This tale of a dream is dedicated to the “gilded Popinjays” and “hired assassins” of the British nation, especially those who are now knocking at the door, to wit the very junior. It embodies some recollections of things actually done and undone in South Africa, 1899-1902. It is hoped that its fantastic guise may really help to emphasise the necessity for the practical application of some very old principles, and assist to an appreciation of what may happen when they are not applied, even on small operations. This practical application has often been lost sight of in the stress of the moment, with dire results, quite unrealised until the horrible instant of actual experience. Should this tale, by arousing the imagination, assist to prevent in the future even one such case of disregard of principles, it will not have been written in vain. The dreams are not anticipations, but merely a record of petty experiences against one kind of enemy in one kind of country only, with certain deductions based thereupon. But from these, given the conditions, it is not difficult to deduce the variations suitable for other countries, or for those occasions when a different foe with different methods of fighting and different weapons has to be met.
– Lieutenant Backsight Forethought
The short book went on to become a classic, and Swinton went on to become Major General Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton, KBE, CB, DSO, RE — and to help devise and name the first tank.
The book feels quite Victorian in a number of ways, including the acceptable tropes it relies on for handling hypothetical scenarios. For instance, here’s the prologue:
Upon an evening after a long and tiring trek, I arrived at Dreamdorp. The local atmosphere, combined with a heavy meal, is responsible for the following nightmare, consisting of a series of dreams. To make the sequence of the whole intelligible, it is necessary to explain that though the scene of each vision was the same, by some curious mental process I had no recollection of the place whatsoever. In each dream the locality was totally new to me, and I had an entirely fresh detachment. Thus, I had not the great advantage of working over familiar ground. One thing, and one only, was carried on from dream to dream, and that was the vivid recollection of the general lessons previously learnt. These finally produced success.
The whole series of dreams, however, remained in my memory as a connected whole when I awoke.