Boer war reminiscences

When I first lived in York, I lived in Milner Street, in a brick terrace house built in the early 1860’s by the railway company to lease to its clerks.

The name ‘ Milner’ always puzzled me – the adjoining streets were Beaconsfield Street and Gladstone Street, names that were a little too early for the 1860’s, but then the streets had clearly been bit piecemeal with blocks of half a dozen houses being built separately.

My guess is that sometime at the end of the nineteenth century the council decided to tidy up the street names and (re)named the streets after notables of the time.

Beaconsfield was of course Disraeli and Gladstone was self evident. But Milner ?

My best guess is that the street was named for Arthur Milner, the British High Commissioner for the Cape Colony and one of the instigators of the second Boer war. I could of course be hopelessly wrong, but the only Milner of note in Wikipedia is indeed Arthur Milner.

I’ve got to confess that I only heard of Arthur Milner while watching a travelogue on tv where the host visited a pub called the ‘Lord Milner’ in Oudthoorn – something deeply symptomatic of the lack of information about the Boer war.

Later on I lived elsewhere in York, in a street built in 1904 and with an impeccably English name, but one of the cross streets was named Colenso Street, something I always thought a trifle weird and out of place. Not until I read Thomas Pakenham’s history of the Boer war did I realise that Colenso was the site of an important battle of the war.

At the same time, my parents lived in Edzell, a village in Angus, Scotland, hard by the Kincardineshire border. Unusually, as well as the conventional war memorial for the first and second world wars, it also has second memorial, this time to the Boer war – the immediate question being why Edzell and why not other towns?

When it comes to the Boer war it’s as if a veil has been drawn over the whole sorry story of the war, and a sorry story it is too.

However the Boer war is more than just the story of a colonial landgrab  – if it hadn’t been fought the experience of the BEF in France during the early days of the first world war might have been sorrier than it was, for the simple reason that the Boer war was the first time in fifty years the British did not simply fight hopelessly outgunned tribal levies, but fought a foe equipped with modern weapons and an understanding of modern warfare.

So why is the Boer war so little discussed ?

About dgm

Former IT professional, previously a digital archiving and repository person, ex research psychologist, blogger, twitterer, and amateur classical medieval and nineteenth century historian ...
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