Ouma’s Curtains

Isie Smuts and the Boer War

There is a lot to be said about South Africa’s most remarkable First Lady – Sybella (Isabelle – shortened to Isie or ‘Issie’) Margaretha Smuts, or as she was affectionally known by all – simply as .. “Ouma.” However to get a really good understanding of this petite but powerhouse of a woman, one only needs to know what she endured and did during and directly after the Boer War i.e. The South African War 1899-1902, and here one only has to look at her curtain rails – yup, simple curtain rails.

Not many know this, and its not in the official tour guide, but if you ever have the privilege to visit the humble correlated iron house that Jan and Isie Smuts lived in from 1910 in Irene, near Pretoria, now a museum – you may notice the family’s bamboo curtain rails, and they tell a story, so here goes;

Image: Bamboo curtain rails, Smuts House Museum, Irene – Picture: Peter Dickens

From the beginning of 1899 Jan Smuts was a leading legal and political figure in Kruger’s government of the Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek (South African Republic, ZAR or Transvaal Republic). Smuts at the time lived with his wife Isie in a house on the corner of Troye and Walker streets in Sunnyside, Pretoria.

When the Boers declared war against the British on the 11th October 1899, it was with Smuts’ invasion plans that the Boer’s invaded the British Colonies of the Cape and Natal. War proved a highly trying time for Isie Smuts, but the worst was to come when Pretoria fell a mere 9 months into the war, and Isie bid farewell to her husband the evening of 4th June 1900 as he and General Botha rode away to take the ZAR government into the field with the other Boer commanders and commence the guerrilla warfare phase of the war, leaving Pretoria open for the British to occupy.

On occupying Pretoria the British took no time to gather whatever intelligence on the Boer army that they could, and Jan Smuts’ residence came into their sights. Using her initiative, Isie Smuts tore up all Jan’s letters written to her, except his first, and stuffed the scraps of paper into a cushion. She also rolled up Jan Smuts’ key documents and plans, deemed too important to destroy and hid them inside her ‘hollow’ bamboo curtain rails.

She also took the precaution of sewing gold sovereigns Jan Smuts had left her for a emergency, into a money belt. When she saw the enemy British soldiers approaching, “she dropped the belt into the boiling water of the kitchen copper” (Women South Africa Remembers” by Fay Jaff 1975), in spite of her protests the British soldiers entered her home, but still, she gave them freshly baked bread, still warm, from her oven.

During her separation from Jan Smuts, in August 1900 their baby son ‘Koosie’ died. Isie had to bear the burden alone, she wrote to Jan so he could learn of the loss by telegram, but the message never reached him. Jan Smuts also wrote to her, but she never received any of his letters in the first year of their separation.

By the beginning of 1901, Lord Kitchener, the British Chief of Staff, ordered that Isie Smuts be moved from Pretoria to a concentration camp in Pietermaritzburg. As a special concession, because of her status as Jan Smuts’ wife, Isie Smuts was afforded a small house near the camp. Isie packed up all their belongings and household items and effectively moved under ‘house arrest’ to Pietermaritzburg. She would pass her time making ‘comforts’ such as scarves for the women interned in the nearby camp.

Purposefully cut off from the outside world by the British, under house arrest, she was tormented with constant rumour that her husband had been killed, and likewise her husband was tormented whilst fighting in the field as he had no contact with his wife.

Eventually, a year after he departed Pretoria, in June 1901 she received her first letter from her husband, her response reveals the deep levels of trauma, she wrote, “I have read it and reread it so often that I know almost the whole by heart, and now I shall be able to live on those loving words for the many weary weeks to come . . .”

By special arrangement, Isie and Jan were allowed to see each other for a mere 24 hours in Standerton during a pause in the fighting. Isie was very ill at the time, war had taken a toll on her, she was prone to severe bouts of fatique and she weighed about 45kg. Her physical state distressed her husband, so he wrote to Lord Kitchener asking for permission to send her to Stellenbosch where her family could care for her, but his request was refused.

The couple were re-united some time after the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31st May 1902. Smuts urgently needed to go to the Cape Colony after the Peace was concluded to convince the acting Prime Minister, Thomas Graham to treat returning Cape Rebels fairly. On his return from Cape Town, Jan stopped in Pieter­maritzburg to see his wife and reassure himself that her health was improving. Their minds were put to rest by Doctors who said she would be well enough in 6 weeks to travel back to Pretoria. Smuts went ahead to re-claim his home which had been occupied by British Imperial Yeomanry during the war.

Between May 1902 and 1910, before Jan Smuts finally re-settled the family at Irene, the Smuts’ went about re-building their lives and having children. Isie Smuts was very understandably anti-British, given her treatment by them and her witness to the camps. She insisted on a Zuid Afrikaanse Republiek ‘ZAR’ Vierkleur (Four Colour) National Flag be present at each child’s birth, so they would be born under it and not under the occupier’s British Union Jack. In all, her first children were born when the ZAR existed as an independent Republic and she ensured all her remaining children when born, would be born under the Vierkleur (not a lot of people know this either – it’s not in mainstream accounts of the Smuts’ history). Not many people know this too, but according to the family, Jan Smuts, not surprisingly considering his experience of the war, also personally harboured a similar deep disregard for the British at this time.

Picture: The Smuts family at this time, superbly colourised by Jennifer Bosch

Isie’s Anglophobia did not stop there, she was totally anti-British, and openly hostile toward them. She even went so far as to stick stamps deliberately upside down on her letters, so as to make the King stand on his head. It was much later when Lord Paul Methuen, the Officer Commanding-in-Chief in South Africa, convinced her that the British were not all bad, he helped her overcome her prejudices to eventually support her husband in his efforts to reconcile the English and Afrikaner “races” to achieve peace, stability and ‘Union’ in South Africa.

Jan Smuts would also tease her and say she would be “punished” if any of her children married a Brit in the future, which ironically several of the Smuts children did, either marrying into wholly British or half English descendants. Isie’s future would see her rise to one of the most loved people in South Africa – English and Afrikaner alike – and she hit her stride during World War 2, during Jan Smuts’ second Prime Ministership, when she headed up the wartime ‘The Gifts and Comforts Fund’ in support of the men and women from South Africa fighting in the war, even visiting them in the combat zone, but that’s a remarkable story for another day.

In South Africa, one can still find people who swallowed Smuts’ political detractors rhetoric and will say that by reconciling with the British, he did not suffer or fully understand the indignity of the concentration camps. Utter poppycock, one only has to look at the fact that he not only lost family, he nearly lost his wife, such was his conviction to get a better peace for his countrymen by engaging guerrilla war tactics and becoming a ‘Bitter-einder’ in war already hopelessly lost. Of his reasoning for enduring the ‘Bitter-einder’ campaign Jan Smuts said “… two years more of war, the utter destruction of both Republics, losses in life and treasure … Aye, but it meant that every Boer, every child to be born in South Africa, was to have a prouder self-respect and a more erect carriage before the nations of the world.”

The journey for both Jan and Isie to overcome their hatred for the British and reconcile with them in 1910 for the good of all South Africans is one of the most generous and forgiving acts ever seen in South Africa, it was only seen again in 1994 when Nelson Mandela did the same (although the same could not be said of his wife).

Jan Smuts famously said “history writes the word ‘reconciliation’ over all her quarrels” and to anyone visiting the Smuts museum in future, look up at the simple curtain rails, and remember the courage of an ‘Ystervrou’ (iron woman) who endured during a highly destructive war, literally crippling her people and her remarkable journey to reconciliation with the enemy to the benefit of all.


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens.

With grateful assistance from Philip Weyers (Jan Smuts’ Grandson) and the Jan Smuts Foundation and family. Large reference and thanks to “Women South Africa Remembers” by Fay Jaff (1975). Also, with much thanks and gratitude to Jenny B Colourisation. Photos below – Smuts House Museum in Irene, the author and his wife with Philip Weyers.

Beer, Bawd and Boers

The Great Beer Flood and the Boer War

So what does the Great London Beer Flood of 1814 have to do with the Boer War of 1899 decades later? A lot really, and it involves a banjo-playing prostitute (a ‘bawd’ in case you’re wondering about the old Middle English used in the headline), so – here’s the tale of how an artillery battery was financed during the South African War (1899-1902) a.k.a The Boer War by a very eccentric and colourful Lady.

