New Zealand High Commission Pretoria, South Africa

New Zealand and the Anglo-Boer War

New Zealand Hill on Slingersfontein Farm near Colesberg

Ka mate, Ka mate!

Among the earlier connections between South Africa and New Zealand were those established during the Anglo-Boer or South African War, 1899-1902.

New Zealand made an enthusiastic contribution of 6,500 volunteers and 8,000 horses on the British side of this conflict. It was the first commitment of New Zealand forces overseas, coming in the period when we enjoyed self-government but not yet independence. The total population of New Zealand then was only 750,000.

The story of New Zealand’s part in the war is told briefly in the 1966 Encyclopedia (www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/wars-boer/1) and in much more detail in the book by John Crawford with Ellen Ellis, To Fight for the Empire: An illustrated history of New Zealand and the South African War, 1899-1902 (Auckland: Reed Books, 1999). This book is out of print but it will be available through public libraries and you might find it in a second-hand bookshop in New Zealand.

There are many relics of the war still in South Africa. In Pretoria for example forts built by the Boer side can be visited, such as Fort Klapperkop (on Waterkloof Hill) and Fort Skanskop (accessed via the Voortrekker Monument). These tell a story of the conflict from the Boer perspective, as does the monument at the former concentration camp at Irene, in Centurion, between Pretoria and Johannesburg. Guidebooks will help you locate them.

New Zealanders served throughout the war, and afterwards the New Zealand government sponsored the erection of some 40 monuments in various places. Recently it supported the renovation of the monument at Langverwacht in the Free State.

We can direct New Zealand travelers to three different locations if you want to catch a glimpse of such history while visiting South Africa: New Zealand Hill, near Colesberg, Northern Cape; Diamond Hill near Pretoria, or the Church Street Cemetery in downtown Pretoria; and Langverwacht in the Free State.

New Zealand Hill, also known as Memorial Hill, is the site of a battle in January 1900, as the British tried to stop Boer forces attacking them southwards towards the Cape. It is about 15km south east of Colesberg, which itself is on the N1, some 800km north of Cape Town and 700km south of Pretoria.

The hill is on private land, on the Slingersfontein farm, owned by Anthony Murray, contactable at +27 51 753 1309 or +27 845 753 130. The GPS coordinates are 30º43’17.91”S and 25º14’24.01E. We visited the district in January 2010, but were unable to clamber over the hill as we had not arranged access with the owner.

Four New Zealanders are commemorated in the war cemetery down the main street in Colesberg. At the Colesberg Museum and Information Centre (Private Bag X6, Colesberg 9795) there is a detailed account in the upstairs room of the battles in 1900, including the engagement at New Zealand Hill. The curator, Lungile Mpemba, may be contacted at +27 72 780 0726 or +27 51 753 0678, or lgmpemba@webmail.co.za. He is very helpful.

Conflict took place in the Pretoria area in 1900 too, the Boer capital at the time, and Pretoria ‘fell’ to the British in June 1900. There are New Zealand graves at Diamond Hill, towards Cullinan, (GPS coordinates S:25º 48:439’ E:028º 29:304’), along with Australians, British and Canadians. This is where, since 1997, Australians and New Zealanders commemorate Anzac Day in South Africa each year. Diamond Hill is also on private land and access is only possible with assistance from the owners. Contact Mr J Groenewald at +27 82 823 6008 or jjgroen@mweb.co.za

Within Pretoria itself, there are war graves in the old cemetery in Church Street, including many of New Zealanders, and also the grave of the Australian, Breaker Morant. The cemetery is best visited in the morning; it is less safe later in the day; and it is not a safe place at night.

Late in the war, in February 1902 at Langverwacht (aka Bothasberg) in the Free State, New Zealanders were at the centre of a Boer attempt to break through the British line. In the struggle on the night of 23/24 February, 23 New Zealanders were killed and 40 wounded. This was the highest toll for New Zealand of any single encounter during the war. A memorial was later erected near the battle site. This was damaged in a storm in 2002, and renovated by the New Zealand government. Rededication took place on 22 February 2009. Staff from the High Commission visited on the 110th anniversary of the Battle in 2012. 

The monument is on private land close to a public road, at GPS coordinates S:27º41.530’ E:29º07.244, about 3 hours’ drive from Pretoria, via the N3 and R34. The owner, Mrs Elsie van Reenen, is happy for traveling New Zealanders to pay their respects at the monument. She can be contacted at +27 58 913 2316.   The 23 New Zealanders who lost their lives at Langverwacht were eventually re-buried at the cemetery in the small nearby town of Vrede (off the R34) and there is a memorial there, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves' Commission.  The cemetery is open to the public.

The Roll of Honour in the book by Crawford and Ellis records the names of 71 New Zealanders who died in action or from wounds during the Anglo-Boer War and 133 who died from disease. 26 were accidentally killed.

Lest we forget.

 

Acknowledgements: Lungile Mpemba, Anthony Murray, Maeder & Les Osler (Colesberg); Sarah Godsell and Frans Cronje (Johannesburg); Gerna van Heyningen (Vrede); Robin Smith (Bloemfontein); Margaret Marks, Mike Walsh (Wellington).

Postcript,  August 2011: A new book has been published on New Zealand involvement in the South African War of 1899-1902.  “Walter Callaway – A Māori Warrior of the Boer War”, written by Mike Dwight, gives an extra perspective on New Zealand’s involvement in the South African War.

Walter Callaway (Wāta Te Wahahuia) of Coromandel was among the first New Zealanders ever to fight abroad.  He became one of the first Māori officers in the New Zealand Army. This book reveals a forgotten hero and tells not only about a remarkable soldier, but also highlights the horrors and hardships of war.

More information, including where to obtain a copy of the book, can be found at www.waltercallaway.com

 

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