Medical supplies during the Siege of Mafikeng

Medical supplies during the Siege of Mafikeng were readily available at the beginning of the war but not for long. In the veldt especially the Boers had to rely on the knowledge passed on from generation to generation using plants from the veldt. Usually every household had a little container where they kept their medicines. In this container was apart from little bottles also plasters, ointments as well as bandages and a little book telling what to use when and how. This they usually had with them in the wagons.

Here are only a few remedies used as the list can go on ad infinitum,: Some of the herbs are named by their common-names and not fully described.

For influenza and airway diseases Eucalyptus, wildeals or wynruit was used. For gout, pains in the legs or cramps Camphor, Beukesbossie, soetolie etc were used. For infections Eucalyptus, Beukesbossie, different herbs, vinegar and Camille were the most common. For bladder and kidney infections balsem-copiva. To stop bleeding. Aluin or turpentine with sugar were used. Brandy, balsem-vitae, eau-de-cologne, rosemary and many other herbs were used with good effect.

The English had a well established Royal Medical Corps(1898) and the Army Nursing Service organization and could use this war to put to test their medical skills that has not much improved since the Krimm war.

Both sides made used of the Red Cross. The International Red Cross opened a branch in Transvaal in 1896 but only expanded to other areas when the war started. The Red Cross Ambulances entered the country via Lorenzo Marques. The ambulances were provides with meat and flour by the commandos while the Boer woman baked bread, washed the bedding and clothes of the wounded and even helped to feed the seriously wounded. In the guerilla phase of the war the ambulances were send home or fell in the hands of the British and were prevented from further helping the Boers.

Both Boer and British had problems with the transport and supply of medical supplies. Sanitary problems were common and dysentery a nightmare.

Photo of a Red Cross Ambulance depart from Klerksdorp.30 September 1899

The most important lessons that both sides learned from this war regarding medical services that there must be a close working relationship between the military and civilian medical services and that military nurses were of the utmost importance.

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