General Pictures

"I thought it very sporting of the Boers to take on the whole British Empire"--Winston Churchill.

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A few moment's sleep, hastily snatched

A British soldier rests beside his horse on the open veld. During the guerrilla phase, British soldiers often had to make forced marches of fifty miles during the dark. This enabled them to surprise and capture many Boer commandos. The effects on both horses and men were, however, utterly draining. A night drive of fifty miles would leave both men and animals completely exhausted.

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The dead on the acre of death

A famous picture, taken after the Battle of Spioenkop. Most of the corpses here are those of Boers who had probably died storming British trenches across open ground.

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The trenches of Spioenkop

Brave British dead literally filled the trenches from end-to-end after the most bloody battle of the war. Most bore bullet wounds in the head, face and right shoulders, where they had been struck by Boer sharpshooters. These trenches were filled in and used as mass graves. These graves can be seen to this day.

Picture at the summit of Spioenkop.


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Boer fighters killed in trench on Hart's Hill

This picture was taken after the battle of the Tugela Hights. In some of these trenches, the burghers remained fighting to the last man, or until the British soldiers overwhelmed them inside the trenches with bayonet charges.

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After the war... the surrender...

Members of the Wakkerstroom commando hand in their weapons to their enemies after the war. They were required to either sign an oath of allegiance to the British crown, or suffer permanent banishment to foreign countries. Some chose to emigrate to Argentina, America, Madagascar, Angola, German East Africa (today's Tanzania), or the Netherlands, rather than take the oath.

Army life wasn't always a pleasure. It could rain for days, turning any camp into a terrible bog.

Going to the front seemed like a great adventure at first. But reality came later. Initiall trainloads of vehicles and supplies were sent to the fronts. Not much of it ever came back again.

It would have been a white man's war. It wasn't. Black troops in British uniforms.

Black soldiers with British issued arms, guarding a British fort.

The Mauser rifle was a modern marvel which was accurate at long range. Note that the long range sight is raised, indicatting that the shot is aiming at something in the far distance.

Something the British army had trouble fully understanding, was that modern warfare was beginning to rely more on stealth, camouflage and concealment. Boers were naturally adept at camouflaging themselves, even in completely open terrain, the smallest object was used to provide some measure of cover.

A wall of Mausers awaiting the enemy.

Camp life on commando

A British fly camp.

Ox hide trampolines were used for two purposes by the Boers on commando: either for fun, or to punish someone who broke a minor item of camp discipline. A few short flips was fun. A prolonged tumble would soon turn into torture which often made the subject vomit. The hide of a freshly-killed ox would be used, with slits cut into the sides for handholds.

Transport and communications was as important 100 years ago on the battlefield, as it is today. A novel approach to solving these problems was the use of bicycles on both sides. In many cases, a good cyclist was able to cover certain types of terrain significantly more quickly than a horserider. Flat tyres had to be fixed in the field, and if patches ran out, the tyres had to be stuffed with grass. Shown here are two British soldiers crossing a stream.

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A Boer commando at Ladysmith

Notice the Transvaal flag in the background. The fact that this picture had been taken during the early stages of the war, can be seen from the neat uniforms that the South African Police officers are wearing. Characteristically, their commander (standing with top hat, to the right of the flag) is wearing now uniform. In most cases the Boer officers only wore their uniforms on ceremonial occasions. This picture is presumably of the Zoutpansberg commando.

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A group of British soldiers in the field

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The Flag Incident

De Roos and Slegtkamp, the young heroes who saved the Boer defence on the Tugela pose for a reconstructed picture, showing their famous flag. Click here to read the story behind the picture.


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The famous Irish brigade near Ladysmith

The Irish brigade consisted of mostly Irish Americans who joined the war on the Boer side in order to "get back at the English for past injustices." Notice the American flag. The taller man in the middle with the white jacket is the brigade's commander: Colonel John F. Blake, an erstwhile Apache Scout, and graduate of the West Point Military Academy.

Lost a wheel

Carts and buggies were fast modes of transport during the war. Here spider cart seems to have lost a wheel, causing its British passengers to consider what their next action should be.

Crossing a river

For a counry as dry as South Africa, the rivers and streams that intersect its vast plains presented obstacles and difficulties which the British occupation force found utterly frustrating. After summer storms, even small streams would become impassable for long periods of times. Some rivers also contained the added threat of crocodiles. This image illustrates just what a complicated matter travel was. It also shows very clearly what an enormous task the British army had in keeping its logistical supply chain intact and functioning. 

A wall of Boer Mausers in the trenches, waiting for the enemy to arrive.

A Boer contingent with their camping kit.

Acknowledgements: Black and white pictures with the courtesy of the SA National Archives in Pretoria, South Africa.