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Magersfontein Scandinavian War Memorial
Ritchie district, Northern Cape

Date:1903-1907
Type:Memorial
Status:Extant

A memorial to the Scandinavian Corps, which fought on the Boer side for a brief period during the Anglo-Boer War. Here the word Scandinavian refers to the four nationalities who formed the main part of the corps, namely Swedes, Danes, Finns, and Norwegians, although the corps also included a smaller group of non-Scandinavian members. Most of the Scandinavian people resident in South Africa were opposed to the corps, and the erection of a monument in its honour met with little interest among them.

At Magersfontein, near Kimberley, their most memorable battle was fought. It was here that about 50 members of the corps were stationed at a picket, with two Boer commandos placed nearby, and they went into combat against the Scottish Highlanders on the morning of 11 December 1899. Initially, the Scottish Highlanders were surprised by the fire from the Scandinavians and suffered heavy losses. However, they soon regained their composure and managed to circumvent the Scandinavians' lines, whereupon the tables were turned. Eighteen Scandinavians died and only a few managed to retreat to the Boer lines where the other members of the corps are believed to have remained. The rest of those who had been stationed at the picket lay wounded and were soon captured by the British. Five of the wounded men later died from the injuries they had suffered in the battle.

In 1901, when members of the Scandinavian corps were still being held as prisoners of war on St Helena and in Ceylon, a committee comprising a small group of Scandinavians was formed in Kimberley. The committee's sole purpose was to erect a monument commemorating the Scandinavian Corps and those members who fell during the battle at Magersfontein in 1899. In a letter dated 1902 the committee elaborated on ideas for the design of the monument. They wanted an "allnordiskt" (all-Nordic) monument, comprising a bautasten20 (a type of monolith) that was to be surrounded by four cornerstones engraved with symbolic shieldmaidens/Valkyries; the names of the fallen; and the names of the four Scandinavian countries in the corps, namely Svea (Sweden); Nora (Norway), Dana (Denmark) and Suomi (Finland). Accordingly, the monument is inscribed with historic symbols and names that allude to a shared common past (that is, the Vikings).

During the spring of 1903, the Kimberley Committee's proposal was published in the Scandinavian newspapers. A plea was issued to the patriotic men and women in Scandinavia for support - especially since it appears that the committee had failed to gain the support of fellow Scandinavians in South Africa. The corps had captured the hearts and minds of the Swedes, and as early as October 1904, the bautasten and the Swedish cornerstone (both of which Sweden paid for) were sent off to South Africa. The idea was to ship the remaining parts before the end of the year, but the project was delayed - partly because of a slower rate of contributions in Norway and Denmark (each participating country was supposed to fund its own cornerstone). In 1907, when at last all the pieces of the monument had arrived in South Africa, new difficulties arose because the Kimberley Committee, lacked sufficient funds to transport the monument to its destination at the Magersfontein site.

When the monument was erected it was not, as originally planned, placed on the site of the Scandinavians' graves because the owner of the land opposed this suggestion. It was eventually placed on a hill some five kilometres away.

(Extracted from A Scandinavian "Magna Charta"? The Scandinavian Corps and the politics of memory in South Africa (1899-1927) by Christian Gerdov. Scielo South Africa accessed 2019 10 17)