Boer War Relics Borrie Erasmus Senekal Surrender Hill Boschbult Farm

Boer War Page 9a

Boer War Relics 1

We are eternally grateful to all those kind people, who, recognizing our passion for telling this story, generously gave us treasured relics from their private collections to illustrate it.

Borrie & Rita Erasmus Family: "Orange Free State Lied" 2000

You are listening to a recording made on the lower slopes of the Biddulphsberg during the centenary commemoration ceremonies honouring Britons and Boers who fell during the Battle of Biddulphsberg, in May, 1900. The song is the National Anthem of the old Orange Free State, sung with feeling by scores of descendants of the original Boers who fought to defend their farms and their Republic. Borrie's grandfather was captured at Surrender Hill.

You can hear these earliest Canadian recordings on our program's soundtrack. Details on our Music Page.

Surrender Hill
The Trail of Tears: On July 30, 1900, 5,000 Boer men, women and children were trapped and forced to surrender to a huge encircling British army on top of Surrender Hill (right), near Fouriesburg, in the mountains of the eastern Orange Free State.

(below) Four British generals watched under a fluttering Union Jack, on top of the hill (right), as hundreds of wagons streamed past them. It was a mass surrender on such a scale that everyone felt the war was now all but over.

The Scorched Earth: Historian John Goldi points to the huge bare patch of ground, near the hilltop (above), where the Boers were made to pile up thousands of their rifles, pistols, and ammunition bandoleers (left). Then the pile was set on fire. Witnesses said it burned day and night for days.

In the past hundred years not a single blade of grass has ever grown on this spot. Says historian John Goldi of the barren ground where the dreams of a nation died, "It's as if the salt from generations of tears has made it impossible for anything ever to grow here again."

(above) Some relics of the great fire: Top row, melted and flattened Mauser shell casings, middle row, Mauser lead bullets, bottom row, Martini-Henry shells and bullets, with vintage cartridge for comparison.

Surrender Hill - July 30, 1900
The Heart of the Freedom Struggle: General De Wet with some 2,000 men escaped from the trap at Surrender Hill. de Wet would never be caught as he spear-headed the Boer guerilla campaign through the lenghth and breadth of the two Boer republics for the next two years. President Steyn and he remained the "heart and soul of this freedom struggle" and now lie in eternity, side by side at the foot of the Woman's Memorial in Bloemfontein, which also holds the ashes of a British lady, Emily Hobhouse.

Canadian Boer War Campsites
The Boer War was such a total war, raging over every corner of the Boer Republics, that, a hundred years later, one still encounters signs of the conflict wherever one walks across the veldt or climbs a kopje. Every farmer has a museum of relics gleaned from his/her fields.
(above) At Faber's Put farm, cans litter the campsite of the Canadians all around the stone kraal (below) in which they quartered their horses, and where they were attacked early one morning in May, 1900.
(above) A British military canteen, flattened by time and probably discarded by a desperate trooper. Lack of water was always a huge problem for Lord Roberts' army is it marched to Pretoria. Men drank anything they could find. Wrote a Canadian private: "We stopped at a green slimy pool with creeping things in it. The horses turned away in disgust, sniffing at it scornfully; but the men bent over and drank. The water was so bad that you had to hold your nose while you drank, but drink we had to, we were so thirsty. Had they told us it was poisoned, we still would have drunk...."

Some 2000 soldiers died thereafter from enteric fever from drinking polluted water, including Canadian Capt. C.F. Harrison (below).

Much of the British army's food came in vacuum packed tin cans like the one (right top). They still litter the old campsites of the British army in the millions. The one below was cut open with a knife.

Hopetown Orange River Bridge: The bridge at Hopetown, over the Orange River (above), which divided President Steyn's Orange Free State (this side) from Britain's Cape Colony, was guarded against sabotage, by Canadians who camped in the foreground.

Here we found two rusted old salmon and sardine tins with the word "CANADA" (above left), and "Packed in Canada" (left) stamped on them. There are literally thousands of old tins littering South African campgrounds where the troops once tented. Because these are in undeveloped remote areas and because of the dry climate, these artifacts are well preserved both from vandals and from the climate.

