Saturday, November 26, 2005

History of the Boer War

Seeing how The General begins with Curzon active in the Boer War, I found it necessary to examine a bit of history of the Boer War in order to understand how it is relevent to the course of events in The General and why it is that Forester chose to begin a novel on the First World War with a war the preceeded it. This first post will outline a brief history of the Boer War. (Another post will follow which outlines the more important point of WHY this history is important in relation to The General).

Through the course of my research I have learned that the Boer War (1899-1902) was a conflict in southern Africa between Britain and the allied, Afrikaner- populated Transvaal and Orange Free State, (in what is now South Africa). The lead up to the Boer War has a long history, as throughout the 19th century, as Britain expanded its possessions in the south of Africa feelings of hate rose between the Afrikaners and the Boers (the British settlers). This resulted in the Afrikaner migration called the Great Trek and the establishment of the three Afrikaner republics. In 1884 gold was discovered in the South African Republic, and thousands of British miners and prospectors settled in the area. Resentment grew between the Afrikaners and the newcomers, ultimately leading to a revolt by the British settlers.
In 1899, following a buildup of British troops in southern Africa, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State declared war on Britain. The Afrikaner forces were initially successful, but British general Frederick S. Roberts eventually won a series of military victories and occupied the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. Believing he had won the war, Roberts returned to England in 1901. Boer leaders then launched extensive and well-planned guerrilla warfare against the occupying British troops. The fighting continued for the next year and was finally stopped only after the British devastated the Afrikaner farms that sustained and sheltered the guerrillas. Although peace was reached in 1902, the resulting political unification of South Africa did not erase the causes that had triggered the conflict.

Another website nicely summarizes the long standing effects of the Boer War as well as provides poetry, maps and drawings. It also captures the essence of the war that Forester emphasizes and focuses on in The General. It states, " The Boer War can be considered a watershed event for the British Army in particular and for the British Empire as a whole. Their last European 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 (although 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. "

For more information, pictures, maps and timelines on the Boer War visit this website.

1 Comments:

Blogger Lisa Moxon said...

Thanks for that summary, Veronika. I look forward to your follow-up post.

Sunday, December 04, 2005 9:39:00 AM  

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