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The Anglo Boer War, fought between the Afrikaaners and English Colonialists in South Africa in 1899 marked, among other things, the first appearance of concentration camps in warfare.

Some History

In 1899, Queen Victoria celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. The economic prosperity and industrial supremacy would seem to be enough for the British, but Alfred Milner the High Commissioner of Cape Colony in South Africa, wanted to further enhance British dominance in Africa. He wanted gold mines in the Dutch Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. He also wanted to create a Cape-to-Cairo confederation of British colonies to dominate the African continent with himself as the proposed ruler

Milner and his generals were characteristically optimistic but they soon learned they were in for a protracted and bloody conflict. Military disasters abounded and 22,000 men were killed in the initial stages. The Anglo-Boer War was a period of sustained violence. For nearly three years the British exercised a scorched-earth policy that left the country in ruins. The Boer republics knew they stood in Britain's way and citing the strategy that 'the key to a good defense is a good offense' struck first. In 1899 a Boer population of less than 100,000 farmers attacked British cities in South Africa and proceeded to hold at bay a British army of 450,000 for a further two years. The Empire was internationally humiliated. One historian describes the war as "Britain's Vietnam."

The Boers invaded Natal and Cape Province and quickly captured the towns of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly. The British abandoned their original plans in an effort to take back these towns. The British finally managed to recapture the capital cities of the two Boer republics in mid 1900.

Some Boer commando units fled into the vast bush country and continued to wage unconventional guerrilla warfare by blowing up trains and ambushing British troops for the next two years. The British proceeded to burn farms and confiscate foodstuffs to prevent them falling into Boer hands. They packed off Boer women and children to concentration camps where many of them died from disease, or went to endure the exposure of commando life. The British literally starved the commandos into submission. African ex-miners and farm laborers were also concentrated in camps, and drawn into labor tasks by the British Army. Boers even raided the African reserves for food while Africans reasserted control over land and livestock previously taken by Boers, and on rare occasions attacked Boer commandos. The last of the Boer commandos, left without food, clothing, ammunition or hope, reluctantly accepted peace terms from the British in May 1902 in the Treaty of Vereeniging.

The Boers certainly won the peace if not the war. The Anglo-Boer War left a legacy of painful memories and mutual hatred. The British incarceration of Boer women and children in concentration camps left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Boers and lessened respect for the British Empire abroad. Though the intent of the British to halt the Boer guerrilla fighters who lived off the land and used their farmsteads as bases was militarily sound, the concentration camp conditions were so poor that almost 28,000 Boers died from starvation and disease. This alone was almost 10 per cent of the total Boer population. Many Afrikaners believed, that the British had embarked on a deliberate policy of genocide. The camps were a national tragedy harboring and enduring animosity and bitterness that lasted well beyond the war itself.

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The modern day O.V.S.A.C. is a non-political, South African based group with members from Bloemfontein, Pretoria and Johannesburg. As a group we strive to research and re-enact the history of the artillery corps of the Free State. The idea started when one of our founding members was fortunate enough to obtain an 87mm Turkish Krupp, which only differs in calibre from the 75mm version used by the original corps. It has since been restored to its former glory and aptly renamed after President MT Steyn's famous wife, 'Tant Tibbie'.

To date the corps consists of a Luitenant (Lieutenant), one Sergeant, one Onderofficier (Corporal) and 5-6 Artilleristen (Gunners) as well as a doctor and two nurses from the "German Red Cross". We have recently obtained the carriage of an original Boer War 15-pr Armstrong gun limber, which will be restored for use with our Krupp, while a heliograph and signals team is planned for the near future.

The present day corps was formed with the following objectives in mind:

    * To keep Anglo-Boer War history alive by telling it in a living format. This will stimulate interest in the period and encourage more people to become involved in the research and re-enactment of this fascinating era.
    * To battle the common assumption that the Boer forces of a hundred years ago were all untrained backvelders with no military traditions.
    * To trace, list and study the remaining Boer guns that survived all over the "British Empire" and to ensure that they are preserved and receive the proper attention and respect.

Extensive research has gone into the uniforms, weapons, ranks and uses of this "Little Prussia in the Veldt". Our reenactors are dressed in Prussian style field uniforms and our officer and senior NCO in the "interim" khaki - as worn by the original corps. For comparison, some members dress up in Boer civvies and even British uniform for some events. Prussian blue parade tunics, complete with imported German Litzen, were recently manufactured, while Pickelhaube helmets are a future objective.

A typical re-enactment weekend does not only consist of firing the gun, but also of camping out historically. We sing contemporary war songs, sleep in bell tents and blockhouses and eat braaivleis, stormjaers, biltong and captured British bully beef and knock-me-down-stew. The finer details of live in the veldt can only be appreciated fully when one use and cook with contemporary items and ingredients! Since 2000 the O.V.S.A.C. appeared in both local and international publications and television programs, while our study pieces have been included in no less than three international publications.
Heilbron Commando (Uk & Netherlands)
Our modern Heilbron Commando is composed of a number of dedicated reenactment enthusiasts from the Netherlands and England. Our aim is to faithfully reproduce life 'on commando' of a korporaalskap, or section, of the historical Heilbron Commando for educational purposes but also, above all, for enjoyment. We make every effort to clothe ourselves in the same type of clothes that were worn by the Boers in this war, to arm ourselves with correct weapons and equipment and to reproduce a camp as it might have looked at the Siege of Ladysmith.

