Lord Roberts, Boer War Hero, at Burtonwood?

Today’s blog entry is looking at a poster for Burtonwood Dahlia Queen in 1900. Some of you may remember that we looked at the Reverend Mansfield Mitchell’s opinion of the Dahlia Queen festival in 1935 some time ago (when he referred to it as “a degrading spectacle” and an excuse for drunken debauchery).

When I first saw this poster in the archives my heart jumped, I had never heard of Lord Roberts visiting Burtonwood, this was a major event, a new piece of history unearthed. But when I read below the headline, things were not quite what they seemed. It turns out that we have an early example of what might now be called “clickbait”.

The Lord Roberts in the carnival is a “life-like representation” carried through the streets during the procession, along with likenesses of other important Boer war figures such as General Kitchener or Mr. and Mrs. Kruger.

Lord Roberts

Lord Roberts

I will not go into any great detail here about the Second Boer war or South African Campaign, but it is worth noting that in late 1899 and early 1900 the Boers had made massive military victories besieging the British at Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley. By late February 1900 the relief of Ladysmith and Kimberley had taken place, and on 18th May the famous Relief of Mafeking happened. Celebrations took place all across Britain, and the popular phrase of the time “Mafeking” was coined to mean riotous celebrating.

Obviously by the time of our Dahlia Queen in August, celebrations were still taking place.

The siege of Pretoria, as mentioned on this poster, was actually part of what is sometimes called the First Boer War, and took place in 1880, lasting 102 days.

Overall the events of the day included the crowning of Dahlia Queen, a “grotesque football match” played between lady footballers and people dressed as military characters, a procession of likenesses of Boer War personalities, and a re-enactment of the siege of Pretoria using fireworks to represent the impact of the siege guns.

With our modern attitude to warfare and our awareness of the horrors of war through media, these events might distasteful, 7,582 British soldiers were killed in action or died of wounds, 13,139 died of disease whilst a further 40,000 were wounded, and 28’000 Boer civilians died in concentration camps. It doesn’t really seem like a cause for celebration, and certainly it wouldn’t immediatley suggest dressing up as President Kruger to play football. But attitudes and sensibilities change with time, and of course a victory will always be celebrated.

Whether it seems comical or macabre, 6d for admission sounds a good price to me.

If anyone has photograph of this event, or knows more details about it, we would love to know here at the museum. Contact Archives Officer, Philip Jeffs at [email protected]

This article was originally posted on Saturday July 15th, 2017.