Goodbye Dolly Gray
The Story of the Boer War
Author: Rayne Kruger
592pp; size 242 X 168mm; 24 pages black and white pics; maps
Trade paperback; ISBN/Bar code 9781-919854-25-01; non fiction
Goodbye Dolly I must leave you, though it breaks my heart to go,
Something tells me I am needed at the front to fight the foe,
See — the boys in blue are marching and I can no longer stay,
Hark — I hear the bugle calling, goodbye Dolly Gray
Goodbye Dolly Graywas the anthem of the South African or Anglo-Boer War — a song that for a generation of British soldiers evoked memories of the Relief of Ladysmith, the Relief of Mafeking, the Battle of Spion Kop and the march on
At the turn of the 20th century the largest army ever to have fought under the Union Jack was battling to extend the control of the British Empire over the gold fields of
. Opposing them were the Boers, Afrikaans-speaking settlers who fought under the banner of anti-imperialism. South Africa
The Boer War marked the end of Victorian complacency and the beginning of a century of war.
saw the first major use of machine guns, long-range artillery and barbed wire. Also here, making their debut on the historical stage, were the men of the 20th century including Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and Jan Smuts. South Africa
Rayne Kruger’s classic account, written in 1959, places the Boer War squarely in its social and political settings. The narrative ranges easily from the open spaces of the South African veld to the crowded benches of the House of Commons.
It includes vivid pen portraits of the main actors in the drama — from Lord Kitchener to Cecil Rhodes and the Boer leaders like Paul Kruger, Jannie Smuts and Louis Botha — and dramatic accounts of the main battles.
It also explores the legacy of the Boer War for
South Africaand the British Empire.
Rayne Kruger's Goodbye Dolly Gray is a remarkably prescient and erudite single-volume account of the South African War, aka the Second Boer War. First published in 1959, the book concludes that the Boer War “was fought because each half of the white community in the Transvaal wanted to dominate. Hostilities broke out upon expiry of a Boer ultimatum which narrowly preceded one already prepared by the British.
“The Boers said the war was for liberty. The British said it was for equality. The majority of the inhabitants, who were not white at all, gained neither liberty nor equality.” Even though published in London, these were remarkably bold words for a South African named Kruger in the second year of Verwoerdian Apartheid. This may well explain why this excellent work is not that well known in South Africa where Kruger was born, educated and trained as an attorney. (He served in the British merchant navy during World War Two – a most deadly occupation during that conflict – and afterwards settled in the UK were he entered business and wrote fiction and history.)
“For a decade Afrikaner nationalism has ruled South Africa with little challenge,” writes Kruger in a postscript, “drawing its strength from its desire for race-preservation. The ultimate victor of the Boer War would therefore seem to be Krugerism. But Africa is astir with a contrary idea, a impassioned as Kruger's, and the real struggle still lies ahead unless averted by majestic statesmanship.” Profound words indeed, especially in a popular history.
Darryl Accone, book editor at the Mail & Guardian newspaper has criticised some South African writing for being “merely comprehensive” at the cost of being compelling. This is not a vice this account suffers, and other than being wholly educational, Goodbye Dolly Gray is also thoroughly entertaining. Kruger, perhaps because of his fiction writing, has a wonderful turn of phrase, often raising a good laugh as well as a profound insight.
His pensketches of key participants are often particularly amusing. Commenting on General Redvers Buller, the initial British expeditionary force commander, Kruger notes that period descriptions had him as big-boned and square-jawed. He adds: “at the risk of marring this typical contemporary description … it should be mentioned that his big bones were particularly well covered, especially in the region of the stomach, and that his square jaw was not especially apparent over a double chin. ...he was very wealthy, which was fortunate in view of his preference for a diet of ample good food and champagne.”
Of cavalry General John French he writes: “French left Ladysmith with his chief of staff [Major] Douglas Haig on the last train to get out, and the two future commanders of the British Army in World War I only escaped with their lives by lying flat on the carriage floor while bullets laced the woodwork around them.”
