Boer War Volunteers v. WW1 Pals battalions

Topics about the Regiment during the 2nd Boer War.

Boer War Volunteers v. WW1 Pals battalions

Postby plbramham » Sun Dec 30, 2012 2:33 pm

Boer War Volunteers v. WW1 Pals battalions
The “Pals” battalions are credited as a WW1 invention, but it strikes me that there was a (smaller) parallel in The Boer War with men from the same towns and villages (e.g. Appleby, Kirkby Lonsdale) going away to serve and fight together in the volunteer companies and battalions, even if in fewer numbers. I suppose the main difference was that men of the Victorian volunteers probably never really expected to have to go abroad to fight in a “real” war whereas that was precisely what the “Pals” signed up to do. (Remember when thinking about the Victorian volunteers, they were not yet “territorial” battalions as that term was not adopted until 1908 when the 4th & 5th territorial Btns. were formed, and even then they were only for home service unless they agreed to serve overseas as they, almost all, did in 1914)
Also whereas the home towns of “Pals” battalions were devastated when masses of their young men were “culled” within days in the same action, such as the opening days of the Somme, this did not happen on anywhere near the same scale with battles in South Africa. Perhaps this is made apparent by the fact that almost all Boer War memorials (that I have seen anyway) commemorate all the men from a community who served, with a special mention to a handful who died.
I always feel that the Boer War deserves a greater place in history, and probably would have received due recognition had it not been almost immediately overshadowed by The First World War. (Think how many Boers ended up fighting as allies with the British just 12 years later!)
The British army learnt a lot in South Africa (such as not wearing silly red tunics!) and it gave them a taste of fighting an opponent that was not merely armed with spears for the first time since the Crimea (Yes I know there was the Indian mutiny and some Victorian colonial skirmishes, but not a “proper” war)
The Boer War was completely ignored by my school history syllabus, (as was The Spanish Civil War), Hopefully it will one day receive its proper recognition as Britain’s first 20th century War.
Before I am corrected I know that I should really call it “The Second Boer War”, but I think most people will acknowledge that the term "The Boer War" is now (even if incorrectly) accepted as referring to events of 1899-1902.
Any thoughts anyone? – volunteers v pals?, is The Boer War under rated? (I’m trying to stimulate some debate here!)
Cheers Paul.
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Re: Boer War Volunteers v. WW1 Pals battalions

Postby hussar1000 » Sun Dec 30, 2012 9:10 pm

As a country we tend not to dwell on the less successful exploits of our history. Although classed as a victory, it showed up many short falls in tactics etc. and the camps into which Boer families were forced will always cast a shadow over the conflict and GB's attitude to the Boers.

I agree that the volunteers of the Boer conflict are similar to those who volunteered for the Great War however I feel that they went more for a sense of adventure and probably didn't expect to get too involved in a "small" colonial conflict. Whereas the Pals realised that they were off to fight in a major war against a major world power....admittedly not realising just exactly how major the conflict actually became in the realms of history.
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Re: Boer War Volunteers v. WW1 Pals battalions

Postby CockneyTone » Sun Dec 30, 2012 9:21 pm


Responding to your valiant effort to provoke debate I will add a few comments on one aspect of your post, YES, I most defintly feel that the Boer War has been largely overlooked in the history books, but as you quite correctly point out this is because it was somewhat over shadowed by the horrors and immenseness of the Great War.

My interest stems from researching my Grandfather who served with the Border’s during the Boer War. When I first started looking into his exploits back in the mid 70’s access to relevant material was not easy, my first enquiry at the Border Regiment Museum was not met with much enthusiasm and all they seemed to want to do was sell me a book (Tried & Valiant) that only had a few pages on the Boer War. The only ‘real’ book readily available to me was Thomas Pakenhams!
However imagine my excitement many years later when I heard there was a new curator , Stuart Eastwood and an enquiry with him produced a totally different approach and I was soon the proud owner of countless photocopied pages of ‘Hyde Harrisons’ reminisces that had appeared in the Border magazine. This was ‘gold dust’ and encouraged me to undertake more research myself and I have found it very gratifying researching and its surprising what you can find once you start ferreting around. Also you start to discover that quite a few books are actually available on the Boer War including several fairly recent titles, you just have to look harder!

One unexpected link for me between the Boer and Great War is the number of characters that ‘cut their teeth’ in the first conflict, (Churchill, Hamilton, Haig to name a few) and went on to greatness (or infamy, depending on your view)

Also I have loved the links that keep cropping up with ‘Border’ men of all ranks who served in both conflicts!
Anyway, that my ten penneth for starts!
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The Border Regiment Forum is a small and friendly community for anyone with an interest in the British regiment throughout its long and colourful history. The forum was set up first and foremost to bring together those with an interest and passion in the Regiment; to ask questions, share stories, provide knowledge and post photos relating to the regiment during the various conflicts and peacetimes it bore witness to.

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