South African leader Jan Smuts

Smuts is now perhaps best known (if at all) for writing the preamble to the UN Charter, and helping to establish both the League of Nations and the UN. What I want to know is, how did he become so trusted by the British? He went from being a Boer military leader doing his best to kill mass quantities of British troops, to being appointed a British field marshal, and even was talked about as a possible replacement for Churchill during World War II!

What happened between the end of the Boer War and the beginning of World War I that made the British so totally respect and/or love him?

Smits and Botha were the only two leading Boers who really embraced British rule after the end of the Boer War.

Accepting the verdict of the battlefield and supporting British rule is one thing; being considered as a backup Prime Minister is something else again. I’m amazed that he was so totally embraced by the British establishment.

Lots of things combined, amongst them his role after the SA war, especially the leadup to Union, and his actions against internal pro-German rebellion at the start of WWI. Also, the replacement of Milner in 1905 gave Smuts a more sympathetic ear locally.
Also remember, not everyone in Britain was in favour of the Boer War in the first place, especially after cconditions were exposed by Hobhouse etc. So Smuts might not have been viewed as an unrepentant enemy as much as a noble adversary.


There were quite a few people in Britain who felt the Boers should be left alone to have their Republics and act as a buffer between the British in the Cape Colony and the Natives to the North.

The British had a great deal of respect for “Noble Adversaries”- the Zulu, the Maori, von Richthofen, Rommel, etc. Also, the British were the ones being a bit… underhanded during the Boer War. Concentration Camps were a British invention, which people sometimes like to forget, and they also practiced “Scorched Earth” techniques to combat the mobile Boer Commandos.

In short, at least partly the “Noble Adversary” thing, as our South African friend has rightly pointed out. :slight_smile:

Thanks, folks.

I see what you did there =)

Excellent period knowledge and user name combo, btw.

To be fair, there had been concentration camps before (see e.g. the Reconcentration Camps (reconcentrados) of the Spanish-American war).

Interestingly ‘Commando’ became used as a designation for elite British troops, currently the Royal Marines. It was after the Gurkha wars that the British set up Gurkha regiments. Also the Indian Army was basically nicked from a native army, albeit by that Haliburton-like East India Company.

There is a bit of a pattern.

I’ve always thought that, with proper handling, Michael Collins could have become the Irish Smuts, if his life hadn’t been cut short in the Civil War

There is a difference though. The British commandos were inspired by the dutch tactics of hit and run, and were named to thus honor them. Churchill’s contact and fascination with the Afrikaners during the Boer war played very much into this.
The Gurkha regiments have always in essence (when not in fact) mercenaries, and were hired not in honor but simply because they were useful.

There is on the other hand a long tradition of adapting unit types of foreign powers into one’s own in all armies; Hussars (Hungary), Dragoons (France), Jägers (Germany), Grenadiers (France), Zouaves (France) are prime examples.

Also, as is mentioned in the Wikipedia article, before the war Smuts had read law at Cambridge and was a member of the Middle Temple. So he was quite familiar with the British establishment.

There might also be significance in the fact that he was from a Cape Afrikaner family, that is, one that had accepted British rule rather than trekking out of the Cape Colony.

Others take a different view:

For what it’s worth, Jan Smuts was known to the Afrikaner majority as “Slim Jannie” – “slim” not meaning “slender” but the Afrikaans cognate for “sly” – almost a precise parallel with Clinton’s epithet “Slick Willie” :slight_smile:

Thanks! The British Empire (and, more specifically, its firearms) is a specialist interest of mine. :slight_smile:

The entire British Raj was eventually nicked from the East India Company, FWIW…

To be fair, while they are cognates, in Afrikaans “slim” carries a little less of a “sly” connotation. I’d directly translate it as just “clever”.

I’m not sure I personally agree with the article’s definition of mercenary, even though it corresponds with the Wikipedia definition. Even though they are not paid more than regular British troops, they are most likely (I’m speculating here) being paid more than they would in their native Nepal. This implies a financial incentive, which together with acting as a cohesive and distinct unit under a foreign power to me says mercenary.

I would describe the Vatican’s Swiss Guard as a mercenary unit as well, which they very much originally were.

I think that the author is trying to skirt the negative connotations associated with the term.

Very interesting =) I’m currently editing a novel set in the Crimean War, so I’ve been doing quite a bit of research about period firearms and uniforms.

Until recently they were paid considerably less than British troops, which reflected the tripartite agreement between Britain, India and Pakistan in 1947 that the rates of pay among Gurkha battalions parcelled out fairly arbitrarily between the three armies should remain comparable. Nonetheless, their pension payments made them some of the better-off people in Nepal.

Well, if you’ve got any questions, feel free to PM me and I’ll do my best to help!