The Boer War 1899-1902: Ladysmith, Magersfontein, Spion Kop, Kimberley and Mafeking

Posted: November 10, 2014 in Books


by John Grehan and Martin Mace
Available now from Pen and Sword Books

Fought between the British Empire and the two Boer republics – the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic – the First Boer War (1880–1881) was a rebellion by the Boers (farmers) against British rule in the Transvaal. The engagements that it involved, such as they were, were small and involved few casualties.

More commonly referred to as just the Boer War, the Second Boer War (1899–1902), by contrast, was a lengthy conflict involving large numbers of British troops, and which ended with the conversion of the Boer republics into British colonies. The British defeated the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, first in open warfare and then in a long and bitter guerrilla campaign. British losses were high due to both disease and combat. It was also the war conflict which saw Winston Churchill first achieve household fame.

The war had a lasting effect on the region and on British domestic politics. For Britain, the Boer War was the longest, the most expensive (£200 million), and the bloodiest conflict between 1815 and 1914, lasting three months longer and resulting in higher British casualties than the Crimean War.

One of the recent releases in Pen and Sword Books’ Despatches from the Front series, The Boer War 1899-1902, contains the original, unexpurgated transcripts of the missives and battle reports from the troops and officers who had taken part in key battles of the second Boer War.  Sometimes they are dramatic, and full of heroism; and sometimes they are hum-drum, dealing with stock takes and movement orders.  As a piece of primary source history in and of themselves, though, the presentation is superb.  Nothing – or, at least, very little – appears to have been altered from the original documents.

If you are interested in the Boer War, or other wars and battles from the era, you would do very well to pick up a copy of this book, as the materials it contains will be of great value in your studies.  If you are a newcomer…then this is perhaps not the best starting point, as it is – by its very nature – very statistics heavy and more than a little dry in its tone.  For those with an interest already, though, this is essential.


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