You may have approached the Military History Museum either because the ancestor whom you are researching served in one of the major world wars in which South Africa took part, or, as a member of the British or colonial militia, he saw action in a battle on South African soil.

A very brief summary of South African military history of significance to genealogists

After the second British occupation of the Cape in 1806 various British regiments were garrisoned in South Africa. Prior to this occupation a well established Commando force, or citizen army, of free burghers provided protection for the settler population. Compulsory service for all classes of the population obtained for local defence. After the 7th Frontier War of 1846-7 the British set about trying to replace the Commandos with units of full-time Hottentot and Coloured troops and volunteer units of citizens loyal to the crown. The latter were the Cape and Natal colonial units. As a result of the Crimean War the Cape and Natal governments passed volunteer legislation, and formal volunteer units were formed.

The nine Frontier wars (1779-1878) and the Anglo-Zulu War (1879) were fought by British regimental troops and South African colonial forces against the Nguni speaking peoples along the eastern side of the country.

Those men who fought during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) fall into three categories:
1. Boers who fought in the burger commandos
2. British troops who came out from Britain and fought in an Imperial regiment e.g. the Coldstream Guards
3. British supporters who fought in a colonial regiment raised locally in South Africa or in Canada, Australia, New Zealand or Rhodesia and sent over to fight on the British side

After the declaration of peace in1902 until the promulgation of the Defence Force Act in 1912, which provided for the establishment of the Union Defence Force in 1913, British regiments were garrisoned in South Africa as a peace-keeping force.

The Documentation Service of the South African National Defence Force has individual service records of South African personnel from 1913 onwards.

Before South Africa became a republic in 1961 South African military personnel were involved outside the borders of the country in the First World War, the Second World War and a relatively small contingent provided assistance to the United Nations in the operational area of North Korea.

During the First World War and the Second World War South Africans volunteered for British units as well as South African ones. The service records of the former are held in the Public Record Office in London. The Documentation Service of the SANDF only houses records of South African personnel.



The starting point for researching the military career of anyone is often to establish the unit with which he served, which can often be ascertained from a medal roll. The Anglo-Boer medals have the name of the recipient and the abbreviation for his unit inscribed on the rim. Medal rolls can give information on British and Colonial troops who received campaign or gallantry medals in South Africa or abroad. "Die Dekoratie voor Trouwe Diens", which was issued 18 years after the Anglo-Boer War and had to be applied for, and the "Honoris Crux", for gallantry, are South African awards. The reference library contains many medal rolls other than those listed below, which are cited as having particular bearing on South African genealogical research.

Sources: (arranged alphabetically according to author)