The Beer

Let’s start at the beginning with the London Beer Flood of 1814, basically the flood was caused when a 6.7m heigh wooden fermentation vessel containing ‘Porter’ beer at Meux&Co’s Horse Shoe Brewery in London burst open. It dislodged and burst open another fermenter and storage barrels releasing around a million litres of beer. The resultant wave of beer swept into a slum, tragically killing 8 people as it flooded basements and knocked over walls. Although one person died of alcohol poisoning a couple of days later after hundreds of people collected the beer and mass drunkenness ensued.

Images: The Meux & Co’s Horse Shoe Brewery and Sir Henry Meux, 1st Baronet

The brewery was nearly bankrupted as a result, but was saved by the government after a rebate was given on the excise of the lost beer. Gradually the Meux&Co Brewery found it way back on its feet and became highly profitable. The Meux family (Meux is pronounced ‘Mews’) had a long association with beer and breweries, the owner of the Horse Shoe Brewery was Sir Henry Meux, 1st Baronet (1770-1841), the son of a brewer named Richard Meux (1734 – 1813). Sir Henry Meux would bequeath the brewing empire to his son, also named Henry, Sir Henry Meux, the 2nd Baronet (1817-1883), he headed up Meux&Co Brewery and also became a Member of Parliament. He in turn bequeathed the brewery and family fortune to his son, also Henry, Sir Henry Bruce Meux, the 3rd Baronet, who started managing the brewery from 1878.

Now, it is in Sir Henry Bruce Meux, the 3nd Baronet that we find a most remarkable figure. His wife. Lady Valerie Susan Meux.

The Bawd

Born in Devon in 1847, Valerie Langdon married Sir Henry Bruce Meux in 1878 and moved to his Hertfordshire estate. Langdon claimed to have been an actress, but was apparently on the stage for only a single season. By all accounts, she worked as a banjo-playing prostitute and barmaid under the name of Val Reece (or Val Langdon – her stage name) at the Casino de Venise in Holborn, central London, and it is here that she is believed to have met Sir Henry Bruce Meux.

Images; Sir Henry Meux with Lady Meux playing the Banjo and their Zebra drawn carriage in London.

She certainly struck the big time. Meux had a considerable estate, including 9,200 acres on the Marlborough Downs. He even commissioned James Whistler to paint three portraits of his wife, Valerie, Lady Meux. At Lady Meux’s request, Henry purchased from the City of London the Temple Bar Gate, which they preserved at their Theobalds Park estate. They re-opened and greatly extended the house, including installing a roller-skating rink (roller-skating is older than you think, invented in 1863 – it was initially dubbed ‘rinkomania’ in the 1870s).

Lady Meux took up the mantle of a London socialite, and a very eccentric one at that, she reportedly travelled around London in a carriage drawn by zebras.

Images: Portraits by James Whistler of Lady Meux

The Boers

During the South African War (1899-1902), early British reverses to the Boer invasions of the British Colonies and sieges of their towns leading to ‘Black Week’ in December 1899 made headline news and the defence of Ladysmith made a particular impression on Lady Meux.

When the Boers declared war against the British on 11th October 1899, Captain Hedworth Lambton was in command of HMS Powerful, which was posted in the China seas, HMS Powerful was a state-of-the-art Cruiser for its time and at the onset of hostilities it was immediately ordered to Durban. Knowing that the British forces at Ladysmith urgently needed more powerful guns, Captain Percy Scott from HMS Powerful’s sister ship, HMS Terrible, devised carriages to transport naval cannon, and Lambton led a Naval brigade to the rescue at Ladysmith with four twelve-pounders and two 4.7″ guns. The enthusiastic response in Britain to these Naval “heroes of Ladysmith” was enormous and made Captain Hedworth Lambton a well-known public figure. Queen Victoria even sent a telegram to him saying, “Pray express to the Naval Brigade my deep appreciation of the valuable services they have rendered with their guns.”

So impressed by their actions around the Ladysmith siege, Lady Meux, in her own patriotic way decided to do her bit for England and sprang into action. She ordered, six naval 12-pounders on special field carriages made by Armstrong of Elswick. The guns were sent directly to Lord Roberts in South Africa, because they had been refused by the War Office. The unit which manned these guns were known as the “Elswick Battery”. The battery was in action several times, including the Second Battle of Silkaatsnek near Rustenberg on the 2nd August 1900.

Images: The Elswick Battery Naval Guns donated by Lady Meux in South Africa during the Boer War.

Sir Henry Bruce Meux died on the 11th September 1900 at his Theobalds estate, the couple were childless and he was still a very wealthy man, thus leaving Lady Valerie Meux, now aged 48, one of the richest women in Britain with no heirs to the family fortune. She owned a string of race horses, entering them under the assumed name of ‘Mr Theobalds’, and won the Derby in 1901. She also collected a vast array ancient Egyptian artefacts.

When Captain Hedworth Lambton, the commander of the Naval Brigade at Ladysmith, returned to England, he called on Lady Meux at Theobalds to recount his adventures in South Africa and to praise the patriotic spirit of her gift. Lady Meux was “touched by this tribute” and wrote out a new will and testament making Lambton the chief heir to the large fortune left by her husband, including her house at Theobalds Park in Hertfordshire and a substantial interest in the Meux&Co Brewery. The only condition was that Lambton should change his name to Meux.

So, when Lady Meux died on 20 December 1910, Captain Hedworth Lambton without hesitation, promptly changed his name by royal licence to Meux, thereby enabling him to inherit her substantial fortune. By the end of the 1st World War, Sir Hedworth Meux GCB, KCVO (née Lambton) was a Full Admiral in the Royal Navy and the Naval aide-de-camp to King Edward VII.

Images: A Tea Cloth in the Ladysmith Siege museum celebrating the ‘Heroes of Ladysmith’ – Captain Hedworth Lambton top right and Admiral Sir Hedworth Meux (née Lambton) during WW1.

Back to the Beer

So what became of Meux&Co Brewery – can we still buy the beer? Well, sort of, you’re possibly drinking it now. When the Admiral of the Fleet, the Honourable Sir Hedworth Meux retired from the Royal Navy in 1921, in the same year Meux&Co Brewery was directed to move their production to the ‘Nine Elms’ brewery in Wandsworth which the Company had already purchased in 1914. The original ‘Horse Shoe’ brewery was demolished and today is the site of the Dominion Theatre, a Grade II listed art deco theatre in the heart of London.

In 1961 Meux&Co Brewery was sold to Friary, Holroyd and Healy’s Brewery of Guildford in Surrey. The company was renamed Friary Meux but only existed as an independent brewery until 1964, when it became part of the new national group, Allied Breweries. Through a series of more brewery mergers, the breweries ultimately merge with Carlsberg in 1992 and become Carlsberg-Tetley, which it is now part of the Carlsberg Group.

One for the road

In addition to my love of military history, I am also the owner of a Craft Beer Brewery in South Africa, and I love a good historic yarn like this, so I can only hoist one of our ice cold ‘Old Tin Hat’ beers to a Carlsberg Pilsner and say thank you once again to my good friend, Dennis Morton, who researched and directed me to this fantastic bit of history. Another toast to The Anglo Boer War and Related History Group (Facebook) and Iain Hayter.

Cheers!


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens with thanks to Dennis Morton.

A glass of brandy in the morning …

The last Boer War survivor

In 1992, the last Boer War survivor appeared at The Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in London and later laid a remembrance wreath at the base of the Cenotaph in Whitehall. He was 111 years old, his name – George Frederick Ives, born in Brighton, England on 17th November 1881 and he served in the British Army for 18 months and served in South Africa during The South African War (1899-1902). He was the last combatant survivor from either side and it was his last known public appearance.

It remains amazing that in living memory of many today, right up into the 90’s, stood a veteran of the Boer War, think about his longevity, he was still alive when Gulf War 1 broke out between 1990 and 1991 – he saw war from a horse drawn age, before the invention of the airplane – right up to jet-aircraft ‘shock and awe’ warfare and the nuclear age, we can only wonder now what he thought of it. This is his story.

At the on-set of the war from 11th October 1899, the British suffered tremendous set-backs when the Boer’s declared war and invaded the two British Colonies, the Boer sieges and shelling of British garrisons and civilians alike in Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley, incensed and immediately spurred many in the United Kingdom to join up and fight – including George Ives, citing “Black Week’ – the British losses to the Boers whilst attempting to relieve the sieges at the battles of Stormberg, Colenso and Magersfontein from the 10th to 17th December 1899 as his reason. George initially enlisted as Private in 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Bristol Engineers.

