In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Volunteers on the Veld: British Citizen-Soldiers and the South African War, 1899-1902
  • Stephen Badsey (bio)
Volunteers on the Veld: British Citizen-Soldiers and the South African War, 1899–1902, by Stephen M. Miller; pp. x + 236. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007, $29.95, £26.95.

Stephen Miller is a rising American historian who has researched deeply into the final war of Queen Victoria's reign, including in his earlier book Lord Methuen and the British Army (1999). Now he has written a very useful study of the British Army's volunteer forces in the Boer War (known to the British at the time as the South African War), which stands comparison with Fransjohan Pretorius's Life on Commando During the Anglo-Boer War (1992) or Edward M. Spiers's The Victorian Soldier in Africa (2005). Although the British Army's regular troops were volunteer professionals, in the Boer War the "volunteers" were temporary citizen-soldiers who came to South Africa to fight for a limited duration, usually about a year. Miller's subject is these British volunteers, rather than their regular comrades, their dominion and colonial allies, or the many other peoples involved in the war. His book's timing could not be more appropriate, both for the war's 110th anniversary (to be commemorated in South Africa next year) and the increasing recognition that neither Victorian social and cultural history nor the history of the British Empire can be studied in isolation from the wars of the period. The experience of this war also offers comparisons with the earlier wars of the scramble for Africa and with the much more extensive British and Empire military volunteerism of World War I.

Miller's methodology and structure in Volunteers on the Veld make a fine example of the combination of battlefield military history with cultural and political history that has become the hallmark of progressive work in this field. Politics and culture gave the British volunteers their particular characteristics, shaping the way that they fought and their attitudes towards the war, but it was also the experience of combat that shaped both British political and cultural responses. The urgent need for British volunteers came in the crisis of the "Black Week" (December 10–15, 1899, soon after the war's start) when the defeat and humiliation of three separate British armies evoked fears for the stability of the Empire and comparisons with the 1857–59 Indian Mutiny. The most widely publicised response was the immediate creation of the City Imperial Volunteers (CIV), an infantry regiment with artillery and horsemen, financed and raised by the City of London. The old county-based volunteer cavalry or yeomanry were constitutionally forbidden from service overseas, but their senior officers circumvented this with an offer to the government of a newly improvised organisation, the Imperial Yeomanry, with the first contingent of over 11,000 being dispatched to South Africa within three months, followed by a second contingent in 1901, with a third contingent in training when the war ended.

Many of the CIV and the Imperial Yeomanry were professional men with secure jobs or private means, leading earlier historians to interpret the patriotic upsurge of volunteerism after Black Week as an exclusively middle-class phenomenon. In a convincing challenge to this, Miller points out that many British volunteers in South Africa served through the existing institutions of the Militia and the Rifle Volunteers and were sent out in companies or as individuals usually to join the regular infantry battalions. Also, about fifty percent more men volunteered for service in the war than were accepted by the Army, and many who were rejected on medical or other hardship grounds would have been working class. Evidence for British working-class attitudes and mass public opinion about [End Page 543] this war is indirect, fragmentary, and sometimes frankly contradictory. But in total 108,849 British volunteers served in the Boer War, and patriotism appears to have played a part in motivating them, just as it did their successors in 1914.

Given their largely middle-class or even upper-class origins, it is inevitably the CIV and Imperial Yeomanry who have left behind the majority...