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Memorializing the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902

Militarization of the Landscape : Monuments and Memorials in Britain


 Valerie B. Parkhouse


 Kibworth Beauchamp (Leicestershire):  Matador, 2015

Paperback. xxx+726 pages. ISBN 978-1780884011. £29


 Reviewed by Gilles Teulié

Aix-Marseille Université




This book is a major contribution to Memory studies as well as to Anglo-Boer war studies in the way it sheds light on why Victorians and Edwardians erected war memorials to those who fell during the Anglo-Boer (South African) War of 1899-1902. The main objective, as stated in the introduction is to reach a better understanding of why there are so many memorials devoted to the Anglo-Boer War in Britain and what they reveal about the people who have erected them. A remarkable achievement of this study, which contains no less than 756 pages, (including 325 pages of text, 341 pages of appendices, 41 pages of bibliography and 51 pages of end notes), is that it is the scholarly outcome of the thorough, detailed and insightful research carried out by the author. Valerie B. Parkhouse has meticulously referenced most, if not all, monuments related to the Anglo-Boer War in the British Isles, including some examples from Commonwealth countries. This wide-angled approach comes as a surprise since the title indicates that the book is dedicated only to monuments edified on British soil. The author presents the reader with an impressive typology of commemorative forms and formats, ranging from traditional statues representing soldiers in multiple postures and attitudes, to obelisks and monuments of varying shapes and sizes, such as memorial fountains, plaques on walls, churches and cathedrals, stained glass windows. With its central folio of 61 colour photographs, the book is copiously illustrated, although some pictures could have benefited from better quality reproduction (squeezed images), as in the case of the photographs on page 84, at the top of page 383 and at the top right-hand corner of page 266.

The text offers the reader seven chapters, all of which foreground the diversity of Anglo-Boer War memorials in Britain. The author sets the tone with the following statement:  “In broad terms, memorials to any event represent a way in which the history and culture of a given era are inserted into geographical landscape” [ix], adding that: “They represent the collective memory of a society, reflecting the way in which it is organized – be it by religion, age, gender or social class – as well as recording important events in history”. Valerie B. Parkhouse also insists that “where memorials are created as a result of a war, they can be seen as a militarization of the landscape in which they are placed”. Indeed, Chapter One, entitled “The impact, on the Anglo-Boer War and its memorials, of changes in the organization of the British Army” revisits the idea that memorials are inextricably intertwined with military struggles. The author contextualizes the Anglo-Boer war and delves into the way the British public, well acquainted with this particular conflict, will be at the heart of the commemorative process: what was their awareness and reaction to the conflict and the mood that prevailed on a general and local basis in Britain?


The author underlines the changes that were effected in the British Army by Gladstone’s Secretary of State for War, Edward Cadwell, who introduced military reforms so as to keep up with other European countries. She then goes on to demonstrate how during the course of the Anglo-Boer War, soldiers gradually regained both identity and dignity. They were no longer a group of anonymous combatants but now had the right to a serial number attached to each of their names. Hence soldiers could now exist as individuals, and not as a mass of faceless people. Memorials now bear witness to this evolution in soldier acknowledgment, in stark contrast to the statue of Nelson in Trafalgar Square, which embodies all those who had died along with the celebrated admiral, bearing no stamp of distinctiveness [4]. While focusing on the Jingoist mood that had pervaded the atmosphere at the onset of the war, the author likewise juxtaposes Hobson’s pointing at the working class to explain that mood with Richard Price’s premise that the middle-class youth was at the source of Anglo-Boer War jingoism [xv]. She also stresses that there was no overall hatred of the Boers as indicated by the example of commemoration politics in the town of Battersea when the local council preferred to pay tribute to the Boer general Joubert rather than to Lord Methuen, as the former had prevented the Boers from slaughtering the surviving and vanquished British troops after the battle of Spion Kop (thus saving their lives) while the latter was said to have remained indifferent to the fate of the soldiers. The book is replete with such unexpected anecdotes that whet the reader’s appetite.


The author pursues her analysis of the effects of the relief of Mafeking to appreciate why the British people called for the celebration of their own heroes at the local level. According to Valerie B. Parkhouse, both media and education explain the support given to the war as well as to the ensuing desire to commemorate those who had lost their lives for that cause. Indeed, knowledge of the war came from the soldiers’ own capacity to relate the war to the folks back home. Beyond this, people could read about the conflict to take the edge off the boredom of travelling in trains. The author’s engagement with questions of male-female relations is another attraction of the book, just as her study of the influence of empire on public perceptions of the war.


The second part of Chapter One is devoted to cases in point tackling the issue of memorials linked to British regiments, such as The King’s Own Royal Lancaster regiment, The Army Ordnance corps or the Princess Louise’s Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. All such memorials are contextualized to enable the reader to grasp the wider social history of this war. Following the same pattern, the main themes of Chapter 2 are the growth of the popular press and the rise of literacy while Queen Victoria, the Church and the Public Schools are foregrounded respectively in Chapters 3, 4 and 5. The last two chapters (6 and 7) consider public works and issues related to the classification of memorials.


Valerie B. Parkhouse argues that while Victorians and Edwardian found so many ways to commemorate the War, leading to a British society somewhat encumbered with the classic monuments, such a saturation also brought to light some unusual cases of memorials such as monuments to horses or the statue of Augustus Cesar, medals or monuments in the shape of an obelisk, inspired by Cleopatra’s Needle, names of streets and even names given to children such as Modder River Lamapard or James Spion Kop Skinner. Specific mounds in soccer stadiums came to be known as the Kop, a designation inspired by the battle of Spion Kop which even captured the hearts of men and women in France. The author moreover mentions Kipling and the growth of war poetry in newspapers or in theatres. Following the idea that poetry is a form of memorial, the author falls short of mentioning that the Victorian and Edwardian consumer society produced substantial memorabilia, which could be considered as memorials or tokens of memory in the way such items spoke of, or conjured up images of the war: books and magazines, song lyrics in print, handkerchiefs, tin soldiers and other toys, pipes, mugs, jars, plates showing battle scenes or British heroes, tea sets, tobacco tins, postcards, etc. 


Some of the other fascinating passages of this book offer the reader details of the debates and disputes that took place over the choice of the type of monuments people wished to erect and for which they were willing to pay. The author draws attention to the discrepancy between the outburst of jingoism and the reality: while the public enthused over the prospects of edifying a monument, the difficulty of finding the necessary funds for the concretization of the project raised the question as to the depth and sincerity of popular and collective engagement with memorialization. Valerie B. Parkhouse concludes:  “memories of war can sometimes be short and selective”. Yet another interesting aspect of the study is the various processes of unveiling ceremonies:  while they all seem to look alike, a closer look reveals the incalculable and distinctive ways in which British people at the turn of the century wished to commemorate their lost ones.


Valerie B. Parkhouse’s book is a precious landmark in the historiography of Anglo-Boer War studies in relation to memory. It should provide a stimulating springboard not only for specialists and students, but also for mere enthusiasts keen to discover that transitional period. More significantly, the book stands out as a memorial edifice in itself, through its recollection of the sacrifice made by soldiers to defend their country and its revival of individual faces, places and narratives. Joining together, with vision and sensitivity, the multiple questions on memorializing through monuments in war context, Valerie B. Parkhouse infuses new life and meaning to this perennial subject. Lest we forget. 


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