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Boer War

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1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment

The Middlesex Regiment

The Boer War or South African War was not the usual little War fought by professional soldiers with armies largely composed of native troops but a major war, a serious war, in which the general public became intimately involved.

It had many of the characteristics of the larger world wars, it involved large armies and masses of ill-trained volunteers, it affected large numbers of civilian resources of the countries involved, it was affected by technological changes in warfare and presented great logistical problems, it lasted longer than any previous conflict since the Napoleonic War. The events of the war were in three stages: first the Boers beat the British, second the British beat the Boers, third it all became very messy and this final part became unsatisfactory. The Boers refused to believe that they were beaten and took to guerrilla warfare. The British retaliated by burning farms and forming concentration camps.

The first act of the Boers were besieging a number of towns (Laydsmith, Kimberly & Mafeking) which kept the British force occupied. This action caught the attention of the British public which with all the other events, disasters and change of fortune made the war the most followed by both the public and Queen Victoria alike.

The British Army in South Africa numbered just under 15,000 troops with a field force of 47,000 men on their way at the outbreak of the war. This made a sizable portion of the army. Whereas the South African Army size varied widely from 30-45,000 men. For most part of the start of the war, the skill in fighting led to a disastrous outcome of battles due to the British tactics s of frontal attacks of well fortified positions. Coming to a head between 10-17th December 1899 which was called "Black Week". The British fortune changed in January 1900 when a new commander for the army arrived at Cape Town. This was Lord Roberts who went on the offensive and achieved almost instant success. He collected all the horses he could and formed units of Mounted Infantry. The various towns were relieved, and the Boer commander fled to Europe. Boer resistance came to an end. Lord Roberts returned to England leaving General Kitchener to deal with the numerous guerrilla bands of stubborn Boers who refused to quit. The tactic was used to deal with this determined enemy was to build a line of Blockhouses across the countryside and using a mobile force drive them into these defensive positions where they would fight or surrender. The Blockhouse were safe for small arms fire but the building could not with stand Artillery or explosive fire.

Men of the Middlesex Regiment wore what would have been worn on their arrival in South Africa. This consisted of the khaki tunic & trousers, gaiters & black boots. A foreign service helmet covered in khaki material along with the addition of a neck curtain at the back of the helmet to give added protection from the sun.

They also wore the "1888 pattern Slade Wallace" valise equipment (belts, straps, pouches, water bottle & haversack). This series of straps & pouches held the soldiers ammunition, water , food, bayonet, blanket & other equipment. The weapon used was the Lee-Enfield rifle introduced in the mid-1890ís and used with modifications until the end of WWII.

information provided by D.P.&G Publications

The Second Boer War (Dutch: Tweede Boerenoorlog, Afrikaans: Tweede Boereoorlog), commonly referred to as The Boer War and also known as the South African War (outside of South Africa), the Anglo-Boer War (among most South Africans) and in Afrikaans as the Boereoorlog or Tweede Vryheidsoorlog ("Second War of Liberation"), was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902, between the British Empire and the two independent Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic).

The origins of the war were complex, resulting from over two centuries of conflict between the Boers and the British. The British had in 1806, during the Napoleonic Wars, taken permanent possession of the Cape Colony and over subsequent decades successive waves of Boers had migrated away from the rule of the British Empire in the Cape Colony, first along the eastern coast towards Natal and then, after Natal was annexed in 1843, northwards towards the interior where two independent Boer republics (the Orange Free State, and the South African Republic - also called the Transvaal) were established. The British recognised the two Boer Republics in 1852 and 1854 but the annexation of the Transvaal in 1877 lead to the First Boer War, 1880-1. After British defeats, most heavily at the Battle of Majuba, Transvaal independence was restored subject to certain conditions but relations were uneasy.

When in 1886 massive deposits of gold were discovered in the Transvaal, a huge inflow of uitlanders (foreigners), mainly from Britain, came to the region in search of employment and fortune. Gold made the Transvaal the richest and potentially the most powerful nation in southern Africa but it also resulted in the number of uitlanders in the Transvaal eventually exceeding the number of Boers and precipitated confrontations over the old order and the new. Disputes over uitlander political and economic rights resulted in the failed Jameson Raid of 1895. This raid led by (and named after) Dr Leander Starr Jameson, the Administrator in Rhodesia of the Chartered Company was intended to encourage an uprising of the uitlanders in Johannesburg. However Johannesburg failed to rise and Transvaal government forces surrounded the column and captured Jameson's men before they could reach Johannesburg.

As tensions escalated from local to national level, there were political manouverings and lengthy negotiations to reach a compromise ostensibly over the issue of 'uitlander rights' but ultimately over control of the gold mining industry and the British desire to incorporate the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in a federation under British control. Given the number of British uitlanders already resident in the Transvaal and the ongoing inflow, the Boers recognised that the franchise policy demanded by the British would inevitably result in the loss of independence of the Transvaal. The negotiations failed and in September 1899, Chamberlain (the British Colonial Secretary) sent an ultimatum to the Boers, demanding full equality for those uitlanders resident in the Transvaal. President Kruger, seeing no other option than war, issued his own ultimatum giving the British 48 hours to withdraw all their troops from the border of the Transvaal, failing which the Transvaal, allied with the Orange Free State, would declare war against the British. The rejection of the ultimatum followed and war was declared.

The war had three distinct phases. First, the Boers mounted pre-emptive strikes into British-held territory in Natal and the Cape Colony, besieging the British garrisons of Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley. The Boers then won a series of tactical victories at Colenso and Spion Kop against a failed British counter-offensive to relieve the three sieges. Second, after the introduction of greatly increased British troop numbers under the command of Lord Roberts, another and this time successful British offensive was launched in 1900 to relieve the sieges. After Natal and the Cape Colony was secure, the British were able to invade the Transvaal and the republic's capital, Pretoria, was captured in June 1900.

Finally, beginning in March 1900, the Boers engaged a protracted hard-fought guerrilla warfare against the British forces. This lasted a further eighteen months during which the Boers raided targets such as British columns, telegraph sites, railways and storage depots. In an effort to cut off supplies to the raiders, the British, now under the control of Lord Kitchener, responded with a scorched earth policy of destroying Boer farms and by moving civilians into concentration camps.

The campaign had been expected by the British to be over within months, and the protracted war became increasingly unpopular especially after revelations about the conditions in the concentration camps (where thousands died of disease and malnutrition). The demand for peace led to a settlement of hostilities, and in 1902 the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed.The two Republics were absorbed into the British Empire, although the British were forced to make a number of concessions and reparations to the Boers. The granting of limited autonomy for the area ultimately lead to the establishment of the Union of South Africa. The war had a lasting effect on the region and on British domestic politics. The war, known as the last British imperial war, was the longest (almost three years), the most expensive (over £200 million), and the most disastrous of all wars for Britain between 1815 and 1914.

 

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