The scene is set with the sending of the Boer ultimatum from President Kruger to England, followed by an overview of the South African republics and the key factors which led to the war, building to the opening of hostilities at Kraaipan in October 1899, and the military operations that followed. In vivid and graphic detail, based on his own experiences, and with special emphasis on the actions of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Redvers Buller and his General Staff, the narrative can be commended for its clarity and comprehensiveness. The Boer sieges and the subsequent battles for the relief of Kimberley, Mafeking and Ladysmith are covered both in strategic terms and in the intimate detail that is the reality of individuals fighting, suffering and dying for their country.
Particular events of heroism are also given due attention. At Spion Kop, our author notes that Corporal Tobin, of the South African Light Horse outstripped his squadron in the ascent and, as the Boers clung close to cover in their ambush positions, he reached the ridge unperceived. He then seated himself nonchalantly on the summit as his breathless comrades clambered to join him, and announced that the hill was his. Tobin was killed the next day but was later mentioned in despatches for "Conspicuous Gallantry under Attack." Similarly, the portrayal of Winston Churchill's brave stand with the wounded men from the armoured train attacked and damaged at Chievely, and his capture, imprisonment and subsequent escape has become a matter of public record.
In the early days of December, the British suffered three crushing defeats at Stormberg, Magersfontein and Colenso, with 2,776 men killed, wounded and captured. General Buller had suffered the commander's ultimate failure; he had lost the respect of his men. And how quickly disaffection spreads; in a clever but cruel twist of word, the men who loved their leader yesterday speak of him, today, not as "Reevers" but as "Reverse". It is now beyond doubt that he must be replaced and, just three days later, fragile morale is once again restored at the news that Field-Marshall Lord "Bobs" Roberts is to take post as the new Commander-in-Chief. Despite the downfall of General Buller, following the critical defeats in what has become known as "Black Week," we are reminded that he, too, deserves due acknowledgement. While his replacement will reap most of the credit and the deserved praise for his own success, we should remember that it was the fierce and dogged fighting of Buller's forces that relieved Ladysmith. History will ultimately record in favour of both generals.