During the Anglo Boer War of 1899-1902, Lord Roberts had to transport his vast army in addition to thousands of tons of commissariat and munitions along vulnerable single line railways throughout the vast extent of South Africa. As shown by the American Civil War of 1861-65 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, railways played a huge role in rapidly transporting troops from one battle field to another, while having to repair sabotaged railways and bridges on a constant basis.
This paper explores the contribution of the Corps of the Royal Engineers to the overall success of the British military in defeating the Boer forces of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek and the Oranje Vrijstaat. Despite an abundance of literature on all aspects of the combatants, the battles and skirmishes, the subject of this paper has received little recognition. The officers and men of the Royal Engineers played a significant but mainly invisible role in supporting Lord Roberts and then Lord Kitchener’s army and their operations throughout the conflict. The speed with which they completed the repairs of the damaged railway bridges and railway lines contributed to the unrelenting pressure that the British Army was able exert on the Boer forces. In addition, they built thousands of blockhouses that protected the bridges and railway lines and transport routes and operated the armoured trains that kept the Boer forces away from the railway lines.
Apart from two comprehensive volumes produced in 1903 and 1904, little has been written about the subject, especially in the light of more recent books outlining the exploits of the Boer forces in sabotaging the transport infrastructure.