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  • Writer's pictureStephen Callaghan

A Souvenir of the Boer War

The Second Anglo Boer War broke out in October 1899. The conflict arose after the British ignored an ultimatum issued by the Boers about the build-up of troops at their borders. The British had tried to annex the two independent Boer states of Cape Colony and Transvaal after the discovery of significant gold deposits.

Upon the outbreak of the war the British were unprepared for the conflict, with the towns of Kimberly, Ladysmith and Mafeking being besieged. This resulted in the mass mobilisation of British and Commonwealth troops for South Africa.

Among the troops to be sent to South Africa, were the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment. Prior to the war the battalion undergone a successful recruitment drive to bolster numbers. While on garrison duty in Woolwich in 1900 the battalion was asked would they volunteer for overseas service, which they dutifully did. At the time militia units couldn’t be ordered on active service, but rather had to volunteered.

After a long sea voyage, the 3rd Leinsters arrived at South Africa and spent two years there. Considering the battalion was a militia and most of the men serving in it were not professional soldiers, meant they likely had never traveled very far from their home towns, South Africa would have been a completely new experience to them. The landscape and animals were intriguing to the men. One officer encountered a scorpion in his boot which he promptly dispatched with his sword and preserved in spirits. Some of the non-commissioned officers were budding amateur naturalists and spent their free time in investigate the local flora and fauna.

After a harsh two serves service in the subtropical climate, the battalion left for home in May 1902. Among the possessions of the men and officers were many pets and souvenirs, including knoberries, walking sticks, decorative beads and tortoise shells. One officer, Captain Reeves brought back with him a female baboon and marmoset monkey which he donated to the Royal Zoological Society of Ireland. Pictured above is one of the actual knoberries brought back to Ireland by one of soldiers of the 3rd Leinsters.

The battalion arrived in Queenstown (Cobh), and made its way to Birr where they were warmly greeted and received at Birr Barracks, with many presentations. The battalion was also addressed by the chairman of the town council. In later years a memorial would be erected in Birr Barracks to commemorate the death casualties of the battalion during the campaign.


'An unusual souvenir of the Boer War', History Ireland

Record of Services of the 3rd Battalion – The Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians) in the South African War, 1900, 1901, 1902

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