Clearly the British had a fight on their hands and by January 1901, George really wanted to get to South Africa, before the war he had experience training horses and considered himself a good jockey, so he attested to join the Imperial Yeomanry (voluntary mounted infantry) as a Trooper, number 21198. His height was 5’6, his eyes dark blue, hair black, and trade listed as a grocer. He trained in England until the end of February, when he proceeded to South Africa with the 1st (Wiltshire) Company, 1st Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry.

With the Yeomanry in support of Scottish troops, and thanks to his training on horses, George became a Cavalry Scout. He would spend days in the saddle as a messager often riding far into ‘enemy’ territory to connect between British detachments, he would regularly cover distances upwards of 80 km through enemy territory which he managed to do by taking two horses and hiding in the hills during daylight hours.

Horses were an important part of the military campaign in South Africa. Many, many years later in television interview George would chuckle and wryly observe that “There were lots of veterinaries but not many doctors. A horse cost £40 while a man was only worth a dollar.”

March 1st, 1901 to August 27, 1902, George fought on patrols in the Transvaal, Orange Free State and the Cape Colony. work in the hot South African sun riding on the open veldt, ‘water’ almost became an obsession for George. In the same interview many years later, George described what these patrols were like:

“We started out in the morning early, had a good camp breakfast, filled our water cans up with coffee, and we went. Before the sun was up any strength at all, nearly all the drink had gone. We was all day and we’d chew stones in our mouth and try and agitate a little saliva. Finally we got to the end of the trip and fell off the horse, the horse was thirsty too, and we’d throw some water in our mouths and on the back of our neck, and when we looked up [we] discovered there was two dead mules in the same pond, but it didn’t matter about mules rotting, you had to satisfy your thirst.” 

In the same interview Ives recalled his proudest moment during the war: 

“The most important [moment] was when the Captain had us fall in, get in line, it was after supper, at night, and when they were all there he said ‘Ives take ten paces forward’ and I stepped forward ten paces, and he says to the company: ‘here is the man who was scouting through 70 miles of enemy territory several times’. The captain then said give him a cheer, and they said ‘hoorah, hoorah’ and I went back in line.”

Trooper George Ives was discharged in England on September 3, 1902 and for his service in South Africa, he was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901, and South Africa 1902.

Later Life

In 1902 George immigrated to Canada, in 1990, he told the Vancouver Sun that he flipped a coin – heads Canada, tails New Zealand. The coin came up heads, and George Ives became a farmer in British Columbia. When World War 1 broke out he volunteered again, but was rejected when they identified a heart murmur.

He would raise six children with his wife of 76 years, Kate (Kitty). He worked as a farmer, logger and then a boat builder, his wife died 1987 when she was 98.

Living in Aldergrove, he would regularly attend Remembrance Day celebrations, well into the 1980s in Aldergrove, George Frederick Ives would get onto his feet and stand attention for the moment of silence, and his identity as a Boer War veteran announced to the crowd, as well as his age – well over 100 at this stage.

When George Ives returned to the United Kingdom for the last time in November in 1992, he was deemed to be the oldest man to have flown the Atlantic. He was also accompanied by his youngest daughter (76) and his nurse. During his visit he had tea with the Queen Mother, Princess Diana, Lady Thatcher and had a tour of Downing Street.

Images: George Ives with Princess Diana (Left) and Margarat Thatcher (Right)

As far as the last surviving veterans of the Boer War goes, George outlived the last ‘Boer’ veteran, believed to be Pieter Arnoldus Krueler (1885–1986) – the famous ‘4’ war Boer, who served on the ZAR side during the Boer War, then in both World Wars, the Spanish Civil War and was a mercenary in the Congo Crisis – another very interesting figure from the Boer War (another contender for ‘oldest’ Boer fighter was Herman Carel Lubbe who died on 11 August 1985).

George Frederick Ives eventually died five months after his famous UK visit, back in Canada, in Aldergrove’s Jackman Manor at the age of 111 on April 12, 1993, the last surviving Boer War veteran and the oldest man in Canada at the time.

Secrets of Longevity

Take a learning on longevity here, George Ives, was married for 77 years, smoked for 89 years and his secret for longevity was a glass of brandy and water which he took at 3am every morning! George is officially the second oldest British military veteran ever, at 111 years, 146 days, his record was only broken on 1 November 2007 by World War 1’s last combatant British survivor Henry Allingham (who also funnily credited “cigarettes, whisky and wild, wild women – and a good sense of humour” for his longevity). They just don’t make em like this anymore.

To see George Ives’ last interview follow this link


Written and Researched by Peter Dickens

“God’s will”

I’ve recently looked at the ideology of Afrikanerdom, after taking some criticism for ‘bashing’ a small but very vocal sect of anti-Smuts Afrikaners (some even in my own family). I’ve contested that they do not epitomise Afrikanerdom but seem to think they do. It’s a complex subject, as ‘Afrikanerdom’ is as white as it is black, but bear with me.

When it comes to the ‘Boer War’ (The South African War 1899-1902), there are two very hotly debated areas, both ‘shape’ Afrikanerdom – certainly in the white sense of it. The first is the idea of the “Bitter-Einder” (the Bitter Enders), the group of Afrikaners who painfully decided to continue the war on ‘guerrilla principles’ after the ‘conventional phase’ ended and Pretoria fell. Some historians point to these guerrillas as having brought the catastrophe of the concentration camps and the scorched earth farm buring policy on themselves – they’re to blame as the British had little choice. Little is really understood as to ‘why’ they continued the fight, as the fight was clearly lost – sheer madness the only conclusion. But, it’s in the ‘why’ that we find Afrikanerdom.

The second hotly debated subject is Jan Smuts, his impact to South African politics and ‘Afrikaner’ identity spans 6 decades, no other ‘Afrikaner’ can hold a flame to it. His detractors fall on old National Party propaganda and political smearing and old family folklore to paint him as ‘turning British’ for reconciling the warring British and Boer races (and by some strange leap in logic some also point to him as responsible for the concentration camps). Little time is given to actually reading what Smuts said or wrote and a strange almost belligerent hatred overrides all reason.

Sir Winston Churchill said of Smuts that “He fought for his own country; he thought for the whole world.” by that he meant Smuts remained an Afrikaner patriot for one but also philosophised for all mankind. Churchill’s long time admiration for Smuts also lay in his abilities as one of the few successful Bitter-Einder Boer Generals, not in a need for him to identify as somehow British. Smuts’ context of Afrikanerdom is found in his justification for being a Bitter-Einder’ and there is nothing better to understand his mind and to understand the ground zero of 20th century ‘Afrikanerdom’ and the modern white Afrikaner psyche than to read what Smuts himself puts down.

What follows are some extracts .. they are well worth the read, and anyone who walks away from reading this still thinks that Jan Smuts is somehow ‘English’ needs their brain replaced – for they have never taken the time to read what the man actually wrote. Here’s an Afrikaner at heart – simple.

Image: General Jan Smuts (seated centre) with his Commando, colourised by Tinus Le Roux

This is a letter, written to W.T. Stead by Jan by Smuts whilst in the field with his commando at Vanrhynsdorp on 4 January 1902 (Source: Published from his private papers by Hancock and van der Poel) – it covers some excerpts as the full content is too long to publish here, but they more than adequately make the point.

“I know the difficulty of the modern man of action and intelligence, accustomed as he is to ideas of natural laws and physical or economical explanations of all phenomena, to understand or appreciate the tremendous force of faith in the affairs of the world, but unless he overcomes this difficulty the present war will, in all essential respects, remain for him an insoluble mystery. A mustard seed of real faith avails more in the affairs of the world than mountains of might or brute force – and only he who thoroughly understands this will be able to appreciate the true inwardness of the present struggle.

The condition of the two South African Republics in very truth baffles description. Not William the Conquerer himself created a more complete desert between the Tyne and the Humber in the eleventh century than Lord Kitchener has created in the twentieth. All living animals – horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, fowls, even dogs, have been killed, and generally in a manner too shocking to relate. More than once I set my commandos to kill the poor brutes which had been maimed by the British soldiery and then left by them to slow death and starvation; even four or five days after atrocities had been committed one would find these poor dumb brutes writhing in pain, and struggling and bleating for water and food among the dead. I have seen strong and brave men with tears in their eyes – totally overcome by the sight of this horrible suffering.

