Carvings on Boer War Rifles
by Guest Author
South African military history has always held my interest. It comes as no surprise because four generations of my family served in the military and various wars and I have 22 sets of family medals in my collection. Even after spending over 30 years in Australia, I am as keen as ever on the subject, and have recently written three books, two of which are about the Boer War.
Born in the Eastern Cape, I became particularly interested in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 as one of my grandfathers fought in that war. My enthusiasm received a huge boost at a young age when my grandmother presented me with my great-great grandfathers .577 calibre Snider-Enfield rifle. This rifle had been used in the 9th Frontier War of 1877-78. Within two days I had thoroughly cleaned and oiled the old rifle.
Seeing the interest and care I devoted to the old family rifle, my grandmother also gave me her late husbands Boer War bayonet, which had received a direct hit from a Boer marksman snapping the blade in half, and his Queen Victoria 1900 chocolate tin.
At the age of 12, I had become a dedicated military collector and budding historian! Now aged 61, my interest is stronger than ever. Over the years I read extensively about the Boer War.
I also became fascinated with the number of Boer rifles that I came across, as many of these had the names of their Boer owners carved onto the rifle butts.
As these carved and historic Boer War weapons were an undocumented subject, I decided to tackle this large project. I researched the service histories of many of these Boers as well as British and Colonial soldiers. In 2004, after four years of research, I privately published my first book titled CARVINGS from the VELDT. This book was a great success with military historians, collectors, museums and people with an interest in the Boer War.
The practice of carving the owners names and personalising rifles was a Boer custom, and one that was unique to the Anglo-Boer War. Apart from the OVS (OFS) and ZAR (Transvaal) State Artillery, the Boers were essentially a citizen army. Understandably Boer farmers were not required to memorise their rifle serial numbers (as do professional soldiers), so they simply carved their names onto the rifle stocks as a means of identification. They also sometimes carved the names of their farms, the Commandos they served in and often the battles in which they had taken part.
The carvings Ive encountered range from highly ornate and artistic creations, to some very basic names and some that are only roughly scratched into the timber. Ive also found some impressive carvings of Paul Kruger as well as the ZAR and OVS Coats of Arms.
Many Colonial soldiers were quick to copy this Boer custom. One can therefore find captured Boer rifles displaying a carved Boer name, as well as their captors name, his regiment, unit badge and battles fought in. This practice was particularly popular with the Australian and NZ troops.
The response to my first book was most encouraging and I received dozens of letters and emails from collectors and museums in many countries. All had similar Boer War rifles with various names carved on the stocks and all wanted to enquire if there was any history attached to them. Once again I got stuck in to the research and replied to all these queries. This year I privately published the follow-on edition titled CARVINGS from the VELDT - Part Two. This 350-page hard covered book illustrates another 306 weapons, all of which have a name or some design carved or engraved on the stock or body of the weapon (these include rifles, carbines and pistols).
The book features over 1,400 photos, including many previously unpublished photos of soldiers and Boers, as well as photos of farm maps, documents, bandoliers, medals, headgear, swords, bayonets and a large selection of unit badges. There are two new chapters that deal with current Boer War re-enactor societies, as well as the wide selection of carvings and trench art, including pipes, trinket boxes, paper knives and serviette rings, as carved by Boer POWs.
Christmas Gift Idea CARVINGS from the VELDT ($65 plus postage and packing) and CARVINGS from the VELDT -- Part Two ($115 plus postage and packing). Order online at: www.boerwarcarvings.bravehost.com.