Boer War Veterans

London Newspaper Group — KNP 18-05-1979

Long Look

By Christopher Long

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A Centenarian Among the Boer Veterans

Memories of a war that took place almost 80 years ago were revived when six of its soldiers arrived in Chelsea for the annual lunch of the South African War Veterans'.

Travelling from all over the country, the Veterans – whose average age was 98 – represented only 12 surviving army pensioners who went out as boys to fight the Dutch in the Boer War at the turn of the century. At the Duke of York's Headquarters, surrounded by well-wishers, the old soldiers told how they had won their medals and why they'd volunteered all those years ago.

"I always was interested in soldiering," said Hubert Wood, 95, from Boston. He left his apprenticeship in 1902 to join up on his birthday and sail to South Africa when only 16.

"When he knew I was going, my father said he'd never speak to me again and my mother had to be sent off to bed."

"But in the end I think I was a bit of a favourite to my father," said Hubert, who distinguished himself by serving in all three wars [Boer + WWl + WWll] – and may be the only person who did.

"I served in South Africa; then I was in France and Palestine in the Great War." Hubert added, using the medals on his chest to refresh his memory.

"And I had another medal as well, but I can't find it. It was given to about 15 of us by Lord Roberts at a ceremony in Harrogate in 1903. The only thing was that it was a special, unofficial, medal and my brother had to collect it for me."

Meanwhile, other veterans were arriving and greeting each other. Some of them keep in touch through the years by post. All looked amazingly fit and spry, despite their combined age of 586 years.

"The secret of old age is to live one day at a time," said W. J. Bilham from Rickmansworth, who is 101.

As the oldest veteran he was given place of honour beside General Sir Richard Gale, who presided at the lunch.

And 94-year-old Mr Morden agreed with him, saying that "you must take things easy and don't get in a rush".

But youth was represented too, as other guests joined the lunch. Among them was Miss Georgina White, daughter of the late Field Marshall Sir George White; Gerald Sharp, son of the Midshipman Sharp who served with the Naval Guns at Ladysmith, and a number of Red Cross VADs who were there to look after the Veterans.

Notes and a tape recording of conversations I had with with several of these men were presented to the Imperial War Museum in c.1981.

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