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How The English Won The Boer War In South Africa

.. hundred twenty billion pounds. In February of 1900, the British army was able to gain forward momentum with a series of victories that mark the second phase of the war, the phase of British domination. In short order they were able to relieve the city of Kimberley and seven days later Kitchener was able to cut off Cronje and the main body of the retreating Boer army at Paardeberg and force the surrender of over four thousand troops with Cronje being sent to Saint Helena island in the south Atlantic as a prisoner of war. British troops steadily pressed on and by the middle of March had captured Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State and on the 28th of May the Free State was annexed and renamed the Orange River Colony.

While the battles on the western front were progressing steadily, the forces in Natal were also succeeding in driving the Boers back out into the northern section of the Orange Free State and further into the Transvaal itself. When General White took over in Natal he brought reinforcements and on the 28th of February he was able to break through to the city of Ladysmith and relieved it of its siege thereby denying the Boers an opportunity to drive to the sea and gain access to an active port from which they could resupply. Mafeking, the last Cape Colony city to remain under siege was finally reached on the 17th of May when reinforcements arrived scattering the attacking Boers. The British forces were then able to focus their combined capabilities on a steady advance that took Johannesburg on the 31st of May and promptly moved on to Pretoria, the capital of the South African Republic on the 5th of June. At this point it seemed that the war was nearly over but the Boers, in their small commandos, became the elusive menace to the British forces. There were vast stretches of land in the veldt, or prairies, to the west of Pretoria and the scrub grasses that Boer horses lived well Fleming 07on would not support the horses and other livestock the British brought in from overseas. Water proved to be a scarcity also making extended treks extremely trying and limited the distant areas that could be covered by the British patrols.

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The Boers had largely overcome all of these tribulations and they roamed the veldt in their small commando groups concentrating their destructive efforts on supply and communication lines as had been agreed upon at their council of war meeting in Kroonstad on March 17th, 1900. It was the Boers elusiveness and Great Britains overwhelming desire to end the conflict that the third and final phase came to be. In November of 1900, Kitchener called for the beginning of a scorched earth policy that would involve the complete annihilation of any structures that could prove useful to the Boers and the subsequent collection of all displaced civilians into hastily constructed and poorly planned concentration camps. There would be around thirty thousand homes and farms razed by fire or dynamite and the partial to complete destruction of forty towns by the British in their pursuit to destroy all means of support for the Boer commandos. They would carelessly loot these homes and give the occupants scant time with which to remove their belongings before putting torch or dynamite to it.

They would then either shoot the livestock out-right or gluttonously feed on parts of the animals and leave the larger portion of the carcass to rot. It is described in a letter from a young Boer commando in a letter to family in Germany:”Later on, the British, finding that by looting our cattle they could get fresh meat for nothing, were no longer forced to be content with bully beef. They then, like ourselves, killed oxen and sheep; but, unlike us, were very wasteful with it. Often, in the camping places they had vacated, we found the remains of half-eaten oxen, sheep, pigs, and poultry. Fleming 08But I shall not go further into this matter. I leave it to other pens to describe how the British looted our property, wantonly killed our cattle, and devastated our farms.” (4)This practice throughout the final seventeen months of the conflict displaced tens of thousands of women, children and the elderly.

In the final months of war, Kitchener decided it would be even more of an incentive for the Boers to surrender if once the homes and belongings were destroyed the women and children would not be taken up and cared for by the already overtaxed concentration camps, they would, however, be turned out to their own devices with the hopes that the Boer men would eventually retrieve them and see to their needs. This act proved with finality that the concept of a “gentleman’s war” would no longer pertain to this conflict. Kitchener would also devise another plan with which to curb the destruction caused by the Boers. Upon the capture of Bloemfontein in March of 1900 by British forces, he needed to protect the railway that was the main supply connection to Cape Colony. The structures that were built were two story stone buildings with mounts on the roof for a machine gun and not one section of railroad track or bridge was destroyed where these “blockhouses” were built and manned. In the later months of 1900, Lord Milner, the British High Commissioner at the Cape suggested constructing a line of these blockhouses away from the railroad out into the veldt, creating an enormous fence with which to corral the evasive Boer commandos and provide a useful supply line out into the barren veldt. Kitchener liked the idea so well that from January of 1901 to the end of the war in May of 1902 they were built at the rate of forty per month.

