Monday, 28 May 2018
Review of Frank Twisleton’s With the New Zealander’s at The Front
With the New Zealanders at The Front Corporal F. Twisleton Te Rau Design & Print 2009 ISBN 978-0-473-16110-1 188pp
The turn of the nineteenth century saw Britain at war with Dutch colonists in South Africa. The Boer War set two colonial powers against each other in a theatre that made the native blacks spectators.
British forces were Imperial forces then. New Zealand was one of the most patriotic of colonies. The men from that colony who fought included first generation emigrants who had battled the elements to establish their own homesteads extending that Empire.
In this reprint of Corporal Frank Twisleton's war diary the reader is engaged by graphic accounts of life at the war front concluding with criticisms of military administration in the African campaign. The book is reprinted a century on by a New Zealand descendant of the author. It first appeared as a weekly column in the local newspaper read by Corporal Twisleton's Yorkshire kin, the Skipton published Craven Herald.
The writing is very good. Twisleton is of a Yorkshire family with literary gifts and tells the story engagingly. It is a story of discovery, young men from New Zealand's outback making the voyage of a life time to Cape Town with horses below deck. There in Africa they make first encounter with black people. Twisleton's account dismays the contemporary reader with its racism and imperial pride. The Dutch settlers are spoken of initially with respect but later on the author confesses to contempt for settlers who have made little headway in developing a country so rich in natural resources.
A blow by blow description of pillage is quite extraordinary. Twisleton helps arrest Dutch farmers, burn their fields and confiscate their livestock. He recounts the farmer's wife who never says a word when they take her husband but howls in anguish when the soldiers grab her turkeys!
There are graphic accounts of the harsh campaign. The soldiers camp on land soiled by thousands of horses. The heat is intense and disease is rampant. They can hardly touch their rifles without getting burned. Water is scarce. Casualties are heavy at times though feelings grow callous. Laughter abounds even as men fall in death all around.
With the New Zealanders at The Front is the chronicle of a tough man from a tougher age than ours. As military history it is accessible and engaging. It also captures something of the anguish and wonder of Africa.
John Twisleton, Horsted Keynes, West Sussex UK April 2010