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"Boer" (pronounced "buwa") is the Afrikaans - pidgin Dutch - name for a farmer. Like the American term "cowboy", historical events gave it a totally different image from its originally intended meaning. The Boers were Dutch settlers in South Africa who weren't too pleased to have the Rule of the British Empire thrust upon them. They were good, brave soldiers and excellent shots. Their weakness lay in their lack of dicipline and lack of formal leadership.

(They were said to be very hard to kill as well, as their sloping foreheads acted like the glacis plate on a tank...)

In 1877 they marched north from the Cape Of Good Hope province to escape British authority, and set up two independent Afrikaner states in the Transvaal and Orange Free State. This epic march (or "trek") put another word into the English language.

Having fought one painful, but inconclusive, war against the Boers (1877-78), the British might have decided to let sleeping dogs lie, but for the fact that, in 1885, the Boers were found to be sitting atop a lot of yellow metal. Negotiations broke down, and the Brits were not going to walk away from all that gold. Ergo - the Second Boer War 1899-1902.

Boer squaddies. Procurement policy did not figure highly in their military doctrine

A lot of modern military innovations came out of this conflict, including the first military use of radios for communication. Marconi sets were used by the Imperial Yeomanry (a composite force drawn from the Middlesex, Buckinghamshire and Wiltshire Yeomanry) - who had to wait six months for spares to reach them. Nothing much has changed. This war also saw the first general issue of khaki uniforms. (Those lovely red tunics were irresistible to the Boer sharpshooters on the open veldt.)

The first concentration camps were an excellent British idea: to isolate the Boer fighters from their support system, they simply picked up the support system and put it in a cage. The idea had legs: it was used again by the British in Malaya with great success. Also - but less successfully - the Americans copied the technique in Vietnam. Use of the term "concentration camp" to describe the major feature of Nazi genocide, is misleading. The term comes from translation of the German (and Afrikaans) word "laager" meaning a concentration or congregation of people.

The word "Commando" first entered the lexicon during this war, to describe units with tactics and equipment copied by Special Forces units many years later. They were fast-moving, lightly-equipped, hard-hitting marksmen on horseback. Experts in hit-and-run raids, they kept the heavier, slower-moving British forces off-balance and unable to respond effectively.

Winston Churchill, in fact, revived the term in memory of his service as a war correspondent in the Boer War. Captured by (and escaping from) the Boers, he was left with a deep respect for their fighting qualities. After the trauma of Dunkirk, Churchill insisted on a morale-boosting campaign of hit-and-run strikes across the English Channel. These were executed by highly-trained, highly-motivated special troops, whom he christened Commandos in honour of the Boer flying columns.

The South Africans tell jokes about the quintessential Boer - 'Van der Merwe' - in the same way as the English tell Irish jokes. Such as...

Van der Merwe is out chopping wood on his farm. A lightning bolt flashes from the sky striking the axe head and knocking him spinning into the well. The now red hot axe head is flung into the barn where it sets the hay on fire. The livestock in the barn perishes to the last beast. A gust of wind catches some sparks and sets fire to the farmhouse. In fleeing the burning building, Van der Merwe's wife falls and breaks her leg. When he pulls himself from the well Van der Merwe surveys the scene of devastation, weakly lifts his fist to heaven and screams 'DAMN THOSE BLACKS!'