Boer War Page 14

Boer War Memorabilia Part 1

No war in history - before or since - produced such a wealth and diversity of memorabilia for people to buy and display to show they honored the soldiers who participated in this mighty imperial adventure. In a way that may seem incomprehensible today, every household identified with their fighting men which they sent off to do the Queen's work. And each displayed mementoes to have a daily reminder in the home of their small town hero in far off South Africa.


The Kilties (1902-1933): "Soldiers of the Queen" 1902

You are listening to one of Canada's very first recordings, "The Soldiers of the Queen" played and sung in 1902 by one of Canada's very first recording bands, the Kilties. Formed in Toronto by members of the 48th Highlanders Band to keep some touring commitments of that group, the Kilties Band of Belleville, Ontario was one of Canada's most popular international touring bands of its day. The Soldiers of the Queen was the march most often identified with the Victorian army.

You can hear these earliest Canadian recordings on our program's soundtrack. Details on our Music Page.


Other Busts & Statues
Busts and statues were produced also by those who fought against Tommy Atkins. Foreign volunteers came to fight on the side of the Boers from Ireland, the US, Italy, France, Austria, Germany, Russia, and from Scandinavia.

The statue (left) is 12 1/2" high and was cast in Sweden to honour the volunteers from Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Norway who fought and died fighting for the Boer cause.

At Magersfontein, almost the entire Scandinavian contingent was wiped out, fighting from behind anthills like the one pointed out by historian John Goldi (below). The Scandinavian commander and his men, are still lying on the battlefield today in mass graves covered by rocks (background), on the spot where they made their valiant last stand.

One hundred years later, the memory of the Scandinavian volunteers is kept alive by Afrikaners who remember the sacrifice of comrades from foreign countries who volunteered to fight for the Boer cause, and died, far from home. (left) a wreath on top of one of two Scandinavian mass graves (below).

(below) A 7" bust of President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal Republic.

Paul Kruger was driven into exile, by Roberts' March on Pretoria, without ever seeing his wife again. He died in Switzerland in 1904, but lies today in Pretoria cemetery. His face below on a French-Canadian advertising poster from 1899.

(below left) General Christiaan de Wet of the Orange Free State. General De Wet, the guiding spirit for the Boer guerilla war, was the most famous, and probably the most successful, Boer general of the war. Though half a million soldiers, and a dozen British generals, relentlessly hunted his commando, he was never caught.

Even Sam Steele and his hundreds of Canadian Mounties, who supposedly always "get their man", spent months in futile efforts to corral this master of guerrilla warfare. In his honour, for 50 years after the war ended, Canadian veterans at their annual Paardeberg banquets, featured "De Wet soup", whose recipe started with abominably dirty river water, liberally garnished with putrefying "corpse of horse" and a dash of "graying gruel of mule."

To show their respect for his determined fight on behalf of his people, the Dutch created the famous yellow and orange "General De Wet Tulip" (Liliaceae early single) in his honour.

(left) Major-General Robert Baden-Powell in a cast metal bust. His heroic seven month successful defence of Mafeking made him Britain's most famous general in May 1900.

Toy Soldiers

Toy soldiers - cast-in-lead, military figures of the past , accurately painted to reflect their historic uniforms - have entranced collectors since ancient times. But at the end of the nineteen century, coinciding with Britain's imperial adventurism, interest in toy soldier collecting and manufacturing blossomed as never before.

Today, Joe Weider (body builder), Conrad Black (publisher), and Hal Jackman (former Lt.-Governor of Ontario), all have priceless collections of toy soldiers.

Bell tents (above), were common in settled locations but were horribly overcrowded.  Wrote Canadian patient Willie Griesbach, (left):

"There were seven men in my tent, and four of them died."

On campaign, when on the move, the thousands of troops had no tents, but slept in the open under a blanket.

Often the men were too cold to sleep, so they walked around to generate heat. On one occasion, 10 men and dozens of animals froze to death one night during a marching stop.

During the Boer War khaki finally replaced the traditional flashy red serge (far left), as the fighting uniform of the British infantryman. It was much harder to see against the dry grass of the veldt. 

But proud Highlanders (left) refused to give up their kilts. So their white sporrans made a mockery of their camouflage, by providing wonderful targets. Casualties remained high in the early battles. But pride soon gave way to common sense, and  Highland Regiments rather than giving up the kilt entirely, started wearing large khaki aprons to cover kilt and sporran and put an end to the carnage.

The early success of the Boers was due to the fact, that when they were on the point of being overwhelmed by superior numbers, they ran - to fight another day. They especially fled from British bayonets which the eager professional soldiers wanted to test in fighting.
Boers had two advantages over the British. They were mounted, and far more mobile (above) than the British infantry sent to catch them. And being hunters they were skilled in the art of camouflage.

A number of armed Boer women (above right) took to the field with guns. The British found a dead woman in the trenches at Colenso. General Cronje's wife had her own rifle during the siege at Paardeberg. Mrs. Otto Krantz (right) served or several months in the trenches.

No British Tommy who wanted to live would ride a white horse anymore. It meant instant death to anyone foolish enough to ride anywhere near Boers who were all crack shots. Lord Kitchener took a perverse delight in flaunting his courage to his men by often deliberately riding a white horse. But Boers (above) could ride white horses because they knew the average British soldier was a terrible shot

Lord Kitchener (below, riding on Lord Robert's right), took a perverse delight in flaunting his courage to his men by often, deliberately, being the only one to ride a white horse.

Colonial soldiers, especially the mounted infantryman (left and below left) helped to turn the tide of the war against the Boers. Canadian, Australian and New Zealanders, like the Boers, came from a rural, riding tradition and were often good hunters.

One Boer woman confided to Canadian artilleryman Lt. Morrison, that the Transvaalers (below) were all waiting for the Canadians to go home at the end of their contract time, after which the Boers would then easily defeat the British Tommies and win the war.


The traditional dashing British cavalryman was no match for the Boers, because he would only fight on horseback, wielding a lance or sword. Dismounting to fight on foot was regarded as cowardly and low class. So when they charged they were simply shot down by the Boers using modern long-range Mauser rifles, long before they could even see a Boer, let alone slash or spear them.

But the colonial mounted infantryman (above left) rode to the battle site, and dismounted to fight on foot from behind rocks and cover, while one man stayed our of sight to hold the horses (left).

In the end, the mounted colonial troopers played a role far out of proportion to their numbers in the field. They were more a match for the Boer, in hunting, riding and shooting skills, than the average British soldier.

More than one Canadian when captured by the Boers was asked to join them in their cause since they obviously shared so many similarities.

In the early battles the Boers picked off horrendous numbers of British officers, easy to identify because they rode the best horses, carried swords, or wore fancy medals and insignia.

Within months these were all stripped away to make officers (right) indistinguishable from men. General Woodgate even carried a rifle on the way up Spion Kop to make the disguise complete. And it worked. Canadian Lt. Morrison chatted easily with a soldier on a station platform for quite a while before discovering that he had in fact been talking to General Hector Macdonald himself.

The vast majority of the Tommies, never fought. Far more were digging and lifting, and guarding, than were fighting. Railways needed to be repaired, because the Boers blew them up constantly. 8,000 blockhouses had to be built and thousands of miles of barbed wire strung out between them. The shovel and the pick were the weapon that Tommy Atkins wielded most often.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000