To me the saddest sight in this war has been the sufferings which women and children have endured to escape capture by the British columns. Like wild beasts they have been everywhere hunted out with Lee-Metford and Maxim and consigned to the death-in-life of the camps. For these reasons the brave Boer women have endured hardships and undergone privations such as one only reads of in the ancient records of Christian martyrdom. ‘They were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth’. (Hebrews XI: 37,38).

I do not ask what rules of international law sanction this rapine and ruin. I only state it as a fact – as a fact which I have seen with my own eyes and which is beyond all manner or doubt or dispute: quaeque ipse vidi et quorum pars magna fui. No wonder that for many burghers the state of their desolate country has become a sight too painful to bear; no wonder they prefer to continue the war beyond its borders.

The British military authorities adopted a policy of devastation and of treating non-combatant women and children as prisoners of war. They expected the Boers to quail before the absolute destruction of their property and the sufferings of their women and children. The said military authorities , however, made one fatal error in their calculations-an error which they will continue to make to the very end of the war. They had learnt in the case of all the tribes that with which they had come in contact during recent generations that one big defeat, followed by the burning of their chief town or kraal and the raiding of their cattle , was sufficient to utterly cow and prostrate them. And so they expected from the despised Boer. But the policy of spoliation and the infliction of suffering on non-combatants – so far from producing the expected result – had exactly the opposite effect. It raised the spirit of the Boers; it sent the iron deeper into the soul; that the God of Battles might not be with them yet the Spirit that dies not quench the smoking flax nor bruise the broken reed was with them to strengthen and sustain.

A second important consequence of this policy of spoliation has been the elimination from the Boer ranks of all those elements which are useless from a military point of view. The ordeal has been too terrible for the weak and the faint. First of all went the irresponsible braggarts who had clamoured for war and had called the peacemakers cowards and traitors. The man who expected to gain something from continuing in the field; the man who preferred to protect his property; the man who had lost all hope of a successful issue followed. There remain the stout-hearted and able-bodied – the men of physical courage, the men of moral endurance, whom self-respect and honour keep true to their country’s cause; the men of invincible hope in the future and child-like faith in God – truly a select band, the like of whom, I fondly think, is not to be found in the wide world today.

And these are the men whom Mr. Chamberlain, standing in the House of Commons, does not shrink from classifying as brigands and ruffians. These are the men against whom the High Commissioner (Milner) has the infantile audacity to hurl his proclamation of permanent banishment and universal confiscation.

‘How long is this war still going to last’ is the question asked by almost every Englishman who meets a Boer. The English are evidently weary and tired to death of the whole business. And no wonder, for their feeling of racial revenge must be pretty well satiated after the ruin and sorrows in which the Boers have been involved. For every thinking Briton, even the most hostile to the Boers, must feel in his heart of hearts, that this sorry business has added no glory and never will add any glory to the Empire – no military glory, for the odds were too uneven; the methods resorted to by the British too shocking to the humaner feelings of mankind, and the unique tenacity of the Boers has finally come to overshadow every other feature of war; no political glory, because the issue had become one of their freedom or subjugation. And mankind reserves its lasting honour for, and award its crown of glory only to, those who have striven for the highest ideals of humanity; who have made deathless sacrifices for liberty or justice or religion; and who by heroic self-sacrifice for the highest ends have raised and ennobled the ethical consciousness of mankind. But this much is certain, that the issue of glory is against the British Empire, and that the world has only seen another proof of universal moral law that they who deliberately seek glory shall not find it.

What are the principal moral forces operative within the area of the war today? I ask the question here because only he who thoroughly appreciates their character will be able to understand the factors on which the continuance and issue of the present war depend. The flower of the Boer army …. and who to a large extent still continue in the field today, were actuated by a vaguer but profounder aspiration …. purified and deepened a hundredfold by loss and suffering and sorrow during the course of the war, remains today the most vital and vitalizing force in the Boer mind, and must be carefully studied by all who wish to understand the true conditions of the continuance and issue of the present war.

The Boers, as a people, have an extraordinary faith in God. Theirs is not a God of the mechanical type …. Theirs is a God …. rather of the type of the Hebrew prophets – …; who from and with the passions and aspirations, the good and evil deeds of men, shapes the divine policy, moulding sin and sorrow, deeds of honour and of shame, like some potter at the wheel, into the divine ends of His world-government. The barbarous measures of the enemy, which bring a blush of shame to the fair face of Christian civilization, were expected by them, for had not Scripture to be fulfilled? All these things, and even worse, were foretold by the prophets, and with patience and resignation they are prepared to bear the yoke which not so much the enemy as God has laid on them; the inhuman proclamations of Lords Kitchener and Milner were read and pondered by them in the sacred writings before they were issued in SA, and the remarkable resemblance in the procedure of the Nebuchadnezzar of prophecy and the Kitchener of our day is to them only another confirmation of their belief that this is God’s work and that the final issue will also be His. …. this remarkable faith in God and in their destiny has only become stronger; broken and bleeding they have clung all the more passionately to the great hope, praying indeed that the cup of agony might be taken away from them, but never dashing it down in impatience or despair. For the Boers feel that they are not enduring themselves, and inflicting on their loved ones, mere useless suffering, as Lord Kitchener is so fond of reminding them, but that victory will yet be theirs, and the seed now sown in sorrow and tears will be reaped by posterity as a glorious harvest in the land that is far away…

This view, which will seem strange and intelligible to matter-of-fact politicians, is today held by the bulk of the Boers in the field. The Boers fight now in a spirit akin to that of the early Christian martyrs; they listen to reports of defeat and rapine, of the suffering of their wives and children in the prison camps, with that calm resignation which springs from the assurance that such is God’s will”.

Images: Lord Kitchener’s policy of Scotched Earth, Boer farmsteads been destroyed by British and Imperial Troops.

Images: British Boer War period concentration camps, colourised by Jenny B


Researched by Peter Dickens

With much thanks to ‘Boer War Crank’ on-line. Master images of a young Jan Smuts and concentration camp children – colourised thanks to Tinus Le Roux.

A Rebellious Family Streak

A friend of mine, Dennis Morton is a prolific researcher and he brought up this rather interesting history which highlights the rebellious nature and political dichotomy in white South African families perfectly. So, here’s how a Boer war rebel’s history massively impacted South Africa’s liberal political landscape.

The Irish Brigade

During the South African War 1899-1902 (the Boer War), a number of British, especially Irish found themselves in alignment with the Boer Republic cause. Many of them were working on mines in the Transvaal or had otherwise settled and repatriated in the two Boer Republics prior to hostilities. Not just Irish, these ‘burgers’ also constituted many other Britons – Scots and even the odd Englishman. At the onset of the war they volunteered to join a Boer ‘Kommando’, and this one was special, it was created by John MacBride and initially commanded by an American West Point officer – Colonel John Blake. The Commando was called ‘The Irish Brigade’ mainly because of its very Irish/Irish American slant. After Colonel Blake was wounded in action at the Battle of Modderspruit, shot in the arm, command of the Irish Brigade was handed to John MacBride. The Brigade then saw action in the siege of Ladysmith, however this was not a happy time for Irish Brigade as its members were not enthusiastic about siege tactics. After the Boer forces were beaten back from the Ladysmith by the British the Irish Brigade began to fall apart. It was resurrected again as a second Commando in Johannesburg under an Australian named Arthur Lynch and disbanded after the Battle of Bergendal.

To say the Irish Brigade was controversial is an understatement, the whole of Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom in 1899 (the Irish Republic split came much later) and members of this Brigade ran the risk of high treason if caught, especially if their ‘citizenships’ to the Boer Republics were not in order when the war began, or if they joined and swore allegiance to the Boers during the war itself.

So, at the end of the war there are a couple of Irish Brigade Prisoners of War who were captured and sent to St. Helena (which was the main camp for Boer POW) and they needed to be repatriated, in their case – the United Kingdom. The issue of treason hangs heavily on both of them.

Firstly, Prisoner 3783, Thomas Enright, an Irishman, who at one time was in the British army during the Matabele War and had changed allegiance to the Boer Republics, joining the Irish Brigade. The issue been the date of his burger citizenship which exceeded the amnesty for who was and who was not considered a ‘Burger’. The cut off for amnesty on oaths of allegiance by ‘foreigners’ to the Boer Republics was given as 29th September 1899.

