World Coins

Satirical medal marks Boer War suffering of prisoners

A satirical bronze medal highlights the sacrifice of prisoners of war during the Second Boer War.

Images courtesy of MPO Auctions.

A satirical medal offered May 27 during Netherlands-based MPO Auctions’ latest sale mocks the British victors and recalls the sacrifice of prisoners during the Second Boer War. 

The 1902 medal was issued to commemorate the Ragama Boer POW Camp in Ceylon. The first batch of prisoners arrived in Ceylon on Aug. 9, 1900, and subsequently others followed until some 5,000 prisoners had landed. Diyatalawa was the main camp. Mount Lavinia was the convalescent camp while foreign volunteers, dissidents and irreconcilables were housed at Ragama.

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In the wartime correspondence of Jeannot Weinberg, a Jewish POW in Ragama Camp, he writes, “The Germans, Hollanders, Irish Americans are, with a few exceptions, a most disreputable lot. They are without exaggeration the scum of the scum.”

Those last four words appear on the reverse of the medal. 

The obverse depicts a man wearing a hat standing beside a palm tree, possibly chopping it down with machete, and hut on the left. The legend on the obverse includes the date and words translating to “British civilization.” The remaining legend on the reverse translates to “Ragama Camp reminder.”

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Most of the prisoners in Ceylon were repatriated to South Africa at the end of the war after signing the oath of allegiance to King Edward VII. Foreign volunteers and those who refused to sign were probably given passage on Dutch ships to the Netherlands, according to the auction house.

Legend suggests that these medals were struck over pennies of the South African Republic, but that is unlikely, the auction house said. The dies were made by C.F. Keyzer, a former employee of the NZASM, the Dutch-South African Railway Co.

The bronze medal weighs 10.13 grams and measures 30.4 millimeters in diameter.

It has a “rough strike,” and grades Very Fine to Extremely Fine, the auction house reports. 

The medal has an opening bid of €750 ($ U.S.). For more details, visit the auction house website.

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