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Queen's South Africa Medal, with bars for Modder River & Wittebergen, awarded to Pvt. W. Maxwell 1901

Queen's South Africa Medal, 1901

Obverse, a bust of Queen Victoria with veil

Queen's South Africa Medal, 1901

Reverse, Britannia in the foreground facing right holding a standard and waving a wreath over an army marching along the shore, with ships offshore in the background

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Queen's South Africa Medal, 1901 (Second Boer War)

During the 1830s and 1840s several Dutch republics had been established outside the British Cape Colony in South Africa, among which were Transvaal and the Orange Free State, all now in modern South Africa. Transvaal was annexed briefly by the British but its independence re-established in the First Boer War.
In the 1880s however the discovery of vast gold reserves in Transvaal brought large numbers of foreign settlers, largely British, across the border, and an attempted coup at the instigation of Cecil Rhodes in 1895. Military escalation followed, negotiations failed and the two Boer republics, convinced that the British intended annexation, declared war in the Cape Colony in October 1899.
The Boer advances into the Cape Colony and Natal were met with an Imperial defence that was frequently ineffective. By November however, while the besieged towns of Kimberley and Mafeking still awaited relief, Imperial forces were meeting their opponents in Boer territory and driving them back in a series of engagements, albeit at heavy cost. One such battle was that of Modder River, on 28 November 1899, which effectively opened the way for the relief of Ladysmith and thereafter for an advance into Boer territory.
This medal was awarded to Private W. Maxwell of the 1st Highland Light Infantry, for his presence in the battle zone. From here he seems to have moved on to clean-up operations in the territory of Wittenbergen, where service between the dates of January and July 1900 earnt the second bar that his medal carries. The earliest issues of the Queen's South Africa Medal indicate that the War was not expected to last as long as it did, as they bear the dates 1899-1900 in the reverse field. Very few were issued in this state, but a large number of the first issues show signs of the dates' erasure, often as in this case insufficiently thorough. Lester Watson acquired the medal at some point before 1928.