The Humiliation and redemption of Britain

by Melissa Cregan,Class of 1997

Throughout history Britain had prided itself on one thing: Military superiority. The British Navy was respected by all foes, and British victories were common. What was not common was a British defeat at the hands of Dutch farmers. When European nations started to colonize Africa, one thing was apparent to the British: claims to India could be in jeopardy. Britain's plan to prevent this was to take control of key locations in Africa. One of these places was what we now call the Union of South Africa. The British army didn't expect a problem controlling a bunch of natives and farmers. But problems raised when those farmers and natives joined together in 1899 to declare war on Britain. Britain's initial forces were thrashed by the Boers, and the relief forces were crushed in one week.

Britain, one of the most powerful nations in Europe, was being beaten by untrained and ill equipped natives. This prompted Britain to replace their commander in chief Sir Redvers Buller with Frederick S. Roberts.

Finally Britain was able to defeat the Boer forces with the aid of 500,000 reinforcements. Britain had lost 28,000 men in the war to the 4,000 Boer casualties. 26,000 civilians were also killed by disease in concentration camps. Although this had little to do with causing World War I, it did show Germany that the British army was vulnerable, and could be defeated.