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The Boer Wars

Boers in combat (1881).
The Boer Wars (known in Afrikaans as Vryheidsoorloeë [lit. "freedom wars"]) were two wars fought between Britain and the two independent Boer republics, the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic).

The First Boer War

The First Anglo-Boer War (1880–1881), also known as the "Transvaal War," was a relatively brief conflict in which Boer (Dutch settlers) successfully rebelled against British rule in the Transvaal, and re-established their independence, lost in 1877 when the Boers fought the British in order to regain the independence they had given up to obtain British help against the Zulus (1880-1881).

Second Anglo-Boer War

The Second War (1899-1902), by contrast, was a lengthy war - involving large numbers of troops from many British possessions - which ended with the conversion of the Boer republics into British colonies (with a promise of limited self-government). These colonies later formed part of the Union of South Africa. The Boer War lasted three years and was very bloody. The British fought directly against the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The bloodshed that was seen during the war was alarming. Two of the factors that contributed to this were: First, many of the British soldiers were physically unprepared for the environment and poorly trained for the tactical conditions they faced. As a result, British losses were high as a result of both disease and combat. Second, the policies of "scorched earth" and civilian internment (adopted by the British in response to the Boer guerrilla campaign) ravaged the civilian populations in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.

Controversy and significance

Boer women and children in a British concentration camp.
Lizzie van Zyl who died in the Bloemfontein concentration camp.


The burning of a Boer farm.

      During the Second Boer War, Britain pursued the policy of rounding up and isolating the Boer civilian population into concentration camps
      Thje women and children of Boer guerrillas were sent to these camps with poor hygiene and little food, although this was remedied to some extent as time went on. The death and suffering of the civilians, according to many scholars, is what broke the guerrillas' will. The "pacification" theory has been repeated many times in warfare since.
      The Second Boer War was a major turning point in British history, due to world reaction over the anti-insurgency tactics the British army used in the region. This led to a change in approach to foreign policy from Britain who now set about looking for more allies. To this end, the 1902 treaty with Japan in particular was a sign that Britain feared attack on its Far Eastern empire and saw this alliance as an opportunity to strengthen its stance in the Far East. This war led to a change from "splendid isolation" policy to a policy that involved looking for allies and improving world relations. Later treaties with France and Russia, caused partially by the controversy surrounding the Boer War, were major factors in dictating how the battle lines were drawn during World War One.
      The Boer War also had another significance. The Army Medical Corps discovered that 40% of men called up for duty were physically unfit to fight. This was the first time in which the government was forced to take notice of how unfit the British Army was. The poor physical condition of many of the would-be recruits added fuel to the fires of publicity that scientific investigation had stoked in particular that of Rowntree and Booth's.

See also

Biographical articles

Other articles




    1. ~Ed

      Thanks Owen

      I have recently signed up as an Amazon Affiliate and am promoting your book here! (See above)

    2. Owen Powell

      I have just written a book which may be of some interest to you. This is titled “Snapshots From The Boer War” and contains over 90 previously unpublished photos my great grandfather took whilst serving as a L/Cpl in the Hampshire Regiment attached to the RE Telegraph Battalion, plus his story which I have extensively researched. The book is available from Amazon as an e-book for PC, iPad and Kindle. Regards Owen Powell.

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