Boer War Page 16

Boer War Memorabilia Part 3

Harry Macdonough (1871-1931) & S.H. Dudley: "Red Wing" c 1900

You are listening to an original recording from c 1900, featuring two of Canada's very first recording artists, Harry Macdonough, and SH Dudley, singing "Red Wing." Songs like this distracted the soldier's minds from the dreary and deadly war, and the tune served as a vehicle for many bawdy ballads concocted by camp poets.

Technical Note: To turn off this recording, use a hammer on the front of your monitor.

Other Boer War Treasures

This wonderfully luminous and glossy 6" ceramic tile (left) was produced for those who wanted to cover their entire kitchen wall with images of General Buller VC, the first British commander-in-chief in South Africa. Buller was as wildly popular among the Canadians as he was among the British Tommies. His humanity was deep-seated. His VC had been won during the Zulu Wars when he had ridden into danger, not once, but repeatedly, to rescue men from certain death. But it resulted in an indecisive war effort. His spectacular failures in ejecting the Boers from British territory led to his replacement with Lord Roberts VC.

Celebrating Lord Roberts' spectacular March on Pretoria, is this heavy and wonderful, 10" high, brass doorstop (below) - showing wear on the highlights from 100 years of loving polishing, and this glorious 10" brass trivet which lists his victories (left).

Rudyard Kipling, started celebrating the efforts of the common British soldier in stories and poems as "The Gentleman in Khaki." The motif of the bandage-wrapped Tommy, became wildly popular in every kind of memorabilia, including the trivet (far left).

Spoons are the most common Boer War memorabilia found today, including one featuring Lord Roberts (far left), and General Smith-Dorrien (left.)

Smith-Dorrien who commanded the Royal Canadians at Paardeberg, and the Canadian mounted troops and artillery at Liliefontein, was outspoken about the pride he had in the Canadians he led during the war. (Found in Pickering, ON.)

Horse Brass: These 9" horse brasses (left and below), adorned Canadian working horses as they plowed the fields 100 years ago, while the young men were off fighting in Africa.

Victoria was known as "The Good," but Edward, who presided over the longest part of the war - and refused to be crowned until it was over - was celebrated on plates and mugs, and on this horse brass, as "The Peacemaker." Both show wear from generations of loving polishing. (Found in Milton, ON.)

These two spectacular pieces, still mounted on their original leather backs, studded with brass nails, are extremely rare. Most horse brass found today is fake, manufactured at home by unscrupulous antique merchants eager to capitalize on the hunger of the unwary for interesting historical memorabilia.

The most common military memorabilia to be found today includes the large 2 1/2" badge (left), specifically designed for, and worn on the side of their pith helmets, by members of the Royal Canadian Regiment, Canada's First Contingent. (Found in Montreal, PQ)

Every soldier was awarded the QSA, the Queen's South Africa Medal with a bar for each battle or theatre of operations. The name of each soldier was engraved on the rim. (Found in Toronto, ON) Members of Canada's later contingents who came when Edward was King, received the KSA.

Boer War Mugs & Cups

Far more people could afford mugs and cups which displayed the faces of Boer War heroes.

This mug of General Buller is huge (4 1/2" high by 5" wide). Buller was the first commander-in-chief in South Africa and suffered horrendous defeats because he did not want to sacrifice the lives of his men needlessly. He was the most popular general among all the British rank and file and a favourite of the Canadians who served under him.

The small cup, (above, left and right), was decorated with distinctly Canadian maple leafs but copied Rudyard Kipling's Boer War motif of the wounded British Tommy as the long-suffering "Absent-Minded Beggar." (Found in London, ON)

The sugar bowl (left), and the large mug (below left), sports the same front as the cup, and the same rear, "The Maple Leaf Forever". All were made in England for the Canadian market. (Found in Freelton, ON)

Baden-Powell "The Pillar of a People's Hope", (above and below left) was a favourite for cups and plates.

The hero of Mafeking held out against the besieging Boers for seven months until he was rescued by Canadian gunners of  C Battery who took their guns by ship, train, and on foot, 2000 miles, across South Africa to get to him.

Perhaps the most tragic figure to be memorialized on a large mug (4 1/2" high by 5" wide) was General Hector Macdonald (below left). He succeeded General Wauchope as head of the Highland Brigade after the latter's death at Magersfontein. (Found in Toronto, ON)

One of the few British generals who rose up from the ranks on merit (instead of having his family buy him the commission), "Fighting Mac" won the profound respect of Canadians like Lt. EWB Morrison who had talked at length to him at a railway platform before he even knew that he was talking to a general. Morrison (who would in later life also become a general) was taken aback to find a British officer who was not aloof from the men he led to war.

Tragically, in 1903, Macdonald was called back to London to answer charges of an illicit relationship with a youth in Ceylon. To save friends, family, and his honored profession, the embarrassment of an enquiry, he shot himself in a Paris hotel room.

How many times, in a 100 years, has this mug been raised to toast the British Tommy? Or anyone else? 

A large, 5 1/2" high Aller Vale mug (4 1/2" across) celebrated the pride that people had in Tommy Atkins, the common soldier, some 400,000 of whom went overseas to fight - and thousands to die - for the British Empire. (Found in Saskatoon, SK)

Magic Lantern Slides

Magic Lantern slides brought the Boer War home to millions of people who watched events unfold through these turn of the century slide shows at home or projected on screens in halls and theatres.

The slides were 3 1/2" square and were sandwiched between two pieces of glass. Thousands of views were produced to feed a public hungry for news and views... 


Early heroes of the war against the Boers (President Paul Kruger in front of his house top left) were General Buller (above left), the first Commander-in-Chief in South Africa who was quickly replaced by Lord Roberts (above). But he lost his only son Freddy, who fell trying to rescue the guns at Colenso (left). Freddy won a Victoria Cross making them the first father and son to be so honoured.

A new subject became the train wreck at Frere (left, below), where Winston Churchill was captured by the Boers, before making his legendary escape.

14 year-old Trumpeter Shurlock charging at Elandslaagte (above), where he shot three Boers, became a new hero to feature on a slide. 

Still, Victorians could appreciate the pathos of a Boer child handing his father the last shell as the British artillery shells are pounding in.

General French (below) and his cavalry was heralded for heading off and surrounding the Boer army of General Cronje at Paardeberg. British officers watch the bombardment of the Boer camp on the Modder River (below right).

Canadians were instrumental in bringing about the surrender of over 4,000 Boer men, women, and children, as the white flags went up on Feb. 27, 1900. (left).

But the war would go on for two more years as the British army slogged through rain, and built pontoon bridges under fire.

The MI, or mounted infantry, who were now as mobile as the Boers (below), finally helped Lord Kitchener (below left) who succeeded Roberts, to end the war.

Tobacco Cards
In a time when everybody smoked, everyone handled these tobacco cards that were placed inside all cigarette packages. These pictures of Boer War heroes were small, only 1 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches. It seemed that just about anybody could become a tobacco card hero.
General Gatacre presided over an early British disaster at Stormberg, where his army got lost in a night march, and retreated under fire. Only later did he learn that some 600 of his men were missing, left behind, completely forgotten and abandoned by their commander. He was later sent back to England in shame.
In the morning, Lord Roberts was told he would become British commander-in-chief in South Africa. In the afternoon, he learned that his only son Freddy (left) had been killed at Colenso, valiantly trying to rescue British guns from falling into Boer hands. They would become the first father and son to both be awarded Victoria Crosses.
Lord Methuen (far left) presided over another British disaster at Magersfontein. General Woodgate (left) was killed at Spion Kop, a third British debacle, this time, presided over by General Warren (below). No wonder Britons lionized Baden-Powell (left below) who held out for seven months against the Boers besieging his army in the remote little town of Mafeking.
Canadian Sam Hughes would later criticize Warren's competency after the Battle of Faber's Put, and be sent back to Canada for his lack of tact.

The Strathcona's Horse were just as critical of General Knox's ponderous ineptitude in trying to catch the wily General de Wet who easily eluded them every time.

Lord Kitchener (far left) who presided over the most brutal part of the Boer War finally won the war but at what cost. He burned down some 30,000 farms, destroyed 40 towns, and locked up most of the Boer women, children and old men in concentration camps. Some 28,000 of those, died under his care.

Boer War Pinbacks

Pinbacks of all the generals were a popular item used for advertising.

"Brown's Furniture and Clothing For All the Family" on a pinback made in Toronto, ON, (right above and below) was in far larger type and prominence than "Bobs" the Nation's Hero, who the button was supposed to honour. Lord Roberts, known far and wide as "Bobs" was commander-in-chief of the British in South Africa, including all the Canadians, during 1900. (Found in Dundas, ON)

Other buttons promoted chewing tobacco (above). (Found in Dundas, ON)

Some pinbacks were just patriotic, like that of Lord Kitchener (below) who succeeded Roberts and commanded during the last part of the war from 1900 till 1902.


Most pinbacks were small, 23mm across, like those, left and above. But the Brown's Bobs pin was one and three quarters of an inch in diameter.

Bibles at War

Paperback bibles (below, front and back) were given to each soldier. They were small (3 x 4 1/2"), so they were light for an infantryman to carry. The preface was by Field Marshall Wolseley, who had served in Canada during the Riel Rebellion and after whom Wolseley Barracks in London, ON, is named after.

IRA'S LETTER: A Canadian Letter from the Front

A Canadian Boer War envelope. (Found in Halifax, NS)

The envelope was sent by Ira Boyer, A.S.C., on January 15, 1902, from Winburg, ORC, South Africa (the former Orange Free State had been annexed by the British and renamed Orange River Colony in 1900). 

Curiously enough the stamps of the former Republic were still being used as legal tender one-and-a-half years after it had ceased to exist. The letter was passed by the Press Censor in Bloemfontein on Jan. 17, as certified by the triangular stamp he used.

It was received by the Hamilton, ON post office, four weeks later on Feb. 17, before being re-routed to Kincardine, ON where it was received a day later by Mrs., John Boyer, presumably Ira's mother.

The South African Constabulary 

There were no official Canadian units in South Africa when Ira wrote his letter. Ira lists himself as ASC, Army Service Corps. Was he really a member of the British Army Service Corps? Or did he mean to say he was a member of SAC, for South African Constabulary. But then these men were not hired for writing or spelling skills. The vast majority of Canadians (hundreds of them) in South Africa in January 1902, were the SAC, which Sam Steele, at Baden-Powell's request, had recruited from the Canadian units who had gone home at the end of 1900 and early 1901. They were supposed to police the areas that had been liberated by the army. In fact many of them ended up doing fighting, and a number of them died in action or of dysentery and enteric.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000