British Empire Books

The Boer War

AuthorLord Carver
PublisherSidgewick and Jackson
First Published1999
ISBN No.0283063335

This book is both an intriguing and yet frustrating book on the Boer War. The intriguing aspect lies in the sources uncovered and used by Lord Carver. He takes his material from the letters of the individuals involved in the actual battles and skirmishes that made up the Boer War. Fortuitously, he does not confine his material to officers and those 'in the know'. Rather, he lets the privates and NCOs have their say with their personal and touching letters home to friends and loved ones. The quality of this material is excellent and wonderfully evocative. You can feel the confused patriotism tempered by appalling conditions and reverses. There is no deep scepticism as you find in writings from 'The Great War', but clearly the writers are frequently confused by the events and reverses surrounding them. You can feel the army edging towards the terrors of the 1914 - 1918 war, but they aren't quite there just yet. It is this realistic, on-the-pulse reporting of actions that makes this book a joy to read.

Unfortunately, the book is let down by Lord Carver's own contributions and linking narratives. For some reason, he does not manage to lift his writing to the coherence, reality and at times beauty of those letter writers and commentators he quotes. His descriptions of battles and events will disappoint those who already have an interest in Boer War history and yet it is not detailed enough to inform those readers who are new to the subject area. He seems to have fallen between the two likely schools of readers. It is fortunate that the actual protagonists save him by detailing the actions with such vivid terminology. Lord Carver should be praised for his ability to pick out such important and eloquent primary evidence, it is just a shame that he could not fully follow through with the potential for this book.

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by Stephen Luscombe