Several corps of volunteers, consisting partly of foreigners and partly of naturalised burghers of the Transvaal Republic, formed on the eve of the War to join forces with the Boers. Of these, the German and the Hollander corps were the largest. There were also a number of volunteers who arrived from overseas to fight on the Boer side after hostilities had begun. Some of the corps, such as the German and the Hollander corps, were very much weakened during the Boer offensive in Natal. On the Transvaal western front the Scandinavian Corps was almost annihilated at Magersfontein. The remnants of various corps came over to the Boer commandos and were later temporarily reunited under General Georges de Villebois-Mareuil and eventually incorporated with General J.H. De la Rey’s commandos. Other remnants took part in engagements in the Eastern Transvaal after the fall of Pretoria, or, discouraged, departed overseas. Others joined the Boer commandos in guerilla warfare until the end of the War in 1902. Some of the members of the corps were killed in action, or became prisoners of war together with the Boers.
On 18 September, 1899 a number of Belgians under the chairmanship of President Kruger’s personal physician, Dr. G.M.A. Heymans, met at Pretoria to discuss ways and means of assisting the Boers. They were too few in number to establish their own corps and joined the Hollander Corps instead.
At a meeting held in Johannesburg on 28 August, 1899, members of the Swiss society ‘Helvetia’ decided that their small community of a hundred persons could not establish a separate military unit. Both Dr. G. Liengme and the Swiss Missionary Society at Elim in Zoutpansberg offered their services to the Government.
Among the French in Johannesburg enthusiasm ran high at a meeting held on 28 September, 1899, but the French consul was against their lending military aid. It was accordingly resolved that the French would enlist under Captain S.H.L de Korte in a neutral police force for the protection of the gold mines. It is difficult to ascertain how many French later joined Villebois’ Foreign Legion.
Americans in the Transvaal, mostly of Irish descent, formed their own unit. There was an American body of scouts under Captain John A. Hassell (‘Hassell’s Scouts’) which took part in operations in Natal and in actions near Brandfort in May 1900. Together with his volunteers Hassell (who came from New Jersey) joined the Vryheid commando; he was wounded at Escourt. His lieutenant was John Shea. Another American corps was the Chicago Irish-American Volunteers under Captain Patrick O’Connor, who joined Colonel John.Y.F. Blake’s Irish Brigade. O’Connor’s corps took part in rear guard actions near Brandfort and in the Battle of Dalmanutha (August 1900). Irish-American societies in Chicago provided these volunteers with doctors and an ambulance.
On 13 September, 1899 a large gathering of Irishmen in Johannesburg decided to establish an Irish Brigade and offered their services to the Government. Colonel John Y. Franklin Blake, an American of Irish descent and a former professional officer who had been trained at the West Point Military Academy, was elected commander of this First Irish Brigade. His staff consisted of Majors J. McBride and T.M. Morton, Captains J. Laracey and J.J. Mitchell, and Capt-Intendant C.F. Coetzee (commissariat). The strength of Blake’s brigade was about 100 men.
Manifesto of the Johannesburg Irish Volunteers
13 September 1899
The Government of the Transvaal being now threatened with extinction by our ancient foe, England, it is the duty of Irishmen to throw in their lot with the former, and be prepared by force of arms to maintain the independence of the country that has given them a home, at the same time seizing the opportunity to strike a good and effective blow at the merciless tyrannic power that has so long held our people in bondage. The position in the Transvaal to-day is exactly similar to what it was in Ireland at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. The memory of the massacre of Drogheda by order of the infamous regicide Cromwell is still darkly remembered in Ireland, and England of that day applauded and justified the cold-blooded butchery as a righteous judgement executed. With the story of Ireland’s wrongs and sufferings before them, no wonder the Boer people refuse to surrender their cherished independence to the hateful sway of Britain. England has been a vampire, and has drained Ireland’s life-blood for centuries, and now her difficulty is Ireland’s opportunity. The time is at hand to avenge your dead Irish. England’s hands are red with blood, and her coffers filled with the spoil of Irish people, and we call upon you to rise as one man and seize upon the present glorious opportunity of retaliating upon your ancient foe. Act together and fight together. Prepare! The end is in view. The day of reckoning is at hand. Long live the republic! Irishmen to the rescue! God save Ireland!
These Irishmen and Irish-Americans took part in the battles of Modderspruit and Colenso, fought at Brandfort, and after the Battle of Dalmanutha disbanded their unit. Most of them then returned to the U.S.A. After the relief of Ladysmith their strength was estimated at fewer than 100. In January, 1900 the Second Irish Brigade under the Irish-Australian journalist Arthur Lynch made its appearance. It mustered about 150 men from various nationalities. They first fought under General Lucas Meyer in Natal and then took part in minor operations near Vereeniging. The force was disbanded and in 1901 Lynch, who bore the title of colonel, became an Irish member of the House of Commons.
The Italian Corps came into existence as a result of the efforts of Colonel Camillo Ricchiardi, an Italian professional officer, who, after having fought in the Phillipines, travelled via Lorenço Marques to the scene of war. He was assisted by Major T. Merese and Lt. Count Pecci (a nephew of Pope Leo XIII). The Italians took part in the Battle of Colenso. Ricchiardi was wounded and returned to Europe.