The DISTINGUISHED Conduct Medal 1914-20 Citations : Rhodesia, South & East Africa (ISBN: 185154-0822)
EVERSON, G R The South African 1853 Medal: being the roll of the recipients and story of the Campaign Medal issued for the Frontier Wars between 1834 and 1853 (ISBN: 0-906304-02-4)
FEVYER, W H & WILSON, J W The Queen's South Africa Medal to the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines (ISBN: 0-90-7605-08-7)
FORSYTH, D R Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal awarded to Cape of Good Hope, Natal & Union Defence Force Units 1903 to 1949 (Johannesburg: author, 1988)
FORSYTH, D R The Defenders of Kimberley Medal Roll: the Queen's South Africa Medal 1899-1902 with clasp (n.p.: author, n.d.)
FORSYTH, D R South African War Medal 1877,8,9: the Medal Roll (Johannesburg: author, 1978)
FORSYTH, D R Cape of Good Hope Service Medal : Medal Roll (Johannesburg: author, n.d.)
FORSYTH, D R The Medal Roll - Natal Native Rebellion 1906 : war medal awarded under Natal Militia order no. 128 (Johannesburg: author, 1976)
FORSYTH, D R The Zulu Rebellion of 1906 (completely revised with biographical details) (Reading: Roberts Medals, 1990)
FORSYTH, D R The Cape Copper Company Limited Medal for the Defence of O'okiep 4th April to 4th May 1902 (Johannesburg: author, 1986)
FORSYTH, D R British South Africa Company Medal Roll : 1890, 1893, 1896, 1897 (Johannesburg: author, n.d.)
FORSYTH, D R Efficiency Decoration, Union of South Africa: the Roll (Johannesburg: author, 1987)
FORSYTH, D R King's Commendations: military recipients Union Defence Force (Johannesburg: author, 1986)
FORSYTH, D R Decorations awarded to Natal, Cape Colony and United Defence Force units 1877-1967 (Johannesburg: author, 1981)
FORSYTH, D R Die medaljerol: Dekoratie voor Trouwe Diens. Anglo-Boereoorlog: de Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek en Oranje Vrijstaat Oorlogs-Medalje Lint voor Verwonding opgedaan gedurende die Anglo-Boereoorlog
FORSYTH, D R Medals for gallantry and distinguished conduct awarded to Natal, Cape Colony and Union Defence Forces units (Johannesburg: author, 1981)
FORSYTH, D R Orders of chivalry, foreign decorations and awards to Natal, Cape Colony and Union Defence Force units 1877-1961 (Johannesburg: author, n.d.)
FORSYTH, D R & BISSETT, W M South African recipients of the France and Germany star or clasp (Johannesburg: Military Medal Society of South Africa, 1986)
HIBBARD, M G Military Commemorative Medals of the South African War 1899-1902 : a paper presented to the South African Numismatic Convention at Durban 1967
KAPLAN, Lilian The Medal Roll for the campaigns in South Africa 1834-1835, 1846-1847 (n.p.: author, 1977)
KAPLAN, S M The medal roll of the Queen's South Africa Medal with Wepenar Bar (Johannesburg: author, 1977)
KAPLAN, S M The medal roll of the Queen's South Africa Medal with bar - Relief of Mafeking (n.p.: author, n.d.)
KING, Terence Gallantry awards of the South African Police 1913-1994: including a complete Roll of Honour (ISBN: 0-620-26275-3)
OWEN, Colin R The South African Korea Medal Roll (Benoni: Chimperie, 1982)
OWEN, Colin R The South African Medal Roll of the 1935 Jubilee Medal; 1937 Coronation Medal; 1953 Coronation Medal as issued to South Africans (Benoni: Chimperie Publication, n.d.)
UYS, Ian Cross of Honour (medal roll of Honoris Crux) (ISBN: 9-780958-317320)


Some Rolls of Honour are arranged alphabetically, while others are arranged according to regiment. The following information can be derived from these them: name of the serviceman, name of regiment, regimental number, cause of death, place of death, medals awarded. A Roll of Honour or list of casualties is often found as an appendix in regimental histories. The Museum's reference library has a very comprehensive collection of regimental histories, both British and South African.

Sources: (arranged chronologically)

TAVENDER, I T (comp.) Casualty Roll for the Zulu and Basuto Wars : South Africa 1877-79 (ISBN: 0-903754-24X)
WHYBRA, Julian The Roll Call for Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift (Reading: Roberts Publications, 1990) LOVELL, Kenneth C and PRIOR, John C British casualties of the First Boer War 1880-1881 (ISBN: 0-9508621-0-X)
DOONER, Mildred The "Last Post" - Roll of all officers (Naval, Military or Colonial) who gave their lives in the South African War 1899-1902 (London: Simpkin, 1903)
EREROL 1899-1902 : Burgergedenkteken (Ladysmith: Tugela Press, 1979)
PRICE, John E They proved to all the Earth : a source book of Victoria's dead in the South African War 1899-1902 (ISBN: 0-9593781-0-3)
The SOUTH African War Casualty Roll : the "Natal Field Force" 20th Oct. 1899 - 26th Oct. 1900 (Polstead, Suffolk: J B Hayward & Son, 1980)
SOUTH African Field Force : Casualty List 1899-1902 (n.p.: n.p., c1972)
WATT, Steve In Memoriam : Roll of Honour Imperial Forces Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (ISBN: 9-780869-809686)
DE RUVIGNY, The Marquis The Roll of Honour, biographical record of members of His Majesty's Naval and Military Forces 1914-1918 ISBN: 0948130857)
ROLL of Honour 1914-1918 Ererol
NORTHEY, Margaret (comp.) Index to the Roll of South Africans who fell 1914-1918 (Typescript)
ROLL of Honour World War 1939-1945 : Węreldoorlog Ererol
CASUALTY Roll South African Army, Air Force and Navy 1962-1990 (Typescript)


Nominal rolls contain alphabetical lists of the participants in a particular conflict. The Lists for Army, Navy and Air Force contain the names of all active and retired officers; however the reference library's collection is incomplete. Regimental histories sometimes contain similar lists, although these are often limited to officers.

