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.



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

It seems that musketoons were favoured by the frontiersmen in Southern Africa including the native tribesmen. Every example of an Enfield or Snider (Enfields converted to breach loaders)  rifle that I have thus far come across in museums or private collections were musketoons. Some examples seem to have started out as pattern 53 long rifles but were cut down to musketoon length on the frontier. The reason probably being that the horse was the common means of transport and a long rifle would prove cumbersome in a context other than on foot in infantry applications. Therefore for hunting and military use the musketoon would have been the better option for Boer, Imperialist or native African.

Shorter bushveld rifles are still very popular in South Africa and many of us shortened our .303 Lee Enfields into handy bushveld carbines when we sporterised them .

The picture below is of a musketoon preserved at the Queens Fort in Bloemfontein. This rifle saw action in the Freestate during the Basotho Wars (1858-1868) between the Afrikaner Boer Settlers and the Basotho people of Moshesh over land and cattle disputes.


Original Tower musketoon from Freestate

African Patch Knife

A patch knife I made from the blade of a broken pocket knife and the wood from an old walking stick. The stick came from a jumble sale and was cut from some local African tree, probably a thorn tree. It slices patches from the muzzle like a sharp razor shaves a scruffy beard off the chin.patch-knife


enfield-musketoon 1861

A musketoon is a carbine or shorter version

of a standard (obviously long) musket.

A musket is a muzzle loading firearm consisting

of a lock, stock and barrel.

The lock would primarily either be flint or percussion.

The barrel may be smooth bore or rifled.