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South African War, 1899-1902

The South African War of 1899-1902 (more commonly known as the Boer War) was fought between the British and the Boer descendants of Dutch settlers in southern Africa. The war was caused by the resentment of the Boers, under the leadership of Kruger, at the colonial policy of Joseph Chamberlain, which they feared would deprive the Transvaal of its independence.

Over a hundred years ago, one of the best means of imparting news of national importance, was via the monthly parish magazine, written by the Vicar, the Rev W H Price. The following excerpts from the Parish Magazine give a flavour of the impact that it had on the parishes of Badsey with Aldington, and Wickhamford. Further interest was created, when two parishioners, John Roberts and Daniel Hartwell, were called up.

Vol 2, No 11, Nov 1899

There will be a public meeting in the parish to further the cause of Missions on Friday, December 1st, at 7 pm. At this meeting an address will be given by the Rev W Bovill, a missionary from East Africa. We understand he has been labouring in the territory adjoining the Transvaal, and he will therefore be able to give us some interesting information about that country which is a present the scene of this unhappy war. All patriotic Englishmen must have a deep anxiety about the war, and must feel an earnest sympathy with those who are offering their life blood for the honour of their Fatherland. The cause of missions has been seriously hindered by recent events, and we can only pray that, when the war is over and a lasting peace has been secured under a beneficent and righteous government, the light of the Gospel will shine more brightly than before. Never has "Peace with Honour" been more to be desired than it is at present; a peace which will give equality, fraternity and freedom to those various races of South Africa, and enable the church to carry her message of Light and Love.

Vol 2, No 12, Dec 1899

It is pleasing to be able to record the fact that our three parishes are taking an active part in helping to relieve the distress caused by the War. A large and enthusiastic meeting was held in the Old School, Badsey, on Monday, November 13th, at 7.30 pm, when Mr Julius Sladden was voted to the chair and presided over the meeting. Letters, or messages of regret, at being unable to be present at the meeting were received from Mr & Mrs Savory, Mr Johns, Mr G Pethard, Mr S Horsman, and others, who expressed their deepest sympathy with the movement. Addresses were given by the Chairman and the Vicar, and the following resolution proposed by the Vicar, and seconded by Mr G Boswell, was unanimously carried: "That this meeting of the inhabitants of Badsey, Aldington and Wickhamford, feels it to be its bounden duty to take a part in the national movement for assisting our soldiers and sailors, who have gone forth to the war, or are called up for active service in this country, and their families, and pledges itself to take active steps to raise funds for this purpose." Mr Arthur Jones proposed that a house-to-house collection should be made in the three parishes, which was unanimously agreed to. A large committee was elected to carry out these resolutions, with the Vicar as Secretary and Treasurer. The committee has met and the following were authorised to receive donations: for Aldington, Miss Savory, Mr G Boswell and Mr W Stewart; for Wickhamford, Mr G Pethard, Mr G Agg and Mr Grove; for Badsey, district A, Mr Charles Murray and Mr W Mustoe; district B, Mrs Wood and Miss Sladden, district C, Mr G Jones and Mr W H Adams; district D, Mr H Keen, Mr J Agg and Mr Arther Jones. At the time of writing this, it is not known what sum will be collected, and consequently final arrangements have not been made for distributing it, but it is quite certain that our own local case will be well looked after. Our readers will be glad to know that, by the unanimous wish of the committee, a personal present has been sent out of the funds to Mr John Roberts in Africa, which we trust will reach him on or about Christmas Day. We are quite sure he will deeply appreciate this gift, as a token of goodwill and sincere sympathy from his fellow Parishioners here. It will be very pleasant for him to be reminded that he is not forgotten. He has gone to do his duty! We will do ours!

Vol 3, No 1, Jan 1900

War Fund - In our last number we were not able to give particulars of what had been done for this Fund. The sum of £26 7s 1d was collected, which was made up as follows: Badsey £17 0s 4d, Aldington £5 15s 6d, and Wickhamford £3 10s 3d. A meeting of the Committee was held, and it was unanimously agreed to vote £12 to the Evesham Soldiers and Sailors’ Families Association, and £5 to the Lord Mayor of London’s Fund for the Red Cross Society. After using a portion for our own Reservist, it was agreed to leave the balance at the bank for the present, and the Committee will meet later on to decide what is to be done with it.