The second is Prisoner 15910, John Hodgson, a Scotsman born at Paisley in the United Kingdom, he emigrated to Southern Africa in 1891. He lived in Rhodesia and moved to the Orange River Colony until 1896. He took the oath of allegiance to the South African Republic – ZAR (Transvaal) on the 28th or 29th December 1899, which was after the amnesty date. He served in the Irish Brigade under Blake and was captured by the British on 19th November 1900.

Luckily for both these men, they are not prosecuted for treason (which carried the death sentence) and repatriated to the United Kingdom after some heady politicking. Here’s where we stop with Thomas Enright and follow the Scotsman, John Hodgson.

On John Hodgson’s repatriation he is immediately ostracised by the British community because of his role on the side of the Boer Republics and six months after his return to the United Kingdom, he illegally boarded a ship bound for Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Here he set up shop working as a book-keeper and by 1904 John Hodgson’s family reunited with him in the Cape. Now, here’s the interesting bit that so often plagues ‘white’ South African families, although John Hodgson joined the Boer forces as a rebel, he, like many other Boer veterans, also harboured liberal political beliefs. He supported legal equality and the extension of a non-racial franchise (vote to all – Black emancipation) in Southern Africa.

Liberalism in South Africa

John Hodgson’s daughter, did not fall far from the tree, John’s rebellious and highly liberal nature rubbed off on her, she was Violet Margaret Livingstone Hodgson, who later married another liberal, William Ballinger. Margarat Ballinger would go down as a powerhouse in liberal politics in South Africa.

Margarat Ballinger would become the first President of The South African Liberal Party when it formed in 1953 and she would serve from 1937 as a Member of Parliament alongside Jan Smuts and his heir apparent Jan Hofmeyr. Highly vocal, she represented the Eastern Cape on the ‘Native Representatives Council’.

By 1947 her plans included new training and municipal representation for South African blacks and improved consultation with the Native Representatives Council. Time Magazine called her the ‘Queen of the Blacks’. Time Magazine went on to say Ballinger was the “white hope” leading 24,000,000 blacks as part of an expanded British influence in Southern Africa. Her Parliamentary career would take a dramatic turn when the National Party came to power in 1948.

By 1953, the ‘liberal’ side of the United Party lay in tatters, both Jan Smuts and Jan Hofmeyr had passed away in the short years of the ‘Pure’ National Party’s first tenure in power between 1948 and 1953. The Progressive Party and Liberal Party of South Africa would take shape to fill the void left by Smuts and Hofmeyr. The Liberal Party of South Africa was founded by Alan Paton and other ‘liberal’ United Party dissidents. Alan Paton came in as a Vice President and Margarat Ballinger the party’s first President. Unlike the United Party, the Liberal Party did not mince its position on the ‘black question’ and stood for full ‘Black, Coloured and Indian’ political emancipation and opened its doors to all races, they stood on the complete opposite extreme to the National Government and Apartheid and to the ‘left’ of the United Party.

Margarat Ballinger strongly voiced her anti-Apartheid views, opened up three ‘Black’ schools in Soweto without ‘permission’ and was one of a vocal few white voices openly defying H.F. Verwoerd. In 1960 she left Parliament when the South African government abolished the Parliamentary seats representing Black South Africans.

The Apartheid government’s heavy clampdown on ‘white liberals’ after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 forced many Liberal Party members into exile and many others were subject to various ‘banning’ actions locally. By 1968 the Apartheid government made it illegal for members of different races to join a singular political party, and instead of abiding the legislation (which the Progressive Party and others did), the Liberal Party stood it’s ground and chose to disband rather than reject its black members.

Not without a passing shot, in 1960 Margarat Ballinger published a scathing critique of Apartheid in a book she wrote called “From Union to Apartheid – A Trek to Isolation”. Ironic considering her family’s journey as a supporter of the ‘Boer’ cause. Regarded today as a ‘must read’ for anyone studying this period of South African history and Liberalism. She also wrote a trilogy on Britain in South Africa, Bechuanaland and Basutoland. Margarat passed away in 1980, before she could see the end of Apartheid.

In Conclusion

So, there you have it, an unusual and very South African family story, a strong minded Brit turned Boer rebel and his equally strong minded daughter, one who would become a pioneer of woman and liberalism in South Africa. It also reminds us as to the complexities and paradoxes of The South African War 1899-1902 and the different political sentiments at play within the Boer Forces, some of which can still surprise many today.


Written by Peter Dickens with great thanks to Dennis Morton for his research and writings.

Ja Oom … The Torch!

My last blog covered The Broederbond, and unsurprisingly out came the OBB waving vocal few to tell me it was a vicious attack on Afrikandrdom, my urge to them to look at Afrikaans heroes like Field Marshal Jan Smuts and Colonel Ernst Maherbe conveniently (and predictively) glossed over. So here’s a fun fact … the white supremacist history sprouted by Dr D.F. Malan and his supporters is a bastardisation of Afrikaans history … there, I said it!

Not only are the proven sinister aims of the Broderbond’s purposeful bastardisation of this education and history plain to see in the public domain now, but there is also nothing that better represents this fact than this man – Kommandant Dolf de la Rey.

By 1950, two years into National Party rule, Dr Malan was beginning to flex his party’s electoral promise, and implementing Apartheid. Two predominant Afrikaners would have none of it, both of them very respected military veterans, for different reasons and in different wars. One Afrikaner was an old grizzly South African War 1899 – 1902 (Boer War) veteran, a Commando Commandant, the other one was a handsome Battle of Britain fighter ace, world famous after World War 2 (1939-1945), Group Captain Adolf ‘Sailor’ Malan.

Two proud Afrikaners on their way to lead a Torch Commando rally against the Nationalists in Cape Town in what was called a ‘steel commando’. Here’s the AP clip:

No small initiative either, The Torch Commando would become South Africa’s very first mass protest movement against Apartheid (the ANC’s Defiance campaign was to come a couple of years after the Torch). By ‘mass’ it was also by no means small – 250,000 members at its zenith, unparalleled at its time. The inconvenient truth to the modern ANC narrative – it was made up of mainly of ‘white’ returning service personnel.

Of the Steel Commando trip to Cape Town, wrote one newspaper correspondent: “Cape Town staged a fantastic welcome” for Kmdt de la Rey and Group Captain Malan, he related the enthusiasm of the crowd to the same that liberation armies received in Europe. The Johannesburg Star said: “The Commando formed the most democratic contingent ever to march together in the Union. Civil servants found themselves alongside the colored men who swept the streets they were marching so proudly upon.”

“In the front jeep rode Oom Dolf de la Rey, a white-haired old Boer of seventy-four, who looked so startlingly like the late General Jan Smuts that people looked twice at him and then cheered wildly. Oom (Uncle Dolf) was the man who, as a young burgher on commando fifty years before, had captured Winston Churchill, then a war correspondent with the Imperial forces in South Africa.In the second jeep stood a younger man with tousled brown hair, his hazel eyes cold and angry, the man who had been the most famed fighter pilot in all the RAF — Adolph Gysbert Malan, known all over the world as Sailor. He was the real hero of the hour. The people tried to mob him. Men and women, white as well as brown, crowded round his jeep and stretched out their hands to touch him”.

Sailor Malan had even gone as far as warning the National Party and its Apartheid policy that they would meet the same ignominious end as Mussolini and Hitler, and warned that their intention was to implement a facist state and create ‘race hate’ as he put it. In hindsight his warning and prediction would prove right. During that rally in Cape Town, Dolf de la Rey took the microphone and laid into the National Party, as a respected Boer War vet he pulled no punches. Also, this is a inconvenient truth, Dolf de la Rey headed up an entire contingent of Boer War Afrikaner veterans who did not feel that removing Cape based black and ‘coloured’ votes from the voters roll and relegating them to secondary citizenship was a good idea, nor was it reflective of them as Afrikaners, and nor was it the ideals of freedom for they had fought for in the Boer War.

So, what did the Afrikaner ‘Pure’ National Party make of these two Afrikaners? They quickly sprung into gear positioning the Torch as a national threat attempting a violent overthrow. Quickly regarded as nothing but shameful rhetoric by the National Party’s official opposition – the United Party. So the Nats went further and started at the personalities of Malan and de la Rey, Malan was easy, he was the product of a Afrikaans father and English mother – he quickly became “the King’s poodle” and “an Afrikaner of a different kind” – not welcome in the Afrikaner laager. But, problem with ‘Oom Dolf’, here was a Afrikaner Boer War hero pure and applied, beyond the National Party’s criticism and reproach, so what did they do? .. They played on his ‘Oom’ status, dismissing him as a senile old man, paying nothing but lip service to him, positioning him as somehow irrelevant, a patronising .. Ja Oom!

