Boer War Poem

boerMy great-grandfather served in the Second Boer War (Crosby).  That is pretty much all I know. I found a letter when clearing my Aunt’s apartment (she recently passed at 99).    I also found a recruitment pamphlet that was sent to my great-grandfather in Manchester, dated November 1900.

The letter doesn’t have a date, it doesn’t have an author, but it is clearly about the Boer War.  Google doesn’t seem to have any record of the poem, but has, in tandem with Wikipedia, helped me piece together some of the place names that I couldn’t read.  Couldn’t tell me much about General Hilyard, other than he apparently look  like this. General Hildyard. I guess there are some periods the internet hasn’t penetrated yet.   I don’t believe it was written by my great-grandfather, but I suppose it is possible he might have served in this unit at one time.  The poem references the Battle of Vaal Krantz and the Siege of Ladysmith, both which occurred before November 1900 (date of the recruitment pamphlet).  Hilyard’s Brigade manages to find itself part of some major British defeats during the Boer War. 

Here it is, reproduced to the best of my ability (poor letter quality and wonky cursive writing). 

Hilyard’s Famous Brigade

May their honour live in history.

May their honour never fade.

May they live to be respected, the boys of the second brigade.

They endured many hardships and witnessed some strange scenes.

T’was the West Yorks, the Devons, the East Surreys and the Queen’s. 

T’was on October 99 when they left old England’s shores.

Called away from all they loved, to go and fight the Boers.

I am only a private soldier but my best I shall.

To tell of their accomplishments while they were in Natal

Now of their first engagement no doubt you all have heard. 

A night attack on Beacons Hill, November 23rd.

The night was dark and stormy, the rain torrents fell.

And how we braved that dreadful nigh no one scarce could tell.

Forward the General cried high silence I…

Fortune favoured…the Boers ate now at rest.

Silently steadily creeping unobserved.

Halt who goes there a rifle shot on the hill was heard.

The order charge was given by the Colonel of each corps.

And such a cheer was heard that night that was never heard before.

The position won, the enemy fled the night.  Was grand to see.

Thus ended the second brigades first fight a splendid victory.

Now the next engagement they fought was at a places called Colenso.

The result of this great battle was severer as you all well know.

It was on the 15th of December while in my…

That day young Roberts met his death while trying to save the guns.

The well entrenched enemy…

Waiting the advance of the British Corps who were eager for the fray.

Suddenly rifle shots were heard for miles around bullets falling fast and thick like hail stone to the ground.

For twelve long weary hours did we brave that terrible fire.

Till we received the orders that we were to retire.

We retired in good order.

But what could be worse to think that the British soldiers had suffered a reverse.

Yes we suffered a reverse but thank God we were not beat.

As well the X Boers the next time that we meet.

There words we off times uttered in the ranks while on parade.

V…by those lads belonging to the Second Brigade.

Says Private Tommy Atkins to his pal Jones.  Cheer up old chap we are going for a scrap this time around at Eton Thames(?) – reference to some place in England?

As we crossed the Tugela…we searched high and low in every nook and corner…the enemy entrenched awaiting their chance to shoot the troops down one by one during their advance.

Bang bang with shot and shell the artillery deserve great praise.

For this terrible battle lasted seven long weary days.

Now the battle…did rage man after man did die(?)

Will that sad disaster met our arm’s at last at Scion Kop.

This news was sad sad I must repeat.  Which meant for a second reverse and retreat.

Oh Ladysmith’s, brave Ladysmith’s your sufferings may be great.

But before you are relieved I think a few more weeks you’ll wait.

The troops have tried to relieve you, twice they tried in vain.

But while there is life there always hope, we’ll try and try again.

Says Tommy Atkins to his pal Jones.  I’ve got the proper whiff. 

Cheer up old chap and don’t look sad, we are all going to…

The three day fight that took place there, was fought with British skill.

And soon the Boers were put to flight on the crest of Vaal Krantz Hill.

The artillery dual was fought for hours the contest…and keen.

It was there that our naval guns with one shot blew up their magazine.

As usual the order came this hill to evacuate.

Better(?) tonight my…when it is dark or else you’ll be late.

The troops this order scare believed again their arms…

Mummers in the ranks was heard when…

Come on my lads lets stand to arms we’ll have another day.

We’ll either going to…or in attempt we’ll die

…heights before us lie formed up attack.

It’s either death or glory boys, this time no turning back.

For on the troops advanced they never…do this time.

They took no notice of shot and shell, but kept on climbing higher…

…they…where a brilliant charge was made.

In…Heights (probably a place name) were captured by Hilyards Famed Brigade.

Well done my lads you started(?) well the good old General said.

(can’t read the next line)

Keep them on the move and don’t give them rest until.

You’ve capture…and line the crest of Monte Cristo Hill.


That’s it.  Could be more but I don’t know.

Remembrance Day 2010.

3 Responses to Boer War Poem

  1. Kay says:

    Not sure how helpful is all this to you, but it gave me an opportunity to procrastinate and learn about other things than doing school work. Have a great time crosschecking the data!

    “T’was the West…the East Surreys and the Queen’s” Possible reference: demerged version of Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment [Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) & East Surrey Regiment] –

    “Cheer up old chap we are going for a scrap this time around at Eton Thames.” Possible reference: Eton College –

    “In…Heights (probably a place name) were captured by Hilyards Famed Brigade.” Possible reference: Battle of Tugela Heights –

    Henry J. T. Hildyard –

    I’d love to have a look at it if you ever decide to scan it before it completely disintegrates under random environmental conditions…

  2. Bryan says:

    Oh, impressive Google work. Thanks!

    It is Hildyard, although the Hilyard spelling is used in the poem.

    I filled a few more strange things in as well. Cursive is tough to read.

    Poem reads like a history of the 2nd Brigade during the War. I’m sure I don’t have it all.

  3. Kay says:

    Unless the ink is extremely faded and the penmanship is horrible, I like reading cursive letters. It is fun to spend time deciphering along with figuring out the context and the person who wrote it.

    I do agree with you that the poem discusses the 2nd Brigade and I want to know more…. I will let you know if I ever find new stuff while reading history books.

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