Sourcing SAffer involvement in World War 1

SAffers (my pet name for my kinsfolk of all colours and creeds) served in various capacities and theatres during World War 1.

However, the only time they served as South Africans under the auspices of the Union Defence Force was in the 1914-1915 attack on German South West Africa (GSWA). In all other theatres – German East Africa (EA), Central Africa, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Europe – they were Imperial Service troops who were allowed where possible to remain in South African contingents, battalions or regiments. (Why this was the case will be the feature of my next blog.)

This creates a challenge in locating service records for the SA forces. There are registers in SANDF Document Supply for those who served in GSWA but for those who served in Europe, the case is mixed. SANDF Doc Supply has some – for those technically born in SA, whilst those of men born in Britain should technically be in Britain (according to The National Archives, London). However, most of the SA records happen to be in the group now known as the ‘Burnt documents‘ which were those destroyed during WW2 when a bomb fell on the archive depot in London.

The records mentioned above refer mainly to white soldiers and auxiliary forces which served during World War 1. However, there are lists of black labourers, the Cape Corps and Indian Stretcher bearers from the Union and British Protectorates of Bechuanaland (Botswana), Basutholand (Lesotho) and Swaziland hidden amongst other records in the various British and South African archives.

As I come across these names (of SAffers and others who served in Africa), I am recording these on the GWAA site, so it is a good place to start your search.  The list includes:

  • All the names from James Ambrose Brown’s They fought for King and Country
  • References to where the name was found. This includes primary and secondary source material
  • At the time of writing, over 18,000 names have been recorded for East and Central Africa, 600 for South West Africa and under 100 for West and North Africa. These names are of all forces irrespective of rank, race, gender or position. Prisoners of war are also included.

If the name you’re looking for is not on the list please get in touch. In addition to the names listed, elsewhere on the site is a list of known books and articles on the African campaigns of World War 1 (regularly updated) as well as time lines and other useful sources of information – all updated as time permits.

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2 thoughts on “Sourcing SAffer involvement in World War 1

  1. Pingback: Update April 2014

  2. Pingback: SAffers as Imperial Service troops (WW1) | Anne Samson - Historian

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