122 episodes

The Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 saw the British Empire at the height of its power facing a small band of highly mobile Boers in South Africa. The war introduced the world to the concentration camp and is regarded as the first war of the modern era where magazine rifles, trenches and machine guns were deployed extensively. British losses topped 28 000 in a conflict that was supposed to take a few weeks but lasted three years.

The Anglo-Boer War Desmond Latham

    • Education

The Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 saw the British Empire at the height of its power facing a small band of highly mobile Boers in South Africa. The war introduced the world to the concentration camp and is regarded as the first war of the modern era where magazine rifles, trenches and machine guns were deployed extensively. British losses topped 28 000 in a conflict that was supposed to take a few weeks but lasted three years.

    Episode 122 - The dishonourable ex-fiancé Karel de Kock & the Witwatersrand Rifle Regiment

    Episode 122 - The dishonourable ex-fiancé Karel de Kock & the Witwatersrand Rifle Regiment

    This is episode 122 and we will take a close look at the love-life of a Boer spy – who’s tale is laced with an unusual irony that involves a regiment called the Witwatersrand Rifles.
    The nature of the war had shifted again by January 1902 with the British system of blockhouses and drives beginning to create a major problem for the Boers – pushing the small number of commandos left into areas of the country that could hardly be called strategic. The guerrilla tactic has morphed again from hit and run, to a lot more running and far less hitting.
    The policy of no-longer forcing women and children into the Concentration Camps had also begun to pose a problem for the Boers in a way. While they were used to tough conditions, drought and poor crops returns in lean years, the increasingly volatile regions on the frontiers meant they were isolated and in danger from other forces.
    Near Swaziland the kiSwati chiefs had made it clear that they felt the need to launch revenge attacks on the nearby Boer homestead, so too in the North Western Transvaal, in the northern Transvaal, and along the border with Zululand. The basutho had not actively entered the Free State but there were real fears by the Boers that vast tracts of empty farmland would entice their traditional foe who had made it clear their interests lay with the British.
    In Pretoria, sitting at her desk was Boer Spy Johanna van Warmelo. After the war she was married and was known as Johanna Brandt, but that was later. WE have heard many stories from her as she kept three diaries, a personal, a public, and a secret spying diary.
    The Historian Jackie Grobler published these in one volume in 2007 – it’s a great read because she wrote as a young woman – and her point of view was mixed. She wrote also in English, while despising the English.
    Its January 1902 and Johanna has applied for a permit to travel between Pretoria and Johannesburg. Small parties of Boers have repeatedly attacked the railwayline between these two cities which are 43 miles or 62 kilometers apart. In 1902 that was a whole day by slow moving train, now the Gautrain travels the route in 35 minutes.
    There is an unusual connection between van Warmelo and her ex-fiancé Karel de Kock which involves the Rand Rifles.
    The deserve a special mention because like with many things about the Anglo-Boer war, their importance resonates to this day.
    After the Boer war, the Rand Rifles were absorbed with members of the Railway Pioneer Regiment into The Witwatersrand Rifles in 1903. This new regiment was to play a major role in South Africa’s military history over the next century.
    It saw action during the the Bambata Rebellion of 1906, when it deployed a contingent to Zululand. In 1907 the regiment was strengthened when it absorbed the Transvaal Light Infantry Regiment and was mobilised again when World War I broke out.
    The first action that it took part in was the South African invasion of German South-West Africa (now Namibia). After the successful conclusion of this campaign, virtually all members volunteered for overseas service. Most of the volunteers were consequently assigned to the 3rd South African Infantry Battalion.
    Unfortunately for these men, they ended up in the terrible Battle of Delville Wood during the Somme offensive where 3433 men went in and only 750 came out alive.

    • 19 min
    Episode 121 - – The Kenyan Trek Boers of Eldoret & Smuts goes swimming

