Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Barry McGill


Boer War, British


The twelve years between the end of the Boer War (1899-1902) and August 1914 were a period of military reform for Britain. As a result of Army errors and deficiencies, the military came under criticism and ultimately reform. The Army was transformed from an unwieldy conglomeration of units into an expandable striking force ready for overseas service. Though the Navy had not been involved in the South African fighting, its defects were readily apparent in the light of postwar reform. So too were those of high level military policy making which was then revamped through the creation of the Committee of Imperial Defense.

British confidence was badly shaken by the period of Army defeat in December 1899 termed "Black Week." During this week of disaster, a British field army superior in size to that of the Boers was defeated at several points with large sections of the British Cape Colony falling under Boer control manpower losses were light in comparison to European battles- the British lost 1,700 men at their bloodiest defeat while the Austrians had suffered over 20,000 casualties at Sadowa- yet these losses were still severe for a nation used to police actions against poorly armed and disciplined natives. Victory was finally achieved only by employing over 450,000 regulars, reservists, militia, and volunteers against approximately 50,000 Boers. Sufficient men were found by stripping the United Kingdom of regular troops. To prevent a reoccurrence of the South African difficulties, the Report of His Majesty's Commissioners on the War in South Africa recognized that the Army would have to be reorganized into a striking force for imperial and continental use. Without such a reorganization, 1914 might have found the British as unprepared as in 1899.

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