Many books have been written about the Boer War – from Arthur Conan Doyle‘s eyewitness account as a field doctor; to Candice Millard’s account of Churchill’s daring escape, to Thomas Pakenham’s definitíve record of this bloody war to Deneys Reitz’s Commando: A Boer War War Journal.
Dave Baker’s The Tame Khaki is a sweeping saga – a romance – set against the background of the conflict that pitted Boer against Brit. And while it may be a fictionalised account, his research is nothing short of impeccable and exhaustive in this immersive novel.
Baker lives in Natal and is retired after a career in the financial services industry. He’s a relative newcomer to the art of writing which makes this, his second novel (the first If I retreat, Shoot Me, set against SA’s involvement in World War II even more commendable.
Written through the prism of a young English officer, Lieutenant Jack Whitelaw, who leaves his native Dorset to sail to Durban to join his regiment in the then Natal colony on the outskirts of Ladysmith, leaving behind not only his close-knit farming family but his English “rose” Jessica, he soon finds himself in a war where the Boers‘ guerrilla warfare often leaves no certainty as to when attacks may occur on the “khakis” (the British soldiers).
Spanning the period from 1899 to 1901 (The Second Boer War) when some of the bloodiest battles took place and also the siege of Ladysmith, Baker paints a highly evocative picture. As the young Whitelaw arrives in South Africa and joins a train to take him to the battlefields, one can almost hear the grind of the train wheels on the railway tracks and virtually imagine the cries and shouts of soldiers; the wheedling of hawkers and orders barked by officers.