Sources: (arranged chronologically)

HART'S Army list (Annually from 1799)
The NAVY List (Annually from 1918)
The AIR FORCE List (Annually from 1935)
HULME, J J Eighth Kaffir War 1850-1853 : a provisional list of officers of the Irregular Forces of the Cape of Good Hope (ISBN: 0-620-08051-5)
HOLME, Norman The Silver Wreath : being the 24th Regiment at Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, 1879 (ISBN: 0-906304-02-4)
The JAMESON Raiders (Aldermaston: Roberts Publications, 1992)
BOER War Services of military officers of the British and Colonial Armies, Imperial Yeomanry, Mounted Infantry, Local units 1899-1902 including earlier services (ISBN: 1-902366-01-8)
GRAY, Sheila The South African War 1899-1902 : Service records of British and Colonial women ((Auckland, N Z : Sheila M Gray, 1993)
KIERAN, Brian L The defence and relief of O'okiep Cape Colony 4 April to 4 May 1902 (ISBN: 976-8136-30-8)
LUNDERSTEDT, Steve, (ed.) Summer of 1899 : the Siege of Kimberley : 14th October 1899 - 15th February 1900 (ISBN: 0-620-23421-0)
SOUTH African War Honours and awards 1899-1902 : the officers and men of the British Army and Navy mentioned in Despatches (London: Arms & Armour Press, 1971)
SHORES, Christopher, FRANKS, Norman & GUEST, Russell Above the trenches : a complete record of the fighter aces and the units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915 -1920 (ISBN: 0-948817-19-4)
SHORES, Christopher, FRANKS, Norman & GUEST, Russell Above the trenches : Supplement (ISBN: 1-898697-39-6)
UYS, Ian Rollcall : the Delville Wood Story (ISBN: 0-9583173-1-3)
BRENT, Winston "Flying Cheetahs" : Korea 1950-1953 (ISBN: 0-958-3880-91)


The following books are either exclusively devoted to listing prisoners of war or have lists of prisoners or inmates of concentration camps included as appendices. One can find out the POW number, regimental unit, regimental number and the camp in which the detainee was held. We have no books giving names of Japanese POWs but there are two useful records in the Public Record Office in London. Ref. WO345 is an index captured by the Allies at the end of the Second World War which contains cards for British, Indian and Australian servicemen in alphabetical order of surname. The second is Ref. WO367, "Japanese Registers of Allied POWs and Civilian internees held in camps in Singapore".

Sources: (arranged chronologically)

COETZEE, C G Kampkinders 1900-1902 : 'n Gedenkboek (Bloemfontein: Oorlogsmuseum van die Boererepublieke, 1982)
VAN SCHOOR, M C E Die bannelinge : A.B.O.- Boerekrygsgevanges 1899-1902 (Bloemfontein: Oorlogsmuseum van die Boererepublieke, 1983)
BOER Forces P.O.W. Roll Boer War 1899-1902 (Aldermaston: Roberts Publications, n.d.)
RAATH, A W G Die konsentrasiekamp te Bethulie gedurende die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899-1902 ( Bloemfontein: Oorlogsmuseum van die Boererepublieke, 1991)
RAATH, A W G Die konsentrasiekamp te Bloemfontein gedurende die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899-1902 (ISBN: 0-9583757-7-1)
RAATH, A W G Die konsentrasiekamp te Springfontein gedurende die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899-1902 (ISBN: 0-620-16109-4)
RAATH, A W G Die konsentrasiekamp te Vredefortweg gedurende die Anglo-Boereoorlog 1899-1902 (ISBN: 0-620-16334-8)
MARTIN, A C The concentration camps : 1900-1902 (Appendix B is a petition to the superintendent of the Pinetown camp signed by 127 women) (Cape Town: Howard Timmins, c1957)
FERREIRA, O J O Viva os Boers! (Roll of POWs in Portugal at back) (ISBN: 0-620-18627-5)
JONES, E H The road to En-Dor : being an account of how two prisoners of war at Yozgad in Turkey won their way to freedom (Appendix I comprises a list of British and Indian officers interred at Yozgad in 1917) (London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1920)
CLOSE , Percy L A prisoner of the Germans in South-West Africa (The Appendix has a nominal roll of prisoners) (Cape Town: Maskew Miller, n.d.)
PRISONERS of War, British Army 1939-1945 (ISBN: 0-903754-61-4)
PRISONERS of War, Naval and Air Forces of Great Britain and the Empire 1939-1945 (ISBN: 0-903754-62-2)
PRISONERS of War, Armies and Other Land Forces of the British Empire 1939-1945 (ISBN: 0-903754-63-0)


Using these sources the researcher can discover the country and the exact location in which the serviceman died, the name of the cemetery in which he is buried, regimental rank, date of death, age, military unit and grave number.