Kmdt Dolf de la Rey welcoming fellow Boer War veterans to The Torch Commando rally

The National Party would go onto banning the Torch Commando in effect using legislation in the form of the anti-Communist act to gag it and force all the senior officers and judges in it to resign. They would wipe out the legacy for the Torch from all things public, when Sailor Malan died they refused to allow any service personnel to attend his funeral in uniform, they even forbade the SAAF from laying a wreath – all official obituaries were changed to remove anything to do with The Torch. As for Kmdt de la Rey, simply cast away into obscurity, nothing in his obituary – nothing at all, nobody would be researching him and writing him into the folklore and history of the ‘2nd war of independence’ as they phrased it, nor has anyone written him into the anti-Nationalist narrative – that was reserved for ‘the King’s sell-outs’. The capture of Winston Churchill would be attributed to many others, Oom Dolf would be forgotten.

In conclusion

The National Party made it very clear, they did not want young impressionable Afrikaners making heroes of these two Afrikaners. They did everything to discredit Afrikaners who stood against them and even engaged The Broederbond and its influence over the Church and Schools to blind an entire nation on historic ideals which were at best shaky. It would all ultimately drag good liberated Afrikaners, real heroes into the dark morass called ‘Apartheid’.

It is now our job to start highlighting these men and correcting the narrative when it comes to the rich tapestry of Afrikaners against Apartheid, people like Dolf de la Rey, and you’ll find them in the most amazing and unexpected places, and let’s face it – this is that what makes history interesting. Not the OBB and Vierkleur flag waving few still believing in the raft of Afrikaner nationalism fed to them by the Broederbond, still trying to call out anyone not agreeing with their views as been some sort of Anti-Afrikaner.

Written and researched by Peter Dickens

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Reference: Sailor Malan fights his greatest Battle: Albert Flick 1952. Sailor Malan – Oliver Walker 1953. Associated Press – video footage of The Torch Commando.

Vive la rue du Transvaal, vive la France!

My wife and I headed into a quaint neighbourhood of Paris to enjoy some traditional French Chanson music. When in Paris eh!. Our venue sported just about everything ‘French’, right down to the menu, wine list and sing along to Jacques Brel and Édith Piaf favourites.

30073135_2127175497511437_787967327737655482_oI glanced up at an art mural of the quarter depicting its early 20th Century heyday, and noticed its old landmark hotel was called the ‘Transvaal Hotel’, nipping outside I realised I was in the famous old ‘working class quarter’ of Paris, the epicentre of French equality and multiculturalism … Belleville … the birthplace and childhood home of Édith Piaf, with its panoramic view of the Paris at the Parc de Belleville, and I was standing in one its most well-known streets, leading to the Parc de Belleville, the ‘Rue du Transvaal’.

So what’s with all the references to the old Transvaal in middle of ‘working class’ Paris?  Put simply, the French during The South African War (1899 to 1902) had been fully in support of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (the Transvaal), in fact there are a number of ‘Rue du Transvaal’ in France and Belgium named after the old South African Republic.

In Belgium a Transvaal Streets are found at Anderlecht, Binche and Quiévrain and in France, Transvaal Streets are found at Berck, Boulogne-Billancourt, Bourgoin-Jallieu, Cateau-Cambrésis, Chalon-sur-Saône, Chambéry, Colombes, Dijon, Divion, La Garenne-Colombes, Guilvinec, Le Creusot, Limoges, Lyon, Marseilles, Nantes, Pessac, Rousies, Saint-Amand-les-Eaux, Saint-Avold and Thiers Wasquehal.

There is even a Rue du Botha which joins up with Rue du Transvaal in Belleville, named in honour of Louis Botha, the famous Boer General and then Commander-in-Chief of the Transvaal Forces, who went on to become the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa.

30073260_2127175847511402_1828333056881797150_o

But why such a strong support?  Simply put there is an aged old ‘hatred’ between the French and the English, and it’s because they are diametrically opposed to one another on one key thing, Republicanism versus Monarchism (not to mention a very long history of going to war against one another).

Deep in the French psyche and value system and inbred in every French citizen are their ‘Republican’ values Liberté, égalité, fraternité ou La Mort. The literal translation of this means ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘brotherhood’ or we die. Values which are in sharp contrast to the English who idolise their monarchy and class based heritage even to this day (the French guillotined their monarchy and upper-class in favour of Republicanism and this motto).

31172198_2127175647511422_3871489692275261358_nIn their Republicanism and concepts of Liberty, Equality and Brotherhood they found kindred “Brothers’ in the form of the Boers of The Transvaal Republic and the Orange Free State Republic, a hard ‘working class’ and determined people (like themselves) seeking ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’ from the oppressive yoke of British Class Elitism and Monarchism. The French fully supported the Boer cause for Republic autonomy and found Britain to be unduly pressuring them, and lets not forget – the Boers were up against their old enemy; “les rosbifs” (the roast beefs) – the English.

Unlike South Africa where the legacy of the South African War (1899 to 1902) and the two Boer Republics is gradually been erased from street names, place names and places of interest for the sake of this or that changing political convenience, the French will have none it.  In France they understand the need to preserve history, no matter how inconvenient, it is what has forged their identity, especially the nasty part of their past pre-revolution, and the equally nasty past of recent German occupation – all preserved.

In fact they surrendered their country in just six weeks of fighting when Nazi Germany invaded in 1940, simply because they understood the value of Paris, this landmark of European and historical heritage and did not want it bombed flat, as was the fate of so many other European capitals.  It is why Paris remains such a unique and beautiful bastion to historical heritage to this very day.

So, when next the ‘Springbok’ rugby team are in France about to give  ‘Les Bleus’ (The Blues) French national squad a pounding, take the time to extend a hand and say thank you to the French for preserving a very valuable South African historical legacy so quickly forgotten about in South Africa today and say in all honesty;

“Vive la rue du Transvaal, vive Paris, vive la France”.

Related articles and links

The 2nd Anglo Boer War – Churchill; Churchill’s epic ‘Boy’s Own’ Adventure in South Africa

The 2nd Anglo-Boer War – Concentration Camps; To fully reconcile The Boer War is to fully understand the ‘BLACK’ Concentration Camps

The 2nd Anglo-Boer War – Emily Hobhouse; I’m not pro Boer, I’m British, this isn’t OUR way!

The 2nd Anglo-Boer War – Kruger; Kruger “blunders” and declares war on the world’s Superpower!


Written by Peter Dickens

The ‘Casus Belli’ for war

Comparing the ‘Gulf’ wars & the ‘Boer’ wars

History repeats itself, that’s the ironic part. For starters let’s compare the Anglo-Boer Wars (both of them the 1st and 2nd Anglo-Boer War – one leads to the other) to the last two Gulf Wars (both of them – one leads to the other). Let’s also take the seldom used ‘Economic History’ model rather than the ‘Political’ History model for a change.

The South African War (1899 to 1902) started due to a mix of British expansionist ‘influence’ in Africa, ZAR expansionism in Africa and the wealth in the ground – gold – and attached to it was the need to stabilise the global Gold market and linked currency. There was also unfinished business surrounding previous regional destabilisation which caused the 1st Anglo-Boer War (1880-1881) and this resulted in an ‘Old Score’ Britain had to settle with the South African Republic (ZAR) – and finally the suppression and threat as to civil rights by the South African Republic (ZAR) as to the mainly British citizens working in their Republic on the mines as well as as other indigenous African population’s rights. The last two parts – white miner’s franchise and rights and black African rights and protection from ZAR aggression was the British ‘Casus Belli’ – the justified case for going to war – that, and the fact the Boer Republics declared war on Britain by invading its neighbours on the 11th October 1899 and not the other way round .. was a Casus Belli all on its own.

The Gulf War 2 (or Iraq War 2003 – 2011) started due to a mix of USA expansionist ‘influence’ in the Gulf, Iraqi expansionism in the Gulf and the wealth in the ground – Oil, and attached to it was the need to stabalise the global Oil market and linked currency. There was also unfinished business surrounding previous regional destabilisation which caused Gulf War 1 (1990-1991) and this resulted in a ‘Old Score’ the USA had to settle with Iraq – and finally the perceived threat to Americans and Israelis (or ‘the world’) from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (entirely fabricated) and threat to civilians in various religious sects, indigenous populations and minorities in Iraq. This last part was the American ‘Casus Belli’ – the justified case for going to war. The fact that Iraq invaded Kuwait on the 2nd August 1990 and had on-going border disputes with Iran and Turkey and had previously declared war on its neighbours … was a Casus Belli all on its own.

