The Royal Canadian Regiment burying dead Boers and horses, and clearing a road to the Scottish Rifles at Belmont in December 1899.
Canadians did not fight here but occupied the battleground after it was all over.
It was at times like this, that Mauser clips like James' above, or watches, cufflinks, or bibles, would be removed from dead Boers.
It had to be small souvenirs because they had to be carried hundreds of kilometres across the African veldt, along with their rifles and other gear. So very few men chose to bring back souvenirs. James' large stash is quite unique.
Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.
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|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
James was, like many men who fought in the Boer War, a souvenir junkie from the biggest event in their lives. He collected shells and bullets of all different kinds from the battlefields where he fought, principally at Zand River, and Doordrecht, battles which cleared the way for the triumphant British march into Pretoria. James brought back this Mauser clip and empty casings - from the most famous rifle of the Boer War.
The accuracy of the Mauser bullet, against British officers and men, sporting white helmets and shiny swords and medals, caused huge casualties in the opening months of the Boer War. In desperation men painted their swords, bayonets, and white webbing with khaki stain. The Scots Greys even painted their horses. And khaki covers for pith helmets became the norm.
The Mauser is distinguishable, from its British .303 counterpart, by the notched or recessed (rimless) base. In combat it was decidedly superior.
The Mauser clip was revolutionary, and a great improvement on the British Lee-Metford magazine. During a battle, once a Canadian had emptied the Lee-Metford rifle's magazine, it effectively became a single shot weapon; he then had to load each bullet one at a time. No soldier could carry extra heavy and bulky Lee-Metford box magazines; but a Boer commando easily carried a bandoleer of a dozen or more lightweight Mauser clips.
The Boers loaded their rifles with clips of five shells. In the same motion it took a Tommy to load one bullet, a Boer could slip in a clip of five. In firepower one Boer was as effective as five Brits.
The advantage was actually far greater. British soldiers were still trained to shoot as a group, with individual accuracy not prized as much as producing a wall of fire against an approaching enemy.
The Boers, being hunters by nature, prized sharp shooting as a personal skill from long practice at filling the family larder with wild game. When a Boer shot he meant to hit; when a Tommy shot he hoped to hit...
|Souvenir Mauser Clip & Shells - James McKerihen 1900|
|Orig. Mauser clip & casings - Size - 57 mm
Found - Toronto, ON
Prov - McKerihen Coll
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure|
|Souvenir Boer Clip & Cartridge Battlefield Relics- James McKerihen 1900|
|Orig. clip & casings - Size - assorted
Found - Toronto, ON
Prov - McKerihen Coll
Left to right: .577 Enfield, 2 x .455/577 Martini-Henry, .38 unknown; .38/55 Winchester; 14 mm unknown; 11 mm Mauser clip; 2 x .303 Lee-Metford
Above the personal treasure trove of bullet and battlefield casing relics that James McKerihen brought back from his Boer War adventure in South Africa. Behind each bullet is a story...
1 - .577 Snider- This huge bullet was used in British military issue Snider Enfield rifles in the 1860s, first with a paper wrapper, later with one of brass, until replaced by the Martini-Henry in the 1870s. Perhaps James picked it up from a Boer who was still using this outmoded calibre, or got it as a historic curio from a British soldier pal.
2-3 .450/577 Martini-Henry - These two casing came from .450/577 Martini-Henry rifle, a very large calibre for the single shot rifle above that was the standard issue for the British Army from 1871 till 1888, and was used in its wars against the Zulus. It made one hell of a boom, a huge cloud of smoke, and walloped the shoulder.
The earlier bullet of the same calibre was the famous brass foil wrapped example left remnants of which are found on many Zulu battlefields in South Africa.
The .450 inch calibre was the diameter of the thin end of the shell to match the barrel diameter - the thickness of the famous US Wild West .45 pistol cartridge; the .577 inch calibre was the thick end of the shell which fit the breech.
The powder charge and the bottom of the bullet were sheathed in soft, rolled brass foil. Problems arose when the barrel overheated, after multiple firings, and the cartridges often jammed, or exploded prematurely, because the foil wrapping was too thin to prevent the overheated breech from igniting the powder, and blowing the shell up in your face, just after you loaded it.
So sometimes, while you were fiddling, trying to eject a spent shell with a knife, a Zulu stepped in with a short spear and ended your problems. At Isandlwana, in January 22, 1879, some 23,000 Zulus dispatched some 1300 British troops (including 850 Europeans) many, no doubt, caught with overheated Martini-Henry barrels.
