The Natal volunteers in the Anglo-Boer War, September 1899 to July 1902 : reality and perception.
The Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 has been the subject by contemporary and modem historians alike of a plethora of studies on most aspects of the conflict, including its military operations. None, however, has focussed specifically on the response ofthe Colony ofNatal, which formed an important base of military operations, nor on the conduct and effectiveness of its force of Volunteer soldiers. This study seeks to fill this significant gap in the historiography of the war. The central theme to emerge in this investigation of the response ofNatal to the war is that of a distinct gap between the perception of the scale and consistency of the commitment to military operations and the mobilization of colonial resources on the one hand, and, on the other, the socio-economic, political and military reality. The Natal Volunteer forces, especially the mounted infantry units such as the Natal Carbineers, were never able to exercise a significant influence on the conduct ofthe war in the Colony. There were several reasons for this. In terms ofimmediate military factors, the force was not considered sufficiently reliable by the British Army, and was therefore seldom deployed effectively, particularly in the formal phase of the war. This Volunteer force was also the victim of British strategic errors, such as that which led to the investment of Ladysmith by Boer forces from 2 November 1899 to 28 February 1900. The bulk of the Volunteer force was effectively removed from the war effort in the Colony for this period. Its marginalisation was, however, also evidence of a conflicting and fickle mobilization for war by the Natal government and the Colony's English speaking settler population. Cultural and Imperial affinity to Britain was countered by parochial regional interests such as economic affiliation with the Transvaal, which meant that Natal did not welcome a British war for confederation in the region. Qualified official and popular support in Natal for the war lasted only as long as the invading Boer forces posed a perceived threat to the Colony, from October 1899 to October 1900. In fact, from the date of the relief of Ladysmith, Natal colonial interests - directed by a ruling settler agricultural, legal and mercantile elite which controlled political authority, as well as economic policy - agitated for a reduction of military and economic commitment to the war. Natal's commitment to the British military effort, and the political policy that underwrote it, was retrospectively embellished in the immediate wake of the war as British hegemony in the region appeared to have been restored. However, this masked what effectively had been a muted and disputed response to the Anglo-Boer War.