‘Boks and bullets, coffins and crutches’ : an exploration of the body, mind and places of ‘Springbok’ South African soldiers in the First World War

Delport, Anri (2015-12)

Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2015.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: In 1914-'18 the Great War, as it is still widely known today, engulfed the world, including the recently-founded Union of South Africa. As opposed to other empire and Allied states, the Union’s experience of the global war’s intoxication in August and September 1914 was more complex, inconsistent and layered. The cry for war was heard in a period of increased urbanisation and class antagonism towards the ruling order. Yet, in the more pro-British centres and for struggling poorer inhabitants, the call was answered and many rushed to enlist to fight in what was seen as a European War. Many men were probably unaware of the defined yet covert contract into which enlistment translated: the handing over of one’s body and mind to the state, thus allowing the government to dispose of it as it saw fit both during and after the war. It is the aim of this thesis to consider and explore what happened to the bodies and minds of white volunteers who saw service beyond the domestic borders. This exploration includes a comparative analysis, since it considers the impact of war on fighting South African soldiers in three markedly different campaigns. The first troops arrived in German South West Africa in 1914, and the majority remained until the end of hostilities in 1915. This was followed by the posting of two expeditionary forces to Europe and East Africa in that year. The different geographical locations of these three campaigns also meant varying climates, environment, food, clothing, types of warfare and, also, the contracting of different diseases and the inflicting of wounds. All of these factors had a differing bodily and mental impact. Furthermore, enlistment experiences changed men’s bodies and minds enduringly, for even after the cessation of hostilities, many men were never the same. The extent to which men’s bodies were altered depended at times on their physical state upon enlistment. The state’s ideal of “fit”, “able bodied”, and “healthy” depended on a set of schedules determining recruitment requirements and was also mirrored in the post-war years as these criteria came to determine men’s economic standing. Accordingly, this thesis will explore the impact of the war on men’s bodies and minds by considering their condition upon enlistment, and their state during the war years as well as during the post-war era. These different phases were reflected in the altered identity of men from ‘fit for duty’, to ‘servicemen’ and, lastly, to ‘ex-servicemen.’ The experiences of these men, changed by war, form the focus of this thesis.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die Groot Oorlog van 1914-'18, soos dit vandag nog algemeen genoem word, het die wêreld, insluitende die pasgestigte Unie van Suid-Afrika, ingesuig. In teenstelling met ander Statebonds- en Geallieerde State, was die oorlog se invloed op die Unie meer kompleks, wispelturig en geskakeerd. Die oproep tot oorlog is gehoor in 'n periode van toenemende verstedeliking en klasse teenstand teen die heersende orde. Maar in die meer pro-Britse sentra en vir die armer burgers was dit 'n welkome wekroep en daar is tougestaan om aan te sluit by wat as 'n Europese Oorlog gesien is. Baie was waarskynlik onbewus van die uiteengesette dog koverte kontrak waaarop aansluiting neergekom het: die gee van jou liggaam en gees aan die staat, wat kon besluit om tydens en ná die oorlog na goeddunke daarmee te handel. Die doel van hierdie tesis is om te oorweeg en na te vors wat gebeur het met die wit vrywilligers wat buite die landsgrense diens gedoen het. Hierdie verkenning sluit 'n vergelykende analise in en kyk na die impak van die oorlog op Suid-Afrikaanse soldate in drie merkbaar verskillende veldtogte. Die eerste troepe het in 1914 in Duits Suidwes-Afrika in aangekom, en die meerderheid het gebly tot aan die einde van hierdie kortstondige oorlog in 1915. Dit is gevolg deur die plasing van twee ekspedisiemagte in Europa en Oos-Afrika in 1915. Die verskillende geografiese liggings van hierdie drie veldtogte het ook wisselende klimaat, omgewing, kos en klere beteken, sowel as ‘n ander vorm van oorlogvoering. Die soldate het ook ander siektes en wonde opgedoen. Al hierdie faktore het 'n verskillende liggaamlike en geestelike impak gehad. Voorts het die mans se oorlogservarings hulle liggame en gees blywend verander, tot selfs ná die beëindiging van die oorlog. Baie soldate was daarna nooit weer dieselfde mense nie. Die mate waarin die mans verander het, het afgehang van hul fisieke toestand met hul aansluiting. Die staat se ideaal van 'fiks' en 'gesond' het afgehang van 'n stel skedules wat werwingsvereistes bepaal het en was ook weerspieël in die jare ná die oorlog toe dit gedien het as die kriteria wat die manne se ekonomiese stand bepaal het. Gevolglik sal hierdie tesis die impak van die oorlog op die mans se liggame en gees verken deur hul toestand by aansluiting en hul staat tydens die oorlogsjare sowel as tydens die na-oorlogse era ondersoek. Hierdie verskillende fases is weerspieël deur die veranderde identiteit van die mans van 'fiks vir diens' na 'dienspligtiges', en laastens na 'voormalige dienspligtiges.' Die ervarings van hierdie manne en hoe die oorlog hulle verander het is die fokus van hierdie tesis.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/97984
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