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Medals to men and woman on the Boer side

This article by Henk Loots appeared in the OMRS “Miscellany of Honours”  No. 9 1992, for a later article with very interesting photos of the wound ribbon and its award documents please go HERE

The short note in the winter 1988 Journal at page 263 by A.F. Flatow on the late issue of the Anglo-Boer War Medal to the family of the German Lieutenant Thilo von Trotha, has prompted me to record more fully this Medal. This is based on an article, which was published in the Military Medal Society of South Africa Journal 31 of March 1989.

INTRODUCTION

The first shot of the Anglo Boer War was fired at Kraaipan on 12 October 1899, and the war ended with the signing of the Peace Treaty at Vereeniging on 31 May 1902. During this period almost a hundred thousand Burghers took up arms. Some were boys hardly into their teens and others were old men in their seventies and eighties. Approximately thirty five thousand of them were taken prisoner of war, many thousands surrendered during the course of the war and after the Peace of Vereeniging only some twenty-one thousand finally laid down arms. In comparison it can be noted that on British side almost four hundred and fifty thousand men took part in the war.

MEDALS - BRITISH SIDE

A major war or campaign is usually commemorated by means of the issue of a medal and the Anglo Boer War was no exception to this rule. On the British side the first Queen’s South Africa medals were issued to Canadians of Strathcona’s Horse on 15 February 1901, more than a year before the war ended. The British were rather optimistic as to the duration of the war and the first striking of the medals bore the dates 1899-1900. This mistake was rectified by tooling off the raised figures before the first presentation but a small number of QSA medals escaped the chisel and were issued uncensored. British soldiers who saw service for the full period between 1 January 1901 and 31 May 1902 also received the King’s South Africa medal.

Right: The Orange Free State side of the ABO

MEDALS - BOER SIDE

On the Boer side, notices did appear in the Transvaal Government Gazette in May 1900 about the eventual issue of a decoration for bravery for Republican soldiers: this, for obvious reasons, never happened. The first moves towards awarding a medal to Boer Burghers and Officers came from Colonel Skinner, Commandant of the Military School at Bloemfontein, in 1913. He noticed that Officers who had fought on the Republican side were without medal ribbons while their fellow officers who had served on the British side were well decorated, and asked Defence Head Quarters to rectify this omission. However, due to the intervention of the First World War, nothing was done about the matter until 1920.

Right: The Transvaal side of the ABO

In the Government Gazette of 21 December 1920 (Notice 2307) regulations were published for the award of a Decoration for Devoted Service 1899-1902 (Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst or DTD), a Medal (Anglo Boere Oorlog Medalje or ABO) and a Wound Riband (Lint voor Wonden or LVW). The gazetted notice restricted the awards to South African citizens who were serving in the Union Defence Forces or were liable so to serve if called up under the provisions of the S.A. Defence Act and who did true and faithful military service during the Anglo Boer War and actually served with the Republican forces in the field between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902. The published regulations per sé excluded many men who had fought on Boer side, e.g. the members of the various foreign units like the Irish Brigade, Hollander Corps, etc. and potentially also the Natal and Cape rebels.

In later years the regulations were less stringently enforced and the eventual qualification action for the award of the medal was proof that the applicant had fought against the British without surrendering or taking either parole or the oath of allegiance prior to 31 May 1902. The original closing date for applications (30 June 1921) was also not adhered to.

The Decoration and Medal are both of silver, 1.45in. in diameter. There is no obverse or reverse in the accepted sense of the word. On the one side is the Coat of Arms of the Orange Free State1). The Decoration has the inscription ‘Voor Trouwe Dienst’ (For Devoted Services) and the Medal has the inscription ‘Anglo Boere Oorlog’.

The dates ‘1899-1902’ appear on both. The ribbons for the Decoration and Medal as well as the Wound Riband have the colours green, white, yellow, deep blue and orange in various widths and combinations. The rank, initials and name of the recipient are impressed in block capitals on the edge of the medal. The Wound Riband has no medal accompanying it but was issued with a printed certificate carrying a full colour reproduction of the Riband.

1 The late Dr Frank Mitchell, J.C.D., pointed out to me that the ‘Transvaal’ ox-wagon has a single shaft and the ‘Free State’ one a double shaft.

Above: the DTD, DSO group to Major C.W. Cloete, commanding Enslin's Horse in 1915 and a Sniper in Danie Theron's scouts during the Boer War

PRESS REACTION TO BOER MEDALS

The reaction of the English press in South Africa to the Government Notice was quite interesting.

The Rand Daily Mail carried a short factual account under the heading ‘True and Faithful Service: Decorations for Burgher Forces’.

