Arthur Finley may well have been the only soldier connected to my family to die in the Second Boer War. He lost his life in 1901 – in a brutal battle in which dozens of wounded British soldiers were ‘murdered’ by the Boers.
He died in one of the bloodiest – and most controversial – battles of the Second Boer War. Arthur Finley was among dozens of soldiers from Devon who lost their lives in the Battle of Vlakfontein more than 120 years ago.
The killing of wounded British soldiers by the Boers at Vlakfontein – in the Mpumalanga Province of South Africa – sparked widespread outrage in Great Britain and was condemned in the Houses of Parliament.
Thirty eight-year-old Arthur, a sergeant in the 27th (Devon) Company of the 7th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry, had been in South Africa for just over three months when the battle began on May 29, 1901.
A trooper from North Somerset who fought with Arthur said he witnessed dozens of soldiers ‘murdered’ by the Boers. ‘The sights I saw were beyond description’, he said in a letter published in The Western Times.
‘Boers shot our fellows down in cold blood. Dozens of them were simply murdered. They threw down their arms, and the Boers walked up to them and shot them.’
Another yeoman said it was ‘an awful affair. I thought every one of us would be killed’. Wounded officers and men were brutally killed. ‘I hope, please God, I shall never see anything like this again,’ he said.
Arthur was among 230 soldiers of the 7th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry involved in the battle. The yeomen suffered 70 casualties when they and 100 officers and men of the Derbyshire Regiment were attacked by 500 Boers.
A veteran soldier, Arthur joined the 2nd Dragoon Guards at Aldershot in 1885. He served in India for eight years before leaving the Guards in 1897. He joined the 27th (Devon) Company on January 23, 1901 in Exeter and was posted to South Africa a month later.
He was among more than 55,000 British soldiers who died in the Second Boer War, which began on October 11, 1899 and ended on May 31, 1902.
The attack on May 29, 1901 took place at Vlakfontein Farm, 40 kilometres south-west of Rustenburg.
Remarkably, another sergeant with a similar name to Arthur (Harry Finlay) was serving in the same company – and was killed with Arthur in the same battle in 1901.
Arthur’s son – Arthur Charles James Finley-Boden – was killed in action in the Great War while serving as a private in the 24th (Wessex) Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
Born in Chaddesden, Derbyshire in 1863, Arthur Finley married Lucy Dennis (1870-) on October 1, 1893 in Canning Town, Essex. Lucy was the daughter of William Dennis (1835-1925) and Lavinia Elston (1838-1926). Lavinia was the daughter of William Elston (1813-1885) and Loveday Roberts (1819-1909). Loveday was the daughter of William Roberts (1791-1875) and Frances Hodge (1796- 1873). William was the son of John Roberts (1766-1834) and Elizabeth James (1767-1861). John (1766-1834) was the son of William Roberts (1738-), who was my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.
The son of coachman Charles and Sarah Ann Finley, Arthur’s home was at Chillingford, Morchard Bishop when he went to war. Lucy, born in 1870 in South Molton, married William Herbert Boden (1877-1927) on May 22, 1905 in Bristol. They lived in Newbury. Berkshire in 1911, with William working as a butcher’s assistant. Lucy and William emigrated to Australia in 1913 – arriving in Melbourne on SS Hawkes Bay. William, born in 1877 in Calne, Wiltshire was the son of teacher John and Susannah Boden. He was working as a clerk in Melbourne when he died in 1927, aged 50.
Boers in a trench at Mafeking, South Africa in 1899. A Public Domain image, via Wikimedia Commons (Skeoch Cumming W: photograph Q101768 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums).