Boer War Page 74d

Boer War Past "News" 4

A library of past announcements previously published on our Boer War News Page.

Still Forgotten After All These Years !!!!
Below is the title page from the Imperial War Museum's newly published internet Museum Page on CIVILIANS. (Our Italics) See IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM

The concept of a 'Home Front' with its own 'army' of civilians was introduced during the First World War. Prior to 1914, wars involving Britain and her colonies had been fought overseas by professional armies, with the civilian population physically detached from the fighting. In the total wars of the Twentieth Century civilians were involved in conflict as never before. Millions of men and women were recruited into the services and into essential manufacturing industries. With the advent of aerial warfare and the bomber, civilians found themselves directly in the firing line, viewed as legitimate targets for attack.

The role of the civilian in war was recognized in the collections of the Imperial War Museum from its very foundation. At the official opening of the Museum at Crystal Palace in 1920 the Chairman of the Museum, Sir Alfred Mond, stated in his speech that he hoped that '...every individual, man or woman, sailor, soldier airman or civilian who contributed, however obscurely, to the final result, may be able to find in these galleries an example or illustration of the sacrifice he made or the work he did and in the archives some record of it.' The Museum continues to collect material relating to the role of civilians in both World Wars and in more recent conflicts involving Britain and the Commonwealth.

During the First World War significant numbers of women were recruited into war work for the first time.


It is nothing, if not astonishing, that some of the statements in italics could possibly be made by anyone who was even slightly conversant with the history of civilian participation in warfare in the 20th century.

The italicized sentences in the War Museum's page (above) are dramatically wrong. The Museum lists its mandate as "to illustrate and record all aspects of conflict and the individual's experience of it in the twentieth and twenty first centuries." The Boer War 1899-1902, certainly deserves recognition for the key role it played in developing the modern concept of "Total War," and the tragic concequences of this development on Boer and Black civilian lives in South Africa.

The concept of a "Home Front" with its own "army" of civilians certainly does not date from World War 1. In fact it was totally established, and full-blown, during the "Boer" War, as these card inserts from French and German chocolate bars make clear.

The war took its very name from "Boer" or farmer; the war was entirely fought by Boer civilian farmers, including men of every age, women, and children. Even the victorious Boer generals were farmers. They had no military training whatsoever and were recruited by the political leaders to form and lead an army of civilian farmers on behalf of both Boer republics. (The French postcard notes the typical "uniform" of Boer "soldiers." In the same clothes in which they worked their farms, they now fought off the British invaders of their Home Land.)

That's what stunned the world in December 1899 and January 1900; Britain's top professional generals were routed by inexperienced and untrained civilian farmer generals - by Botha at Colenso and Spion Kop, and De la Rey at Magersfontein. And in the lines, three bloody British retreats were carried out by ordinary farmers in civilian clothes, who sent the professional British Tommies into bloody and terrified flight again and again.


The only professionals - full time soldiers wearing uniforms - in the Boer Army, were the few members of the state artillery. (The men riding on the gun and other uniformed personnel.) They were instructed and directed by German regular army officers. Other professionals from Europe like Col. Villebois-Mareuil of France - somewhat haughtily no doubt - tried to give the farmers advice on how to fight like professionals. Ironically he was killed, foolishly, early on in the war, for not learning from the Boers, the new mode of warfare they were quickly developing on their own.

But the backbone of the Boer Army always was the Boer farmer, who packed a lunch and went to war, the same way he had dressed and gone to work his farm in the past.

Not only were the Boers not trained militarily, they were untrainable, as every Boer general complained. They refused to accept military discipline and served or left the front, whenever the mood took them. They remained an army of unregenerate civilians to the very end.

Boer women, old men, and children were another "Home Front" fighting against the professional British Army. Boer women and children by the hundreds and thousands followed their men on the battlefield as they tried to stay ahead of the professional British army that chased them.

They also supported their men in battle; the wife of General Cronje used her own rifle in the trenches at Paardeberg; at least one dead Boer women was found in the trenches overrun by British Tommies on the Tugela Heights and another during Methuen's push along the railway. (The civilian involvement in this total war was wonderfully captured by this Russian postcard showing two women dressed to take on the British professional army.)

Among the thousands of Boer prisoners sent into years of exile to far off Indian, Ceylon, and Bermuda, were hundreds of men as old as 86 and boys as young as 6. Clearly, not only the British generals, but the British politicians, feared what small Boer boys and old men would do to British soldiers if sent home to their farms and left on their own. The nature of this total civilian war is wonderfully captured in the British magic lantern slide showing a Boer boy handing his grandfather "The Last Shell" as they fight off a foreign enemy on their ancestral "Home Front."

