The Boer War

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  • Published 20150414
  • ISBN: 9781922182807
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

THE ANZACS AT Gallipoli have not only eclipsed the greater Australian involvement on the Western Front, but have occluded another war altogether. This is the Boer War – more properly the Second Boer War – fought in South Africa from 1899 to 1902, where our troops actually saw real action in Africa, unlike the Sudan contingent of 1884. There would be some twenty thousand Australians involved, a proportion of the population equivalent to the number who served in Vietnam. And importantly, there are a number of ways the war cast a long shadow over Australia.

It was in South Africa that the distinctive qualities of Australian soldiers were first identified: tenacious fighters able to live off the land, sceptical of military rules and procedures, and in matters of discipline (as a British officer put it) ‘curiously lax’. Even so, the Boer War slipped from public consciousness relatively quickly. Although some two hundred monuments went up across the country, a number were shifted and some disappeared. The national monument in Melbourne – a plinth near the Shrine of Remembrance – is often overlooked even by historians. (A new one is currently being erected in Canberra.) The longer they lived, the more Boer War veterans felt sidelined. Some young people even thought it had been a foreign war.

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