Boer War Page 92s
Rare Boer War Discoveries
Below are some items of interest that the Canadian Boer War Museum publishes for its viewers.

Ultra Rare Great Boer War Discoveries ( Jan. 2006)

The Dug Artifacts of Dave Gyles - African Relic Hunter Extraordinaire

The Art of Digging Up Historic Artifacts - An Interview with Dave Gyles

For many people digging up historic battlefield sites is a consuming hobby. Every day on ebay hundreds of items are sold to a ravenous buying public by hobbyists who go out with metal detectors to dig up shells, cannon balls, bullets, badges, combs, and uniform buckles, and buttons. "Dug" relics command premium prices from avid collectors.

One such digging enthusiast is Dave Gyles, of Safari Trek International, based in South Africa. Through his many years as a South African tour guide he has been fortunate to go to places which he considers a "digger's" paradise.

We gratefully acknowledge Dave's generosity in making some of his vast Boer War collection of dug items available for our viewers.

Dave has received past support for his research work and initiatives from the Royal Canadian Regiment (London & Pettawawa, Ontario) and the Museum of the Regiments (A Proud Journey Through History), Calgary, Alberta, as well as from the Ministry of Canadian Heritage, Veteran's Affairs, and the Historic Sites & Monuments Board of Canada, to help preserve Canadian heritage in South Africa.

Courtesy: The Dave Gyles Collection of Dug Boer War Artifacts
One Florin 1888 One Florin 1888 obverse
One Florin 1899 One Florin 1899
One Florin 1899 Double Florin 1888
Half Crown 1899 Farthing 1898
Farthing 1898 Farthing 1898 obverse
Farthing 1894 Farthing 1897
Dave says he did his digging right below the bank here of the Modder River. The Boer laager of wagons loaded with family possessions was located right behind the camera position. With the bombardment all was smashed to smithereens and through time relics trickled down the hillside. Enthuses Dave, "You don't need a shovel here. A trowel works great!"
Six Pence 1893 Six Pence 1897
Six Pence 1897 Three Pence 1899
Three Pence 1899 obverse Three Pence 1899
Gold Cuff links, Inscribed TWK
How often, while walking historic battlefields have you mused, "If only one could take time to dig here. What historic treasures might you find?"

"I used to think that too," mused long-time South African tour guide Dave Gyles, "When I was in Canada. But since I've been in South Africa, I've been able to indulge my passion for digging like never before. It's like no place else on earth. The sites are all untouched by progress; they're also remote which helps preserve them from vandals."

(ed. "Digging" resulting in "dug" relics refers to the art of excavating or digging up battlefields or army camp grounds from the past. Usually refers to American Civil War or World War I battlefields. Enthusiast of this practice often use metal detectors to tell them where they should dig for metallic objects.)

Through the courtesy of Dave Gyles of Safari Trek International we are pleased to be able to offer a small sample of the "dug" relics Dave has amassed in his years of traveling to South African battlefield locations.

"It really helps to get around being a tour guide and all. Also I get a lot of Canadian government work doing contracts for the Ministry of Canadian Heritage, taking photos of Canadian Boer War graves and such. I'm doing stuff for the RCRs (Royal Canadian Regiment) in London, Ontario too, and the Museum of the Regiments in Calgary, Alberta. So their contracts help me to get around to a lot of good digging sites I would otherwise never see."

Do you use a metal detector?

"Well some guys use them but they're sort of bulky items to carry around. I prefer to scout a location and then dig where it looks promising."

Can you give us an example Dave?

"Well take Paarderburg for example. It's a famous Canadian site and it's very remote so no one bothers you when you dig. You want to avoid answering a lot of fool questions from people. I like to avoid that and do my digging in private. That's my preference."

"Not only that, Paarderburg is a great site for digging as it's right on a river bank, the Modder there."

Is that where you got the relics that you brought us to photograph here?

"Yeah that's right. Didn't need to dig much at all. I just went along the river bank. Floods and time erodes the sides and all kinds of stuff comes tumbling down that once lay on top of where the battle took place. I just went below where the Boer laager was, and just scratched a bit with a trowel and it was amazing what came down in a very short time."

Do you really think these coins are from the battle?

"Oh absolutely! Look at the dates. Here's a double florin from 1888, several florins from 1899. See the six pence and three pence here, all 1890s. The battle took place in 1900. These coins would have been mint then. I got dozens of them, all 1800s. Not one after 1899."

But the coins look blackish, almost burned looking...

"Well do you know anything about the Battle of Paarderburg. The British bombarded the Boers for over a week with heavy artillery. Hundreds of wagons burned. People's belongings all went up in flames. That's why these coins are black. It's the flames from the fire that scorched them."

