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The Great Boer War Paperback – May 21, 2014
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Doyle himself served as a doctor for two months in a South African hospital, and he visited many of the locations he describes. His style is a bit stiff, but he includes great descriptions of the terrain over which the war was waged. He includes a great deal of local color and anecdotes. My favorite is of General Robert Baden-Powell (also the founder of the Boy Scouts), who, as commander of the besieged city of Mafeking and after six weeks of bombardment, notified the Boer commander that if he continued the shelling he (Baden-Powell) would consider it an act of war!
The style is that to be expected form a Victorian-era imperialist such as Doyle. Units that suffered the most casualties are always referred to having gained the most glory. The British soldiers were brave and honorable; the Boers they opposed were brave but ignorant, lucky, and dishonorable. Boer casualties are always assumed to be greater than the British, as are the Boers generally considered to outnumber the British. He ignores the true reason the British government was willing to engage in such a destructive war over otherwise valueless hinterland: diamonds and gold.
An example of the bias is in describing the status of prisoners. The British considered the Boers to be rebels and traitors; thus prisoners that were paroled by the Boers on an oath not to bear arms upon release were in fact rearmed and sent back to the battle line. The British felt that an oath to such scum need not be honored. The Boers quickly determined that (since they could not accommodate prisoners) they would not require the oath - which would not abided by anyway. A compensating advantage was the British soldiers quickly realized that if they fought on they would be killed, but that if they surrendered they would be well-treated and released within a few days.
On the other hand, Boers who were paroled would be executed if caught again - for not honoring their paroles. The British stopped issuing paroles and instead sent prisoners to concentration camps in St. Helena, Ceylon, and Bermuda - where (since they were not recognized as true soldiers) they were not given the rights of prisoners of war.
Another bias is Doyle's glossing over of the methods by which the British prevailed. The country was crisscrossed with blockhouses and barbed wire. The land was burnt, crops and cattle were requisitioned or destroyed, and women, children and old men were taken to concentration camps. The death rate among Boer inmates was horrendous, with half the children perishing. There were 45 such camps for Boer non-combatants, and 64 for Black Africans - which had an even greater death rate.
That said, this is a worthwhile book for anyone interested in this fascinating period. It certainly provides the British perspective. But it also goes into great (sometimes almost boring) detail of the campaigns - all from the British perspective, of course. It includes a great many engagements, sometimes very small, that are usually ignored but cumulatively add a lot to the reader's knowledge.
My only reservation is this: The reader should read some more balanced accounts (such as Pakenham's account of the war) before tackling this one. Taken by itself, Doyle's account would be very misleading. And, as usual, there are no maps. I found a couple fairly good maps by Googling, but the best were Pakenham's.
i knew nothing of the Boer Wars and the early colonization of the Congo, and Doyle tells the history very well. This does not read like a lot of English Victorian era histories with all the jingoism, but is a very matter of fact, and somewhat even handed history.
It is a real help to the understanding of the politics of South Africa and England but at the same time keeps it's '' feet on the ground '' dipicting life in early 20th century South Africa
Doyle has produced a masterpiece for the amateur historian, the battle discriptions are vivid and detailed.the accounts of the troop deployments and unit actions are graphic. all in all a very enjoyable read.