The Star saw a topical political message in the announcement: ‘Notwithstanding repeated Nationalist assertions that South Africa is under or subordinate to Great Britain or the British Government, instance after instance keeps cropping up to show the incorrectness of these statements. The last of these instances, and perhaps the one which will attract the attention of those interested in the present structure and continual evolution of British Commonwealth as the most remarkable, is the Union Government Notice recently issued that provides for the issue of Decorations, Medals and Wound Ribands to those Burghers of the late Republics of the Transvaal and Free State who fought in the war of 1899-1902 against Great Britain … it is doubtful if anything could reveal the amazing elasticity of the British Commonwealth or demonstrate the actual liberty and independence of the Dominions more clearly than this decision of South Africa, itself part of the Commonwealth, to award Decorations and Medals to its citizens for fighting against that Commonwealth’.

Rather caustic comments, however, came from Vere Stent, columnist of the Pretoria News. This soldier cum journalist saw active service in Rhodesia in 1893 as a Captain in command of E Squadron, Raaff’s Rangers. As a journalist he covered the Matabele Rebellion in 1896 and the Langeberg Campaign of 1897.

At the outbreak of the Boer War he again became a Reuter’s Correspondent and was besieged in Mafeking. During the First World War he covered the South-West Africa and East African Campaigns. From the entry on Stent in the Dictionary of South African Biography one learns that he was involved in several libel cases and he was seen to be ‘pugnacious, intransigent and self opinionated’. This last statement is borne out by the following article which is quoted in its entirety:

Fusions of the future

The rather vague paragraph in the official communiqué of the proceedings of the Council of Defence caused a great many soldiers to believe that it was the intention of the Department of Defence to issue the King’s and Queen’s medals for the Anglo-Boer War to the burghers who fought against both King and Queen. Nothing of the sort, however, is contemplated.

The Department of Defence intends to strike three medals – a general service medal to be issued to all burghers who took part in military operations under the old Republic; an officers’ medal to those who held commands – whether our old friend the Vleesch Korporaal of immortal and gastronomic memory will come under this heading is still a moot point;-and a medal for every man who was wounded. Whether this general service medal is to date back to the war of ’81 is not yet decided, but there seems no reasons why it should not.

At this rate we shall be the most bedecorated-if not decorative-community in the world.

An attempt was made-the idea, I believe, emanated from the Gilbertian brain of our egregious Chief of the Staff-to give those Union medals precedence over all other decorations and to insist on the principle of ‘South Africa first’ upon officers and men wearing them upon ‘the right of the line’. To this, however, the Council would not agree. According to King’s Regs, any decoration not from the King himself or from allied Governments approved by him, should be worn on the right breast after the manner of the Nightingale decoration for women and the Humane Society’s medals.

It has been suggested that some of the soldiery may not care to wear Union decorations at all, and I am told that the officer or man who, having received such a decoration, declines to wear it will be for orderly room on a charge of being improperly dressed. This is curious, because the present Chief of the General Staff is, I am told, habitually improperly dressed.

It seems that he declines to wear his British ribbons until the Union medals and ribbons have been issued. If this be true it is a pretty example of insubordination for a Brigadier General to set. If the Minister for Defence had any backbone, which he seems to be without, as witness his settlement of the Board of Control business during the tram strike-if he had any backbone he should have insisted that the Chief of the Staff should drop political considerations and obey his own regulations. No wonder discipline in the Defence Force is at a low ebb when the Chief of the Staff openly defies orders.

In this matter of medals why not go further and create a Union order and publish an honours list. We might create old Gen. de Wet a Grand Star of the Wacht-en-Beetje bush, and the newly-developed passion of our Dutch fellow colonists for decorations might be gratified to the full; even our Prime Minister who despises ‘those Baubles’ might be persuaded to accept the Supreme Cordon of the Order of the Remschoen. Hush! Oh! Hush! We are ‘imperilling the Imperial connection.’ Seriously speaking, the idea of giving the many gallant old burghers who fought during past wars some memento of the good service they did is a good one and no one can really object to it.

Above: The naming on the post WW1 Era medal (Type A Medals)
Above: The naming on the WW2 Era medals (Type B and C Medals)

IDENTIFICATION OF RECIPIENTS

As already mentioned, the rank, initials and name of the recipient were impressed on the medal. Unfortunately, no commando or unit was added, although the relevant information had to be stated on the application forms and was recorded on a central card index and register system.

For many years it was a formidable task to find out in what unit a particular recipient of a medal or decoration had served. This period of uncertainty largely came to an end in 1976 when the late Don Forsyth, Founder member of the Military Medal Society of South Africa, published a Roll listing all recipients and their units. The term ‘largely came to an end’ is used because it was still impossible to differentiate, for instance, between a Burger Jacobus Frederick Smith who served in Gen. De la Rey’s Commando and burger Josia Francois Smith who served in the Heidelberg Commando since both medals were impressed BURGER J.F. SMITH.

