143 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
    • 4.8 • 200 Ratings

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 143 - Characters of the war an omnibus final edition with a great deal of Smuts

    Episode 143 - Characters of the war an omnibus final edition with a great deal of Smuts

    Thanks to those who’ve sent messages of support in the last few weeks – the level of interaction has been remarkable from all my listeners around the world. For some we started this journey together in September 2017 and here we are almost 36 months later and the Three Years War has ended.
    This podcast was always designed to track the war week by week and it’s now time to bid adieu.
    So yes, it’s an emotional time for this has been an intense three years and I’d like to thank Jon who listened to the series with his father who passed away during our series. Jon, thanks for sending me notes through this time.
    To Samuel who has donated so much to this podcast series and Thomas who’s constantly spoken to me over the past two years and also helped fund the Soundcloud account – thank you two in particular.
    Gustav – thanks for brightening up my day with some of your observations and unusual comments.
    To Andrew and Martin of History by Hollywood, thank you for sharing your time with me and for your professional help. To Sean the real professional historian who is also known as the Historian who sees the future and who has taken the time to make contact – thank you.
    To Susan from Canada who suggested I talk about two veterans of the Anglo-Boer war who went on to great things during the First World War. One is Lieutenant Edward Morrison who I mentioned in episodes dealing with the Eastern Transvaal, and the second is John McCrae. He wrote a poem called “In Flanders Field” which features the poppies and is now the reason why people wear poppies for remembrance when it comes to the First World War.
    Another direct link between this little African fracas and the utter disaster of the Western Front.
    As we know, the link between the Boer War and the First World War is inescapable. It was 12 years later which sounds a long time, until you get a little older like me then a dozen years is really a short hop in time.
    To Michael who has listened to the whole series – and told me this week he’s gone back to Episode 1 to start again. If that’s not a vote of confidence then nothing is – Michael I reckon you’ll need a medal for bravery.
    Ryan, who’s shared such detail I have stored for a day when our Covid lockdown lifestyle comes to an end – I’ll be making that trip to Lindley in the Free State and a few wee draughts of Brandewyn and coke.

    • 23 min
    Episode 142 - The winners and the losers – counting the cost

    Episode 142 - The winners and the losers – counting the cost

    This week we count the costs of the war and follow some of those involved as they begin the long process of recovery.
    First, the cost.
    There is still debate about some of the statistics as there always is after a war. However the general consensus is that more than 100,000 men, women and children died between 1899 and 1902. At first glance it appears to be insignificant compared to – The Somme, for example during the first world war, where on one day 40 000 British casualties were recorded – or Stalingrad where 44 000 civilians were killed in an air raid on one day in September 1942.
    What you have to remember is that the total population of South Africa in 1899 was around 4 million.
    Britain lost 22 000 - 5 774 killed by enemy action, the rest died of disease. The Boers lost around 14 000 men killed. More than two thousand of these were foreigners, Italians, Americans, Dutch, German, French, Swede, Norwegian, Russian who were fighting against the British.
    However it was the non-combatants who dominated the death roll with at least 26 000 Boer women and children estimated to have died. Some say this figure is closer to 30 000.
    Then the total number of black South Africans who died in the Concentration camps and in war-related conditions topped 30 000 although the latest research suggests more like 36 000.
    In the case of the Boers, the number of women and children who died in Concentration Camps amounted to almost 10 percent of the population of the Republic of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
    These deaths are particularly bitter in the memories even to this day.
    tale of the father who comes home from St Helena seeking his wife and children in Bloemfontein only to be told that all died in the concentration camps. The British servicemen returning home by the end of the war are treated as heroes, but there were many in Britain who questioned the civilian deaths and the veterans were very sensitive about criticism – which veterans always are.
    Awaiting many of these men is the horror of trench warfare as they became part of the British Expeditionary Force or BEF in Flanders and France fighting and dying in the Great War of 1914-18.
    The Uitlanders in South Africa were incredulous at the terms of peace. The Boers would pay no reparations, in fact, it was the British who would fund rebuilding of the country to the tune of 3 million pounds. They supported Lord Milner’s view that Boers should be crushed and a whole new population be brought in to run the country.

    • 22 min
    Episode 141 - Peace!

    Episode 141 - Peace!

