Reviews for The Tame Khaki

The budding romance between Jack and Rachel is skilfully interwoven with accurate accounts of the early battles of the war and the gradually increasing depredations and hunger suffered by the inhabitants and British Army personnel as the Boers’ siege of Ladysmith gathers momentum.

Patrick Coyne, doyen of the South African Writers’ Circle.


 I’ve read the two chapters and are quite sad you’ve only send me two…was more like a teaser. There’s nothing that I would change…really brilliant writing and easy to read. Not too much and not too little. Rachel comes across as a caring, soulful and affectionate person. You kinda feel that in the way she talks, smiles, touching Jack’s arm or shoulder when talking…you know, a passionate person. Jack on the other hand, poor lad, he’s falling for her and he doesn’t even realise it. I find him a hopeless romantic. Please send me more chapters!!!

Mariska Botha, beta reader.

MANY books have been written about the Boer War –  from Arthur Conan Doyle ‘s eye-witness account as a field doctor; to Candice’s Millard’s account of Churchill’s daring escape; to Thomas Pakenham’s definitive record of this bloody war to Deney’s Reitz’s Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War.

Dave Baker’s The Tame Khaki is a sweeping saga – a romance – set against the background of the drawn-out conflict that pitted Boer against Brit. And while it may be a fictionalised account, his research is nothing short of impeccable and exhaustive in this immersive novel.

Baker lives in KwaZulu-Natal and is retired after a career in the financial services industry. He’s

a relative newcomer to the art of writing, which makes this, his second novel (the first If I Retreat, Shoot Me, set against South Africa’s involvement in World War II), even more commendable.

Written through the prism of a young English officer,  it follows the journey of Lieutenant Jack Whitelaw, who leaves his native Dorset to set sail on the Union line r ’s SS Gaul from Southampton to Durban to join his regiment in the then Natal colony  on the outskirts of  Ladysmith.

Leaving behind not only his close – knit farming family but his “English rose” Jessica, he soon finds himself in a war in which the Boers ‘ guerrilla warfare often leaves no certainty as to when attacks may occur on the khakis (the British soldiers).

Spanning a period from 1899 to 1901 (the second Boer War) when some of the bloodiest battles took place and also the siege of Ladysmith, Baker paints a highly evocative picture.

As the young Whitelaw arrives in South Africa and joins a train to take him to the battlefields, one can almost hear the grind of the railway wheels  on the tracks , the clank of the  engines and smell the dust on the ground  and the soot in the air.  One can imagine the cries and shouts of soldiers; the wheedling of hawkers and orders barked by officers.

Baker’s description of late 19th -century Ladysmith is superbly portrayed – the wide streets, colonial buildings and the British “Tin Town” where the military was based.

Whitelaw has barely arrived in the country when, along with other regiments, he is ordered to lead his unit in an assault against the Boers at Elandslaagte as news of the enemy crossing the Natal border becomes a reality. Later the young British officer wakes up in a crowded Ladysmith hospital where what he thought was a beautiful apparition is Rachel, a nurse, who it turns out, is from the “other side”, a Boer.

A romance begins, compounded by their conflicting feelings. The love story is well-juxtaposed, just as the feelings between the couple deepen so does the war.

The horrors of the war intensify while Jack suffers an initially painful and long recuperation. There are some dramatic scenes as Rachel flees to join her family who are staunch Boer supporters – with her brother and father part of the Boer commandos.

Baker’s leisurely descriptions become more fast-paced as the reader races to turn the pages to find out what will happen.

There are some gritty descriptions of the horrendous concentration camps where disease and death were rampant and Lord Milner’s brutal scorched earth policy. Jack’s love of Rachel is put to a severe test as he witnesses both.

I won’t reveal more than that it all comes to a good end as it should. After Jack’s deep soul-searching for the right thing to do and his emotional suffering and Rachel’s trauma from what she and her family experience, love in this case conquers all…

It may be a long book but it’s an absorbing and highly recommended read.

Orielle Berry, Book Reviewer for the Sunday Independent