Above part of the 1950s Raymond Stocker Collection: from Isandlwana a spent, grooved Martini-Henry bullet that probably hit soft earth, and hacked up cartridge, as well as a tent grommet, from the site where the British were slaughtered.
The two shells in the McKerihen Collection are the next generation of .450/577 Martini-Henry cartridges - introduced in 1885 - that addressed the foil wrapped cartridge problems by replacing the soft brass with a solid drawn, but heavier, casing.
Even after the Martini-Henry was replaced, with the Lee-Metford rifle in 1888, as standard issue for the British Army, it stayed in service off the beaten track, for years afterwards with the British forces and others.
Below is Canadian James Diffey left and comrades, during the Boer War, sporting Martini-Henry rifles. Since they were in the Army Service Corps, probably driving wagons, they were not issued the newer Lee-Metford rifles that the infantry was using.
They are also wearing bandoliers that carry single shells only. In action, each cartridge had to be laboriously removed from the single loops in the belt, channeled into the breech, fired, then another got out. In the time it took to do all that, the Boers could load and fire a clip of five Mauser bullets (see below).
During their colonizing period, the Boers had long preferred the large Martini-Henry for its lion, buffalo, and rhino stopping power. During the war, many Boers, who could not get hold of a Mauser, used their old Martini-Henrys. So James McKerihen would have been able to pick up these spent shells after any battle when the Boers were forced to withdraw.
4 .38 Mystery Casing #1 - A short rimmed and belted, .38 calibre, brass foil wrapped - you can see the fold - casing of unknown type, with no decipherable head stamps.
5 .38-55 WRA & Co - A shell marked "WRA & Co.38-55." This .38-55 shell, which has straight sides, was introduced in 1884, as a black powder round, and developed a great reputation as a big game hunting and target shooting calibre.
WRA stands for Winchester Repeating Arms Co. of Bridgeport, CT, and . 38-55 was an original calibre of the famous US Model 1894 Winchester repeating rifle. Possibly this shell came from the rifle of a Boer sniper who had one.
Or it may have come from an 1894 Winchester used by an American supporter. Some 300 Irish-Americans were organized, by Irish-American Col. John Blake, into an Irish Brigade to support the Boers fighting for their freedom. (Though some 28,000 Irishmen were fighting on the opposing British side.)
Most of Blake's men were on the Natal front. Perhaps some Americans were on the Pretoria front resulting in this US cartridge showing up there.
(In those days principled Americans, like Blake, could be found fighting on the side of oppressed peoples of the world. Today Americans can principally be found oppressing the poor peoples of the world to get at their oil reserves, and the billions of dollars worth of oilfield management contracts that people like Vice-President Cheney can divert to companies like Haliburton, where he was CEO, thanks to his political association with George Bush who is pleased - along with his friends in the Coalition of the Willing - to provide the wars that make it all happen. Cheney and Bush must sneer with derision at Benazir Bhutto's husband who is known as Mr. Ten Percent for exploiting Pakistan for his personal benefit when he had political power there - obviously, only an inept piker in their view.
Is it any wonder that polls show that Europeans, the most literate, educated, and informed electorate in history, believe, by a wide margin, that the biggest threat to world peace is not Terrorism, Al Qaeda, Muslims, or Iran and the Bomb, but America and its rapacious and uncontrolled military-industrial war machine. And Canadians are dying - literally in Afghanistan - because Canadian lobbyists are eager to be aboard the same armaments gravy train, as was recently made clear in a Parliamentary Committee Meeting when former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney admitted to taking sacs of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from an international armaments dealer for pushing military materiel overseas in the 1990s.
As the arms dealer who gave the Prime Minister the sacks of cash told the Committee, "I have called for a Parliamentary Inquiry because what I did in the 1980s and 90s was not at all unusual in Canada. Why pick on me? It was normal business then and still is... Huge cash payments for arms deals are being made, as we speak, to the same people tied for decades to Prime Minister Mulroney, and his Conservative Government!" (Paraphrase of testimony)
6 Mystery Casing #2 (head stamp right) - A large rimmed, bevel headed, necked (is gently tapered along its entire length), c 14 mm calibre casing marked X and 1895, showing it was manufactured in October 1895. It is probably German (Krupp) or Austrian (Mannlicher) but the manufacturing letters at the bottom are hard to confirm and are possibly J or F or H 8 C.
7 The 11 mm Mauser clip. These casings are all 11 mm at the base and 55 & 57 mm long. All, as well as the clip, are marked DM for Deutsche Waffen & Munitionsfabriken (German Weapons & Ammunition Factories) of Karlsruhe, Germany. By 1899 the 8 mm Mauser was the most up-to-date version. These 11 mm casings were slightly older stock from earlier Mauser weapons that the Boers were still shooting off.
