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Home - UK Medals - Campaign - Boer War of 1899 to 1902

Introduction

This article is concerned with the three campaign medals issued by the UK during the Boer War of 1899 - 1902. This has also been called the 2nd Boer War or South African War.

Brief History

The Boer War was fought between Great Britain and the two Afrikaner (Boer) republics: Transvaal and Orange Free State.

Although it was the largest and most costly war in which the British engaged between the Napoleonic Wars and World War I, it was fought between wholly unequal protagonists. The total British and Commonwealth military strength in South Africa reached nearly 500,000 men, whereas the Boers could muster no more than about 88,000. But the British were fighting in a hostile country over difficult terrain, with long lines of communications, while the Boers, mainly on the defensive, were able to use modern rifle fire to good effect, at a time when attacking forces had no means of overcoming it.

The war began on Oct. 11, 1899, following a Boer ultimatum directed against the reinforcement of the British garrison in South Africa. The crisis was caused by the refusal of the Transvaal, under President Paul Kruger, to grant political rights to the primarily English population of the mining areas of the Witwatersrand, and the aggressive attitudes of Alfred Milner (the British high commissioner) and Joseph Chamberlain (the British Colonial Secretary).

An underlying cause of the war was the presence in the Transvaal of the largest gold-mining complex in the world, beyond direct British control.

The course of the war can be divided into three periods.

  1. During the first phase, the British in South Africa were unprepared and militarily weak. Boer armies attacked on two fronts, into Natal from the Transvaal and into the northern Cape from the Orange Free State; the northern districts of the Cape Colony rebelled against the British and joined the Boer forces. In the course of one week (10-15 December 1899) the Boers defeated the British in a number of major engagements and besieged the key towns of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley; but large numbers of British reinforcements were being landed, and slowly the fortunes of war turned. Before the siege of Ladysmith could be relieved, however, the British suffered another reverse at Spion Kop (January 1900).
  2. In the second phase, the British, under Lord Kitchener and Frederick Sleigh Roberts relieved the besieged towns, beat the Boer armies in the field, and rapidly advanced up the lines of rail transportation. Bloemfontein was occupied by the British in February 1900, and Johannesburg and Pretoria in May and June. Kruger left the Transvaal for Europe.
  3. But the war, which until then had been largely confined to military operations, was by no means at an end, and at the end of 1900 it entered upon its most destructive phase. For 15 months Boer commandos, under the brilliant leadership of generals such as Christiaan Rudolf de Wet and Jacobus Hercules De la Rey, harried the British army bases and communications; large rural areas of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State (which the British annexed as the Orange River Colony) remained out of British control.

The Boer War was finally concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902.

78 Victoria Crosses were awarded during this conflict.

Queen's South Africa Medal

There were three types of reverse to the Queen's South Africa Medal (QSA). The obverse side contains a profile of Queen Victoria.

  1. Britannia holding a flag in her left hand, with her right hand holding out a laurel wreath towards an advancing group of soldiers. In the background are two warships. The wreath points towards the "R" in the word "AFRICA". Below the wreath are the dates "1899 - 1900". Around the top of the reverse are the words "SOUTH AFRICA".
  1. As Type 1 except the dates "1899 - 1900" have been removed.
  2. As Type 2 but the wreath in Britannia's right hand points to the "F" in "AFRICA".

The most common of the some 177,000 QSAs issued are of the Type 3 medal.

The least issued QSA was the type 1 medal. These were issued to a Canadian unit called Lord Strathcona's Horse, whilst they were in London on their way back to Canada. This first type of the QSA was quickly amended when it became apparent that the duration of the Boer War had been grossly underestimated.

A total of 26 clasps were awarded with this medal, the maximum being 9 to the Army and 8 to the Navy (excluding the two date clasps). The medal was made from either silver or bronze and is 36 millimetres in diameter. The bronze QSAs issued to local troops, natives and the West Indian regiments. The QSA could be issued with no clasps.