Above: On the left is a WW2 type suspender, found on Type C medals, on the right is a WW1 type suspender, found on Type a and B medals

Some ‘lookalike’ medals can, however, be positively identified by correlating the type of suspender as well as the type and size of lettering with the date of issue.

ABO medals can be divided into three groups:

Type A: Medals with straight non-swivelling suspenders as used on the British War Medal (1914-1918) and with naming in indented large block capitals (often unevenly positioned) as on the South African W.W.I. issue of the B.W.M.

Type B: Medals with the WWI non-swivelling suspenders as above but with a thinner and smaller, more even type of indented block capital naming as found on the South African WWII Africa Service Medal.

Type C: Medals with the small thin type of edge lettering and straight non-swivelling suspenders as used for the Africa Service Medal.

Type A is applicable to all medals issued from 1921 up to October 1937. Type B medals were issued from October 1937 to February 1942 whereas the type C medals were issued from February 1942 right up to the last issue in 1982. Under type C there are also variations where a square dot is found after the initials and cases where it is a round dot. An interesting sub-variety also occurs on at least one batch in 1942-43 where the figure ‘6’ was used instead of the letter ‘G’ of BURGER and, in at least one instance, even as the ‘S’ in ARTILLERIS.

This method of classification obviously does not solve all uncertainties but can be applied in cases where a single example of multiple issue with the same surname and initials falls into one of the above three categories. If, for instance, the record cards and registers indicate that three medals to J.J. Smit were issued between 1920 and 1930 there is no way of identifying the individual ones but if a fourth one was issued in 1948 it would be possible to isolate that particular J.J. Smit.

All type C discs have two 5mm. wide notches filed on both sides at the suspension hole. Please use the correct (ASM) suspender when repairing a damaged medal of this type!

Above and below: Left - Type A and B medal disc, Right - Type C medal disc

UNSUCCESSFUL APPLICATIONS

As mentioned previously, quite a number of applications were unsuccessful. In the majority of cases this was due to applicants having taken either parole or the oath of neutrality before the end of the war.

In other cases, especially early applications from overseas volunteers, it was due to the fact that they were not actually in the field at the end of the war. In this way a number of applications from Hollanders and others were turned down in the 1920’s and 1930’s. In later years these rules were interpreted more loosely and, especially in the late 1930’s, a fair amount of medals were issued to, among others, Scandinavians, Hollanders and Germans who had served on the boer side.

Some of the applicants really took chances. At the extreme end of this category surely must fall the application by one HHA Abbenhuis who tried to claim an Anglo Boere Oorlog medal on the strength of him having been a sailor on the Man of War Gelderland that took President Kruger to Holland. Another interesting but unsuccessful application for the Wound Riband was from a Mrs. Steyn who gave her rank as ‘Boerevrou’ and stated that she was with the Ermelo commando when captured by the English on 10 September 1901, being wounded through the nose when an English column fired on women fleeing from the camp. However, the Adjudant General notified her that she did no active service: hence, no medal.

Many medical personnel’s applications for the medal (and some cases for the decoration) were also unsuccessful because at some stage or other they were captured by the British and went on to serve in a medical capacity on the British side. A certain Mr. Davis claimed that he was temporarily in charge of railways between Van Reenens and Harrismith, gave his rank as a burger and said that he had served part time under Gen. Prinsloo when at Van Reenens. However, on his form he also noted that he later sold refreshments to troops on construction work on the Harrismith/Bethlehem railway line and that he eventually served as Conductor in the Transport Department. He actually served on both sides: I haven’t yet checked whether he got a QSA medal for his pains!

Burghers who were strictly excluded from receiving the ABO medal were those who went over to the English side and served in units such as the National Scouts, the Orange River Colony Volunteers, the Farmers Guard etc. I do, however, have one ABO medal to a National Scout, awarded by and to himself. This particular gentleman was issued with a QSA medal off the roll of the National Scouts in 1903. He never claimed this medal and, obviously, in later years he also wanted to be counted among those Oudstryders who proudly wore their Republican medals at volksfeeste. He then obtained a medal issued to another Burgher with his surname, removed the initials and had his own initials engraved instead.

