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Boer War
Miscellaneous Items

  McRae attestation form


An example of the Attestation Form used for the Volunteers. Instead of serving overseas in their Volunteer units, they were required to enlist as Regular soldiers for a period of one year or until the war ended. They then served in Service Companies within Regular battalions. 

This is in contrast to the role of the Territorials in the Great War who served in Territorial units. However it is similar to the "Kitchener volunteers" in that conflict, who enlisted for war service only and served originally in either Service Battalions or with Regular Battalions.


Some Volunteers were opposed to being compelled to 'become soldiers'. When the Volunteers who were willing to serve overseas assembled in Aberdeen, in January 1900, the following was reported in a local newspaper:


An unfortunate hitch occured at the swearing in of the members of the (Gordons) detachment.  The oath which they take binds them to become soldiers for one year, or until the close of the war, and four members of the detachment declined to take the oath. On being asked for an explanation, one of the four said he and his comrades were quite willing to go to South Africa as volunteers, but they refused to become soldiers.  In these circumstances they were rejected and as they left the adjutant's room, they were loudly 'booed' by their comrades.


8150 John Fowler McRae was wounded at Lydenburg on 8th September 1900.  In December 1900 he transferred to the Railway Pioneer Regiment.

See Volunteers' details here



The National Archives WO97

Record showing  John McRae in the Railway Pioneer Regiment to which he transferred from the Gordons.  He remained in South Africa beyond his original one year period of enlistment - being discharged in January 1902.  Wilfred McMichael was another Gordon Volunteer who transferred to the Railway Pioneers.

The National Archives WO127 

2nd Bn Railway Pioneers Nominal Roll 

 Queen Victoria Tin

Another similarity with the Great War was the issuing of gift boxes to the troops by the monarch.  The contents were supplied by the major chocolate manufacturers - Cadburys, Frys and Rowntrees and shipped to South Africa in the early months of 1900. The tins had a message from the Queen "I wish you a happy New Year."
The following article shows that even then, the tins were collectors' items:
Quite a scene occurred in front of Her Majesty's statue at Dundee yesterday when the sale took place  for the benefit of the wife and children of a trooper in Brabant's Horse. The statue is opposite the Royal Exchange and there was a gathering of several thousands. The chocolate box was the property of Corporal John Robertson who was wounded and invalided home.  He again left for the seat of war, but before leaving he presented the box to a young lady in Dundee in recognition of her kindness to his wife and children when he was away. In order to further help the soldier's family, the young lady handed over the box for sale, and at auction it brought 11 pounds

The Scotsman 13th July 1900


The Soldier's Bible or Soldier's New Testament was another item from the Boer War period that was to be seen again in the Great War (then known as the Active Service Testament). These small books were often given to troops on their way to South Africa by local churches and societies. 

Left: an example of a Soldier's New Testament inscribed with the name William Thew on the inside cover.

The  "Knapsack Bible" was another popular gift for soldiers at the front.  An advertisment in a newspaper of the time read:

The Oxford "Knapsack" Bible for use in South Africa 1899-1900
For Soldiers and Sailors.
Bound in Khaki.
Price 2s 6d
Can be sent with or without Presentation Plate for 3d.
by Book Post.
The Authoriries undertake to deliver all small parcels
addressed to Soldiers thus: No.__, Rank__, Corps__



  Soldier's New Testament 1900

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Carolyn Morrisey