Treaty of Vereeniging
British administration over The
Orange Free State
Orange Free State and the Transvaal in
accordance with the Treaty of Vereeniging
New South Wales
New South Wales (1899–1901)
Australia (from 1901)
Orange Free State
South African Republic
Commanders and leaders
Sir Redvers Buller
Sir Wilfrid Laurier
Sir Edmund Barton
Schalk W. Burger
Koos de la Rey
Christiaan de Wet
Piet Cronjé (POW)
Black South African Auxillaries:
Free State Boers
Casualties and losses
22,092 dead[c] 75,430 returned home sick or wounded 
934 missing
22,828 wounded.
6,189 dead[d] 24,000
Boer prisoners sent overseas;
21,256 bitter-enders surrendered at the end of the war.
Civilian casualties: 46,370, of whom 26,370 were
Boer women and
children who died in concentration camps, along with another 20, 000+
black Africans of the 115,000 interned in separate concentration
1st Elands River
Blood River Poort
Scramble for Africa
Boer War (1880)
Chad (1898) (Kousséri)
South Africa (1899)
South Africa (1906)
South Africa (1914)
Boer War (11 October 1899 – 31 May 1902) was fought
British Empire and two
Boer states, the South African
Republic (Republic of Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, over the
Empire's influence in South Africa. It is also known variously as the
Boer War, Anglo-
Boer War, South African War or Anglo-
African War. Initial
Boer attacks were successful, and although
British reinforcements later reversed these, the war continued for
Boer guerrilla warfare, until harsh British
counter-measures brought them to terms.
The war started with the British overconfident and under-prepared.
Boers were very well armed and struck first, besieging Ladysmith,
Kimberley, and Mafeking in early 1900, and winning important battles
Magersfontein and Stormberg. Staggered, the British
brought in large numbers of soldiers and fought back. General Redvers
Buller was replaced by Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener. They relieved
the three besieged cities, and invaded the two
Boer republics in late
1900. The onward marches of the
British Army were so overwhelming that
Boers did not fight staged battles in defence of their homeland.
The British quickly seized control of all of the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State and
Transvaal, as the civilian leadership went into hiding or exile. In
conventional terms, the war was over. The British officially annexed
the two countries in 1900, and called a "khaki election" to give the
government another six years of power in London.
British military efforts were aided by Cape Colony, the Colony of
Natal and some native African allies, and further supported by
volunteers from the British Empire, including Southern Africa, the
Australian colonies, Canada, India and New Zealand. All other nations
were neutral, but public opinion in them was largely hostile to the
British. Inside the UK and its
Empire there also was
significant opposition to the Second
Boers refused to surrender. They reverted to guerrilla warfare
under new generals Louis Botha, Jan Smuts,
Christiaan de Wet
Christiaan de Wet and Koos
de la Rey. Two more years of surprise attacks and quick escapes
followed. As guerrillas without uniforms, the
Boer fighters easily
blended into the farmlands, which provided hiding places, supplies,
and horses. The UK's solution was to set up complex nets of block
houses, strong points, and barbed wire fences, partitioning off the
entire conquered territory. The civilian farmers were relocated into
concentration camps, where very large proportions died of
disease, especially the children, who mostly lacked
immunities. Then British mounted infantry units systematically tracked
down the highly mobile
Boer guerrilla units. The battles at this stage
were small operations with few combat casualties (most of the dead
were victims of disease). The war ended in surrender and British terms
Treaty of Vereeniging
Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902. The British
successfully won over the
Boer leaders, who now gave full support
to the new political system. Both former republics were incorporated
into the Union of
South Africa in 1910, as part of the British Empire.
4.1 Jameson Raid
4.2 Escalation and war
4.2.1 Arming the Boers
4.2.2 British case for war
4.2.3 Negotiations fail
5 First phase: The
Boer offensive (October–December 1899)
Boer organisation and skills
Boers besiege Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley
5.3 First British relief attempts
6 Second phase: The British offensive of January to September 1900
6.1 POWs sent overseas
6.2 Oath of neutrality
7 Third phase:
Guerrilla war (September 1900 – May 1902)
7.1 British response
7.2 Peace committees
7.4 Orange Free State
7.5 Western Transvaal
7.6 Eastern Transvaal
7.7 Cape Colony
8 Nonwhite roles
9 Concentration camps
10 The end of the war
10.1 Cost of the war
11 Aftermath and analysis
11.1 Union of South Africa
11.2 Effect of the war on domestic British politics
12 Imperial involvement
12.3 New Zealand
12.4 South Africa
13 Notable people involved in the
Victoria Cross recipients
14 Final overview
14.1 Did the British deliberate on the use of encampments?
16 See also
19 Further reading
20 External links
The conflict is commonly referred to as the
Boer War, since the First
Boer War (December 1880 to March 1881) is much less well known. "Boer"
is the common term for Afrikaans-speaking white South Africans
descended from the Dutch East India Company's original settlers at the
Cape of Good Hope. It is also known as the (Second) Anglo-
among some South Africans. In Afrikaans it may be called the
Boer War"), Tweede Boereoorlog ("Second Boer
War"), Tweede Vryheidsoorlog ("Second Freedom War", i.e., a war of
liberation) or Engelse oorlog ("English War"). In
South Africa it
is officially called the South African War.
The complex origins of the war resulted from more than a century of
conflict between the
Boers and Britain, but of particular immediate
importance was the question as to who would control and benefit most
from the very lucrative
Witwatersrand gold mines. During the
Napoleonic Wars, a British military expedition landed in the Cape
Colony and defeated the defending Dutch forces at the Battle of
Blaauwberg (1806). After the war, Britain formally acquired the
colony (1814), and encouraged immigration by British settlers who were
largely at odds with the Dutch settlers. Many
Boers who were
dissatisfied with aspects of British administration, in particular
with Britain's abolition of slavery on 1 December 1834, elected to
migrate away from British rule in what became known as the Great
The Trekkers initially followed the eastern coast towards Natal and
then, after Britain annexed Natal in 1843, journeyed northwards
towards the interior. There they established two independent Boer
South African Republic
South African Republic (1852; also known as the
Transvaal Republic) and the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State (1854). Britain
recognised the two
Boer republics in 1852 and 1854, but attempted
British annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 led to the First
in 1880–81. After Britain suffered defeats, particularly at the
Battle of Majuba Hill
Battle of Majuba Hill (1881), the independence of the two republics
was restored subject to certain conditions; relations, however,
In 1866 diamonds were discovered at Kimberley, prompting a diamond
rush and a massive influx of foreigners to the borders of the Orange
Free State. Then in 1886, gold was discovered in the Witwatersrand
area of the South African Republic. Gold made the Transvaal the
richest nation in southern Africa; however, the country had neither
the manpower nor the industrial base to develop the resource on its
own. As a result, the Transvaal reluctantly acquiesced to the
immigration of uitlanders (foreigners), mainly English speaking men
from Britain, who came to the
Boer region in search of fortune and
employment. This resulted in the number of uitlanders in the Transvaal
potentially exceeding the number of Boers, and precipitated
confrontations between the earlier-arrived
Boer settlers and the
Britain's expansionist ideas (notably propagated by Cecil Rhodes) as
well as disputes over uitlander political and economic rights resulted
in the failed
Jameson Raid of 1895. Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, who led
the raid, intended to encourage an uprising of the uitlanders in
Johannesburg. However, the uitlanders did not take up arms in support,
and Transvaal government forces surrounded the column and captured
Jameson's men before they could reach Johannesburg.
As tensions escalated, political manoeuvrings and negotiations
attempted to reach compromise on the issues of the rights of the
uitlanders within the South African Republic, control of the gold
mining industry, and Britain's desire to incorporate the Transvaal and
Orange Free State
Orange Free State into a federation under British control. Given
the British origins of the majority of uitlanders and the ongoing
influx of new uitlanders into Johannesburg, the
Boers recognised that
granting full voting rights to the uitlanders would eventually result
in the loss of ethnic
Boer control in the South African Republic.
The June 1899 negotiations in
Bloemfontein failed, and in September
1899 British Colonial Secretary
Joseph Chamberlain demanded full
voting rights and representation for the uitlanders residing in the
Transvaal. Paul Kruger, the President of the South African Republic,
issued an ultimatum on 9 October 1899, giving the British government
48 hours to withdraw all their troops from the borders of both the
Transvaal and the Orange Free State, albeit Kruger had ordered
Commandos to the Natal border in early September and Britain only had
troops in garrison towns far from the border, failing
which the Transvaal, allied to the Orange Free State, would declare
war on the British government. The British government rejected the
South African Republic's ultimatum, resulting in the South African
Orange Free State
Orange Free State declaring war on Britain.[citation
The war had three phases. In the first phase, the
preemptive strikes into British-held territory in Natal and the Cape
Colony, besieging the British garrisons of Ladysmith, Mafeking and
Boers then won a series of tactical victories at
Magersfontein and Spionkop.
In the second phase, after the introduction of greatly increased
British troop numbers under the command of Lord Roberts, the British
launched another offensive in 1900 to relieve the sieges, this time
achieving success. After Natal and the
Cape Colony were secure,
Britain was able to invade the Transvaal, and the republic's capital,
Pretoria, was ultimately captured in June 1900.
In the third and final phase, beginning in March 1900, the Boers
launched a protracted hard-fought guerrilla war against the British
forces, lasting a further two years, during which the
targets such as British troop columns, telegraph sites, railways and
storage depots. In an effort to cut off supplies to the raiders, the
British, now under the leadership of Lord Kitchener, responded with a
scorched earth policy of destroying
Boer farms and moving civilians
into concentration camps.
Some parts of the British press and British government expected the
campaign to be over within months, and the protracted war gradually
became less popular, especially after revelations about the conditions
in the concentration camps (where as many as 26,000 Afrikaner women
and children died of disease and malnutrition). The
finally surrendered on Saturday, 31 May 1902, with 54 of the 60
delegates from the Transvaal and
Orange Free State
Orange Free State voting to accept
the terms of the peace treaty. This was known as the Treaty of
Vereeniging, and under its provisions, the two republics were absorbed
into the British Empire, with the promise of self-government in the
future. This promise was fulfilled with the creation of the Union of
South Africa in 1910.
The war had a lasting effect on the region and on British domestic
politics. For Britain, the Second
Boer War was the longest, the most
expensive (£200 million, almost £22 billion at 2015 prices), and the
bloodiest conflict between 1815 and 1914, lasting three months
longer and resulting in higher British casualties than the Crimean War
(1853–56), although more soldiers died from disease in the Crimean
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Extent of the
British Empire in 1898, prior to the outbreak of the
The geography of the region;
South African Republic/Transvaal
Orange Free State
British Cape Colony
The southern part of the African continent was dominated in the 19th
century by a set of struggles to create within it a single unified
state. While the
Berlin Conference of 1884–5 sought to draw
boundaries between the European powers' African possessions, it also
set the stage for further scrambles. Britain attempted to annex first
South African Republic
South African Republic in 1880, and then, in 1899, both the South
African Republic and the Orange Free State. In 1868, Britain annexed
Basutoland in the
Drakensberg Mountains following an appeal from
Moshesh, the leader of a mixed group of African refugees from the Zulu
wars, who sought British protection against the Boers.