In the end, over eight thousand blockhouses were constructed with an accompaniment of fifty thousand men to stand guard, 7 per house, and curtail the movements of the Boers over a thirty seven hundred mile stretch. The number of troops used by the British for this activity alone is nearly double the estimated thirty thousand Boer troops that were left roaming the veldt. Duty in the Fleming 09blockhouses was typically uneventful and boring, which left ample time to maintain the wires that ran between each house, typically one thousand yards apart, by stringing tin cans and such to them to alert of the hapless Boer who tired to cross between. The final phase of the war was also the time when one of Great Britains more dubious achievements occurred. Kitchener found the need to do something with all of the Boer civilians that were accumulating, and the concentration camps that were devised for the shelter of those whose homes were destroyed would become the most widely publicized of Great Britain’s departure from civilized behavior.

The camps were first utilized in March of 1901 and at wars end, close to one hundred thousand Boers would be interred. As the scope of the endeavor to destroy all of the Boer dwellings came to light, it became obvious that the concentration camps were hopelessly ill prepared to handle the volume of people the degree of care necessary to maintain the health of those held in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. What made the situation even worse was that the Boer farms were often separated by many miles and this semi-seclusion never allowed them to build up an immunity to such diseases as measles, whooping cough and chicken pox. These conditions soon overwhelmed the abilities of the understaffed and ill equipped medical facilities that were set up to care for their health and the death rates in every camp became alarmingly high. Eventually there were between twenty six and twenty eight thousand deaths in the concentration camps of which approximately eighty percent were children and if one compares this to the total loss of British troops at twenty two thousand and the loss of Boers at an estimated four thousand troops it becomes clear as to who the true casualties of war were. The British military initially attempted to keep the questionable activities a quiet problem of their own concern but vocal opponents of these actions soon got word out of the atrocious conditions in the camps.

Emily Hobhouse was initially the most vocal of opponents of the camps. She would go there in person and witness the devastation of the mind and body of the Fleming 10Boers who’s rations were halved simply because there husbands fathers and sons were still fighting against the Empire’s armies. A British journalist, W.T. Stead writes of his encounters in the camps:Every one of these children who died as a result of the halving of their rations, thereby exerting pressure onto their family still on the battle-field, was purposefully murdered. The system of half rations stands exposed and stark and unshamefully as a cold-blooded deed of state policy employed with the purpose of ensuring the surrender of people whom we were not able to defeat on the battlefield.

(03)In Parliament, there is a concerted effort to portray the work of the British Army as noble and gentlemanly. The Secretary of State for War, Mr. Brodrick, states during parliamentary session:” .. sufficient allowance is being given to all families in camp, and they are satisfied and comfortable.” (04)and:” .. every provision has been made for medical attendance, and the education of the children is being conducted ..

” (04) This ruse was employed to gain the time necessary for Kitchener’s plan to break the will of the Boers and force them into surrender by using the civilian population as a tool. In April of 1902, The Boer governments met at Klerksdorp and agreed to negotiate with Kitchener. They wished first to consult with representatives from all of the commando groups before making any decisions and in a conference of sixty of those representatives at Vereeniging, it was voted fifty-four votes “for” and six votes “against” a surrender and recognition of the authority of King Edward VII. On the 31st of May both Boer and British met at the Melrose House in Pretoria and signed the Vereeniging peace treaty ending three years of war. Fleming 11CONCLUSION To gain the military superiority that was needed to defeat the Boers, the British found that more was necessary than simply superior force and numbers. They had to engage in a different style of warfare, and they discovered that the human quest for freedom is a powerful motivator, one that can only be broken by persistent removal of the freedoms themselves.

The British were able to gain superiority and eventually win the Boer War by utilizing the combination of brute force, vastly superior numbers and the cessation of rights for those deemed the enemy and its collaborators. History Essays.


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