Birth of the modern British Army: Rare photographic find records soldiers heading off to bash the Boers in Empire’s first major conflict of the 20th…
- The album contains more than 150 black and white images of the First Battalion Rifle Brigade during Boer War
- They provide a fascinating record of their battles with the Boers in South Africa from 1899 to 1902
- Annotated images show large parade of men before embarking on a ship on the Isle of Wight to take them to war
- A young Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi both saw action in the war, which cost 22,000 British lives
A rare and extraordinary photo album documenting a British army regiment in the the Boer War has been discovered after more than 100 years. The album contains more than 150 black and white images of the First Battalion Rifle Brigade and provide a fascinating record of their battles with the Boers in South Africa from 1899 to 1902. The annotated images show a large parade of men before embarking on a ship on the Isle of Wight to take them to South Africa in 1899.
Cavalry, which were still a key part of the British Army in the late 19th century, are seen in this photograph with artillery
British soldiers, who included troops from New Zealand and Australia, had to fight the Boers in often searing temperatures in South Africa
Although traditional artillery was used by both sides during the war it was one of the first conflicts to feature guerrilla warfare
There was concern in Britain that the country’s failure to quell the opposition force meant the Empire was in decline
The Second Boer War lasted three years from 1899 to 1902 and would claim 22,000 British and 12,000 African lives
This photograph, featuring British soldiers relaxing, has an annotation saying it was taken in 1900 in Pretoria, South Africa
As well as the thousands of soldiers who died around 30,000 Boer civilians were taken to concentration camps
British officers are shown here with annotations featuring their names and whether they died or were wounded in the war
The Transvaal and Orange Free State were the two states in 1899 of what is today known as South Africa
Despite the British Army’s vast numbers, officers struggled to combat the much smaller but well-trained and mobile Boers
The rifle brigade feature in this photograph taken between 1899 and 1900 during the Boer War
A large parade of men before embarking on a ship on the Isle of Wight to take them to South Africa in 1899
A WAR WHICH CLAIMED 22,000 BRITISH LIVES
The second Boer War broke out after tensions between Britain and the Boers failed to heal following the first war in 1880-1881.
The Transvaal and Orange Free State were the two states in 1899 of what is today known as South Africa.
But Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch and French settlers, were angry as they had to pay high rates of taxes and wanted equal rights to those in the British colonies of Cape Colony and Natal. To make matters worse thousands of mainly British Uitlanders (foreigners) had come to the Transvaal for the gold rush.
The Second Boer War lasted three years from 1899 to 1902 and would claim 22,000 British and 12,000 African lives.
Around 25,000 Afrikaners also died in the war, most of them in concentration camps.
Despite the British Army’s vast numbers, officers struggled to combat the much smaller but well-trained and mobile Boers.
In one week – 10-15 December 1899 – the Boers won a number of battles and besieged the key towns of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley.
The British were cut off in Ladysmith after being surrounded by the Boers in early November 1899.
Some top officers escaped on the last train but the remaining soldiers had to dig in defend the town in east South Africa.
The siege lasted almost 120 days and finally ended when increasing numbers of British troops overwhelmed the Boers.
Another famous battle was for Spion Kop, 24 miles from Ladysmith, which resulted in a victory for the Boers.
As it was the highest peak in the region it was a key target for the British to capture.
British troops had captured the summit by surprise in late January 1900 but morning fog blinded them from seeing they were overlooked by Boer guns on surrounding hills.
Boers then fired down on the British who had dug poor defensive positions.
The battle would claim 350 British lives and almost 1,000 wounded.
The British eventually won by the Army’s sheer numbers while officers used a ‘scorched earth policy’ to cut off supplies to the Boers.
This photograph is annotated describing the picture showing artillery on Zwartkop firing at Boer trenches
The action highlighted in the photographs took place in Ladysmith, Spion Kop and St. Pieters. Winston Churchill saw action in the Second Boer War as a young army officer before embarking on his political career and then serving in the First World War. And Mahatma Gandhi, who later led India to independence, volunteered as a stretcher-bearer for the Boer side. One harrowing photo shows a number of fallen soldiers at Spion Kop after the battle. Numerous English football clubs later named banks of terraces after the steep hill in South Africa.
Other images depict British soldiers in the heat of battle, either shooting or shelling the enemy, them laid up on a hospital ship as well as numerous Boer prisoners. One of the most poignant images shows a large group of officers of the Rifle Brigade taken at the start of the war which was annotated afterwards to reveal those who were killed and injured. The album belonged to Captain Charles Lamb of Hastings, East Sussex. It is not known if he took the photos or collected them but he did annotate them.
Mahatma Gandhi, who later led India to independence, volunteered as a stretcher-bearer for the Boer side. The British Army used a scored earth policy to remove resources including farm land from the Boers
The British eventually won by the Army’s sheer numbers while officers used a ‘scorched earth policy’ to cut off supplies to the Boers
The album has been held by his family ever since but has now been made available for sale at Bellmans Auctioneers, West Sussex, for an estimated 600. Denise Kelly, valuer at Bellmans, said: ‘It is incredibly rare to come across such a comprehensive photograph album from the Boer War.
‘It charts this battalion of the Rifle Brigade from leaving England, to engaging in battle and the end of the conflict three years later.
‘What is extraordinary is that quite clearly the person who took these pictures was quite often stood in the middle of where there was a battle raging.’
The auction takes place tomorrow.
The Special Air Service (SAS) is an all-volunteer special forces regiment that is the envy of the world. I realise the phrase envy of the world is often lazily trotted out in reference to all sorts of British institutions from the NHS to our education system but it is still actually true of the SAS. Even the U.S. Armyrats © military admits that the SAS is pretty damn good. The Americans styled their special forces elite, Delta Force, on the British regiment, right down to the selection process. It is that selection process that underpins the excellence of the SAS. It lasts for five months and has a 90 per cent fail rate.
