Thank you for posting this, I found it most interesting.
rdarby wrote: Fantasy Clasps
Clasps on the Queen's South Africa Medal can be confusing, and this is made more so by occasional "fantasy" clasps being found. This article will focus on the clasps that should not be on the QSA, not on the clasps that are listed in books such as British Battles and Medals.
The Queen's South Africa medal has 26 different clasps, but it was not possible to receive all of them. The medal was issued with no bar as well. Due to the number of clasps, and the large number of troops and units involved, this is a very interesting medal to collect. The interest is made more so because the war wasn't simply to chase away a bad person, it was heavily political and these feelings have in some cases spilled over into the recipients of the medals, resulting in them being creative in the clasps that actually appeared on their medals. As the war was long and involved many actions, people are known to have awarded themselves clasps to cover actions or areas they very likely worked hard in and felt they deserved recognition. The Pretoria clasp is one such where people may have felt it was an important victory and one for which they wanted recognition, even if the fighting consisted of smaller engagements outside Pretoria.
The war was in two parts. Roughly the conventional war, where the Boers moved South and were then pushed back and their capitals taken. Clear actions took place for which medal clasps could be awarded. After that a guerilla war began. This was a long hard slog recognised by State and Date clasps on the QSA, but also may have resulted in troops spending long periods of time in unpleasant areas in an occupation role, for which they may have felt they deserved specific recognition. This may have resulted in clasps such as Standerton where there was action but also a lot of camps. This period also left the country in a partly undefined state with regards to who the government was and what the states were called, especially if you were a Boer. This could have resulted in fantasy clasps such as Orange River Colony, to be discussed next.
The Orange River Colony Clasp
We will focus on the Orange River Colony clasp here as an example, as anecdotal evidence suggests it is seen most often.
After invading the Orange Free State (an independant republic), and occupying its capital, Bloemfontein, on 28 May 1900, a period of fighting continued until 6 October when British C-in-C Lord Roberts issued a proclamation annexing the Orange Free State to the British Crown as the "Orange River Colony".
Naturally, the Orange Free State government, which still existed and had simply moved to unoccupied territory, didn’t agree, and continued fighting for two more years, eventually surrendering on 31 May 1902. From the perspective of the Orange Free State independance was only lost on 31 May 1902 when the Treaty of Vereeniging ended the war.
The fighting in the Orange Free State and later, if you were British, Orange River Colony, was recognised in Army Order 94 in April 1901, which established the clasp with: "All troops in Orange River Colony at any time between 28th February, 1900 and 31st May, 1902, inclusive who had not received a clasp for a specific action in the Orange River Colony."
As British troops were envading anothers territory, it is logical to name the clasp after the enemy territory. You refer to it in the terms you know it at the time (Orange River Colony) but you name the clasp for what it was at the time of the fighting. In this way the clasp represents the war as it was, not the current changed political and geographic situation.
As the names Orange Free State and Orange River Colony are both found in official documents, such as dispatches, it is sometimes assumed that a different area of the Orange Free State is being referred to. South African history and maps do not support this. More likely people have become confused as they did not take note of the change of name, from a British point of view, half way through the total war. The Orange Free State and Orange River Colony refer to the same geographical area, but very different political viewpoints.
As a tailors copy clasp would have probably been required some time after the war, it is possible that whoever was involved either didn't know it was called the Orange Free State or didn't think of it and used the current name. However the correct clasp name is Orange Free State, regardless of what it was called when the fantasy clasp was made.
This provides the reasoning that the clasp Orange River Colony is a fantasy clasp, and should not be in existance. Collectors should not be paying a premium as these are not rare, and they are not interesting errors, they are simply incorrect.
Other Fantasy Clasps
Other clasps that can sometimes be found are listed below. It must be noted that these are fantasy clasps, not real and not special. The only evidence they are real is the fact that there is no official evidence about them at all:
South Africa 1900. This may be an error by whoever created reproductions, or represent someone who felt they didn't have enough clasps and someone had a South Africa 1901 clasp, and they wanted a date clasp.
Pretoria. The taking of the capital should have been a victory, but there was no real fight.
Standerton. There were actions there, but this is typical of actions all over the country. This may represent frustration that only the early battles were recognised, but many of these actions were not on the scale or of strategic importance to the extent that a clasp was applicable.
Renosterkop. As above, more likely someone who was involved in what was a life changing experience and wanted it commemorated. The need for this must have been strong to have a clasp created specially.
Biddaulphsberg. As above.
Graspan. As above.
Bloemfontein. As above for Pretoria.
How did these fantasy clasps get created in the first place? Some theories are:
For the Orange River Colony, the creator or wearer may have not known any better, and mistakingly refered to the clasp incorrectly.
For the Orange River Colony, the creator may have considered that as it was now British territory, it should have a British name.
A mistake made by whoever made the clasps, possibly a tailor.
The wearer may have felt entitled to more clasps, where only one state or date clasp was issued to cover many engagements or a long time in South Africa. This would explain bars for Standerton, where several engagements took place and many troops spent a lot of time later on.
The wearer may have felt that important events should be commemorated, such as the occupation of Pretoria, should be recognised.
The army order creating the clasps calls it Orange Free State, but refers to the territory as The Orange River Colony, which could have created confusion.
In summary, as time passes collectors may believe those who say these are rare and even more rare as they were not officially mandated! Avoid these clasps!
If anyone can prove me wrong, I am desperate for any information on these.
"From a billow of the rolling veldt we looked back, and black columns were coming up behind us."
An excellent article on 'unoffical clasps'. I very much appreciate you posting this article
it is a good explanation on the subject. I found it very helpful, especially the info. on
the 'Orange Free State' / 'Orange River Colony' clasp.
Not the place you would expect to see a Standerton clasp.
Picture courtesy of Spink
SAGS (1) 1879 (2367. Pte. J. McCormack. 94th. Foot.), with additional tailor's clasp, 'Standerton', above which has been affixed a silver plaque and crown, engraved 'Boer War, 1880-1, Killed, Bronker's Spruit, Pte. J. McCormack, 94th Foot,' the letter 'e' of 'Boer' with an overlapping 'a', good very fine
Despite the inscription stating that he was killed at Bronkhorstspruit, Private J. McCormack does not appear to be listed as a casualty. The 94th lost a great number of officers and men at this action, killed, wounded or taken prisoner.