SOUTH AFRICA 1899 – 1902

The British and the Boer communities had been at each other’s throat in South Africa for years and in 1814 the British were ruling the Cape. The situation came to a head with the Boers leaving the Cape and heading north. They were trying to escape the rigidity of the British rule and wanted their own identity and freedom. Gold was discovered at Wit Waters Rand, which resulted in an influx of thousands of British miners who would come under the law of the Boer. The British were determined to bring the Boers to heel and establish themselves as the masters of South Africa.

Royal Field Artillery, 15 pounder Battery

The Boers demanded the British leave and when they refused Boer forces attacked and surrounded key British posts on the 11th October 1899. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany strongly supported the Boers with arms and artillery. They were fighting in their own backyard, knew the country well and were superb horsemen. The British had no answer and reinforcements were sent. This was well documented by the war correspondent Winston Churchill.

Mounted Boers

Natal Carbineers

Model 1896 Mauser Rifle.

This rifle was captured in the Orange Free State by the donor, Alfred L Waldron, while serving with Kitchener’s Horse in the South African War. The name shown on the butt G. F. Nagel- is that of its Boer owner. The donor also served in the 1914- 1918 War with the 7th Battalion AIF and was wounded at the landing on Gallipoli.

Bushmans contingment at Kensington Race Course Sydney

On Parade at Kensington

Equipment being issued

The horses

The Bushman

The NSW Contingent leaving Sydney

In October 1899 a part of the Australian Contingent, the Victorian Mounted Rifles, was embarked and arrived in Capetown in December. Andrew Barton Paterson (Banjo) described them as “a glorious contrast” to the British troops as they rode through the streets of Cape Town each man leading a spare horse.

The Queensland Mounted Infantry were similar but wore a tuft of emu feathers in their hats. A later Australian force, the Australian Light Horse of WW1, adopted this custom.

The Australians quickly adapted to the country, which was similar in many ways to the Australia bush. An important stores and staging camp was established at Eland’s River and was garrisoned by Australian and Rhodesian troops. This camp came under siege from the Boers for eleven days and was finally relieved by Kitchener’s force on the twelfth day. Reports back to England stated, “that there was no finer fighting anywhere in the war”.

Capt S Antill and troops of the 1st Battalion, Australian Commomwealth Horse in the Transvaal.

NSW Volunteers

Lee-Enfield Mk 1* bolt action rifle.

A total British force of 435,000 was finally required to defeat and contain 80,000 Boers. The British lost 8,000 KIA and another 14,000 died from lack of adequate medical attention. Major General Lord Kitchener established concentration camps for Boer families (women and children) where over 20,000 died from starvation and disease. The Boer force lost 6,000 KIA.

Matron E J Gould, Miss P Frater and Miss J Bligh Johnston of the NSW Army Medical Corps

NSW Mounted Infantry riding through Sydney prior to embarkation for South Africa 1899

The New Zealand force was 6,513 strong with 6,500 Canadians.

The Australian commitment over the course of the war was 16,175 of which 251 were KIA, 267 died of sickness and 1,400 WIA. The fighting ceased on 31st May 1902.

Source – AWM


ANZACS Australian at War – A K MacDougall, 1991

The Anglo-Boer Wars – Michael Barthorp

(Names to note – Churchill, Kitchener and Hamilton – The Slaughter at Gallipoli.)