THE SOUTH AFRICAN HERITAGE RESOURCES AGENCY has a computerised database of all those who died in military conflicts on South African soil. This includes those who died during the Anglo-Boer War. Contact details:
PO Box 87552
Houghton, 2041
South Africa
Tel: +27 (011) 482 8365/6/7
Fax: +27 (011) 482 8196

GREAT BRITAIN. Imperial War Graves Commission. The war dead of the British Empire 1914-1918.
All the servicemen who fought and died for the British Empire in the First World War are named. These registers are arranged according to cemetery, and there is a book for every cemetery where war dead are buried.

GREAT BRITAIN. Imperial War Graves Commission. The war dead of the British Empire 1939-1945.
The war dead in cemeteries in the following countries are covered: Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Belgium, Burma, Ceylon and the Maldive Islands, Hong Kong, Malaya and China, Singapore and Thailand, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, India and Pakistan, Italy, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Tunisia.


The following archives contain a variety of information, detailed after each entry.

Documentation Centre of the SANDF
The records of all South African servicemen in the Army, Navy and Air Force are held in the archives. Copies of service records can be acquired if application is made in writing.
Contact details:
The Senior Staff Officer
Documentation Centre
Department of Defence
Private Bag X289
Tel: +27 (012) 322 6350
Fax: +27 (011) 322 6360
email: [email protected]. Records cannot be sent electronically and therefore a fax number or postal address must be included in the request.

Cape Town Archives Repository
This archives has an inventory of the Cape Colonial Defence, and one archival group is the Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths 1892-1972.
Contact details:
The Head
Cape Town Archives Repository
Private Bag X9025
Cape Town,
Tel: +27 (021) 462 405
Fax: +27 (021) 465 2960

National Archives Repository
The records of the South African Constabulary, 1900-1908, form part of the core holdings of this archive. There are also records of the Rand Rifles Recipients of the Queen"s South Africa (Reference CS vol 435 no 1562/64).
Contact details:
The Head
National Archives Repository
Private Bag X236
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: +27 (012) 323 5300
Fax: +27 (012) 323 5287

Correctional Services Archives
Information about German internees during the First and Second World Wars can be obtained from here.
Contact details:
The Head
Correctional Services Archives
Private Bag X136
Pretoria, 0001

Italians POWs held in South Africa during the Second World War Mr Coccia has microfiche copies of all listed Italian POWs.
PO Box 647
Irene, 0062
Tel & Fax: +27 (012) 667 3279

Free State Archives Repository
Ref SRC, Chief Superintendent of Refugee Camps 1900-1903, consists of registers of all the Refugee Camps in the Free State during the Anglo-Boer War. Some Birth, marriage and death certificates are also housed here.
Contact details:
The Head
Free State Archives Repository
Private Bag X20504
Bloemfontein, 9300
Tel: +27 (051) 522 6762
Fax: +27 (051) 522 6765


Copies of citations for gallantry medals awarded to South Africans during both World Wars. The reference library has an incomplete set.
The Military Medal Society of South Africa
1 Jacqueline Ave
Tel & Fax: +27 (011) 888 5797
e-mail:[email protected]

Amathole Museum
This museum is the official repository of the records of the Cape Mounted Riflemen.
Contact details:
The Curator of History
PO Box 1434
King William's Town
Tel: +27 (0433) 24506
Fax: +27 (0433) 21569
E-mail: [email protected]
visit their website

Greytown Museum
Records of men who served in the Umvoti Mounted Rifles
Contact details:
Greytown Museum
PO Box 71
Tel: +27 (033) 4131171

War Museum of the Boer Republics
Anglo-Boer War POW records on computer, and Records of Boer pensioners organizations
Contact details:
Mrs Wessels
War Museum of the Boer Republics
P O Box 704
Tel: +27 (051) 4473447
Fax: +27 (051) 4471322

Durban Archives Repository
The ships' lists of passengers (DIA) form part of the core holdings Contact details:
The Head
Durban Archives Repository
Private Bag X22
Tel: +27 (031) 309 5681/2
Fax: +27 (031) 309 5685

Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository
The archives contains all the records of the offices of the Natal colonial government and also includes records of the Landdros, Pietermaritzburg from the Voortrekker period.
Contact details:
The Head
Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository
Private Bag X9012
Tel: +27 (0331) 42 4712
Fax +27 (0331) 94 4353

Africana Library, Kimberley
Contains manuscripts and photographs dealing with the Siege of Kimberley, including diaries, and other material relating to the Anglo-Boer War.
Contact details;
The Africana Librarian
PO Box 627
Tel: +27 (053) 830 6247
Fax: +27 (053) 833 1005
email: [email protected]

Albany Museum
Archival material concerning Grahamstown and the Eastern Cape from 1812 to the present.
Contact details:
The Director
Somerset Street
Tel: +27 (046) 622 2312
Fax: +27 (046) 622 2398
email: [email protected]


Public Record Office
This institute contains the military service records of all who served in British regiments and also the South African colonial forces prior to 1912. Unfortunately colonial service records for the Anglo-Zulu War were pulped for paper during the First World War. In April 2003 this archive and the Historical Manuscripts Commission joined together to form a new body, the National Archives. In the future there will be joint development of the online systems.
Contact details:
The Head
National Archives
Ruskin Ave
Surrey TW 9 4DU

Royal Air Force Service Records
Contact details:
The Head
RAF Personnel Management Centre
Eastern Ave/ Gloucester Rd
London WC1 X BRY

Australian War Memorial
Service records of those who fought in the Anglo-Boer War. This museum has an Anglo-Boer War nominal roll data base based on P L Murray's Official Records of the Australian Contingents to the war in South Africa 1899-1902 (1911).
Contact details:
The Head
Australian War Memorial
G P O Box 345
Tel: (09612) 62434210


Genealogy by amateurs and experts is a booming preoccupation, to which the number of Internet websites bears witness.
This is the site of the Family History Service Centre, a worldwide service run by The of Jesus Christ of the Latter day Saints. For South Africans it has useful information on ancestors who have immigrated from the United Kingdom or Ireland. There is step-by step guidance on how to do research.
The site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has all the names of those who lost their lives in the British, Imperial and Commonwealth services during the First and Second World War. The name, age, regimental unit, regimental number, cause of death and place of burial as well as any known personal particulars are given.
The website of the Public Record Office, which has now been amalgamated with the Historical Manuscripts Commission to form the National Archives, is very user friendly. A variety of leaflets can be downloaded which give the numbers of the relevant records. The Public Record Office does not undertake to do research, and to this end a professional must be employed.
Cyndi's list of genealogical sites on the Internet. This site is regularly updated and has a category index of sites of interest to genealogists e.g. census related sites worldwide, lineage-linked databases, all countries including South Africa, guides for beginners, military resources worldwide etc.
The site of the National Archive in Australia has service records of those Australians who fought in South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War.
The genealogy section of the National Archive of Ireland
Also useful for Irish ancestors.
Gives the names of the New Zealand participants in the Anglo-Boer War.
Information on the regiments of Britain and the Commonwealth. One can trace the movements of the regiments and there is information on the wars in which they were engaged, but there are no personal records of individuals.
Society of Australian Genealogists
Society of Genealogists ( in the United Kingdom)
The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies offers home study courses &
Look under specific country for ancestors who were emigrants or immigrants.
Information on ancestors of Scots extraction.
The library and museum of Freemasonry provides genealogical information and research for a fee.
Scots at war.
Canberra Heraldry and Genealogy website gives details of graves and memorials of 600 Australians who died in South Africa.
OZ Boer website with a nominal roll of Australians who fought in the Anglo-Boer War.
Can download charts which show where vessels have been sunk by enemy action.
Detailed information on each U-boat including the names of those sailors who were lost.
British seamen of merchant vessels.
The website of the Genealogy Society of South Africa has the names of researchers, news of branches and articles taken from the pages of various publications.


1. Ancestors : the family history magazine of the Public Record Office. Issue 12. Feb/Mar 2003.

2. De Lange, B L "S A Nasionale Museum vir Krygsgeskiedenis Johannesburg : Nuttige bronne vir genealogiese navrae in die biblioteek", S A Archives Journal, Vol 31, 1989 pp 84-88.

3. A Directory of Archival Repositories in South Africa. Pretoria: National Archives of South Africa, 1999, (ISBN: 0-7970-3785-3).

4. Tylden, G The armed forces of South Africa. Johannesburg: City of Johannesburg Africana Museum, Frank Connock Publication No 2, 1954.