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Awards to the Boer Side: Anglo Boer War 1899-1902

A second article by Henk Loots about the Boer medals. Some of the information can be found in his original article HERE, but there is new information that makes this article a worthwhile read, including some rare documents for the wound ribbon.

The first shot of the Anglo Boer War was fired at Kraaipan near Mafeking on 12 October 1899, and the war ended with the signing of the Peace Treaty at Vereeniging on 31 May 1902. During this period more than 90,000 men, ranging from boys hardly into their teens to old men in their seventies and eighties, as well as small number of nurses, served on the Boer side. Some 35,000 of these were taken prisoner of war, many thousands surrendered voluntarily (the so-called “hensoppers” and “joiners”) and more than 7,000 were killed in action or died, either on service or in captivity. At the end of the war approximately 21,000 “bitter-einders” finally laid down arms. In comparison: on British side almost 450,000 men took part in the war, with participants receiving medals from as early as February 1901 (QSA’s presented to members of Strathcona’s Horse returning to Canada)

The two Boer Republics never had any official awards for gallantry or military service1. Notices, however, did appear in the ZAR Government Gazette in May 1900 about an intended post-war bravery award for Boer soldiers: for obvious reasons the issue of this decoration, as well as that of an associated service medal, never materialised.

The first move to institute awards to Boer Officers and Burghers was made in 1913 by Colonel Skinner, the Commandant of the Military School at Bloemfontein. He noticed that ex-Republican Officers, who attended a course, were without medal ribbons, while their fellow officers who had served on the British side were well beribboned. He consequently suggested to Defence Head Quarters that this discrepancy should be addressed, but due to the outbreak of the First World War, nothing was done until 1920.

In the Government Gazette of 21 December 1920 (Notice 2307) regulations were published for the award of a Decoration for Devoted Service 1899-1902 (Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst or DTD), a Medal (Anglo Boere Oorlog Medalje or ABO) and a Wound Riband (Lint voor Wonden or LvW). The gazetted notice restricted the awards to South African citizens who were serving in the Union Defence Forces or were liable so to serve if called up under the provisions of the S.A. Defence Act and who did true and faithful military service during the Anglo Boer War and actually served with the Republican forces in the field between 11 October 1899 and 31 May 1902. The published regulations, per sé, excluded many men who had fought on the Boer side, e.g. the members of the various foreign units like the Irish Brigade, Hollander Corps, etc. and potentially also the Natal and Cape rebels. In later years these regulations were less stringently enforced and eventually the accepted qualification for the award of the medal was proof that the applicant had fought against the British without surrendering or taking either parole or the oath of allegiance prior to 31 May 1902. This resulted in medal issues to those previously excluded men and a number of medals were eventually awarded to members of the various foreign units who fought on the Boer side. At least 90 went to members of the Hollander corps, some 40 odd to members of the Scandinavian corps, more than 20 to the German Commando, 10 to the Foreign Legion under Gen. de Villebois-Mareuil and 5 to the Irish Brigade. Some of these (especially Hollanders) served in specific commandos such as the Ermelo Commando, Pretoria commando, etc., and their medals are noted as being issued off these units.

1 A service medal was privately issued in 1899 by the Commanding Officer of the Johannesburg Vrijwilliger (Volunteer) Corps. There were bars for the Jameson Inval (Raid) (1895-96) and the Swaziland Expeditie (1898)

Above: A group to C.J. Lourens from Wakkerstroom, including his Wound Ribbon.

The Decoration and Medal are both in silver (diameter 1.45 inches). There is no obverse or reverse in the accepted sense of the word. On the one side is the Coat of Arms of the ZA Republic and on the other side that of the Orange Free State. The Decoration has the legend ‘Voor Trouwe Dienst’ (For Devoted Services) and the Medal has the legend ‘Anglo Boere Oorlog’. The dates ‘1899-1902’ appear on both. These medals are often found with the suspender claw flattened to varying degrees: the SA Mint on occasion used rather crude methods to “fix” the pin!

All three ribbons have the combined colours of the two former Republics in various widths and combinations. These colours were gazetted as red, green, white, blue and orange, but on the actual ribbons the orange comes over as yellow. The rank, initials and name of the recipient are impressed in block capitals on the edge of the medal. The Wound Riband has no medal accompanying it but was issued with a printed certificate, named by hand with rank and name of the recipient The initial version was a plain black-and-white certificate, which also included the recipients file number: the more readily found type with a full colour reproduction of the Riband, but without file number, soon superseded this.

The DTD took precedence in wearing (it also officially ranked above the British DSO). It was followed by the ABO, with the LvW last.

