Boer War, 1896-1902

This letter was written by Isaac Roskelly, a miner in the Transvaal, on New Year’s Day 1896 and sent to his brother who lived in Winslow. Mr Roskelly sent it to the Bucks Herald and the paper printed it at the start of February 1896. It refers to the Jameson Raid of 29 Dec 1895 when an armed column of Matabeleland Mounted Police entered the Transvaal Republic to try to provoke an uprising of British miners against the Boer (Afrikaaner) government.

New Primrose, G .M.C,
Jan. 1st, 1896


War is proclaimed – every mine on the Transvaal is closed today, and every one of us have to take rifles and fight the Boers. There is no option; we can’t get away, and if we will not serve we shall starve, as there is no food except what is held by mining authorities, and unless we sign as willing to fight we get none. We are now under marching orders at 5 a.m. this morning for town. It is a strange experience for me, I can tell you, old boy. I have not seen Tom, and I don’t know where to find him. I will try to add another word before posting provided I shall be able to post it.

Johannesburg, Jan. 2nd

We arrived here at 10 a.m. The town is governed by martial or mob law; anyone is enrolled as police. The Dutch police and other officials have been driven out – I tell you, rough times are expected here this evening, when, no doubt, things will start. Food stuff has gone up double, every shop closed and boarded up. I don’t know how it will end; should we come out of it safe, we shall be able to tell a tale – if not, old boy, we shall only be served the same fate as others. All our clothes and chattels are left at the mine at the mercy of anyone. No doubt you will see all particulars in your papers. I will post this to-day so that it may go to the colonies before actual fighting in town takes place, when P.O. will also shut up,
Your affectionate brother,

The Raid was defeated by the Boer authorities, but the Second Boer War broke out in 1899. Isaac Roskelly is recorded as a Lance Corporal in the Rand Rifles in 1902.

Samuel Roskelly was an active member of the Winslow Mutual Improvement Society during Edwardian times. He was an able public speaker. He worked as butler at Western House, and the family came from Cornwall.

Bucks Herald, 11 Oct 1899

Local and District Echoes

I should imagine that there are but few localities in England which have not some representative serving in the Cape. From Winslow there is now out there Mr John White, son of Mr Josiah White, one of our Parish  Councillors. From Grandborough, Mr. George Brazier, jun., who went to serve in Johannesburg as a chemist, and is now serving with the Natal local forces. Mr. Rand, who was well known at Winslow and Hardwick, is with the Lancashire regiment. Mr Rosskelly of Winslow, has two brothers miners, one of whom was in the "Pioneer" mine, and the other in "Robinsons" at Johannesburg. Both are probably with the Volunteers now.

Northampton Mercury, 29 Dec 1899

Those who have signed the register may now expect at any moment notice calling on them to attend at the nearest squadron headquarters for medical examination and attestation. William Selby Lowndes, jun., Bletchley, … and H. Tennant and C. Leighton of Winslow are amongst the recent signatures.

Bucks Herald, 5 May 1900


A letter has been received by Mr. Josiah White, of Winslow, from his son, Private J. White, 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifles, dated Colenso, 30th March. He says:-

I write these few lines to you to let you know that I am still in the land of the living; but have nearly been “done” once or twice. I am still in Hospital. This makes the second time I have been in with fever, but I hope to be out shortly. I suppose you have been waiting patiently for a letter, but I couldn’t get one through before: and, as you are aware, no news is good news. Well, we have been through something at Ladysmith, I can tell you. Waiting for Buller [On the day that the Boers encircled Ladysmith, reinforcements headed by General Sir Redvers Buller arrived in Cape Town en route to Natal. Buller tarried on the Cape for three weeks before moving forward.] was awful suspense. One day they would tell us he was close at hand; the next day he would be driven back again. The lucky day did come at last, but I was in hospital then. However, it cheered us up a lot. We used to get 1lb. of tea for two days for a company of 110 men. 1 oz. of sugar per man, a quarter of a lb. of bread (about the size of a penny bun) made out of mealies, like eating chaff meal, and 1/2lb. of horse or mule, which was not very tasty. We got a pint of Bovril made out of that: it was stuff, too. Then at four o’clock in the morning we had to go building stone walls until half-past six, and at five o’clock at night we started again and worked in relief until ten. But tobacco was our biggest trouble. We couldn’t get any, so we used to smoke the tea leaves, which we dried - but they were not much "class" - and leaves as well off the trees. Do you know, what I am fancying now is a clay pipe and about 1 oz. of thick twist. All the others have got their presents from Lady White but I haven’t got mine yet through being in here. But I shall get them some day if all goes well.