    Episode 121 - – The Kenyan Trek Boers of Eldoret & Smuts goes swimming

    General Jan Smuts is making merry in the Cape, trying to stoke uprisings, while Lord Kitchener’s been more successful in clearing the Eastern Transvaal, forcing General Louis Botha to shift towards Vryheid and along the border between the Transvaal and Natal.
    General Christiaan de Wet is active in the Free State, while General Manie Maritz has continued his low level harassment of the British across the Free State and Cape.
    I haven’t spent much time on Maritz mainly because there is not a great deal of documentation about exactly what he got up to on a daily basis – unlike the other generals we’ve been following for two years. He is also one of the most bigoted, warped and psychotic men who held a weapon during this terrible war who tended to lie quite a bit in his memoirs.
    During the Anglo-Boer war he was the only Boer General we know about took a great deal of pleasure in killing blacks instead of British. He seemed inclined to shoot all blacks he found. His most heinous act was lining up all 35 men of a Khoi village at the end of the war and shooting them down in cold blood in what became known as the Leliefontein Massacre. I will have more detail about this in later podcasts.
    Maritz evaded execution at war’s end for what were really war crimes. After all, the Australian Breaker Morant the Australian was executed by the British for a similar spree as he went about executing at least a dozen Boers in cold blood.
    But back to 1902.
    General Koos de la Rey is also still free, roaming the veld in the far west of the Transvaal and he has been particularly successful around Rustenburg, Mafikeng, Marico, Zeerust and other smaller towns in the region.
    We will also hear about how Trek Boers ended up founding the Kenyan town of Eldoret.
    It was established by the Boers in the midst of the farms they created, and known by locals as Sisibo because of the main farm number 64 – or Sisibo in the local language.
    Sixty more Afrikaner families arrived in 1911, by then it had a post office and was officially named as Eldoret which continued to prosper. Eventually the railway line reached Eldoret in 1924 accelerating growth, then in 1933 electricity arrived along with an airport.
    By the 1950s the town was literally divided in two along the main street now called Uganda Road, with Afrikaners living in the north of the divide, and English speakers on the South.

    • 22 min
    Episode 120 - Reitz meets a Swiss Family Robinson & Kitchener rethinks the Concentration Camp system

    Episode 120 - Reitz meets a Swiss Family Robinson & Kitchener rethinks the Concentration Camp system

    Its new year – the first week of January 1902 and we continue to ride, or rather walk, with Deneys Reitz as he and seven other colleagues have been separated from General Jan Smuts who is on a mission to raid the Cape – and possibly – cause an uprising of Cape Afrikaners.
    By now Smuts has realised that the idea of Cape Afrikaners rising up is a pipe-dream, but wants to surprise the British close to Cape Town to prove to them that the Boers are still able to strike fear into British citizens.
    Remember last week we heard how Reitz and his fellow commando members had managed to give the English troops the slip over the Swartbergen somewhere in the Small Karoo to the north of Craddock.
    The eight had managed to cross the mountains but now had to make a difficult decision. Where the Swartbergen mountains had consisted of a single clearcut barrier …
    It was getting dark, and a heavy rain began to fall.
    They continued descending from the Swartbergen and needed to find shelter quickly. When the rain falls in highground, the temperature can slide from a balmy 30 degrees centigrade to a really chilly 12 degrees of less in a matter of half an hour.
    They found a overhanging rock and rested until daybreak, trying to sleep as the wind whipped rain into their faces.
    They scrambled down the whole day, until by around four in the afternoon they emerged from the mist and clouds and could see a long narrow canyon ahead. It’s sides were enclosed in perpendicular cliffs. Then they spotted huts around 1000 feet below and decided to go ask for directions out of these mountains.
    They were taking a chance, all eight together descending to the huts. Those with horses left them in a nearby ravine to look after themselves and scrambled down arriving at the huts as the sun sank below the western cliffs.
    They were faced with a number of huts designed in the Xhosa way but also featuring wattle and daub, the much fancied building technique of the early settlers in the Eastern Cape.
    “As we approached the huts, a shaggy giant in goatskins appeared and spoke to us in a strange outlandish Dutch…”
    The stranger was one of the oddest people Reitz had ever met.

    • 18 min
    Episode 119 - A shoot out at Mr Guest’s farm after Deneys Reitz meets his English cousin

    Episode 119 - A shoot out at Mr Guest’s farm after Deneys Reitz meets his English cousin

    Its summer – December 1901. General Jan Smuts is on the run in the Cape Colony being chased by tens of thousands of British troops who are fixating on the fact that they don’t seem to be able to pin down this mercurial general.
    With him is one of our war narrators, Deneys Reitz. Or rather was with him until he became separated in late November and since then has been following Smuts – and trying to stay alive.
    This week we will hear how he stumbles into another series of largely self-inflicted moments of terror. Reitz has a propensity for falling asleep at precisely the wrong time and as you’ll hear, his escapades in the Cape include another variant.
    It was close to the Kariega River in the now Eastern Cape where Reitz last rode with Smuts. Then he found himself with a rearguard unit of seven other men who failed to join up with the General after fighting a skirmish with the British. They were laid up at a friendly Boers farm in the district and the next day thought they’d rejoin the Boer commander. But it was not to be.
    He managed to change from his British khaki uniform which was a death sentence – remember that Lord Kitchener had issued orders any Boer found wearing British uniforms should be shot as spies.
    They began to ride north westerly and as they went, local farmers told them that a large British column was ahead, also following Smuts. Not for the first time, the small unit of Boers followed a British column following a commando.
    Then a bizarre moment for Reitz. He bumped into an Englishman who was a relative by the name of Rex. He couldn’t remember the man’s name when he wrote his memoirs in 1902 but recounts.
    “…a lineal descendent of George Rex, the morganatic son of King George III by Hannah Lightfoot, the Quakeress. George Rex had been sent out to South Africa in 1775 and given a large tract of land at Knysna, on condition that he did not again trouble his august parent..”
    His descendants lived there ever since and one of them had married Reitz’s mother’s brother. They were cousins.

