Many conflicts have a song or a tune which has come to symbolise it, WW1 and “Tipperary” comes to mind, as does “Brighton Camp” for the Napoleonic Wars and for the Boer War the popular song was “Goodbye Dolly Gray”.
These days two great wars have separated us from conflict in South Africa which dominated the years bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it was a hugely influential time. It was the first time The Empire was really challenged and it was the first “popular” war, when men flooded to the colours in a rush of patriotism.
The short comings of the army which were shown up by the tenacity and courage of the Boers led to the reforms which would produce the BEF which went to France in 1914.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because a while ago we were approached by a lady who was the owner of a diary, or at least part of a previously unpublished diary from the Boer War and she wondered if we as representatives of The Victorian Military Society would be interested in it. It covered a year of his service in South Africa during 1900.
What she gave us was a day by day account of an ordinary soldier on campaign and I have had the privilege of being one of the transcribers and it has been a riveting and fascinating insight into the life of an ordinary man who lived in extraordinary times. Someone once said that war is long periods of tedium punctuated by short moments of terror, Charlie (author of the diary), was a very lucky man, because all he got for the duration of the diary was the tedium.
So why was this so interesting?
What has made transcribing this document so enthralling?
And why is The VMS going to be publishing it?
Because while there are endless accounts of battles and officers careers, there are very few about the day to day life of a ranker at this time. Charlie tells us what they ate and what they thought of it. Where they slept and what they did to entertain themselves. He also tells us what he thought of the great events which were taking place near him or which he got news about. Views which are often very modern in their outlook.
We know a bit about Charlie Holmes, gleaned from odd bits and pieces he mentions. He was a reservist, called back to the colours and had served in the Far East. We know where he was born and when, but what we don’t know for certain is if his surnames was Holmes. As if often the case when searching military records, the one you want is missing.
“The Boer War Diary of Charlie Holmes” will be out soon.
The picture is an Imperial Yeoman c.1900 courtesy of “Scarlet Gunner”.