You seem to have lots.

"Oh I got tons. I got lucky."

Do you think you could spare one for our museum collection? Even the grottiest, smallest one would be nice? We'd pay you of course!

"Nope! Too valuable. These coins are worth a mint, not just because they're a hundred years old, but actual relics from the Battle of Paarderburg. They belonged to people who were there and the blacking from the fire fight makes these worth their weight in gold. Collectors in the UK would pay a fortune for them. I could get 100 pounds for each one no problem. Even the smallest one. Imagine what the whole lot would bring! Multiply that by a hundred. So sorry can't afford to part with even one. You can take pictures though, all you want. Just put a copyright on it. I don't want people stealing my stuff... I only brought a few to show you, though. Like I say, I got tons more at home. Must have been a cash box full that was blown up. Man I couldn't believe it when I found it. I dug like crazy, if you can believe! Nice eh?"

Did that lock come from Paardeberg?

"Oh yeah all this stuff's from Paarderburg. I figure the lock maybe was on the strongbox that held the coins. Look at the size of that thing, Couldn't find the key though! I dug long enough."

Anything else?

"Oh, yeah lots of stuff. Look at this thing. It's real gold! I'm sure."

What are those?

"Cuff links, real gold cuff links. Belonged to some Boer I guess whose stuff got blown up. They're in real great shape. Wonder what I could get for those?"

Looks like some initials on them. Looks like TWK. I wonder. Maybe you could trace the family they belonged to.

"Hmmh! I never noticed that before. Lemme see. Yeah, you're right. Looks like a big K. Maybe Kruger. Was Paul Kruger at Paarderburg? Maybe they're his. Have to do some research on that. Maybe he had a brother Tom. Here's a little cross too, I found. Once you start finding stuff you just gotta keep digging. You don't wanna stop cause you might miss something in the next shovelful. I'd still be digging, I guess, if it hadn't gotten dark!"

That looks like a sweetheart pin!

"Nah, that's just a worn off coin."

No see, it says Remember Me, Birdie. It's a sweetheart pin all right. You've got to invest in a loupe if you're going to keep digging up historic artifacts, or you miss half the story.

"Yeah. It says something all right. That magnifier's great. I better get one of those pronto... Now what were you saying? Something about a sweetheart pin?

Courtesy: The Dave Gyles Collection of Dug Boer War Artifacts
Girl's Crucifix Pendant Helmet Badge, Gloucestershire Reg't
Dave dug up many of these rare items with the pin still through the back lugs, just as when they were attached to the uniform. There are bits of cloth between the badges and buttons, and the retaining pins. So they were not dropped items, out of some soldier's kit or lost when the pin fell out. Something violent caused these badges to be ripped off a soldier's uniform and then dropped on the ground: perhaps an artillery blast, a bullet ripping through, or the frantic tearing of a medic trying to stop the blood from flowing...
Badge, Gloucestershire Reg't
Shoulder Flash, Gordon Highlanders .303 Lee-Metford Muzzle Protector
Mauser Shell Casing Shoulder Flash, Royal Artillery
Uniform Button Dave's preferred dig site, where the Modder River flows behind the Boer laager.
Surrender Hill Mauser and Martini-Henry Burned Ammunition
Royal Canadian Regiment Pith Helmet Badge Cap Badge Ottawa & Carleton Reg't

Wives and sweethearts gave the departing soldiers little pins to take with them as tokens of affection. It really brings the human feeling across the ages...

"So you think that's what that is. Wonder what that would bring? Lots do you think?"

Don't ask us. We're an educational museum not a retailer. We're interested in the story of the human beings that once owned those things. The people, the history, the heritage, that's what we focus on.

"Where do you think I could find out what it's worth? Must be a good bit, no?"

It depends. It's probably a British item.

"Oh I got lots more British stuff. Here, this looks like a cap badge from some British outfit. It says Egypt on it. And here's a specially neat thing with Gordon on it. It still has the original pin in place, and the cloth from the uniform still tacked on behind it. Must have been a shoulder badge or something... Here's a button too. Still has some cloth behind it too."

"Couple of more neat items here I dug up. This white thing's a muzzle protector. You put it over the muzzle to keep dirt from going down the barrel. Otherwise if you shoot with your gun plugged up the gun could blow up in your face."

That RA badge is interesting. Must be Royal Artillery.

"That's not from Paarderburg. I dug that up on Speen Kop. That's a great place to find stuff too. I got a whole bag of stuff there, but I didn't bring it... See it still has the pin attached behind it. It was probably blown off some British soldier there. They had a big defeat there, 1901 or 1902, I forget."