    • 19 min
    Episode 118 - Rawlinson surprises the Boers at Bethal & de Wet receives a Christmas present

    Episode 118 - Rawlinson surprises the Boers at Bethal & de Wet receives a Christmas present

    This episode takes us to Christmas 1901 and the battle of Groenkop near Bethlehem in the Free State where General Christiaan de Wet catches the British offguard on the top of a two hundred foot high kopje.
    We will also hear how the opposition party leader Lloyd George narrowly escapes being lynched as a pro-Boer Brit in a night of extreme violence as you’ll hear.
    The wobble that Chamberlain the Liberal Unionist leader and Sir Alfred Milner were most worried about had begun back in England. The Tax-payer was now fully aware that they were funding a war in South Africa that never seemed to end.
    The Times newspaper had led a revolt against the government as we heard in previous podcasts. Lord Kitchener was ignored as he complained asbout the fact that most of the new soldiers arriving in South Africa could neither ride nor shoot straight.
    That was nothing new in the eyes of the British public. They had heard that excuse since October 1899 and it was now wearing extremely thin. Parliament had been prorogued until after the New Year but mounting expenditure and public anger might force government to go into session again at such a late date in the year.
    Winston Churchill was pro-government, yet was also warning about what he called a disquietening situation which in his words was as “momentous as it was two year ago”.

    • 21 min
    Episode 117 - General Kritzinger is captured and Marconi sends a radio message

    Episode 117 - General Kritzinger is captured and Marconi sends a radio message

    So its December 1901 Christmas is a fortnight away for the combatants and Christiaan de Wet was tracking his arch enemy, brother Piet.
    It was revenge he was after and as we all know – it’s a meal best eaten cold and unfortunately Christiaan was overheating.
    While he stewed on the information that his hated brother was instrumental in setting up the National Scouts, made up of Boer turncoats who now fought for the British, across the world the end of 1901 brought with it a number of fascinating events, incidents and issues.
    On December 1st : A crowd of 100,000 people turned out at London's Hyde Park to demonstrate in sympathy for recently fired British Army General Redvers Buller. He was now being blamed for the disasters at Colenso and Spioen Kop almost two years previously where the Boers had pulverised the British as they tried to relieve the siege of Ladysmith.
    But on matters more prosaic.
    On the 2nd December 1901 a man by the name of King C Gillette began selling his safety razors in the United States. He was inspired by something that could be used and then thrown away, thus ensuring future business. It’s a bit like Monsanto’s seed business these days, but that’s another story. Gillette applied for his US. Patent number 775 134 on December 2 1901. His American Safety Razor Company would become the multi-billion dollar behemoth Gillette Company. Bizarrely Following the commercial success of disposable razors, Gillette refocussed his attention on promoting his views on utopian socialism.
    Strange but true.
    On December 3rd 1901 the Australian parliament passed its Immigration Restriction Act primarily to restrict non-Europeans from permanently entering the country.
    Interesting.
    Then on December 7 1901 The United Kingdom and Germany delivered an ultimatum to the government of Venezuela, after the South American country reneged on bond payments.
    Venezuelan President Cipriano Castro was given 48 hours to agree to the terms, or to face a blockade of his nation's ports by the Royal Navy and the German Navy. Well some things never change.

    On December 9 1901 the first-ever Nobel Prizes were announced, with x-ray discoverer Wilhelm Roentgen receiving the first Nobel Prize in Physics, Emil von Behring being awarded the prize in medicine for his discovery of the first diphtheria antitoxin, Jacobus van't Hoff pioneering work in physical chemistry earning him the chemistry prize, Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy sharing the peace prize, and Sully Prudhomme winning the prize in literature. The bestowal of the prizes came on the fifth anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel who I mentioned in Episode 1 of this podcast series.
    The next day December 10 Joseph W. Jones was granted U.S. Patent No. 688,739 for his invention, "Production of sound-records", which was purchased immediately by the Columbia Phonograph Company for production of its disc-shaped Graphophone records. Jones was paid $25,000 – worth around 700 000 dollars in today’s moolah.

    Finally in this series of amazing things that happened in December 1901, Guglielmo Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic radio signal, sent 1,700 miles from Poldhu in Cornwall, England to Signal Hill, St. John's in Newfoundland in Canada on the 12th. December.

    It was the letter "S" ("..." in Morse code)., He is quoted as saying "there was no doubt that the principle of wireless communication had arrived on a transatlantic scale... This was a utility, and would prove itself beyond argument as a vital aid to shipping and military communication."

    And on the same momentous day, 12th December in South Africa’s Cape Colony, Lieutenant General French finally caught up to General Pieter H. Kritzinger, who had led the Boer incursions into the Cape on three occasion. Unfortunately for him, it was three strikes and he was out.

    • 18 min

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