The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 14 No 5 - June 2009

Scandinavian Volunteers
in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902

By Stellan Bojerud, Prof Mil Hist (Rtd)
Royal General Staff College of the Armed Forces, Stockholm, Sweden

Skandinaviska Organisationen i Transvaal
Scandinavian Organisation in the Transvaal

In the spring of 1899, Mr Axel Christer Helmfrid Uggla, a Swedish engineer, who, since 1890, had been working in the Transvaal as Head of the Nederlandsch-Zuid-Afrikaansche Spoorweg Maatschappij (NZASM) Railway Workshops in Pretoria, took the initiative to form the 'Scandinavian Organisation' in the Transvaal. The main purpose of this organisation was to find work and housing for unemployed fellow Scandinavians and to raise funds to aid them (Uddgren, 1924, pp8f). This organisation had a Central Committee in Pretoria and a Local Committee in Johannesburg.

The Central Committee comprised the following individuals:

The Local Committee consisted of a Norwegian Chairman, Mr Marius Hansen-Stormoen, and a Swedish Secretary, Mr Maurits Kramer.

Skandinaviska Karen
Scandinavian Corps
Following the outbreak of war, a meeting was held in Pretoria on 12 October 1899, which led to the formation of Skandinaviska Karen (the Scandinavian Corps) of volunteers for service with the Transvaal militia. The service of this unit was then offered to the Government of the Transvaal, which gladly accepted. Until then, the Boers had viewed the Scandinavians as uitlanders who tended to side with the British (Uddgren, 1924, pp13f).

The Scandinavian company in Pretoria, probably on 16 October 1899. Mr Uggla can be seen standing, first row far left.
In the first row centre, under the banner, is a group of five officers. They are, from left, 2/Lt QM Claudelin, 1/Lt Stalberg,
Cpt Flygare, 1/Lt QM Appelgren and 2/Lt Baerentzen. Except for Claudelin, all of these officers were killed or wounded
and taken prisoner at Magersfontein, 11 December 1899.

Mauser rifles, Model 1888, were provided by the Transvaal Government and clothes suitable as uniforms were bought by the Committee. On the first day of recruitment, 68 Scandinavians volunteered, including three for medical service. The Government also provided ninety horses. For the logistics, three Voortrekker ox-wagons were acquired (Uddgren, 1924, pp15f).

Officers and NCOs were elected. As Mr Uggla had been ordered by the Government to transform the Railway Workshops into a Weapons Factory and Workshops, he was unavailable to take command of the company-sized force. The officers and NCOs appointed were (Uddgren, 1924, p17):

Captain Flygare was born in Natal, with Swedish parents. Before the war, he had been a land surveyor with the Transvaal Government. He spoke Afrikaans and African languages and had previously participated in military actions against the indigenous Africans (Uddgren, 1924, p 17).

Lieutenants Erik Stalberg and William Baerentzen were members of the Central Committee and Stalberg had previously served as a Warrant Officer with the Royal Swedish Army. Stalberg was made responsible for military training. This was a difficult task, since most of the men had never seen a Mauser and few knew how to ride a horse, many having been sailors (Uddgren, 1924, pp17f). (Owing to the fact that the Scandinavian unit was the size of a company rather than a corps, the writer will hereinafter refer to it as 'the Company').

After mobilisation, the Company was paraded before President Kruger, who addressed the troops and shook hands with all volunteers, probably on 16 October 1899, when it was ordered to the Mafikeng front (Uddgren, 1924, p 19).

To the Mafikeng front
On 16 October 1899, the Company, then comprising some 100 men and 130 horses, was moved by rail from Pretoria to Klerksdorp, where training was continued for another few days. Horse-riding was particularly difficult and Lieutenant Stalberg had no previous experience in this field. He was, however, instructed by a local police officer for some hours (Uddgren, 1924, p 20).

