“But Captain, it doesn’t seem fair, not gentleman-like if you forget what I mean.” Lance Corporal Hines said with as much frankness as his rank allowed.
“We’re not looking for fair,” Captain Jamison responded simply. “We’re looking for victory, and that has been pretty slim on the ground.”
“But if we fight like them, then we’re no better than them,” protested the impressionable and wet-behind-the-ears Lance Corporal.
Captain Jamison sighed and laid a hand on the young lad’s shoulders. “Look, son. It’s like this. We’re the British Army see? We come in on our horses, wielding our bayonets, with our little drummer boys marching ahead of us announcing our arrival. We’ve always done it that way. We’ve won wars in Europe because the enemy sees our red coats and they turn tail. Not now. Not here. We’re sitting ducks as far as this war goes. We’re not in Europe any more.”
“You can say that again!”
“And the rules have changed. Brother Boer has lived in this country for years. Some of these men are third and fourth generation farmers here in South Africa. They know this land, they learnt to find fending off the Khoi and the San, the Zulu’s and the Sotho’s. They are not soldiers, they’re not trained in military tactics, they’re trained to survive, and survive they do! Look at all the damage they’ve done to our camps! They’ve destroyed them because they’re out in plain sight.
“I know, I know,” Captain Jamison forestalled the interruption he saw coming, “It’s not gentleman-like, but I think the time for gentleman’s wars are gone for good. No more white flags indicating a tea-time truce, no more fighting from sun up to sun down. We’re facing a different animal here, and instead of trying to make him fight on our terms, we have to fight on his.”
Hines shuffled his feet as the thought sunk in. This was his first deployment, in fact the first time he’d ever left England, heck he’d never left London before this. When he signed on he expected to go to India, or even Egypt, instead he’d boarded a ship, taking the sickening five-week lurching journey south on the Atlantic Ocean to Cape Town. There he was told to strip off his uniform, and was instead given a pair of khaki trousers and a serge shirt. He was then instructed to meet with his Captain, whom he fortunately knew, a fellow Londoner, and to take orders from him. Which is why he was standing here right now.
“The bush is different from anything else you will ever encounter,” Jamison warned him. “And these Afrikaners know it like the back of their hands, and will protect it to the death. They want their independence from Great Britain. Our job is make sure the Queen retains her sovereignty over this land, and we do it by whatever means possible, understand?”
“Yes sir.” Hines saluted. He didn’t have to like the order, he just had to obey it; and stay alive.
As Hines walked slowly to the camouflaged tent he thought back to a Bible story he’d heard when he was just a little tot in the Salvation Army. Goliath used all the traditional weaponry, but in the end was killed by a boy who knew how to sling a few stones.
He might not like it, but for the British to bring down this Goliath, they had to change tactics and think like the enemy. “The old guard is changing,” he thought, “and the new ways are just beginning.”
Up until 1899 the British, and indeed all European armies, had always fought the same way, using the same red uniforms and the identical tactics. They were forced to change their ways in the First Boer War, as they faced a different enemy, the Afrikaners who refused to fight on their terms. In a shrewd move, the British abandoned their methods, even discarding their precious uniforms, their traditional ways and became a force to be reckoned with. This war however changed the face of all wars and battles have never been fought the same way since.
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