Boer War Introduction - British Empire 1815-1914

British Empire
Go to content

A Complete Section on the Boer War

Sometimes called the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902, the South African War, the Boer War, the Second Boer War, The White Man's War or even the Forgotten War, the Boer War was fought between a great empire and two small Boer nations fighting for their lives and very existence. Both sides believed then that the otherthreatened their national interests. Since then the empire has gone as have the two Boer nations but the Boer War continues to be hotly discussed by historians and is now part of the creation mythology of the Afrikaner nation.

The war was the last great Victorian  Imperial war. In some ways it was the last 19th century war fought with cavalry, but it employed the tactics and methods of c20th warfare. When a people take up a fight against a mighty power and turns to guerrilla warfare as in Vietnam, that was the Boer war, when a great power finds itself being run ragged by a small nation, as in Afghanistan, that was the Boer War. When a mighty power rounds up its civilian population and incarcerates them in disease ridden concentration camps that was the Boer War. When foot soldiers advance under a creeping barrage towards an enemy dug into well defended trenches, think of the Boer War. When a civilian population has its homes looted and burnt to the ground by soldiers who then slit the necks of the farm animals then think of the Boer War. In many ways the Boer War was a portent of things to come in the c20th century.
The war when it broke out in 1899 was probably inevitable, the result of a clash of cultures-a confrontation between a capitalist imperial great nation believing it needed to control South Africa and a small Boer nation, fiercely independent, intensely religious believing it was God's chosen nation. This was a white man's war yet there should have been enough in common between the two nations to brought about a compromise-that it didn't was due to those diplomats and politicians in charge at the time.

The war was Britain's last great expansionist imperial war-it symbolised Britain's unique place in the world but exposed embarrassing and potential crippling weaknesses at the heart of Britain's military machine. Well before the end of the war in 1902, the public were questioning the role of Empire, the value of overseas commitments and the means used to gain victory. The old imperial order had had its day but it would take Britain another 50 years to fully realise this.
Back to content