in the South Africa War: 89 men were killed in action, 135 died of disease, and the remainder died of accident or injury. 252 were wounded.

New Zealand

When the Second Boer War seemed imminent, New Zealand offered its support. [6] On 28 September 1899, Prime Minister Richard Seddon asked Parliament to approve the offer to the imperial government of a contingent of mounted rifles and the raising of such a force if the offer were accepted and thus becoming the first British Colony to send troops to the Boer War. The British position in the dispute with the Transvaal was 'moderate and righteous', he maintained. He stressed the 'crimson tie' of Empire which bound New Zealand to the Mother-country and the importance of a strong British Empire for the colony's security.

In many ways, the South African war set the pattern for New Zealand's later involvement in the two World Wars. Specially raised units, consisting mainly of volunteers, were dispatched overseas to serve with forces from elsewhere in the British Empire. The success enjoyed by the New Zealand troops fostered the idea that New Zealanders were naturally good soldiers, who required only a modicum of training to perform creditably.

South Africa

During the war, the British army also included substantial contingents from South Africa itself. There were large communities of English-speaking immigrants and settlers in Natal and Cape Colony (especially around Capetown and Grahamstown), which formed volunteer units which took the field, or local "town guards". At one stage of the war, a "Colonial Division", consisting of five light horse and infantry units under Brigadier General Edward Brabant, took part in the invasion of the Orange Free State. Part of it withstood a siege by Christiaan De Wet at Wepener on the borders of Basutoland.

Another source of volunteers was the uitlander community, many of whom hastily left Johannesburg in the days immediately preceding the war. Some of them, stung by the accusations of cowardice and treachery in the aftermath of the Jameson raid, formed the Imperial Light Horse and fought in the first engagements of the war in Natal.

Volunteers from the Empire (Australia, Canada and New Zealand) who were not selected for the official contingents from their countries travelled privately to South Africa and joined local units in South Africa, eg the Canadian Scouts or Doyle’s Australian Scouts. There were also European volunteer units from India and Ceylon, though the British Government refused offers of non-white troops from the Empire. British volunteers served in the Imperial Yeomanry and the Scottish Horse.

Some Cape Coloureds also volunteered early in the war, but later some of them were effectively conscripted and kept in segregated units. As a community, they received comparatively little reward for their services. Africans were also employed as scouts, and later in the war some were armed. This was ostensibly to guard herds of oxen against poachers, but the measure infuriated the Boers.

Later during the war, Kitchener attempted to form a Boer Police Force, as part of his efforts to pacify the occupied areas and effect a reconciliation with the Boer community. The members of this force were despised as traitors by the Boers still in the field. Those Boers who attempted to remain neutral after giving their parole to British forces were derided as "hansoppers" (hands-uppers) and were often coerced into giving support to the Boer guerillas. (This was one of the reasons for the British ruthlessly scouring the countryside of people, livestock and anything else which the Boer commandos might find useful.)

Like the Canadian and particularly the Australian and New Zealand contingents, many of the volunteer units formed by the South Africans were "light horse" or mounted infantry, well suited to the countryside and manner of warfare, although as many of them were normally city-dwellers they lacked the "natural" ability of some of the country-raised Boers. Some regular British officers scorned their comparative lack of formal discipline, but the light horse units were hardier and more suited to the demands of campaigning than the overloaded British cavalry, who were still obsessed with the charge with lance or sabre.

At their peak, 24,000 South Africans (including volunteers from the Empire) served in the field in various "Colonial" units. Notable units (in addition to the Imperial Light Horse) were the South African Light Horse, Rimington's "Tigers", Kitchener's Horse and the Imperial Light Infantry.
No matter how fast i run or how far i go it wont escape me, pain, misery, emptiness.

Last edited by Xeric; Friday, May 15, 2009 at 09:47 PM.
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