Selection or, more correctly, the Special Forces Aptitude Test , applies to the regular Army unit 22 SAS and the reservists in the Territorial Army. It is also the basic course that volunteers for the Special Boat Service must pass. There are two courses a year for those who dare to volunteer a summer course and a winter course.
There is great debate among armchair SAS watchers over which is hardest. The truth is that they are both about the same. Neither are for the faint-hearted and both are potentially lethal. These people are trying to get into the SAS, not the Girl Guides. The last winter course claimed the life of a young captain who died in freezing temperatures. At the weekend came the tragic news that two aspiring SAS troopers died in the blistering heat, and another is fighting for his life after collapsing. Proof, if any were needed, that the course is conducted at the edge of human endurance.
The first phase, which has been unchanged since the Fifties, is a series of timed marches an individual effort over demanding terrain in the Brecon Beacons carrying a 45lb rucksack with a rifle and water bottle. This very tough month begins with the basic Armyrats © military physical tests followed by a beast (fierce march) over Pen Y Fan, the highest peak in the Beacons. It is a timed march officially called High Walk but known universally as Fan Dance in reference to the name of the peak.
Next comes a three-week map-reading tour of the hills and then Test Week, during which the most gruelling marches are undertaken. These become increasingly challenging as the loads get steadily heavier until the final march: Endurance . This is 40 miles long and has to be completed without stopping, within a certain time and while carrying a 60lb rucksack, a rifle and a full water bottle. At the end of Endurance, the course numbers will be about halved and the survivors will have won a place on continuation training , including the jungle phase in Brunei. By the end the selection process will have discovered those who have what it takes to wear the winged dagger of the SAS.
The officers on the course face the additional hurdle of Officers Week which further thins out the survivors. On my test, in 1988, a summer selection beginning in August, we started with 24 officers and 204 men. By the end of Test Week, we were down to 12 officers and 50 soldiers. By the end, just three officers and 21 men of the original 228 received the coveted sandy coloured beret and winged dagger badge. That was a remarkably high score rate particularly for officers.
On the previous Test, only one passed. On the next two, there were no officers selected.
Over my years in the SAS, I watched many Selections and as operations officer in the mid-Nineties. I worked with an SAS legend called Liam Collins or Ginge . Ginge would set off at a hell of a pace followed by the men. As we walked, I would see guys keeping pace with Ginge sadly no longer with us, he died as a result of complications from an old injury but as we turned at the half-way point, his followers would be fewer. It was my task at the back of the group to keep the pace at which a candidate would pass and also to keep an eye out for the tell-tale signs of heat exhaustion. As candidates fell behind me, I would strike up a conversation with them to gauge how they were.
I d always ask if they were drinking water and wave my half-full mug at them. It was always a close call whether to stop someone if they were jabbering incoherently.
You realised you could be ruining his chance of selection. But you might also have to save his life. If you did have a heat casualty, the drill was straightforward. Get them on the deck, get their trousers and boots off, as well as their gear, and then give them a saline drip in their behind. It was crude and undignified, but the fastest way to get fluid into a dangerously ill man. At the end of each march, the shattered survivors would change out of their sweat-soaked gear with excited banter. Those who had failed to make the cut would usually sit in dejected silence on their gear. And, once more, the staff would watch for those about to keel over. However, this was not common. I have fond memories of these tests but there was also tragedy.
There were accidents infrequent, but they did occasionally happen. On one Selection, a member of the support staff was shot dead in a jungle mix-up of live and blank ammunition. That was more than 20 years ago but the lessons learned from that incident are still rigidly enforced. In 1981, two candidates died during the selection test. According to Regiment legend, the commanding officer summoned Warrant Officer Lofty Wiseman who ran the course. What are we supposed to say about this Lofty? There are questions in the Commons.
Lofty responded: The way I see it, sir, is that it s Nature s way of telling them they ve failed. Army humour is dark. SAS humour is pitch black. Naturally this latest incident is attracting particular scrutiny as it involves members of the Territorial Army (TA) the reservist force that now constitutes about a quarter of the British Army.
The fact is that since the Government has elected to base its defence policy on increased reliance on reserves, then the TA must be selected to the same standard as the regulars.
They always were in any case. The deaths at the weekend were a terrible tragedy and I feel for the families of those lads, but they weren t the first deaths and nor will they be the last. The fact is that deaths are uncommon and we have to keep them in perspective.
There can be no compromise. If our special forces are to remain world leaders then we have to maintain the highest standards. I have no doubt that the elf and safety experts will be clamouring to get involved.
But for those who are worried that the courses are too tough, too gruelling, too dangerous, I have some advice. Don t volunteer for SAS Selection. Simple.
Conversely, I welcome anyone who wants to serve in the most respected Armyrats © military organisation on earth. It needs more volunteers and as the world becomes more unstable, we need the SAS more and more.
Army chief fights for a smarter future | Register | The Times & The Sunday Times Saturday June 25 2016
General Sir Nicholas Carter is determined to change Britain s land forces. He tells Allan Mallinson why
General Sir Nick Carter, left, with Brigadier-General Larry Nicholson of the US Marines in Afghanistan in 2009Getty Images
Not for more than a century has the British Army in peacetime been so generally gripped by the zeal for change as now. However, unlike the celebrated reforms of the Edwardian era, when amid intense public interest the secretary for war, the Scots lawyer and philosopher Richard Burdon Haldane, took a very hands-on approach, today s reformation is internally inspired and goes largely unobserved.
It is being driven with a Cromwellian sense of purpose by the youngest chief of the general staff (CGS) in 80 years, the 57-year-old General Sir Nicholas Carter. Next week he gives a progress report on his