ABO MEDALS TO WOMEN

I have identified 19 ABO medals which were awarded to women. Two of these were schoolteachers who served as voluntary nurses and the others were trained nurses. As a tribute to these brave women I include a nominal roll:

ABO Medals Awarded to Women

Voluntary Nurse AE Adriani Red Cross Hospital, Pretoria
Directrix GJ Beynen 1st Netherlands Red Cross Ambulance
Nurse LS Boshoff Red Cross Hospital, serving with Gen. CR de Wet
Nurse SG Cenijn-Smit 1st Netherlands Red Cross Ambulance (Pretoria, Nooitgedacht, etc.)
Nursing Sister SC Charbon 2nd Netherlands Red Cross Ambulance at Harrismith
Nurse LM Hellemans 2nd Netherlands Red Cross Ambulance
Nurse AS Lindblom Scandinavian Ambulance (Mafeking, Magersfontein, Paardeberg, etc)
Nurse EC Lindblom Scandinavian Ambulance, (Mafeking, Margersfontein, Paardeberg, etc)
Nurse EM Perk-Engelbert Ambulance Train (Newcastle-Pretoria) then combined Netherlands/Russian Ambulance
Nurse SJ Roos Red Cross Ambulance
Nursing Sister GM Rooseboom Ambulance Train (Newcastle-Pretoria) and Red Cross Hospital, Pretoria
Nurse AE Schipper Ambulance Trains: (Newcastle-Pretoria, Pretoria-Kroonstad and Eastern Transvaal), Red Cross Hopsital, Pretoria
Nurse HC Svensson Scandinavian ambulance (Mafeking and Magersfontein)
Nurse J. de W. van der Hoop-Boogh Netherlands Red Cross Ambulance
Nurse JP van’t Haaff French Ambulance
Theatre Sister AJP v Schermbeek Netherlands/Russian Ambulance
Nurse G. van Sevenhoven 2nd Netherlands Ambulance
Nurse CR Visser Red Cross Hospital at Mafeking
Voluntary Nurse HA Wiersma 1st Netherlands Ambulance

On the medal to Nurse Boshoff her rank is given as VERPLEEGSTER. I would appreciate receiving details of the naming found on other nurses’ medals.


FOREIGN VOLUNTEERS

Quite a number of medals were eventually awarded to members of the various foreign units who fought on the Boer side. At least 90 were awarded to members of the Hollander corps, some 40 odd to members of the Scandinavian corps, 20 to the German Commando, 10 to the Foreign Legion under Gen. de Villebois-Mareuil and 5 to the Irish Brigade. Some of these (especially Hollander) served in specific commandos such as the Ermelo Commando, Pretoria commando, etc., and their medals are noted as being issued off these units.

UNUSUAL RANKS


The rank usually seen on an Anglo Boere oorlog medal is BURGER. However, in going through Don Forsyth’s roll some rather unusual ranks are found, e.g., HOEFSMID (farrier), VELDTELEGRAFIST, HELIOGRAFIST, ARTILLERIST (Gunner) and OPPERWAGTMEESTER (Sergeant-Major). I have one to ASSISTANT HOOF VAN TELEGRAAF.

THE LAST ABO ISSUE

As previously mentioned the last batch of twelve Anglo Boere Oorlog medals was issued in 1982, including one to Burger HC Lubbe (right).

Herman Carel Lubbe was born on 5 September 1888 in the Jacobsdal district of the Orange Free State. When the Boer War broke out he was living with his parents in the Faruesmith district. His father and brothers were on commando and early in 1901, when his mother was taken to the concentration camp in Kimberley, he joined the Fauresmith Commando under Commandant Charles Nieuwoudt at the age of twelve years.

He was in the field up to 31 May 1902 and took part in various skirmishes, among others on Sunday 25 December 1901 in the Fauresmith district. In this action, one officer and one private of the 49th Company, Imperial Yeomanry, were killed and a number wounded. In April 1902 he also took part in a night raid near Bloemfontein when hundreds of head of cattle were retrieved from the Farmers Guard, a unit mainly composed of ex Free State burghers who had joined the British forces. Herman Lubbe laid down arms at Bloemfontein early in June 1902.

In October 1914 he joined the Colesberg/Hanover commando under Commandant Robinson. He saw active service against Rebel and German forces in the Upington area as well as Lutz se Put.

Although he received a 1914/15 Star in the early 1920’s he was not aware of any other medals he was entitled to. In August 1982 his grandson applied on his behalf for his Anglo Boere Oorlog medal as well as this 14/18 War Medal and Victory Medal. These applications culminated in the presentation of the 3 medals at a special ceremony on 24 January 1983 in his hometown of Carolina. More than 80 years after the Boer War, and almost 70 years after the actions on the South West African border, Herman Carel Lubbe was awarded his medals by Major-General Neil Webster, Chairman of the Council of Military Veterans Organisations. The ceremony was short and simple but most definitely unique. It will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find another survivor of a war entitled to a medal, 81 years after signing of the peace. Burger Herman Carel Lubbe died on 11 August 1985. His medals now have an honoured place in my collection after he presented them to me in February 1985.



IN CONCLUSION


Medals to the Boer forces are not very well known outside the Republic of South Africa. In my collection, however, these medals have a very special place: in the majority of cases, they are the only memorial to men and women of all ages who had suffered hardships and inconvenience and faced great danger for what they believed was a just cause, namely the independence of the Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics.




 
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