Among the Boers in Peace and War
Schroder-Nielsen, edited by Ione Rudner and Bill Nasson
This is an important contribution to South African historiography as it is a previously untapped source – not only for the social life of the Boers but also for the guerrilla phase of the Anglo-Boer War.
It is a highly readable translation of a Norwegian text published in 1925 which was based on notes made by the author while he was a prisoner of war in Bermuda and immediately after his return to Norway.
It records the changed attitude of a foreigner who, although initially antipathetic to the Boers, in time learnt their language and came to identify with them to such an extent that he joined them in their forlorn struggle against Great Britain.
There is, therefore, nothing jaundiced about the author’s perspective. He writes with honesty, engaging empathy and good humour about the mores of the rural folk among whom he found himself. Thus he contributes to our knowledge of Boer courtship by his self-deprecating account of his own attempt at the opsit (courting) ritual.
With regard to life on commando, Nielsen provides excellent insights, for example into the operation of the buddy system.
The battles of the guerrilla phase of the war are not as well documented as those from the early days of the conflict, so it is a great boon to have Nielsen’s graphic, first-hand description of engagements such as those at Vlakfontein and Moedwil. His evocation of the tension before a battle and of the utter chaos of a battlefield is gripping and memorable. The narrative has a brief account of his experiences as a prisoner, including his inside information regarding a fellow prisoner, Piet Schuil, who was wrongly condemned to death.
Nielsen’s narrative is contextualised by the broad sweep of Bill Nasson’s introduction and his knowledgeable annotations.
For all these reasons, Among the Boers in Peace and War is highly recommended. – John Bojé