The Battle of Paardeberg

Lord Roberts' Gambit

My writing of The Battle of Paardeberg: Lord Roberts’ Gambit was inspired by that great work of Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels; a magnificent telling of the Battle of Gettysburg through the eyes of those involved in the conflict.

Fortunately I already had a battle in mind for a novel – the Battle of Paardeberg. Although this was a strategically important battle in the early stages of the Second Boer War (1899-1902), few people know of it. It is over-shadowed by the more famous battles of Spion Kop and Colenso and the sieges of Mafeking, Ladysmith and Kimberley.

Early in my research for the novel I came across the following quote by Jan Christiaan Smuts, a Boer general during the war, the interest is not so much in the war as in the human experience behind it. It is such a wonderful quote that I used it as the basis of the philosophical reason for writing my novel – the story would not be a simple chronological retelling of a battle, but a journey through which I would understand the human face of early twentieth century warfare.

To achieve this I felt I needed to understand the reasoning behind some of the decisions made by those fighting the battle. Why, for example, did the British commander, Lord Roberts, march his men across 100 miles of semi-desert? This was in complete contradiction to his reputation for being concerned about the well-being of his men. Why did Lord Kitchener take control during the actual battle, when he had no right to do so? And why did General Kelly-Kenny, the most senior officer in the field, allow Kitchener to usurp his command? What was Roberts thinking when he gave ambiguous orders that allowed the conflict over rank to arise between Kelly-Kenny and Kitchener? On the Boer’s side, why did General Cronjé delay in reacting to Robert’s flanking movement? And what motivated the Boers, who were farmers, to take on the might of a professional British imperial army? Of course there is virtually no written record of any of the human factors behind these decisions, which all had significant effects on the conduct of the battle.

Therefore, the aim was to create a narrative that was compelling and poignant and which brought history to life through the experiences of those that took part in the battle. It was to be a story that would give the reader a front seat encounter with the glory, terror and wretchedness of battle and hopefully draw them in sufficiently so that they could imagine they were there themselves. The narrative style, inspired by Michael Shaara that I developed provided the perfect mechanism to do this. The historical facts created the skeleton around which the flesh of emotion, beliefs, values and relationships could be layered. It would be the personal (fictional of course) narrative of the soldiers and women involved in the bloody conflict. Through them the hopes, fears, courage, terror, exhaustion, loyalty, regrets and faith in God of ordinary people could be explored by the reader.


5.0 out of 5 stars

Highly recommended

By Amazon Customer on 19 Feb. 2016

Format: Kindle Edition

A cleverly crafted book that combines a powerful fictional layer with a well researched background to lead the reader through a series of decisions that ultimately determine the outcome of this conflict.Through the dialogue and vividly brought to life characters I was drawn into a world of dust, mud, confusion, uncertainly and fear when two seemingly mismatched forces meet. Few emerge unscathed.

The book provides a thoughtful insight into what drove the characters who were fated to take part in the bloody battle for Paardenberg, and the impact decisions taken by commanders had the lives and futures of British infantrymen and the men of the Orange Free State. An entertaining way of absorbing a better understanding of this pivotal battle. Highly recommended.

5.0 out of 5 stars

A skillful merging of fact and fiction delivers an absorbing and entertaining book!

By Stuart Dunbar on 8 Feb. 2016

Format: Paperback

A great read giving a detailed account of a battle that was to change the direction of the war. The author skillfully merges the documented history with assumptions around the thoughts and decisions of the main protagonists. This approach transforms what might have been yet another dry account of military strategy and tactics, into a compelling tale of human endeavour, courage, torment and loyalty. The details pertaining to the main events are historically accurate and the introduction of a fictional elements works wonderfully well, maintaining momentum through the book and keeping the reader totally engaged. I have no hesitation in recommending this book to those with an interest in this time in South Africa's history as well those who just enjoy a cracking good tale!


Profile Photo Martin Marais

About Martin Marais

I have always wanted to write a novel, but for many years could not find a style or subject that enthused me sufficiently to put the time aside to write one. I have a great interest in history and one day picked up a copy of The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. It is a wonderful telling of the Battle of Gettysburg and it provided me with an idea for the structure of my novels and also the subject matter. My debut novel, The Battle of Paardeberg: Lord Roberts’ Gambit, the story of a key battle of the Boer War in 1900, was the result.

All books by Martin Marais

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