Vol 3, No 2, Feb 1900

Another Parishioner has been called to rejoin his regiment, viz Mr David Hartwell. At present he is stationed with an artillery battery at Weymouth, and we do not yet know if he will be sent to the front for active service. Before he left Badsey, the Parishioners showed their feeling of goodwill toward him, by presenting him with a gift similar to that sent out to Mr John Roberts in Africa. The Vicar was authorised by the Committee of the Parochial War Fund to make the presentation, and the gift was paid for out of the funds in hand. We wish him God-speed and a safe return home.

Our readers will be glad to know that letters have been received from Mr John Roberts. When he last wrote he was safe and in good health. He was then stationed with his regiment, the 2nd Shropshire Light Infantry, on the Orange River, guarding the line of communications, and had had no fighting.

Vol 3, No 3, Mar 1900

As we go to press, the joyful news arrives of the unconditional surrender of General Cronje’s army in South Africa, a fact for which all loyal Englishmen must be deeply grateful. Let us thank Almighty God for thus blessing our cause and giving success to our arms, and let us pray to Him that this terrible war may soon be brought to a speedy end without further bloodshed. In the midst of our joy we must not forget to sympathise with the wounded and their families, and for those, who have given their lives so nobly and bravely on behalf of their Queen and country, let us pray that they may rest in peace.

Vol 3, No 4, Apr 1900

Parishioners will, we are sure, be glad to know that Mr John Roberts was alive and in good health when he last wrote. In a letter to his wife, dated February 23rd, he says, "I have had it rather hard this last ten days marching and fighting. I have been under fire since Sunday morning until yesterday. We were fighting on Sunday from 9 o’clock in the morning, until dark at night. It was very warm work I can tell you, the bullets were flying round us like hail all day, how I escaped is a wonder. Our regiment lost 8 killed and 41 wounded, and the other regiments lost more than us. I shall have lots to tell you when I come back. We were all wet through last night and had to walk about all night to get dry, times that make you think about home." Mr Roberts was fighting with one of the three distinguished regiments, which brought about the final surrender of Cronje. We are sure his fellow parishioners are very proud of Mr Roberts, and are very thankful he has been so far spared. Let us all give him a very hearty reception when he returns home. We should add that Mr Roberts sent home to his wife the Queen’s box of chocolate. This is a great treasure which will be very greatly prized by her.

Vol 3, No 6, June 1900

With heartfelt gratitude to God, and with a thankful appreciation of the brave and gallant deeds of our officers and men, all true-hearted Englishmen have rejoiced with unbounded enthusiasm over the Relief of Mafeking. Englishmen, as they look back upon the history of their country and empire, have many glorious deeds of bravery and heroism to recount, but there is no event in the whole of history which can eclipse the glory and honour connected with the gallant stand of Baden Powell and his noble band of heroes at Mafeking. For months they have kept at bay, with only a handful of men, an overwhelming force of a ruthless and unscrupulous foe. They had faith in the power of God, the justice of their cause, and the greatness of the English nation, and inspired only by a sense of duty they waited on patiently to the end. It is a page of history, of which we may all be proud, and Englishmen in all parts of the world have shown by a spontaneous and heartfelt burst of enthusiasm that they appreciate it. The secular side of our national rejoicing has been very much in evidence, and we are thankful for it, but we hope that the religious side of our thankfulness will not be forgotten. We trust that a special day for a great national thanksgiving will be suggested by our rulers, so that the whole Church, in one great united act of worship, many thank Almighty God for his mercies. If such a day is ordered, we here, I am sure, will be glad to fall in with it; if no such day is suggested, we propose to arrange such a day for ourselves. The day of the Queen’s Accession, or the Sunday next to it, would be a very suitable occasion for such a national thanksgiving. We hope this will be carried out.

