Thursday 4 December 2014

The Anglo-Boer War The Road to Infamy 1899-1900

The Anglo-Boer War The Road to Infamy 1899-1900 (Buy from Amazon)
Owen Coetzer, Hardcover - 294 pages (April 1996) Cassell Military; ISBN: 1854093665

This book sets out to defend General Sir Charles Warren's actions during the campaign in Natal to relieve Ladysmith. Warren was at the time roundly criticised for 'his failure' at the bloody battle of Spion Kop. Leading the criticism was Warren's commander Major-General Sir Redvers Buller, and it is Buller who receives most of the criticism in return. Deliberately there are no detailed accounts of the battles; Colenso, Spion Kop et al. The bulk of the text is formed of large chunks taken verbatim from the Royal Commission into the War in South Africa (1903), the 'Spioenkop (sic) Despatches' [Blue Book Cd9685] (importantly, pointing out omissions from the published despatches), Hansard, the works of war correspondents Bennett Burleigh and JB Atkins, and the surgeon Frederick Treves amongst others. Much of this makes interesting reading, though some parts are turgid and repetitive. Much of the case for Warren is simply that put forward by his supporter's after the war. Mr Coetzer's own analysis does not really go further. There is no questioning of Warren's dubious actions. Relying solely on the contemporary debate for and against Warren is highly dangerous. Each witness to the Commission had their own story to tell and their own motives for telling it. To say the least there was a fair amount of backbiting amongst the generals. The war correspondents had their own axes to grind against Buller. They felt his censorship too rigorous. An interesting book, on an critical aspect of the war that will bring to many first sight of important contemporary sources. However, I think this book will be seen more as a scenic 'look off' than a milestone along the route to a more rigorous analysis of this important period in British military history.

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