We are quite a young group, so at present our clothing is still fairly pristine and we are armed with 7 mm Mausers and the obsolescent .45 calibre Martini-Henry. The early stages of the war, thus. As we progress, and our clothing gets dirty and worn out (we never replace it!), we can progress through the war to represent the 'Bitter-Enders' of the guerrilla phase, gradually re-equipping ourselves with British Lee-Enfields as we go.

Our activities consist of camp life - living in tents, eating authentic food such as biltong, dro?worsv and mielies, playing jukskei and singing/playing authentic songs of the period - plus occasional skirmishes against the rooineks with blank ammunition and pyrotechnics.
In 1999 the Diehards Company made the decision to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the last of Queen Victoria?s colonial wars against the Boer republics of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Breaking new ground once again both a composite British infantry unit based on the 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment and an opposing Boer Commando were researched.

This meant yet again a complete re-equipment into khaki drill, Slade Wallace and Long Lee Enfield rifles and for the Boers a chance to source items for their highly individual style! This unique project attracted a number of other groups joining us ? wholehearted support
from Alan Larsen?s the Troop who provided both British mounted infantry and a rag tag B mounted Boer Commando and members of the Great War Society and other reenactment groups who donned either the khaki drill of the regulars or faced us over the sights of a Mauser as Boers.

A number of high profile events over the 4 years of the Centenary saw us battle against each other at Audley End, Kirby Hall and Detling, Kent.
The commemorations also added to the Company?s long list of overseas ventures with three members of the Company traveling back to our old friends in Dundee, South Africa to drill and train around 90 reenactors as British infantry for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Talana ? giving us the opportunity for some of the group stand next to the Middlesex memorial at Spion Kop after scaling the mountain in full kit.
The Diehard unit has a fifty strong membership and we are members of the Victorian Military Society, an internationally respected study organization that covers the period 1837 to 1914. Founded in 1993 we represent a number of images of the late Victorian Soldier, both on campaign and on home service.
  • (Home service) 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment 1886
  • (Boer War) 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment 1899
  • (Zulu War) 2nd Warwickshire's, 24th foot, 1879


The unit has regularly worked for many prestigious sponsors including English Heritage, The Royal Armouries, The National Army Museum and both South African and Maltese Tourist Boards. We were awarded the Military Illustrated "Best of British Re-enactment Group" trophy in 1998.
[h3]What do we do?[h3]
We populate period barracks and sites, bringing them to life. Whilst the public is on site we carry out a number of activities that can either be watched, such as signalling displays, guard mounting, church parades etc or are interactive such as recruiting parties and lectures on kit and equipment. We also carry out set piece arena shows (for about 25 to 30 minutes) featuring show and tell displays of kit and equipment, drill and tactical manoeuvres and firing displays using Martini Henry rifles of the period.

We believe in bringing history alive and are very high profile user friendly, with plenty of hands on experiences for the general public.

[h3]Who have we worked for?[/h3]

Our past clients include regular events for English Heritage, the Royal Armouries, National Army Museum and Aldershot Military Museum Service. We have worked for numerous councils and event organizers and are well disciplined and a reliable unit. Overseas clients included the Maltese Heritage Commission (in 1997) and kwaZulu Natal Heritage (in 1999). In both cases we were fully sponsored to take around 35 unit member out in the first instance for 10 days to mark the 100th Anniversary of the opening of the Jubilee Lines in Malta in 1897 and in the second reenact the battle of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift on the sites 120 years to the day later. In 2006 we were invited to take part in the Changing of the Guard ceremony celebrating the the 100 anniversary of the British Army leaving Canada.

We have worked on a number of television and film productions including Channel 5's documentary 'Zulu - the Warriors return' that was about our trip to South Africa in 1999. We have also worked as historical advisers and trainers for films like the remake of "The Four Feathers".
The Royal Sussex Society recreates the life and times of the British soldier of the 35th Regiment of Foot.  Currently, we reenact the American Revolution as the 35th Regiment of Foot, Grenadier Company.  We also are the east coast's largest British Victorian recreated regiment.

We are a family-friendly organization and are actively recruiting for more soldiers, musicians, and camp followers.  We strive always for the highest levels of authenticity possible while enjoying ourselves at the same time.  Members are expected to acquire their uniforms and kits within a year but we have loaner items and guidelines for new members to help them out.

The 35th Regiment was the only regiment to wear orange facings, a special honor bestowed by King William III--the Prince of Orange.  The regiment was raised in Ireland in 1701 and served in the French & Indian War, the American Revolution, French Revolutionary & Napoleonic Wars, Indian Mutiny, Egyptian War, a host of small colonial conflicts, the Boer War, WWI, WWII, Korea, and Aden.  It was amalgamated in 1966.  We are proud to maintain friendly relations with the Royal Sussex Association in the UK today.

Largely based in the New Jersey/New York/Pennsylvania area, the vast majority of our events take place in this region.  We boast an active schedule with activities ranging from recreated battles to living history displays at schools, museums, and other groups.


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