In the 1880s,
Bechuanaland (modern Botswana, located north of the
Orange River) became the object of a dispute between the Germans to
the west, the
Boers to the east, and Britain's
Cape Colony to the
Bechuanaland had no economic value, the "Missionaries
Road" passed through it towards territory farther north. After the
Damaraland and Namaqualand (modern Namibia) in 1884,
Bechuanaland in 1885.
First Boer War
First Boer War of 1880–81 the
Boers of the Transvaal Republic
had proved skilful fighters in resisting the Britain's attempt at
annexation, causing a series of British defeats. The British
William Ewart Gladstone
William Ewart Gladstone had been unwilling to become
mired in a distant war, requiring substantial troop reinforcement and
expense, for what was at the time perceived to be a minimal return. An
armistice followed, ending the war, and subsequently a peace treaty
was signed with the Transvaal President Paul Kruger.
In 1886, a big gold field was discovered at an outcrop on a large
ridge some 69 km (43 mi) south of the
Boer capital at
Pretoria, it reignited British imperial interests. The ridge, known
locally as the "Witwatersrand" (white water ridge, a watershed)
contained the world's largest deposit of gold-bearing ore. With the
1886 discovery of gold in the Transvaal, a gold rush brought thousands
of British and other prospectors and settlers from across the globe
and over the border from the
Cape Colony (under British control since
Gold Production on the Witwatersrand
1898 to 1910
(Nov- 1901 Apr)
The city of
Johannesburg sprang up as a shanty town nearly overnight
as the uitlanders (foreigners, white outsiders) poured in and settled
around the mines. The influx was such that the uitlanders quickly
Johannesburg and along the Rand, although
they remained a minority in the Transvaal. The Boers, nervous and
resentful of the uitlanders' growing presence, sought to contain their
influence through requiring lengthy residential qualifying periods
before voting rights could be obtained, by imposing taxes on the gold
industry and by introducing controls through licensing, tariffs and
administrative requirements. Among the issues giving rise to tension
between the Transvaal government on the one hand and the uitlanders
and British interests on the other, were
Established uitlanders, including the mining magnates, wanted
political, social, and economic control over their lives. These rights
included a stable constitution, a fair franchise law, an independent
judiciary and a better educational system. The Boers, for their part,
recognised that the more concessions they made to the uitlanders the
greater the likelihood – with approximately 30,000 white male Boer
voters and potentially 60,000 white male uitlanders – that their
independent control of the Transvaal would be lost and the territory
absorbed into the British Empire.
The uitlanders resented the taxes levied by the Transvaal government,
particularly when this money was not spent on
uitlander interests, but diverted to projects elsewhere in the
Transvaal. For example, as the gold-bearing ore sloped away from the
outcrop underground to the south, more and more blasting was necessary
for extraction, and mines consumed vast quantities of explosives. A
box of dynamite costing five pounds included five shillings tax. Not
only was this tax perceived as exorbitant, but British interests were
offended when President
Paul Kruger gave monopoly rights for the
manufacture of the explosive to a non-British branch of the Nobel
company, which infuriated Britain. The so-called "dynamite
monopoly" became a casus belli.
British imperial interests were alarmed when in 1894–95 Kruger
proposed building a railway through
Portuguese East Africa
Portuguese East Africa to Delagoa
Bay, bypassing British controlled ports in Natal and
Cape Town and
avoiding British tariffs. At the time the
Prime Minister of the
Cape Colony was Cecil Rhodes, a man driven by a vision of a British
controlled Africa extending from Cape to Cairo. Certain self-appointed
uitlanders representatives and British mine owners became increasingly
angered and frustrated by their dealings with the Transvaal
government. A Reform Committee (Transvaal) was formed to represent the
Main article: Jameson Raid
A sketch showing the arrest of Jameson after the failed raid, in 1896
In 1895, a plan was hatched with the connivance of the Cape Prime
Cecil Rhodes and
Johannesburg gold magnate
Alfred Beit to
take Johannesburg, ending the control of the Transvaal government. A
column of 600 armed men (mainly made up of his Rhodesian and
Bechuanaland policemen) was led by Dr.
Leander Starr Jameson
Leander Starr Jameson (the
Administrator in Rhodesia of the British
South Africa Company (or
Chartered Company) of which
Cecil Rhodes was the chairman) over the
Bechuanaland towards Johannesburg. The column was equipped
with Maxim machine guns and some artillery pieces.
The plan was to make a three-day dash to
Johannesburg before the Boer
commandos could mobilise and trigger an uprising by the primarily
British expatriate workers (uitlanders) organised by the Reform
Committee. The Transvaal authorities had advance warning of the
Jameson Raid and tracked it from the moment it crossed the border.
Four days later, the weary and dispirited column was surrounded near
Krugersdorp within sight of Johannesburg. After a brief skirmish in
which the column lost 65 killed and wounded—while the
Boers lost but
one man—Jameson's men surrendered and were arrested by the
The botched raid resulted in repercussions throughout southern Africa
and in Europe. In Rhodesia, the departure of so many policemen enabled
the Matabele and
Mashona peoples to rise up against the Chartered
Company, and the rebellion, known as the Second Matabele War, was
suppressed only at great cost.
A few days after the raid, the German Kaiser sent the Kruger telegram
congratulating President Kruger and the government of the South
African Republic on their success. When the text of this telegram was
disclosed in the British press, it generated a storm of anti-German
feeling. In the baggage of the raiding column, to the great
embarrassment of Britain, the
Boers found telegrams from Cecil Rhodes
and the other plotters in Johannesburg. Joseph Chamberlain, the
British Colonial Secretary, quickly moved to condemn the raid, despite
having approved Rhodes' plans to send armed assistance in the case of
Johannesburg uprising. Rhodes was severely censured at the Cape
inquiry and the London parliamentary inquiry and forced to resign as
Prime Minister of the Cape and as Chairman of the Chartered Company,
for having sponsored the failed coup d'état.
Boer government handed their prisoners over to the British for
trial. Jameson was tried in England for leading the raid where the
British press and London society inflamed by anti-
Boer and anti-German
feeling and in a frenzy of jingoism, lionised Jameson and treated him
as a hero. Although sentenced to 15 months imprisonment (which he
served in Holloway), Jameson was later rewarded by being named Prime
Minister of the
Cape Colony (1904–08) and ultimately anointed as one
of the founders of the Union of South Africa. For conspiring with
Jameson, the uitlander members of the Reform Committee (Transvaal)
were tried in the Transvaal courts and found guilty of high treason.
The four leaders were sentenced to death by hanging but this sentence
was next day commuted to 15 years' imprisonment. In June 1896, the
other members of the Committee were released on payment of £2,000
each in fines, all of which were paid by Cecil Rhodes. One Reform
Committee member, Frederick Gray, had committed suicide while in
Pretoria gaol, on 16 May, and his death was a factor in softening the
Transvaal government's attitude to the remaining prisoners.
Jan C. Smuts wrote in 1906,
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".
Escalation and war
Paul Kruger, leader of the
South African Republic
South African Republic (Transvaal)
Jameson Raid alienated many Cape Afrikaners from Britain and
united the Transvaal
Boers behind President Kruger and his government.
It also had the effect of drawing the Transvaal and the Orange Free
State (led by President Martinus Theunis Steyn) together in opposition
to perceived British imperialism. In 1897, a military pact was
concluded between the two republics.
Arming the Boers
Paul Kruger re-equipped the Transvaal army, importing 37,000
of the latest
Mauser Model 1895
Mauser Model 1895 rifles, and some 40 to 50 million
rounds of ammunition. The best modern European artillery was also
purchased. By October 1899 the Transvaal State
Artillery had 73 heavy
guns, including four 155 mm Creusot fortress guns and 25
37 mm Maxim Nordenfeldt guns. The Transvaal army had been
transformed; approximately 25,000 men equipped with modern rifles and
artillery could mobilise within two weeks. President Kruger's victory
Jameson Raid incident did nothing to resolve the fundamental
problem of finding a formula to conciliate the uitlanders, without
surrendering the independence of the Transvaal.
British case for war
The failure to gain improved rights for uitlanders became a pretext
for war and a justification for a big military buildup in Cape Colony.
The case for war was developed and espoused as far away as the
Australian colonies.[full citation needed] The Cape Colony
Governor, Sir Alfred Milner, Cape
Prime Minister Cecil Rhodes, the
Joseph Chamberlain and mining syndicate owners
(Randlords, nicknamed the gold bugs), such as Alfred Beit, Barney
Lionel Phillips favoured annexation of the
Confident that the
Boers would be quickly defeated, they planned and
organised a short war, citing the uitlanders' grievances as the
motivation for the conflict.
The influence of the war party with the British government was
limited. Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister, despised jingoism and
jingoists. He also distrusted the abilities of the
British Army. Yet he led Britain into war because he believed the
British government had an obligation to British South Africans,
because he thought that the Transvaal, the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State and the
Boers aspired to a Dutch
South Africa and that the achievement of
such a state would damage British imperial prestige and because of the
Boers treatment of black South Africans (Salisbury had referred to the
London Convention of 1884, after the British defeat, as an agreement
'really in the interest of slavery'). Salisbury was not alone
in this concern over the treatment of black South Africans; Roger
Casement, already well on the way to becoming an Irish Nationalist,
was nevertheless happy to gather intelligence for the British against
Boers because of their cruelty to Africans.
Given this sense of caution among members of the British cabinet and
of the army, it is even harder to understand why the British
government went against the advice of its generals (such as Wolseley)
to send substantial reinforcements to
South Africa before war broke
out. Lansdowne, Secretary of State for War, did not believe the Boers
were preparing for war and also believed that if Britain were to send
large numbers of troops, it would strike too aggressive a posture and
so prevent a negotiated settlement being reached or even encourage a
President Steyn of the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State invited Milner and Kruger to
attend a conference in Bloemfontein. The conference 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 Britain 48 hours
to withdraw all their troops from the border of Transvaal or 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' and 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
Such views were far from those of the British government and from
those in the army. To most sensible observers, army reform had been a
matter of pressing concern from the 1870s, constantly put off because
the British public did not want the expense of a larger, more
professional army and because a large home army was not politically
welcome. Lord Salisbury, the Prime Minister, then had to explain to a
Queen Victoria that 'We have no army capable of meeting even
a second-class Continental Power'.
When war with the
Boer Republics was imminent in September 1899, a
Field Force, referred to as the Army Corps (sometimes 1st Army Corps)
was mobilised and sent to Cape Town. It was "about the equivalent of
the I Army Corps of the existing mobilization scheme" and was placed
under the command of Gen Sir Redvers Buller, GOC in C of Aldershot
South Africa the corps never operated as such and the
1st, 2nd and 3rd divisions were widely dispersed.
