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The Great Boer War: A Sir Arthur Conan Doyle War Trilogy Kindle Edition
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The author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, gives the reason behind the cause of the war. There is rather an extensive, and interesting history that lead to the situation that the country found itself in. The military tactics required a special approach for the South African Campaign. I found that I could not stop reading because I wanted to know how a certain campaign turned out and what happened next. I am glad I read the book because it gave me an understanding into what the Boer war was about.
It almost as if two wars were fought ,one conventional ,and one guerilla. The war was conducted in a gentlemanly fashion by both sides as far as war would allow, especially by their treatment of prisoners, but it is not to say that they did not take advantage of the situation wherever they could. It was a victory for South Africa on the side of justice that was not so easily won.
Of special interest is a short story for the reader which goes as follows; to the North of Estcourt (a town) General Hildyard was receiving reinforcements via ships in its campaign against Colenso (a town) to relieve the siege of Ladysmith ( another town) on Nov. 15th. An armored train was sent form Estcourt to survey the situation. Winston Churchill was among its passengers and the train was ambushed by the Boers. Churchill became the trains driver and escaped in the cab along with the wounded. Winston Churchill was a well known correspondent at the time.
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.