In 1899 and 1900 about a hundred volunteers came from Russia to fight for the Boers. Among them were Baron Ernst von Wrangel, Colonel Eugene Maximoff, Colonel Prince Bagration-Morgaff and Commandant Count Alexis de Ganetzky. It is known that a group of thirty Russians from the Witswatersrand first took the field with the Johannesburg commando, and after the relief of Ladysmith joined General Philip Botha as a group of scouts in the Southern Free State.
Danish Swedish Norwegian Finnish
A number of Danes, Swedes, Norwegians and Finns met in Pretoria on 23 September, 1899 and again on 4 October, 1899 for a discussion of their plans in relation to the war, resulting in the formation of the Scandinavian Corps. Many Scandinavian miners and seamen joined. The corps was mounted and had in 1899, 113 men, of which nine were officers and non-commissioned officers, 45 Swedes, 24 Danes, 18 Finns, 13 Norwegians and 13 of other nationalities.
The Commander was Swedish Captain Axel Christer Helmfrid Uggla. Before leaving for the front 50 men of the Scandinavian Corps paraded for President Kruger on 16 October, 1899.
The Scandinavians were to a great extent involved in sabotage operations but participated also in the battles of Magersfontein and Paardeberg as well as the siege of Mafeking.
Toward the end of November 1899 the Scandinavian Corps with Boer commandos was sent south to meet British reinforcements for Mafeking.
The Corps was ‘baptized’ on 11 December, 1899, at Magersfontein, when it was positioned in front of a 4,000 man strong British unit of Highlanders. Attacking at night, led by the Black Watch the unit was met by Boer and Scandinavian snipers. This effectively halted the advancing Scots, who suffered terrible losses. Soon the whole unit was in full retreat.
However, the British resumed the attack after heavy artillery shelling in which G-Battery, Royal Horse Artillery targeted their guns on the Scandinavians. After loosing 400 men the Highlanders managed to take the defensive positions of the Scandinavian Corps. Only eight of the Scandinavians managed to slip away taking five British prisoners with them.
The total British losses were 971, while 44 Scandinavians were killed or badly wounded, eleven of whom were Swedes.
Several of the fallen Swedes were buried on the battleground:
- Conrad Ahlstroem, Lilla Malma, Soedermanland Province
- Julius Anderson, Stockholm
- Johannes Flygare, Uppsala, Uppland Province
- Nils Alfred Johnson, Brunnby, Province of Scania
- Otto Stael von Holstein, Kristianstad, Province of Scania
- Osvald Mark, City of Gothenburg
- Nils Harald Nyqvist, City of Gothenburg
- Carl Albert Olsson, City of Gothenburg (Grave No. 3, brother of Edvin Olsson)
- Edvin Olsson, City of Gothenburg (Grave No.3, brother of C.A. Olsson)
- Fredrik Osberg, City of Gothenburg
- Badly wounded Mr. Appelgren, Oskarshamn, Kalmar Province, died later. He was buried at Modder River, where General Cronjé’s camp was situated.
- Emil Lindstroem, Malmoe, Province of Scania, died in the British camp.
The surviving Scandinavians were sent to Bloemfontein, where the Corps was reorganised and received additional 80 volunteers from the four homelands. The Corps was not to survive until the end of the war however. On 27 February, 1900, the corps was reconstituted under General Cronjé at Paardeberg, and was not reorganised.
The Scandinavian prisoners were sent to the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic. They were held in Simonstown, South Africa, before being shipped to the small island. Three managed to escape: Hjalmar P:son Janeck (Helsingborg, Province of Scania) hid in a shallow hole he dug on a beach during a swimming exercise. Janeck was captured again but managed once again to escape.
The two other escaping Swedes ( Privates Johansson and Hultin) managed to avoid capture and returned to the Boer side.
A Scandinavian Ambulance Unit was active 1899 -1902 with a Norwegian doctor, Swedish nurses and Swedish-Finnish-German personnel.
In 1920, 15 Swedes of the Scandinavian Corps were decorated with the “Medalj voor de Anglo-Boeroorlog” and an additional 30 Swedes were decorated in the garden of the South African Legation in Stockholm in 1937. Six other Swedes received the “Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst”.
In 1908 a monument was inaugurated at Magersfontein to honour the Scandinavian volunteers in the presence of former Boer General Louis Botha. The 20 feet high monument is shaped as a Viking runestone with 45 feet high corner stones, one for each country. The inscription on the Swedish stone reads in translation: “They could never retreat, only fall in battle”. The names of the fallen at Magersfontein and the Swedish national figure, the Lady Svea, in Viking battle dress are also inscribed on the monument. Present was the former Boer General Louis Botha.
In a class of its own was the Foreign Legion, made up by General Villebois-Mareuil from the remnants of several volunteer corps. He had under his command, among others, members of the former German and Hollander Corps, and Colonel Maximoff. Villebois fell in action near Boshof (5 April 1900), and in due course the remnants of his Foreign Legion were placed under General De la Rey’s command.
According to an estimate by H.C. Hillegas, which does not differ materially from that of Amery (in the Times History of the War), a total of 1650 foreigners and naturalised burghers joined the volunteer corps, and fully 1000, the Boer commandos.
The approximate figures in square brackets below refer to those who joined the commandos after foreign brigades were broken up:
Dutch – 400 ;
German – 300 ;
French – 300 ;
American – 150 ;
Russian – 100 ;
Italian – 100 ;
Irish – 200;
Scandinavians – 100 
Potgeiter, D.J. ed., Standard Encyclopædia of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Nasou, 1970.
Progress, (Brisbane), 11 November 1899.
Bertil Häggman (data on Swedish involvement).