Vol 3, No 7, Jul 1900

BADSEY WAR COMMITTEE. Parishioners may be interested to know that at a weekly working party, started by Mrs. and Miss Savory, in Aldington, to make garments for the soldiers in South Africa, over 50 articles were made. Nearly every one in the village gave their help, those who were unable to attend the meetings doing work in their own homes. A sum of £4 was expended; £2 being voted by the Badsey War Committee, and with this latter sum the garments made were :-10 nightshirts for the wounded, 5 flannel day shirts, and 8 pair of socks. The total list is as follows :-13 flannel dayshirts, 10 nightshirts, 9 pair socks, 8 Balaclava caps, 6 cholera belts, 3 pairs flannel drawers, 3 scarves. They have been sent to Mrs. H. Haynes and Mrs. Wilding, and will be forwarded to the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. A small parcel of clothes has been forwarded to Mr. John Roberts in South Africa.

Vol 3, No 8, Aug 1900

We are pleased to hear that another letter has been received by his wife, from Mr John Roberts, in South Africa, dated June 15, and that he was well on that day. We feel sure a few extracts from this letter will interest his fellow parishioners. He says: "We have been to Pretoria; we got there on June 5th. We marched past Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener on the Square; no doubt you have heard that we took it. We are back again in the Orange Free State, about 30 miles from Kronstad. We are at a place where the Boers have been blowing up the railway bridges. The Boers captured our convoy and mail, and the Derby Militia. They killed some of them, and took the others prisoners, and they burnt all our mails. I found one letter of mine in among the lot that was burnt. I found this letter yesterday and I am sending it back to you so that you can see how they served us. I think it is a shame that they should be allowed to take a mail at all; this is some of the paper that I found among the ruins belonging to the regiment that the Boers captured. I do hope that we shall soon be settled down for a week or two, for we are on the move all the time, we never know when we get to camp how long we are going to stop. It was in Brigade orders the other night that our Brigade had marched 617 miles and been in ten general engagements. We fought the enemy 27 days out of 31 days and marching all the same. I think that is good work. Lord Roberts has given us great praise for the hard work and hardships that we have gone through. We have had between 400 and 500 killed and wounded belonging to our Brigade."

How much Mr Roberts will have to tell us when he returns, as we hope he will, God willing, safe and well! And how glad we shall all be to see him!

Vol 4, No 6, Jun 1901

Return of Mr John Roberts – We are quite sure that all our readers will be very delighted to hear that Mr John Roberts is expected to return home from the war very shortly. A letter has been received by his wife, dated from Capetown May 1st, stating that he had reached that place, and was hoping to sail for England shortly. At the time of writing we have not received any definite news as to when he will arrive. We are very thankful indeed that he has passed through this terrible war without receiving a wound, and when he wrote he was in the best of health. It has been a very anxious time for his wife and relatives, and we thank Almighty God for preserving his life. We are quite sure his fellow parishioners will wish to give him a most hearty and enthusiastic reception on his return, and to show their appreciation of his brave and patriotic service during the many months he has been on active service in South Africa. A meeting of the Local War Fund Committee, elected by the parishioners at the public meeting held in October 1899, has been held, and proposals were made as to what should be done on his return. It was decided to invite subscriptions from the parishioners, and to present him with a testimonial, and the Vicar was elected Treasurer. Any sums, however small, will be gladly received by the vicar or the other members of the Committee up to the 14th of June, when the subscription list will be closed and the present will be bought. It is particularly requested that anyone who wishes to subscribe to the fund will kindly do so on or before that date.

