Henley-on-Thames Archaeological and Historical Group
Lecture Details and Reviews
The Boer War: a forgotten conflict
6th February, 2018Michael Redley The Boer War from 1899 to 1902 was a significant event in the history of Britain in the twentieth century, affecting not just military thinking and the British Empire, but also Britainâ€™s politics, its economy and society in ways which still resonate today. The war as been lost sight of as a result of the subsequent conflicts. But hundreds of thousands of men from Britain and its empire, many of them volunteers, took part in the war, and large numbers were killed or wounded. Thousand of volunteers from all over the world also fought on the Boer side. It was "the last of the gentlemanâ€™s wars" of the nineteenth century, while also pointing forward to the "total wars" of the twentieth century. The war also had serious implications for racial politics in southern Africa, politics and society , sowing the seeds from which the apartheid system grew. Michaelâ€™s talk will set the war in its context in South Africa, but will also consider the contribution Henley and its surroundings made to the war, and the impact it had here.
Michael Redley's doctoral work at Cambridge University was in the colonial history of Africa. He has researched and published articles on British and imperial history. He also has a Masters Degree in Economics from the London School of Economics. He currently teaches history and politics in the Department for Continuing Education at the Oxford University. His recent research into Sir Charles Rose, of Hardwick House near Whitchurch in South Oxfordshire, whose four sons all fought in the Boer War, was published at the end of last year under the title The Real Mr Toad: Merchant Venturer and Radical in the Age of Gold.
Reviewed by Tonylynch on 2nd May, 2018Michael Redley gave the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group a fascinating talk on 6th February about the Boer War, a war often though of now as a colonial war of minor significance compared with the World Wars of the 20th Century.
The war came about through Britain’s refusal to accept the Boers’ terms for the independence of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal in South Africa. Britain was determined to be the paramount power in the region. For its size, Henley became involved in the conflict to a considerable extent, with 20 regular soldiers and 11 volunteers from the town. Recruitment of volunteers in Henley, and especially surrounding villages, was encouraged by the activity of Leonard Noble of Harpsden Court.
Britain was unprepared at the beginning of the war in 1899, leading to the Boers besieging the towns of Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith. Britain’s fortunes improved following the Battle of Paardeberg in February 1900 and the besieged towns were relieved. There were great celebrations in England, although these were somewhat muted in Henley, where the inhabitants were more concerned for the welfare of their fellow townspeople in South Africa.
The Boers changed their tactics to guerrilla warfare, prompting the British to respond with a ‘scorched earth’ policy of destroying farms which could offer support to Boer soldiers. This approach by the British had some military success, although they found it difficult to extinguish guerrilla activity completely. Finally, however, a peace treaty was signed in May 1902, bringing the war to an end.
The war had a political impact on Henley. Henley’s Conservative MP Robert Hermon-Hodge, whose party supported entry into the War, was defeated in 1906 by Philip Morrell of the Liberal party, which opposed the war. This was the only time in history when Henley did not have a Conservative MP.