Charging Ahead – Transforming Britain's Cavalry 1902-1914

Allan Mallinson tells how the cavalry in the British Army recovered from a Boer War shambles to become the best in Europe by the outbreak of the First World War.

The Peace of Vereeniging, signed on May 31st, 1902, brought an end to the second Boer War, but the victory had required three years of the hardest fighting by nearly half-a-million British and Imperial troops, including 250,000 British regulars, to subdue a vastly inferior number of armed Dutch settlers. While the Boers probably lost rather less than 4,000 killed in the field, British and Imperial casualties amounted to nearly 6,000 killed and 23,000 wounded plus 16,000 deaths from disease, mainly enteric. The cost to Britain exceeded 222 million pounds, requiring an increase in income tax during the war from 8d to 1s.35d. (3.3p to 6.25p).

A Royal Commission reported the following year that 'the whole military system... was tested by the war in South Africa' and went on to criticise the Army, from top to bottom, for almost every aspect of its organisation and efficiency. But it did not need royal commissions to tell the soldier that all had not been well. One staff officer, writing of the debacle at Spion Kop in particular, observed:

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.