Carman Miller. Painting the Map Red: Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902. Montreal, Kingston, London, Ithaca: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1992. xvi + 541 pp. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7735-0913-9.
Reviewed by Stephen M. Miller (Department of History, University of North Florida)
Published on H-SAfrica (May, 2000)
In late November 1899, over one thousand citizen-soldiers from Canada arrived in Cape Town. These volunteers were young clerks, grocers and machinists recruited in twelve cities from Halifax and Charlottetown in the east to Vancouver and Victoria in the west. Most had some experience in the militia, had knowledge of drill and knew how to shoot. The majority of them were English-speakers, although "F" Company, recruited in Quebec, consisted of Montrealers, Franco-Ontarians and Acadians, reflecting Canada's bilingual character. Some of the men joined because they needed the money. Others joined because they longed for adventure or their friends were going. More than 7,300 Canadians would eventually make the trip to Cape Town to fight in the South African War and many would never return. As Carman Miller shows in this important study, Canada's contribution to the imperial war effort was a significant one.
Miller's book is an important contribution to both the study of the War and Canadian politics. Scholars of this rich period of Canadian history have concentrated on the development of the imperialist movement, the rise of Canadian nationalism, and the growing political division between English and French Canadians brought about by the War. This study focuses solidly on Canadian participation in the War.
The decision to send troops to South Africa was not an easy one for Wilfrid Laurier's government to make amid a "rancorous public controversy." It was under tremendous pressure from Great Britain, Canadian capitalists, and the pro-war press. With the outbreak of the War only a few weeks away, Canada was one of only two holdouts that had yet to offer troops. In the end, however, an impotent Laurier capitulated to public demand and private pressure. Miller's analysis of the political situation rejects a simplified model of English-French Canadian division over the War. In its place, he employs a more convincing analysis of language, religion, class, regional identity, and other factors that drove Canadians to support or oppose the war.
Miller explores the themes of the "new" military history by attempting to recreate the daily experience of the citizen-soldiers. Although Canadians who served in South Africa took part in some of the most significant set-piece battles of the War, for many of them, the conflict was often a "battle against boredom." Canadian soldiers passed most of their days doing monotonous garrison duty. Miller estimates that one artillery battery spent only eleven days on active campaign. The real struggle was against disease, heat, fatigue, and overbearing officers.
The image of the Canadian soldier, which the British and indeed some of the Canadians themselves embraced, was that of the rugged frontiersman from the North-West. Inured by hardships, an excellent marksman and horseman, he was the ideal soldier particularly in the guerrilla phase of the War. Although there were indeed recruits who wore cowboy boots and spurs, Miller dispels the myth of the Canadian "Rough Rider." In its place, he substitutes a complex composite of civilian-soldiers drawn from a wide range of economic and social backgrounds.
Painting the Map Red is a comprehensive study of Canadian participation in the South African War. It is not written for the general reader who wants to learn the basics about the causes of the War, the battles or the personalities involved. At times, Miller's focus on the Canadian contingents' role overwhelms the contributions of others. Although Miller derides some of the more extravagant claims made on behalf of the Canadian soldiers' performance in the War, he still seems too accepting of the accounts of heroism found in soldiers' diaries and letters home, and in the nationalistic press. Although Miller notes the looting and misbehavior of often undisciplined soldiers, he pays little attention to farm burnings or the expulsion of women and children to concentration camps. Also, while much detail is provided regarding recruitment and overseas transportation, little information is given about the demobilization process after the War. Despite these shortcomings, the book provides historians with a wealth of information on the Canadian involvement in the South African War, and fills a large gap in both British Imperial and Canadian historiographies.
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Stephen M. Miller. Review of Miller, Carman, Painting the Map Red: Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902.
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