Standing, to the left without bandolier: Christer Uggla, founder of the Scandinavian Corps and Director of the Railway works in Pretoria.
Standing, in the middle without bandoliers, from left: (2Lt and QM) Adolf Claudelin, 2iC company 1Lt Erik Stålberg (black moustache), Company commander Cpt Johannes Flygare (glasses and beard), 1st Lt and QM Carl David Appelgren (moustache) and 2lt William Baerentsen (Danish, moustache)
The Scandinavian Corps was founded just before the outbreak of hostilities at a meeting in Pretoria. Recruiting was mainly among Scandinavian miners around Johannesburg, but the corps also contained a number of sailors. The corps was mounted, and in 1899 they consisted of 9 officers and NCOs and 104 ORs. (45 Swedes, 24 Danes, 18 Finns, 13 Norwegians and 13 others)
The founder was captain Axel Christer Helmfrid Uggla (a railway engineer) from Sweden. On 16th October 1899 about 50 men of the corps paraded for president Krüger before leaving for the front. Johannes Flygare was chosen as Company Commander (Veldkornet). His second in command was fellow Swede (from Sundsvall) Erik Ståhlberg (lieutenant), the only officer who was a trained officer. Lieutenant Ståhlberg had only about a week to try to give some basic military training to the force, where previous military- weapons- or equestrian training was scarce.
The corps tasks were mainly sabotage operations, but they also took part in the siege of Mafeking and the battles at Magersfontein and Paardeberg.
The were present at the siege of Mafeking, were they served as mounted infantry and clearing mines laid by the defenders. They also demolished railway lines and took horses from the British. The second in command, Erik Ståhlberg wrote in 1901 after coming home about the siege: “The bombardment continues day after day. But it is not impossible getting new friends on the opposite side. Sundays and holidays hostilities cease and it is possible to meet the British in all friendliness, swapping meat for whisky!”
At the end of November the Scandinavian corps were part of the force sent out to meet the relief column. On 9th December the Boer forces hade entrenched themselves on a ridge, with the Scandinavians along with two other Boer detachments entrenched as outposts. The Scandinavian force was 3 officers and 49 men. Their task was to give warning and delay a British attack.
On 11th December, the Highland Brigade attacked. Captain J Allum, a Norwegian military attaché in South Africa, was in the Scandinavian trenches and tells: “It was a rainy, dark night, the men suffering from the cold, which at this time of the year can be severe. Everything was quiet until around 4.30 in the morning, when a few shots were heard on our right. Then silence for a couple of seconds, perhaps a minute it seemed to us, waiting tensely, as an eternity. It was so silent you could hear your heartbeats. Suddenly heavy firing broke out at the foot of the hill on the Boer right flank, and in the next second the mauser’s began to smatter, the wounded screamed and the English hurrahs and commands sounded. This went on for about 15 minutes, then silence fell anew. The first assault was beaten back with heavy losses. The Boers had let the English, marching in formation, come very close before opening a devastating fire.”
In front of the Scandinavians were 4000 of the Highland Brigade: Black Watch, Seaforths, Argylls and the HLI. After the assault had been broken, the British artillery commenced firing. Before the next infantry attack. The Scandinavians were, according to captain Ståhlberg, firing 18-20 aimed shots a minute. After half an hour firing 200 men of the Seaforths had worked around the Scandinavian right flank, and the losses among the defenders rose. After renewed attacks with the bayonets the position was overwhelmed. 17 men had tried a countercharge, but only eight Scandinavians managed to get back in the Boer lines, the rest killed or wounded. Everyone of the prisoners had been wounded.. It then appeared that the fight had been the result of a mistake. At 3.00 General Cronje had ordered the outposts to get back, but this had never reached the Scandinavians.
Captain Ståhlberg again: “After three hours our resistance is broken. Our CO, Captain Flygare falls in the beginning of the battle, shot in the heart. Lieutenant Berentsen is wounded and man after man falls, drilled through by bullets. The Highland Brigade, with the Gordons on the right encircles us. In the final act they fell over us like hungry vultures, and our resistance is over. Carl Albert Olsson from Gothenburg tries to save his brother Edvin, shot in the head by pulling him under cover. He is attacked by two scots whose heads he smashes with the rifle butt, only to fall from several bayonet wounds.
The Swedish nurse Elin Lindblom, serving with the Scandinavian ambulance with the Boers tells: “Early in the afternoon came the seven men who had succeeded in escaping in the battle at Magersfontein, six unscathed, a Dane, Krohn, shot in the heel. The rest of the 49 Scandinavians who had been sent to the forepost, were dead or wounded and the wounded were prisoners with the English.
