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The Last Horseman by David Gilman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sometimes historical fiction can give a more keen and concise picture of what happened during a war than hours of pouring over the reports and comments made by field commanders or looking through reams of newspapers and letters written by reporters and individuals who themselves may not have seen or understoon the whole picture of a battle or conflict.
Author David Gilman, an historian in his own right, has given us this kind of a picture of the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. A conflict which took place as the dawn of the 20th Century began to refine the tactics of trench and guerilla warfare along with modern weaponry to superceed the role of horse cavalry and mass frontal assaults in battles throughout much of the 19th Century.
The tale pits the brute force of the Empire of Great Britain against the fast moving, small bands of Boer horsemen who were able to initially stymie the massive troops of British foot soldiers marching in rangs to their slaughter. These ragged horsemen were joined by numerous Irish separatists who longed to throw Britain out of their own native Ireland. As the expected quick British victory is brought to a halt, our story begins in Ireland where the British are readying large numbers of Cavalry to join the conflict and seventeen year old Edward Radcliffe longs to be one of their number, despite his father’s refusal to let him join the conflict.
Making his own decision, despite his father’s opposition, Edward sails to South Africa and attempts to join up with the Irish separatists who are out in the field. wounded and captured by the British Cavaly, he is taken prisoner and held for trial and probable hanging.
Meanwhile his father, a former U.S. Cavalry officer, having realized what his son had done, proceeds to the front lines with his former comrade in arms, a Buffalo Soldier named Benjamin Pierce. The two men are able to initially assist the British troops in action, despite the fact of Benjamin being treated as an equal by Radcliffe in the face of a country and its traditions which place African blacks in the role of slaves and servants. The two men discover the plight of young Edward and infiltrate the British military compound in which he is being held while healing from battle wounds. They then are faced with trying to extricate Radcliffe’s son from his predicament which is going to result in his being hanged for shooting several British soldiers while helping the Boers.
The Author Gillman illustrates the racial and cultural conflicts of the times, explains the concentration camps that Boer women and children were interned within once their farms had been destroyed, and gives a picture of the corruptness within the British Officer ranks themselves in dealing with their own cultural caste system.
The entire book will keep your attention throughout and in addition to having a jolly good read of action and intrigue, you will learn a lot about the Anglo-Boer War which you would otherwise not have known. I recommend this as an excellent introduction to understanding the hatreds and conflicts within this part of the world which led to the establishment of apartheid and the eventual African rebellion beginning in the 1960’s that culminated in modern Black African rule of The Republic of South Africa.
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