On another point, Boer civilians - specifically women and children - were from the beginning of the war, regarded as legitimate targets in the firing line by British officers. General Methuen introduced modern high explosives by exploding lyddite shells over the Boer laager at Magersfontein, in one of the biggest artillery barrages in history; everyone knew hundreds of women and children were there accompanying their fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, and sons. This did not deter Lord Methuen in the slightest. (Left, Silent witnesses, from the Boer trenches at Magersfontein: shards of bottles Boer had brought from home, a shrapnel ball from one of Methuen's high explosive, anti-personnel shells, and the remains of a Boer Martini-Henry shell, the standard hunting weapon used by Boers to kill elephants, lions, and anyone else who threatened their farms.)

At Paardeberg, General Roberts (right) - who had a bigger heart than most generals in history - wanted to call off the bombardment of the Boer laager when he learned that women and children were there. But his hard-hearted officers convinced him he could end the war right there and then and save countless lives by actually resuming the bombing of the Boers: men, women, and children. A Boer woman diarist wrote that ten days of this "was too much for flesh and blood."

Some 100 Boer civilians were killed; the war did not end. By the end of the war the British were routinely shooting even young boys caught wearing British uniforms they had donned to protect themselves against the cold after their rags fell off. The Boer stores had run out of cloth and clothes years ago.

And back home the women and children were also active as spies and saboteurs. Canadian artillery writer Lt. Morrison, in "With the Guns," wonderfully describes all the subterfuge used by Boer Women and children to hide guns and ammo from the British, and how they tried to get the Canadians to disclose their troop movements and planned marches, etc.

It is a little-known and lamentable truism that in no war in modern times - probably in no war in history - has the home front - the civilian population of old and young men, women and children - been so absolutely committed to, and totally harnessed into, active war against an invading enemy. (Wonderfully captured in this German postcard, "We are the Boers of the Transvaal. We live and die for our Country."

(Consider a comparison with modern France which popularly tries to promote its "Resistance" heritage in World War II, of French civilians fighting the Nazi war machine. Her allies in the conflict most unkindly remind proponents of this version of history that, however valiant the "Resistance" was, there were probably 10 or 20 "Collaborators" - at least - for every real underground civilian fighter.)

But the Boers paid a high price in "Home Front dead" for thinking that they could mobilize a force of civilians, and win, against a modern determined professional army. (The farmers besiege the British inside Kimberley.)

Over 40 Boer towns were burned to the ground; not the military or public buildings, but civilian homes, stores, mills, schools, and churches. Over 28,000 Boer civilians died - almost all women, old men, and children. Some estimate that 10% of the population perished. "There was probably not a single family in the two Boer Republics who did not lose a loved one in this war," notes Historian Sannette Greyvenstein.

The truth is that the Boers did it all and showed an astonished and admiring world how the "Home Front" could be harnessed to fight a total war against an invader, long before it became fashionable to regard the later World Wars in this way. The Boers founded the concept and experienced its total horror within every family. Not at all unusual was the experience of one doctor in one concentration camp who wrote in his diary that he buried all eleven children belonging to one mother.

When one considers further that the Black civilians of South Africa died in even greater numbers than the Dutch Boers - countless thousands as a result of starvation stemming from deliberate policies of people like Col. Baden-Powell of Mafeking - one might well say, that in World Wars I and II, the horrors of suffering endured by the civilian populations during the Boer War, would never really be eclipsed; only the numbers got worse.

The terrible effect of the Boer War on Black African civilian lives has hardly been studied at all. (Behind the kindly smile of Baden-Powell lies the knowledge that he willingly starved Blacks in Mafeking to ensure that the white British inhabitants would survive the siege until they could be rescued by the British Army.)

The study of the war's impact on Black Africans remains a huge, unexplored field of research. The reality of their experience, lies poles apart from the idyllic scene shown in this German chocolate card. (Pictures from the Transvaal - A Native Town.)


The Sacking of Dullstroom

Rare Pictures,
Page 39

Many people have commented on the outstanding "sense of balance" with which we presented our program, "The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience." In fact - though this was a "Canadian heritage" project - we deliberately set out to create an innovative mix of voices for our program by featuring a much higher number of voices and experiences of the "enemy side" than is found in standard history documentaries. Above, Aunt Alida van de Poll's house, after the visit of the Canadians.

Jan. 2003

William Stokes 2CMR

Local Heroes 1 - Page 70

Local Heroes 3 - Page 72

Discovery: The rare memorabilia (photos, diary, post cards, and memorial dinner program) of William Stokes of Fingal, ON, who fought in Canada's second biggest battle of the war at Hart's River in 1902, and the memorabilia of Jack Cockburn from the next (lost) generation of Canadian volunteer soldiers.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 2000