The first DTD’s were gazetted in Govt. Notice 918 of the 14 June 1921 and the first ABO medal was issued on the 28 October 1921. The original closing date for applications (30 June 1921) was not adhered to. The award of the DTD was discontinued on 31 December 1946 and the last decoration was dispatched on 22 January 1947 to Kaptein M.C. Avis of General Smuts’ Commando: I confirmed this previously unrecorded award after a chance meeting with the grandson of Captain Avis! As far as can be traced the last issue of the Wound Riband was made on 3 November 1949 and a final batch of 12 Anglo Boere Oorlog medals was issued in 19821. Included in this lot was an ABO that was formally presented at a special ceremony on 24 January 1983 to the 94 year old Burger H C Lubbe who joined the Fauresmith Commando in 1901 at the age of 12.

1 A renamed ABO medal was specially issued in 1988 to the descendants of Lt Thilo von Trotha who had served in the German Corps on the Boer side.

Above: A wound ribbon document to J.J. Meyer

A relatively small percentage of those who had served on Boer side received the medal or decoration. This was mainly due to the period of almost 20 years that had elapsed between the end of the Boer War and the institution of the awards and the fact that the award(s) had to be applied for by the Officer/Burgher concerned, or by his next-of-kin, if deceased. Some 14,600 ABO applications were received of which approximately 13,800 were awarded. 662 Decorations and 1,060 Wound Riband Certificates were also issued.

Claimants, which could include the direct descendants of a deceased Officer/Burger, had to submit official application forms: “Vorm A” for a DTD, “Vorm B” for the ABO medal and “Vorm C” for the LvW. Details had to be supplied of actions fought, commandos/units served in with names of commanding officers, dates and places taken PoW or wounded, etc. Although many of the “Vorm A” applications only had a general recommendation such as “Loyal and Devoted Services”, a fair amount had details of specific acts of bravery such as “Bringing in a wounded man under heavy fire at the attack on Fort Itala”. An Advisory Board considered each application and applicants were often asked for further information or even questioned in person. Details of each application were entered in a central Register and Card Index, listing one unit per applicant (seemingly chosen at random if the applicant served in more than one unit) as well as the date of issue of the award. Fortunately, virtually all of these application forms have survived.

In 1976 the late Don Forsyth published a Roll, extracted from the Register, listing all recipients of the ABO together with their “official” units, and also identifying recipients of the DTD and/or LvW.1 This made it relatively easy to “pin-point” the recipient of a particular ABO, have the relevant application form drawn and thus trace the recipient’s service history.

However, it was still impossible to differentiate, for instance, between a Burger Jacobus Frederick Smith who served in Gen. De la Rey’s Commando and Burger Josia Francois Smith who served in the Heidelberg Commando since both medals were impressed BURGER J.F. SMITH. Some “look-alike” medals can, however, be positively identified by correlating the type of suspender as well as the type and size of lettering with the date of issue.

1 Medals issued after 1975 do not feature in the Forsyth Roll. The relevant application forms have unfortunately been filed in an unknown series.

Above: A later variation of the Certificate for the wound ribbon

ABO medals can be divided into three groups

To see Photos of these variations please go HERE

Type A: Medals with straight non-swivelling suspenders as used on the British War Medal (1914-1918) and with naming in impressed large upper case (often unevenly positioned), as on the South African issue of the BWM.

Type B: Medals with the WWI non-swivelling suspenders as above but with a thinner and smaller, more even type of impressed upper case naming as found on the South African WWII Africa Service Medal.

Type C: Medals with the smaller and thinner type of naming and straight non-swivelling suspenders as used for the Africa Service Medal.

Type A is applicable to all medals issued from 1921 up to October 1937. Type B medals were issued from October 1937 to February 1942.

Type C medals were issued from February 1942 right up to the last issue in 1982. Under type C there are also variations where a square dot is found after the initials and cases where it is a round dot. An interesting sub-variety also occurs on at least one batch in 1942-43 where the figure ‘6’ was used instead of the letter ‘G’ of BURGER and, in at least one instance, even as the ‘S’ in ARTILLERIS.

This method of classification obviously does not solve all uncertainties but can be applied in cases where a single example of a multiple issue with the same surname and initials falls into one of the above three categories. If, for instance, the record cards and registers indicate that three medals to J.J. Smit were issued between 1920 and 1930 there is no way of identifying the individual ones but if a fourth one was issued in 1944 it would be possible to isolate that particular J.J. Smit.

All Type C discs have two 5mm. wide notches filed on both sides at the suspension hole. Please use the correct (ASM) suspender when repairing a dismounted medal of this type!


Boer War Medals issued to members of the Republican Forces are less well known than their British counterparts, the QSA and KSA. However, due to the information on the individual application forms that had to be submitted, they are eminently researchable and in my collection these medals have a very special place. In the majority of cases they are the only memorials to men (and women) of all ages who had suffered hardships and inconvenience and faced great danger for what they believed was a just cause, namely the independence of the ZAR and the Orange Free State Republic.