Vol 4, No 7, Jul 1901

MR. JOHN ROBERTS. The chief subject of interest in our parishes during the past month has been the return of Mr. John Roberts, from the War in South Africa. He left home in November, in 1899, and had been engaged in active service till he left South Africa. He had seen a great deal of fighting, and had gone through a good many hardships. He returned home on Saturday, June 8, and received a very hearty welcome from his old friends. The Aldington Band met him at the entrance to the village, and escorted him in triumph to his home. The ringers very kindly rang a merry peal in his honour, and on all sides great pleasure was expressed at his safe return. A general desire was expressed to present him with some token of the good will which was felt towards him by the parishioners A subscription was started, and with the proceeds a handsome marble clock was purchased. A public meeting was held in the Old School on June 24, at which the Vicar presided, and Mr. Sladden in very well chosen words presented the clock in the name of the parishioners. The clock bore the following inscription :-"Presented to Private John Roberts, 2nd Shropshire Light Infantry, by the parishioners of Badsey, Aldington, and other friends, in recognition of his gallant services for his country, in the South African War, 1899-901." Mr. A. H. Savory also spoke on behalf of Aldington, and expressed the high esteem in which Mr. Roberts was held, and his pleasure in seeing him back safe and sound.

Vol 5, No 7, Jul 1902

The events of the past month have been of an entirely unique kind, and will be handed down to posterity as having no parallel in English History. In the first place we have to record with the deepest thankfulness to Almighty God that peace has come at last in South Africa. Since October 9th, 1899, the date of the Boer ultimatum, we have been involved in one of the saddest and most terrible wars our country has experienced. We did not desire the war, but it was forced upon us, and with faith in god and British pluck and determination, we were resolved to carry it through. And now has come, thanks be to God, peace with honour. The very generous and reasonable terms offered to the Boers by our Government were, after much deliberation, unanimously accepted, and the final result was announced to the world in the following simple and unostentatious telegram from Lord Kitchener, which is worthy of being put on records: "Pretoria, May 31st, 11.15 pm. Negotations with Boer delegates. The document containing terms of surrender was signed here this evening at 10.30 pm by all Boer representatives, as well as by Lord Milner and myself." Throughout the world there has been but one feeling, that of thankfulness that the war is over, and we are glad to be able to record that it was recognised that peace was the gift of God. Thanksgiving services were very appropriately held in all churches throughout the land, and at the grand service in St Paul’s Cathedral, the King himself was present to join in the national expression of thankfulness to Almighty God. In our churches here, Sunday June 8th was observed at the Day of Thanksgiving, and at all the services this one thought was put prominently before the people. In connection with the end of the war, it is most satisfactory to observe how loyally and faithfully the Boers have carried out the terms of surrender, and now it only remains to show, that by mutual conciliation, sympathy, and good faith, British and Boers can work together in harmony for the common good of South Africa. Certainly new and vast responsibilities have arisen for England, and we can only pray Almighty God that she may rise to the occasion, and build up her Empire in South Africa founded upon the basis of true religion, just laws, and Christian brotherhood.

Summary of the War

The entry for July 1902, was the final entry in the Parish Magazine about the War. For those unfamiliar with the history of the war, here is a very brief summary of events, in order to understand John Roberts’ involvement in the conflict:

  • October 1899 to January 1900, a series of Boer successes on the borders of Cape Colony and Natal, with British garrisons besieged in Ladysmith, Mafeking and Kimberley
  • February – August 1900, British counter-offensives under Lord Roberts (no relation to John Roberts of Badsey!) leading to the relief of the garrisons and the occupation of the Boer capital, Pretoria, on 5th June
  • September 1900 to May 1902, a period of guerrilla warfare, with Kitchener trying to prevent Boer commandos from raiding isolated British units by erecting blockhouses and moving civilian sympathisers with the Boers into concentration camps; war was ended by the Treaty of Vereeniging, May 1902

Potted Biography of John Roberts

John Roberts (1864-1932) was born at Aldington, the son of Richard and Eliza Roberts. He married Jane Malin in 1898 and they lived at Vine Cottage, Badsey. They had no children, but John’s nephew, Fred, still lives in Badsey. John was the village’s chief Fire Officer for many years.

Potted Biography of David Hartwell

It is believed that the David Hartwell referred to in the Parish Magazine is David William Hartwell, born in 1872 to Ann Hartwell before her marriage to Thomas Taylor. The Hartwells were obviously a very patriotic family, because in 1900, Daniel Jonathan and Elizabeth Hartwell named their seventh child, George Baden Powell, born 18th May. If the David Hartwell referred to is the one born in 1872, then David and the young George Baden Powell would have been third cousins.

Maureen Spinks, October 2003