As with everything on the ‘Net you have to be careful about what to believe.
Hell no, that came out wrong!
That should read: As with everything about a war you have to be careful about what to believe.
Here are some info that you probably won’t find anywhere on the ‘Net.
Some of it comes from some really old books that have been in our family for 3 generations, Research and other parts are Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa and Shangaan) and Boer Oral History passed down through the generations.
- The W H Coetzer triptych depicting the Scorch Earth policy – War Museum of the Boer Republics
- “De strijd tusschen Boer en Brit” published into Afrikaans in 1959 written by Gen. CR de Wet who was in charge of defending the Oranje-Vrystaat
No offense intended to any British descendants or family – you can’t be blamed for what happened so many years ago.
The cause of the war:
The Boer nation was at the time (and still today) the youngest nation in the world. Born from a convergence of Dutch, French, German, Flemish & Frisian settlers, mostly Huguenot Templar refugees – these people had one thing in common: they loved freedom. Political freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of any kind you can think of. They valued freedom more than diamonds or gold.
That’s when The Shait Hit The Fan – in the late 1860’s someone discovered first diamonds, then gold. So the Boers thought nothing of it, as long as they can continue their simple Amish-like Huguenot lifestyle. But they failed to realize the love that other people have for diamonds & gold. Pretty soon the whole country was crawling with greedy foreigners.
Now these Boers only populated the South African highlands in the late 1830’s so they’ve only been there for about 30 years. Every Boer family was fully self-sustaining so they had no need for cities & towns. The typical freedom-loving Boer has a HUGE sense of personal space – distance between the closest neighbors were typically one hour on horseback. They were so busy establishing infrastructure in the form of roads, railways and training the natives in horticulture that they were completely ignorant of world affairs, economy etc. They barely had some elementary form of central government, and the only military defense they had was impromptu commandos that gathered irregularly to assist local black tribes to recover their stolen cattle & sheep from other, non-local, tribes and later British armies.
So with the newly found gold & diamonds, and given the vulnerable state of the Boers, Britain thought this would be an easy take, a get-rich-quick scheme. They’d just go there with a couple of soldiers and declare that this would now be property of the British king. They did so in 1877.
It took 13 years for the politically naive Boers to realize the threat that British control of the gold & diamond fields would pose to their freedom, and for them to become angry enough to resist with force. Hence the name “Freedom War”.
The Boer war was about mineral wealth and Mr Rhodes stirred a lot of shait up to ensure HMG got pulled into a jingoistic punch up – one set of colonial against another set of colonials and the natives getting rock all. Funny thing was that the British governor saw through Rhodes and he got recalled for his pains.
Boer War I (1880-1881):
The first British attempt miserably failed because they had absolutely no knowledge of their enemy. The media in England made the Boers out to be savage barbarians who eat raw meat etc. When British soldiers set foot in South Africa, they were amazed to find that the Boers are civilized people who listen to gramophone recordings of Mozart and who could speak English. This caused dissonance in the British soldiers, which gave the Boers a psychological advantage. (Dissonance = confusion when what you experience / what your senses tell you does not fit into the mental model of what you have been led to believe, based on prior information. It happens to soldiers who are not properly or accurately briefed before deployment.)
When viewed in the larger context of what was to follow, the first Boer War (1880-1881) was only a skirmish in the greater war for possession of South Africa’s diamonds & gold.
With the info available today it is interesting to take a map of the diamond fields of the time, and overlay a map that shows the locations of the biggest British offensives – reveals a direct correlation !!!
Boer War II (1899-1902):
Even more Shait Hit The Fan in 1886 when somebody discovered the biggest & richest gold fields in the world in South Africa (today still the biggest & richest). Britain was even more determined to do it right this time.
British strategy & tactics:
You have to hand it to them – this time they had it all figured out. We’re talking holistic all-round strategy covering every aspect of warfare – battlefield supremacy, propaganda, disinformation, psychological warfare, torture. You name it – they did it.
In their first attempt to cut off the Boers’ supplies of food, ammo and info, Britain completely fenced off all towns with barbed wire – including Johannesburg & Pretoria. They built block-houses (basically guard towers built from stone – quite impenetrable) with search lights, and patrolled every inch of these fences 24×7. Blockhouses also guarded all railway lines.
Nobody was allowed to enter or leave the towns, except with a special “dom” passes. All incoming & outgoing mail was censored.
