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This book re-examines the campaign experience of British soldiers in Africa during the period 1874–1902—the zenith of the Victorian imperial expansion—and does so from the perspective of the regimental soldier. The book utilises a number of letters and diaries, written by regimental officers and other ranks, to allow soldiers to speak for themselves about their experience of colonial warfare. The sources demonstrate the adaptability of the British army in fighting in different climates, over demanding terrain and against a diverse array of enemies. They also uncover soldiers' responses to army reforms of the era as well as the response to the introduction of new technologies of war.

Open Access (free)
Edward M. Spiers

The South African War (1899–1902) posed an unprecedented challenge for the Victorian army and eventually involved the services of 448,435 British and colonial troops in a series of major battlefield engagements, sieges, relief operations and protracted counter-guerrilla campaigns. The volume of correspondence from British soldiers was prodigious, and some of these letters

in The Victorian soldier in Africa
Open Access (free)
Edward M. Spiers

columns – only one of which materialised), he requested the dispatch of British soldiers. In doing so, he accepted Cardwell’s instructions that ‘every preparation should be made in advance’, that these forces should not be disembarked until the decisive moment occurred, and that they should operate only in the most favourable climatic conditions, namely the four months from December to March. 13

in The Victorian soldier in Africa
Open Access (free)
Edward M. Spiers

of local auxiliaries to assist in scouting, transport and combat), and that all these enemies had specific military skills (even the much-maligned Egyptians who had professional training and aptitudes in engineering and gunnery). While British soldiers relished the prospect of prevailing over these foes, with the possibility of earning promotions and medals, they realised, too, that African service was

in The Victorian soldier in Africa
Charles V. Reed

promises of imperial service and citizenship during and in the aftermath the war. 9 In India, British soldiers opened fire on civilians protesting against the Rowlatt Act, an extension of the oppressive wartime ‘emergency measures’, in the Amritsar Massacre (1919), which proved to be a turning point for many Indian nationalists. The white colonies of settlement earned their spurs during the war, as

in Royal tourists, colonial subjects and the making of a British world, 1860–1911
Edward M. Spiers

the heavy marching’ (as their horses had yet to arrive from Natal), soldiers rapidly recovered at the camp site which had ample water, trees, shrubs and plenty of fresh meat from nearby sheep, goats and cattle. 6 Visitors were surprised to see British soldiers (apart from the Royal Scots) wearing ‘rough corduroy’ suits with their formerly white helmets ‘travel-stained to a dirty brown’. 7 Julius M

in The Victorian soldier in Africa
Open Access (free)
Edward M. Spiers

that’, wrote Drum-Major David Nelson (Seaforths), ‘they got no mercy. They got bayonetted every time.’ 61 British soldiers praised the Sudanese for their zeal in close-quarter fighting, if not always the accuracy of their shooting, and for capturing Mahmud: Private George Young (Lincolns) even ‘pitied the Dervishes that showed any signs of life, as the Soudanese soon put

in The Victorian soldier in Africa
Edward M. Spiers

existence’. In the bazaar, a long narrow street, ‘all kinds of vendors’ could be found, ‘most of them indulging in opium smoking, the smell of which is enough to make one sick. Beer is “only” 1 s [5 p ] a quart, while wines and spirits are very “cheap”, and quite as “nasty”.’ 91 Fortunately British soldiers were soon spared these temptations: on 2 May, Wolseley arrived in Suakin to warn Graham

in The Victorian soldier in Africa
Open Access (free)
Edward M. Spiers

experiences (not merely letters, poems and diaries but also oral testimony on tape and in film). There is obviously less scope for examining the military experience of the British soldier in the late nineteenth century when the numbers involved, the degree of literacy and the facilities for recording opinions were less extensive. Nevertheless, Victorian soldiers wrote letters to family and friends at home

in The Victorian soldier in Africa
Open Access (free)
Edward M. Spiers

appalled by the way Arabi and his army ‘had plundered and ravished all he came across’, while McLean added: ‘Arabi’s vermin destroyed everything they could not take away.’ 11 After several minor engagements near Ramleh, British soldiers formed a very low opinion of the enemy’s military capacity. ‘Arabi Pacha [ sic ]’, noted Snape, ‘has plenty of men, but they are not up to much

in The Victorian soldier in Africa