World War 2 was a socio-political and economic consequence of World War 1, in effect it is World War 1 – Part 2 (unfinished business), so too the underpinning causes of these wars, Boer War 2, was Boer War 1 – Part 2 (unfinished business), and Gulf War 2, was Gulf War 1 – Part 2 (unfinished business).

All war has an ‘economic’ factor underpinning it, and the Boer and Gulf wars were no different. The  reasons given for the war – mainly that of ‘threat, oppression and persecution’ to minority groups in each case is no different. Like the USA in the modern-day Iraq context (citing oppression of Kurds, Christians, Kuwaitis), Great Britain also put it’s case forward to the ‘world’ (citing oppression by the Boers of British miners) and in both instances the war was passed off as entirely legitimate once it ended for these same reasons … the ‘Casus Belli’ had been made. The fact is the ‘economic’ factor underpinning both these wars was the stability of trading markets – the removal (by force if necessary) of governments, who are holding the pursestrings to these markets, and whose actions and policies around these vital commodities are perceived by global traders to be unstable. If you want to see a recent case of this – look no further Prime Minister Liz Truss, whose government was ousted in record time by the market (not by the populace), simply because the markets found her government’s policies – ‘unstable’.

In 2nd Gulf war, and in the 2nd Boer War, the governments of these vital commodities – deemed unstable by the traders/markets – receive an endless demonisation and bad press. Paul Kruger was painted as an aggressive, dictatorial, backward, ignoramus and incompetent leader of a corrupt government – and Saddam Hussein and his government received exactly the same press. In turn the ZAR painted Britain as having warmongering entrepreneurs coveting their gold – and so too did Iraq – painting the American entrepreneurs coveting their oil as warmongering.

In Iraq, America remained as an occupier after their last war – Great Britain did the same in South Africa after their last war– and in both instances the rational given to the ‘world’ was the reconstruction of the state both economically and politically until it’s perceived ‘threat’ to international mineral market stability was removed and the country was moulded into a more palatable ‘less aggressive’ version to the ‘world’. In both instances they attempted coalition political parties to govern the country as a means to gradually withdraw from direct governance, but retain influence – and in both instances injecting huge economic aid into both to ‘reconstruct’ them.

In both instances, a tiny state took on a superpower and in both instances resorted to guerrilla warfare as the only real means to fight a superpower (in Iraq’s case the ‘guerilla’ warfare phase was labelled as the ‘surge’ in 2007). In both cases civilians were oppressed and randomly imprisoned as a means of removing support to guerrilla cells. In the case of South Africa it was to curtail supply to ‘guerilla cells’  and in Iraq it was to curtail supply to ‘terrorist cells’ (both these guerrilla groupings where locally based). In both instances civilians were exploited to achieve these military objectives.

Oil in 1990 is to Gold in 1900. On the economic front the ‘world’ was presented a case that ‘aggressive’ states where not allowed to be in charge of the world economy as they hold the ‘key’ to it, and these states needed to be removed to ensure worldwide economic stability – this was argued by the USA in 1990 and by Great Britain in 1900 with a similar outcome and some support to both.

The ‘Gulf’ wars – lets face it the whole Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as a ‘Casus Belli’ was a complete farce, human rights, aggression and expansionist reasons lie behind the war and millions of people were affected and will be for years to come, and whose kidding whom it was also about the MONEY i.e. market access, price stability and supply of Oil – same thing with the ‘Boer’ Wars, human rights, aggressive and expansionist reasons lie behind the war, millions of people affected for years to come, and whose kidding whom it was also about the MONEY i.e. market access, price stability and supply of Gold.

Notably, is that in establishing ‘Casus Belli’ – the USA, as a world Super-power embarked on a mission for global assurance by announcing a “coalition of the willing”- countries around the world where the USA held influence who fight side by side with USA and ‘stabilise the situation’ – Iraq could conjurer up no such significant ‘coalition’. The same is true of Britain and the South African War, it had to find a ‘coalition of the willing’ from its sphere of influence – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India to fight side by side with them as a sort of global assurance to ‘stabilise the situation’. The Boer Republics could conjurer up no such significant ‘coalition’.

In summary, the cruel thing about history is that it repeats as it is often only one basic human condition that guides it, wealth generation (expressed by all sides in the conflict, never just one). The reasons for war are always about economic gain but they are also guided by emotional and political convictions (religion, political dogma, ethnic oppression, human persecution etc).

The even crueller thing about both Iraq and South Africa is that ‘world’ opinion will always justify the war because of the strong cases put forward before and after the war by the victor (albeit very flawed cases in both instances). For this reason it is very unlikely that the USA will be compensating Iraqi families 120 years after the war and apologising, the same is also true of Great Britain and South Africa.


Written by Peter Dickens

Kruger “blunders” and declares war on the world’s Superpower!

This period cartoon captures that moment when President Paul Kruger, who in a game of political chess with Queen Victoria, is about to make a “blunder” – a disastrous move in chess which is ill considered. The British Army is ominously overseeing the move and Kruger, rightfully so, looks very worried.

The “blunder” move was simply this, after much sabre rattling and posturing by Milner and other British Imperialists in Southern Africa over mineworker representation in the Transvaal, on 11 October 1899 President Paul Kruger of the Transvaal/South African Republic (a day after his 74th birthday) in alliance with another Boer Republic – The Orange Free State, in a rather surprising move to many – declared war on Great Britain.

The move by two relatively small Boer Republics to declare war on what was then the world’s only real superpower came with some astonishment to Queen Victoria and the British Government in the United Kingdom. The British Imperialists in Southern Africa, along with the British Gold and Diamond mining magnets, on the other hand could hardly believe their luck.

Alfred Milner, the Governor of the Cape Colony had taken a belligerent stand with Kruger and pressed very hard for war against the “Transvaal” Boer Republic, it essentially stood in the way of Imperial expansionist plans.  However he did not generally have poplar support back in the United Kingdom for a war .  Once the declaration of war came from Kruger it was used as a “causes belli” (a legitimate justification to go to war) to the British public.

More alarming to the British at home in the United Kingdom was that night 800 men of the Potchefstroom and Lichtenburg commandos under General Koos de la Rey (one of General Piet Cronjé’s field generals) attacked and captured the British garrison and railway siding at Kraaipan between Vryburg and Mafeking, some 60 kilometres south west of Mafeking and well inside sovereign British territory.

Thus, with the invasion by Boer forces of a British Colony, so began the Second Anglo-Boer War. Under the orders of Cronjé the Mafeking railway and telegraph lines were cut on the same day, and the dice was rolled.

Not to trivialise the matter as a game of chess, the move by Kruger would have horrific consequences for the Boer nation. The war would see the desperation of Guerrilla tactics being employed by the Boer Forces, after the “conventional” phase of the war was lost, as a last ditch effort to maintain their sovereignty “in the field”.  The use of this tactic spurred the British to fight the remainder of the war in an utterly ruthless and murderous manner, especially in the treatment of Boer women and children – the British policies of scorched earth and concentration camps would leave a very bitter and tarnished legacy.

The question we ask now, with all the 20/20 hindsight in the world is why? Why on earth would Kruger fall for all the sabre rattling and posturing by The British?   Did he not anticipate the massive mobilisation of biggest expeditionary force the British had ever assembled to go “get their Colonies back”? Did he not see the underpinning greed of mining concerns operating in Africa – did the Jameson Raid not warn him of this?

Contrary to less informed opinion, at the onset of the war there no “massive” build up of British arms along the borders of the two Boer Republics to really threaten imminent invasion of them.  “Sabre rattling” (limited reinforcements where ordered) and warnings – yes, but a vast build up of arms – no. To coin a phrase – they where playing “chess” using an age old tactic to force the hand.

At the on-set the Boer Republics in fact had the upper hand militarily and quickly put siege to the relatively small and isolated British garrisons on the two British Colony’s borders (notably Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking).  At the start of the war, numbers and arms in fact favoured the Boer Republics, it was only after war was declared that a truly massive British Imperial build up of arms and men to be shipped to Southern Africa occurred.