This scorched earth policy led to the destruction of about 30000 Boer farmhouses and the partial and complete destruction of more than forty towns.. Thousands of women and children were removed from their homes by force. They had little or no time to remove valuables before the house was burnt down. They were then taken by ox-wagon or in open cattle trucks to the nearest camp with only the clothes they had on them. No blankets, no food, no firewood.
Furthermore nobody was left on the farm. Thirty-seven Black concentration camps are recorded in Transvaal (the former South African Republic) and twenty-nine in the Orange River Colony (the former Orange Free State). These camps held an estimated total of 11500 people at the height of their existence.The camps were mainly sited along the railway lines from Bloemfontein northwards to Pretoria and then eastwards to Nelspruit. From Johannesburg the camps were established south eastwards down the line to Volksrust and some along the line from the Orange River to Taung in the Northern Cape. Local camps not on main railway lines were those at Thaba Nchu, Winburg, Heilbron and Harrismith. The locality of the camps in Natal, have as yet not been established. Initially the camps were under the control of the military but after June 1901 the control was passed on to the newly established Department of Native Refugees. Half of the recorded Black deaths occurred in the three months between November and January 1901 – 2831 deaths were recorded in December 1901. Some 81% of the deaths were children. Officially 14154 deaths were recorded but as the records of the camps are unsatisfactory the number could be as high as 20000.
Boers were (are) expert survivalists and they could cure any injury / disease with traditional medicines made form plants, herbs etc. These medicines / plants were destroyed.
Now the South African highlands are at 1500 meters above sea level. Spend 2 nights in the open in winter and you’re guaranteed to get pneumonia. Spend 2 days in the open in summer and you’re guaranteed to get sunstroke. You need a thick tarpaulin (canvas) tent to protect you from extreme day/night temperatures. Britain destroyed all the Boer tents – concentration camps were made up of British tents made from linen cloth, practically useless against African weather elements.
Women who escaped were herded in the fields and shot with cannons. In the camps they were literally starved to death. A mother and her children received reduced-scale army rations. In fact there were two scales. Meat was not included in the rations issued to women and children whose menfolk were still fighting. There were little or no vegetables, no fresh milk for the babies and children, 3/4 lb of either mealie meal, rice or potatoes, 1 lb of meat twice weekly, I oz of coffee daily, sugar 2 oz daily, and salt 0,5 oz daily (this was for adults and children who had family members on commando). Children who were under six years of age received 0,5 lb of meal daily, 1/2 meat twice weekly, 1/4 tin of milk daily, 1 oz sugar daily and 1/2 oz of salt daily. This very poor diet led to the rapid spread of diseases such as whooping cough, measles, typhoid fever, diphtheria, diarrhea and dysentery, especially amongst the children.
There was a chronic shortage of both medical supplies and medical staff. Eventually 26 370 women and children (81% were children) died in the concentration camps. When they got ill, the British doctors gave a bottle of British medicine to the mother, which she should give to the children. The children invariably died – after their death the mother was misinformed that the medicine was actually poison, and that she in fact poisoned her own children. Today there is in Boer culture still a well-known cradle song called “Siembamba” about a mother that unknowingly killed her own baby.
They were given “coffee” made from roasted & ground acorns instead of coffee beans. This killed many children within hours of drinking it.
The sugar they were given contained crushed glass. By the time you realize what you ate / drank it’s too late. The glass particles are heavy and sink to the bottom of the stomach, so chances of vomiting it out are slim. Movement of the stomach and intestines, or even natural movement of the upper body, makes them cut through the intestines. Intestine or stomach contents leak into the stomach cavity, and begins to rot there, causing a horrible, slow death.
Ironically a British woman, a visiting British humanitarian, Miss Emily Hobhouse, a delegate of the South African Women and Children’s Distress Fund to the camps in the southern Orange Free State led to an improvement in the conditions in concentration camps thus making her a national heroine of the Boers. On her return to Britain the story she told of the conditions under which the women and children had to live shocked everyone not committed to believe in the inevitability of the war and the harsh measures that was to end it. She was the only person to fight the European media to spread the truth about the concentration camps. Her fifteen page report to the Committee of the Distress Fund was first circulated to MP’s and published in late June. From August to December 1901 the Fawcett Commission visited the different camps and presented their report in December confirming in all essentials the accuracy of Emily Hobhouse’s account. They berated the camp authorities for the red tape which complicated the running of the camps, the spread of diseases that should have been foreseen, elementary rules of sanitation that had been forgotten, the vegetables that should have been provided; and the fact that medical staff should have been rushed to the scene as soon as the epidemics broke out. Their recommendations led to improvements within the camp system. By February the annual death-rate in the camps were to drop to 6.9 percent and soon to 2 percent.
