British Infantryman in South Africa 1877-81

British Infantryman in South Africa 1877-81


  • Author: Ian Castle
  • Publisher: Osprey Warrior Series No 83
  • Publish Date: 2003
  • ISBN: 1-84176-555-4
  • Price: £10.99

Review By : Ian Knight

The Osprey ‘Warrior’ series aims to give an insight into the lives of ordinary fighting men across the ages. Each title follows an archetypal character from a given period, looking at the factors which prompted his enlistment, his training, daily life in service, the sorts of rewards he might expect – pay, food, loot – the sort of crimes he might commit and the punishments he received. It looks at life in the field – how prone were was a given army to disease? – and the experience of battle, both in terms of the way they men fought, the nature of the fighting, and their emotional response to it. It looks at the forces that motivated them to fight, the treatment that they might expect if they were wounded, and what happened afterwards, when their period of service ended. All of this is profusely illustrated throughout with contemporary illustrations and with a selection of colour artwork which not only illustrates aspects of that experience but also the appearance of the weapons the men carried and the uniforms they wore. In that respect, Ian Castle has in this title provided ‘exactly what it says on the tin’. Despite the rather mundane title, he is, of course, considering the life of the British infantryman during the crucial campaigns of the 1870s, the last of the Cape Frontier Wars, the Anglo-Zulu War and the Transvaal Revolt. This was a pivotal time in a number of respects; the Victorian Army was on the cusp of major changes – the introduction of ‘short service’, attempts to improve educational standards and reduce drunkenness within the ranks, the adoption of more flexible battlefield tactics, even the move away from red coats – all of which transformed it from an essentially Napoleonic institution to a recognisably modern one. At the same time, the practical effects of those changes were tested in three very different wars which, to a large degree, shaped the face of modern South Africa. The same men who faced the flung spears and ragged close-quarter volleys of the Xhosa in the dense thickets of the Eastern Cape would soon have to face the determined charges of the Zulus, and the deadly marksmanship of well-concealed Boers. The author is right to take them as a whole, for their experience demonstrates the extent to which the Victorian Army was required to be flexible – and the way it rose to that challenge or buckled beneath it. Illustrated with dozens of pictures and engraving, it conjures up not only the realities of everyday life in the field – the nights sleeping on wet ground, the meals of tough ox-meat and hard biscuit – but the exhilaration and fright of battle. The colour plates by Christa Hook are stunning, with some beautiful studies of home-service training, of battles in all three wars, and of representative equipment and uniforms. The smartness of a soldier equipped to go overseas is nicely contrasted with the well-worn look of the old campaigner – a journey which effectively encapsulates the contents of this book. Concise and complete, this book is an ideal introduction to its subject. Recommended.

Wednesday 05th of July 2006 04:37:34 PM