All the QSAs were issued named, with the recipient's details shown on the medal's rim. The majority had the recipient's details in impressed capitals, although some have the details engraved.

Of the 26 clasps, 5 clasps were termed "State" clasps. These State clasps were for areas that contained so many incidents or battles, that it was not deemed appropriate to issue a "Battle" clasp for each individual action. The "Battle" clasps were issued for named actions, although these actions often consisted of several, separate, sometimes major but related actions. The "Date" clasps refer to two clasps that were awarded to personnel who did not qualify for the King's South Africa Medal.

For example, the Battle at Spion Kop on 24 January 1900 (from which "The Kop" at Liverpool's Anfield Ground is named) does not have its own clasp, but soldiers who took part in this battle would have been entitled to the "Relief of Ladysmith" clasp. Note that this does NOT mean that every "Relief of Ladysmith" QSA signifies that a soldier took part in this battle. Merely that a soldier who was at Spion Kop comes under the criteria for the award of the "Relief of Ladysmith" clasp to his QSA.

Another major battle which comes within the qualification of the "Relief of Ladysmith" clasp is the Battle at Colenso, which took place on 15 December 1899. It was at this battle that Captain Walter Norris Congreve (The Rifle Brigade), Corporal George Edward Nurse (Royal Field Artillery), Captain Harry Norton Schofield (Royal Field Artillery) and Lieutenant The Hon. Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts (King's Royal Rifle Corps), the son of Field Marshal Earl Roberts (the British Commander-in-Chief), were all awarded the Victoria Cross.

On 15 December 1899 at the Battle of Colenso, Captain Congreve, Corporal Nurse, Lieutenant Roberts and Captain Schofield tried to save the artillery guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery (RFA). When the RFA detachments servicing the guns had either been killed, wounded or forced to retreat by withering, close range and accurate Boer rifle fire, the four soldiers went out into the exposed position and helped to recover two of the guns.

Two days later, on 17 December 1899, Lieutenant Roberts died of wounds sustained in this action.

Certain clasps could not be awarded together with certain other clasps, as shown below.

  • The clasps for Cape Colony and Natal could not be awarded to the same recipient.
  • The clasps for Defence of Kimberley, Relief of Kimberley, Defence of Mafeking or Relief of Mafeking were not entitled to either Cape Colony or Natal clasps.

All the QSA clasps are shown below. The information in the table has been split into four columns: the clasp's name, the type of clasp, the eligibility dates and a brief qualification summary (which had to be satisfied on or between the dates).

Clasp

Type

Dates (DD/MM/YYYY)

Notes

Cape Colony

State

11/10/1899 - 31/05/1902

Not awarded if eligible for clasps for actions in Cape Colony or Natal

Natal

State

11/10/1899 - 17/05/1900

Not awarded if eligible for clasps for actions in Natal or Cape Colony

Rhodesia

State

11/10/1899 - 17/05/1900

Troops under command of Lt-Gen Carrington and Col. Plummer in Rhodesia

Defence of Kimberley

Battle

15/10/1899 - 15/02/1900

Troops besieged in the town of Kimberley

Elandslaagte

Battle

21/10/1899

Troops in Elandslaagte and on right bank of Sunday River and north of a west-east line through Boys Farm

Defence of Mafeking

Battle

13/10/1899 - 17/05/1900

Troops besieged in the town of Mafeking

Talana

Battle

20/10/1899

Troops under command of Lt-Gen Penn Symon and north of a west-east line through Waschbank Station

Defence of Ladysmith

Battle

3/11/1899 - 28/02/1900

Troops besieged in the town of Ladysmith

Belmont

Battle

23/11/1899

Troops under command of Lt-Gen Methuen and north of Witteputs.

Modder River

Battle

28/11/1899

Troops under command of Lt-Gen Methuen and north of Honey Nest Kloof and south of Magersfontein Ridge.

