by Chris Schoeman
Cape Town: Random House Struik / Dulles, Va.: International Publishers’ Marketing, 2013. Pp. vi, 232.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $30.00. ISBN: 1920545476
Winston in South Africa
South African historian Schoeman (Boer Boy, Brothers in Arms, etc.) gives us the first serious book about Winston Churchill’s adventures in region during the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902. Noting that hitherto works that mentioned the subject essentially accepted the man’s own writings, Schoeman reminds us that Churchill was not above embroidering on his story.
Schoeman opens by briefly reviewing Churchill’s early life and military career, He then plunges into a fast paced, detailed account of Churchill’s adventures in the South African War. He begins with the man’s initial experiences as a journalist, which led to his capture and famous escape, which are usually the only events of Churchill’s sojourn in South Africa that get much attention. Schoeman doesn’t stop there, however, covering Churchill’s role as an officer on campaign and in battle at Colenso, Spioen Kop, Tugela Heights, Ladysmith, and on to the end of the war. While these events are recounted in Churchill’s memoirs of the war, they are usually glossed over in works about his life.
In telling of Churchill’s war, Schoeman often adds little profiles of some of the people with whom Churchill crossed paths, and sets the man’s experiences within the framework of the greater events that were unfolding at the time Schoeman’s background as a South African historian is of immense value in helping throw new light on these events, for he brings in overlooked evidence culled from local archives as well as a rather detailed knowledge of the region and its geography. While critical of Churchill’s own account, Schoeman is by no means hostile to the man (though he perhaps misses the occasional little Churchillian joke, such as calling a trickle a “mighty river”).
A rewarding read for those interested in Churchill or in the war in South Africa.