First phase: The
Boer offensive (October–December 1899)
Boer organisation and skills
War was declared on 11 October 1899 with a
Boer offensive into the
British-held Natal and
Cape Colony areas. The
Boers had about 33,000
soldiers, and decisively outnumbered the British, who could move only
13,000 troops to the front line. The
Boers had no problems with
mobilisation, since the fiercely independent
Boers had no regular army
units, apart from the Staatsartillerie (Afrikaans for 'States
Artillery') of both republics. As with the First
Boer War, since most
Boers were members of civilian militias, none had adopted
uniforms or insignia. Only the members of the Staatsartillerie wore
light green uniforms.
Boers in a trench at Mafeking, 1899
When danger loomed, all the burgers (citizens) in a district would
form a military unit called a commando and would elect officers. A
full-time official titled a Veldkornet maintained muster rolls, but
had no disciplinary powers. Each man brought his own weapon, usually a
hunting rifle, and his own horse. Those who could not afford a gun
were given one by the authorities. The Presidents of the Transvaal
Orange Free State
Orange Free State simply signed decrees to concentrate within a
week and the Commandos could muster between 30,000–40,000 men.
Boer nevertheless was not thirsty for war. Many did not
look forward to fighting against fellow Christians and, by and large,
fellow Christian Protestants. Many may have had an overly optimistic
sense of what the war would involve, imagining that victory could be
won as easily as in the First South African War. Many, including
many generals, also had a sense that their cause was holy and just,
and blessed by God.
It rapidly became clear that the
Boer forces presented the British
forces with a severe tactical challenge. What the
Boers presented was
a mobile and innovative approach to warfare, drawing on their
experiences from the First
Boer War. The average
Boers who made up
their Commandos were farmers who had spent almost all their working
life in the saddle, both as farmers and hunters. They depended on the
pot, horse and rifle; they were also skilled stalkers and marksmen. As
hunters they had learned to fire from cover; from a prone position and
to make the first shot count, knowing that if they missed, the game
would either be long gone or could charge and potentially kill them.
At community gatherings, target shooting was a major sport; they
practised shooting at targets such as hens' eggs perched on posts 100
metres (110 yd) away. They made expert mounted infantry, using
every scrap of cover, from which they could pour in a destructive fire
using modern, smokeless,
Mauser rifles. In preparation for
Boers had acquired around one hundred of the latest
Krupp field guns, all horse-drawn and dispersed among the various
Kommando groups and several
Le Creusot "Long Tom" siege guns. The
Boers' skill in adapting themselves to become first-rate artillerymen
shows them to have been a versatile adversary. The Transvaal also
had an intelligence service that stretched across
South Africa and of
whose extent and efficiency the British were as yet unaware.
Boers besiege Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley
Boers struck first on 12 October at the Battle of Kraaipan, an
attack that heralded the invasion of the
Cape Colony and Colony of
Natal between October 1899 and January 1900. With speed and surprise,
Boer drove quickly towards the British garrison at Ladysmith and
the smaller ones at Mafeking and Kimberley. The quick Boer
mobilisation resulted in early military successes against scattered
British forces. Sir George Stuart White, commanding the British
division at Ladysmith, had unwisely allowed Major-General Penn Symons
to throw a brigade forward to the coal-mining town of Dundee (also
reported as Glencoe), which was surrounded by hills. This became the
site of the first engagement of the war, the Battle of Talana Hill.
Boer guns began shelling the British camp from the summit of Talana
Hill at dawn on 20 October.
Penn Symons immediately counter-attacked:
his infantry drove the
Boers from the hill, for the loss of 446
British casualties, including Penn Symons.
Boer force occupied Elandslaagte, which lay between Ladysmith
and Dundee. The British under Major General John French and Colonel
Ian Hamilton attacked to clear the line of communications to Dundee.
Battle of Elandslaagte
Battle of Elandslaagte was a clear-cut British tactical
victory, but Sir George White feared that more
Boers were about to
attack his main position and so ordered a chaotic retreat from
Elandslaagte, throwing away any advantage gained. The detachment from
Dundee was compelled to make an exhausting cross-country retreat to
rejoin White's main force. As
Boers surrounded Ladysmith and opened
fire on the town with siege guns, White ordered a major sortie against
their artillery positions. The result was a disaster, with 140 men
killed and over 1,000 captured. The
Siege of Ladysmith
Siege of Ladysmith began, and was
to last several months.
Meanwhile, to the north-west at Mafeking, on the border with
Transvaal, Colonel Robert Baden-Powell had raised two regiments of
local forces amounting to about 1,200 men in order to attack and
create diversions if things further south went amiss. Mafeking, being
a railway junction, provided good supply facilities and was the
obvious place for Baden-Powell to fortify in readiness for such
attacks. However, instead of being the aggressor Baden-Powell and
Mafeking were forced to defend when 6,000 Boer, commanded by Piet
Cronjé, attempted a determined assault on the town. But this quickly
subsided into a desultory affair with the
Boers prepared to starve the
stronghold into submission, and so, on 13 October, began the 217-day
Siege of Mafeking.
Lastly, over 360 kilometres (220 mi) to the south of Mafeking lay
the diamond mining city of Kimberley, which was also subjected to a
siege. Although not militarily significant, it nonetheless represented
an enclave of British imperialism on the borders of the Orange Free
State and was hence an important
Boer objective. From early November
Boer began their siege, again content to starve the town
into submission. Despite
Boer shelling, the 40,000 inhabitants, of
which only 5,000 were armed, were under little threat as the town was
well-stocked with provisions. The garrison was commanded by Lieutenant
Colonel Robert Kekewich, although
Cecil Rhodes was also a prominent
figure in the town's defences.
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 Rhodes displayed a notice encouraging people to
go down into shafts of the Kimberley Mine for protection. The
townspeople panicked, and people surged into the mine-shafts
constantly for a 12-hour period. Although the bombardment never came,
this did nothing to diminish the anxious civilians distress. The most
well-heeled of the townspeople, such as Cecil Rhodes, sheltered in the
Sanatorium, site of the present-day McGregor Museum; the poorer
residents, notably the black population, did not have any shelter from
In retrospect, the
Boer decision to commit themselves to sieges
(Sitzkrieg) was a mistake and one of the best illustrations of the
Boers' lack of strategic vision. Historically, it had little in its
favour. Of the seven sieges in the First
Boer War, the
Boers had won
none. More importantly, it handed the initiative back to the British
and allowed them time to recover, which they then did. Generally
speaking, throughout the campaign, the
Boers were too defensive and
passive, wasting the opportunities they had for victory. Yet that
passiveness also testified to the fact that they had no desire to
conquer British territory, but only to preserve their ability to rule
in their own territory.
First British relief attempts
Redvers Henry Buller
Redvers Henry Buller launched an offensive against the Boers
in the early phases of the war but after several defeats, culminating
at the Battle of Colenso, he was replaced by Earl Roberts
It was at this point that General Sir Redvers Henry Buller, a much
respected commander, arrived in
South Africa with British
reinforcements (including an army corps of three divisions). Buller
originally intended an offensive straight up the railway line leading
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 detachments to relieve the besieged
garrisons. One division, led by Lieutenant General Lord Methuen, was
to follow the Western Railway to the north and relieve Kimberley and
Mafeking. A smaller force of about 3,000 led by Major General William
Gatacre, was to push north toward the railway junction at Stormberg,
to secure the Cape Midlands district from
Boer raids and local
Boer inhabitants and Buller led the major part of the
army corps to relieve Ladysmith to the east.
The initial results of this offensive were mixed, with Methuen winning
several bloody skirmishes in the Battle of Belmont on 23 November, the
Battle of Graspan on 25 November, and at a larger engagement, the
Battle of Modder River
Battle of Modder River on 28 November resulting in British losses of
71 dead and over 400 wounded. British commanders had trained on the
lessons of the
Crimean War and were adept at battalion and regimental
set pieces with columns manoeuvring in jungles, deserts and
mountainous regions. What British generals failed to comprehend was
the impact of destructive fire from trench positions and the mobility
of cavalry raids. The British troops went to war with what would prove
to be antiquated tactics and in some cases antiquated weapons against
Boer forces with the destructive fire of their modern
Mausers, the latest
Krupp field guns and their novel tactics.
The middle of December was disastrous for the British Army. In a
period known as
Black Week (10–15 December 1899), the British
suffered defeats on each of the three fronts. On 10 December, General
Gatacre tried to recapture Stormberg railway junction about 80
kilometres (50 mi) south of the Orange River. Gatacre's attack
was marked by administrative and tactical blunders and the Battle of
Stormberg ended in a British defeat, with 135 killed and wounded and
two guns and over 600 troops captured.
Battle of Magersfontein
Battle of Magersfontein on 11 December, Methuen's 14,000
British troops attempted to capture a
Boer position in a dawn attack
to relieve Kimberley. This too turned into a disaster when the
Highland Brigade became pinned down by accurate
Boer fire. After
suffering from intense heat and thirst for nine hours, they eventually
broke in ill-disciplined retreat. The
Boer commanders, Koos de la Rey
and Piet Cronjé, had ordered trenches to be dug 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. The British lost 120
killed and 690 wounded and were prevented from relieving Kimberley and
Mafeking. A British soldier said of the defeat
Such was the day for our regiment
Dread the revenge we will take.
Dearly we paid for the blunder –
A drawing-room General's mistake.
Why weren't we told of the trenches?
Why weren't we told of the wire?
Why were we marched up in column,
Tommy Atkins enquire ...
— Private Smith
The nadir of
Black Week was the
Battle of Colenso
Battle of Colenso on 15 December,
where 21,000 British troops commanded by Buller attempted to cross the
Tugela River to relieve Ladysmith, where 8,000 Transvaal
the command of Louis Botha, were awaiting them. Through a combination
of artillery and accurate rifle fire and a better use of the ground,
Boers repelled all British attempts to cross the river. After his
first attacks failed, Buller broke off the battle and ordered a
retreat, abandoning many wounded men, several isolated units and ten
field guns to be captured by Botha's men. Buller's forces lost 145 men
killed and 1,200 missing or wounded and the
Boers suffered only 40
casualties, including 8 killed.
Second phase: The British offensive of January to September 1900
British casualties lie dead on the battlefield after the Battle of
Spion Kop, 24 January 1900
The British government took these defeats badly and with the sieges
still continuing was compelled to send two more divisions plus large
numbers of colonial volunteers. By January 1900 this would become the
largest force Britain had ever sent overseas, amounting to some
180,000 men with further reinforcements being sought.
While watching for these reinforcements, Buller made another bid to
relieve Ladysmith by crossing the Tugela west of Colenso. Buller's
subordinate, Major General Charles Warren, successfully crossed the
river, but was then faced with a fresh defensive position centred on a
prominent hill known as Spion Kop. In the resulting Battle of Spion
Kop, British troops captured the summit by surprise during the early
hours of 24 January 1900, but as the early morning fog lifted they
realised too late that they were overlooked by
Boer gun emplacements
on the surrounding hills. The rest of the day resulted in a disaster
caused by poor communication between Buller and his commanders.
Between them they issued contradictory orders, on the one hand
ordering men off the hill, while other officers ordered fresh
reinforcements to defend it. The result was 350 men killed and nearly
1,000 wounded and a retreat across the
Tugela River into British
territory. There were nearly 300
Louis Botha again on 5 February at Vaal Krantz and was
again defeated. Buller withdrew early when it appeared that the
British would be isolated in an exposed bridgehead across the Tugela,
for which he was nicknamed "Sir Reverse" by some of his officers.
Boer General Piet De Wet, 1900
By taking command in person in Natal, Buller had allowed the overall
direction of the war to drift. Because of concerns about his
performance and negative reports from the field, he was replaced as
Commander in Chief by Field Marshal Lord Roberts. Roberts quickly
assembled an entirely new team for headquarters staff and he chose
military men from far and wide: Lord Kitchener (Chief of Staff) from
Frederick Russell Burnham
Frederick Russell Burnham (Chief of Scouts), the American
scout, from the Klondike; David Henderson from the Staff College;
Neville Bowles Chamberlain
Neville Bowles Chamberlain from Afghanistan; and William Nicholson
(Military Secretary) from Calcutta Like Buller, Roberts first
intended to attack directly along the
Cape Town –
but, again like Buller, was forced to relieve the beleaguered
garrisons. Leaving Buller in command in Natal, Roberts massed his main
force near the
Orange River and along the Western Railway behind
Methuen's force at the Modder River, and prepared to make a wide
outflanking move to relieve Kimberley.
Siege of Ladysmith
Except in Natal, the war had stagnated. Other than a single attempt to
storm Ladysmith, the
Boers made no attempt to capture the besieged
towns. In the Cape Midlands, the
Boers did not exploit the British
defeat at Stormberg, and were prevented from capturing the railway
junction at Colesberg. In the dry summer, the grazing on the veld
became parched, weakening the Boers' horses and draught oxen, and many
Boer families joined their menfolk in the siege lines and laagers
(encampments), fatally encumbering Cronjé's army.
Roberts launched his main attack on 10 February 1900 and although
hampered by a long supply route, managed to outflank the Boers
defending Magersfontein. On 14 February, a cavalry division under
Major General John French launched a major attack to relieve
Kimberley. Although encountering severe fire, a massed cavalry charge
Boer defences on 15 February, opening the way for French to
enter Kimberley that evening, ending its 124 days' siege.
Meanwhile, Roberts pursued Piet Cronjé's 7,000-strong force, which
Magersfontein to head for Bloemfontein. General French's
cavalry was ordered to assist in the pursuit by embarking on an epic
50 km (31 mi) drive towards Paardeberg where Cronjé was
attempting to cross the Modder River. At the
Battle of Paardeberg
Battle of Paardeberg from
18 to 27 February, Roberts then surrounded General Piet Cronjé's
Boer army. On 17 February, a pincer movement involving both
French's cavalry and the main British force attempted to take the
entrenched position, but the frontal attacks were uncoordinated and so
were easily repulsed by the Boers. Finally, Roberts resorted to
bombarding Cronjé into submission, but it took a further ten precious
days and with the British troops using the polluted
Modder River as
water supply, resulted in a typhoid epidemic killing many troops.
General Cronjé was forced to surrender at Surrender Hill with 4,000
The Relief of Ladysmith. Sir George Stuart White greets Major Hubert
Gough on 28 February. Painting by John Henry Frederick Bacon
In Natal, the Battle of the Tugela Heights, which started on 14
February was Buller's fourth attempt to relieve Ladysmith. The losses
Buller's troops had sustained convinced Buller to adopt
"in the firing line – to advance in small rushes, covered by rifle
fire from behind; to use the tactical support of artillery; and above
all, to use the ground, making rock and earth work for them as it did
for the enemy." Despite reinforcements his progress was painfully slow
against stiff opposition. However, on 26 February, after much
deliberation, Buller used all his forces in one all-out attack for the
first time and at last succeeded in forcing a crossing of the Tugela
to defeat Botha's outnumbered forces north of Colenso. After a siege
lasting 118 days, the
Relief of Ladysmith
Relief of Ladysmith was effected, the day after
Cronjé surrendered, but at a total cost of 7,000 British casualties.
Buller's troops marched into Ladysmith on 28 February.
After a succession of defeats, the
Boers realised that against such
overwhelming numbers of troops, they had little chance of defeating
the British and so became demoralised. Roberts then advanced into the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State from the west, putting the
Boers to flight at the
Battle of Poplar Grove
Battle of Poplar Grove and capturing Bloemfontein, the capital,
unopposed on 13 March with the
Boer defenders escaping and scattering.
Meanwhile, he detached a small force to relieve Baden-Powell, and the
Relief of Mafeking
Relief of Mafeking on 18 May 1900 provoked riotous celebrations in
Britain coining the Edwardian phrase mafficking. On 28 May, the Orange
Free State was annexed and renamed the
Orange River Colony.
After being forced to delay for several weeks at
Bloemfontein by a
shortage of supplies, an outbreak of enteric (typhoid) fever caused by
poor hygiene, drinking bad drinking water at Paardeburg and, appalling
medical care, Roberts finally 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, but finally captured Johannesburg
on 31 May and the capital of the Transvaal, Pretoria, on 5 June. The
Pretoria was Lt. William Watson of the New South Wales
Mounted Rifles, who persuaded the
Boers to surrender the
capital.[full citation needed] Before the war, the
constructed several forts south of Pretoria, but the artillery had
been removed from the forts for use in the field, and in the event
Pretoria without a fight. Having won the principal
cities, Roberts declared the war over on 3 September 1900; and the
South African Republic
South African Republic was formally annexed.
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
Sanna's Post on 31 March where 1,500
Boers under the command of
Christiaan De Wet
Christiaan De Wet attacked Bloemfontein's waterworks about 37
kilometres (23 mi) east of the city, and ambushed a heavily
escorted convoy, which caused 155 British casualties and the capture
of seven guns, 117 wagons, and 428 British troops.[full citation
Piet Cronjé as a prisoner of war in Saint Helena, 1900–02.
He was captured, with 4000 men, after the loss of the Battle of
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 Pretoria.
Although Roberts drove the
Boers from the hill, the
Louis Botha, did not regard it as a defeat, for he inflicted more
casualties on the British (totalling 162 men) while suffering around
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
26 August. As Roberts and Buller followed up along the railway line to
Komatipoort, Kruger sought asylum in
Portuguese East Africa
Portuguese East Africa (modern
Mozambique). Some dispirited
Boers did likewise, and the British
gathered up much war material. However, the core of the
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.
As Roberts's army occupied Pretoria, the
Boer fighters in the Orange
Free State had been driven into a fertile area known as the Brandwater
Basin in the north east of the Republic. 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 Archibald
Hunter set out from
Bloemfontein to achieve this in July 1900. The
hard core of the Free State
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.
Boers surrendered and much equipment was captured but as with
Roberts's drive against Kruger at the same time, these losses were of
relatively little consequence, as the hardcore of the
Boer armies and
their most determined and active leaders remained at large.
From the Basin,
Christiaan De Wet
Christiaan De Wet headed west. Although hounded by
British columns, he succeeded in crossing the Vaal into western
Transvaal, to allow Steyn to travel to meet their leaders. There was
much sympathy for the
Boers on mainland Europe and in October,
President Kruger and members of the Transvaal government left
Portuguese East Africa
Portuguese East Africa on the Dutch warship De Gelderland, sent by the
Queen of the Netherlands Wilhelmina. Paul Kruger's wife, however, was
too ill to travel and remained in
South Africa where she died on 20
July 1901 without seeing her husband again. President Kruger first
went to Marseille and then on to The Netherlands where he stayed for a
while before moving finally to Clarens, Switzerland, where he died in
exile on 14 July 1904.
POWs sent overseas
The first sizeable batch of
Boer prisoners of war taken by the British
consisted of those captured at the
Battle of Elandslaagte
Battle of Elandslaagte on 21
October 1899. At first, many were put on ships, but as numbers grew,
the British decided they did not 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. The
British feared they could be freed by sympathetic locals. Moreover,
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.
A Transit camp for
Prisoners of War
Prisoners of War near
Cape Town during the war.
Prisoners were then transferred for internment in other parts of the
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
India. No evidence exists of
Boer POWs being sent to the Dominions of
British Empire such as Australia,
Canada or New Zealand.
In all, about 26,000 POWs were sent overseas.
Oath of neutrality
On 15 March 1900 Lord Roberts issued a proclamation in terms of which
an amnesty would be granted to all burghers, except leaders, who took
an oath of neutrality and returned quietly to their homes. It is
estimated that between 12,000 and 14,000 burghers took this oath
between March and June 1900.
Guerrilla war (September 1900 – May 1902)
Kitchener succeeded Roberts in November 1900 and launched
anti-guerrilla campaigns; 1898 photograph in 1910 magazine
By September 1900, the British were nominally in control of both
Republics, with the exception of the northern part of Transvaal.
However, they soon discovered that they only controlled the territory
their columns physically occupied. Despite the loss of their two
capital cities and half of their army, the
Boer commanders adopted
guerrilla warfare tactics, primarily conducting raids against
railways, resource and supply targets, all aimed at disrupting the
operational capacity of the British Army. They avoided pitched battles
and casualties were light.
Boer commando unit was sent to the district from which its
members had been recruited, which meant that they could rely on local
support and personal knowledge of the terrain and the towns within the
district thereby enabling them to live off the land. Their orders were
simply to act against the British whenever possible. Their tactics
were to strike fast and hard causing as much damage to the enemy as
possible, and then to withdraw and vanish before enemy reinforcements
could arrive. The vast distances of the Republics allowed the Boer
commandos considerable freedom to move about and made it nearly
impossible for the 250,000 British troops to control the territory
effectively using columns alone. As soon as a British column left a
town or district, British control of that area faded away.
A surviving blockhouse in South Africa.
Blockhouses were constructed
by the British to secure supply routes from
Boer raids during the war.
Boer commandos were especially effective during the initial
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
Boer armies. Many British troops were therefore redeployed
out of the area, and had been replaced by lower-quality contingents of
Imperial Yeomanry and locally raised irregular corps.
From late May 1900, the first successes of the
Boer guerrilla strategy
were at Lindley (where 500 Yeomanry surrendered), and at Heilbron
(where a large convoy and its escort were captured) and other
skirmishes resulting in 1,500 British casualties in less than ten
days. In December 1900, De la Rey and
Christiaan Beyers attacked and
mauled a British brigade at Nooitgedacht. As a result of these and
Boer successes, the British, led by Lord Kitchener, mounted
three extensive searches for De Wet, but without success. However, the
very nature of the
Boer guerrilla war was sporadic, poorly planned,
and had little overall long-term objective, with the exception to
simply harass the British. This led to a disorganised pattern of
scattered engagements throughout the region.
