- Paperback: 718 pages
- Publisher: Avon Books; 2nd Print edition (December 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0380720019
- ISBN-13: 978-0380720019
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 55 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,384,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Boer War Paperback – December 1, 1992
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Thomas Pakenham is in fact the 8th Earl of Longford, and his grandfather fought the Boers in South Africa, and was seriously wounded in a typical `last stand' affair where 80 of his fellow troops were killed. The author, besides being a respected and prize winning historian (perhaps best known for his The Scramble for Africa is also a noted arborist.
The book offers great insights - several of which are detailed here for the first time- into the politics of the war, both in Cape Town and the government parliaments and leaders, that were behind the campaigns and battles. A drum roll of famous characters thunders through this work, Kitchener, Roberts ("Bobs"), Kipling, Botha, Jan Smuts, Chamberlain ... names that echo still.
I thoroughly recommend this book for history lovers and for those seeking the widest picture of a complicated, tortuous and very political war - A.J.P. Taylor added to his recommend that "...the reader turns each page with increasing fascination and admiration". I certainly did.
The Boer War lasted from 1899-1902. Its purpose was to conquer the Boer republics of the Orange Free State (cattle and sheep farmers) and Transvaal home to the world's richest gold mines.
One war had been fought in the early 1880s won by Britain leading to their conquering of the Natal region. The British government's headquarters were in Capetown in the Cape colony. The Jameson raid in 1895 launched by the British against the Transvaal had failed.
Now in 1899 the second Boer war began. Its author was Sir Arthur Milner High Commissioner to the Cape Colony. This bold imperialist wanted all of Africa to be British on his own terms. His opponent was the President of the Transvall the aged Paul Kruger. The Conservative government in London backed Milner in his plans. PM Salisbury wanted to seize South Africa for its rich gold lode and to ensure it would be secure as a fueling stop on the voyage around Africa to India the jewel in the British empire.
The war was noted for its long sieges in which British civilians and soldiers were beseiged by Boers. The major sieges were at Mafeking and Ladysmith.
The Boers were a tough opponent believing in guerilla warfare led by such fierce warriors as Jan Smuts and De Wet. The war dragged on feeding into its bloody maw over 22,000 British dead matched by an equal number of the Boers. Blacks were also killed in the thousands. Both the Boers and British were anti-black treating these people with great cruelty.
Among the reasons for folks on this side of the pond to study the Boer War are the following:
a. Lord Kitchener's widespread use of the concentration camp system to hold Boer women, children and POW's would be a harbinger of the horrors of twentieth century concentration camps in World War II and in the Soviet Gulag.
b. Smokeless powder and automatic weapons were used widely for the first time in major battles. The time of the cavalry horse was ending as defensive warfare (seen in its most salient focus in World War I) would come to the fore.
c. The war was one of the costliest in English history. It reminds Americans of our long ordeals in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
d. Men like the Commander Lord Roberts failed to properly administer hospitals, organize transport for his troops and failed to see that warfare was changing in the modern age.
e. The war was the introduction to combat of such British luminaries of World War I as John French, HH. Kitchener and Douglas Haig.
f. The war gave Winston Churchill his first fame. Churchill had been held in Praetoria as a captive of the Boers; he returned home to write a bestseller about his adventures winning him a seat in the British House of Commons.
Great Britain proved victorious due to over 250,000 troops committed to the grisly campaign. The Orange Free State and Transvaal became possessions of the British Empire.
This book is the sine qua non of literature on the Boer War. It is 615 densely written pages which will not whet the appetite of everyone. If you like detailed accounts of battles and a backstairs look at diplomacy this book will gratify your interest.
Kipling and Conan Doyle would have hated it.