The British force deployed in South Africa was mix of regular army units and local volunteers and, in the course of the war, the British Army was reinforced by volunteer contingents from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Cape Colony and Natal.
‘An Imperial and a Colonial Intelligence Officer’
Painted in 1988 by RCW Taylor, this watercolour sketch depicts an Imperial Officer, dapper, highly polished and perhaps a little stuffy, standing next to a more relaxed, somewhat dishevelled and ‘country worn’ Colonial Officer. Whilst perhaps a little tongue in cheek, the picture does capture a common stereotyping of both ‘sorts’ of officer in the field.
An essential component of intelligence work during this era was the recruiting of ‘colonials’ who could bolster the regular component with their local knowledge and expertise. Most would have at least a working knowledge of the people in the area and their language as well as knowing the lay of the land across which the Crown Forces were operating. Such local recruits were usually only retained for the duration of the campaign but they proved their worth time and again. Indeed, British military failures of the period can often be ascribed to a failure to recruit suitable locals, a lack of understanding of their worth, failing to use them to best effect or an unwillingness to heed their advice when given.
The ingrained arrogance of many in the Victorian upper class, believing that British Officers were naturally a cut above the locals, and certainly better than ‘Johnny Foreigner’, could be the undoing of an otherwise successful enterprise. Unlearning these attitudes, often through bitter and bloody experience, would prove hard for some but would prove to be the key to achieving success for others.
A British Trooper with his horse. FID Scouts would have looked similar to any other ‘horse soldier’ so that, if captured, their intelligence role could be disguised.
A group of British soldiers enjoying a respite in front of a Blockhouse. Such fortifications were key to holding areas of ground as, with the South African Veldt often being flat and relatively featureless, anyone secure in their blockhouse would have excellent visibility of the surrounding area and the ability to sweep it with defensive fire if attacked, whilst enjoying a high degree of protection from incoming fire.