In the South African War and its aftermath, wounded combatants and interned Boer civilians were the subjects of extensive transnational relief efforts. Focusing on the aid proffered by the British Red Cross Society, the pro-imperialist Victoria League and the rival Boer Home Industries scheme, this paper explores how gifts of time and material were invested with competing hopes and aspirations for Britain's role in South Africa. In this context food and hand-made textiles represented more than mere commodities. It also meant that, though expressing genuine sympathy and concern, benefactors did not share a 'humanitarian' ideal. These gifts brought undoubted comfort and saved life. They also provided new imaginative vistas on empire and war, and galvanised domestic political networks. But the implication of these numerous benevolent impositions was a lack of co-ordination and the privileging of relief workers' ethical commitments with little thought as to how these gifts would be received.