Villebois-Mareuil and the Boers

The most distinguished of the three thousand foreign volunteers who fought against Britain during the Boer War, writes Roy Macnab, was a brilliantly gifted French soldier.

In September 1899 the young Attorney-General of the South African Republic, Jan Christiaan Smuts, believing that war between his country and Britain had become inevitable, drew up a remarkable memorandum in which he set out what he considered the most important steps to be taken if the Boers were to profit from the delay that would attend a build-up of British forces in South Africa.

Among these was to obtain in Europe the services of a military expert of high rank ‘not to have command here but to give advice which could be of the greatest value to our armies.

This is specially necessary because our people have until now been used to fighting in small numbers by means of commandos, and in the struggle that we are approaching it will be essential to fight in thousands.’

While Smuts was putting on paper his ideas to meet the military crisis that had arisen as the Boers and the British prepared to fight, in Europe that same September France was going through a military crisis of its own.

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