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Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 16 May 2012 02:08
by rivoniaboy
I am a South African who currently resides in Christchurch New Zealand.

In 1982 I was a numismatic dealer in Cape Town dealing in both coin and medals A few weeks before I emigrated to New Zealand,I recieved a call from a retired Afrikaner Dentist about some coins that he wanted to sell,I went to his apartment and while I was there he enquired if I would be interested in two flags that he had in his possession,on enquiring about them he said that they had been captured by the Boers at the Battle of Majuba.I recall him saying that they had come into his possession through his wife, who was deceased.He told me how they had been handed down to her and if my memory serves me well through Gen Piet Joubert- anyway one of the Boer Commanders.

Recently - 29 years later, while tidying my cupboard I found the two flags that I had packed away in an old canvas bank bag. They are a Red Naval Ensign, and a Union Jack.Both have several bullet holes but are in pretty good condition other than a bit of dye run on the Red Ensign. If they were coins I would grade them as very fine.

Anyway to cut a long story short I decided that I would research them, as I am a 64 year old, who is semi retired.
I would very much like to authenticate or attach some provinance to these two flags.I don't think that I have to tell you, that if we can verify their authenticity, this could be one of the biggest finds- certainly for the Boers this century. Their importance historically cannot be overestimated.

I'm sure that there must be some mention of the surrender of the flags in private diaries or regimental records of the British forces that fought in the battle.The Red Naval Ensign would more than likely have been carried by the Royal Naval Brigade from HMS Dido and Boadicea.

Would the British forces have been carrying flags of some sort at the time of the battle - the answer I think is yes. When they were overrun by the Boer forces would the flags have been commandeered by the Boers - the answer I think is yes.

These relics are of great importance and deserve pride of place in a museum to be shared by all. Any help would be gratefully recieved.
Majuba Flags 004.jpg
Red Ensign
Majuba Flags 004.jpg (19.33 KiB) Viewed 4719 times
Majuba Flags 057.jpg
Union Jack
Majuba Flags 057.jpg (20.59 KiB) Viewed 4719 times

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 16 May 2012 02:16
by Albert J
Rivoniaboy,

These sound fantastic! Is there anyway for you to share a few pics?

James

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 16 May 2012 02:25
by rivoniaboy
Hi James,
I would be delighted to post some pictures, they are on my laptop but I am unable to figure out to post them on this forum - perhaps the administrator could walk me through it. If it can't be done then I will email you the pictures.

Also this is the first forum that this information has been made public, as i was in awe at the depth of knowledge of it's members.
Regards,
George

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 22 May 2012 03:29
by rivoniaboy
Thank you Mark for allowing me to post these historic pictures.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 22 May 2012 12:53
by almaboy
George,
my instinct tells me that you possess two fantastic pieces of history there, but you might have a lot of difficulty proving it!

I would concur that the red ensign is most likely naval, and judging from the size of the other flag, that is most probably naval too. Neither would appear to be Regimental in any way, and as far as I am aware, no colours of any description were taken into action at Majuba.

Furthermore, I have never personally read an account of the battle that mentions any form of flag being flown, carried or captured.

Given their apparent size, they would appear to be 'jackstaff' flags. Pure conjecture, but I wonder if they did indeed belong to the Naval Brigade and were intended to be used to mark specific points at the top of the hill, such as a command post or ammunition point? Also, the Naval Brigade was deployed in 2 sections once on the summit, they could have been used to denote their positions......

I would suggest looking at the naval angle as your first point of research, but I'm afraid that the only naval reports that I have personally seen are the ones contained in the London Gazette dated 3.5.1881 by Lt Ogle and Dr Mahon RN. There is no mention of any flags.

Tony.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 22 May 2012 22:52
by colsjt65
Indeed, no Colours were carried at Majuba Hill.
The 58th Regiment carried their Colours at Laing's Nek a month earlier. That this was the last time a British regiment carried them in battle. Lieutenant Baillie carried the Regimental Colour until mortally wounded. Lieutenant Peel, carrying the Queen's Colour then took both and he and a sergeant succeeded in saving the Colours in the retreat.

