The Boer War
South Africa, 1899-1902

The year was 1899. Queen Victoria had recently celebrated her Diamond Jubilee. The British Empire was at its zenith in power and prestige. But the High Commissioner of Cape Colony in South Africa, Alfred Milner, wanted more. He wanted to gain for the Empire the economic power of the gold mines in the Dutch Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. He also wanted to create a Cape-to-Cairo confederation of British colonies to dominate the African continent. And he wanted to rule over it.

To do this, Milner precipitated a war with the Boers. As always, over-confident generals and politicians predicted the war would be over 'by Christmas'. And again, as frequently happened with the British in their colonial wars, they only win one battle - the last one. But they would have to wait two and a half years for that. Until then, disaster was piled on disaster, military careers were destroyed, 22,000 Tommy Atkins are laid to rest in 'some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England', and the Empire muddles on in the heat and dust of the South African veldt.

In October of 1899 the Boers, starting the war with the maxim 'the key to a good defense is a good offense', invade Natal and Cape Province and quickly invest three towns: Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley. This forces the British to abandon their original offensive plans in order to lift the sieges. The subsequent set-piece battles to free these cities only highlight the problems of the British Army. It is after achieving overwhelming superiority in the field that the British manage to lift the sieges and capture the capital cities of the two Boer republics in May/June, 1900.

Britain considers the war over. But the Boers have a long and proud tradition in South Africa and are not about to give up so easily. Some Boer commando units, the 'bitter-enders', escape into the vast bush country and for 2 more years continue to wage unconventional guerilla warfare by blowing up trains and ambushing British troops and garrisons. The British Army, unable to defeat the Boers using conventional tactics, adopt many of the Boer methods, and the war degenerates into a devastating and cruel struggle between British righteous might and Boer nationalist desperation. The British criss-cross the countryside with blockhouses to flush the Boers into the open; they burn farms and confiscate foodstuffs to prevent them falling into Boer hands; they pack off Boer women and children to concentration camps as 'collaborators'; they literally starve the commandos into submission. The last of the Boer commandos, left without food, clothing, ammunition or hope, surrender in May, 1902 and the war ends with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

The Boer War is a watershed event for the British Army in particular and for the British Empire as a whole. Their last European (i.e. white) opponents were the Russians in the the Crimean War (1853-56). Since then, for the previous 40 years, the Empire had been fighting ill-equipped and ill-organized (albeit brave) native forces. Easy victories made for an over-confidence that was quickly shattered by the opening battles in South Africa. The British generals had a difficult time adjusting to the different tactics of a different war. The Boers were a fast and highly mobile guerilla force, using the new smokeless cartridges in their German Mauser rifles which greatly concealed their positions; and they employed hit-and-run tactics that not only caused losses the British couldn't afford, but thoroughly frustrated the Empire's view of a 'fair fight'. As costs and casualties mounted, with the generals continually professing that the end was near, and the war taking a bitter and brutal twist in the last two years, British public opinion soured. Thus began the long slow decline of support for the Imperial idea.


The following links are images from a National Geographic map from 1899:
South Africa, 1899
The Transvaal and the Orange Free State
Ladysmith and vicinity
Mafeking and vicinity
Kimberley and vicinity

Several interesting things about this war:

A Poem by Harry Harbord "Breaker" Morant, Lieutenant, Bushveldt Carbineers

In prison cell I sadly sit -
A d-d crestfallen chappy!
And own to you I feel a bit-
A little bit - unhappy!

It really ain't the place nor time
To reel off rhyming diction-
But yet we'll write a final rhyme
While waiting cru-ci-fixion!

No matteer what 'end' they decide-
Quicklime? or 'b'iling ile? sir!
We'll do our best when crucified
To finish off in style, sir!

But we bequeath a parting tip
For sound advice as such men
As come across in transport ship
To polish off the Dutchmen!

