The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, July 03, 2004
 

Cost of the Boer War


The Second Boer War, that is - 1899-1902 - rather than the similarly snafu-ridden First Boer War of 1880-81.

A Million Books Project book, Pageant of England 1900-1920, a sort of historical scrapbook from a journo, one J.R.Raynes, states that (page 41 - original pagination)
The war was said to have cost this country the lives of 1,072 officers and 20,870 men, and in money £222,974,000.

According to the gizmo I linked on June 28, the 2002 equivalent of that sum is roughly £14 billion.

It's the cost of the kit that makes the difference with present-day warfare, I suspect. The great innovation of the war, apparently [1], was that, for the first time, rifles were smokeless, and therefore did not give away the positions of the troops using them. From memory, even machine-guns were not in great use - though a good deal of the fighting took place in trenches. The Boers' Mauser rifles did quite enough damage, though.

(The war is a happy hunting ground for analogists with the Iraq invasion: for instance, with the capture of the Orange Free State and Transvaal capitals, the British thought it was Mission Accomplished. Until the Boers showed such complete lack of sportsmanship as to turn to guerrilla warfare...)

[Books like the Raynes have the advantage of their lack of scholarship and relative contemporaneity. No hindsight or damned PC bowdlerisation of thought or language!

As with this vignette (page 3):
In these days of the segregation of the mentally unfit, it might be mentioned that our community...possessed a choice assortment of village idiots. The glory of Mr Dick's kite-flying was eclipsed by these young men who played horses together round the streets, and paraded beside the drummer of the Salvation Army. They drove imaginary herds of cattle with loud shouts and much cracking of whips, and took many a pair of unseen horses with great care down our steep declines.

They would sing hymns interspersed with fearful language, do any errand for a penny, and get a ton of coal in for twopence.

They never quarrelled, they seemed very happy, and forced their attentions on nobody. But the Mental Deficiency Act has kindly removed this obtrusion from our midst and it is far better so.

This was, of course, an age when all parts of the political spectrum approved of eugenics - before AH brought the science into disrepute. For how much longer, I wonder...]


  1. I managed to get most of the way through Thomas Pakenham's book on the war a few years ago.


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