I know of no mention of any flags at Majuba, but that doesn't discount these two being captured there. Not inconceivable that they were brought by someone, to mark the capture of the hill, much like the US Marines did at Iwo Jima, where they managed to produce and fly two flags in succession.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 22 May 2012 23:23
by rivoniaboy
colsjt65

The last time that colours were carried by British troops in South Africa was at the battle of Laings Nek which preceded the Battle of Majuba.
The only other flag that they carried subsequently was the Union Jack.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 22 May 2012 23:48
by rivoniaboy
Hi Tony,
Many thanks for your input. I have contacted the National Museum of the Royal Navy for any information that they may have.

It seems to me that it would have been inconceivable for the British forces assembled at Majuba, not to at least have carried a Union Jack, which served as a rallying point.

Your conjecture that both Flags may have been carried by the Naval Brigade is entirely plausible and may well have served as markers during the battle.

Regards,
George.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 23 May 2012 14:31
by Burgher
Rivoniaboy, if they are what they are said to be... then they are indeed a great find! :shock:

They do seem matching, which supports the story that they were captured at the same time. The flags did not necessarily hang on posts during the battle. They could have been carried folded up by one of the Naval ratings or officers for later use - once a more permanent base or location was reached. I know of no reports on Boer side about flags being hoisted over Majuba, so my best bet is that they would have been found on a dead, wounded or captured sailor.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 23 May 2012 14:43
by Burgher
Hendrina Joubert, wife of Gen Piet Joubert, usually accompanied him on his campaigns and it is believed that she was in the Boer laager at the foot of the hill during the battle. This part of the story therefore checks out.

In fact, some Boers called her "the real commandant-general" due to her fiery personality. One story (which I will not try to authenticate...) has it that she was the first to see the British on Majuba when she went out of the tent early in the morning to prepare the general's coffee. She rushed back and woke her husband with the words: "The English are on the mountain!" To this Piet replied that it was probably a couple of antelope that she saw on the hill. Kicking him out of bed Hendriena then shouted: "Since when do buck wear red jackets?! Go chase them off!!" :lol:

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 23 May 2012 16:09
by grumpy
Field Service Pocketbook 1907 shows Union flag to be used as HQ of an army in the field.

Logical for a Naval Party to add an ensign, but why red? Surely that is the Merchant Fleet? Or was there an Admiral of the Red still in those days?

added, from Wikipedia ........

Many in the Admiralty felt that the Royal Navy's use of three separate ensigns (i.e., the red, white, and blue) was outdated and confusing. Many also felt that steam merchantmen should be clearly distinguishable from warships. In July 1864, an order-in-council provided that the White Ensign was the ensign of the Royal Naval Service. The Blue Ensign was designated as the proper national colours for ships commanded by an officer of the Royal Naval Reserve, and (with an appropriate badge) as national colours for ships in government service. The Red Ensign was assigned to British merchantmen. This basic structure remains today.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 24 May 2012 03:25
by rivoniaboy
Thank you Burgher for that insight into the life of Gen. Piet Joubert.

I have changed one of the pictures to show a close up of the bullet holes in the Union Jack.
The question is how did they get there, if as you think that the flags were taken from a dead, wounded or captured sailor?
The bullet holes are not only confined to the Union Jack, the Ensign has at least a dozen.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 24 May 2012 06:41
by Burgher
The holes could have been there before the battle (unlikely) or could have been made anytime after the battle. Its always difficult with things like this. The flags for example might be 150 years old, but they were on the hill for only one day of that long life. To illustrate my point an example:
I often get folks that bring me items they picked up on Boer War battlefield. Just beacuse it was picked up on the battlefield does not mean it was at the battle... The most interesting of these were US Army buttons that have been found at a Boer War blockhouse and another at a Boer War concentration camp site. Weird and wonderful theories were thrown around about Tommies wearing US bought uniforms etc. etc. In the end the button manufacturer was identified as from the 1920s, so there went most of the theories out the back door...

Problem with these things is we will probably never know exactly.

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 24 May 2012 08:56
by grumpy
The Merchant Navy Red Ensign looks like the same category as the US buttons .............. as far as I know, there was no need for the MN in combat!

Re: Flags captured at the Battle of Majuba Hill.

PostPosted: 24 May 2012 16:55
by ED, in Los Angeles
A lot of old cloth has holes in them due to insect damage or bacterial damage. If these are bullet holes, they must have been flags that were deliberatly fired at, or a gatling mini-gun was used to hose down the battlefield.
What is the dimension of these flags? Any markings on the edge of the flag where it is hung from?