Wednesday, 27 April 2011

A veteran of the Boer War, my Uncle Bert Hodgson

Recently Donald did an excellent posting on ANZAC Day and displayed photos of his Dad in World War Two. These men from Otago and Southland were hardy men of the land, who could ride horses well, live off the land, and shoot with great accuracy. I would like to honour Great Uncle Bert Hodgson, my Grand Mother's brother, who left his Southland farm in about 1898-99 to join the Third New Zealand Rough Rider Contingent, as a member of the No. 5 Company, that went to South Africa to join the British Forces against the Boers.
Here is a photo of Uncle Bert (second from the left, standing)  with the beard, in older age, out hunting with a group of younger men near Waikawa, Southland.

He was Number  618 and listed as Lance-Sergeant B. L Hodgson and his Father was Mr. T. Hodgson of Woodlands, Southland, New Zealand.

The South African War of 1899-1902, often called the Boer War (sometimes the Second Boer War), was the first overseas conflict to involve New Zealand troops. Fought between the British Empire and the Boer South African Republic (Transvaal) and its Orange Free State ally, it was the culmination of longstanding tensions in southern Africa.


Bound to the 'Mother-country' by the 'crimson tie' of Empire, Premier Richard Seddon made the offer of troops the Britain in late 1899, two weeks before conflict finally broke out. Hundreds of men applied to serve, and by the time war began on 11 October 1899, the first contingent were already preparing for departure. Within a few months, they would be engaging the Boers.



Montbard, G, A tight corner, a New Zealander c.1900.

War art was a feature of the South African War, and often featured soldiers in heroic poses, such as this member of the Rough Riders who takes aim while in full flight. Such images owed more to artistic licence than the actual events they depicted; the sword the soldier wears was not part of the Rough Riders' kit

By the time peace was concluded two and a half year later, ten contingents of volunteers, totalling nearly 6,500 men with 8,000 horses had sailed for Africa, along with doctors, nurses, veterinary surgeons and a small number of school teachers. Seventy New Zealanders died in the war as the result of action, with another 158 killed accidentally or dying by disease.

In many ways the South African war also set the pattern for New Zealand’s later involvement in the two world wars. Specially raised units, consisting mainly of volunteers, were despatched overseas to serve with forces from elsewhere in the British Empire. The success enjoyed by the New Zealand troops fostered the idea that New Zealanders were naturally good soldiers, who required only a modicum of training to perform creditably.

Mahatma Gandhi and his involvement in Boer War


Apart from my deep interest in the New Zealanders who fought in the Boer War, I discovered over 35 years a photograph in the Indian Red Cross archives in New Delhi, of a young M.K.Gandhi who later became the famous Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi urged Indians to support the British government at the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899, and organized an ambulance corps of 1,100 Indian volunteers. He hoped that this proof of loyalty would result in better treatment of Indian South Africans. The Indian Red Cross claims he set up this Ambulance Corp under the aupices of Red Cross.

Although the British won the war, and established peace among white South Africans, still treatment of Indians worsened. Gandhi and his followers were beaten and jailed for opposing the 1906 Registration Act, under which Indian citizens had to register and carry ID cards at all times.
In 1914, 21 years after he arrived on a one-year contract, Gandhi left South Africa.



English: Gandhi with the stretcher-bearers of the Indian Ambulance Corps (red Cross)  during the Boer War, South-Africa.

Standing: H. Kitchen, L. Panday, R. Panday, J. Royeppen, R.K. Khan, L. Gabriel, M.K. Kotharee, E. Peters, D. Vinden, V. Madanjit.
Middle Row: W. Jonathan, V. Lawrence, M.H. Nazar, Dr. L.P. Booth, M.K. Gandhi, P.K. Naidoo, M. Royeppen.
Front Row: S. Shadrach, "Professor" Dhundee, S.D. Moddley, A. David, A.A. Gandhi.

 I received this very interesting comment on 1 May 2011 and it adds a lot to my posting on Southland and Otago Boer War veterans.

COMMENT FROM GILBERT van REENAN

Hi Bob


Thanks for keeping this amazing history fresh and posting those amazing photographs. I arrived in New Zealand 58 years ago as a almost 4 year old speaking only my parents mother tongue. Our dear gentle retired neighbour in Otatara on the outskirts of Invercargill, Mr Ted Robertson, was the youngest NZer to have enlisted in the Boer War (he went at age 16 having lied abt his age. It isnt widely known but not surprising that the kiwis sent there had much more empathy and respect and in common for the Boers that they were supposed to be fighting than for the arrogant poms that they were supposed to be supporting. (The same class of Poms who caused us such grief at Gallipoli 16 years later). Anyway "Mr Robbie" liked the Boers so much and had so much contact with them that he could speak their language fluently and apart from a few words & pronunciations which had evolved in the century or two since the boer's forefathers had left Holland, Mr Robbie & I could converse spectacularly well. He was an amazing naturalist and took me under his wing and taught me all about native flora & fauna. I owe my interest in Natural History to this wonderful man who almost made it to 100.

