Archive for the ‘History’ Category


1981 aMajuba centenery stamp

1981 aMajuba centenery stamp



In 1981 the postal service published a commemorative stamp to celebrate 100 years since the battle of aMajuba. At the time our family was living in Newcastle in Northern KwaZulu Natal very near where the battle took place. I kept one of the stamps in my stamp collection. A hobby I tried for a while before military history became a prime preoccupation.

On the stamp is depicted a small number of Boers ascending the aMajuba mountain. The Boer crouching in the foreground is armed with what looks like a Snider in musketoon form but it is not clear whether he is wearing a bandoleer or just a “possibles” bag. The Boers were armed with privately owned rifles which likely may have comprised of the following (based on rifles available for sale as listed in catalogues at the time of the battle):

1. Spencer Carbine:
Breech-loading magazine carbine (AMERICA)
2. Winchester Model 1876:
Breech-loader (AMERICA)
3. Martini-Henry:
Falling-block, single action, breech-loading rifle (GREAT BRITAIN)
4. Westley Richards:
Falling-block, single-action, breech-loading rifle (GREAT BRITAIN) using the No I and No 2 musket cartridge. Calibre: 0,500/0,450 inch (12,7/11,43 mm) (‘Free State Martini’)
5. Westley Richards:
Single-shot capping, breech-loader (the ‘MONKEY TAIL’), using a paper cartridge. Calibre: 0,45 inches (11,43 mm), available as a rifle or carbine (GREAT BRITAIN)
6. Calisher-Terry:
Breech-loader: using a 0,45 inch (11,43 mm) paper cartridge as (5) above.
7. Vetterli:
Bolt-action rifle: Model – 1869. Calibre: 0,41 inch (10,4 mm)rim-fire cartridge (SWISS)
8. Snider:
Breech-loader/Mark II & III, long barrel and carbine. Calibre: 0,577 inches. (14.66 mm) Boxer-bullet – Centre fire.

(South African Military History Society / scribe@samilitaryhistory.org
Vol 5 No 2 December 1980 SA ISSN 0026-4016)

It should not be ruled out that some Boers may still have been armed with muzzle loading rifles such as the Enfield patterns and other older percussion cap rifled muzzle loaders. Not all could afford the best and newest rifles and may have used their older or inherited muzzle loaders. A father may well have bought a fancy new breech loader and passed his old muzzle loader on to his son and then still fight side by side at aMajuba. Older Boers may have preferred to keep their older and  what they may have considered as more accurate muzzle loaders with which they were well accustomed. There is at least one recorded case, 20 years later, of a Boer that was armed with a flint lock musket throughout the 2nd Anglo Boer War 1899-1902.

Against both the Zulu and the British the Boers were able to exploit the weakness of the opponent’s customary strategy. In this case marksmanship won the day over volume of fire just as the strong defensive position won the battles against the overwhelming numbers and  mobility of the Zulu before this campaign.


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The 1862 crest of Grahamstown

The 1862 crest of Grahamstown

Colonel John Graham, founder of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape had this to say about the Boer Kommando that assisted him in 1811 to cross the Sundays river to persuade the Xhosa to return to their own country beyond the Great Fish river. “I never in my life saw more orderly, willing and obedient men… whenever they have been engaged they have behaved with much spirit.”

It is from these Boers (Dutch & French) and English settlers that my family is descended.

It is from the descendants of these same Xhosa warriors that the great leader Nelson Mandela arose to persuade all South Africans that we can live together in peace and prosperity.

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On the frontier any threats to peace and safety were countered by a loosely organised militia known as the Kommando. Members of the Kommando comprised of male volunteers of various ages, capable of fighting and enduring the rigours of bush life as well as long hours in the saddle. Often three generations of grandfather, father and grandson was represented in the same Kommando. They were in most cases equipped with their own private arms, horse and possibles. Biltong (dried meat) and rusks formed the bulk of their rations. They traveled light and with speed, master hunters and experts at field craft. They did not wear uniforms using only their civilian clothes.

Sir Winston Churchill was so impressed with the Kommandos while fighting them (and captured by them) during the 2nd South African War (that is the 2nd Anglo Boer War 1899-1902) that he adopted the same name for his crack raiding corps, the Commandos during World War II.

The Kommando became an integral part of the South African Defense Force’s reserve component but is now sadly disbanded. When the SADF became the South African National Defense Force in 1994 a political decision was made to disband and phase out the Kommando. In certain parts of South Africa, especially in farming regions and border areas the Kommando was a valuable civil defense mechanism on farms plagued by crime and countless vicious farm murders. The farm murders regretfully continue even though the Kommandos don’t. Alternate police reserve mechanisms are in place but only time will tell. It is also illegal to conduct or participate in any form of private military or paramilitary training that is not part of the sanctioned government security forces. Therefore any form of Kommando as it existed in past history as a volunteer militia is illegal under current South African law.

Kommando days

Boer ready for Kommando

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