Blockhouses of the 2nd Anglo Boer War
The building of blockhouse started in March 1900 mainly to protect the railway infrastructure and especially railway bridges that were easy targets for the Boer Commandoes to attack and stop logistics moving to the fighting British Units.
Blockhouses were later constructed at regular intervals. This later developed into a method of preventing the mobile Boer Commandoes from crossing the railway lines. The average distances between blockhouses were around 1000 meters, however, the line of sight was important and due to terrain, some areas were saturated with blockhouses.
Many of these blockhouses were impressive structures, stone build by masonry workers roofed with corrugated iron, standing three stories high, it formed an effective but very costly structure to build.
Major Rice from the 23 Field Company, Royal Engineers was based in Middelburg, Transvaal were looking for better solutions after Lord Kitchener requested R&D on cheaper and better construction methods.
The “Rise Blockhouse” as it became known where a circular structure made of corrugated iron filled with stones and gravel. The loopholes were shielded above and below with earth-filled caisson. The roof was, in general, a stone roof. The approach to the door was normally under cover of a trench. The lower wall was covered by loose stones for added protection.
The surrounding area was protected by barbed wire and barbed wire stretching from one blockhouse to the following, soldiers used to hang empty cans on the barbed wire for the cans to make as much noise as possible when it is disturbed. The barbed wire was not put up in a zig-zagged pattern, this allowed two blockhouses to cover the barbed wire but not fire at each other.
A trained team of construction workers can build a blockhouse in a day or less.
A blockhouse was normally manned by a non-commissioned officer and six men.
By the end of the war in 1902, the British forces have built over 8000 blockhouses covering 6 000km of railway lines and they were manned by 50 000 British troops and 16 000 Africans.
After the war, most of the corrugated block houses disappeared quickly as farmers returning to their burned farms were looking for any available building material.
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