“I take a keen pleasure in war strategy and tactics, following it as if it was a game of chess, but all the while I am obliged to blind myself to the human side of the matter: directly I think of that, the romance becomes somewhat tawdry, and worse.”
Thomas Hardy, 1899
The Boer War (1899-1902) was broadly welcomed by the British public at the outset. Here was a chance for the most powerful Empire the world had ever known to flex its muscles in a quick encounter with a smaller, less-developed enemy, and send a warning to old rivals Germany. By the time the war had entered its third year, the public were heartily sick of a campaign that had seen the methods of their top generals exposed, and the nation’s civilised reputation ripped apart. The faith in Imperialism that had remained such a vital aspect of Queen Victoria’s reign had already begun to dissipate by the time of her death in 1901.
The war marked the arrival in the public eye of small but influential groups opposed to war in general, and the Boer War in particular. Many felt that war was an outmoded concept, and nothing justified the human suffering that took place. Others felt that the only reason for sending half a million men to South Africa was to win control of the Transvaal’s gold mines. After events in South Africa began to go against the British military machine, these pro-Boers, as they were known, became Public Enemy No.1 among the government’s many supporters, and the resulting confrontations had far-reaching consequences upon society in general.
As the Boer War heralded a change from the older war tactics that had let Britain down so drastically, the poetry of the time betrayed a similar shift towards a more modern outlook. Thomas Hardy was one of those accused of pro-Boer loyalties. Poems full of Jingo bloodlust were written in profusion, but his war verse displayed a more muted style, concentrating on individual tragedy rather than greater glory. The large number of fatalities caused by increasingly modernised methods of warfare appalled many, and Hardy’s work found an appreciative, if small, audience. The better-known poems from the First World War (1914-1918) by the likes of Wilfrid Owen, owe a clear debt to Hardy and his contemporaries.
This website is designed to provide the modern Hardy reader with a guide to the events that inspired Drummer Hodge among others, and hopefully provide a greater understanding and enjoyment of his work.