    Episode 141 is where the British and the Boers finally sign a peace treaty, but there’s quite a bit to cover as we go about watching the days between 19th and 31st May 1902.
    Remember how the representatives from both sides, Botha, Smuts, Hertzog, De Wet, Burger and De la Rey for the Boers, Milner and Kitchener for the British, had decided to try and write a treaty together rather than separately through a commission.
    Nowadays commissions seem to drag on for years – while the original concept of a commission was premised on the threat of a lack of quick action.
    There is no doubt that we have lost the ability in the modern world to think rapidly. Commissions in the 21st Century are proficient at wasting time pandering to expensive lawyers representing a thicket of politicians rather than a direct pursuit of an objective legal conclusion.
    Back in Lord Kitchener’s office in Pretoria in the week between 21st and 28th May 1902 the Boers were now aware that there was no way the British would ever agree to any sort of independence, and the British were aware that the Boers wanted to find an honourable way out of this war.
    Judge Hertzog put it in a nutshell when he said
    “I think that I am expressing the opinion of the whole Commission when I say that we wish for peace… we on both sides are really desirous of coming to a settlement…”
    This group of men then selected a sub-committee composed of Judge Hertzog and General Smuts along with Lord Kitchener and lawyer Sir Richard Solomon that drew up a schedule that included rules for those who refused to sign an oath to become citizens under the rule of his Majesty King Edward the Seventh.
    Before discussing that document Smuts asked
    “If we were to sign this document would not the outcome be that we leaders made ourselves responsible for the laying down of arms by our burghers?”
    To which the imperial hawk Lord Milner replied
    “Yes. And should your men not lay down their arms it would be a great misfortune.”
    And so they continued, debating each point but inevitably building trust and mutual respect. Nothing improves a relationship more than a desire to find an outcome rather than stating a position.
    The first draft had already been telegraphed to the British government on 21st May. Privately Lord Milner followed it up with a confidential note to Chamberlain saying he would have no regrets if the British Cabinet rejected or radically amended the proposals

    • 21 min
    Episode 140 - General Cronje demands a St Helena mounted guard & Peace Talks back on in Pretoria

    Episode 140 - General Cronje demands a St Helena mounted guard & Peace Talks back on in Pretoria

    The first large group of Boer prisoners were taken by the British at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October 1899. The army had failed to plan for prisoners because the idea was the Boers would be beaten in a few weeks so why spend money on POW camps?
    The first 188 Boers taken at Elandslaagte were temporarily housed with the naval guard in Simonstown on board the guard ship HMS Penelope. Several other ships were used as floating prisons until eventually permanent camps were established at Green Point, Cape Town, Bellevue and Simonstown.
    At the end of December 1900 more than 2500 Boers were placed on board the Kildonan Castle guardship where they remained for six weeks before they were removed to two other transports at Simonstown.
    The English army base at Ladysmith in Natal was used between December 1900 and January 1902 but was merely a staging area. Another staging area was established at Umbilo south of Durban in Natal where POWs would be placed on board ships and then routed to Cape Town.
    But it soon became clear that the Cape prisoner of war camps were targets for attacks and the British then shifted the burghers offshore.
    There were four main regions used to house Boer POWs, St Helena, Ceylon or modern day Sri Lanka, Bermuda and India. As you’ll hear in a moment, a few hundred were also taken to Portugal.
    During the war, the British captured around 56 000 Boer prisoners and eventually ran out of space in host countries. India was only used as a last resort after the other three main camps became overcrowded.
    Of course, the most feared of all these was the camp in St Helena, but by the end of the war disease was more rampant in the other regions – mainly because of the climate. St Helena has a fairly benign climate, its much cooler than Bermuda, Ceylon and India.
    One of the first contingents of Boers to arrive in St Helena included general Piet Cronje who was captured along with thousands of his men after the battle of Paardeberg in February 1900.
    Cronje and 514 his commando arrived on the island in the middle of the Atlantic after disembarking from the troopship Milwaukee on 27th February that year. Cronje had surrendered to Lord Roberts after being caught in the battle which shook the Free State Boers as Cronje was cornered with a powerful commando.
    Illustrating his arrival on the island of St Helena, Punch Magazine published a cartoon of the general saluting the ghost of Napoleon and saying “Same enemy, Same result..”
    Prior to the Boers arrival, the governor of St Helena RA Sterndale had published a proclamation which read :
    “.. His Excellency expresses the hope that the population will treat the prisoners of war with that courtesy and consideration which should be extended to all men who have fought bravely for what they considered the cause and their country”
    So as General Cronje prepared to make that winding march up the hill from the tiny port of Jamestown at St Helena, his men fully expected to be subjected to humiliation.
    Instead, there was silence, no jeering nor rude remarks, as the Boers passed the crowds of islanders on their way to Deadwood Camp inland. Being escorted along with Cronje was his wife, whom Lord Roberts had allowed to accompany her husband. The Boer general and his wife were accommodated at Kent Cottage, not in Deadwood Camp itself and were surrounded by a strong military guard which changed every day.
    Of course, Cronje was a general and for once, it was the Boers demanding special attention. Whereas the culture was supposedly based on a democratic principle of equality, Piet Cronje insisted that proper respect be shown to his rank and that a mounted guard should be provided.

