Sunday 02nd of June 2002 08:33 AM 
A-Z of the Anglo-Boer War

Settlement in Natal, near Ladysmith. On January 17, 1900, Lord Dundonald surprised a Boer force at Acton Homes under Commandant C.J. De Villiers.

African servants who accompanied Boers travelling and hunting and on their campaigns, to carry their spare guns and stores.

Portion of a wagon holding the back axle to the 'long wagon'.

Chief town of district of the same name on the northern border of Cape Province, situated on the Orange River, spanned by the Frere Bridge. Founded in 1849 by Governor Sir Harry Smith, commemorating his victory at Aliwal in India over Sikhs. A convention between Basutos under Moshesh and the Orange Free State was signed here in 1869. It was an important strategic point in the South African War, occupied by Boer forces from November 13, 1899 to March 11, 1900.

Tribal nickname for British soldiers, derived from the word "Johnnie" (tribe unknown).

Traditional tribal name for British tommies (tribe unknown).

Old Cape measure of capacity, equal to about 8 gallons (35.6 litres).

Old Cape measure of capacity for liquor. Equals 32 gallons (142.5 litres).

Parasitic disease occurring over large areas in Southern Africa caused by a flat intestinal worm first discovered at Cairo in 1851 by the German researcher Theodor Bilharz. The worm is largely transmitted by snails occurring in vegetation along and in watercourses. During the present century the infected rivers, originally limited to tropical areas, have spread as far south as the Eastern Cape.

From the Dutch "Bil" (buttock). Strips of meat, usually game, dried in the air. This was the staple of Boers on commando during the war. Many Boer rifles from the war have distinctive marks on the stock from use as a cutting board.

Not many people know today that there were two schools of thought on soap-making. They differed about as much as the "Chevy vs. Ford" fans of more modern times. Some like to make their soap in a so-called "cold" process, and others liked to use a "hot" process. But the basic principle remains the same: You neutralize an acid (fat) with a base (such as lye), and get a salt (soap). The fabulous 3rd edition of "Mrs. Van Tulleken's" famous cook book lists the following popular, but more unusual recipes: Monkey soap, Potato soap, Prickly Pear soap, Ostrich Egg soap, Pumpkin soap, Thick Milk Soap, Mealie (corn) soap, etc, etc. All good recipes.

Different bases were used. Sodium hydroxide, sodium carbonate and potassium hydroxide were often used. Jan F. Celliers, a famous Boer War diarist, told of how scarce soap became on commando during the guerrilla phase. The Boers used to burn wood and special bushes in order to get ash. This ash was boiled with water, the salts extracted, and the residue then used as lye for preparing soap.

Dewetsdorp lies on the R702, just 75km south-east of the bustle of Bloemfontein. Most of the town's attractions and tourist sites relate to the struggle of the soldiers in the Anglo-Boer War. Named after Jacobus Ignatius de Wet, the father of General Christiaan de Wet of Anglo-Boer War fame on the farm Kareefontein. Jacobus de Wet was field-cornet for this area and, for reasons of security, campaigned for a village in the vicinity of the farm Kareefontein. An application to establish one was refused by the Volksraad in 1876. Despite this, De Wet and others bought Kareefontein and divided it into residential stands. Three years later he again applied for Kareefontein to be recognised as a village. In 1880 it was duly proclaimed under the name Dewetsdorp. It became a municipality in 1890. During the South African War the town was occupied by a British garrison after Bloemfontein had fallen. On 19 November 1900 General Christiaan de Wet attacked the garrison commanded by major W.G. Massy, who surrendered four days later. The 2 260 square km district is prime sheep and cattle ranching country. The main crops are wheat and maize.
< Southern Africa Places Dewetsdorp>

As soon as the South African War threatened in September 1899, the imperial army decided to operate a major offensive via Queenstown and the Stormberg. East London was chosen as a point of disembarkation for the troops and stores. The port was also to be used as the base for the 3rd Division which meant that considerable bodies of troops would be stationed there for short periods. The Town Council, which maintained an unquestioning loyalty to the British cause throughout the conflict, spared nothing in co-operating wherever possible. The entire commonage was at first placed at the disposal of the troops for camping purposes, and subsequently the Recreation Ground was granted as a permanent camp.

Soon after the onset of hostilities, the British forces sought to supplement their ranks with local recruits and so, by January 1900, a flood of notices filled the local papers which called for enlistment to the various branches of the military. Indeed, one page of the Daily Dispatch carried adverts for the Railway Pioneer Regiment, the Commander-in-Chief's Body Guard, Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, the Imperial Light Horse, the Colonial Defence Force, the South Eastern Districts Local Defence Force, the East London Town Guard and Cambridge Village Guard, the Cyclist Corps, the Colonial Corps, Brabant's Scouts, the South African Constabulary, the District Mounted Rifles and Robert's Horse.

Of greater consequence to the men of East London, however, was the formation of the Town Guard, a body that was created in many of the towns throughout the Colony at the request of the imperial authorities, ostensibly to act as a home guard in case the conflict escalated further but its exact purpose was never fully clarified to the East London residents. Indeed, when a public meeting was called in January 1900 to establish the organisation, the aims were kept vague. Even so, one objective was clear, namely that the Town Guard would boost loyalty to the British cause and reduce support for the Boer republics. The Guard would therefore muster as many men under arms as possible and they would devote time to marching, with rifle drill twice a week, and so acquire a sense of common cause with the imperial designs.

The general feeling aroused at the organisational meetings was that "he who was not with them, was against them". A letter in the Dispatch summed up the attitude in the comment that, although the men would probably never be called into service, such was not the question. It sufficed to know, the correspondent wrote, that the imperial authorities had asked for the formation of a Town Guard and an immediate and ready compliance with the request would serve to show the enemy that they were "only too willing to fall into line" when called upon. "In the formation of a Town Guard," he concluded, "we all meet on one common ground. Rich and poor, old and young, we all enjoy the same liberties and blessings under the good old flag."

Despite the calls for loyalty, East Londoners generally gave the issue a luke-warm initial reception. Attempts were made to enlist volunteers by means of public notices and adverts but the response was poor. Even the public meeting and subsequent ward meetings proved relatively unsuccessful in rallying the townsmen to the cause and the numbers who attended were low except for the predominantly English-speaking West Bank and at the Beach where a substantial number of Uitlander refugees were already camped. Numbers slowly rose, however, until the official sources listed the total of volunteers at 761 members, with officers elected for each ward and the Civil Commissioner serving as Commandant of the unit.

Keith Tankard, "The Labyrinth of East London Lore, Fact File: East London Town Guard, 1899," <>, 1997.

The Mansion House Fund was a charitable organisation started by the Lord Mayor of London in 1899, soon after the onset of the South African War, to bring financial relief to the Uitlander Refugees who were made destitute as a result of the war. Its distributional headquarters was in Cape Town. Contributions in excess of £200 000 were raised in Britain and South Africa, with disbursement of the funds left in the hands of a Central Committee in Cape Town, the Governor acting as chairperson. The money was thereupon distributed through local committees in the various towns.

More entries to come!

Labuschagne, Herman. (for the Boer Soap entry)
Rosenthal. Eric [ed] Encyclopedia of Southern Africa. London: Frederick Warne, 1967.
Rosenthal. Eric [comp.] Southern African Dictionary of National Biography. London: Frederick Warne, 1966.


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Further Reading

Rosenthal. Eric [ed] Encyclopedia of Southern Africa. London: Frederick Warne, 1967.

Rosenthal. Eric [comp.] Southern African Dictionary of National Biography. London: Frederick Warne, 1966.