The South African, or Anglo-Boer War lasted from October 1899 until May 1902. Nearly 450,000 British and British Empire troops served in South Africa, including not only regular, professional soldiers but also reservists called back to the colours, militiamen, yeomanry and other volunteers, including volunteer hospital units (such as St. John's Ambulance).
N.B. The references given below refer to documents available for consultation at the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland, Long Street, Wigston Magna, Leics., LE18 2AH. Most of the books referred to may also be consulted there.
I. I DON'T KNOW MY ANCESTOR'S UNIT You may be able to find out your ancestors unit from material in your possession. Have you his medals? His name, number and unit will be given around the rim of the medals. Have you his service papers? His dischargepapers or his pay book? They will all give valuable information.
P hotographs will often contain direct evidence or clues to identify your ancestor's unit. His uniform may help to determine if he fought on foot or on a horse. Badges and buttons should identify his unit. Other insignia, rank and service or trade badges may tell a great deal of information. His equipment could hold vital clues.
(e.g. Leicestershire Regiment)
ammunition in pouches
bayonet (or bayonet frog)
trousers and puttees
(cavalry, artillery, yeomanry,
Army Service Corps etc.)
Ammunition in bandoliers
Riding boots/ankle boots with spurs
Sword (or sword belt & slings)
breeches and puttees/gaiters/boots
Inscriptions on the reverse and the photographer's details may also help. The appearance of the soldiers may help too. A smartly turned out soldier in red tunic, pill-box cap and swagger stick obviously suggests peacetime while a scruffy 'look', with slouch-hat and tattered uniform might suggest a brief respite from active service towards the end of the war. Record Office staff will be pleased to advise (you may have to leave the photograph on brief temporary loan).
LEICESTER MILITARY DISTRICT ENLISTMENT REGISTER
(22D63/89) Generally, anyone wishing to join the British Army from this area did so through the depôt at Glen Parva. Fortunately, the register of enlistments there has survived for the period 1886-1899. The register therefore should contain details of most local men serving in South Africa. The registers gives the recruit's name, age, height, weight, chest sizes (inflated & not) birthplace, residence, trade, distinguishing marks, religion, date of enlistment and regiment (etc.).
Recruits could opt for the artillery, engineers or foot guards. If they had no preference they were sent to whichever unit, that recruited locally, needed men. Most local men went to the Leicestershire Regiment but the enlistment register shows that a wide variety of regiments and corps received Leicestershire recruits. The Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1900, for example, contained at least two Loughborough men and the Melton area sent half-a-dozen, or more, to the Coldstream Guards.
N.B.Service records of all soldiers - local and from other areas - should be available at the Public Record Office in Kew (refs. WO97 and WO 126-129 etc.). the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland can supply details of regimental museums and of other record offices holding records. Only Leicestershire units' records are held locally.
II LOCAL UNITS THE LEICESTERSHIRE REGIMENT
The 1st Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment was already stationed in South Africa on the outbreak of war and remained there, on active service, until after peace was signed. The battalion fought at Talana Hill (20.10.1899) Lombard's Kop (30.10.99) throughout the siege of Ladysmith (2.11.99 - 28.2.00) and at Belfast - or Bergendal - (28.8.00). throughout 1901 and 1902; the battalion was engaged in the 'guerrilla war', enduring long marches, or 'sweeps' in pursuit of Boer commandos, or manning the Standerton-Ermelo block-house line.
The 1st battalion was reinforced by drafts of men from the 2nd battalion, by reservists required to return to active service, and by a service company drawn from the Volunteer Battalion of the regiment.
Sources of information E.A.H. Webb History….of the 17th (The Leicestershire Regt. (London) 1911
R.P. Jenkins "Caged Tigers : the Leics. Regiment and the Defence of Ladysmith, 1899-1900", in J. Hinks (ed.) Aspects of Leicester (Barnsley) 2000
22D63/32/1-3 Manuscript history of the 1st Battalion
WAS MY ANCESTOR IN THE LEICESTERSHIRE REGIMENT? If your ancestor served with the Leicestershire Regiment in South Africa, his name should be recorded in the Queen's and King's South Africa medal rolls (available at the Record Office as part of the Woodfield collection, ref. L355).
VOLUNTEER BATTALION, LEICESTERSHIRE REGIMENT A service company was raised from the 1st (Volunteer Battalion) Leicestershire Regiment. The company joined their regular army colleagues shortly after the relief of Ladysmith, seeing action at Belfast (Bergendal).
Sources Medal rolls are available in the Woodfield Collection (L355). A list of Leicester volunteers is available as Misc. 1142/1 and there is also a detailed diary of one volunteer (DE 5172. The activities of the service company is also widely reported in local 'papers.
MILITIA (3RD BATTALION, LEICESTERSHIRE REGIMENT) The militia was twice embodied during the South African War. On the first occasion it formed part of the Curragh garrison in Ireland (though 127 reservists went to the 1st battalion). On 4 February 1902 the militia mobilised again, this time for active service on the Steynsberg block-house line in South Africa. The battalion returned to Leicester in October 1902. Their story is told by the adjutant, G.H.P. Burne in The Leicestershire Militia in South Africa (Leicester) 1902, which volume also contains a medal roll, naming all those who served.
LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY Although the yeomanry did not serve in South Africa, two companies of Imperial Yeomanry (the 7th and 65th) were raised substantially from the regiment's ranks. Other local men served in different companies of the Imperial Yeomanry, which acted as mounted infantry.
Sources DE 2472/3 Roll of officers' services, c.1890-1901
DE 3765/2 Roll of other ranks, c.1889-1937
Col. Sir G. Codrington An Outline of the History of the Leicestershire Yeomanry (London) 1955
S.H. Gilbert Rhodesia - and after (London) 1901
G.A. Steppler Britons to Arms (Stroud) 1992
Lists of contingents raised locally for the Imperial Yeomanry appear, with reports of their activities (dinners, departures, service in South Africa and returns) in the local newspapers, e.g. the Leicester Daily Mercury, 9 January 1900.
GENERAL SOURCES ABOUT THE BRITISH ARMY AND THE WAR At present, due to the centenary, there are many general studies of the South African War. The best single volume is probably Thomas Pakenham's The Boer War. The Hall Handbook of the Anglo Boer War by Major D. Hall has a useful encyclopaedical approach. The most complete guide to the British Army must be Lt. Col. J.M. Grierson's Scarlet into Khaki, which is a 1988 reprint of The British Army, originally published in 1899.
CAN YOU HELP US? If you have any records - including photographs relating to a soldier in a Leicestershire unit, or to a local man in any other unit, we would be very pleased to know. Would you let us copy them? Or would you consider depositing them at the Record Office?
PLEASE DO NOT HESITATE TO CONTACT THE RECORD OFFICE
ON (0116) 257 1080 IF WE CAN BE OF ANY ASSISTANCE.