Relief of Ladysmith

Battle

15/12/1899 - 28/02/1900

Troops in Natal north of and including Estcourt.

Tugela Heights

Battle

14 - 27/02/1900

Troops of Natal Field Force (excl. Ladysmith) north of a east-west line through Chiveley Station

Relief of Kimberley

Battle

15/02/1900

Troops in Lt-Gen French's relief column who marched from Klip Drift. Also includes 6th Division under Lt-Gen Kelly-Kenny who were within 7,000 yards of Klip Drift.

Paardeberg

Battle

17 - 26/02/1900

Troops within 7,000 yards of General Cronje's final laager. Also to troops within 7,000 yards of Koodoe's Rand Drift. Both between these dates.

Orange Free State

State

28/02/1900 - 31/05/1902

Troops present within Orange River Colony and did not receive any other clasps for actions within the Orange River Colony.

Driefontein

Battle

10/03/1900

Troops with Army HQ and Lt-Gen French's column which advanced from Popular Grove on this date.

Wepener

Battle

09 - 25/04/1900

Troops engaged in defence of Wepener

Relief of Mafeking

Battle

17/05/1900

Troops under Col Mathon who marched from Barkly West on 04/05/1900 and all troops under Col Plumber's command. Troops also had to be south of a east-west line through Palachwe

Transvaal

State

24/05/1900 - 31/05/1902

Troops in Transvaal who received no other clasps for actions in Transvaal

Johannesburg

Battle

31/05/1900

Troops who were north of an east-west line through Krugersdorp Station.

Laing's Nek

Battle

02 - 09/06/1900

Troops of Natal Field Force on operations north of an east-west line through Newcastle

Diamond Hill

Battle

11 - 12/06/1900

Troops present east of a north-south line through Silverton Siding and north of an east-west line through Vlakfontein

Wittebergen

Battle

01 - 29/07/1900

Troops inside an area bounded by a line between Harrismith and Bethlehem, between Senekal and Clocolan, along the Basuto border and back to Harrismith

Belfast

Battle

26 - 27/08/1900

Troops east of a north-south line through Wonderfontein (excl. troops garrisoned in Wonderfontein), and west of a north-south line through Dalmanutha Station, and north of an east-west line through Carolina.

South Africa 1901

Date

1901

Troops not eligible for the King's South Africa medal, although they had served at the front during 1901

South Africa 1902

Date

1902

Troops not eligible for the King's South Africa medal, although they had served at the front during 1902

Queen's Mediterranean Medal

The Queen's Mediterranean Medal was issued to garrisons in the Mediterranean who guarded Boer prisoners-of-war.

The medal is identical to the Type 3 QSA (see the earlier Queen's South Africa Medal section), but the word "MEDITERRANEAN" replace the text "SOUTH AFRICA" on this medal's reverse.

As with the QSA, this medal was issued named. The recipient's details are shown on the rim of the medal in impressed capitals.

King's South Africa Medal

Following the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901, her eldest son and second child became her successor: King Edward VII (born: 9 November 1841, died: 6 May 1910).

Meanwhile, the Boer War had continued its shift from a conflict involving major battles into one of numerous guerrilla actions. It also introduced the term "commando" to military language. This shift in the type of warfare was reflected in the KSA only having two clasps, compared to the Queen's South Africa Medal which had 26.

The KSA, a silver medal that was 36 millimetres in diameter, was issued to personnel who were serving in South Africa on or after 1 January 1901 and who would have completed at least 18 months' service prior to 1 June 1902. Any service in South Africa during 1901 or 1902 that did not meet this criteria was recognised by the award of the appropriate date clasp to the Queen's South Africa Medal.

The two clasps available with the KSA are South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902.

The KSA was always issued together with the QSA, and was always issued with either one or both clasps. Nursing Sisters are believed to be the only personnel issued the KSA without any clasp.

All the KSAs were issued named, with the recipient's details shown on the medal's rim. The majority had the recipient's details in impressed capitals, although some have the details engraved.

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