The Boer War was actually two wars – a First and Second – and has been known by many names, among them the Anglo-Boer War and The South African War. This major conflict was a clash between Britain and the Orange Free State republics and Boers of South Africa. Though the Boers were hugely outnumbered, they were able to take advantage of their knowledge of the vast terrain, and use modern rifle fire to good effect at a time when attacking forces had no means of overcoming it. Ultimately, the war ended with a British victory.
The result of such a wide-ranging war are a host of sites to discover. Here’s our pick of 10 that you shouldn’t miss when paying a visit.
Laing’s Nek Battlefield in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa was the site of a major battle in the First Anglo-Boer War. On 28 January 1881, the British forces under Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of the Boer forces under Commandant-General Piet Joubert. The Battle of Laing’s Nek was a blow for the British in their attempts to capture the Transvaal region. Laing’s Nek Battlefield is close to Majuba Hill where, only a month later, the British were defeated and lost the war. Colley would be killed in the battle.
Today, what remains of the battlefield is the rocky hilltop marked by an obelisk monument to the British 58th Regiment. There are mass graves at the far end of the hill to the east of the road. From the hilltop, you can look out across the beautiful Majuba mountainside as the Boers would have done, anticipating the British attack from below.
Spioenkop Battlefield, also known as Spion Kop Battlefield, in South Africa was the site of a British defeat to the Boers during the Second Anglo-Boer War. The Battle of Spioenkop was an attempt by British forces to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith, in which Boer forces had been surrounding the British in the town for around 4 months. From 23 January 1900, the British tried in vain to free the town in a clash with Orange Free State and South African Republic forces. However, on 24 January, the British withdrew, having suffered significant casualties.
Today, Spioenkop Battlefield contains several memorials to the battle which can be seen together with graves and trenches along a trail.
The Anglo-Boer War Museum is one of the South Africa’s most comprehensive museums about the Second Anglo-Boer War. It is fittingly located in Bloemfontein, a vital location in the war as it was both the site of the Bloemfontein Conference of 1899, which served to fan the flames of war, and was also captured by the British commander Lord Roberts on 13 March 1900.
The museum chronicles the events leading up to the war, the course of the war and its aftermath. One of its most moving exhibits is that relating to concentration camps. The Second Anglo-Boer War is notorious for being the first war in which such camps were used, a strategy spearheaded by Lord Kitchener.
The National Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein in South Africa commemorates the 27,000 women and children who perished in concentration camps set up by the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War.
Depicting an Afrikaner woman holding her child seeing her husband off to war, the National Women’s Memorial is flanked by a large obelisk and is located near the Anglo-Boer War Museum.
The Ladysmith Siege Museum is dedicated to the four month siege of the town of Ladysmith, South Africa, during the Second Anglo-Boer War. From 30 October 1899 to 29 February 1900, British forces were trapped in the town, with the siege only ending when British relief forces arrived, including a young Winston Churchill. By this time, starvation had set in and the British had suffered significant losses, many of them caused by disease.
The Ladysmith Siege Museum explores both the siege itself and the war as a whole, displaying artefacts from the conflict. The museum itself is housed in a building used to store rations during the siege.
The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa, commemorates the exodus of the Boers – Voortrekkers meaning pioneers – from the Cape Colony from 1835 and 1854. Sparked by the British abolition of slavery in all their colonies in 1834, this “Great Trek” resulted in the creation of several republics and laid the foundations for the modern layout of South Africa. The monument is comprised of a vast granite structure surrounded by 64 ox-wagons and is flanked by numerous statues of historic figures such as Boer leader, Piet Retief.
Inside the Voortrekker Monument is its large Hall of Heroes housing a historical frieze depicting the history of the Trek and a museum of Voortrekker history.
Majuba Hill was the final battlefield of the First Anglo-Boer War. Sometimes known as the Transvaal War, the First Anglo-Boer War was an approximately year-long conflict in which the Boers rejected British annexation of the Transvaal region of South Africa. Approximately 400 British soldiers had occupied Majuba Hill in early 1881. On 27 February 1881 at the Boers defeated the British in battle, effectively ending the war. Colley himself had been killed together with almost half of the force.
In 1981, following the centenary of the Battle of Majuba, an annual festival was founded to commemorate the battle. The Majuba battle site is jointly managed by two different entities, the Majuba-Boarevolk Trust and the Majuba Management Company. These organisations are
The Geelbecks River Blockhouse is a very typical, easily reachable and well-preserved example of the blockhouse fortifications erected by British forces during the Anglo Boer War between 1899-1902. These were strongpoints in their defences of the colony borders and strategically important locations like railway bridges, as in this case.
The Geelbecks River Blockhouse is located on the banks of the Riet River (also known as the Rietrivier), in the district of Herbert, which is in the south of South Africa. It is one of around 441 masonry blockhouses built by the British during the early, guerrilla stages of the Second Boer War in 1899 until it ended in May 1902. Today, the Geelbecks River Blockhouse remains in sturdy condition, and is a feature on a number of hiking trails around the Western Cape. There is a memorial to the Battle of Modder River some 3km away for those who wish to explore local war historiography further.
Established in 1982 to coincide with the centenary of Dundee, Talana Museum, Battlefield, and Heritage Park in Dundee, South Africa, houses a number of items relating to the area’s history, with a particular focus on military history. It is unique in South Africa in that it is the only battlefield which still contains the original buildings which were used during battle.
The battle of Talana took place there in October 1899. The verandas of the Smith cottage and Talana house were used as British dressing stations during the battle. The plantations of gum trees have been retained as they were used by the British troops for cover. Surrounding the site is extensive and beautiful parkland.
In October 1899, the Boers occupied the railway station of Elandslaagte. Early the following morning, British troops shelled them, forcing the Boers to withdraw. Despite further back-and-forth, the British requested reinforcements from Ladysmith, and the British subsequently defeated the Boers.
Today, a use of a guide at the site is recommended to enhance the experience, since a former memorial at the site was destroyed in 2014.