8 Two .303 blunt nosed British bullets, of the kind the British Army was shooting during the Boer War...
Oddly James kept no other British .303 shell casings, beyond these two bullet heads. He only chose exotic rounds liberated from the enemy.
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
A tiny, but still fabulous memento of the Boer War service of Charlie Adams of the 10th Canadian Field Hospital, Army Medical Corps.
Charlie brought back a single .303 cartridge which, for over 100 years, has been tightly wrapped in a brittle paper wrapper which says "Used by Charlie Adams in the Boer War."
The cartridge is unique for another reason. It was manufactured in Charlie's home town of Montreal, and is head stamped DC by the Dominion Cartridge Co. and marked as a military round.
Being in the hospital corps meant that Charlie, in all probability, did not get to do much, if any, shooting at Boers.
So we're not sure what "used" means... In all likelihood he patched up more Boers than he shot at....
|.303 Cartridge - Sgt. Charlie Adams, 10th Canadian Field Hospital|
|Orig. cartridge - Size - 57 mm
Found - Montreal, QC
Left is one of the Mauser clips that revolutionized the war and which is similar to the one that James McKerihen "liberated" top. He could only find one that had been dropped and inserted some empty shells he found lying around.
The stash of another Boer veteran left shows live shells that he brought back in the same kind of clip. The veteran had his live bullets mounted on a felt covered board.
Left below in a favourite photographic pose of the day, a press of the thumb and five Mauser bullets are loaded at one go...
A controversial shell is at the 3 o'clock position, a soft-nosed bullet (JSP- jacketed soft point) which expanded on impact, creating more damage than a simple hole.
As the explosive charge of powder increased in the late 19th century, lead from fired bullets was increasingly being stripped off by the rifling in the barrel. To combat this fouling, the lead bullets were jacketed with brass. Unfortunately the hardened metal bullet now made a smaller cleaner hole and did less damage to a target than the old soft lead one used to.
So at Dum Dum in Bengal in India, in the early 1890s, a British Army Captain invented the JSP bullet by peeling off the top of the metal jacket, exposing the soft lead. Now when it hit the target the soft bullet immediately flattened, spreading out and doing massive tissue damage instead of just passing through. Military men everywhere were pleased with the British invention. DD now stood not only for Dum Dum but Death and Destruction, which, to their great delight, the JSP bullet had immeasurably increased...
Hunters loved it too; the JSP could mushroom and stop an animal much more quickly. (But the damage was really no greater than the old .450/577 had made.)
But civilians disagreed with the military, and outlawed the JSP for military use almost immediately, with the Hague Convention in 1899, just on the eve of the Boer War.
Boers being hunters first, military men not at all, when the Boer War broke out, had piles of JSP rounds for their hunting needs.
Many of these rounds found their way to the battlefields because Boers were responsible for their own upkeep, in fighting to defend their homeland, and families, unlike the British and colonials who were all paid and supplied with clothes, food, guns, and ammo, by the Imperial government.
Inevitably there were lots of hostile articles about the Boers using "outlawed" Dum Dum bullets which were found on battlefields.
Long after the war, charges and counter-charges flew back and forth about who was using illegal bullets to kill people with...
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
At the end of the war the Boers had no more 8 mm Mauser rounds or Martini-Henry shells left, so they had to resort to using British rifles and ammo that they managed to capture, or find discarded, at abandoned British camp sites.
It was truly amazing how many rifle shells that were left behind because of careless or lazy Tommies, or when they had to abandon a site in a hurry because Boers suddenly appeared in the neighbourhood...
The Boers would then hide bullets they found, especially the large ammo caches, in secret locations, until they could procure weapons to fire them off with.
Sometimes they never came back...
The captured, or found, Lee-Metford .303 rounds that we feature here were kindly provided for photography by Dave Gyles who said he recovered them near Balmoral, RSA. He said they came from a stash that remained unused, and undiscovered near Elephantsfontein, until long after the war was over.
The shells are still live and carry the Royal Laboratories, Woolwich, back stamp. These are the shell type from which James McKerihen pulled out the bullet heads for his collection of relics top.
Below a classic pose of young Boer commandos that demonstrates - for all men of all nations throughout History - the dogged resolve of men to resist invaders of their homeland. No hint of a smile or surrender; each had probably lost a sister, mother, wife, daughter, or granny in the concentration camps; or more than one. They show their success in being able to liberate British guns and ammo to turn against their attackers.
|.303 Lee-Metford Liberated Live Rounds, 1900|
|Orig. rounds - Size - 77 mm|
Found - by Dave Gyles, RSA