Our ambulance men had gone out with the wagon and in the evening they brought some of the wounded Scandinavians with them, among them Appelberg. He was shot in the stomach and died after a few days and he was buried after a post-mortem examination by a German surgeon(12). But during the whole day wounded Boers had come in one after the other, some of them wounded who needed bandaging to return to the battle, some in such a state that we had to find place for them in the tent as best as we could. The most seriously wounded man, apart from Appelberg, was perhaps a Boer, named Sauer, who was shot through the throat, and we feared that the spine was injured.
We washed and bandaged them as best as we could and gave them water and food. A mobile ambulance cannot do much in these cases, but it was better than nothing. Our tent was entirely full by the evening. The battle continued uninterruptedly and it was impossible for our ambulance men to go to the battlefield where our men had fallen. It became quiet only after three o'clock on Tuesday afternoon(13) and then they could go there, where they found eighteen dead and two wounded; all the others had been brought by the English to their ambulance. The wounded were two Finns, Backman and Viklund, who were in such a bad state that the English had bandaged them provisionally and left them on the battlefield. They had considered them as hopeless. We also thought this, when they were brought to us on Tuesday evening. Backman was delirious with three bullets through the leg, the whole leg bone splintered by a bomb, one bullet in the breast and out through the back, which was fearfully torn; it was a miracle that he had not bled to death. Viklund was seriously shot through his tender parts and had one flesh wound in the arm as well as heatstroke owing to sunburn. We feared that his spine was injured. They had lain on the battlefield from 5 o'clock Monday morning to 3 o'clock Tuesday afternoon in the burning sun and bitter night cold, robbed of all their clothes(14). For even here pillagers are found. We had a German surgeon who had no ambulance to work for(15) and helped us to bring those who could be transported, to the hospital. The nearest hospital was at Jacobsdal, one day's travel away or a little farther from our spot. They were sent to Jacobsdal with some of our men. Because Viklund was so seriously wounded we thought it better to keep him with the ambulance until we could see how his condition developed.”
It is said that the British could not at first believe that the Scandinavian defenders were so few. The dead were buried on the battlefield, where a monument was erected in 1908.
After Magersfontein the Scandinavian Corps was sent to Bloemfontein, where they reorganized and received 80 men as reinforcements. A Dane named Friis was elected new CO, but shortly after the Corps lost all horses when it was decided to put them for grass on a farm that was subsequently raided by the British. They were part of General Cronje's command, which capitulated at Paardeberg on 27th February 1900. The Scandinavian POW were sent to St Helena, three of them escaping before the ship left Simonstown. Two let himself be buried in the sand while bathing, and a third jumped overboard with a lifebelt and a knife. All three reached the Boer lines safely. The Scandinavian ambulance continued to serve until the end of the war.
In 1920 15 members of the Scandinavian corps received the medal “voor de anglo-Boere oorlog” at a ceremony in Stockholm, three of them nurses. Another 30 Swedes got their medal at the South African legation in Stockholm 1937, six of them receiving a “Dekoratie voor trouwe dienst” as well. In 1925, a special commemorative medallion was struck for the surviving participants, and in 1932 Sir Baden-Powell (CO at Mafeking) received a special striking of this medallion in silver, when in Stockholm for a international Scout meeting.
The monument, which still stands at Magersfontein, was an initiative of the Swedish officer Erland Mossberg, who had served with the British forces in the Cape Town Town Guard during the war. He was an officer originally in “Jämtlands fältjägare” (translates roughly as “Jämtland Rifles”), the medical officer of Jämtlands fältjägare was Josef Hammar, who hade served in the Boer forces (Holland ambulance, Utrecht Kommando). Mossberg started to collect subscriptions for a monument. The money were quickly raised, with support of national newspapers. The monument consists of a 6,5 metres high stele, with four corner stones 15 metres high representing the different Scandinavian countries. The names of the men killed is on the monument, which was inaugurated on 25th april 1908 by PM (and former Boer general) Louis Botha, an honour guard of the Kimberley Regiment present. The monument is placed some distance away from the scene of the actual battle, as the land owner of the battleground ( a scot) didn’t want a monument for the former enemies on his land..
The countries are represented by different inscriptions:
SWE: De kunde icke vika, blott falla kunde de (They could not falter, only fall)
DK: Nu hviler deres ben bag höjen Bautasten. (Now their bones are resting beneath high stele)
FI: På tappra män ser tappra fäders andar ner. (On brave men, brave fathers spirits looks down)
NO: Nu tier stridens larm paa valen, I mindet lever heltens ry (Now the battles din is silent on the rampart, in the memory lives the heroes reputation)
Lars Ericson, Svenska Frivilliga
Lars Gyllenhaal & Lennart Westberg, Svenskar I Krig,
Karl-Gustav Olin, Afrikafeber
Elin Lindblom, Report (1) regarding the activities of the Scandinavian ambulance during the Anglo-Boer War in 1899-1900, printed in South African Military History Society Journal, vol 4 no 5
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