From Magersfontein to Westminster

My Dad was a history teacher and a blue blooded Brit. Up to his dying day he would stand to attention if he just heard the band strike up with ‘God save the Queen.’

Despite all of this his passion was to take school tours to South Africa’s battlefields. And his favorite was the British disaster at Magersfontein, on the Kimberly campaign, December 1899.

Museums didn’t exactly hit the spot with Dad. He reckoned students just got bored. It was far more fun to take the boys out onto the actual battlefields. They would go out to the actual Magersfontein  trenches where the Boers hid until Major-General Andrew Gilbert Wauchope CB CMG and the Highlander Brigade stumbled right into them and were slaughtered like sheep. ‘ You  see,’ explained Dad, ‘ the Boers couldn’t exactly miss with a dead-rest-flat-fire-shot at almost point blank range.’

Dad’s history lesson went on as to how Boer General de la Rey’s trench tactic became the fundamental feature of the Western Front in World War II. And millions died in the mud and the survivors did not have it much better.

The lesson continued ‘There are other inventions from the Boer War that had a remarkable impact on history.’ Said Dad ‘Next up, the British invented the concentration camp and rounded up the Boer civilians. And they died like flies from bowels (disease) not bullets. The anger and hatred fired up Afrikaaner nationalism ultimately apartheid from 1948. Then it all happened again in the holocaust. And that ultimately led to the world turning a blind eye to Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel.’

Dad always believed that Israel belonged to the Arabs as promised to them by Laurence of Arabia during World War II. And then the British reneged on the deal.

One of dad’s favorite books was Lawrence’s ‘ Seven Pillars of wisdom.’ Today it is still prescribed reading for aspiring military officers, primarily because many believe it to be the first book about guerrilla warfare. But it isn’t.

South Africa’s Deny’s Reitz wrote ‘Commando’ while in exile in Madagascar after the Boer War, long before Lawrence wrote his version on what is guerrilla warfare. If it was not for the remarkable intervention of  Issy Smuts (wife of Jan Smuts ) the book would probably have probably died in Madagascar with Reitz. But Issy persisted and Reitz was returned to SA and went on to achieve much.

There are many books on the Boer War. But Dad favoured ‘Commando’ above all. ‘ It’s about a war you can’t win,’ explained Dad.’ You can call it guerrilla warfare or terrorism, but if you can’t find the enemy and they keep popping up all over, attacking and then running away, there are no winners. Only losers. That’s why the British finally gave up chasing Botha, de Wet and Smuts and the Boer war ultimately ended in 1902.

This is not exactly textbook stuff. But I have thought a lot about Dad this week. Of the bitterness and hatred caused by colonialism that today vastly overwhelms whatever some say it may have achieved.

Then came the Westminster attack which must leave everyone thinking twice about taking a stroll in a public place ever again. Yes, a fanatic in a delivery van can now cause more damage and disruption than armies with bombs, guns or knives. And what about the hatred being kindled in the refugee camps in Europe or whatever is left of Syria?

There is still no solution in sight!

 


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