The scene depicts Hester Gravett, a Transvaal burgher of the Carolina Kommando, below Laing's Nek in the summer of 1899. After the initial excitement of the Boer offensive into Natal and the northern Cape, the Boer commandos, under hidebound and overly cautious elder commandants like Cronje and Joubert, frittered away the strategic initiative by tying up thousands of Free State and Transvaal burghers with the fruitless investment of British-occupied Mafeking, Kimberley, and Ladysmith. The sedentary sieges of the three British towns were treated by many burghers as an extended camping trip of sorts, with many preferring recreational activities like picnicking and hunting over dangerous offensive raids against the isolated British garrisons. Apart from repelling the regular British sorties from the besieged towns and occasionally firing off a few warning salvos of ineffective artillery, many Boer burghers were content to relax and wait for the British garrisons to exhaust their stockpiles of rations and supplies just as the Transvaalers had done with some measure of success in the war of 1881. The lethargic mood of the besieging commandos in Natal combined with the lack of authority invested in their veldkornets and commandants led many homesick and malingering Transvaal burghers to take unauthorized leave of their posts and cross the Drakensbergen back over to the Transvaal at Laing's Nek with the idea of going home for a while.
But along the way, deserters would undoubtedly have been scolded and shamed by patriotic Boer vrouwen, who were often infuriated by the sight of their husbands, brothers, and sons abandoning the life and death struggle for their republics' independence just for a few days of leave. As in the war of 1881 and even back to the days of the Great Trek, it was quite often the Boer women who were most invested and impassioned in their desire for the survival of their people as a distinct and independent nation, whereas the menfolk were generally more reluctant and unenthusiastic about the idea of risking their lives and property for such lofty ideals. Even during the darkest days of Lord Roberts's swift capture of the Boer capitals in 1900, many Boer vrouwen from as far away as the Cape abandoned their homes, farms, and fortunes in order to accompany the retreating commandos into the veld where the campaign of guerrilla resistance would begin. Those women who stayed behind on farms in British-occupied districts often offered their services to the commandos as spies and couriers, while simultaneously supplying the burghers with food, clothing, horses, and shelter. Even among the women imprisoned in the British concentration camps, many smuggled out defiant messages to their husbands and sons forbidding them from abandoning the struggle in spite of the fact that surrendering and joining the British forces was the quickest way for one's family to be released from the camps.
Thus the scene above is representative of the Boer vrouw's most significant contribution to the men of the republican commandos: steeling the resolve and determination of the fighting burghers who were either insufficiently motivated or too disheartened to continue the struggle.
Some additional notes on the composition of the scene. While there is a very famous photograph of Martha Krantz (wife of the commandant of the German Corps) accompanying the German Corps on campaign with a horse bearing a side-saddle configuration of saddle, most other photographs of mounted Boer women seem to show them riding astride with conventional saddles. Thus, the scene depicts a conventional saddle configuration. I suspect that perhaps Martha Krantz, who immigrated with her husband to South Africa from Germany, may have simply adhered to conventional European social custom of the time for women to ride side-saddle, which may have been a foreign concept to African-born Boer women.
The arms, from left to right, consist of a Martini-Henry, Mauser Model 1895 Short Rifle, and Mauser Model 1895 Long Rifle.