When South Africa’s Boers fought in Somaliland


Strange as it may seem, in 1903 there was a contingent of Boer (or Afrikaner) soldiers who served alongside the British in Somaliland.

Here is the evidence, from a Reuters Report of the time. Clearly they were excellent troops, with the British saying they “could not wish for better men.”

Boers Somaliland 15 July 1903Boers Somaliland 15 July 1903Boers Somaliland 15 July 1903

So what was going on? The Anglo-Boer war (1899 – 1902) had just ended. The Boers had signed the Treaty of Vereeniging recognising British sovereignty over all South Africa, in return for self-government in a few years time.

But many Afrikaners who had fought so valiantly were ruined: their farms destroyed, their women and children having died in British concentration camps.

They had little to lose. Some apparently signed up to fight for Britain in its conflict with the ‘Mad Mullah’ in Somaliland – properly known as Sayyid Muhammed Abdullah Hassan.

They were not the only Africans to join the British: so did Kenyans and Sudanese.

KAR Somaliland

This article gives details of the campaign and had this to say about the South Africans:

“The British forces in South Africa sent a British Mounted InfantryCompany (141 men) from the 4th Bn The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, commanded by Captain G.C. Shakerley, and a Boer Mounted Infantry Company, the Somaliland Burgher Corps (100 men) commanded by Captain W. Bonham DSO.”

Details of how this unit was formed can be found here.

Although it was called the ‘Burgher Corps’ it contained more than just South Africans.

This article explains who joined the unit:

“The Somaliland Burgher Contingent, consisting of Afrikaans and English speaking South Africans, was the first South African volunteer unit who fought on foreign soil. Volunteers hailed not only from South Africa but from Britain, Rhodesia, America, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and Austria as well. This truly cosmopolitan unit fought during the Third Expedition (1902-1903) in Somaliland against Mohammed Abdulle Hassan (1856-1920) – the so-called Mad Mullah.”

By  Martin Plaut


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