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War trophy Boer bandoleer-vest

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The caption reads "Transvaalsch Mauser vest bandelier versierd met Engelsche regimentsnummers", which I assume means "Transvaal Mauser bandolier-vest decorated with British regiment badges". The photo is from the digitized photo archives of the Zuid-Afrika Huis, the preeminent library of South African texts and artifacts in the Netherlands. I found it just trawling through the archive, and to my surprise I have never seen it reproduced in any books or texts on the topic of Boer firearms and accessory equipment despite the remarkable nature of the subject, which I will shortly address here.

The photo shows a leather ammo-vest dating from the Second Anglo-Boer War. During both wars, similar vests were a common homemade alternative to the leather belt bandoleers often worn on commando by Boer burghers. You can find many group photos where at least one or two burghers are wearing a bandoleer-vest. Many of the simpler variants were just ordinary waistcoats or vests with ammo pouches or loops stitched onto the front, but some like the photographed exampled were skillfully made from scratch. Each pouch would have held a five-round stripper clip of Mauser cartridges within easy reach for rapid reloading in combat.

What makes this one particularly fascinating are the decorations. The vest is festooned with an astonishing assortment of captured British hat badges and what look like rank insignia. The first two rows of pouches (starting from the very top two pouches on the shoulders), look like they might be British officers' collar pips, with the exception of the large circular button on the far left of the second row (it looks like it says "ZAR", maybe a Transvaal Staatsartillerie or police uniform button?). The flaming grenades in the middle might be something to do with the Royal Artillery, engineers, or grenadiers, not really sure.

The fourth row from the top consists entirely of British hat badges bearing the names of the regiments (would have been worn on the pinned up brim of British slouch hats), with the exception of the badge pinned to the pouch in the middle. That one is a Boer ZARP badge (superimposed letters "ZAR"), which would have been worn on the front of the uniform cap by members of the Transvaal's elite mounted police force in peacetime (on commando, the ZARP policemen seem to have preferred ordinary slouch hats to the impractical forage cap). The last row of pouches looks like more flaming grenades and hat badges. Underneath the last row of pouches, in the center, there is a Boer OVS hat badge. These stamped badges were originally made for the Orange Free State artillerymen to wear, but they ended up being distributed to ordinary Free State burghers as well.

All in all, a very fascinating and extensive collection of captured British unit, service branch, and rank insignia, along with badges from both Boer republics. Unfortunately, I do not know enough about British insignia and units to identify all the British badges. Although the photo is undated and could very well have been taken after the war, the fact that it was taken in a Pretoria photo studio and captioned as a "Transvaalsch Mauser vest" leads me to think that it was the prized possession of a souvenir-hunting Boer burgher who had found a creative way of displaying his enormous collection.

Ever since the days of the 1881 war, the Boer burghers had gained a somewhat exaggerated reputation for looting souvenirs from dead British soldiers (at Majuba, young Boers supposedly prized the sporran pouches of dead Highlanders), and in the 1899 war, they gained a deserved reputation for stripping surrendered British of uniform and clothing, out of necessity more than avarice. Although Kitchener issued orders for all Boers wearing captured British khaki to be summarily executed, most British officers and soldiers in the field made it known that so long as the Boers removed the British rank and unit insignia, they were free to wear captured clothing without risk of repercussion. Thus, it is no stretch of the imagination that some enterprising Transvaal burgher would have held onto British insignia and badges after removing them from captured clothing, and a large trophy collection like the one in the photo might have been amassed through a combination of personal capture and trading with other burghers.

It is likely that this Transvaal burgher acquired the Free State hat badge through trading as well, during a visit to friends or family in a Free State laager or commando. The ZARP hat badge is harder to account for. Although the Transvaal burgher who owned the vest might have been a ZARP himself, it is impossible to say for certain. In photos, ZARPs universally seem to wear the standard patterns of belt-bandoleers, as the waistcoat-style of ammo vest would have been uncomfortably hot to wear over the dark blue, wool uniform tunic. However, photos also show that a great number of ZARPs preferred to wear civilian clothes on commando, which would be perfectly suitable for the leather ammo vest. At any rate, the Transvaal burgher who assembled this collection must have been the envy of every man in his commando! Ironically, the only Boer badge he seems to be missing is the Transvaal's very own ZAR national emblem hat badge, which was issued primarily to the Staatsartillerie, with leftovers going to some ordinary burghers.

