Many soldiers who fought in World War One for the British Empire, such as Princess Patricia’s Battalion, were veterans of the Boer War, also called the South African War.
What is the Boer War? It is two wars that occurred in South Africa that involved the Boers, of Dutch decent, and the British.
The first war was in 1880-1881 and was a revolt by the Boers against British annexation of their territory, Transvaal. The war lasted less than a year and resulted in Britain controlling foreign affairs and Transvaal controlling all internal affairs.
What Happened During the War?
The second Boer War began in October 1899 and was fought between the British and Transvaal and the Orange Free State. Tensions had begun almost as soon as the first Boer War ended. Gold was discovered in Witwatersrand, bringing a large number of foreigners into the region. Diamonds already had been discovered in Kimberly.
Soon the number of foreigners was greater than the Boer population and they were demanding voting rights, something the Boers resisted.
Diplomatic negotiations failed to end the conflict peacefully.
The Boers were effective guerilla fighters, a tactic they had used in the first war. To combat this, the British instituted a scorched-earth policy. Towns, farms and crops were burned and livestock was killed. This strategy was meant to deprive the Boers of their food sources.
Women and children from burnt settlements were put into concentration camps. Native Africans also were imprisoned because it was thought they might aid the Boers in finding food. It is estimated 48,000 people died in the concentration camps from malnutrition and disease.
The war ended in May 1902 with a Boer surrender.
The British fought alongside troops from Canada, Newfoundland, Australia and New Zealand along with those from the African colonies of Natal and Cape Colony. It was the longest, bloodiest war since the British fought Napoleon. More soldiers died of diseases such as typhoid than died from warfare.
The war also marked the first time the British army wore khaki uniforms.
The Boer War led directly to the formation of the Dominion of South Africa in 1910 composed of Transvaal, Orange River, Natal and Cape Colony.
Canada and the Boer War
In Canada, the populous was divided over whether the nation should participate. Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier devised a compromise: Canadians could volunteer, but they would be supplied and funded by the British. Nearly 7,400 volunteered and 270 died.
Soldiers from the dominions were used to enforce the scorched-earth policy. Canadians also fought in four major battles – Paardeberberg, Zand River, Doornkop and Leliefontein. They would receive a reputation for bravery.
Dr. John McCrae, who would become famous for writing “In Flanders Fields” a decade and half later, is perhaps the most famous Canadian to serve in the Boer War.
What do you think is the legacy of the Boer War? Leave a comment below.
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