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An absorbing and unusual look at the Anglo Boer War, one of Britain's costliest in terms of money, men, women and children.

For anyone who has an interest in, or is just curious about, the Anglo Boer War that raged between Britain and South Africa for three long years, from 1899 to 1902, this is a must-read.

Michael Bergen uses his main protagonist, Joe Rutherford, to chronicle the history of this terrible war that left lasting scars on both parties – scars that are still talked about to this day. Joe Rutherford and his ‘marras’ (mates), Mike, Billy and Jack, gather in the local pub where Joe relates the day’s news to everyone. The men are working on the Tyneside shipyards when the rumbles of war begin. The shipyards and coal mining are working at full capacity to feed the growing needs of Queen Victoria’s Empire, and to equip the forces, as these war rumblings grow louder.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, the Boer commanders are gathering their people to protect their republics from invasion by the British. Among these is one Deneys Reitz who is to lead a group of Boer commandos made up largely of farmers and country people.

War was declared on the 11th of October 1899. There were three main centres of war: Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking, all under British control. The Boer General Koos de la Rey attacked Mafeking, where his men captured an arms train and held the town. That siege was to last 217 days, until May 1900 when the town was relieved. 

Joe and his ‘marras’ enlisted with the 1st Battalion Durham Light Infantry (1/DLi) and sailed for Cape Town on 15 March 1901, by which time Bloemfontein had been occupied. Lord Roberts led a force of 45 000 men, with 18 000 horses, to take Pretoria, which fell on 4 June. The war takes Joe and his group through various skirmishes and many encounters as the war carried on; the Boers running a guerrilla bush warfare, attacking the British lines in small groups, disrupting railways and bridges and then vanishing into the hills. Lord Kitchener introduced his scorched earth policy, which left hundreds of Boer farms destroyed, the houses burned down and the women and children herded into concentration camps.

The war ended on 31 May 1902. Of the 88 000 Boer combatants involved, 7 000 died in battle and the British sent 24 000 overseas to PoW camps. A further 28 000 Boer civilians died in concentration camps, and some 20 000 Black servants and combatants died. The British had 347 000 forces, and 150 000 Colonial forces. They lost 6 000 men in combat, 16 000 to disease and had 23 000 injured.

Reviewed by

A journalist in South Africa, I moved to the UK. Assistant Editor of magazines, then into corporate communication. Fellow of IABC Author of Cry of the Rocks, and two romances. Won SA Writers' Circle book awards twice. Numerous reviews.

1. Storm clouds gather over South Africa

About the author

Michael Bergen was born in England and grew up in Canada, though he has lived in Europe and South Africa for most of his adult life. History has always been Michael’s passion, and through this interest and extensive research The Rutherford Chronicles first sprang to life. view profile

Published on December 08, 2020

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Genre: Historical Fiction

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