On horseback, the troops continued moving southwards. Due to the poor horse-riding skills of the men, the march progressed slowly. In Polfontein, the Scandinavians were ordered to act as an escort for the 'Long Tom' siege-gun en route to Mafikeng. On 21 October 1899, two volunteers, the Swede, Carl Hultin, and the Norwegian, Einar Olsen, were wounded, but no details are known. (Here, any trace of Hultin ends, so he probably returned home, but Olsen was later killed at Magersfontein) (Uddgren, 1924, pp 22, 86f).

On 23 October 1899, the Company joined the forces of General Piet Cronje at Rietvlei near Mafikeng (Uddgren, 1924, p 22).

The first actions
On 25 October 1899, the Company was ordered to take part in an assault on Mafikeng which was to be carried out by some 1 200 Boers under Commandant Wolmarans. This assault was unsuccessful and the Boers only managed to advance to about 500 metres from the enemy lines. Again, two volunteers were wounded, namely a Dane, Klaussen, and a Finn, Jacob Johansson. (About Klaussen, nothing more is known and he is not recorded on the nominal roll, whereas Johansson fought at Magersfontein and later died in 1900 as a prisoner of war on St Helena) (Uddgren, 1924, pp 24, 86f).

The next action was during the night of 2/3 November 1899, when Captain Flygare and 20 of the best trained Scandinavians, with about 80 Boers, infiltrated and held the British positions until 5 November, when a part of the British defence line was charged and taken, cutting off British artillery on what was referred to as 'Cannon-kopje' (Uddgren, 1924, p 25). However, this position had to be abandoned and the Scandinavian company was then used as scouting forces and demolition teams over the next few days (Uddgren, 1924, p 26).

To Magersfontein
On 20 November 1899, General Cronja's Boer forces, including the Scandinavian company, started moving in order to prevent the British under Lord Methuen from relieving the besieged town of Kimberley. The Company, by then in good control of their horses, made the ride back to Klerksdorp in half the time they had initially covered the distance (Uddgren, 1924, p 28).

In Klerksdorp, fifteen new volunteers, brought there by Mr Uggla, joined the Company, which then moved by train to Edenburg and from there to Jacobsdal on horseback. The Company was ordered to join General de la Rey at Scholtznek and, on the way, to serve as an escort for two Krupp field guns (Uddgren, 1924, pp 29ff).

In Scholtznek, there followed a period of rest, during which the Company underwent additional training, while demolition teams were sent out to blow up the railway line to Kimberley. After scoring some success with this, General Cronje presented the Scandinavian company with a donkey-wagon loaded with explosives and trench tools (Uddgren, 1924, p 33). A demolition team of ten volunteers, headed by two Finnish experts, drove out with the wagon and mined the railway in two places about 20 km south of the Modder River (Uddgren, 1924, p 33).

After that, reconnaissance carried out on 6 December showed that the British forces were closing in. General de la Rey persuaded General Cronje to take up a defensive position at Magersfontein on 8 December and, two days later, the General inspected the Scandinavian company. On 10 December, Captain Flygare and two troops carried out reconnaissance. During the night of 10/ 11 December, approximately half of the Scandinavians manned an advanced outpost and the rest entrenched their defensive positions some 1,5 km further north-east (Uddgren, 1924, p 43).

Scandinavians in the battle of Magersfontein
The fight for the Scandinavian outpost at Magersfontein began on 11 December 1899 at 03.15 and was apparently a mistake. At about 02.00, General Cronje had ordered Commandant Tolly de Beer to abandon the outposts, but this instruction had not been communicated to the Scandinavians (Uddgren, 1924, p 46). The Scandinavians repulsed the first British attack, but a second followed at 06.15 and lasted for half an hour. Captain Flygare was one of the first to be killed and Lieutenant Stalberg was wounded three times. Before losing consciousness, he ordered the troop to abandon the outpost. Lieutenant Baerentzen was also out of action, having been wounded twice (Uddgren, 1924, pp 47f). Lieutenant-Quartermaster Appelgren was not at the outpost, but was wounded in the main defence line and died some days later. Only one officer remained, namely Lieutenant-Quartermaster Claudelin (Uddgren, 1924, p 86).

