The two Boer republics, Orange Free State and the Transvaal
The conflict in South Africa is generally divided into three phase:
1] late 1899, when the British infantry were defeated or besieged by highly mobile Boer mounted troops.
2] from Dec 1899 -> Sep 1900, which involved a British counter-offensive, resulting in the capture of most of South Africa’s major towns and cities.
3] from Sep 1900 -> May 1902, when the war was mainly a guerrilla conflict between British mounted troops and Boer irregulars.
2nd South Australian Mounted Rifles.
Third from left: Trooper Harry Breaker Morant,
South Africa, c1900.
Photo credit: Australian War Memorial
Hastily raised contingents were sent from around the British empire. As a loyal part of the British Empire, the Australian colonies offered troops for the war in South Africa, and from 1901 on, so did the new Australian Commonwealth. Some Australians also joined British or South African colonial units in South Africa: some were already in South Africa when the war broke out while others made their own way to the Cape. Australians served mostly in mounted units, presumably because they were already experienced bushmen.
The outbreak of war had long been expected in both Britain and Australia. Believing that conflict was imminent, each of the Australian colonies ultimately sent 4-6 contingents. The first groups arrived in South Africa in late 1899.
Many soldiers of the Empire died, not just in battle but of disease, while others succumbed to exhaustion and starvation on the long treks across the veld. In the early stages of the war, Australian soldier losses were particularly high because of disease.
Empty battle fields in KwaZulu-Natal with nothing but graves.
After Federation (1/1/1901), and close to the end of the war, the Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents were raised by the new central government. These contingents fought in both the British counter-offensive of 1900, which resulted in the capture of the Boer capitals, and in the long guerrilla actions which lasted until the war ended. Colonial troops were valued for their ability to shoot and ride.
After September 1900, by which time the war had become mainly a guerrilla conflict, Australian troops were deployed in sweeping the countryside and enforcing the British policy of cutting the Boer guerrillas off from the support of their farms and families. This meant the destruction of Boer farms, the confiscation of horses, cattle and wagons, and the rounding up of the civilian women and children. These civilian captives were taken to concentration camps where, weakened by malnutrition, thousands died of disease.
The Australians at home initially supported the war, but became disenchanted as the conflict dragged on, especially as the effects on Boer civilians became known. Nonetheless troops continued to arrive until the war ended in May 1902.
Siege Museum, Ladysmith
BBC History Magazine Jan 2013 suggested that people interested in remembering the Boer War should go to KwaZulu-Natal. It is possible to experience the eerie and poignant stillness of battle sites from the Zulu, Transvaal and Boer Wars of 1879-1902. And the Siege Museum in Ladysmith has relics, uniforms, maps and panels, that are helpful. Visitors to KwaZulu-Natal can stay at either the spectacular Isandlwana Lodge, set in the rocks above the battlefield, or the opulent Battlefields Country Lodge at Dundee.
Additionally there are several battlefield sites around the Bloemfontein area, so start at the Anglo-Boer War Museum, Monument Rd. It is believed that this museum is the only one in the world dedicated to the Boer War and gives the visitor insight into the war through its art collection, dioramas and exhibits. It also helps the visitor understand the background against which the war took place and what the life in the concentration and prisoner-of-war camps was like.