Comparing the pre-war British and Boer armies, Kruger observes that while the Transvaal was spending ₤90 000 a year on (unspecified) intelligence, the British, who at the time had no General Staff (the Boers didn't either), was spending ₤11 000 on the same for the whole globe. Just two officers were responsible for the entire colonial empire – including the Transvaal.
Technology and progress played a role both on and off the battlefield: the modern rifle with smokeless ammunition, quick-firing artillery, machine guns and grenade launchers; the telephone, heliograph and telegraph. With the latter, Victorian mass education and the repeal the Stamp Act for newspapers, came the modern mass media: the Boer War was the first conflict to be cinemagraphed and photography was common too. Yet for the British December 1899 produced a “crop of failures unknown since the American War of Independence” over a century before.
In the end there was a victory of sorts – both the final British commander, General Horatio Kitchener and the Transvaal commandant general, Louis Botha, realised as the winter of 1902 set in that it was time to end the war. As General Koos de la Rey put it at Vereeniging: “It was not a question of fighting to the bitter end: the bitter end had come.”
In the end it is a remarkably balanced book: there is sympathy for the hound as well as the hare, unlike perhaps Arthur Conan Doyle's The Great Boer War that is clearly pro-British and Thomas Pakenham's The Boer War that is pro-Buller and otherwise biased towards the Boers as well as the conventional war (October 1899-June 1900) to the detriment of the guerilla war that Kruger covers in great detail. It seems to me that if one wants a single, comprehensive and balanced account of the war, this may be it.
Leon Engelbrecht - Defence Web - www.defenceweb.co.za
Goodbye Dolly Gray is a popular history of the South African War, first published in 1959. Although the author made use of only a limited number of printed sources, the broad sweep of his narrative and the skill with which he recounted individual incidents gave the book immense appeal and, over the course of the years, it has run to many editions.
Rayne Kruger ably contextualised the war against the background of the political and social conditions of Victorian England. He was also particularly adept at laying bare the blunders of military command. This resonates well with the reader as the discomfiture of the high and mighty is a common source of secret satisfaction.
The republication of such a well-illustrated, long-time favourite is to be welcomed. The book is a facsimile version of the first edition and has the same format as other Galago histories of the war by Christiaan de Wet and Arthur Conan Doyle.
This was an instant classic: an eminently readable one volume general history of the second Anglo-Boer War that was lively and compassionate, while avoiding the twin traps if imperial chauvinism and Afrikaner victimology.
Nor is the war seen in isolation: we traverse from Koos de la Rey’s brilliant 1899 exposition on the advantages of firing across open ground from concealed trenches at the kopjes’ foot (Magersfontein), through to the lessons eventual fruit in 1914, when the Germans, regarding ‘taking cover as degenerate … had to bring up five times as many men as the British to hold them’.
It may be an unpopular reminder in these times, but Rayne Kruger is unshamed to point out that ‘British paramountcy was an ethic’, just as much as the Boer right to independence.
As rich and provocative now as at publication in 1959.
James Mitchell - The Star
Vividly and vigorously written
Lord (Robert) Blake The Sunday Times,
The best coherent account of the Boer War within a reasonable compass
A.J.P. Taylor: The Observer
An exciting and remarkable account
I recently came across your latest edition of "Goodbye Dolly Gray", which I had first read about 40 years ago and decided that it was time for a re-read of Rayne Kruger's excellent account of the Great Boer War.
I am thoroughly enjoying this re-read but, for the sake of historical correctness, would like to point out a small inaccuracy that I have come across in the book. This refers to Page 165, paragraph 2.
This paragraph commences "Originally a mission station made famous by Moffat and subsequently by Stanley Livingstone who there met him and married his daughter ......".
The gentleman in question was, of course, David Livingstone and not Stanley Livingstone.
Regards and thank you for a great book.
Keith Young - South Africa