If you encounter any Boers
You really must not loot 'em,
And if you wish to leave these shores
For pity's sake don't shoot 'em!

And if you'd earn a D.S.O.-
Why every British sinner
Should know the proper way to go
Is: 'Ask the Boer to dinner'!

Let's toss a bumper down our throat
Before we pass to Heaven,
And toast: 'the trim-set petticoat
We leave behind in Devon.'

A poem by Robert W. Service, British-born Canadian poet (1874 - 1958)

The March of the Dead

The cruel war was over -- oh, the triumph was so sweet!
We watched the troops returning, through our tears;
There was triumph, triumph, triumph down the scarlet glittering street,
And you scarce could hear the music for the cheers.
And you scarce could see the house-tops for the flags that flew between;
The bells were pealing madly to the sky;
And everyone was shouting for the Soldiers of the Queen,
And the glory of an age was passing by.

And then there came a shadow, swift and sudden, dark and drear;
The bells were silent, not an echo stirred.
The flags were drooping sullenly, the men forgot to cheer;
We waited, and we never spoke a word.
The sky grew darker, darker, till from out the gloomy rack
There came a voice that checked the heart with dread:
"Tear down, tear down your bunting now, and hang up sable black;
They are coming -- it's the Army of the Dead."

They were coming, they were coming, gaunt and ghastly, sad and slow;
They were coming, all the crimson wrecks of pride;
With faces seared, and cheeks red smeared, and haunting eyes of woe,
And clotted holes the khaki couldn't hide.
Oh, the clammy brow of anguish! the livid, foam-flecked lips!
The reeling ranks of ruin swept along!
The limb that trailed, the hand that failed, the bloody finger tips!
And oh, the dreary rhythm of their song!

"They left us on the veldt-side, but we felt we couldn't stop
On this, our England's crowning festal day;
We're the men of Magersfontein, we're the men of Spion Kop,
Colenso -- we're the men who had to pay.
We're the men who paid the blood-price. Shall the grave be all our gain?
You owe us. Long and heavy is the score.
Then cheer us for our glory now, and cheer us for our pain,
And cheer us as ye never cheered before."

The folks were white and stricken,
and each tongue seemed weighted with lead;
Each heart was clutched in hollow hand of ice;
And every eye was staring at the horror of the dead,
The pity of the men who paid the price.
They were come, were come to mock us, in the first flush of our peace;
Through writhing lips their teeth were all agleam;
They were coming in their thousands -- oh, would they never cease!
I closed my eyes, and then -- it was a dream.

There was triumph, triumph, triumph down the scarlet gleaming street;
The town was mad; a man was like a boy.
A thousand flags were flaming where the sky and city meet;
A thousand bells were thundering the joy.
There was music, mirth and sunshine; but some eyes shone with regret;
And while we stun with cheers our homing braves,
O God, in Thy great mercy, let us nevermore forget
The graves they left behind, the bitter graves.

A poem by Thomas Hardy, British poet

Drummer Hodge

They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined - just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign consetellations west
Each night above his mound.

Young Hodge the Drummer never knew -
Fresh from his Wessex home -
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.

Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge forever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellation reign
His stars eternally.

A World War 1 poem by Rupert Brooke (1887 - 1915)

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Truth Behind the Killing of ‘Breaker Morant’

By Nick Bleszynski, foreword by Tim Fischer MP
Published by: Random House February 2002
Price: $32.95

February 27th 2002 marks the 100-year anniversary of the court martial and execution of Bushveldt Carbineers, Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant and Lieutenant Peter Handcock. Found guilty by court martial of murdering Boer prisoners, both men claimed that they were acting under orders. The lies, deceit and political skullduggery that lay behind the executions are exposed for the first time in Nick Bleszynski’s controversial new book ‘Shoot Straight, You Bastards!’

“The famous story of the Breaker is back under the legal spotlight and this time justice will be done”, says author Nick Bleszynski.

