Financial Ruin… part 2

Further to my recent post, in which I showed that Great Britain was in no way, shape or form facing ‘financial ruin’ during the Boer War, I came across this chart:

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I think this puts it rather well. Despite the comforting myths of the Boers almost bankrupting the Empire, the reality is that, financially, the Boer War barely registers as a blip compared to many other wars in British military history.

Though it is not labelled, the peak following WW2 relates to Korea, Suez and various other End of Empire ops – and is twice as high as the Boer War peak.

Indeed, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, British defence spending (as a % of GDP) was pretty much the same as it was for the brief period of the Boer War.

While I realise that the notion of Britain being brought to her knees by the Boers is highly appealing to some (and no doubt helps them sleep better at night), it is certainly not based on troublesome things such as facts.


  • AM Posted August 17, 2020 8:05 pm

    It is interesting that the increase in defence spending during the Boer War seems to have been similar to the increase caused by the Crimean War. I wonder why the British spent about the same fighting the Boers as they did fighting the Russians. Any ideas, Chris?

    • Bulldog Posted August 18, 2020 4:47 am

      Yes, that is interesting.
      I am not an expert on the Crimean War, but it lasted a similar length of time to the Boer War. The Crimea is obviously closer to the UK than South Africa, and Britain’s commitment to the Crimea was not as large as that sent to the Boer War, but she was fighting as part of a coalition, and I imagine Britain was funding these allied forces in the time-honoured fashion.
      This tendency of Britain to act as the financial backer in alliances (rather than committing millions of her own men) was later mocked by the German propaganda machine, which rather unfairly claimed that “Britain will fight to the last Frenchman”.

  • Chris Posted August 24, 2020 10:10 am

    The old Golden rule as always
    Go straight to the primary source material

    Off we go to British Parliamantrary records — ie HANSARD

    I suggest Mr Bulldog you read this carefully
    For as much store as one can invest in the utterings of politicians …

    Most fascinating to hear the story from — so to say the “horses-mouth” most apt considering how many horses / mules / oxen were “wasted”!

    How many such Parliamantary debates were there that had South Africa and the Boer War as their topic ?
    How many do YOU have ?

    • Bulldog Posted August 25, 2020 7:03 am

      Fascinating indeed, though pretty much to be expected that an ongoing war would be the subject of parliamentary debates. Equally, and despite Lloyd-George (who was, of course, bitterly opposed to the war), quoting predictions he’d read in a newspaper, I read nothing in it which suggests anyone was seriously worried about imminent Imperial financial ruin.

      • Chris Posted August 25, 2020 7:44 am

        “imminent Imperial financial ruin”

        THAT is of course stretching things and setting up a — straw-man

        Did you not surmise that the Boer idea of making the war financially unsustainable came from these sources — the British ( Irish ) pro-Boer parliamentarians ?

        • Bulldog Posted August 25, 2020 7:50 am

          Chris, ’twas not I that claimed Britain faced ‘imminent financial ruin’. That came from the article I commented on in Financial Ruin, Part 1, and specifically this quote:

          ‘England will be financially ruined and have to stop. This was not far from the truth – the war had cost over £200 million, or the equivalent of £20 billion in today’s money’.

          I’m not setting up a straw man – I am responding to this claim.

          Of course there comes a time when fighting against any insurgency / terrorist campaign becomes not worthwhile, as we have already agreed. That is very different from claiming that ‘England faced financial ruin’, as this article did.

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