A Boer War ‘Hussif’

During a quiet winter evening at the beginning of the year, I came across a rather unusual auction lot whilst browsing online. The lot consisted of lots of odds and ends, but what stood out to me was an old military hussif (or housewife) which had inscribed with the owners name, rank, number, regiment and “South Africa”. Although British forces had served in South Africa for a long period of time, I was fairly confident that this particular example dated from the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899 – 1902. For those who are still unsure, a hussif was essentially a soldier’s sewing kit, used to repair and maintain his uniform.

The main clues as to the period were the style of writing and the unit, the 3rd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment. As the 3rd Battalion were a militia battalion, they would only have been in South Africa if they were on active service, and they did indeed send a number of men to serve during the Second Anglo-Boer War. The 4 digit number and style of hussif were also good indicators of its age. I promptly started some initial research on the soldier’s details as they appeared on the hussif, and within a few minutes had managed to track down his service records!

So just who was 3283 Pte T White of the 3rd East Yorks, and had he served during the Second Anglo-Boer War?

Thomas White had enlisted in the 3rd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment on the 21 June 1901, and embarked for South Africa on the 17th February 1902. By the time he arrived in South Africa, the war was in the closing stages.

This confirmed to me that this was indeed a Boer War period hussif, and now identified to an individual with service records. It’s not normally something I would purchase, but by this stage I felt very much invested and therefore I arranged to place a bid with the auction room. My bid was successful and the hussif arrived ready for further inspection.

On arrival I could see that it had certainly been well-used over the years, and was still full of red, yellow and white thread, with a few rusting needles.

This particular hussif is military issue, with the War Department ‘Broad Arrow’ mark clearly stamped on the inside. Unfortunately, any date markings have long since faded away. The long tie piece, that would have held it closed, is also missing.

The construction of hussifs can vary, but this particular version is made using the same materials as the uniforms themselves. The main drab serge body is, I believe, the same material as used in tunics and puttees. Whilst the white lining is the same material as used in tunic linings, etc. In fact, even the small piece of cloth used to hold the needles looks very much like the same material as used to make shirts.

Although they do surface from time to time, military issue hussifs of the period are scarce, and ultimately I was lucky to have spotted this one in the manner I had.

Back to the original owner Thomas, who was born in Sheffield on 10 June 1882, son of George Joshua White and Catherine White. By 1901 the family were living at 84 Oakland Road, Sheffield and Thomas was working as an edge grinder in the city. As previously mentioned, he enlisted in the 3rd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment on the 21 June 1901 aged 18 years and 10 months according to his service records.

His physical description on enlistment is interesting, listing his height as just 5′ 1 1/2″ and weighing in at 106 lbs (48kg). This is interesting as I believe these were technically under the required limits for military service at the time. Thomas was embodied for overseas service and left for South Africa on the 17 February 1902. His service out in South Africa was short, but he was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State and South Africa 1902. Thomas returned to the UK with the rest of the 3rd Battalion onboard the SS Greek, arriving back in Southampton on the 10 October 1902.

After arriving back in the UK and returning to civilian life, Thomas remained with the militia until his ‘time expired’ on the 20 June 1907. In 1905, Thomas married Phoebe Yeardley at Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield and would go on to have four children together, George Joshua, Kate, Caroline and Doris. They made a home for themselves at 31 Acorn Street, Sheffield.

As was commonplace when the Great War broke out, Thomas, as an old volunteer and Boer War veteran, re-joined the army for war service. Returning to the 3rd Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment who were now a Special Reserve battalion. As such, they provided drafts to the regular battalions, and Thomas was sent to join the 2nd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment, serving on the Western Front.

It was a sombre discovery and end to my research to find Thomas died of wounds at Hazebrouck on the 12 May 1915, leaving behind his wife and four children (aged only 33). Doris, his youngest child was born on the 6 May 1915, just six days before his death.

“GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN FROM HIS WIFE CHILDREN AND FAMILY”

Epitaph on Thomas’s grave as listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Thomas is buried at Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery, France.

Thomas White – Sheffield Independent 12th June 1915
  • 10th June 1882

    Thomas White was born in Sheffield to George Joshua White and Catherine White.

  • 12th September 1883

    Thomas was baptised at the Cathedral Church of St Peter and St Paul, Sheffield.

  • 21st June 1901

    Thomas enlists in the 3rd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment.

  • 17th February 1902

    Having completed a basic course of military training, Thomas is embodied and embarks for South Africa.

  • 10th October 1902

    Thomas returns to the UK with the rest of the 3rd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment and returns to civilian life.

  • 20th June 1907

    After having served his 6 year term, Thomas leaves the militia.

  • 1905

    Thomas marries Phoebe Yeardley at Ecclesall Bierlow, Sheffield and would go on to have four children together.

  • 1914/15

    War is declared and Thomas rejoins the colours, returning to the 3rd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment (new regimental number 3/7138).

  • 10th February 1915

    Thomas arrives in France and is drafted to the 2nd Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment.

  • 12th May 1915

    Thomas dies of wounds received in action at Hazebrouck, France.

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