Fighting Boers who were caught, was deported to POW camps on remote islands, e.g. Ceylon (today Sri Lanka), Bermuda & St. Helena. When the war ended it took 4 months for the news to reach these islands, and these POW’s only came home a year after the end of the war.
Scorched earth policy
In early March 1901 Lord Kitchener decided to break the stalemate that the extremely costly war had settled into. It was costing the British taxpayer 2,5 million pounds a month. He decided to sweep the country bare of everything that can give sustenance to the Boers i.e. cattle, sheep, horses, women and children. Scorched Earth Policy
In the fashion of a modern day TWEP mission, Britain attempted to drive the Boers out from the hills where they were hiding, with a secondary sadistic goal of making the entire country unlivable after the war. (TWEP = Terminate With Extreme Prejudice).
The Boer women & children being evacuated to the concentration camps, were forced to carry all their house contents, furniture, clothing, blankets etc. out of the house and stack it underneath their ox wagon. They were then forced to set it on fire themselves. Those that resisted were shot and left there.
Black farm workers were forced to loot and rape whomever they could find as proof of their alliance else they were shot or shipped to SEGREGATED (Apartheid’s birth) concentration camps, all this while the soldiers watched.
After evacuation, every single farmhouse was blown up with dynamite. All farm implements (plows, planters, even shovels, pitchforks & rakes) were thrown on a heap and blown to bits. Every single windmill and borehole was destroyed with dynamite.
Dams and water reservoirs were blown up to prevent the Boers from simply re-building the walls. They only left those in which they poisoned the water.
Every single animal was shot and left to rot. Cattle, cheep, chickens, dogs, horses, donkeys, wild antelope, rabbits, pigeons, everything including farm workers.
Every single vegetable garden was sprayed with paraffin (kerosene oil) before being blown up, and every single fruit tree was chopped down. The tree stump was soaked in paraffin, which poisons the root so that it would never grow again.
Entire towns were completely leveled with the ground, if they were deemed ‘non-strategic’.
By the sheer number of manpower available, the British swept the entire land.
It is commonly believed among the historians today that “kakiebos” (khaki-bush) was sown by the British soldiers as they swept the highlands in their scorched earth mission but in reality it was shipped in with the horse feed of the British armies.
Khaki-bush is a highly flammable weed that spreads quickly and is impossible to eradicate. The presence of this weed presents a high risk of crop fires for corn & maize farmers. It got its name from the fact that the British soldiers were known to the Boers as Khaki’s because of the color of their uniforms.
I could never verify the fact, though. Russians from the old Soviet Union once told me that every government in the world tells its own people that “< worst plague here > was introduced to our country by < worst enemy here >” in order to heighten their hate for the enemy.
All the time the war propaganda spread disinformation among the fighting Boers and among the civilian population of Britain and Europe. They were told that the camps were refugee camps where Boer women voluntarily streamed to because they could not take care of themselves with their husbands away on the battlefields. The propaganda said that the women & children are free to leave at any time, and they are only guarded to protect them from the wild animals.
In My Opinion, Britain must also have had its own soldiers dis-informed too, because at least some would have resisted to fight on the front lines if they knew what was going on in the concentration camps.
The Boers happily kept on fighting, thinking that their wives & children are safe & being cared for.
Arthur Conan Doyle was author of most of these dis-informative reports to Europe & Britain, so his historical writings about the war should be read with the utmost skepticism.
The disinformation kept on long after the war (continues to this day), e.g. in reports stating that the Boer women & children died from diseases. The fact is that the Boers have lived in this land for 60 years and knew how to treat and cure any disease if they only had access to the plants of the highlands. They would never have had the diseases if they weren’t taken from their homes, or if they were allowed to take their own tents, blankets etc, or were not poisoned.
Where the British had cannons, the commander would go up in a hot air balloon to direct the battle from there. He used heliography to give feedback regarding position of the Boers, placement of shots etc.
When Boers were caught they were jailed together in a cell. The British then told them that they would execute one Boer per day until someone tells them all the Boer positions etc. Every day they took away one Boer, but they only sent him off to a POW camp. The remaining Boers believed he was executed. In any group there was at least one who gave in and sang like the proverbial birdie.
Fighting Boers who were caught had to pledge allegiance to the Crown of England. Those who refused were tied to a chair in a sitting position, placed at the foot of an open grave, and shot in the head, so that they fell backwards into the grave. They were dusted with lime powder and buried just like that.