Central to the dispute, for the British at least was the issue of workers rights and political representation of mainly British expatriate population setting up business and working on the Gold mines in the Transvaal. The two sides summited on the 15 May 1899 in Bloemfontein to avoid war and Milner and Kruger immediately clashed over the issue of citizenship – Kruger was only prepared to grant expatriates citizenship to the “Transvaal” i.e. South African Republic after 14 years of residency, Milner insisted the period be 5 years.  The issue came to head and negotiations broke down – both protagonists as belligerent to one another as ever.

Both Milner and Kruger knew that the vast number of British expatriates  in the Transvaal would unseat the Boer government by simple majority if they became citizens, to Kruger the proposals where an attempt by Britain to take over his country (and its resources) by simple subjection.  It is best summed up in his own reply to Milner when he said “Our enfranchised burghers are probably about 30,000, and the newcomers may be from 60,000 to 70,000 and if we give them the franchise tomorrow we may as well give up the Republic.’ Kruger went on to say, “It would be ‘worse than annexation’.

To the British it was a matter of individual rights to political representation in the Republic, which was now at a boiling point on the rand.  Given the simple change in the country’s demographic due to the Gold Rush, this change was likely to be permanent and these rights could not be avoided – in essence the Boer Republic would eventually cease to exist through popular vote, it was just a really a matter of when.

To the Boers it was a fight to remain in power and keep their country. It had been contested before, the British military had already taken over the Transvaal some years before as a British Protectorate (over the issue of representation again – this time the African tribes had disputed the territory) and the British had been outed by the Boers in a small and swift war (the 1st Boer War or “Transvaal War” in 1880/81) which re-gained them their sovereignty over the territory.  It however remained a disputed territory to many, it had now become even more complex with the massive influx of expatriates and business, and the memory of Britain’s control of the Transvaal was still fresh – for both the Boers and the British.

The answer to why Kruger moved when he did, lay in the hope that the initial successes of the Boer Forces against the smaller British Forces garrisoned in Natal and the Cape Colony at the time would bring about detente.  As with the victory of the Transvaal War (the 1st Boer War 1880 to 1881) to out the British from that Republic then, Kruger hoped a swift victory would bring sense to the British position with regard to British expatriates “rights” and “citizenship” on the mines in the Transvaal and put any Imperial British expansionist plans and Milner’s obstinate attitude towards the Boer Republics to bed.

In hindsight, the move was indeed a blunder, Kruger did not get the detente he sought.  Change in the Transvaal’s political and demographic make-up was inevitable, and Kruger would not embrace it – a fierce sense of patriotism and sovereignty where central edifices for him and he chose to take up arms to stall the inevitable in a last ditch effort to keep his country under Boer control (a similar parallel can be drawn years later when the “union” of South Africa was taken back politically by the hard line Afrikaner Nationalists in 1948).

No doubt “Gold” played a role, the simple fact that it was discovered is very central to the dispute.  However of interest is just how much of a factor it played – The Boer standpoint at the time was Britain’s “Gold-magnets” started the war out of greed (the Jameson raid in their eyes proved that to them).  Some modern option is the British wanted to “steal” the Republic’s gold, however the economics of matter is that the Gold was in fact already owned by the British private concerns mining it and they paid a tax to the Transvaal government for the sale of it. This agreement on ownership and tax did not change when the Union of South Africa was established after the war, so there was no real financial gain for Britain in going to war (the fact is they owned the Gold already).

What lies more at the heart of this matter of greed is “Empire” as an ideology central to the world politics at the time – the expansion of territory around the globe by the British – the concept of a “Cape to Cairo” band of control over the whole of Africa and the sun never setting on the British Union flag.  British global expansionism was central to Milner and others as Victorian characters and the two Boer Republics stood in the way of it.

To put perspective on the robust, very brave, tenacious and largely suicidal move by Kruger in today’s context – it would be akin to two relatively small prosperous oil/gas neighbouring states like “Qatar” and “The United Arab Emirates” getting into a coalition and then declaring war against the current global Superpower – the United States of America – who has vested interest in their territories (business and large numbers of expats) and in their product (oil/gas). Today’s “Oil” is yesterday’s “Gold” in the context of global monetary exchange and world dominance (the on-going wars in the Middle East involving all the Superpowers is testament to that).  There would only be one outcome, and it would be as disastrous in this comparison context now as it was for the Boer Republics in their context then.


Written by Peter Dickens

Boers; ‘Don’t forget Majuba, boys’. Brits; ‘No fear, Boere, no fear’.

A little bit of ‘Army’ banter between Boer and British Forces. Graffiti scrawled by both sides on a bedroom wall in a house originally taken by the Boers and recaptured by British forces. The Boer graffiti reads: ‘Don’t forget Majuba, Boys’. The British grafitti reads: ‘No fear, Boere, no fear’. Majuba was a disastrous British defeat in the lesser known First Boer War of 1881, and it was an “old score” to be settled in the Second Boer War 1899-1902 with devastating effect and further reaching punitive damage.

Many people in South Africa don’t know too much about the history of the 1st Boer War (also known as The Transvaal War) as they do about the 2nd Boer War i.e. the “Anglo Boer War” or “South African War” (as it is known in Britain).  As, by far, the second war had the most devastating and greatest impact to modern South African history, especially when the Concentration Camp policy and Scorched Earth policies are factored.  In fact it’s only as a consequence of the 2nd Anglo Boer War that South Africa as a “whole” country came into existence.

Many people in South Africa would also be surprised to learn that at one point, some 22 years before the 2nd Anglo Boer War, the Transvaal (known as the South African Republic) was “colonised” by way of a political annexe and effectively became British in 1877. A special “warrant” was issued by the British ostensibly to protect the Transvaal Boers against Zulu and local Pedi aggression.

It was the Transvaal War that changed this arrangement and re-established the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic) under the control of the Boers, setting the stage for the bigger conflict to come.

The Battle of Majuba Hill (near Volksrust, South Africa) on 27 February 1881 was the main and decisive battle of the First Anglo-Boer War (Transvaal War). It was a resounding victory for the Boers and the battle is considered to have been one of the most humiliating defeats of British arms in history.

Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley occupied the summit of the hill on the night of 26–27 February 1881. His motive for occupying the hill remains unclear. The Boers believed that he may have been attempting to outflank their positions at Laing’s Nek. The hill was not considered scale-able by the Boers for military purposes and thus it is often assumed that the purpose of occupying the summit may have been Colley’s attempt to emphasize British power and strike fear into the Boer camp.  Who knows, but the end result was that it was scaled and a resounding and very one sided Boer victory  ensued – the Boer suffering only 1 dead and 5 wounded, whereas the British suffered 92 dead, 134 wounded and 59 captured.

The impact of this battle was far reaching. It led to the signing of a peace treaty and later the Pretoria Convention, between the British and the reinstated South African Republic (Transvaal Republic), effectively ending the First Boer War and giving the Transvaal back to the Boers.

Coupled with the defeats at Laing’s Nek and Schuinshoogte, this third crushing defeat at the hands of the Boers ratified the strength of the Boers in the minds of the British, arguably to have consequences in the Second Anglo-Boer War, when “Remember Majuba” would become a rallying cry (as is seen in the feature image).

This defeat marked the beginning of the decline of the British Empire. Since the American Revolution, Great Britain had never signed a treaty on unfavourable terms with anyone and had never lost the final engagements of the war. In every preceding conflict, even if the British suffered a defeat initially, they would retaliate with a decisive victory. The Boers showed that the British were not the invincible foe the world feared.

However the British “Retaliation” for the Battle of Majuba Hill and the surrender of a British “protectorate” (the Transvaal) was yet to come and when it did, twenty two years later, the punitive measures of the British military, against combatants and non combatants alike, had devastating and tragic consequences for the Boer nation as a whole.

This underpinning “old score to settle” was very much a rally call of the 2nd Anglo Boer war, it’s often overlooked by some historians that claim they entire war was about British Imperial greed for Gold and Diamonds, and whilst only partly true – there remains a score of other reasons for the Anglo Boer War (2nd Boer War) – and this is no doubt, one of them.

Images above show a 2nd Boer War (Anglo Boer War) postcard to “avenge” Majuba and wipe the slate clean and British soldiers from the 2nd Anglo Boer posing at the Battle of Majuba Hill memorial on the summit of Majuba, making a profound statement of eventual victory.

Feature Image: Copyright Imperial War Museum Collection, reference wikipedia and the Imperial War Museum.