A larrikin, buckjumper and bush balladeer, Morant was sent to fight a bloody war that ended with himself centre stage in one of Australia’s greatest and most enduring military controversies.

“There is no doubt this book is about a hundred years too late, but it is certainly a case of better late than never…a trumped up court martial, a conviction of guilty and subsequently the execution of two brave Australians on a clear blue morning, thousands of kilometres from their homes” says Tim Fischer in his foreword.

‘Shoot Straight, You Bastards!’ is an explosive read- a universal story of greed, ambition and the power of the political machine that crushes anyone that gets in its way. ‘Shoot Straight, You Bastards!’ captures the imagination in much the same way as Bruce Beresford’s award-winning feature film ‘Breaker Morant’ and makes the execution of “The Breaker “ as controversial today as it was 100 years ago.

About the author: Nick Bleszynski was born in Scotland and grew up in central and eastern Africa. After returning to the UK and graduating from Anglia University he went into television where he has worked for the past eighteen years as a writer, producer and director. This is his first book. He is married and lives in Sydney.

Nick Bleszynski is available for interview in Sydney & Melbourne.

For further information and to arrange an interview please contact Kylie Field Random House on 02 8923 9951 M: 0148 699 678 or email at

by Sidney Allinson, Xlibris Corp.


A new historical novel by Canadian author Sidney Allinson, titled KRUGER'S GOLD, is set in South Africa in 1902, during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Lt. Harry Lanyard is a Canadian serving in the British Army with Howard's Scouts, an actual elite mounted unit of the time. He is released from a charge of murdering a prisoner so he may lead a patrol to recover fifteen million dollars' worth of gold bullion looted by "Oom Paul" Kruger, fugitive President of the Transvaal Republic. To do it, Lanyard must battle tough burgher commandos, roving bandits, hostile civilians, and a vengeful enemy spy among his own mutinous troopers. Lanyard also strives to regain the love of his half-American Boer sweetheart, who is now allied with a ruthless Czarist agent.

The novel is based on many actual events, and meticulously researched in everyday details of the period. It conveys the war from both the Boer and British points of view. Though written as fast-paced fiction, KRUGER'S GOLD also conveys factual military realities and social conditions of the era, including British "scorched earth" policy, civil war among the Afrikaners, the oft-forgotten role of Anglo-South Africans, and the political split between Canadians for and against the war. It reveals the horrors of concentration camps and ruthless guerilla fighting, while over 27,000 white civilians and 30,000 black Africans died in the "last of the gentleman's wars".

Sidney Allinson is author of four previous published books, including THE BANTAMS: The Untold Story of World War One, and JEREMY KANE: A Canadian historical adventure novel of the 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion and its brutal aftermath in the penal colonies of Australia. He is a past Director of the Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto, and now lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

298 pages, maps, glossary, bibliography.
ISBN 0-7388-6585-0 Hardback ($25) 07388-6586-9 Softback ($18)
LOC 2001116470. Published by Xlibris Corp.
436 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106, USA.
Tel: 1-215-923-4686, Ext. 276. Ordering E-mail:
Also available via Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble.

Free sample chapter at:
To contact the author, tel/fax: (250) 478-0457 E-mail:

List of books in my collection about the Boer War:
Related Sites

The South African War Virtual Library
Peter Griffiths' Boer War pages
More information on the movie "Breaker Morant" and its star Edward Woodward
A review of the movie "Breaker Morant"
Major J.F. Thomas, who defended Morant at his trial
The Australian Light Horse
More poetry by Robert W. Service, the 'Canadian Kipling'
The Lee-Enfield rifle
Clarke's Bookshop, South Africa: A good source for books on the Boer War
Articles of War, Ltd. Military Bookstore - Victorian-Era Colonial Wars in Africa
Boer War bibliography compiled by the Institute for Military History of the USA
Canada and the Boer War
The Canadian Military Heritage Project
Australia and the Boer War

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