The British were forced to quickly revise their tactics. They
concentrated on restricting the freedom of movement of the Boer
commandos and depriving them of local support. The railway lines had
provided vital lines of communication and supply, and as the British
had advanced across South Africa, they had used armoured trains and
had established fortified blockhouses at key points. They now
built additional blockhouses (each housing 6–8 soldiers) and
fortified these to protect supply routes against
Eventually some 8,000 such blockhouses were built across the two South
African republics, radiating from the larger towns along principal
routes. Each blockhouse cost between £800 to £1,000 and took about
three months to build. However, they proved very effective. Not one
bridge where one of these blockhouses was sited and manned was
The blockhouse system required an enormous number of troops to
garrison. Well over 50,000 British troops, or 50 battalions, were
involved in blockhouse duty, greater than the approximately 30,000
Boers in the field during the guerrilla phase. In addition, up to
16,000 Africans were used both as armed guards and to patrol the line
at night. The Army linked the blockhouses with barbed wire fences
to parcel up the wide veld into smaller areas. "New Model" drives were
mounted under which a continuous line of troops could sweep an area of
veld bounded by blockhouse lines, unlike the earlier inefficient
scouring of the countryside by scattered columns.
One British response to the guerrilla war was a 'scorched earth'
policy to deny the guerrillas supplies and refuge. In this image Boer
civilians watch their house as it is burned.
The British also implemented a "scorched earth" policy under which
they targeted everything within the controlled areas that could give
sustenance to the
Boer guerrillas with a view to making it harder for
Boers to survive. As British troops swept the countryside, they
systematically destroyed crops, burned homesteads and farms, poisoned
wells, and interned
Boer and African women, children and workers in
concentration camps. Finally, the British also established their own
mounted raiding columns in support of the sweeper columns. These were
used to rapidly follow and relentlessly harass the
Boers with a view
to delaying them and cutting off escape, while the sweeper units
caught up. Many of the 90 or so mobile columns formed by the British
to participate in such drives were a mixture of British and colonial
troops, but they also had a large minority of armed Africans. The
total number of armed Africans serving with these columns has been
estimated at approximately 20,000.
British Army also made use of
Boer auxiliaries who had been
persuaded to change sides and enlist as "National Scouts". Serving
under the command of General Andries Cronjé, the National Scouts were
despised as hensoppers (collaborators) but came to number a fifth of
the fighting Afrikaners by the end of the War.
The British utilised armoured trains throughout the War to deliver
rapid reaction forces much more quickly to incidents (such as Boer
attacks on blockhouses and columns) or to drop them off ahead of
Among those burgers who had stopped fighting, it was decided to form
peace committees to persuade those who were still fighting to desist.
In December 1900 Lord Kitchener gave permission that a central Burgher
Peace Committee be inaugurated in Pretoria. By the end of 1900 some
thirty envoys were sent out to the various districts to form local
peace committees to persuade burghers to give up the fight. Previous
leaders of the Boers, like Generals Piet de Wet and Andries Cronjé
were involved in the organisation.
Meyer de Kock
Meyer de Kock was the only emissary
of a peace committee to be convicted of high treason and executed by
Some burghers joined the British in their fight against the Boers. By
the end of hostilities in May 1902, there were no fewer than 5,464
burghers working for the British.
Orange Free State
Christiaan De Wet
Christiaan De Wet was the most formidable leader of the Boer
guerrillas. He successfully evaded capture on numerous occasions and
was later involved in the negotiations for a peace settlement.
After having conferred with the Transvaal leaders, De Wet returned to
the Orange Free State, where he inspired a series of successful
attacks and raids from the hitherto quiet western part of the country,
though he suffered a rare defeat at Bothaville in November 1900. 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 narrowly escaped across the Orange River.
From then until the final days of the war, De Wet remained
comparatively quiet, partly because the
Orange Free State
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. De Wet escaped the first such drive, but
lost 300 of his fighters. This was a severe loss, and a portent of
further attrition, although the subsequent attempts to round up De Wet
were badly handled, and De Wet's forces avoided capture.
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, General Koos 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
Koos De La Rey
Koos De La Rey attacked a British column under
Lieutenant-Colonel S. B. von Donop at Ysterspruit near Wolmaransstad.
De La Rey succeeded in capturing many men and a large amount of
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.
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 under the direction of Ian Hamilton. The
opportunity the British were waiting for arose on 11 April 1902 at
Rooiwal, where a commando led by General Jan Kemp and Commandant
Potgieter attacked a superior force under Kekewich. The British
soldiers were well positioned on the hillside 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 war.
Boer forces fought in this area, one under Botha in the south east
and a second under Ben Viljoen in the north east around Lydenburg.
Botha's forces were particularly active, raiding railways and British
supply convoys, and even mounting a renewed invasion of Natal in
September 1901. After defeating British mounted infantry in the Battle
of Blood River Poort near Dundee, Botha was forced to withdraw by
heavy rains that made movement difficult and crippled his horses. Back
on the Transvaal territory around his home district of Vryheid, Botha
attacked a British raiding column at Bakenlaagte, using an effective
mounted charge. One of the most active British units was effectively
destroyed in this engagement. This made Botha's forces the target of
increasingly large and ruthless drives by British forces, in which the
British made particular use of native scouts and informers.
Eventually, Botha 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
Lydenburg was largely unmolested. Viljoen was eventually
In parts of Cape Colony, particularly the Cape Midlands district where
Boers formed a majority of the white inhabitants, the British had
always feared a general uprising against them. In fact, no such
uprising took place, even in the early days of the war when Boer
armies had advanced across the Orange. The cautious conduct of some of
Orange Free State
Orange Free State generals had been one factor that
discouraged the Cape
Boers from siding with the
Nevertheless, there was widespread pro-
Boer sympathy. Some of the Cape
Dutch volunteered to help the British, but a much larger number
volunteered to help the other side. The political factor was more
important than the military: the Cape Dutch controlled the provincial
legislature. Milner said 90 percent favoured the rebels.
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 of the war, with intimidation by both sides of
each other's civilian sympathizers. In one of many skirmishes,
Commandant Lotter's small commando was tracked down by a much-superior
British column and wiped out at Groenkloof. Several captured rebels,
including Lotter and Scheepers, who was captured when he fell ill with
appendicitis, were executed by the British for treason or for capital
crimes such as the murder of prisoners or of unarmed civilians. Some
of the executions took place in public, to deter further disaffection.
Cape Colony was Imperial territory, its authorities forbade
British Army to burn farms or to force
Boers into concentration
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 at the Battle of Elands River and capturing their equipment.
From then until the end of the war, Smuts increased his forces from
among Cape rebels until they numbered 3,000. However, no general
uprising took place, and the situation in the Cape remained
In January 1902,
Manie Maritz was implicated in the
Leliefontein massacre in the far Northern Cape.
The policy on both sides was to minimise the role of nonwhites but the
need for manpower continuously stretched those resolves. At the battle
of Spion Kop in Ladysmith, MK Gandhi with 300 freeburger Indians and
800 Indentured Indian labourers started the Ambulance Corps. These
Indian stretcher bearers saved British lives. But for the opposition
side the war raged across their farms and their homes were destroyed,
many Africans became refugees and they, like the Boers, moved to the
towns where the British hastily created internment camps.
Subsequently, the "Scorched Earth" policy was ruthlessly applied to
Boers and Africans. Although most black Africans were not
considered by the British to be hostile, many tens of thousands were
also forcibly removed from
Boer areas and also placed in concentration
camps. Africans were held separately from
Boer internees. Eventually
there were a total of 64 tented camps for Africans. Conditions were as
bad as in the camps for the Boers, but even though, after the Fawcett
Commission report, conditions improved in the
"improvements were much slower in coming to the black camps." 20,000
About 10,000 black men were attached to
Boer units where they
performed camp duties; a handful unofficially fought in combat. The
British Army employed over 14,000 Africans as wagon drivers. Even more
had combatant roles as spies, guides, and eventually as soldiers. By
1902 there were about 30,000 armed Africans in the British Army.
Main article: British concentration camps
Tents in the
Bloemfontein concentration camp
The term "concentration camp" was used to describe camps operated by
the British in
South Africa during this conflict in the years
1900–1902, and the term grew in prominence during this period.
The camps had originally been set up by the
British Army as "refugee
camps" to provide refuge for civilian families who had been forced to
abandon their homes for whatever reason related to the war. However,
when Kitchener took over in late 1900, he introduced new tactics in an
attempt to break the guerrilla campaign and the influx of civilians
grew dramatically as a result. Disease and starvation killed
thousands.[additional citation(s) needed] Kitchener initiated
flush out guerrillas in a series of systematic drives, organised like
a sporting shoot, with success defined in a weekly 'bag' of killed,
captured and wounded, and to sweep the country bare of everything that
could give sustenance to the guerrillas, including women and
children ... It was the clearance of civilians—uprooting a
whole nation—that would come to dominate the last phase of the
Lizzie van Zyl
Lizzie van Zyl a
Boer child, visited by
Emily Hobhouse in a British
Boer farms were destroyed by the British under their "Scorched
Earth" policy—including the systematic destruction of crops and
slaughtering of livestock, the burning down of homesteads and farms,
and the poisoning of wells and salting of fields—to prevent the
Boers from resupplying from a home base many tens of thousands of
women and children were forcibly moved into the concentration camps.
This was not the first appearance of internment camps, as the Spanish
had used internment in Cuba in the Ten Years' War, but the
concentration camp system was the first time that a whole nation had
been systematically targeted, and the first in which some whole
regions had been depopulated.
Eventually, there were a total of 45 tented camps built for Boer
internees and 64 for black Africans. Of the 28,000
Boer men captured
as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. The vast majority of
Boers remaining in the local camps were women and children. Over
26,000 women and children were to perish in these concentration
The camps were poorly administered from the outset and became
increasingly overcrowded when Kitchener's troops implemented the
internment strategy on a vast scale. Conditions were terrible for the
health of the internees, mainly due to neglect, poor hygiene and bad
sanitation. The supply of all items was unreliable, partly because of
the constant disruption of communication lines by the Boers. The food
rations were meager and there was a two-tier allocation policy,
whereby families of men who were still fighting were routinely given
smaller rations than others The inadequate shelter, poor diet, bad
hygiene and overcrowding led to malnutrition and endemic contagious
diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery to which the children
were particularly vulnerable.  Coupled with a shortage of modern
medical facilities, many of the internees died.
The end of the war
The end result of the
Boer War was the annexation of the Boer
Republics to the
British Empire in 1902
Peace conference at Vereeniging
C Company returns from
Boer War, King Street in Toronto, Ontario,
Towards the end of the war, British tactics of containment, denial,
and harassment began to yield results against the guerrillas. The
sourcing and co-ordination of intelligence became increasingly
efficient with regular reporting from observers in the blockhouses,
from units patrolling the fences and conducting "sweeper" operations,
and from native Africans in rural areas who increasingly supplied
intelligence, as the
Scorched Earth policy took effect and they found
themselves competing with the
Boers for food supplies. Kitchener's
forces at last began to seriously affect the Boers' fighting strength
and freedom of manoeuvre, and made it harder for the
Boers and their
families to survive. Despite this success, almost half the Boer
fighting strength, 15000 men were still in the field fighting.
Kitchener's tactics were very costly: Britain was running out of time
and money and needed to change tack.
