By Ann Rabinowitz
October 30, 2010
For those who are interested in locating information on their ancestors who served in the Boer War (1899-1902), the findmypast.com site now had a new database encompassing information on this military activity. Whilst I have previously written about individuals who served on the Boer side and Americans who served on the British side, there were many British and colonial Jews who served and are to be found in the database [See my pieces in “Dorot” (the journal of the Jewish Genealogy Society (New York), “Jewish Affairs” (Johannesburg, South Africa) and in the JewishGen Blog (http://www.jewishgen.blogspot.com)].
In fact, there were also Jews who came directly from their ancestral shtetls, settled in South Africa and then served on the British side during the war. Many times, the emigrants were dragooned into service by roving British military on horseback many of whom searched the streets of towns such as Cape Town for recruits. Considering that many emigrants were pitifully poor and may have been unable to get regular employment, they were easily cajoled into joining up.
Upon joining up, the recruit signed an attestation for his enlistment. This paperwork included the name of the recruit, age, birthplace, occupation, and religion as well as a physical description and his signature.
After the paperwork was completed, the recruit was schlepped into service for a specific length of time such as six months as was the case with the Cape Cycle Corps. He was taken to a training camp, given limited rations and sent out on forays where needed. The conditions were not usually the best and often the recruit often saw death and dying. However, the length of recruitment was soon over and the “soldier” was then sent back into civilian life armed with a medal for good behavior or something more. His brief soldiering was usually just a blip in a long life and he later may have made more of a military contribution by serving in World War I.
However, there were Jewish soldiers who served longer terms of enlistment and were in harsher arenas of battle. For these, the memories of their service affected them for the rest of their lives whether from what they had seen in battle or from injuries they had sustained.
There were also those who perished in the Boer War and the new database amply documents these. One of those soldier who I knew who had died was Alfred Wertheimer, born August 8, 1876, 21 Cornwall Terrace, Regent’s Park, London, and died September 18, 1902, Johannesburg, SA. He was the son of art dealer Asher Wertheimer and his wife Flora Joseph.
He can be seen in his pre-War painting which can be found on the following site: http://jssgallery.org/Essay/Wertheimer_Family/JM_Intro.htm where more about his family can be found as well. His painting which done in 1901 can be found in the Tate Gallery in London. It was considered in the literature of the time to be a more sympathetic one than other family portraits painted by the artist John Singer Sargent.
Despite the fact that several sources state that he died an untimely death in the Boer War when he had just turned twenty-six, there is no mention of him in the findmypast.com Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 records. This perhaps acknowledges that the records may be incomplete.
However, according to South Africa researcher, Paul Cheifitz, Wertheimer died in Long’s Hotel, Johannesburg, and is listed as a friend of Harry Freeman Cohen, the founder of the Rand Daily Mail newspaper. Further, his embalmed body was shipped to London and his entrails remained in Johannesburg where they were buried in Braamfontein Cemetery, Plot 128.
If this is correct, then Wertheimer did not die in Boer War as it had ended on May 31, 1902, and he died on September 18, 1902. This could explain why he was not mentioned in the new Boer War database. His death record which can probably be found in the Archives in Pretoria, SA, will probably elucidate what really happened to him.
As with Wertheimer, it is sometimes difficult to locate information on someone despite their standing in society and it means prising out references from various arcane sources such as the “Harrow School Register”, 1801-1900, which lists Alfred Wertheimer as follows:
Wertheimer, Alfred (Small Houses), son of A. Wertheimer, Esq., 8, Connaught Place, W. Left 1893; Trin. Coll. Camb.; Chemical Engineer at Stirling Chemical Works, Stratford, E. – Alfred Wertheimer, Esq., as above.
Many of the other Harrow School students were listed in this register as fighting in the Boer War; however, there is no mention of this for Alfred Wertheimer or of his death. In fact, the Jewish Chronicle does not contain an obit for him either, although there is one for his mother. He is found, for the last time, in the 1901 British Census along with his parents, three siblings and eleven servants living at 8 Connaught Place, London.
Another reference to Alfred is found in the Chemical News and Journal of Industrial science, Volumes 79-80, by Sir William Crookes, Page 315, which provides pieces written by him in 1899 whilst he was working in the laboratory of the Stirling Chemical Works. One such was “Relations Between the Atomic Weights and Physical Properties of Elements” which was sent to the Editor of the “Chemical News”. Another was “The Periodicity of Melting and Boiling Points” sent again to the Editor of the “Chemical News” in 1899. It appeared that Alfred was well on his way to a rewarding career as a Chemical Engineer before he became a soldier.
In addition, I found a ship’s manifest leaving Southampton for Cape Town, for January, 1902, for an A. Wertheimer, who might have been the correct one. This meant that he was hardly in South Africa for many months before he was killed. Sad commentary, if this was true.
So, such is the search for data on one Boer War soldier. One wishes one could learn more about this young life, with so much promise which was extinguished so early and in such unpleasant circumstances. As I find more about Alfred, I will post it here.