How and why was the Second Boer War fought?


What was the British army like in 1899?

  • Numbers slightly greater than in 1854 and more efficient due to Cardwell reforms.
  • 249,466 regulars and 78,000 reservists; 60,000 stationed in India and 60,000 across Empire.
  • Militia of 65,000 which did 28 days of training per year & 230,000 volunteers.
  • Regular army in closely bonded regiments; one battalion serving abroad and one at home.
  • Ordinary soldiers drawn from poorest levels of society.
  • Social standing of soldiers low as pay was 1 shilling a day - Rudyard Kipling came up with name 'Tommy' for ordinary soldier.
  • Punch showed Tommy's as being lazy and well looked after.
  • Food allowance generous - pound of meat, pound of break, a gill (measure) of rum.
  • Discipline severe; floggin in wartime abandoned in 1881 but continued until 1907.
  • Life was a roll call of drill, cleaning and mundane tasks; initiative discouraged.
  • British army still training for close order volley firing as used in Waterloo.
  • From 1899, soldiers used khaki & most equipped with new Lee Enfield Rifle with an excellent range although many of the sights were defective & needed adjusting.
  • Improvements to supply by creation of Army Service Corps.
  • Royal Army Medical Corps (established 1898); more efficient organisation of medical support.
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Black Week

  • Buller decided to divide arriving Army Corps into three.
  • Lord Methuen - sent up Western Railway to relieve Kimberley.
  • Central force under Gatacre intended to safeguard North od Cape Province & proceeded to Natal to attempt to relieve Ladysmith.
  • All three met defeat; Gatacre walked into Boer Force and suffered 135 casualties and 561 prisoners taken on 10th December.
  • Methuen struck next day at Cronje - disaster - Highlands in kilts suffered from the number of ants. Eventually retreated and gave up on attempt to relieve Kimberley until reinforcements arrived.
  • 15 December - Buller faced defeat at Colenso in Natal in a similar fashion.
  • These three events constituted 'Black Week' - blow to British power and prestige.
  • Government resolved to send Kitchener to join Field Marshall Roberts to become war heroes; Roberts reached front in early February, but Buller had already experienced defeat at Spion Kop in January.
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British Success in 1900

  • British forces, led by Field Marshall Roberts, reached the Modder River in February and Boer besiegers rapidly outmanoeuvred & Kimberley relieved on 15th February.
  • Twelve days later Cronje and 4,000 Boers surrounded and forced to surrender at Paardeberg.
  • 28th February - Buller relieved Ladysmith after well planned & methodical attack.
  • Buller went on to capture the capital of the Free State, Bloemfontein, in March.
  • Pause of two months as Roberts encountered supply problems stemming from dependence on railway line; terrible outbreak of typhoid killed more men than Boers.
  • Advance resumed on 11th May and Johannesburg captured at end of the month.
  • A week later Pretoria fell and the war seemed over; Roberts and Buller left in autumn of 1900 and Kitchener took over as Commander-in-Chief in November.
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To what extent did the war constitute a British vi

Gradually Boer commandos worn down and negotiations began in spring of 1902.

Terms of Treaty of Vereeniging (31st May 1902):

  • Transvaal Republic and Orange Free State became part of the Empire.
  • Amnesty for Boers who had fought in war and grant of £3 million granted from British government to repair damage.
  • Prospect of self-government for Transvaal Republic and Orange Free State held out but no firm date set.

'Minor colonial conflict' cost British government £201 million.

British casualties high - 5,774 killed by enemy action and 16,168 dying of disease and wounds.

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Impact on Party Politics

Split the Liberal Party into three warring factions:

  • Group of senior figures formed around former leader Lord Rosebery - dubbed Liberal Imperialists or LIMPS because they supported the war. Included important figures - Herbert Asquith, Sir Edward Grey, Lord Haldane ie. some of the most talented politicians in the Party.
  • A group of noisy radicals including Lloyd-George who opposed the war.
  • In the middle, trying to keep the party together, was the uncharismatic Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman.