Boers and the British both feared the consequences of arming
Africans. The memories of the Zulu and other tribal conflicts were
still fresh, and they recognised that whoever won would have to deal
with the consequences of a mass militarisation of the tribes. There
was therefore an unwritten agreement that this war would be a "white
man's war." At the outset, British officials instructed all white
magistrates in the
Natal Colony to appeal to Zulu amakhosi (chiefs) to
remain neutral, and President Kruger sent emissaries asking them to
stay out of it. However, in some cases there were old scores to be
settled, and some Africans, such as the Swazis, were eager to enter
the war with the specific aim of reclaiming land confiscated by the
Boers. As the war went on there was greater involvement of Africans,
and in particular large numbers became embroiled in the conflict on
the British side, either voluntarily or involuntarily. By the end of
the war, many blacks had been armed and had shown conspicuous
gallantry in roles such as scouts, messengers, watchmen in
blockhouses, and auxiliaries.
And there were more flash-points outside of the war. On 6 May 1902 at
Holkrantz in the southeastern Transvaal, a Zulu faction had their
cattle stolen and their people mistreated by the
Boers as a punishment
for helping the British. The local
Boer officer then sent an insulting
message to the tribe, challenging them to take back their cattle. The
Zulus attacked at night, and in a mutual bloodbath, the
Boers lost 56
killed and 3 wounded, while the Africans suffered 52 killed and 48
The British offered terms of peace on various occasions, notably in
March 1901, but were rejected by Botha and the "Bitter-einders" among
the commandos. They pledged to fight until the bitter end and rejected
the demand for compromise made by the "Hands-uppers." Their reasons
included hatred of the British, loyalty to their dead comrades,
solidarity with fellow commandos, an intense desire for independence,
religious arguments, and fear of captivity or punishment. On the other
hand, their women and children were dying every day and independence
seemed impossible. The last of the
Boers surrendered in May 1902
and the war ended with the
Treaty of Vereeniging
Treaty of Vereeniging signed on 31 May
1902. The British had won and offered generous terms to regain the
support of the Boers.The
Boers were given £3,000,000 for
reconstruction and were promised eventual limited self-government,
which was granted in 1906 and 1907. The treaty ended the existence of
South African Republic
South African Republic and the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State as independent
Boer republics and placed them within the British Empire. The Union of
South Africa was established as a dominion of the
British Empire in
Cost of the war
It is estimated that the total cost of the war to the British
government was £211,156,000 (equivalent to £202,000,000,000 in
Cost of War over its entire course
Cost at the time
Relative value in 2014
Aftermath and analysis
Memorial to soldiers from
Quebec who fell in the Second
Boer War cast long shadows over the history of the South
African region. The predominantly agrarian society of the former Boer
republics was profoundly and fundamentally affected by the scorched
earth policy of Roberts and Kitchener. The devastation of both Boer
and black African populations in the concentration camps and through
war and exile were to have a lasting effect on the demography and
quality of life in the region. Many exiles and prisoners were unable
to return to their farms at all; others attempted to do so but were
forced to abandon the farms as unworkable given the damage caused by
farm burning and salting of the fields in the course of the scorched
earth policy. Destitute
Boers and black Africans swelled the ranks of
the unskilled urban poor competing with the "uitlanders" in the
The postwar reconstruction administration was presided over by Lord
Milner and his largely Oxford trained Milner's Kindergarten. This
small group of civil servants had a profound effect on the region,
eventually leading to the Union of South Africa.
In the aftermath of the war, an imperial administration freed from
accountability to a domestic electorate set about reconstructing an
economy that was by then predicated unambiguously on gold. At the same
time, British civil servants, municipal officials, and their cultural
adjuncts were hard at work in the heartland of the former Boer
Republics helping to forge new identities – first as 'British South
Africans' and then, later still, as 'white South Africans'."
Some scholars, for good reasons, identify these new identities as
partly underpinning the act of union that followed in 1910. Although
challenged by a
Boer rebellion only four years later, they did much to
shape South African politics between the two world wars and right up
to the present day".
Lord Milner was the British
High Commissioner of Southern
Africa. He was involved from the start of the war and had a role in
the peace process and the creation of the Union of South Africa.
The counterinsurgency techniques and lessons (the restriction of
movement, the containment of space, the ruthless targeting of
anything, everything and anyone that could give sustenance to
guerrillas, the relentless harassment through sweeper groups coupled
with rapid reaction forces, the sourcing and co-ordination of
intelligence, and the nurturing of native allies) learned during the
Boer War were used by the British (and other forces) in future
guerrilla campaigns including to counter Malayan communist rebels
during the Malayan Emergency. In
World War II
World War II the British also adopted
some of the concepts of raiding from the
Boer commandos when, after
the fall of France, they set up their special raiding forces, and in
acknowledgement of their erstwhile enemies, chose the name British
Many of the
Boers referred to the war as the second of the Freedom
Wars. The most resistant of
Boers wanted to continue the fight and
were known as "Bittereinders" (or irreconcilables) and at the end of
the war a number of
Boer fighters such as
Deneys Reitz chose exile
rather than sign an oath, such as the following, to pledge allegiance
The bearer, <prisoner name> has been released from prison of war
camp <Camp name> on signing that he acknowledge terms of
surrender and becomes a British subject.
Over the following decade, many returned to
South Africa and never
signed the pledge. Some, like Reitz, eventually reconciled themselves
to the new status quo, but others could not.
Union of South Africa
Main article: Union of South Africa
One of the most important events in the decade after the end of the
war was the creation of the Union of
South Africa (later the Republic
of South Africa). It proved a key ally to Britain as a
Dominion of the
British Empire during the World Wars. At the start of the First World
War a crisis ensued when the South African government led by Louis
Botha and other former
Boer fighters, such as Jan Smuts, declared
support for Britain and agreed to send troops to take over the German
German South-West Africa
German South-West Africa (Namibia).
Boers were opposed to fighting for Britain, especially against
Germany, which had been sympathetic to their struggle. A number of
bittereinders and their allies took part in a revolt known as the
Maritz Rebellion. This was quickly suppressed and in 1916, the leading
Boer rebels in the
Maritz Rebellion got off lightly (especially
compared with the fate of leading Irish rebels of the Easter Rising),
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. Thereafter the bittereinders concentrated
on political organisation within the constitutional system and built
up what later became the National Party, which took power in 1948 and
dominated the politics of
South Africa from the late 1940s until the
early 1990s, under the apartheid system.
Effect of the war on domestic British politics
Further information: Opposition to the Second
Memorial window from
St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin
St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin by An Túr Gloine.
Much of the Irish public sympathised with the
Boer side, rather than
the British side on which fought the Royal Irish Regiment.
Many Irish nationalists sympathised with the Boers, viewing them to be
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
Boers – this despite the fact that there were many Irish troops
fighting in the British army, including the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.[e]
In Britain, the "Pro-Boer" campaign expanded,[f] with writers often
The war also 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 forced clearance of women
and children, the destruction of the countryside, burning of Boer
homesteads and poisoning of wells, for example – and the conditions
in the concentration camps. It also became apparent that there were
serious problems with public health in Britain: up to 40% of recruits
in Britain 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
Having taken the country into a prolonged war, the Conservative
government was rejected by the electorate at the first general
election after the war was over. Balfour, succeeding his uncle Lord
Salisbury in 1903 immediately after the war, took over a Conservative
party that had won two successive landslide majorities but led it to a
landslide defeat in 1906.
A horse destined to serve in the war, being off-loaded in Port
The number of horses killed in the war was at the time unprecedented
in modern warfare. For example, in the Relief of Kimberley, French's
cavalry rode 500 horses to their deaths in a single day. The wastage
was particularly heavy among British forces for several reasons:
overloading of horses with unnecessary equipment and saddlery, failure
to rest and acclimatise horses after long sea voyages and, later in
the war, poor management by inexperienced mounted troops and distant
control by unsympathetic staffs. The average life expectancy of a
British horse, from the time of its arrival in Port Elizabeth, was
around six weeks.
Horses were slaughtered for their meat when needed. During the Siege
of Kimberley and
Siege of Ladysmith, horses were consumed as food once
the regular sources of meat were depleted. The besieged British
forces in Ladysmith also produced chevril, a Bovril-like paste, by
boiling down the horse meat to a jelly paste and serving it like beef
Horse Memorial in
Port Elizabeth is a tribute to the 300,000
horses that died during the conflict.
See also: History of the
British Army § South Africa
Stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps during the war,
including the future leader
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Middle row,
5th from left).
The vast majority of troops fighting for the British army came from
Great Britain. Yet a significant number came from other parts of the
British Empire. These countries had their own internal disputes over
whether they should remain tied to London, or have full independence,
which carried over into the debate around the sending of forces to
assist the war. Though not fully independent on foreign affairs, these
countries did have local say over how much support to provide, and the
manner it was provided. Ultimately, Australia, Canada,
New Zealand and
British South African Company administered Rhodesia all sent
volunteers to aid the United Kingdom.
Canada provided the largest
number of troops followed by Australia. Troops were also raised to
fight with the British from the
Cape Colony and the Colony of Natal.
Boer fighters, such as
Jan Smuts and Louis Botha, were
technically British subjects as they came from the
Cape Colony and
Colony of Natal, respectively.
There were also many volunteers from the
Empire who were not selected
for the official contingents from their countries and travelled
South Africa to form private units, such as the Canadian
Scouts and Doyle's Australian Scouts. There were also some European
volunteer units from British India and British Ceylon, though the
British Government refused offers of non-white troops from the Empire.
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. In many ways, the war set the pattern for the Empire'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 United States stayed neutral in the conflict, but some American
citizens were eager to participate. Early in the war Lord Roberts
cabled the American Frederick Russell Burnham, a veteran of both
Matabele wars but at that very moment prospecting in the Klondike, to
serve on his personal staff as Chief of Scouts. Burnham went on to
receive the highest awards of any American who served in the war, but
American mercenaries participated on both sides.
See also: History of the Australian Army §
Boer War 1899–1902
Main article: Military history of
Australia during the Second
British and Australian officers in South Africa, c. 1900
From 1899 to 1901 the six separate self-governing colonies in
Australia sent their own contingents to serve in the
Boer War. That
much of the population of the colonies had originated from Great
Britain explains a desire to support Britain during the conflict
appealing to many. After the colonies formed the
Australia in 1901, the new Government of
Australia sent "Commonwealth"
contingents to the war. The
Boer War was thus the first war in
Australia fought. A few Australians fought
Boer side. The most famous and colourful character was
Colonel Arthur Alfred Lynch, formerly of Ballarat, Victoria, who
raised the Second Irish Brigade.
A memorial in
New South Wales
New South Wales unveiled in 1903, dedicated
to Australians who served in the conflict (over 20,000).
The Australian climate and geography were far closer to that of South
Africa than most other parts of the empire, so Australians adapted
quickly to the environment, with troops serving mostly among the
army's "mounted rifles." Enlistment in all official Australian
contingents totalled 16,463. Another five to seven thousand
Australians served in "irregular" regiments raised in South Africa.