Sources differ on the strength of the Scandinavian outpost at Magersfontein. British sources sometimes claim that there were eighty men there, while Scandinavian sources state that there were either 49 or 52 men. The writer believes that the correct number is probably 52, based on the number of names that have been identified (see Appendix).

Erland Mossberg (later Colonel), who was Swedish Military Attache with the British Forces during the Anglo-Boer War, writes (1943, p 92) that there were 26 Swedes, 11 Danes, 7 Finns, 4 Norwegians and 3 of unknown nationality. He also writes that the number of men killed in action was 15 Swedes, 4 Danes, 3 Finns, 3 Norwegians and 2 others, totalling 27. By comparing different sources, the writer has, however, found that the correct statistics are likely to be as follows:

In an appendix below, the writer has listed these volunteers by name, thus finding that the Company lost 39 men killed or taken prisoner, while eleven managed to escape to the main defence lines (Gustafsson and Viklund 1910, p 63, list eight volunteers who managed to escape; see also Uddgren, 1924, pp 86f). On 12 December, the Scandinavian Ambulance found eighteen dead and two severely wounded on the battlefield. The wounded were the Finns, Sergeant Nils Viklund and volunteer Otto Backman. The other wounded had been collected by the British forces (Uddgren, 1924, p 53). Mr Uggla had sent Mr Hansen Stormoen from the Johannesburg Committee to assist the Company. Three graves were dug and the only remaining officer, Lieutenant-Quartermaster Claudelin, carried out the funeral (Uddgren, 1924, p 53).

Following the heavy losses sustained at Magersfontein on 11 December 1899, it was decided to dissolve the Company in favour of enabling the survivors to join a Boer commando. However, nothing had yet been done, when four days later, the news of another Boer victory was brought in, namely that of Colenso in Natal. The British advance had been halted and at Magersfontein there was a period of rest that lasted into February 1900 (Uddgren, 1924, p 56).

Meanwhile, Mr Uggla had continued recruiting and on 20 January 1900, another twenty volunteers arrived from Pretoria under the command of Captain Jens Friis, a Dane. The decision to disband the Company was abandoned; instead, the unit would be reorganised as follows (Uddgren, 1924, pp 56, 86-8; and Kerfve, 1900, p 119).

In February 1900 the British began advancing again, but instead of attacking the Magersfontein positions, they tried to outflank them. Late on 15 February, General Cronje began to evacuate the positions and move north. However, the Scandinavians' horses were on a farm that was taken by the British before most of them had been collected. Thus, the Company had to travel by foot (Uddgren, 1924, p 57). During this period, three volunteers were lost. One was the Dane, Ludwig Rubech, who was wounded on 14 February and later died on 17 March 1900, although it is not known if he died from the wounds or from disease (Uddgren, 1924, pp 61,88). On 15 February, Swedish Corporal John Rudolf Ruthstrom was killed near Jakobsdal and his fellow countryman, Wilhelm Stolze, was taken prisoner (Uddgren, 1924, pp 86f).

On 16 February, at 06.00, the British Cavalry began harassing the column and the Scandinavians had to fight them off on several occasions before reaching Klipdrift, some ten kilometres west of Paardeberg (Uddgren, 1924, p 57).

During the night of 16/17 February, the Scandinavian company marched on, with Bloemfontein as their final destination. When daylight came, the troops put up camp at Wolwe Spruit (Uddgren, p 57). On the following day, 18 February, the British attacked, but this was repelled. In this fight, the Swede, Elof Blombergson, and the Dutchman, Jacob Woolf, were killed. The Finns, Sergeant Johan Viklund and volunteer Otto Backman, as well as Danish volunteer, Peter Krohn, were taken prisoner by the British. A serious blow was that the wagon carrying food and equipment was hit by a shell and burned out, leaving the Company with only a single spade for entrenchment (Uddgren, 1924, pp 56f, 86f).

