Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Enemy Within- Pro-Boer Germans and Pro-Boer Irish in Inverclyde

In the 1980’s the hated Margaret Thatcher (Well hated by me and my own community) once called the Miners and their communities 'the enemy within" Today the far right try to put this label on ordinary British Muslims and as such we see sickening racist and bigoted attacks on innocent people just as Jews and Irish Catholics would have been attacked 100 years ago. The concept of an "enemy within" is a very interesting one which feeds on paranoia and prejudice. It’s the idea that lingering in the shadows of our society lurk these shady individuals who are secretly sympathising with the enemy. Perhaps plotting to destroy the nation from within? But is there ever really any truth in the accusations…

A while back the Greenock Telegraph had a good article in it about the ending of the siege of Mafeking in 1900 by Baden Powell during the Boer War. It was reported in the Tele that after the British victory over the Boers the Bells of the Midkirk were rung, huge crowds mobbed into Cathcart square to celebrate and down in Gourock Bonfires were lit at Ashton and Pierhead. However, it's also thought that the Boer War was actually a deeply un-popular conflict among Scottish people at the time. It was thought to be a waste of time and money fighting a war in a far away land for the benefit of the British Empire. Similarly, we have to wonder how the Germans and Irish living in Greenock, Port Glasgow and Gourock at the time felt about this great British victory. Germans were seen as Boer spies since Germany supported the Boers and to be fair many Germans did admire the Boers. This admiration came from the fact that many of the Boers were of German origin, the two most notable being the South African President Paul Kruger whose ancestor, Jacobus Krüger, emigrated from Berlin to South Africa in 1713 and Stephanus Schoeman, also President of the South African Republic whose forefathers arrived in the Cape in 1674 from Ditmarschen in Germany. Ditmarschen itself had been a kind of Boer Republic (Burenrepublik) of Merchant-farmers. Anti-German hostility in British towns and cities deepened 1896 after the Kaiser congratulated Paul Kruger for resisting the British. In 1900 during the 2nd Boer War a German barber in Tottenham was accused of pro-Boer sympathies and attacked, and in 1901 there were attacks on Germans travelling by train in east London.

Likewise, the Irish were also seen as Boer sympathizers, and it is true that some Irishmen fought alongside the Boers against the British. Two units of Irish commandos fought alongside the Boers against the British forces during the 2nd Boer War. John MacBride, a friend of Arthur Griffiths organized what became known as the Irish Transvaal Brigade. It’s hard to look back now and understand why mostly Socialist leaning Irish republicans would support the Boers who went onto create the horrific, racist Apartheid regime, but at this time The Boers were seen as struggling against British Imperialism just as the Irish were. Also, The Boer War was a conflict which seen the British apply a scorched Earth policy, Ethnic cleansing and the creation of Concentration Camps. The wives and children of Boer guerrillas were sent to these camps, which had poor hygiene and little food. Many of the children in these camps died, as did a large minority of the adults. This policy attracted hostility from the German Empire and also from people in Ireland who could relate to similar such acts of cruelty carried out by the British Army.
It’s also important to note that many famous Orangemen fought for Britain during the 2nd Boer War. For example, Colonel Robert Hugh Wallace the Canadian minister of defence was an Orangeman as was Sir Samuel Hughes Most notably James Craig (the prominent Irish Unionist politician, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland) served in the Second Boer War and was actually taken prisoner in May 1900, but released by the Boers. If only the Brits had showed similar restraint. Contrast this with the Irish community around Inverclyde at this time which also included many Irishmen who fought for Britain but at the same time, within our community we had many Greenock and Port Glasgow based republicans who went on to join the local Scottish Brigade of the Old IRA fifth battalion B Company. In reality the lessons we should learn from this period of history, our community and all it’s intertwined peoples is perhaps far more complex and complicated than many would have us believe. Better I think that we conclude that good and evil runs through the heart of every individual be they Irish, Scottish, English, German or Dutch and in reality, most people just want to live in peace.

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting post and wonder if you have any other information or links that would highlight the actions of the pro boer movement in Glasgow? I am currently researching this topic for the purposes of a dissertation.