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The origins of the Boer military structure called the commando go back to the 18th Century.  At this time, the Boers needed to be able to raise an army to defend themselves against, attack the local tribesmen or take part in the frequent military skirmishes of the time.  The problem was that they had insufficient funds to pay for a standing army.  The commando system was devised as the solution.  It required that men between the ages of 16 and 60 make themselves available to fight in times of need for the benefit of all in their community.  All burghers were responsible for arming themselves and were expected to have access to a rifle and ammunition.  Those in the Free State from farms were also expected to provide themselves with a horse.

The commando was organised on a regional basis.  The country was divided into districts and districts into wards or wyks.  For example:

District Wards / Wyks
Potchefstroom             Dorp, Vaal River, Boven Mooi River
Ermelo                          Wyk 1, Wyk 2

Each district was required to be able to muster men for the commando.  In populous regions the commando could number 3,000 men whereas much lower numbers were usual in the rural parts of the country.

The commando had a democratic structure and hierarchy.  A Field Cornet was the elected leader of the ward.  If the ward was large, an Assistant Field Cornet could be elected.  The Field Cornets reported into an elected Commandant who was in charge of the commando.  In times of war, a Commandant General or Chief Commandant would lead and co-ordinate a large force.

The Commandant attended to the military aspects of the district and had a civilian counterpart, the Landdrost or Magistrate, who has responsibility for the civil administration of the district.

The leaders of the fighting units led them rather than commanded them.  They had no executive power and could not give orders.  To retain their leadership, they needed to retain the confidence and loyalty of the men in their unit.

Both the Transvaal and the Free State adopted the commando but there were slight differences in their hierarchies:

  1. In the Transvaal, the Commandant General was elected for 5 year periods by a general ballot of all burghers.  There was no headquarters staff but a small civilian staff helped to administer the Commandant General’s duties.
  2. In the Free State, the President was head of the military.  In the event of war, a Chief Commandant would be elected by a vote of the Commandants and Field Cornets.
  3. Both countries could also appoint a Vecht General or Combat General or Assistant Chief Commandant whose role was to command two or more commandos and thus they would report into the Commandant General or Chief Commandant and have authority over their commando’s Commandants.

This gave a hierarchy of 6 levels:


Free State

Commandant General

State President

Assistant General

Chief Commandant

Combat General

Assistant Chief Commandant



Field Cornet

Field Cornet

Assistant Field Cornet

Assistant field Cornet

While this was the structure at the start of the Boer War, changes were made as the war progressed.

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