When was it?
The Boer War began in October 1899, when the fragile political conflict between the British Empire and the two Boer republics of South Africa (the Orange Free State and the Republic of Transvaal) erupted into open war.
Why was it so important?
In many ways, the Boer War was Britain’s Vietnam; a drawn-out conflict which immersed the British Army into an unfamiliar landscape of rocks, savanna grassland and dusty plains. This was the advent of guerrilla warfare, the Boer settlers forming highly mobile commando units which easily blended into the farmlands, fields and hills, striking out against railways and harassing supply lines.
The British Army struck back with overwhelming force, constructing a network of over 8,000 fortified blockhouses across the savanna and implementing a ‘scorched earth’ policy. As they swept across the countryside, they systematically destroyed crops, burned farms and homesteads, and poisoned wells.
By far the darkest chapter of the British retaliation was internment. Tens of thousands of Boer and African men, women and children were rounded up and confined to concentration camps. Over 26,000 Boer women and children would die of disease and malnutrition, surrounded by barbed wire in the baking heat.
How does it impact the events of Slumdog Soldier?
The story is set against the backdrop of the Boer War, set within a Britain recovering from an unconventional and devastating kind of warfare. There was little state-organised care for military veterans – no charity offered care for veterans themselves. Pensions were meagre, and the only meaningful state care would come with the advent of the First World War, ten years later.