Relics from the Battlefield

Battlefield Bullets: Harder to find are the relics from fierce battles between Briton and Boer. Above are the common shells one finds: On the right, the fearsome pom pom, a one pounder machine gun shell that was used by both sides, though both said it's bark was worse than it's bite.

Next a Martini-Henry relic and a vintage shell for comparison. It was favoured by old-timer Boers because of the huge wallop it packed, accompanied by a satisfying boom. But the huge puff of smoke it produced made it easy to spot a Boer using the Martini on a hillside.

Next is a Mauser cartridge, with its indented base, which was state of the art in military rifles in 1900, and accounted largely for the huge Boer victories in the early part of the war. It was preferred because it was deadly accurate to unheard of distances and used smokeless powder.

Beside it is the standard British Lee-Metford shell, including two with crimped ends, something soldiers did to preserve powder for starting fires in cold weather. Top centre is a shrapnel ball from a British shell.

(above) A crimped British Lee-Metford shell from Lord Methuen's camp at Enslin which still contains the powder put in it by a British Tommy.

Paardeberg Memories: Historian Johan Hattinghe has picked up a bullet-riddled piece of tin on the battlefield at Paardeberg where 4,000 Boers held out for a week during February, 1900, against 30,000 British soldiers. In this Bacon print from 1900, called "Dashing Advance of the Canadians at Paardeberg," Hattingh is standing close to the Modder River at the top corner of the wagon camp at the centre of the Boer position.

Laager at Paardeberg: Historian Johan Hattingh (above) stands on the eastern end of where the Boer laager was on the morning of Feb. 27, 1900. It was to this spot that the Canadian front line had advanced during the night, and where the first white flags were raised by the Boers, who were in the trenches and laager to the camera's back.

(left) Many small fragments of cups, plates, bottles and jars still litter the area, attesting to the fierce 10 days of bombardment of the Boer camp.

Magersfontein Memories: (left) From the Boer trenches 200 yards beyond the monument (below): glass shards from drinking bottles (the Boers spent months holding these trenches to keep the British from breaking through and relieving Kimberley beyond), a shrapnel ball from Lord Methuen's furious bombardment of the hills (it was one of the most ferocious bombardments in history), and a spent Boer Martini-Henry shell (with a vintage cartridge for comparison.)

Probably it dealt death to a charging British Tommy. Bullets like it cut down hundreds of British Highlanders all around this monument (left) where they were buried after the battle. The view below is the last they - and General Andrew Wauchope (below) who fell in the front rank while leading his men - would ever see in this life.

Hart's River Memories: (left) British Lee-Metford shell casings from Boschbult Farm, collected by generations of Boer plough men from the battlefield where Canadians suffered casualties second only to Paardeberg, in fighting off a Boer attack. In the center, a large 1 pounder pom pom machine gun shell which may be Canadian since the CMR used a pom pom there.

Testifying to the bravery of two long gone Boers - who must have charged in extremely close to shoot - are the lone Mauser shell (with indented base, top center) and a remnant from a big Martini-Henry casing (bottom left).

While hundreds of British shells were found around the camp where the battle was fought, Boer casings found were rare, since most prudently preferred to shoot from far away.

(below) The 2 CMR's Pom Pom gun and limber photographed only days before it saw action at Boschbult farm. Was the shell above, fired from this gun?

The Last Man at Hart's River: Canadians were brave too. Young Charlie Evans from Port Hope, Ontario (right), and his 2 CMR companions (below), were holding an advance position, but quickly ran out of ammunition. Charlie still refused to surrender and was shot. Wrote McGill Professor Carman Miller affectionately: "Once again the Canadians had fought in the only manner they knew how - with courage and determination, and, where necessary, to the last man."

(below) Historian John Goldi stands on the spot where Charlie Evans, and seven of his companions, who were killed outright, were buried the evening of the battle, and the area from where all the relics above were unearthed.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000