Friday, August 12, 2016

Gentlemen in Khaki 4

Kitchener's Fighting Scouts
Some forces came into being further on in the war, among them Kitchener’s Fighting Scouts, raised in December 1900, Ashburner’s Light Horse, the Bushveld Carbineers, Dennison’s Scouts, Driscoll’s Scouts and the Cape Colony Cycle Corps.

To research local armed forces serving in South Africa from 1899-1902 The National Archives, Kew, holds original nominal rolls (soldiers’ names) and enrolment forms (completed by each man) in WO 127 and WO 126. 


The South African National Archives online index (NAAIRS) available at can help when tracing Anglo-Boer War ancestors. 

A search of NAAIRS index may reveal an ancestor’s deceased estate file, usually with a Death Notice included, and these latter documents are extremely informative. Sometimes there are two Death Notices found in estate files of the Anglo-Boer War period: one filled in briefly at the place of death, by the Adjutant perhaps, and another notice completed more fully later.

To illustrate this application of the online index, an example from my own research:  

William Dixon Smith, of Northumberland origins, emigrated to Natal in 1880, settling in Alexandra County where he established himself as a carriage-builder and blacksmith. He joined the local permanent volunteer force and at the time of the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, having been resident in Natal for twenty years, was Lieutenant Quartermaster of the Border Mounted Rifles. All volunteer units responded promptly to the call for mobilization and William, along with the rest of his contingent, entrained for Ladysmith on 28 September 1899. By January 1900 he was dead, one of many who died of a variety of diseases during the Siege of Ladysmith. The Death Notice provided his age at death, his occupation, his birthplace and parents’ names, his marital status, the name of his spouse and place of marriage, and the names and ages of his children. Other documents in the deceased estate file included a detailed inventory of his possessions, including the forge and anvil and other tools of his trade as well as household items, giving a picture of his lifestyle in the colony. Muster rolls preserved in Natal Defence Force records made it possible to track William’s career in the volunteers from the time of his enrolment.

BMR Trooper's mother receives
 'War Gratuity' of five pounds after
her son's death at Ladysmith - note that it
took two years for her to get it.

Correspondence in archival files could give further information about the next-of-kin: widows or mothers claiming the deceased’s pay or the five pound ‘war gratuity’, a seemingly scant return for the son's supreme sacrifice. A poignant memo mentions a youthful soldier’s only piece of movable property – his horse, ‘killed for food during the Ladysmith siege’.  Other documents in the case of this trooper showed that he had several younger siblings dependant on him. Such details take us beyond mere statistics and bring the human story to light.

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