All splendid, but horrible: The Politics of South Africa’s Second “Little Bit” and the War on the Western Front, 1915-1918

Ian Van der Waag


South Africa’s decision to enter the First World War was not easy. After a difficult interplay between Whitehall and Tuinhuis, the Botha government agreed to secure limited strategic objectives in neighbouring German South West Africa. An armed insurrection had to be suppressed first. When both these objects were achieved, and following a further British appeal, South African troops moved further afield. This move, representing South Africa’s second ‘little bit’, was a dangerous step for the Botha government. The despatch of troops to France was controversial. Yet, by the end of 1915, South African expeditionary forces were en route to Europe and East Africa. This paper investigates the political crisis in South Africa and the difficult decision to send troops out of Africa, their deployment in an environment entirely foreign to the South African way of war, and the impact of the Western Front on the drawing of ‘lessons’ by post-war Union authorities.


First World War; South Africa; France; Defence policy; Union Defence Force; UDF

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Copyright (c) 2018 Ian Van der Waag

ISSN 2224-0020 (online); ISSN 1022-8136 (print)

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