Anyway the awful thing that he told me about was the ghastly concentration camps that the Poms set up to contain whole Boer communities. Some held over 20,000 innocent families and many starved to death or died of apalling infectious diseases. If you think the Nazis were cruel to the jews then what those Poms did to the Boers was even worse. In fact Hitler modelled several of his concentration camps and systems on our Colonial ones in South Africa.

Thats something we should not forget. After the Boer War Ted Robertson went on to farm in the Otapiri & Lora gorge in Southland. He married into the McRae family who were the consummate Hokonui whisky distillers. He used to tell me how they were able to conceal their stills etc in the bush and keep the police off their backs and he often showed me some bottles of the product that they went to such trouble to conceal.

Thanks for your site Bob. Ive got lots of other good stuff to share with you too in the fullness of time. Best regards Gilbert van Reenen

17 comments:

Gilbert van Reenen said...

Hi Bob
Thanks for keeping this amazing history fresh and posting those amazing photographs. I arrived in New Zealand 58 years ago as a almost 4 year old speaking only my parents mother tongue. Our dear gentle retired neighbour in Otatara on the outskirts of Invercargill, Mr Ted Robertson, was the youngest NZer to have enlisted in the Boer War (he went at age 16 having lied abt his age. It isnt widely known but not surprising that the kiwis sent there had much more empathy and respect and in common for the Boers that they were supposed to be fighting than for the arrogant poms that they were supposed to be supporting. (The same class of Poms who caused us such grief at Gallipoli 16 years later). Anyway "Mr Robbie" liked the Boers so much and had so much contact with them that he could speak their language fluently and apart from a few words & pronunciations which had evolved in the century or two since the boer's forefathers had left Holland, Mr Robbie & I could converse spectacularly well. He was an amazing naturalist and took me under his wing and taught me all about native flora & fauna. I owe my interest in Natural History to this wonderful man who almost made it to 100.
Anyway the awful thing that he told me about was the ghastly concentration camps that the Poms set up to contain whole Boer communities. Some held over 20,000 innocent families and many starved to death or died of apalling infectious diseases. If you think the Nazis were cruel to the jews then what those Poms did to the Boers was even worse. In fact Hitler modelled several of his concentration camps and systems on our Colonial ones in South Africa.
Thats something we should not forget. After the Boer War Ted Robertson went on to farm in the Otapiri & Lora gorge in Southland. He married into the McRae family who were the consummate Hokonui whisky distillers. He used to tell me how they were able to conceal their stills etc in the bush and keep the police off their backs and he often showed me some bottles of the product that they went to such trouble to conceal.
Thanks for your site Bob. Ive got lots of other good stuff to share with you too in the fullness of time. Best regards Gilbert van Reenen www.cleangreen.co.nz

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Gilbert

Thanks for a very interesting piece of NZ Boer war history. I like the way you describe the relationship between you and Mr. Robbie. What a fascinating character, and what an impact he had on you.

It is important we record these stories and honour these men.

I have enjoyed your alpine writings over the years.

Many thanks for this.

Bob

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
I read this with much interest. I will forward it to my friend Nigel Robson who is doing his masters thesis on Kiwi's in the Boer War. He lives in Korea but was back recently and spent a few days at Waiouru where he had access to diaries from men who were there. Very emotional, we spent an evening having a few wee drams as he told me about his findings. Hope all is well. When are you off to Minnesota?
Cheers,
Robb

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Robb,
Do you remember Baldrick in Black Adder, who said " War is a terrible thing." It is horrific and the Boer War saw the bad side of the Brits.

I would love to read what Nigel Robson is writing about as it is something unique in our short colonial history.

Ablai and I are off to Minnesota on 12 May. Highway 61 here we come. I love the music you are putting on facebook. Keep it up.

Bob

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Henri Le Riche said...

Sadly the Boer war affected South Africa long after the imperial troops left. Apartheid was one of the consequences as the Boer inherited a system from the British to start with. The concentration camps made many Afrikaners (the new name after the Boers were conquered) very bitter against all "english" speakers that came to fight. It is said that 1/3 of the Boer population died in the concentration camps. Mostly women and children. Mass rapes happened not only in the camps by soldiers, but also by Africans attacking women and children that remained alone on existing farms while the men were on commando. People just know about apartheid, but if they understand the dynamics of what happened, all will make sense. Sadly people seem selective in what they want to hear. All farms thought to be of Boer commando's were burned down, and all live stock killed. The British left the Afrikaner Boers to build up that country with false promises of support. In modern South Africa, the Boers are fighting for survival again, but like they say, the type of European you get in Africa, you will get nowhere else in the world. Constant survival for the past 3 centuries made the Boers into the most rugged modern people of European decent on this earth. To read more about this history and see photo's join the biggest group on facebook - https://www.facebook.com/groups/AngloBoerWar/

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