Perhaps five hundred Australian irregulars were killed. In total
20,000 or more Australians served and about 1,000 were killed. 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
When the war began some Australians, like some Britons, opposed it. As
the war dragged on some Australians became disenchanted, in part
because of the sufferings of
Boer civilians 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.
The convictions and executions of two Australian lieutenants, Harry
Harbord Morant, colloquially known as 'The Breaker' for his skill with
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. The controversial court-martial saw the three
convicted of executing
Boer prisoners under their authority. After the
war, though, Australians joined an empire-wide campaign that saw
Witton released from jail. Much later, some Australians came to see
the execution of Morant and Handcock as instances of wrongfully
executed Australians, as illustrated in the 1980 Australian film
One of the officers in the photo at left is LTCOL Percy Ricardo. CO of
Queensland Mounted Infantry contingent to South Africa.
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Canadian Appeal for the Widows and Orphans of the South African War
See also: Military history of
The unveiling of the South African War Memorial in Toronto, Ontario,
Canada, in 1908
Over 7,000 Canadian soldiers and support personnel were involved in
Boer war from October 1899 to May 1902. With
approximately 7,368 soldiers in a combat situation, the conflict
became the largest military engagement involving Canadian soldiers
from the time of Confederation until the Great War. Eventually,
270 soldiers died in the course of the
Boer War. The Canadian
public was initially divided on the decision to go to war as some
citizens did not want
Canada to become Britain's 'tool' for engaging
in armed conflicts. Many Anglophone citizens were pro-Empire, and
wanted the Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, to support the British
in their conflict. On the other hand, many
Francophone citizens felt
threatened by the continuation of British
Imperialism to their
In the end, in order to appease the citizens who wanted war and avoid
angering those who didn't, Laurier sent 1,000 volunteers under the
command of Lieutenant Colonel William Otter to aid the confederation
in its war to 'liberate' the peoples of the
Boer controlled states in
South Africa. The volunteers were provided to the British with the
stipulation that the British pay costs of the battalion after it
arrived in South Africa.
The supporters of the war claimed that it "pitted British Freedom,
justice and civilization against
Boer backwardness". The French
Canadians' opposition to the Canadian involvement in a British
'colonial venture' eventually led to a three-day riot in various areas
Harold Lothrop Borden
Harold Lothrop Borden – son of the National Minister of Defence and
the most famous Canadian casualty of the war
Commonwealth involvement in the
Boer War can be summarised into three
parts. The first part (October 1899 – December 1899) was
characterised by questionable decisions and blunders from the
Commonwealth leadership which affected its soldiers greatly. The
soldiers of the
Commonwealth were shocked at the number of Afrikaner
soldiers who were willing to oppose the British. The Afrikaner troops
were very willing to fight for their country, and were armed with
modern weaponry and were highly mobile soldiers. This was one of
the best examples of
Guerrilla style warfare, which would be employed
throughout the twentieth century after set piece fighting was seen as
a hindrance by certain groups. The
Boer soldiers would evade
capture and secure provisions from their enemies therefore they were
able to exist as a fighting entity for an indeterminate period of
The end of the First part was the period in mid-December which is
referred to as the "Black Week". During the week of 10–17 December
1899, the British suffered three major defeats at the hands of the
Boers at the battlefields of Stormberg,
Magersfontein and Colenso.
Afterwards, the British called upon more volunteers to take part in
the war from the Commonwealth.
The second part of the war (February–April 1900) was the opposite of
the first. After the British reorganised and reinforced under new
leadership, they began to experience success against the Boer
Commonwealth soldiers resorted to using blockhouses, farm
burning and concentration camps to 'persuade' the resisting
The final phase of the war was the guerrilla phase where many Boer
soldiers turned to
Guerrilla tactics such as raiding infrastructure or
communications lines. Many Canadian soldiers did not actually see
combat after getting shipped over to
South Africa as many arrived
around the time of the signing of the
Treaty of Vereeniging
Treaty of Vereeniging on 31 May
Notable Canadian Engagements
A British led attack trapped a
Boer Army in Central
South Africa on
the banks of the
Modder River from 18–27 February 1900. Over 800
Canadian Soldiers from Otter's 2nd
Special Service Battalion were
attached to the British attack force. This was the first major attack
involving the Canadians in the
Boer War as well as the first major
Commonwealth soldiers. The Canadian soldiers perched on a
hill above the
Boer camp and were credited with being the main reason
Boers under General Cronjé surrendered.
On 6 May 1900, the Commonwealth's northwards advance to the capital of
Pretoria was well on its way. However, the British soldiers
encountered a position of
Boer soldiers on the Zand River. The British
commander felt that the best course of action was to use cavalry to
Boers on their left flank and infantry would therefore
march on the
Boer right flank to secure a crossing. The Canadian 2nd
Battalion was the lead unit advancing on the right flank. However, due
to disease and casualties from earlier encounters, the 2nd battalion
was reduced to approximately half of its initial strength. The
Canadian battalion came under fire from the
Boers who were occupying
protected positions. The battle continued for several hours until the
British cavalry was able to flank the
Boers and force a retreat.
Canadian casualties were two killed and two wounded. The skirmishes
around the Zand River would continue and more soldiers from various
Commonwealth countries would become involved.
On the days of 28–29 May 1900, both the Canadian 2nd battalion and
the 1st Mounted Infantry Brigade fought together on the same
battlefield for the first, and only, time. The Mounted Brigade, which
encompassed units such as the Canadian Mounted Rifles and the Royal
Canadian Dragoons were given the task to establish a beachhead across
a river which the
Boers had fortified in an attempt to halt the
Commonwealth before they could reach the city of
Boers were mounting a heavy resistance to the advancing
mounted units, the
Commonwealth infantry units were tasked with
Boer units while the mounted units found another route
across the river with less resistance. Even after the cavalry made
it across to the other side of the river further down the line, the
infantry had to advance onto the town of
Doornkop as they were the
ones who were tasked with its capture. The Canadians suffered very
minimal casualties and achieved their objective after the Boer
soldiers retreated from their positions. Although the Canadians
suffered minimal casualties, the lead British unit in the infantry
advance, the Gordon Highlanders, did sustain heavy casualties in their
march from the riflemen of the
On 7 November 1900, a British-Canadian force was searching for a unit
Boer commandos which were known to be operating around the town of
Belfast, South Africa. After the British Commander reached the farm of
Leliefontein, he began to fear that his line had expanded too far and
ordered a withdrawal of the front line troops. The rear guard,
consisting of the
Royal Canadian Dragoons
Royal Canadian Dragoons and two 12 pound guns from D
section of the Canadian artillery, were tasked with covering the
Boers mounted a heavy assault against the Canadians
with the intention of capturing the two 12 pound artillery pieces.
During this battle, the Afrikaners outnumbered the Canadians almost
three to one. A small group of the Dragoons interposed themselves
Boers and the artillery in order to allow the guns and
their crews time to escape. The Dragoons won three Victoria
Crosses for their actions during the battle of Leliefontein, the
most in any battle with the exception of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in
World War I.
See also: Military history of
New Zealand § Second
New Zealand troops marching down Wellesley Street, Auckland, to embark
for South Africa
The top of the Dunedin
Boer War Memorial. The memorial reaffirms New
Zealand's dedication to the Empire. As McLean and Phillips said, the
Boer War Memorials are "tributes to the
outpourings of pride about New Zealand’s place” in the Empire.
When the Second
Boer War seemed imminent,
New Zealand offered its
support. On 28 September 1899,
Richard Seddon asked
Parliament to approve the offer to the imperial government of a
contingent of mounted rifles, 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 that bound
New Zealand to the
mother-country and the importance of a strong
British Empire for the
By the time peace was concluded two and a half years later, 10
contingents of volunteers, totalling nearly 6,500 men from New
Zealand, with 8,000 horses had fought in the conflict, along with
doctors, nurses, veterinary surgeons and a small number of school
teachers. Some 70 New Zealanders died from enemy action, with
another 158 killed accidentally or by disease. The first New
Zealander to be killed was Farrier G.R. Bradford at Jasfontein Farm on
18 December 1899. The
Boer War was greeted with extraordinary
enthusiasm when the war was over, and peace was greeted with
patriotism and national pride. This is best shown by the fact
that the Third, Fourth and Fifth contingents from
New Zealand were
funded by public conscription.
During the war, the British army also included substantial contingents
South Africa itself. There were large communities of
English-speaking immigrants and settlers in Natal and Cape Colony
Cape Town and Grahamstown), which formed volunteer
units that 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
Christiaan De Wet at
Wepener on the borders of Basutoland. Another
large source of volunteers was the uitlander community, many of whom
Johannesburg in the days immediately preceding the war.
Rhodesian volunteers leaving Salisbury for service in the Second Boer
Later during the war, Lord Kitchener attempted to form a
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 "hensoppers" (hands-uppers) and were often
coerced into giving support to the
Boer guerrillas. (This was one of
the reasons for the British ruthlessly scouring the countryside of
people, livestock and anything else the
Boer commandos might find
Like the Canadian and particularly the Australian and New Zealand
contingents, many of the volunteer units formed by South Africans were
"light horse" or mounted infantry, well suited to the countryside and
manner of warfare. 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 by
lance or sabre.[g] 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 Guides, Kitchener's Horse
and the Imperial Light Infantry.
Notable people involved in the
Harold Lothrop Borden
Harold Lothrop Borden was the only son of Canada's Canadian Minister
of Defence and Militia, Frederick William Borden. Serving in the Royal
Canadian Dragoons, he became the most famous Canadian casualty of the
Queen Victoria asked F. W. Borden for a
photograph of his son,
Wilfrid Laurier praised his
services, tributes arrived from across Canada, and in his home town
Canning, Nova Scotia, there is a monument (by Hamilton MacCarthy)
erected to his memory.
Memorial at Plymouth, by Emil Fuchs
Sam Hughes – Senior Militia officer and later a Federally elected
cabinet minister. As a very patriotic individual, Hughes became
involved in the
Boer war as a member of Brigadier-General Herbert
Settle's expedition after Hughes unsuccessfully tried to raise his own
brigade of soldiers. Hughes was noted by his colleagues for having
a dislike of professional soldiers and he was noted for being an
exceptional leader of irregular soldiers, whom he preferred to lead in
combat. However, Hughes was dismissed and was sent home in the
summer of 1900 for; sending letters back home which were published
outlining British command incompetence, his impatience and
boastfulness and his providing surrendering enemies favourable
conditions. When he arrived back in Canada, Hughes became very active
politically, and he would eventually start his political career with
the Conservatives. When he became a member of parliament, Hughes would
be in the position to become the Canadian Minister of Defence and
Militia in 1911, just prior the outbreak of World War I. This was a
position that Hughes would be dismissed from in 1916, due once again
to his impatience, among other reasons.
John McCrae – Best known as the author of the
World War I
World War I poem In
Flanders Fields, McCrae started his active military service in the
Boer War as an artillery officer. After completing several major
campaigns, McCrae's artillery unit was sent home to
Canada in 1901
with what would be referred to today as an 'honourable discharge'.
