Exploring Medal Rolls - The Boer War

The Boer War (1899-1902)

The Boer War was important for British military nursing as it was the first major conflict for Britain in which nurses in large numbers had been deployed, and at the end of the war a new nursing service was created, the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS), which saw nurses becoming a formed component of the British Army. The war in 1899 was the second war to occur between the Boers and the British. The First Boer War occurred in 1881 and ended in a defeat of the British at Majuba Hill. The second conflict is often referred to as the Second South African War, the Second Anglo-Boer War, the Great Boer War, the War in South Africa and various other names. Modern histories frequently refer to it as the Anglo-Boer War, although traditionally the second conflict has become known as the Boer War. In Afrikaans it is known as Tweede Vryheidsoorlog or Tweede Boereoorlog. On this site the term Boer War will be used throughout.1 2 3 4 5

Sister Kate Luard

Sister Kate Luard has become well known because her family has published the letters she wrote during World War 1. This book Unknown Warriors has been updated and re-released recently. What many do not know, however, that she was an Army nurse during the Boer War, and so was one of the many Boer War nursing 'veterans' who helped to shape nursing in WW1. We know from the medal rolls that Sister Kate Luard served in South Africa with No. 7 General Hospital at Escort and Pretoria. The two relevant pages are here below.

Extract from Boer War Medal Roll
The National Archives (TNA) WO 100/353 p.4

 There is a date on this document - August 7th 1901. This does not relate to the service of any of the nurses named, but is the date on which the document was signed off by the Commanding Officer. The nurses listed could have been present at that time, or as indicated in the notes, may already have left the hospital.

You can also see that the medal rolls were marked and scored out by those back at the War Office responsible for sending out the medals. This frequently obscures details for those, like us, trying to read them many years later. This particular page also has a note stuck on it which obscures some of the title information. To determine if these nursing sisters were Army Nursing Service or Reservists we would need corroboration from other sources.

When looking through medal rolls do not be confused between pages in the pdf document and the page numbers allocated to each page of the medal roll. This page is actually page 54 of the document that was downloaded, but you can clearly see the page number 52 in the bottom left corner. It is this number that forms part of the reference for this page.

Extract from the Boer War Medal Roll
The National Archives (TNA) WO 100/353 p.4

You can see that by 1903 when this medal roll was completed the hospital designation had changed to 'The General Hospital, Pretoria'. This medal roll also does not state whether the nurses are Army Nursing Service or Reservists. The entry for Sister Kate Luard is annotated 'to England 16/5/02', so that helps to establish her return from South Africa, and as before we could then seek corroboration of this in either the shipping lists, or in the nursing journals of that date. Although these medal rolls do not contain much information, they are one of few official sources, and the most definitive for establishing a nurse's involvement in the Boer War.


  1. Conan Doyle, A (1900) The Great Boer War. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. Pakenham, T. (1979) The Boer War. Random House, New York.
  3. Carver, M. (2000) The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War. London: Pan
  4. Fremont-Barnes, G. (2003) The Boer War 1899-1902. Osprey: London.
  5. Low-Beer, D., Smallman-Raynor, M., & Cliff A. (2004) Disease and death in the South African War. Social History of Medicine. 17 (2): pp. 223-245