Never again my boy, never again’: Australian Soldiers’ Reactions to the South African War 1899-1902
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The second South African War of 1899-1902 sparked widespread controversy in Australia, which in accounts of the war is usually represented by the jingoistic fervour by both civilians and volunteer soldiers on the departure of contingents for the front line. Reports of dissident opinion on the war were kept to a relative minimum in both the government and public domain in the years of the war, due mainly to the issue of ‘loyalty’ in society of the time, which prevented many from speaking out against the British Empire. Since its conclusion, and even from the late 1960s when various ‘revisionist’ accounts emerged, Australian literature on the war followed this ‘triumphalist’ approach. And, although recent studies do acknowledge elements of opposition, they have still been aligned more towards the triumphalist approach than any other. Such accounts deem the war one that enjoyed almost complete support by both the Australian public and the soldiers fighting in South Africa, during the entirety of the war. Soldiers’ accounts of the war, however, contain more subtlety than has been attributed to them, thus revealing their position on the war not to be as clearcut as has been claimed. This study revisits established perceptions on ‘public opinion’ and soldier dissidence during the war, and shows, by the examination of first-hand soldiers’ narratives and their relation to more recent theories on soldiering, the vital facets of soldier opinion neglected by these accounts.