The Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899–1902

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Artefacts, Decade of Centenaries, Issue 5 (September/October 2017), Volume 25

The Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899–1902

By Lar Joye

Above: One of Queen Victoria’s 1900 New Year’s gifts of boxes of chocolates to soldiers fighting in the war. This one was never eaten. (Cowell Family)

Between 1890 and 1914, the Irish soldier in the British Army wore a brown uniform and carried the new Lee Enfield rifle, which could fire eleven shots without reloading. His skills were put to the test during the Second Anglo-Boer War, when the British Army fought its biggest conflict since the Crimean War. In this period enthusiasm for the British Army and its role reached a peak, with large military parades during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee displaying the power of the Empire. In Ireland, however, a small but vocal minority called on Irish people to reject service in the British armed forces.

Thousands of Irish men served in the Boer War, including an Irish Brigade, led by Major-General Fitzroy Hart, which included the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers and Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The Irish Imperial Yeomanry were men who volunteered to go to South Africa to help reverse the series of British defeats in the first weeks of the war. Four battalions of Irish soldiers rode to battle on horseback, but then dismounted to fight like regular infantry. Their most infamous battle was at Lindley on 31 May 1900, when they were defeated by the Boers; Lords Longford, Ennismore, Leitrim and Donoughmore were captured, while Sir John Power of the Irish whiskey family was killed.

Above: The drum carried in the Boer War by Drummer Lutteral of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. (NMI)

Drummers were normally boy soldiers who could join the army at the age of fourteen. This drum was carried by Drummer Luttrell of the 1st Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers, which was based in South Africa when the war broke out. And in 1900 Queen Victoria sent a New Year’s gift of a box of chocolates to the soldiers, including this one, never eaten.
The Boer War was a shock to the British Army, with a series of defeats at the battles of Colenso, Spion Kop and Tugela Heights. After the arrival of reinforcements from England the conflict became a guerrilla war, which is now remembered for its scorched-earth policy and the introduction of concentration camps by the British as a way to break the Boers.

After the war, the British Army established three new Irish regiments. The Irish Guards were added to the existing Guards regiments, as a mark of Queen Victoria’s approval of the courage of the Irish soldiers during the Boer War. Two new cavalry regiments, the North and South Irish Horse, were formed from the volunteer detachments of yeomanry sent to South Africa. A triumphal arch (a.k.a. ‘traitors’ gate’) dedicated to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was erected at the entrance to St Stephen’s Green, and a memorial to the Imperial Yeomanry at St Andrew’s Church, Suffolk Street, Dublin. Finally, the British government also issued thousands of campaign medals to Irish veterans of the Boer War, recognising 26 different battles and campaigns with bars. In the next issue we will look at the Irish who fought alongside the Boers.

Above: The Lee Enfield Rifle Mk1 of Lt. A.L. Keogh of the Connaught Rangers, used in the Boer War. He also served in the 3rd Mounted Infantry Regiment. (NMI)

Lar Joye is curator of military history at the National Museum of Ireland (Decorative Arts and History).

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