Monday, 19 February, was described as the heaviest day for the Scandinavians, despite there only being two wounded, namely the Swede, Oscar Cederstrom, and the Norwegian, Adolf Hansen, both of whom were taken prisoner a week later (Uddgren, 1924, pp 58f, 86f). On 20 February, the Norwegian, Abraham Abrahamsen, was wounded and taken prisoner by the British (Uddgren, 1924, pp 60, 88).

After fighting for another week, General Cronja surrendered to the British at Paardeberg on 27 February 1900 and the Scandinavian company, then consisting of 47 men, marched into captivity (Uddgren, 1924, p 60).

Captain Stalberg (left) and Lieutenant Baerentzen (right) as prisoners of War in Ceylon, c 1900.

The Scandinavian Ambulance
In October 1899, Mr Uggla and Captain Flygare had also organised a medical unit. The Scandinavian Ambulance consisted of the following (Uddgren, 1924, pp 62, 90):

The three last-mentioned left the Ambulance on 1 January 1900 and joined the Scandinavian company. The Ambulance had one ox-wagon, which was driven by two natives. An account of the activities of the Scandinavian Ambulance was written by Elin Lindblom in 1924 and is available in English on internet at (Article by C de Jong, 'Die verslag van suster Elin Lindblom oor de Skandinawiese ambulans in die Tweede AngloBoere-oorlog' in Military History Journal, Vol 4 No 5).

Dr Biedenkap left the Ambulance at the end of November 1899 and thereafter the unit had no surgeon until February 1900, when the Ambulance was merged with the 'Afrikaner Corps Ambulance' headed by Dr Neethling from the Transvaal (de Jong, p 9).

Scandinavians in other Boer units
Two Swedes serving with the Lydenburg Commando were killed at Spion Kop on 24 January 1900, namely Sune Valdemar Christenson and Georg Wilhelm Fermem (or Fromen). During the same battle, another Swede, John Rydstrom, was also killed whilst serving with the Artillery as a Warrant Officer (Uddgren, 1924, pp 60f, 91).

It is not known in which units several of the Scandinavian volunteers served, but they were taken prisoner and interned on the island of St Helena. Those serving with identified units are listed below (Uddgren, 1924, pp 61, 91f).

The Norwegian, Axel Onsum, fought at Koornspruit, Zandrivier and Krokodilrivier. He was wounded five times during the war and ended up as Aide-de-Camp to General Botha (Uddgren, 1924, p 61).

Appendix: Casualty and prisoner of war list



On Thu, 30 Aug 2018 Matti Hietala e-mailed the following addendum to this article:
I like to inform you that Captain Johannes Flygare was born in South Africa to parents of Finnish origin. At that time Finland was part of Russia as autonomous region which was separated from Sweden in 1809. Many Finns speaking Swedish were mixed to people of Swedish origin outside Finland at that time. Cpt Flygare should be mentioned as a Finn at least with as good reason as he now is mentioned as a Swede.

Further Addendum

On Tue, 25 Sep 2018 Laurance Robinson e-mailed the following addendum to the article:
I really enjoyed your piece on 'Scandinavian Volunteers in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902' by Stellan Bojerud. I plan on using it as part of the material for my blog on Finnish soldiers.

However, I saw a recent addendum that stated that Captain Johannes Flygare was of Finnish origin.

Unfortunately this isn't true but is a very common 'myth' repeated in Finland. In an article by Mikko Uola in 1977's Siirtolaisuus entitled 'Finnish warriors in the South African war', he highlights upon this. "Like all Boer corps the Scandinavians also elected their captain. The elected captain was a son to a Swedish missionary Carl Ludvig Flygare, natal born, Joanne Flygare. his greatest merit was the knowledge in the Boer language. In Finland it is often wrongly claimed that Flygare was a Finn."

While it is true the majority of the Finnish volunteers were Swedish speaking (only 3 of the known Volunteers used Finnish as their first language) it does not mean that there was a large mix of Swedish Finns outside of Finland. Currently there is no evidence that Flygare is connected to Finland and many historians (both in Finland and elsewhere) reject the claim he is of Finnish roots.

I hope this helps.

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