On This Day…

On the 1st June 1900 the British army occupied Pretoria during the second Boer War

The war in South Africa was fought between the British Empire and two independent Boer states, the South African Republic (Republic of Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, over the Empire’s influence in South Africa.


Field communications

During the War between 1899 and 1902, much use was made of existing civilian telephones and telephone exchanges but for field use specially designed telephones and exchanges had to be produced. The C Mark 1 and the D Mark 1 were the first of a whole family of field telephones to be developed for the British Army.


Laying line, operational use of volunteers and Signals Service

The considerable distances over which British forces were deployed in South Africa meant more men were needed to lay and maintain the lines. Consequently 350 officers and soldiers were mobilised in 1899 from the London and Glasgow reserve Royal Engineer telegraph companies. This was the first operational use of volunteer reserve telegraph personnel. These telegraph companies were the forebears of 31st and 32nd Signal Regiments.

By the end of the war there were 2500 signallers in Theatre engaged in a variety of activities. The Signal Service laid 18,000 miles of telegraph and telephone cable during the Second Boer War and total of 13½ million messages were handled. Tactical use was made of both telephone and telegraph was made by Major General John French, later to be Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force for the first 16 months of World War One, to direct his flank formations, They were also used on the battlefield to control and direct artillery fire.

Marconi’s wireless sets were first tested operationally during the campaign but the trial proved unsuccessful and the proven technologies of telephone and telegraph were found to be more reliable.