On this day in 1901, Arthur Finley (1863-1901) died in one of the most brutal – and controversial – battles of the Second Boer War in South Africa.
Arthur, aged 38, was among dozens of soldiers from Devon who lost their lives in the Battle of Vlakfontein on May 29, 1901.
The killing of wounded British soldiers by the Boers at Vlakfontein – in the Mpumalanga Province – caused outrage and was condemned in the Houses of Parliament.
Arthur, a sergeant in the 27th (Devon) Company of the 7th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry, had been in South Africa for 94 days when the battle began.
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.
As men ‘threw down their arms, the Boers walked up to them and shot them in cold blood’.
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 a veteran soldier, joining the 2nd 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.
More than 55,000 British soldiers died in the Second Boer War, which began on October 11, 1899 and ended on May 31, 1902.
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.
Arthur was among 230 soldiers of the 7th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry involved in the Battle of Vlakfontein. The yeomen suffered 70 casualties when they and 100 officers and men of the Derbyshire Regiment were attacked by 500 Boers.
Arthur 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 was the son of William Roberts (1738-), my great-great-great-great-great grandfather.
Born in Chaddesden, Derbyshire in 1863, Arthur was the son of coachman Charles and Sarah Ann Finley, His home was at Chillingford, Morchard Bishop when he went to war.
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).
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