Page 20e Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
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More important Canadian antique memorabilia the Museum has preserved.

Boer Pom Pom Shells - 1900 - Technology of War 12

1 3 5 7 9 11
2 4 6 8 10 12
flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure The Germans were among many anti-British foreign supporters who supplied war material to the Boers who shipped it in to the Transvaal through the Portuguese port of Lourenzo Marques (now Maputo), and then overland by railway over the bridge at Komatipoort, to Pretoria.

German Mauser rifles, Austro-Hungarian Guedes rifles, and French Creusot guns came in this way.

This pom pom shell was manufactured in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1900. Pom pom shells are 37mm in diameter, 6.5" tall, and weigh about a pound. They were assembled in belts to be fired, machine gun style, about one per second. The sound they made gave them their name. Many claimed that this was more deadly than their explosions...

Pom Pom guns, were of course, of British manufacture, but the Boer forces acquired them first, and used them so effectively in the opening months of the war the British military adopted them as well.

At Paardeberg British and Boer pom poms fired on each other for the first time. Canadians wrote of the terror of being fired on by pom poms.

When British sources of ammunition dried up the Boers got new stock from German sources like the Karlsruhe factory. Of which this and the samples below are examples.

Boer War Souvenir 37mm Pom Pom Shell, 1900
Brass shell & casing, German - Size - 1.5" x 6.5"
Found - Milton, ON
flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure Left we offer a number of similar Boer War souvenirs found in the US, the UK, and Australia.

Some homespun militaria experts harrumph that these are not Boer War souvenirs but much later ones, from WWI.

In our estimation, almost totally unlikely for a lot of reasons:

Three of these casings come from the McKerihen Boer War collection. He picked them up on the battlefield.

Two others come from an Australian Boer War collection.

Also, pom pom shells dated 1900 would have been shot off years ago, for target practice in war games, or in colonial wars in Africa or China. How likely is it that this shell and head - and all the others - would survive all that, for fourteen years?

Besides, why keep them around for shooting, after they have passed their "Best Before Date?" Old live ammo is dangerously unstable to hold on to, and more dangerous to the collector than to the eventual target...

Furthermore, the pom pom had been invented in the 1880s, and by 1914 was so archaic a weapon the British did not even bother to deploy it for their front line armies.

(Firing one round a second in a war dominated by machine guns firing 8 bullets a second made them a curious anomaly at best. Some old guns were initially used by the Home Guard around London for use against German dirigibles but they were declared totally ineffective even for that use.)

So how likely is it that a pom pom shell of any date could possibly be souvenired by soldiers on the western front, let alone one dated 1900, and of German manufacture?

Even more unlikely: suppose it had managed to survive 14 years, how would this "old stock" shell not have been one of the first to get shot off in the opening salvos of WWI and disappeared forever...

The millions of new shells manufactured in 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1918 were exploded all over the world. And these are the commonly found souvenir items, not a lone relic from 1900.

Clearly, these 1900 German manufactured pom pom shells were souvenired in the Boer War 1899-1902, where they were routinely shot off, and were easily found, every time Tommies overran Boer defensive positions, and then grabbed as pocket sized mementoes.

The perfect Boer War souvenir, like the two an Australian Boer War vet flared to make nice vases. And then locked away in family trunks for 100 years.

These were celebrated, meaningful - and treasured souvenirs - during the Boer War.

Not so in WWI, when vets wanted to bring home casings of really large, death-defying shells that pounded everything - including their friends - to smithereens on the Western Front, not archaic and ineffectively quaint little shells from a nonsensical and forgotten little war in South Africa.

Boer War Souvenir Pom Pom Shells - dated 1900

Orig. shells - Image Size - 37 mm
Found - AUS, US, UK, Canada

Headstamps - Casings stamped Karlsruhe 1900 were clearly manufactured in 1900 and in Germany, as are four of the above, including those with projectiles. One (without) ended up in a Boer War collection.

Those with best Boer War provenance, have no headstamp at all.

Without doubt, these casings were all manufactured during the Boer War.

The Primers - The primers all show the firing pin puncture marks, showing them to have been fired, most probably during the Boer War (1899-1902), and most likely, in combat, when the guns were widely in use, and souvenired rounds easily available and in demand.

(Training rounds would not have been souvenired by opposing soldiers. It would also have been virtually impossible to find a Pom Pom gun on the Western Front to shoot them off in WWI. By WWI these obsolete shells would not have been high priority souvenirs.And soldiers wanted state-of-the-art collectibles from the battlefield, not home front, or antique store souvenirs from quaint old colonial wars.)

The Projectiles - All the original projectiles were - obviously - fired off long ago, probably during the Boer War. Someone has put souvenired projectiles on older casings (all three from different collections.) Soldiers did it when they could get them to make a "neater" souvenir.

Some contend these three projectiles are WW I, made for anti-aircraft use (for which the British Ministry of Munitions declared them totally ineffective.) Did Boer War veterans with souvenir pom pom casings fit them with discarded projectiles in WW I?

l to r - The Australian Boer War pom pom headstamped Karlsruhe 1900 flared above.

The Canadian McKerihen souvenir pom pom blank headstamp from below.

The Hart's River battlefield pom pom blank headstamp from below.

All primers fired on Boer War battlefields.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure A fabulous trio of James McKerihen's souvenir shells from Boer War battlefields, either Zand River or Doornkop, picked up after the Boers fled.

These are the famous 1 pounder Pom-Pom shells, named after the sound they made when fired.

The Pom-Pom gun was the smallest artillery weapon used in the Boer War. It was an enlarged version of the Maxim machine gun. It was first used by the Boers in South Africa, with the British issuing it for service there later.

Pom-Pom shells were 37 mm in calibre, and were percussion fused, meaning they exploded on making contact with a target. The shells were not loaded singly but fed into the gun in belts of 12, later 25. Shells fired at 60 rounds per minute - a "Pom" a second giving the gun its name - and had a range of 3,000 yards.

At Paardeberg on "Pom Pom Tuesday" (Feb. 20, 1900) the Canadians became rattled when they repeatedly came under fire from this dreaded new weapon of war. Luckily they were all single point of impact explosions and not so deadly as exploding shells of shrapnel balls overhead. But the stream of explosions was unnerving for young men lying out in the open...

To give you a sense of size, we have included one of James' Mauser rifle casings.

These cases have no numbers, letters, or names. They get their age and provenance from being part of James McKerihen's Boer War souvenir stash which he collected in May 1900, while on service during the British Army's march on Pretoria.

Souvenir Boer Pom Pom Casings, Pvt. JRD McKerihen, C Co, RCR - South Africa 1900
Orig. brass - Size - 37 mm
Found - Toronto, ON

flashing newGreat Canadian Heritage Treasure Left, souvenir casings from the battlefield at Boschbult Farm, including an extremely rare find, a remnant of a Pom Pom shell, and probably one fired by the Canadian gun which was in action there.

The outer three rifle shells are Lee-Metfords from the same battle, and on the other side, a rare Boer Mauser and the remains of a lone Boer Martini-Henry, before and after...

The Canadian Pom Pom gun complete with supporting limber, photographed just a few days before the Battle at Boschbult Farm, Mar. 31, 1902. Did it fire the very shell recovered from the battlefield above?

Battlefield Relics - Boschbult Farm (Hart's River) - Mar. 31, 1902
Orig. relics - found by family over many decades of farming the land
Found - gift of Boschbult Farm