Friends and Enemies: The Natal Campaign in the South African War 1899-1902, Hugh Rethman

Friends and Enemies: The Natal Campaign in the South African War 1899-1902, Hugh Rethman

This book focuses on the Boer War in Natal, and in particular on the role played by military units raised in Natal and the fate of the civilian population of the area. It covers some of the most famous battles of the war, mainly focuses around the siege of Ladysmith and the British attempts to raise the siege.

It’s fair to say that the author doesn’t like the Boers much - indeed on occasion he comes across as being angry about their actions during the war (this might have more to do with more recent Afrikaner attempts to re-write history). He also isn’t terribly impressed with most of the British regular officers involved in the war, although in this case his attitude is more wide-spread, as many of the senior officers involved in the early part of the war performed fairly woefully. 

We start with a history of the Boer Republics, Natal and the relationship between the two. It’s nice to read an account of the outbreak of the war that doesn’t place all the blame on the British, although the author probably goes a bit too far the other way, and places almost all of the blame on the Boers. There is then an examination of the opposing forces, with a focus on the volunteer units that were raised in Natal, and went onto to play an impressive part in the conflict to come. Most of the book covers the campaign itself, starting with the first battles around Dundee in the north, and moving on to the siege of Ladysmith and the prolonged and often fairly disastrous British attempts to raise the siege.

The book is excellent on the contribution of those units raised in Natal, and on the fate of the non-Boer citizens of occupied northern Natal, giving a different twist to the accounts of some of the most famous battles of the war. The bulk of the book covers the early period of the war, which moved away from Natal in the later, longer, guerrilla phase of the conflict, but covers the events of 1899-early 1900 in impressive detail, giving a particularly vivid portray of life within besieged Ladysmith. 

1 - War Imminent
2 - The Boer Republics
3 - Dissent in the Transvaal
4 - The Colony of Natal
5 - The Opposing Forces
6 - Invasion of Northern Natal
7 - Border Patrol
8 - Battle of Talana Hill
9 - Battle of Elandslaagte
10 - Fall-out from Elandslaagte
11 - Retreat of Dundee column to Ladysmith
12 - Situation in Ladysmith
13 - Investment of Ladysmith
14 - Defence of Natal Midlands
15 - Inside Ladysmith
16 - Battle of Colenso
17 - Boer attack on Ladysmith Defences
18 - Maladministration of Dundee by Boers
19 - Army moves west and a successful attack on Boer right flank
20 - Battle of Spion Kop
21 - Battle of Vaalkrantz. Distress of Besieged
22 - Boer Line breached. Siege Raised
23 - Relief of Mafeking. Treatment of prisoners by Boers
24 - Invaders chased out of Natal

Author: Hugh Rethman
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 400
Publisher: Tattered Flag
Year: 2015

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