Review in “BLACK POWDER” magazine (UK). By: Alan Overton.
Members may recall that this book was previewed by me in these pages in the autumn; my own copy has now arrived and far exceeds the very high expectations that I had formed of it.
What a book it is. An A4 size hardback with over three hundred pages absolutely packed with photographs – mostly in colour - of carved Boer War rifles, carbines, pistols and artefacts providing an extraordinary personal link to those who fought in this bitter conflict. Much painstaking research has been conducted by Mr. George – it has taken him nearly four years of solid work with contributions from all around the globe – to record and document the rifles that, uniquely, frequently bear the name or initials of the Boers that carried them, and, so far as possible, to identify their owners and to briefly sketch their lives and their fates. Close liaison with the keepers of the archives of the nations involved has resulted in much detail being unearthed, including family origins, medal entitlements, Prisoner of War camp identified (if appropriate) and so on.
Many of these rifles and carbines are quite spectacular in the quality of the carving and decoration; frequently they include State Coats of Arms, silhouettes of, for example, President Kruger, the actions in which their owners fought and the farms from which they hailed. But equally interesting are the single initials, sometimes within a heart or lozenge device, with which a Burgher personalised the rifle that he carried; he knew its handling characteristics and its zero, and he knew that his life might one day depend on it.
There is a very interesting section on British and Colonial issue rifles that have been similarly carved, mainly to their Australian, New Zealand and Tasmanian owners, very few to British regular servicemen who were, of course, subject to military law and for whom defacing Her Majesty's property might well result in a charge of misuse and damage; and the remainder are to Volunteers, who frequently purchased their own rifles and equipment and who could, therefore, do with them whatever they wished - but probably not until hostilities had ceased.
There is an excellent section on pistols; a number of C96 Mausers of course, but Colt and Webley are also well represented, the majority engraved or otherwise marked with the owner's name and, often, his unit. Amongst the former is a C96 complete with buttstock, once the property of John Spencer Churchill, Winston Churchill's brother, who was serving in the South African Light Horse. There is also a Webley Mk. IV inscribed to C.H. Bibby-Hesketh of the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry Cavalry. Pistols with a proven Boer War provenance are rare birds indeed.
Other sections deal with miscellaneous carvings and trench art – particularly poignant is the work of Boer Prisoners of War who spent their time producing small, beautifully made articles such as pipes and trinket boxes. A fine selection of cap and unit badges and shoulder titles are featured, along with headdress and other equipment including swords, bayonets and bandoliers. Re-enactors from three continents have a section to themselves which documents their many activities and includes contact details for the various groups.
Mr. George also has a brief synopsis of the war forming part of his seven page introduction.
This book is, and will remain, the definitive work of reference for these historic arms for the future and Mr. George is to be congratulated for the dedication and sheer amount of effort and research that is evident on every single page. This is a book that no serious student of arms, researcher or historian can afford to be or will want to be without.