Liberal Party was short of money and when the election was called there were 3 paid Liberal agents for every 30 Conservatives.

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'Khaki election'

Parliament dissolved on 18th September.

Many Conservative candidates were serving officers, and Chamberlain made much of the war, therefore election for new Parliament known as khaki election.

Liberals tended to concentrate their fire on Chamberlain as he had left the party in 1886; Lloyd George basically accused him of being a war profiteer.

  • Conservatives won 51% of vote (402 MPs compared to 184 Liberals, 84 Irish Nationalists and 2 for Labour); comfortable majority of 134 seats.

Despite evidence of enthusiasm for war, turnout was low at 74.6%; sometimes used to argue that popular enthusiasm did not break into working classes.

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The aftermath

  • Committee of Imperial Defence announced March 1903; chaired by Prime Minister and attended by political and service heads of the army and navy plus heads of intelligence services.
  • Lord Salisbury established Royal Commission under Lord Elgin in 1902; reported in 1903, recommending sweeping changes in organisation of army, notably abolition of C-in-C.
  • One of the Commission's members, Lord Esher, was appointed to make detailed recommendations on reorganisation of War Office - toook with him as secretary of his committe the Commission's secretary - Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Ellison.
  • Esher report - published in February and March of 1904 - contributed to considerable army reform.
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Army reforms

Esher Reforms

  • New positions - Chief of General Staff in charge of planning and training, Adjutant General responsible for welfare and recruiting, Quartermaster-General responsible for supplies and transport and Master General of the Ordnance for armaments and fortification.
  • Khaki became standard peacetime dress and new weapons introduced including shortened Lee Enfield Rifle and quick-firing field guns.
  • Old drill books replaced 1904-5.
  • New military base established on Salisbury Plain and Staff College at Camberley began to take training of senior officers more seriously.

Haldane reforms

  • British Expeditionary Force created in early 1907, and Territorials (by 1910 276,618 officers in TA) created in Territorial and Reserve Forces Act 1907, which replaced the militia, and Volunteers organised into field divisions complete with transport and artillery.
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Drive to 'national efficiency'

  • Contributed to growing sense of pessimism about Britain's position as great leader; underlined certain worries in 1890s centred on competitiveness of industry, quality of education and health of people.
  • Concerns contributed to Liberal reforms under Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith.
  • School Meals Act of 1906, and medical inspections of children in 1907.
  • National Insurance Act of 1911.
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Changing attitudes to the Empire and Imperialism

Support for Empire

  • 1902 - Eton schoolmaster, AC Benton, wrote words to Land of Hope and Glory.
  • Periodicals such as Boy's Own Paper, founded in late 1800s, remained popular and Union Jack re-founded in 1903; offered a diet of nationalism wedded to decency and pride in the British Empire as a force for good.
  • Baden-Powell founded Boy Scouts in 1908.

Criticism of the Empire

  • JA Hobson, liberal writer who served as correspondent for Manchester Guardian in South Africa, published highly influential book - Imperialism: A Study - in 1902 criticising Imperialism as it was a by-product of capitalism.
  • January 1906 - Khaki election reversed and vast Liberal majority elected - doesn't mean that large numbers of voters had read Hobson but the ideas seeped downwards that the war had cost much and gone on much longer after the government claimed it was over.
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Strategic results

  • Milner resigned in March 1905 - new Liberal government anxious to promote reconciliation.
  • Paul Kruger's place taken by younger Boers prepared to work within the Empire.
  • December 1906 - Campbell-Bannerman's government introduced self-government for the two conquered states and Louis Botha elected Prime Minister of Transvaal in 1907.
  • 1909 - parliament passed South Africa Bill establishing the Union of South Africa in 1910 as a self-governing dominion like Australia or Canada.
  • In the First and Second World Wars South African troops supported Britain against Germany, showing great bravery.
  • The price of reconciliation was that non-whites were banned from sitting in the new South African Parliament, and their basic civil rights were neglected.
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