Entertaining hyperbole

Anyone who spends any time in South Africa will soon learn that the mere mention of the Boer War sparks normally rational people to spout all manner of exaggerated rubbish. One will be earnestly assured that it was the ‘most expensive war Britain had ever fought’ (untrue), and that it saw ‘the first ever concentration camps’ (untrue) in which ‘tens of thousands of people were murdered’ (untrue). You can look forward to being assured that it took an army ‘half a million strong to defeat the Boers’ (untrue) and that the British ‘outnumbered the Boers 10:1’ (untrue) etc, etc, etc.
It can be tiresome to listen to this nonsense, but is usually entertaining nonetheless.

One of the most amusing exaggerations I have seen in a while is on the website of a place called ‘Colenso Lodge’, where we are assured:

Colenso’s main attraction is to visit the servral (sic) sites commemorating parts of the battle of Colenso, including  the Ambieside (sic) Military Cemetary (sic) – open daily. A number of smaller battles that became known collectively as the Battle Heights – possibly the largest battle ever fought by the British Army up until the Second World War – were fought a short distance from Colenso, en route to Ladysmith…

So we are mean to believe that the ‘Battle Heights’ (presumably this means the Battle of the Tugela Heights, where Buller commanded about 20,000 men) was ‘possibly’ a larger battle than, for example, Waterloo, at which the Duke of Wellington commanded about 68,000 men, of whom some 25,000 were British. Presumably we are meant to believe the Battle of the Tugela Heights was also larger than the Battle of the Somme, in which over 1,500,000 British troops (in 50 Divisions) fought and which lasted more than four months? Or the three-month long Battle of Passchendaele, which also involved around 50 British Divisions? Even the Battle of Mons in 1914, in which two British army Corps and a Cavalry Division fought, was far bigger.

But when it comes to the Boer War – and maintaining the myths around it – there seems to be absolutely no limit to the entertaining hyperbole one can employ.

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