“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (2)

The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa. The British Empire owned Cape Colony and the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states.

Major Alexander Bruce Wallis had already lost one of his three sons, Captain Alexander Frederic Wallis, on February 24th 1900. He was killed in action near Arundel, near Colesberg, in Cape Colony in South Africa. Major Wallis’ grief, though, was not over yet , not by a long chalk.

He had another, third and youngest, son whose name was Harry Wallis. Harry was born on September 17th 1869 and entered the High School on January 21st 1881 as Boy No 648. He was eleven years old. Hardly any details are available about an individual boy during this period of the school’s history. Set against this is the fact that Harry was there to watch the crisis which gripped the school during this period. Standards were plummeting and by November 1883 more than a quarter of the boys had left. By March 1884 the Headmaster was seriously ill, and was given three months sick-leave. Here is the School at the time.

An official inspection scrutinized the School and said:

“The School is at present not in an efficient or satisfactory state. Generally, there is a want of vigour and enterprise in the management and administration.”

The Headmaster resigned and Dr James Gow took over.

Dr Gow was a lawyer, not a teacher. He saved the High School. He examined the dreadful situation analytically, and reported that:

“I am inclined to think that the School Buildings are not so grossly inconvenient and the School Staff is not so grossly incompetent as they have sometimes been represented. I am confident that by a few changes, mostly trivial, the School can almost at once be brought into a good state of efficiency.”

And he was right. And Dr Gow walked into history:

“He found a rabble and he left a public school.”

(It’s always better that way round, of course.)

This is the albumen print of the High School which I used when I was talking about the tragic and, arguably, pointless death of Harry’s brother, Alexander Frederic. It is certainly of much better quality than the picture above. Can you see the patterned brickwork of the crenellations ?

Harry Wallis left the High School in July 1885. He went to work in Messrs Moore & Robinson’s Bank which operated from 1836-1901. They were based at Beast Market Hill in the Market Place, somewhere near where the Bell Inn is nowadays. The manager was Mr James Stedman. Here’s the Wright’s nineteenth edition of their Directory of Nottingham, published in 1898-1899 :

Harry knew he had the wrong job, working in a bank. Like his father and his elder brother, he yearned to enlist and to become a soldier. Mr Stedman gave him his discharge and Harry went to South Africa. One of his first tastes of adventure was the Jameson Raid. This fiasco took place from December 29th 1895 –January 2nd 1896. It was a botched British raid against the Dutch Republic of the Transvaal. Led by Dr Leander Starr Jameson and using his colonialist troops, these men were employed ostensibly as police officers in the police force, owned by Alfred Beit’s and Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company.

Supposedly the raid would encourage the Uitlanders, the pro-British citizens, to rebel against Paul Kruger, the Transvaal president, and his supporters. A pro-British government would quickly be set up. Then the British would get all of the Boers’ gold and diamonds. Here’s “Oom Paul Kruger” as he was called at the time :

Absolutely nothing happened and Jameson was arrested. The anti-English Boers, though, were by this time more than ready for a fight against the British when the Second Boer War came round.

Here is part of Harry’s epitaph taken from “The Forester”, the first School Magazine.

“Returning to England after the Jameson Raid, Harry then returned to South Africa and became a Lieutenant in the British South Africa Mounted Police. After doing much good work on active service, he died of enteric fever (typhoid) on April 21st 1900 at Gaberones, the capital city of the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland. He was thirty years old. Great sympathy is felt with his father who has thus lost two sons in the war.”

The sad father, Major Alexander Bruce Wallis, now had only one remaining son, Francis Edward Wallis, born on December 24th 1862 and the eldest of the three. He entered the High School on Friday, September 12th 1879 as Boy No 584. He was sixteen years old. I have found out no more than that about him, although I am fairly confident that he would probably have joined the Army at some point and perhaps then served in Africa. Hopefully, he joined just in time to hear somebody say :

“Have those Zulus definitely gone then?”

And Francis Edward Wallis was certainly not killed in World War One. Thank the Lord.



Filed under Africa, History, military, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

19 responses to ““A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (2)

  1. Sad, but fascinating, history, John

  2. The grief of all those parents who lose their children. Only they will know they know . Wasted young lives, true.

    • Absolutely. And politicians continue to throw away young men’s lives to this very day, as if nobody loved them, nobody cared and their lives were worthless.
      Let’s have a stop put to it, because with climate change, we have much bigger problems to solve in the future.

    • Thank you, Andrew. I was researching something else when I came across the obituaries of Old Boys who had been killed in the Boer Wars. A quick flick through soon revealed just how talented many of them were, and how every single one of them was valued and loved by their family.

  3. Robert Jones

    A really interesting article about what is a much forgotten conflict – thank you John

  4. GP

    Thank you for refreshing my memory and adding information!

    • Yes, so many wars seem to have been fought over the last few centuries, and a lot of the British ones are forgotten now. Not that I think that they should be particularly remembered, but perhaps just now and again we should think about the brave men who were always there to step forward and volunteer to defend their country’s honour.

  5. It’s sad how so many conflicts can take the life’s of young men and then Be forgotten about. We often forget that ‘local’ people fought and died in far off lands long before the first or second world wars!

    • Absolutely. If you take a quick look at
      you will be surprised to see just how many forgotten wars the British have fought over the years.
      Many people know that we fought the Zulus and the Fuzzy-Wuzzies of the Sudan (thank you, Private Jones) but the Maoris, the Nepalese, the Ethiopians, and a number of repeated wars, against the Ashantis (who?), the Jamaicans, the Aghans, the Chinese. What was all that about?
      The problem was, of course, that young men died in all of these wars and that is why “There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England”.

      • Wow! It really is frightening isn’t it. I
        Doubt there is any part of this globe that has not had a British soldier’s blood mix with its soil. A sobering thought.

  6. Well I know a little about the Boer War. I remember them but your post certainly reminds the best way. What a shame, all that loss. Thank you John.

    • My pleasure, Lloyd. As you can probably guess, the Boer War had plenty of Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders there. It was possibly the first time that the Empire had called on the Dominions to send troops, but once the ice was broken, they didn’t hesitate to do it again twenty years later and forty years later………..

  7. So much suffering both past and present, John. I really enjoyed the story about the high school but then when I got to the part about the wars, my spirit sank reading about how that man lost 2 sons to war and disease. This life can be so beautiful and at the same time so terrible. Great research job again, John. You amazed me!!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Amy. You are right about Life being so wonderful, yet at the same time capable of finding terrible things to throw in some people’s way, almost as if Life wanted to test people out. I cannot imagine how that father must have felt to have lost his two sons, who would then have been buried too far away in South Africa for him to visit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.