Book review: The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War

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Field Marshal Lord Michael Carver’s account of the South African War, The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War, is instructive for two reasons: it is a handy primary source on counterinsurgency and it throws light on the early careers of many who would be become senior leaders in that other great conflict approaching its centenary, the First World War of 1914-1918.
Carver was commissioned to write The Boer War for the 1999 centenary of the outbreak of that conflict between Boer and Brit, and he did so relying mostly on letters and diaries of participants held at the museum. The majority of these are the writings home of other ranks and junior officers and thus give a firsthand account of many of the actions: Ladysmith, Graspan, the relief of Kimberley and Mafikeng, the advance on Bloemfontein and Pretoria, etcetera.
Among those we follow are Colonel Rawlinson, first locked up in Ladysmith, then on the staff of Lord Roberts, followed by the command of a column on the trail of Jan Smuts and finally operating against De le Rey in the western Transvaal. He seems to have learned from the experience, as his wikipedia biography notes that he was relieved of his command of the British First Army for questioning tactics. He was then assigned to the Turkish theatre where he organised the withdrawal of the Commonwealth force stuck at Gallipoli.
His biographer notes that he performed this task better than others had thought possible and he was recalled to the Western Front to assume command of the Fourth Army in time for the Somme battles of 1916. He later commanded Second Army, his predecessors there including Horace Smith-Dorrien and Herbert Plumer, both Boer War vets. Indeed we encounter both in Carver`s work, Plumer being displayed as somewhat ineffectual around Mafikeng.  
Particularly useful, as alluded to, are the chapters dealing with the British attempt to damp down Boer guerilla activities, and Carver`s afterthoughts on the performance of the British Army during the conventional war and subsequent counterinsurgency, including the question of reprisals in the form of property confiscation and farm burning as well as the concentration camps.
The outcry against conditions in the camp, ironically shortened the war. The agitation, led by Emily Hobhouse and David Lloyd George led to better conditions in the camps, but also brought about the end of farm burning and the removal of families to the camps. But stripped of their productive capacity, these farms were no longer the staging posts and logistics centres for guerrillas they had been at the start of the insurgency – which had led to their burning and the deportations. Instead of being centres of support, the farms and the families on them were now a liability: “The commandos found themselves having to provide for them in the areas which were not closely controlled by the British, restricting their freedom of movement and imposing a burden of responsibility which they found irksome.”
 
The blockhouse and fence network, meanwhile, did much to hem the guerrillas in, and intelligence helped determine their location, strength and intentions, sufficiently so for some innovative British commanders to turn the tables and lower “the morale of burghers in a series of raids by night.” By war`s end there were 8600 blockhouses guarding 3700 miles of fence and defiles. By November 1901, 14 450 square miles of the Transvaal and 17 100 in the Free State had been “effectively” cleared of commandos.
But the counterinsurgents had disappointments too. Kitchener was notably dissatisfied with Baden-Powell and his South African Constabulary (a fore-runner of the SA Police Service) and its inability to adequately provide static security.         
Field Marshal Lord Carver
The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War
Pan
London
1999