A world war before the First World War?

Thanks to some generous friends, I’m finally having to face up to my fear of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and get to grips with aspect of it.

I’m not going to bore you with the details, but this post was inspired by a reference to Britain not wanting to upset its Canadian and Australian allies by giving two dead Americans special treatment (!) in DO 119/558 at The National Archives (@UKNatArchives). This got me thinking as there are currently various discussions taking place about whether the First World War was a world war and I found myself put on the spot recently when asked this very question by Guardian Film for their forthcoming series on World War 1.

Generally, World War 1 is regarded as a world war or a global war as so many different parts of the world were involved in different ways and to varying extents (23 different ethnic groupings identified in the East Africa campaign 1914-1918). Therefore, given the diversity of nationality involved in the Anglo-Boer War, does it merit being called a ‘world war’?

Fransjohan Pretorius has a section in his book Life on Commando during the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 (1999) dedicated to the foreign volunteers (pages 247-252) and lists the following as being involved supporting the Boers: Dutch, German, Scandinavian, Italian and Russian.

In addition to these groups mentioned, Black South Africans were armed, used as scouts and as labour. Indians, under Ghandi formed an ambulance corps. The Irish too, played their part. Countries like Argentina became involved at the end of the war when Boers who did not want to live under British rule left South Africa. Other countries were involved as they accepted Boers as prisoners during the war.

This is just a taster, more can be found in books such as The International Impact of the Boer War edited by Keith Wilson (2001) and Writing a wider war edited by Greg Cuthbertson, Albert Grundlingh and Mary-Lynne Suttie (2002).

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One thought on “A world war before the First World War?

  1. Pingback: Danish raiders in World War 1 | Anne Samson - Historian

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