I am sorry to tell you my poor old chum Benfield is dead. We have been together at all the fights that have occurred at Ladysmith. The fight at Waggon Hill on 6th of January I think done for him, poor chap. We were in the very thick of it, and about two hours from the start he got shot through the shoulder, so I bandaged him up as well as I could, waiting for the stretcher-bearers to take him away. But none came, and we had to lay there all day in the blinding hot sun. And about five o’clock, it began to rain in torrents, wetting us through to the skin. The fight started at half-past two in the morning, and we lay there till seven o’clock at night without a bite or a drop of anything to drink all day. We were opening our mouths to catch the rain as it came down. Well, when they took him away to hospital he hadn’t been in long before he caught the fever and died in three or four days, which quite surprised me, I can tell you, but I suppose the poor chap is better off now. I felt sorry for his mother. He has got another brother enlisted; I suppose he is out here somewhere now, which is very hard lines for her.

Well, what sort of Christmas did you have? Not much of one, I expect, though as I know you would be worrying about me, but I didn’t do so bad. We had a slice of pudding each and a few Boer shells and bullets, but we had got used to them, and took no notice.

Josiah White was a gardener and lived in The Walk. John White was awarded the clasp Talana (Battle of Talana, 20 Oct 1899). See more below.

Northampton Mercury, 22 June 1900


Mrs. L. Foskett, of Weedon, Aylesbury has received a letter from her husband who is a private in the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards:-

“If ever I had a skin full of tramping,” he says, “it is since we got out of the train at Springfontein on the 11th April. We have covered just on 200 miles. They had to go a roundabout way, as there were 4,000 Boers, three miles from our camp. … We have been marching many times on to hard biscuits, and never shall forget it. I was always dainty at home, but after this I can do with anything that you get for me.  We have all been half-starved because we have been tramping about forty miles from the railway, and we could get no rations. We are fairly well in health, but it has pulled us down. Our commanding officer gave us the privilege to catch and kill any sheep we liked. You should have seen the charge. I and Jack Bradbury (the Winslow chap) got hold of an old ewe, and we soon killed it, and got a leg each. It was a luxury, I can tell you. I hope this war won’t last much longer. I would not mind only we are three-parts starved.

More on Jack Bradbury below.

Bucks Herald, 7 July 1900

Mr. T. Bradbury, of Winslow, has received the following letter from his son, now serving in the 2nd Scots Giards under General Rundle:-

HARMONIA, South Africa. June 3, 1900.
I now have the pleasure to write these few lines to you, trusting that they will find you well, as I am pleased to say this leaves me. You will see that I am still in the land of the living, although I have had some very narrow escapes. For instance on the 29th of May I was in a warm corner; the bullets were dropping around me from all directions. The Grenadiers lost 30 killed and 100 wounded. We were more fortunate: our losses were 7 killed and 30 wounded. I shall never forget that day as long as I live. The Boers were on a kopje, and we were ordered to take it. The Boers were reinforced and we were obliged to retire. It was a terrible experience. I expected every minute to take my last step, but, thank God, I escaped without a scratch. The Boers lost so many that they sent to us for medical aid, so you can guess that they had a lively time of it. The Boers won’t face us. They go from one kopje to another. That is how we have to drive them up country. They are very near broken-hearted. We have taken as many as 80 prisoners at a time in our camp, so if things go on as they are now, by the time this letter reaches you they will probably give in. Don’t worry about me; I have never felt better in my life than I do at present. We have had to rough it, but the one thing I complain of is shortness of food. Sometimes we live like fighting-cocks, and on another day we have to sit and look at one another. Probably you will think it bad management on the part of our people. It is not altogether their fault; it is difficult at times for them to get food to us. I have had a little luck to-day. I have had a little flour and a fowl given to me, so I am about to prepare a fire and cook it. I wish you could see me. The Boer women here look very down-hearted. They can see that their freedom is gone. I thought of you all last Wednesday morning, when I was helping to dig the graves for the poor fellows who were killed on the 29th. One was a Sergeant, a reservist; he leaves a wife and four children. One poor fellow was shot in the eye, and the bullet passed through the back of his head. We put four in one grave and three in another. It is one thing to sit at home and read about the war, and it is another to be in it. These Boers are a cowardly lot of men; they hide behind large stones all around the kopjes; they are like rabbits; they won’t come out in the daytime, but wait for an opportunity to kill our men in cold blood. On Sunday after dinner I lay down for a nap. I was roused shortly afterwards, and you will be surprised to hear that a large snake had coiled itself around my leg. I lay quite still, and considered what best to do. I then moved my leg slowly, and it gradually uncoiled and went off. I then gave the alarm, and our fellows gave chase. It was marvellous how the snake went over the ground. It was twice as long as my walking stick and twice as thick. My best wishes to all. If anyone asks of me I am first-class.

Mr Bradbury was Thomas Bradbury, groom, of Church Street. His son was William John Bradbury, b.1872. See below for his return to Winslow. He was a Metropolitan Police Constable in 1911, living in Paddington. The 2nd Battalion of Scots Guards took part in the fighting at Biddulphsberg on 29 May 1900. The British were largely successful at the time of the letter, but the guerilla fighting which the writer mentions meant the war went on until 1902.

