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Forces War Records Blog

FOCUS ON: FIRST ANGLO-BOER WAR

With a lot of emphasis on the Second World War and with the upcoming World War One centenary, it seems that other conflicts are not so well known, or talked about. We thought we'd put together a little summary on the First Anglo-Boer War, that started this time of year, on 16th December, way back in 1880...  
 
Fought between the British Empire and what became known as the South African Republic, also known as the Boers. The war lasted three months, between December 1880 and 1881, but was more akin to an armed rebellion, than a conventional war. The Background The roots of the conflict lay in the rush to colonise Africa both for it’s mineral wealth, after the discovery of Diamond and Gold deposits, and competition with other European colonial powers. After annexing territory from numerous powers in the middle of the 19th century, the British consolidated their position by securing the 'Missionaries Road'. Resentment for British rule in South Africa had been growing since the early 1800s culminating in Dutch speaking farmers moving away from the Cape of Good Hope and establishing the Transvaal and Orange Free State. The Zulu War, made famous by Michael Caine and Stanley Baker in Zulu (1964), proved a catalyst for the Boer War by further solidifying British power in the region and removing the Zulu Nation. Britain had annexed the Transvaal (South African Republic) previously which was resented by the Boers but the threat from the Zulus caught them in a catch 22. If they resisted British rule, the Zulus would inevitably attack. Revolt and the Destruction of the 94th Regiment of Foot Seeing their opportunity following the Zulu defeat the Boers revolted with one of the first actions being the ambush of the 94th Regiment of Foot, in just 15 minutes 156 British soldiers were dead and the rest of the 268 man formation was captured. Following this initial action, British garrisons all across the Transvaal were besieged. The Boers were the perfect Light Infantry and Light Cavalry force, the average Boer citizens who made up their commando units were farmers who had spent almost all their working lives in the saddle, and, because they had to depend on both their horses and their rifles for almost all of their meat, they were skilled hunters and expert marksmen. As hunters they had learned to fire from cover, from a prone position and to make the first shot count, knowing that if they missed, in the time it took to reload, the game would be long gone. The perfect Guerrilla force. The main engagements of the war were fought within sixteen miles of each other, centred on the British forts, and were the result of efforts to relieve the beleaguered defenders. Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley led the relief efforts amassing a small force of 1,200 infantry. He had requested reinforcement but any further units would not arrive until mid-Februrary by which point Colley’s force would have seen defeat, taking heavy losses at Laings Nek (28 January 1881) the Ingogo River (8 February 1881) and Majuba Hill (26 February 1881). The defeat at Majuba hit the British efforts hard. There they had a superior tactical position, having secured the hill’s summit the night before the battle. But the Boers utilising all available natural cover and precision marksmanship to kill British Officers were able to storm the top of the hill and secure it. Major-General Colley was killed in the fighting and the slogan “Remember Majuba” gave voice to the catastrophic British defeat. Hostilities continued until 6 March 1881, when a truce was declared. The Transvaal forts had endured, with the sieges being generally uneventful, the Boers content to wait for hunger and sickness to take their toll. The forts had suffered only light casualties as an outcome of sporadic engagements, except at Potchefstroom, where twenty-four were killed, and seventeen at Pretoria, in each case resulting from occasional raids on Boer positions. Hostilities Cease The Boers had exploited their advantages in local knowledge, marksmanship and manoeuver expertly to defeat the British Army at every turn but this was not the whole reason for British defeat. Poor leadership, intelligence and communications resulted in the deaths of many British soldiers and eventually Colley himself. Not wanting to face a protracted ground war on the frontiers of the Empire, the British Government ordered a truce and subsequently a peace treaty, which ended all hostilities on 23 March 1881. In the final peace treaty, the Pretoria Convention, the British agreed to complete Boer self-government in the Transvaal under British suzerainty. The Boers accepted the Queen's nominal rule and British control over external relations, African affairs and native districts. The Pretoria Convention was signed on 3 August 1881 and ratified on 25 October by the Transvaal Volksraad (parliament). This led to the withdrawal of the last British troops. Sadly, tensions would erupt again just 18 years later in the Second Anglo-Boer war which would prove to be far more costly and deadly to both sides. Source: Wiki Find out more with Forces War Records… Forces War Records have a vast amount of searchable military records available for you to search online, which include data about members of the British and Commonwealth Forces who were issued campaign or gallantry medals during the Second Anglo Boer War 1899-1902. Do you know enough about your military ancestors? Why not log on to Forces War Records and find out more  - there could be a war hero in your family just waiting to be discovered, and remembered… Delve into our ‘historic documents’ library and read some of the interesting War diaries that we get sent – there’s nothing quite like reading a personal account of war, as history unfolds itself through the eyes of somebody who was actually there. Forces War Records are fortunate to receive such amazing real life war stories involving lashings of courage, and now you can read some of them – completely free of charge.
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