Two brothers, Luke and Jack Macpherson, raised on a sheep station owned by a Scottish father who has no love for the British, volunteer to fight the Boers in South Africa. Jack leaves first and with his unit survives the siege of Mafeking. Luke follows in the fourth contingent, expecting to see much fighting. However his unit disembarks in Rhodesia and heads inland.
The story opens in World War II when Luke, who is living in the Ranfurly Home for veterans, decides to write the story of the war for his nephew, who has volunteered to join the RAF. He writes from his own memories, letters, and a diary which belonged to his brother. Luke enlists with a Maori youth, Robbie. When the recruiting officer tells Robbie they do not take Maori, he denies his ethnicity, claims to be of Italian descent, and is accepted as such. The two brothers view the war very differently. Jack becomes hardened to slaughter and has no scruples about ill-treating both the blacks and Boers. He sees the war as a way to increase Britain’s glory whilst Luke is appalled at the inequality and the hypocrisy that take place.
Every trooper took a New Zealand horse with him, and the poor animals suffered dreadfully both aboard ship and in the African heat. Their survival rate was short. If they were not killed in action they died of disease.
Jenny Haworth admits that because letters from troops in the Boer War were not censored, and most of the men who fought in it were literate, there was an amazing amount of material available. I congratulate her on the way she has used it to tell such a believable yarn.