Fred Stenson turns his award-winning story-telling skills to a chapter of history that has not been much dealt with in the world’s literature. The Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) was the last gasp of Victorian British imperialism. British forces attempted to wrest control of the riches of South Africa from the Boers, the Dutch farmers who claimed the land. The Boers fought back bitterly, and though the British ultimately won, it was a Pyrrhic victory, as the losses turned British public opinion against such far-away imperial adventures, with implications for Africa and India decades later.
The irony for the present day reader is that the Boers are of course the present-day Afrikaaners, the architects of apartheid, and themselves supplanted in power by the democratic administration first elected in 1994.
As their battle against an unexpectedly stoic enemy wore on, the British sent out a call to arms to all their colonies, and an astonishing number of unemployed young men from the western province of Alberta, including many Native Canadians, answered the call with their own beloved horses, who were expected to handle the desert terrain of the Great Karoo as readily as the plains of their homeland. This would be only the first of many disastrous and ill-informed judgments made by British generals from their homes in England.
Fred Stenson paints a heartbreaking portrait of young men struggling to honour their patriotic obligations to an uncaring Crown in a distant foreign land. The Great Karoo, bought at auction by Doubleday Canada is lush with detail of landscape, flora and fauna, strong with the authority of his massive and detailed research, and rife with sad evocations of more recent sacrifices of young men abroad. It is breathtaking, horrific, and exhilarating by turns, and ultimately stands in honour of the sacrifice of these young innocents, man and beast.