McCrae ended up becoming a special professor in the University of
Vermont for pathology and he would later serve in
World War I
World War I as a
Medical officer until his death from pneumonia while on active duty in
Harry "Breaker" Morant – Australian poet who participated in the
summary execution of several
Boer prisoners and the killing of a
German missionary who had been a witness to the shootings. Morant was
court-martialed and executed for murder.
Winston Churchill – Best known as the prime minister of Britain
during the main part of the Second World War, Churchill worked as a
war correspondent for The Morning Post. At the age of twenty-six,
he was captured and held prisoner in a camp in
Pretoria from which he
escaped and rejoined the British army. He received a commission in the
South African Light Horse (still working as a correspondent) and
witnessed the capture of Ladysmith and Pretoria.
Mahatma Gandhi – Best known as the leader of the independence
movement in India, he lived in
South Africa 1893–1915 where he
worked on behalf of Indians. He volunteered in 1900 to help the
British by forming teams of ambulance drivers and raising 1100 Indian
volunteer medics. At Spieon Kop Gandhi and his bearers had to carry
wounded soldiers for miles to a field hospital because the terrain was
too rough for the ambulances. General
Redvers Buller mentioned the
courage of the Indians in his dispatch. Gandhi and thirty-seven other
Indians received the War Medal.
Victoria Cross recipients
Four Canadian soldiers in the Second
Boer War received a Victoria
Cross, which is the highest military medal available to soldiers of
Commonwealth and former British Territories. It is awarded based
on exemplary bravery and valour in the presence of danger.
Arthur Herbert Lindsay Richardson
Arthur Herbert Lindsay Richardson – Soldier of Lord
Strathcona's Horse, Richardson rode a wounded horse, while wounded
himself, back into enemy fire to retrieve a wounded comrade whose
horse had been killed at Wolve Spruit on 5 July 1900.
Hampden Zane Churchill Cockburn
Hampden Zane Churchill Cockburn – Soldier of the Royal
Canadian Dragoons, Cockburn received his
Victoria Cross on 7 November
1900 when his unit was the rear guard at Leliefontein. Cockburn, along
Victoria Cross recipient Lieutenant R.E.W. Turner, held
off an advancing group of
Boer soldiers in order to allow two Canadian
Field guns to escape along with their crews. Cockburn was wounded and
captured by the
Richard Ernest William Turner
Richard Ernest William Turner – Soldier of the Royal
Canadian Dragoons, Turner received his
Victoria Cross during the same
portion of the conflict as Cockburn. Turner was wounded in the
conflict, however unlike Cockburn, Turner escaped. Turner would later
become a high-ranking officer in the Canadian army in World War I.
Edward James Gibson Holland
Edward James Gibson Holland – Soldier of the Royal Canadian
Dragoons. Holland received his
Victoria Cross from the same rear guard
conflict at Leliefontein on 7 November 1900 as Cockburn and Turner.
However, Holland received his medal for a different reason than the
two aforementioned Lieutenants. During the
Boer advance, Holland kept
Boer soldiers at bay with his carriage mounted Colt machine gun
despite the position becoming increasingly dangerous due to the
proximity of the enemy. With his gun jammed and in danger of falling
into enemy hands, Holland removed the Colt from its carriage and rode
away on his horse with the gun in hand.
Boer War was the harbinger for a new type of combat which
would persevere throughout the twentieth century, guerrilla
warfare. After the war was over, the entire British army underwent
a period of reform which was focused on lessening the emphasis placed
on mounted units in combat. It was determined that the
traditional role of cavalry was antiquated and improperly used on the
battlefield in the modern warfare of the
Boer War, and that the First
World War was the final proof that mounted attacks had no place in
twentieth century combat.
Cavalry was put to better use after the
reforms in the theatres of the Middle East and World War I, and that
the idea of mounted infantry was useful in the times where the war was
more mobile. An example of this was in the First World War during
the battle of Mons where the British cavalry held the Belgian town
against an initial German assault. Or the use of mounted infantry at
Battle of Megiddo (1918)
Battle of Megiddo (1918) when Allenby's force routed the enemy
owing to speed and dexterity of arms.
The Canadian units of the
Royal Canadian Dragoons
Royal Canadian Dragoons and the Royal
Canadian Mounted Rifles fought in the First World War in the same role
Boer war. However, during, and after, the
Second World War
Second World War the
regiments swapped their horses for mechanised vehicles. The
Boer War was also the beginning of types of conflict involving
machine guns, shrapnel and observation balloons which were all used
extensively in the First World War. To the Canadians however,
attrition was the leading cause of death in the second
Boer war, with
disease being the cause of approximately half of the Canadian
Canadians ended the war with four
Victoria Crosses to its soldiers and
Victoria Crosses were given to Canadian doctors attached to
British Medical Corps units, Lieutenant H.E.M. Douglas (1899,
Magersfontein) and Lieutenant W.H.S. Nickerson (1900,
Wakkerstroom). Not all soldiers saw action since many landed in
South Africa after the hostilities ended while others (including the
Special Service Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment) performed
garrison duty in Halifax, Nova Scotia so that their British
counterparts could join at the front lines. Later on, contingents of
Canadians served with the paramilitary
South Africa Constabulary. Both
sides used a scorched Earth policy to deprive the marching enemy of
food. And both had to corrall civilians into makeshift huts by
'concentrating them camps. For example, at
soldiers were held in captivity in
Boer encampments after surrendering
their arms, and civilians were often mixed in with service personnel
Boer did not have the resources to do otherwise. A total
of 116,000 women, children and
Boer soldiers were confined to the
Commonwealth concentration camps, of which at least 28,000, mainly
women and children, would die. The lack of food, water, and
sanitary provisions was a feature of 20th century warfare for both
civilians and armed services personnel, yet one consequence of the
Boer War and investigative commissions was the implementation of The
Hague Convention (1899) and Geneva Convention (1904); of which there
were many further agreements thereafter.
Did the British deliberate on the use of encampments?
The British saw their tactics of
Scorched Earth and concentration
camps as ways of controlling the
Boers by "eliminating the decay and
deterioration of the national character" and as a way of reinforcing
the values, through subjugation of citizens and the destruction of the
means for the
Boer soldiers to continue fighting, of British society
Boers were rejecting by engaging in a war against the
Boers saw it as a British ploy designed to
Boer soldiers into a surrender. With approximately 10%
of their population confined, many of whom were women and children,
Boers suggested that the British were forcing the Afrikaners to
return to their homes and protect their families who were in danger of
The Australian National
Boer War Memorial Committee organises events
to mark the war on 31 May each year. In Canberra, a commemorative
service is usually held at the Saint John the Baptist Anglican Church
in Reid. Floral tributes are laid for the dead.
Category:People of the Second
Boer foreign volunteers
Bombardment in the Second
British Logistics in the
History of South Africa
List of Second
Victoria Cross recipients
London to Ladysmith via
Pretoria account of the war by Winston
Churchill as a newspaper correspondent accompanying the troops
Military history of South Africa
Opposition to the Second
Premiership of Salisbury, The British prime minister
The Absent-Minded Beggar
Donkin Heritage Trail
^ The Rhodesia Regiment, drawing most of its personnel from the
Southern Rhodesia Volunteers, served in the war, contributing around
^ Larger numbers of volunteers came from the Netherlands, Germany and
Sweden-Norway. Smaller forces came from Ireland, Australia, Italy,
Congress Poland, France, Belgium, the Russian Empire, the United
States, Denmark and Austria-Hungary.
^ 5,774 died in combat; 2,108 died of wounds; 14,210 died of disease
^ 3,990 killed in battle; 157 died in accidents; 924 of wounds and
disease; 1,118 while prisoners of war.
^ "Although some 30,000 Irishmen served in the
British Army under
Irish General Lord Frederick Roberts, who had been Commander of Chief
of British Forces in Ireland prior to his transfer to South Africa,
some historians argue that the sympathies of many of their compatriots
lay with the Boers. Nationalist-controlled local authorities passed
Boer resolutions and there were proposals to confer civic honours
Boer leader, Paul Kruger." (Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall written
for History Ireland, 2004.)
^ Lloyd George and
Keir Hardie were members of the Stop the War
Committee (See the founder's biography: William T. Stead's.) Many
British authors gave their "Pro-Boer" opinions in British press, such
as G. K. Chesterton's writing to 1905 – (see Rice University
Chesterton's poetry analysis
^ British cavalry travelled light compared with earlier campaigns, but
were still expected to carry all kit with them on campaign owing to
distances covered on the Veldt.
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^ Jones 1999.
^ Grattan 2009, pp. 147–58.
^ Haydon 1964, p. [page needed].
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^ (Eveleigh Nash 1914, p. 309)
^ (Wessels 2011, p. 79)
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^ Wessels 2011, p. 79.
^ Millard, Candice (2016). Hero of the Empire: The
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^ Meintjes 1974, p. 7.
^ a b Pakenham 1979, pp. 1–5.
^ Pakenham 1979, pp. 493–95.
^ Wessels 2000, p. 97
^ Pakenham 1979, p. xv
^ Yap & Leong Man 1996, p. 134.
^ Measuringworth 2015, Relative Value of a UK Pound Amount – average
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^ Pakenham 1979, p. 30
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^ Wessels 2000, pp. 82–85
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Jeannette Duncan and the Legacy of the South African War". Journal of
Canadian Studies. University of Toronto Press. 44 (1): 75–90.
Wessels, André (2000). "Afrikaners at War". In Gooch, John. The Boer
War: Direction, Experience and Image. London: Cass.
Wessels, André (2010). A Century of Postgraduate Anglo-
(1899–1902) Studies: Masters' and Doctoral Studies Completed at
Universities in South Africa, in English-speaking Countries and on the
European Continent, 1908–2008. African Sun Media. p. 32.
Wessels, André (2011). The Anglo-
Boer War 1889–1902: White Man's
War, Black Man's War, Traumatic War. African Sun Media. p. 79.
Wessels, Elria (2009). "
Boers positions in the Klipriviersberg".
Veldslae-Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899–1902. Archived from the original on
14 February 2013.
Witton, George (2003). Scapegoats of the Empire: The True Story of
Breaker Morant's Bushveldt Carbineers. [full citation needed]
Yap, Melanie; Leong Man, Dainne (1996). Colour, Confusion and
Concessions: The History of the Chinese in South Africa. Hong Kong:
Hong Kong University Press. p. 510.
Gooch, John (ed.). The
Boer War: Direction, Experience and Image.
London: Cass. p. 179. – an anthology frequently citied in
Ockerbloom, John Mark, ed. (2017). "South African War, 1899–1902".
The Online Books Page. – a
Boer War bibliography of on-line
British War Office; Maurice, Sir John Frederick; Grant, Maurice Harold
(1906–1910). History of the war in South Africa, 1899–1902 (1st in
four volumes ed.). – detailed official British history
volume 1, maps volume 1 (1906)
volume 2, maps volume 2 (1907)
volume 3, maps volume 3 (1908)
volume 4, maps volume 4 (1910)
Reitz, Deneys (1929). Commando: A
Boer Journal of the
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