Boer War Page 9c

Boer War Relics 3

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

Harry Macdonough (1871-1931): "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep" 1902

You are listening to an original recording from 1902, featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Harry Macdonough, singing "Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep," with the Haydn Quartet. The song was played with special poignancy on Canadian Gramophones, as Canadians sent their boys off to war to distant South Africa. The troops faced a sea voyage of 30 days to get there. A few men, but hundred of horses, were buried at sea.

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


Aug 1, 2001

We have had numerous reports of souvenirs brought back from South Africa by Boer War volunteers from Canada, including shells, equipment, and Africana items such as bows and spears.
How wonderfully lucky we were to be able to salvage this rare 19th century Zulu shield that was brought back by Canadian Trooper Bays in 1905, when he ended his Boer War service after a stint in the South African Constabulary. Until recently, his granddaughter had preserved it in his memory. (Found in Campbellville, ON)
This is a small "umbhumbhulozu" war shield, (18" x 27") carried by many of the Zulu Impis into the disastrous battles against the British and Boers of the 1870's; reconstructions and re-enactors of the period usually carry the large and more dramatic shield, but contemporary photographs taken immediately after the defence of Rorke's Drift, show that many of the Zulu did in fact use this size of shield.

This shield is made from the hide of an insundukazi or dark brown cow, and would have been uniform to the regiment which used it, as the various colours of hide amongst Zulu cattle were used as a means of denoting different regiments; shields from the darker patterns of cattle being used to denote regiments of young warriors, and paler colours being reserved for the regiments of older soldiers.

The shield still has its original wooden staff and the thumb loops by which it was held, though the top of the stick has lost most of its tuft of decorative civet fur.

Contrary to popular belief, the Zulu Impis did not all carry the larger "isihlangu" shield which had been in use since the time of King Shaka.

From the 1850s onwards the young Prince Cetshwayo introduced this smaller lighter version which in battle was easier to use, enabling the Zulu warriors to be swifter in hand to hand combat. By 1879 many of the Impis carried these shields, and they would have been typical of the weaponry used at the battles of Rorke's Drift, Isandlwana, Khambula, Ulundi, etc.

On this spot, on Jan. 22, 1979, below the brooding Isandlwana, a British army of 1,400 men was annihilated by a Zulu force of 24,000 men, carrying spears, and shields like that above.

More British soldiers were killed on this spot by spears, than fell - 20 years later - during any battle against the Boers, using the most modern weapons, in almost three years of war.

Boer War volunteers would have heard stories of these terrifying battles and looked for souvenirs to remember them by. What could be a more fitting memento for a Canadian soldier, than a war shield from a Zulu warrior who might have used that very shield in battle during the Anglo-Zulu War. So for generations, Trooper Bays no doubt enthralled family and friends with this wondrous Boer War souvenir from South Africa.

Do you have a Boer War souvenir that we could put in this page?

Relics from the Last Horseman's War

Canadian Scouts
The Boer War was the last horseman's war. About half a million horses died during the conflict. Equal numbers of draft mules and oxen perished while dragging thousands of wagons of supplies for the British army back and forth across the length and breadth of South Africa. Their cast off shoes, scattered across the veldt, offer mute testimony to the tremendous cost in animals that once was a common part of "old-style" warfare.
(Above) A horse shoe and a piece of harness from the battlefield at Hart's River, where the Canadian Mounted Rifles fought a desperate defensive engagement, on Boschbult Farm, against Generals De la Rey and De Wet.ron shoes can be found in a bewildering assortment of sizes and shapes. The two on the right were unearthed where the Canadian horses were stabled near Bloemfontein.

(below) Two lightweight and very thin shoes. Where they used on oxen or mules which were both used by the scores of thousands to pull wagons for Boer and Briton alike?

During the war horses died by the hundreds of thousands, (above) in the laager after the Battle of Paardeberg. Equal numbers of draft oxen and mules were killed. (left) A Canadian ammunition mule at Paardeberg suffers the same fate as her driver.

The thousands of iron shoes scattered across South African battlefields and camps, testify to a time and a place when it was not a good time to be a man or beast.

"His reproachful brown eyes ....."

Willie Griesbach (left), was a young western Canadian son of a North West Mounted Policeman. He signed up with the Canadian Mounted Rifles in December, 1900, when Britain called for horsemen after the disasters of Black Week showed that infantrymen would never win this war. In his autobiography he wrote joyfully of his horse and partner in this great adventure: "We went off to war together."

During the voyage he went down to the hold to commiserate with his desperately sea-sick horse: "My poor fellow greeted me, when he saw me, with a mere flicker of recognition."

In later life, Griesbach (left as a Major-General), wrote movingly of the toll the war took on their partnership.

"The amount of love that a horseman can lavish on his horse is one of the most beautiful things in soldiering. But the time came when I had to give up my horse. He had become practically a skeleton. His back was covered with stinking sores and I could do nothing for him. If I turned him loose someone else would try to get a few days work out of him. I took him out into the veldt, out of sight, and shot him. I put my arm around his neck and tried to explain things to him. He promptly laid down. There was in his manner something apologetic. I rubbed his eyes and induced him to put his head down. He seemed to say, "I am very tired." Like an assassin I completed the job and left him to his rest. I think he had a suspicion of what I was going to do. At times and in certain humours throughout the years that have passed, I see his reproachful brown eyes as they looked up at me before I put him to sleep."

(left) A hoof and horseshoe memento, saved by a turn of the century Mountie, of a favourite horse he used in his campaigning. (below) One of Griesbach's fellow CMR members.
Horse Tale:

A hallmarked solid silver mounted horse's tail inscribed "John Jones a White Barb ridden by Brigadier General Lloyd in the South African War, 1900, 1901, 1902, when in command of the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. Died, September 1906."

(A barb being a fine breed of horse)

(below) The hoof of the loyal charger Lion, converted into a silver snuff box.

Lion carried Lt. Col. E.D. Cropper, commanding the Pembroke Imperial Yeomanry of the Irish Guards into numerous battles. Lion died in action and this memento was commissioned by the regiment and given to the Col., in affectionate remembrance of the horse and the man.

Relics from the Bitter End

Battlefield Bullets: By the end of the war, the Boers had no more shells left for their Mausers or Martini-Henrys, and no way to resupply themselves. They continued the fight by taking most of their rifles and ammunition from captured British units, and from scrounging the hundreds of bullets dropped by careless British soldiers in their abandoned camps.

Left, are live Lee-Metford bullets, part of a cache captured by Boers from a British camp, and then buried in a stone sangar until they could be removed safely. But the war ended before the Boers could return to get them. They were accidentally uncovered a hundred years later.

The Boers had only rags to wear at the end, so they stripped the British dead, and captured British prisoners of their uniforms. But if they were ever caught wearing British khaki, they were instantly shot. Many were.

The Bitter End for Breaker Morant: As bitterness on all sides, tore apart the last vestiges of the "Gentleman's War" that had begun almost three years before, Lord Kitchener feared that everything was getting out of control. Examples had to be made.

A famous case involved Australian trooper Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant (below), who was court-martialed for shooting Boer prisoners-of-war, for which he and a fellow Australian officer were shot by the British. Today they lie together in Pretoria's main cemetery. The execution created enormous bitterness between the colonials and the British that was to last for generations, and is not forgotten even yet. Below right, are small stones from the top of Australian Lt. Harry "Breaker" Morant's grave. A hundred years after the event, the path to the grave is still specially marked so Australian tourists can find it easily.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000