Anyway, just something I felt compelled to share. Never seen anything else like it! You can see the original in much greater enhanced detail here: www.geheugenvannederland.nl/en…
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menapia's avatar
a very ingenious solution for holding ammo - I've read of soldiers using enemy badges like this before, like one story I read of an WW1 British Tommy who wore captured German badges and medals on the inside of his army great-coat.

Another way soldiers would make a memento of their service was to create "Snorters" - basically a bunch of lads from the same platoon would take a banknote and each member of the platoon or squad would autograph the money, the agreement was that once the war was over they would meet up and spend the banknote on drink to celebrate the war being over.  
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
You will find many photos of Boer burghers wearing ammo vests like this, though most are of simpler construction, simply being civilian waistcoats that have pouches or loops stitched on for storing stripper clips or cartridges.
menapia's avatar
surprised I've seen nothing similar produced during our independence war,  like the Boers our rebels fought mostly in their civilian clothing except for a few who still had the Irish Volunteers uniforms, many also wore a Boer style slouch hat especially those who had been members of the old Irish Citizen's Army.
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
Perhaps most Irish rebels did not have enough ammunition to require purpose-made ammo webbing or bandoleers, so regular jacket and trouser pockets were enough for storage. To ensure that every Boer citizen was adequately armed for commando duty, each Boer was required by law to own a rifle and at least sixty rounds of ammunition, naturally requiring some sort of ammo storage with more capacity than just plain clothing pockets.
menapia's avatar
eh, stuck in the middle of doing an Alt-hist, I really like the idea of using the Boer style bandoleer vest in it.  The Easter Rising of 1916 was a debacle with different weapons of various calibers being used - stolen Lee-Enfields(occasionally bought from officers!), Martini-Henrys, Vetterli's smuggled in from Europe in a shipment of Italian marble and even some Krags that Irish sympathizers had used while serving with the Boers and of course the single shot 1871 Mauser gewehr.

I can easily imagine just how chaotic keeping track of ammunition could've been, in some parts of Dublin there were rebels who had a whole 12 bullets for the duration of the fighting and of course few would have had the chance let alone ammo to practice.

The later Independence War was slightly different - A head Quarter-master  at one of the British Army Barracks in Dublin secretly sold off 25,000 rounds of ammo to the Rebel Dublin Brigade along with many hundreds of rifles, this was just one crooked officer and there were many.

There haven't been many revolutions where the revolutionaries bought their guns and ammo and gelignite from their actual enemies ~ slightly surreal when I read about it.Facepalm 
nicholasweed's avatar
"Hate Belting"  I remember seeing an American WW1 pistol belt with a bunch of WW1 era American insignia added to it.  It was done as a Hate Belt by a WW1 German Soldier.  A similar practice.  Like how WW2 Americans collected Nazi and Japanese stuff.  Collecting war trophies.
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
That's the term! I could not remember it for the life of me
nicholasweed's avatar
In the film "War Pigs", a SS Officer wears an American Bomber jacket with American unit patches all over it.  He would collect the different patches off the American soldiers he killed.  Then sew them onto the jacket.  The film had a good Hollywood fake unit patch for the War Pigs unit.  the Kraut Officer was interested in adding it to his collection. 
akleden's avatar
I've seen 'Hate' belts , but never a hate vest/bandelier.
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
I have never seen anything else like it, and there are a pretty good number of ammo vests from this time period that survive either in photos or as museum pieces
That's a lot of pockets for a vest.
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
26 pouches, each holding a 5-round clip of Mauser rounds, would provide a total ammunition capacity of 130. That is comparable to the amount of ammo carried by a Boer wearing two belt bandoleers, each typically holding 12 pouches (60 rounds).
Yeah, that's probably enough pockets to insert metal plates and turn it into a makeshift low-grade bulletproof vest.
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
with extra metal and a full load of ammunition, it would be a very heavy item to wear!
I meant inserting plates instead of Mauser clips.
LETMESEEBEUTY's avatar
Good work thank you for sharing
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
you're welcome. i may upload some more photos like this here, at least ones that are not widely reproduced and might be worthy of discussion in detail
LETMESEEBEUTY's avatar
Thank you again for sharing
LETMESEEBEUTY's avatar
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very interesting, thank you.
ColorCopyCenter's avatar
glad you find some interest in it
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