And all those rusty bits of metal.

"Oh those are Boer Mauser bullets and shell casings burned up by the British."

From Paardeberg?

"Oh no. I dug those up on Surrender Hill near Fouriesburg. That's a great place. Lots of Boers surrendered there at the end of the war and the British piled up all their guns and ammo and burned them. There's a big burned up patch of ground there and this stuff's just lying there. I didn't even have to dig very deep. Notice how the stuff's so shrivelled up. The bullets melted from the heat, and the casings too. The big ones are Martinis, big hunting guns the Boers used. I brought you those other shells to show you what they looked like before they were burned. The big lumps of lead are from the big Martini cartridges."

Do you ever find Canadian items?

"Oh yeah. I found cap badges from the Canadians. The maple leaf one they wore on their pith helmets. Also found a cap badge from an Ottawa regiment. The Carletons or something I think. Those sure must be worth something. The market for Canadian items is climbing out of sight. Fenian medals and QSA's from Canadians really bring in the big bucks.

The market drives this thing. Collectors of Canadiana, especially the military collectors just can't get enough. That's the beauty of "dug" items. They really are the real history. They were there. That's why I think these items must be worth a fortune. Whaddya think?

I just can't wait to go back and get more. In fact I'm planning to move from Cape Town - where I've been living for years - to Pretoria just so I can get closer to the good dig sites, like Paarderburg, and Belmont. Combine Canadian Government contract work with digging. A perfect combination. A good business sideline, don't you think?"

You sure have it all worked out Dave.

Go to
Please Note: You may not copy or use these pictures for any purpose whatsoever without first clearing copyright from the owner of these artifacts:

Dave Gyles of Safari Trek International, Pretoria, RSA

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Email your thanks to Dave's supporters for the work they are doing to promote Canada's Boer War heritage.
The Royal Canadian Regiment,
Pro Patria
London & Pettawawa, Ontario, Canada

The Royal Canadian Regiment

The RCR Association

The Museum of the Regiments,
A Proud Journey Through History
Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Museum Sponsorship

Education Promotion


PRICES REALIZED - South African Battlefield Relics Recently Sold on ebay

There is a constant stream of battlefield relics from South Africa passing through ebay, purporting to come from the main battles that "Won the Empire", including Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, from the Zulu Wars of 1879, and those from the later Boer War. Are they genuine? It's amazing how many dead relatives the sellers have, who supposedly, dug these up years ago...

Spion Kop - Lee-Metford .303 shell
- SOLD FOR - 62 pounds - $107 US
Spion Kop - Lee-Metford .303 shell
- SOLD FOR - 85 pounds - $148 US
Spion Kop - .303 shell, artillery shell fragment
- SOLD FOR - 51 pounds - $88 US
Rorke's Drift - Martini-Henry .450 cartridge
- SOLD FOR - 111 pounds - $193 US
Rorke's Drift - Martini-Henry .450 bullet
- SOLD FOR - 131 pounds - $227 US
Rorke's Drift - Martini-Henry .450 cartridge
- SOLD FOR - 99 pounds - $172 US
Rorke's Drift - Martini-Henry .450 cartridge
- SOLD FOR - 100 pounds - $174 US
Isandlwana - Martini-Henry .450 bullet
- SOLD FOR - 64 pounds - $111 US
Isandlwana - Martini-Henry .450 bullet
- SOLD FOR - 66 pounds - $115 US
Isandlwana - .450 cartridge, tent grommet
- SOLD FOR - 82 pounds - $142 US
Isandlwana - Martini-Henry .450 bullet
- SOLD FOR - 78 pounds - $135 US
It is nothing short of astonishing what collectors - mostly British - are willing to pay for the remains of even a single bullet from a South African battle.

Americans, who are fanatic Civil War collectors, will give you a whole handful of relics from one of their battlefields, for what you would have to pay for just a single scrunched Martini-Henry cartridge from Rorke's Drift, Isandlwana, or Spion Kop.

No wonder ebay sellers are searching out the old relics "my dead uncle once dug up in South Africa" because, what was formerly "just some old pieces of lead in a tobacco box" has become a virtual "treasure trove" thanks to internet marketing.

To ravenous British collectors, specialized relics, like coins, or badges from a South African battlefield, which are much rarer, are literally, "worth their weight in gold."

Which sends "relic hunters" and "diggers" madly scrambling for their shovels and metal detectors.

Rorke's Drift - Martini-Henry .450 bullet
- SOLD FOR - 51 pounds - $88 US

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