Boer War Overview

Cambridgeshire Men and the Boer War

Many men from Cambridgeshire, including the Isle of Ely, served in the Boer War. There are two memorials to these men one in Cambridge and the other in Ely Cathedral. From these memorials we can glean the names of the men who died. Most served with the Suffolk Regiment but others with disparate regiments.

Overview of the lead up to, and Boer War.

During the 19th century, from 1814, when Britain acquired the Cape of Good Hope and further expanded into South Africa, there was tension between the British settlers and the Dutch-descended people populating the area (Afrikaners or Boers). As a direct result the Afrikaner population migrated, between 1835 and 1843, in what was known as the Great Trek, establishing the republics of Natal, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic. Britain then colinised Natal in 1843 while granting independence to the Transvaal properties in 1852 and then the Orange Free State in 1854. Before 1860 the Transvaal territories then formed the South African Republic.

In 1877 Disraeli annexed the Transvaal and the Orange State, together known as the South African Boer Republic, to Britain. The Boers repeatedly attempted to have the annexation repealed. Frustrated with the lack of success the Boers, under Paul Kruger, revolted and in the process managed to secure limited self government. The subsequent discovery of Gold and diamonds in 1884 in the Transvaal possession served to cause tension between the native Boers and the British. Added to this guerilla raids by the Boers on the British and the repressive policies of the then British Governor of the Cape, and the atmosphere was ripe for conflict.

The existence of the Boer republics had constricted the British expansion in Africa and, knowing that it was only a matter of time before they were targeted, the Boers decided to strike first. In October 1899 the Boers, with a population numbering less than 100,000, attacked the British, with an army in place of 400,000 mainly in Cape Colony and Natal. British forces at Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley were surrounded and besieged. The British general Frederick S. Roberts was given command and organised counter-attacks to relieve these beseiged towns. By September 1900 the British Army had been reinforced and the Boer open warfare was replaced with guerilla tactics as they continued their fight. Eventually in May 1902 the Treaty of Vereeniging was signed by the Afrikaner leaders. During this time new innovations, not necessarily good ones, were introduced by the British. Concentration camps were created as part of this along with the building of a strategic chain of iron blockhouses to shelter troops. The British won the war but the Boers won the ensuing peace. In all 22,000 British died but the Boer losses were about 4,000. The innocent were the losers, they suffered most, with 20,000 Boer civilians dying from disease in the concentration camps as well as thousands of unaccountable black Africans in the same camps.

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Last Updated on: 9 February 2001
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