The Experience of Warfare in Britain 1854- 1929 (Second Boer War) Part 1

Key points for revision for the source based paper on The Experience of Warfare for edexcel

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Why did it begin?

  • The second Boer war came about on the 12th October 1899.
  • The Boers demanded the withdrawal of British Troops from their borders
  • 400,000 people of the Transvaal Republic and the Orange free state had declared war on the British.                                                                    
  • Zulu Wars -During the Napoleonic wars the British had annexed the Cape and in 1840 they had annexed a region known as Natal.
  • The British gained rights to the Traansvall and O.F.S, after protecting it under a Zulu attack.

First Boer War

  • After the Zulu threat had been removed the Boers wanted back their independence.
  • Gladstone (british PM) refused, and after a battle at Mujuba Hill in 1881 (First Boer War) which saw the humiliation of a loss of 400 troops the government conceeded.
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Further Developments

Discovery of Gold

  • Gold deposits were found within the Transvaal and by 1898 the Transvaal was producing 27% of the World's gold
  • Uitlanders (many British economic migrants) came prosper from the high wages, however many of them complained about the high taxes, poor services and the denial of political rights.
  • The British pressed for increased rights for the Uitlanders and tensions rose sporadically at the murder of Bootle's Tom Edgar ( A boiler maker) in 1898
  • Queen Victoria even got involved, Alfred Milner (British High Commisioner) pressed demands for conforms and civil rights.

However there is vast speculation that Milner in reality just wanted a takeover of the Tranvaal and Kruger made this assertion. Writers such as George Bernard Shaw expressed their opinion that Britian needed "to civilise the world".

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In reality...

  • In reality, now far from being a dependent State on British South Africa the Boers were becoming part of the Powerful Boer empire. 
  • The British were also resentful to the fact that Trade was being Shifted away from British South Africa to the Transvaal.
  • Kruger's government then imported thousands of Mauser rifles and Krupp artilliery from Germany (spurred on by the First Boer War defeats)
  • Joseph Chamberlain maintained that "what is now at stake is the of Position of Great Britain in South Africa "

There are competing interpretations from Marxist Historians and other Historians, as to whether we were there to obtain the newly found Gold (Marxist interpretation) or whether we were genuinally to protect trade interests, influence in the Transvaal and the rights of the Uitlanders

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What was the Army Like in 1899?

  • 250,000 regulars
  • 80,000 reserves
  • 70,000 were stationed in India and 60,000 around the Empire
  • 65,000 men in an"affiliated militia" who did 28 days training a year
  • 230,000 volunteers (who could not be sent abroad)

The British Tommy was seen as a "low life" especially by socially mobile classes. Respectable working class families were often ashamed of any of their number who joined and they were often excluded socially.

Satirical magazines such as Punch and Rudyard Kipling challenged this view in their literature and publications respectively

  • The food allowance however was generous, and the prospect of regular meals attracted many.
  • Initiative was not encouraged in recruits and life tended to be mundane (drill, cleaning)
  • The B.A also still emplyed the same tactics that were used at Waterloo
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What was the Army Like in 1899?

  • By 1989 British soliders were wearing Khaki, not the traditional red coats
  • Soliders were also equiped with the new Lee Enfield magazine rifle (the sights on many were faulty at the start of the war however)

Even though Purchase of Commision had been abolished many Officers required a private income to sustain themselves. In this sense Officers were still drawn from wealthy families.

The treasury also required the war office to account for ever money of public money spent.


Boers- 50,000 men, no uniforms (as it was a citizens army) with a Mauser rifle. Officers were elected by their men and the revenue from gold meant they were well funded (90,000 pa spent on weapons, compared with 11,000 pa spent on the entire British empire)

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How was the war fought?

BRITISH- At the time of war there were just under 15,000 troops in South Africa, but further reinforcements from India on the way made it nearer to 22,000. Under Commander White.

Cmdr White was later replaced by Redvers Buller who now commanded 84,000 British regulars. The British however were dependent on the Railways, much of which ran through the O.F.C (Kimberly,) and the Transvaal (Mafeking)


While the Boers had a number advantage they began three key offences-

MAFEKING- Under Baden Powell where the British held out untill May 1900

KIMBERLY - British Troops were cut off by a Boer force led By General Cronje NATAL-  Cmdr White got himself cut off with a large British force of 10,000 in the town of Ladysmith

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thanxx! helpful

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