    • 23 min
    Episode 139 - Emotions run high in Vereeniging as the Boers discuss English Peace terms

    Episode 139 - Emotions run high in Vereeniging as the Boers discuss English Peace terms

    Episode 139 is full of peace and a smattering of love as the Boers gather in Vereeniging to discuss the British terms of surrender.
    As you can well imagine, the moment is bitter sweet. Men who have not seen their children for years are reunited on May 15th, while further afield, in the prisoner-of-war camps, the news is greeted with both joy and sorrow.
    So here we are, in Vereeniging on May 15th 1902. It’s a settlement our narrator Deneys Reitz passed on his way back from the Natal front
    “This is a small mining village on the banks of the Vaal River, where nearly two years before, I had watched the Irishmen burning the railway stores during the retreat from the south” he writes.
    Remember he’s riding with Jan Smuts and the other representatives chosen by Boers in the Eastern Transvaal. There will be representatives from the Free State who will be housed in an array of British army tents along with the Transvaal emissaries, each region with its own section.
    The British had prepared this tented camp with precision. It was laid out in a square, with the delegates meeting in a large central marquees, mess tent on one side, toilets were long drops as they’re known in South Africa – pit latrines.
    But where was the stern General Christiaan de Wet ? Also missing were a handful of the Free State Delegates. Eventually on the morning of the 15th May, the day of the meeting, de Wet and a few hardliners arrived – fashionably late.
    The other senior political and military leadership were already in Vereeniging, along with Commandant General Louis Botha and de la Rey, Vice President Burgher of the Transvaal, members of the two government and of course, Jan Smuts. Reitz senior was also present, with JB Krogh, LJ Meijer, LJ Jacobs. Each Boer Republic was represented by 30 delegates.
    For the Free State Judge Hertzog was present, along with Secretary of State WJB Brebner, commander in chief de Wet and CH Olivier.
    Missing was his the man who’d survived so many incidents and battles on the veld – President Steyn.

    • 23 min
    Episode 138 - The Zulu massacre Boers at Holkrantz on the eve of the Vereeniging Conference

    Episode 138 - The Zulu massacre Boers at Holkrantz on the eve of the Vereeniging Conference

    We’re up to episode 138 and it’s a week to go before the all-important Boer Conference in Vereeniging starting May 15th 1902.
    Lord Kitchener has ordered his men in all intents and purposes to stop chasing the Boers, stop the burning of farms and to wait for the Boers conference.
    We have heard how Jan Smuts and Louis Botha met in the Eastern Transvaal, chose their representatives and now were making their way to the South Eastern border down on the banks of the Vaal River. That was on the 4th May 1902.
    The western Transvaal Boers were doing the same, selecting 30 representatives who would debate the future of their people, so too were Free State’s president Steyn and diehard General Christiaan de Wet – except for the outcome. They wanted the Boer conference to reject surrender and to push on to oblivion. Which is what awaited the hawks I’m afraid.
    Lord Milner the British High Commissioner also wanted the Boers to fight until they were totally crushed so that he could flood South Africa with English loyalists. In military terms, you know you’re in trouble when your most hated adversary thinks your strategy should be to fight to an inevitable death.
    That’s what the loyalists through South African wanted, the English speaking hard-core British iumperialists. Yes, they were shouting, keep it up Mr Boer until your terms of surrender at unconditional then you’ll be all but extinct and we can just take over everything you’ve built.
    The most vocal jingos of the day were actually despised the professional British officer corps in South Africa. The war needed to end so that they could get on with their careers.
    Winston Churchill was one of those who found what were known as loyalists as deeply concerning. He’d survived a Boer prisoner of war camp and many close calls and respected his former captors, there was very little rancor.
    While the Boers and the British were framing their views and devising their negotiation strategies, an incident in Natal on May 6th was to sharpen everybody’s minds. Some historians have suggested that what became known as the Holkrantz incident gave further impetus to the Peace Process and strengthened the hand of the moderate Boers like Smuts and Botha who wanted to end the war immediately.
    Steyn and de Wet on the other hand took the opposing view – fight on was their rallying call. Watching all of this closely was black South Africa.
    The massacre at Holkrantz shocked most Boers into accepting that the longer this war continued and the more unlawful the landscape would become.

    • 21 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
200 Ratings

200 Ratings

Gus!2# ,

Boer war pod review

Full of interesting facts and granular detail but the anecdotes and narration bring it all together! Thank you Des.

metabletic ,

Tha Anglo Boer War hosted by Des Latham

Exceptional and well presented history that enlightens the listener about the great tragedy of this war. But, it also informs the listener about galant men and women on all sides of the war. It also sheds light on a country with great potential when it’s diverse people will one day experience the strength of unity in diversity.

GDA123456789 ,

Historical drama at its best

The care in attention to detail that is shown in this series is remarkable - yet that accuracy in conveying the facts doesn’t detract from the vivid drama that’s portrayed. Completely enthralling.

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