The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 15 No 5 - June 2012

Bryce's Store, 1899-1900
An old photograph rediscovered ...

by Rob Burrett

In 2003 I published an article in this journal which made reference to the Anglo-Boer fight at Bryce's Store on 2 November 1899 in what is today Tuli Block, Botswana (see R Burrett, 'The Far North-Western Front. Events in the Fort Tuli Area, Part 3: The attacks on Bryce's Store and on Rhodes' Drift' in Military History Journal, Volume 12 No 5, June 2003, pp166-9). The purpose of this note is to share with readers the only photograph known to me of the store as it appeared in 1899.

Recently, while browsing around a second-hand junk shop in Bulawayo, I came across a small personal photograph album with several fish-moth damaged pictures. It is hard to describe my excitement at the time when I read one of the captions: 'Bryce's Store'. It must date to sometime in late 1899 or the first few months of 1900. I will not repeat the whole story of the fight here, but suffice to say that the Rhodesians were surrounded by a Boer party led by Commandant S Eloff. The Rhodesians took refuge in the store, but it was shelled. Several men were injured and subsequently captured. The fight at Bryce's Store was a mere skirmish in comparison to the events that were happening elsewhere during the Anglo-Boer War, but this was one of the few 'major incidents' that took place in this far north-western sector of the War.

An old photograph of Bryce's Store, c 1900, showing damage caused by the Boer attack

Contemporary records indicate that Bryce's Store was fired upon with small arms and that it received a direct hit from a shell fired by the Boer heavy gun that was positioned on nearby Pitsane Kop. The store was said to have lost its roof and crumbled. Both A S Hickman (Rhodesia served the Queen, Volume 1, Salisbury, Rhodesia Army, 1970) and I (R S Burrett, Plumer's Men: The Rhodesian Regiment & the northwest Frontier during the Second Anglo-South African War, 1899-1900, Durban, Just Done Publications, 2009) provide descriptions and illustrations of the site as we found it. Neither of us ever thought that there was a contemporary photograph sitting, unappreciated, in someone's drawer.

Now we have an image from that time. The structure looks forlorn with signs of rifle fire and the shelled roof, but the store appears far from destroyed. The image adds detail to our understanding of the physical remains. For example, it shows that there was also a back veranda, evidence of which is no longer obvious on the ground. More interesting, though, is the extent of the damage to the store. The structure in the photograph is in better condition than contemporary reports suggest. The Boer shell was not as destructive as reported and this appears to explain why the Rhodesian injuries were not that serious, which had always been a bit of a puzzle to me. Given the photographic evidence, it would not have taken much to repair the structure. This helps to account for its reoccupation later in the War by various Rhodesian, Australian and Imperial forces. The building's final demise was probably only after it was finally abandoned in 1901. The circular structure built in front of the store and shown on the previously published sketch maps of the remains probably dates to one of these later episodes of occupation (Hickman 1970, p155, reproduced in Burrett, 2009, p122). It was not there in November 1899.

Other images in the album show camp scenes at Fort Tuli, river scenes along the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, military hardware and various officers. I am sure your readers would agree that it is a valuable piece to discover. It has been copied and the original deposited in a suitable public archive so that others will be able to enjoy it in future.

Just one last thing: I must apologise for the pagination shown in the subject index of my book, Plumer's Men. Sadly the muddle does not match the pages you seek; the result of resetting of the text just before it was printed. It makes using this book very frustrating!

Rob Burrett

The following addendum came from Shelagh Nation (nee Nicholson)in May 2020:

I have just read on your web site a commentary on and picture of Bryce's store and now send the following extract from my book "Oupa, OBE" which may add a tiny scrap to your information. My Oupa was Richard Granville Nicholson; the OBE was awarded after his participation in SWA in 1917

"Granville was clearly determined to defend by all possible means his right to control the land he loved from the encroachment of Britain - and he was not averse to yet another military engagement. And Sannie, who stood by her husband as she had in the past when she was in laager at Magato, Majatje and Magoeba, at the same time as Mrs (Genl) P J Joubert, when Granville was on commando there. She was determined to do her bit in whatever way she could, particular in nursing the wounded. At a time when women were often expected to stay out of the way on the home front, she took what today seems an extraordinarily courageous and practical course of action for the time. After the war, she wrote
On the 30th September 1899 my husband and oldest son aged 12 years and 14 days joined the Commando going to the front, so I left my children and baby with a cousin, and with my large travelling wagon, which I tendered to the Government for hospital purposes, joined the Northern Commando under Asst Commandant General Grobler, in the capacity of nurse; in this manner rendering to our cause and country the only assistance I could.

Sannie's services were soon needed after a fight at 'Bryce's Store' which is situated on the old Pioneer Road in present day Botswana near the Tuli Circle, about 30 km south of Fort Tuli. Here on 2 December 1899, there was an engagement between a Boer commando (in which Granville served) and 24 men drawn from both the British South African Police and 'A' Troop of the Rhodesia Regiment from Fort Tuli who had been restocking the store with provisions for the British forces. The Bryces Store engagement was initially dominated by the Boer forces and if their leadership had been more decisive they would have continued to have the upper hand, but their cautious approach eventually lost them this advantage.

Many of these BSAP men were wounded in the engagement as well as three men of the Boer commando, and Sannie tended to the wounded on both sides of the conflict. These were human beings, not merely enemy objects, as she saw it; and her kindness was recognized and appreciated.

Most of the BSAP prisoners were handed over to Granville for custody under a buck wagon covered with a sail, with a single armed guard. Not feeling that it was fitting for the wounded English chaplain and lieutenant, prisoners after the fight at Bryce's Store, to be confined in this way together with the men, Granville and Sannie, with the approval of the Commandant, took into their private tent these two, who slept and had their meals there until they could be handed over and sent to Pretoria. Ironically, their commanding officer, Col Jack Spreckley, had been a member of the Pioneer Column together with Granville.

Some members of the commando complained to the commandant, who declined to interfere as he thought Granville was doing the right thing, and Granville refused to consider the complaints, saying that if there was any change he wold refuse to have anything more to do with the prisoners of war, nor would he be responsible for their custody, an attitude he maintained until the prisoners were subsequently removed to Pretoria. There were still burghers who complained about this, but they, as Sannie noted, were very few and these 'were the first on the arrival of the enemy in this district to surrender or in some cases to join them.'"

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