Bucks Herald, 18 August 1900

Enthusiastic Reception of Private White.

Private John White of the 1st Kings Royal Rifles, son of Mr Josiah White, a parish councillor of Winslow, who went right through the fighting of Glencoe and Colenso, and then in the siege of Ladysmith, met with a remarkable reception on Thursday evening Aug 9. After being in the hospital for some time he was transferred to a hospital ship, and then came to England by the Englishman, arriving at Gosport on Tuesday week. As soon as it was known when he would be home it was determined to give him a hearty reception. He came from Bletchley by the last train, having missed the connection with the seven o’clock by which he was first expected. The scene at the railway station was quite an exciting one, the approach being crowded by people of all conditions. Inside the station were Private White’s immediate friends, including his father and sisters, Mrs Clements, Mr & Mrs Illing, Mr Pass, Mr F. Lomas, Mr John Varney etc. As soon as he stepped out of the train a loud cheer was raised, and he was escorted out onto the station yard, where a gaily bedecked wagonette (kindly lent by Mr Neal) was waiting. Into this he mounted, in company with his mother and sister and Private W.J. Knight (Lancashire Fusiliers), W. Turney (Imperial Yeomanry), and E. Walker (Coldstreams), three Winslow men home on sick leave. The shafts of the vehicle were then seized by willing hands, the torch bearers took their places, the Grandborough Brass Band struck up “Soldiers of the Queen”; crackers were let off and the procession started up the Station Road amidst vociferous cheering, shouting and singing. There could not have been less than a thousand people present. The procession went past the Creamery where Mr Foshett had got quite an illumination in honour of the event, up the High-Street where flags were flying as on Mafeking Day and on till Mr Willis’ house was reached, where a brief halt was made, and then to the Market-Square. Here Mr Willis mounted the wagonette, and in the name of the inhabitants of the town briefly welcomed Private White, saying how glad they felt to see whom they might almost call a Winslow man born and bred and whose friends were known and respected by all, who had been out in Africa doing his duty for his country in an exemplary manner and suffering all kinds of hardships, and who had now returned home.  He was very pleased to see the grand reception they were giving Private White and trusted that would not be the last, but that in a few days, when he was rested, he would be able to meet them and give some account of what he had gone through. (Applause). Private White then attempted to return thanks amidst a burst of enthusiasm, but quite broke down, and after a few words from Private Walker, the Band played The National Anthem. Private White was then mounted on his comrade’s shoulders and carried away home. Auld Lang Syne was sung outside the door and the crowd gradually dispersed about 10.45 p.m.

Clasp TalanaIt can safely be said that such enthusiasms and such and expression of patriotic spirit has rarely been seen in the town.  The night was dark and showery and the train late but this did not deter people from coming out or damp their enthusiasm. The time was very short for making arrangements but Messrs Neal, Iling, Lomax, G. Hancock, E Bull, G Taylor and others waited with a will (not forgetting Mr Hill of the Gas Works, who made the torches), and the result must have exceeded their expectations.

Northampton Mercury, 20 Sep 1901

Private John Walker, of Winslow, son of Mr. Joseph Walker, of Winslow, has also succumbed to his wounds in a recent engagement.

This is probably Private J. Walker of the 17th Lancers, wounded at Tarkastad on 17 Sep 1901.

Buckingham Advertiser, 7 June 1902

  The announcement of peace was not generally known in Winslow till the arrival of the morning newspapers, but it soon spread, and the town was very quickly decorated with flags and bunting, the most noticeable being the flags on the Parish Church and the Congregational Church, and on the residences of Mr. Willis, Mr. Hawley, and Mr. Edwin French, who had suspended a string of bunting across the road.  During the day there was a goodish bit of amateur artillery firing going on, and at night the town band made its first public appearance, parading the town in good style and playing remarkably well considering the short time it had been organised.  The appearance of the town was very lively, the streets being thronged.

Bucks Herald, 5 July 1902

  HOME FROM THE WAR.- An enthusiastic reception was given to Private J. [=W.J.] Bradbury (son of Mr. T. Bradbury), of the 2nd Scots Guards, on his return home from South Africa.  He arrived in Winslow on Friday, and on Saturday evening was fetched from his father’s house and drawn on to the Market Square accompanied by Private T. Young, and escorted by the Town Band and Swanbourne Band amid much cheering.  He returned thanks for his kind reception.  Private Bradbury has been out at the front for two years and five months, and although he has endured great hardships, he has been fortunate in enjoying the best of health.  He also returned thanks for his comrade, Private Young, who has been very ill with enteric fever.  After a general shaking of hands the crowd dispersed.

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Copyright 29 August, 2022