We have many guests from Holland who are interested in Dutch history in South Africa.
Not many Scandinavians are aware that there were a number of influential Swedes, Norwegians and Danes who also actively contributed to the emergence of what South Africa became today. Names that spring to mind are the well-known names such as Thunberg, Olsson, Bergh and Bergh. There were many more.
As a Swedish speaking tour guide I am naturally interested in finding out more about the many lesser known Scandinavians who ventured to Southern Africa to seek out new opportunities. These individuals came here on their own free will for the most part. They were soldiers, farmers engineers, doctors, naturalists, missionaries, deserters and many fortune seekers on the gold and diamond fields. All were adventurers.
The second Boer war was fought between 1899 and 1902 between the Boer republics and the British Empire. In spring 1899, Axel Christer Helmfrid Uggla, a Swedish engineer, had been working in the Transvaal as Head of the Nederlandsch-Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij (NZASM) in Pretoria since 1890. He took the initiative to form the ‘Scandinavian Organisation’ in the Transvaal. The main purpose of this organisation was to find work and housing for unemployed fellow Scandinavians and to raise funds to aid them. This organisation had a Central Committee in Pretoria and a Local Committee in Johannesburg.
In 1899, following the outbreak of war, the Skandinaviska Kåren (the Scandinavian Corps) of volunteers to serve with the Transvaal militia was formed from this organisation. Until then, the Boers had viewed the Scandinavians as “uitlanders” who tended to side with the British.
On the first day of recruitment, 68 Scandinavians volunteered, including three for medical service. Rifles, horses and ox waggons were provided by the Transvaal Government and clothes “suitable as uniforms” were bought by the Committee.
After a week of basic military training and horse riding skills, 103 Scandinavians were set to battle. Their tasks were mainly sabotage operations, but they also took part in the siege of Mafeking and the battles at Magersfontein and Paardeberg.
Scandinavians were active on both sides of the conflict. Scandinavia was itself experiencing a socialist upswing at the time. The government of the time remained neutral but conservative Scandinavians supported the Empire whilst the socialists found sympathy with the Boers.
Lisa and I decided to take the Hunneyball House bus and go to the Scandinavian memorial closest to Stellenbosch, the Magersfontein battle site found between Kimberley and Jakobsdal (about 1000km from Stellenbosch). The Scandinavians earned a reputation for extreme bravery in a very short time. At this site all but one of the Scandinavian officers were killed and the corps refused to surrender and thereby prevented a flanking movement by the British.
See more about the Scandinavian Memorial at Magersfontein on our facebook page. This photo was taken last week at the memorial erected on the battle site.