War is no stranger on South African soil following the political, social and ethnic tension that existed between 1879 and 1915. The Zulus also have a place in the history of South African wars as they fought against European colonial powers. However, the question: “Which war fought in South Africa had Irish Soldiers?” is a pretty straightforward one. This is because only the Second Boer war fought between 1899 and 1902 had involved Irish Soldiers.
This war began on the 11th day of October 1899 and ceased on May 31 1902. During this period, some Irish Soldiers pitched with the Boers to fight against the British Army. Some interesting facts to note about this war include:
Not all the Irish people saw this war from the same perspective. As a result, there was divided loyalty among Irishmen. While some elected to fight with British forces the others believed that fighting with the Boers was a just cause. This could only result in one outcome – Irishmen fighting against each other. It is also symbolic in the fact that this was fought on South African soil. The fight was not only for those on the ground but had contingents of Irish volunteers come in even from distant America. Many Irishmen saw similarities between the situation in South Africa and their own situation back home, seeing the British as invaders on foreign soil that needed to be kicked out. Similarly to what was happening in Ireland, half the soldiers saw themselves as British subjects duty bound to fight for king and country, while others hated the British unequivocally.
This great man who later became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was involved in this war. In fact, he was captured by the Boers at a point but managed to escape. His escape is worthy of note considering what might have been if he had not been able to manage it. Apart from the Second Boer war in which Winston Churchill fought as a soldier, he would later go on to be Prime Minister during the Second World War. He is remembered in history for steering the country through the war and inspiring the British people to push forward until their eventual victory against the Germans.
Victory for Britain:
Among the Irishmen that fought in the Second Boer war, fortune favoured those that fought along the British Army. This is so because the war was eventually won by Britain. One of the things that made this possible was the adoption of concentration camps as a tactic. This strategy weakened the Boers and made it possible for British forces to gain some ground and eventually go ahead to win the war. The British forces were able to survive because of their ingenuity. They had blockhouses built as a tactic to secure supply routes during the war from Boer raids. One of the blockhouses even survives to date. Guerrillas were also denied food supplies as a way of weakening their resolve to continue fighting.
Although the British forces eventually won this war, it was not all about smooth sailing for them all through. There were moments when it looked like the tables were turned against them. Since most of the Irish guerilla soldiers involved in this war had worked in the gold mines of South Africa, they had the reputation of being experts in demolitions. They made use of this ability to great effect. Bridges were blown up as British forces approached Pretoria. This tactic was aimed at delaying the advancement of the British army and it worked for them. The Boers were brave soldiers willing to fight from trenches. One of the most formidable leaders of the Boers was Christian De Wet. He escaped several attempts made by the British forces to capture him.
Union of South Africa:
The war gave birth to a new nation known as the Union of South Africa. This is an interesting fact and began with the holding of a Peace meeting at Vereeniging. One of the notable men to play a role in this peace process was a man who witnessed everything from start to finish – Alfred, Lord Milner. He was the British High Commissioner of South Africa all through this period. The Union of South Africa was created when both Republics decided to sheath their swords and form an alliance instead.
Although other cases abound were Irishmen had conflicting interests, this was the only time it happened on South African soil. The British forces may have won the war in the end but the role played by the Irishmen who fought on the side of the Boers will never be forgotten in a hurry. It is for their sake that the Union of South Africa was created.