Second Boer War Diary by an Officer of the Imperial Yeomanry

This is a diary of letters written by an officer of the British Army’s Imperial Yeomanry who was stationed at Fort Wonderboom in Pretoria, South Africa in 1900 during the Second Boer War.

Table of Contents

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The Diary


The identify of the author of this diary is unknown though, as described later, his name may have been Lionel. He was an officer in the British Army’s Imperial Yeomanry and was stationed at Fort Wonderboom in Pretoria, South Africa during the Second Boer War. The diary does not include a year, but context clues show that it was written in the year 1900.

The diary takes the form of letters that the officer sent home during the war. He copied the letters into this diary. As a result, his descriptions of events and his feelings are full of descriptive language and insights that shed significant light into his thoughts and the events around him.

Ample insight into the outlook and mood of the British forces are provided throughout the diary. Frequent references are made to Christiaan de Wet, the South African Boer general known for his guerrilla warfare. On September 6, 1900 the diarist writes:

We are getting almost to starvation point now in our mess stores, but the man I sent down to Bloemfontein to bring up supplies should be back in a day or two now, unless that frightful ruffian De Wet collars it all on the way up. We hear he has gone down into the Free State again. I met a man yesterday who had been on the train when it was held up at Clip River the other day, just south of Johannesburg. He said it most certainly was De Wet who did it and that he shook hands with all the officers and sat in a cape cart while it was all being done. He directed operations and told the officers he did not want any prisoners and that the only reason that he had come up to Pretoria was that he had run short of dynamite and now he had got some more he was off south again.

He then blew up the engine and set the train on fire. He told them that if he saw anyone trying to put it out after he was gone, he would be compelled to come back and shoot them all. It really is rather amusing. The only thing I am afraid of is that he may go off westwards into the west of the Transvaal, which is in the most unsettled state, and get together a lot of men and cause trouble.

The diarist’s name may be Lionel, based on this passage, also from the September 6, 1900 entry:

I had a wire from Crozier in the Yeomanry Hospital about his kit or something of that sort, and he mentioned that a man of the same name as myself has just been brought in. I hurried down after lunch and, sure enough, I found poor little Lionel suffering from rheumatism, which had very much pulled down the poor little chap. He is in a very good hospital and in very good hands, and I expect will be sure to be sent home directly.

On September 18, 1900, the diarist describes making threats to farmers in the area:

You would have been much amused to see our levie here on Monday last to read and explain Bob’s proclamation. He ordered all the burghers living near here to assemble at a farm belonging to a man called Erasmus Blackburn. I went down with a Dutch interpreter and read it over to them and explained what would have to be done if guerrilla warfare went on. Their faces got longer and longer and they were rather flabbergasted when they heard Kruger had deserted them.

A few weeks later, British troops burned all the farms within a 15-mile radius:

From all I can make out I shall not have to go there as they are trying to bring in the Howitzer and men to the barracks here. There was heavy firing to be heard out westward along the Magalissberg on Tuesday morning early, which was Delarey being driven northwards. Tonight we hear of another train being upset and some casualties of ours at Kaapriver to add. I am afraid that sort of thing will go on for some time till we start shooting every prisoner we take.

Robert’s horse went out this morning to burn every farm within the radius of 15 miles of a place called Reitfontein to the west of here. I heard from Crozier this week saying he left Capetown on Sep. 27, and that Lionel left the day before on board the Dunera which, curious enough, was the troopship which we went and looked at Queenstown and which was to have taken our 32 Co. out to Gibraltar so he must be getting very near England now. It does make one feel so terribly envious. I wish I could scrape up some excuse for getting recommended home by a medical board, but I am so awfully well again. I suppose I ought to be thankful for it.

And by late October, the prospects of the war coming to a quick end were fading:

I must say the prospect of this war finishing are not very bright as the Boers remaining in the field now seem determined to fight to a finish. Wherever a column goes to seems to meet with a good deal of opposition and the west side of the Transvaal has never had a real quieting down at all yet. Still there is a very comforting saying that “It is the unexpected which always happens” and so we must hope for a general and sudden collapse which might also easily happen if Steyn, Botha, or De Wet were surprise or captured.

These are just a few of the many insights contained within this fascinating diary. The full transcription of the diary is available below.

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Second Boer War Diary of an Officer in the Imperial Yeomanry

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