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A Handbook of the Boer War

He enjoyed the sport and the game


In

the soldier, however, this temperament is a dangerous gift. It led to reverses, captures, loss of convoys and other "regrettable incidents" being regarded with stoical composure as "part of the game"; and the victims were condoled with on their "shocking bad luck." It would have been difficult to discern from the bearing and demeanour of the typical officer whether he was at the moment a prisoner of war in the Model School at Pretoria, or had just taken part in the magnificent cavalry charge by which Kimberley was relieved. The former plight did not greatly depress him, nor did the latter phase of military life greatly elate him. It is probable that the War would have been brought to a successful close at a much earlier date if throughout the British Army and especially among the officers hearty disgust and indignation at the failures of the first few months had taken the place of a light-hearted accommodation to circumstances. The companions of Ulysses may

With a frolic welcome take The thunder and the sunshine,

but it is not War.

The British officer played at war in South Africa much in the same way that he hunted or played cricket or polo at home. He enjoyed the sport and the game, did his best for his own side, and rejoiced if he was successful, but was not greatly disturbed when he lost. A dictum attributed to the Duke of Wellington says that the Battle of

Waterloo was won upon the Playing Fields at Eton. It would not be so very far from the truth to say that the guns at Sannah's Post were captured on the polo-ground at Hurlingham; that Magersfontein was lost at Lord's; that Spionkop was evacuated at Sandown; and that the war lingered on for thirty-two months in the Quorn and Pytchley coverts.

The sporting view of War was recognized and confirmed in Army Orders and official reports, in which the words "bag," "drive," "stop," and some other sporting terms not infrequently appeared. No one would reasonably object to the judicious and illuminating use of metaphor, but there are metaphors which impair the dignity of a cause and degrade it in the eyes of those whose duty is to maintain that cause. When the advance of a British Division at a critical period in the operations is frivolously termed a "drive," and when the men extended at ten paces' interval over a wide front are called "beaters," it is natural that the leaders should look upon their work as analogous to the duties of a gamekeeper; and when an artillery officer is instructed to "pitch his shells well up," he is encouraged to regard failure as no worse than the loss of a cricket-match.

It was at least to be expected that in the use, care, and management of horses upon which the success of a campaign, in which mounted men formed an unusually large proportion of the troops engaged, so much depended, the sporting instincts of the British officer would have made him particularly efficient; yet the evidence given by General officers before the Royal Commission showed that it was otherwise. They are practically unanimous in the opinion that all branches of the mounted troops were inefficient, except the artillery, whose work so far as horses are concerned is akin to that of the skilful but unsporting farm teamster or wagoner.


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