The Boers were simple farmers – they had no strategy and no military structures. They initially fought with no discipline. Individuals were free to leave any commando to join another.
Military leaders emerged during the first battles, and their ranks were things like “field Marshall” or “commandant” or “scout”. Today we refer to them as Genl. So-And-So but at the time there was no such rank.
Tactics were made up on the spot, and evolved during the war.
For most of the war, the Boers assembled in groups in the hills. The British cannons quickly taught them they could minimize their losses by staying in a large number of small groups, rather than vice verse. They were very good shots and frequently sniped the British from their hideouts at long distances. Guerrilla tactics followed as a natural consequence.
It is commonly believed that Genl. Christiaan de Wet was the first to come up with the Boer’s guerrilla warfare strategy and methods. Sleeping or mobilizing by day, with night attacks using camouflage & stealth that were unprecedented at the time. Some of the Boers’ most successful attacks also took place around 4 p.m. when the British soldiers found the afternoon heat most intolerable. Using plants like weeping willows to spike up meat over a fire in a abandoned camp site, poisoning the British soldiers that ate it.
The wife and children of President Steyn evaded the British and survived for 18 months in the field & mountains.
The Boer secret service was born out of necessity. They wrote letters containing simple gossip, to get past the censor, while they used lemon juice to write important info on the envelopes. The receiver heated the envelope over a candle to read the lemon juice message.
Captain J.J. Naudé could speak English extremely well, even with the British accent (“I say, old chap!”) and he effectively infiltrated the British ranks wearing a British British uniform. We was also a master of disguise. A bounty of 9000 pounds was placed on his head, but he was never caught.
A funny tale is that of a woman who got a special pass to leave the city of Pretoria. She wore a pretty straw hat with flowers in it. When she got out of the city, she gave the hat to the Boers, who unraveled it – it was weaved from dynamite wick!
Even from the start of the war, there wasn’t enough weapons & ammo to go around. Most Boers had to borrow a rifle from a friend, in order to kill a Brit so that he can take the British soldier’s rifle.
Young boys ran away from home to fight with their dads & granddads. A boy usually gets his own rifle at age 12. Those who were younger than that had to make their first kill with a borrowed rifle, and then they had to personally take their new rifle off the dead body of the enemy soldier.
The Boers fought the last 18 months of the war entirely with British guns & ammo that they took from dead enemy soldiers or from British supply trains that they hi-jacked.
After winning a battle, the Boers stripped the survivors of their weapons & uniforms. They had to release the survivors because they couldn’t take care of any prisoners.
The end of the war:
When the Boers learned the truth about what was being done to their women & children, they surrendered almost immediately.
A classic case of winning almost every battle but still losing the war.
The war ended (or did it?) in 1902 with the signing of a peace treaty – Britain takes the entire land and all the diamonds & gold, and the Boer government gets 3 million pounds as consolation.
Even though Britain took ownership of all land, nobody could go back to the farms for a year afterward because it was a disease-ridden, stinking wasteland with all the rotting animal carcasses.
The Boer men, who only knew how to farm, became beggars and bums in the cities, or worked for the British in their newly acquired diamond & gold mines – thus losing their land, property, freedom and mineral wealth.
The Boer women had to work in the cities as slaves & servant maids for British citizens in the very homes that the Boers had built and lived in before the war.
The emotional & psychological impact on the children who survived the concentration camps, only became apparent in the 1930’s when these children (our grandparents) became adults. The Boer nation then experienced unprecedented socioeconomic problems.
South Africa was effectively a British colony until 1961 when Britain delegated government of the country back to the British Born Afrikaners who also called themselves Boers to get civilian support. But the British retained the rights to the diamond & gold mines…
Other nations involved:
There were several Russian ambulance-wagons moving all over the highlands. They often watched a battle from a hill and waited until it was finished before moving down to attend to the wounded of both sides.
American observers are known to have observed and interacted with officers on both sides of the war.
Some Irishmen fought with the Boers, some Scotsmen fought with the British. This seems strange since there were Scotsmen who fought with the Boers during the Great Trek in the 1830’s.
The a large number of blacks from southern tribes fought with the British. In fact, no black fought with the Boers, because the Boers of the time simply wouldn’t allow a non-combatant to handle a firearm or fight their war for them. Those that were loyal to the Boers, usually took care of the horses. The majority were promised land and cattle by the British that called themselves liberators. Modern day accounts of them also suffering in the Boer war should be viewed with much skepticism aside from the fact that the Boer loyal blacks (farm workers) were killed like animals with the animals on the farms destroyed.
- Total British blockhouses: 8000
- Total area covered by blockhouses: 30 000 sq. miles
- Max. British soldiers in the field at any given time: 400 000
- British Allies: Australia (16,175), New Zealand (6,513) and Canada (6,500)
- Total British soldiers caught & released by Boers: 200 000
- Total British soldiers KIA: 5700
- Total British soldiers died of exposure to elements: 16 000
- Cost to British taxpayer: 380 million pounds (not adjusted to present day value)
- Total horses imported for infantry: 500 000
- Total imported horses that died: 375 000
- Origin of most of the diamonds in the British crown jewels: South Africa in 1905
- Total farmhouses blown up: 30 000
- Total farm animals left alive: zero
- Total fruit trees & vegetables left: zero
- Total farming tools left: zero
- Total Boer population (inc. women & children): 200 000
- Total fighting Boers (inc. boys from 9 yrs. old): 40 000
- Total Boer men sent to POW camps: 32 000
- Total Boer men KIA, MIA or executed: 7 000
- Boers died in Concentration camps: 27 927
- Total Boer men died in concentration camps: 1 676
- Total Boer women died in concentration camps: 4 177
- Total Boer children died in concentration camps: 22 074
- Percentage of Boer nation wiped out: 17.5%
Black Africans died in concentration camps: 14 000
In a interview in 2004 Thomas Pakenham (wrote the book “The Boer War” in 1979) had this to say:
Pakenham recounts an extraordinary interview in North West province: he interviewed a Colonel Meyer in Potchefstroom in 1970, who called his black laborer, Piet, to chat to Pakenham. Speaking Afrikaans, Piet talked of “we Boers”, and Pakenham thought there was some mistake, and turned to Meyer. “Yes, he is saying he is a Boer, he was a Boer, he is one of us.” Pakenham simply says: “It was very moving.” Unlike many authors on the Boer War, Pakenham set out to investigate the contribution of blacks in the war. “Blacks were deeply involved in every level of the war, and suffered much more than whites.” Pakenham says that there were at least 100 000 blacks “fighting” on the British side, and 50 000 on the Boer side – blacks were engaged as trench diggers, runners, wagon drivers and farm laborers. “Kitchener admitted that 15 000 blacks were killed,” says Pakenham, adding that it was in fact much more than that. “The black contribution was simply air brushed out of the war”. There were some 80 black concentration camps throughout the country, two of those in Johannesburg. Historians indicate that the true figure of black deaths is closer to 24 000.
People died in concentration camps through sickness like typhus which swept through the camps not helped by the lack of clean water, medicine, sanitation and the fact that many of the camp population were undernourished, caused by the poor ration allowance, that was deemed sufficient by civil employees of the British War Office back in London.
Imagine one fifth of your nation being wiped out!!!
We don’t know the rape % either. One notable report by a German missionary said he believed about a third of the woman were raped. But most, including me, believe that to be an exaggeration. Though, they did have “whore” houses here and there, where they kept young Boer woman to be abused by British, Scots, Welsh, Irish, Canadians and other Commonwealth soldiers.
A war consists of more than just battles, and it is fought in more places than just the battlefields.
Nobody wages war just to prove he’s got bigger balls than the enemy. One side always possesses something that the other side wants. Modern day war is never about pride, hardly ever about politics or religion, almost always about MONEY (or diamonds or gold ?or oil?).
Next time there is a war and you see pictures on the TV about “refugee camps” to which civilians “stream, out of their own free will” or “because they have nowhere else to go” or “for their own protection” and “they are free to leave at any time”, think about the Boer concentration camps.
Next time you see pictures on the TV about how country X is fighting a war against country Y but at the same time country X is handing out food & medicine rations to the non-combatants of country Y, ask yourself: for how long is that food ration supposed to last, how many people are supposed to survive on that food ration, and what’s in that medicine?
Brits against Boers, invented the Concentration Camps, and extermination of women and children to break down a nation!
System “improved”, by communists and fascists all around the world, and still kept in use from determinated civil nations! Serbia for example!
No doubt that British Boer Government made a lot of errors with the apartheid, really horrible errors, but it’s a fact, that the Boers fought like lions for their freedom, and Great Britain exercised a terrible massacres on them!
Well, nothing new under the sun, the story of Great Britain is full of these “civil” acts!
Copied and redacted/substantiated (corrected) from: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?30563-Some-less-known-info-on-the-Boer-war