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The Boer War

.. her camps established later in the War. Eventually there were 50 camps, in which about 136 000 people were interned. The families were conveyed to the camps by ox-wagon, trolley or railway train – usually in open coal- or cattle trucks without any sanitary arrangements – or they even marched on foot. No proper provision had been made for their housing. Numbers of them had at first to make shift in the open until tents were provided, or were held in the camps.

Those who did not receive tents were, according to the report of the British commission of inquiry: “placed, in every conceivable kind of dwelling, from a church vestry, hotel and store to a blacksmith’s forge”. In the opinion of the commission some of the places were hardly suitable for pigs. As there were insufficient blankets, clothes and other means of protection, and sometimes not even beds or mattresses, the internees were exposed, especially on the Highveld of the Transvaal and the Orange F. State, to extreme privations which undermined their strength, more especially in the case of the large numbers of small children. The food supplies in the camps, which were often established on badly chosen sites and were dangerously overcrowded from the start, was wretched. Not only was the food inadequate, but the quality, especially of the meat, sugar and flour, was at first very poor, while vegetables, fruit and other essential foodstuffs were not supplied at all; consequently, many of the inmates, especially children, wasted away to living skeletons within a few months.

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One British camp doctor felt compelled to report that, “on account of the deficiency in diet the children especially become emaciated and have very little resisting power to disease.” The sanitation, too, was very inefficient. No adequate provision was made for the disposal of garbage, and the latrines were so primitive that they became breeding-grounds for germs and areas of infection. So disease, particularly measles, broke out in the camps during 1901 and, as there were not enough doctors or other medical care, the death-rate became appallingly high. The climax was in October, 1901, when the figure was 326 per 1 000 per year for the Transvaal camps and 401 per 1 000 per year for those in the O.F.S. The reports of camp superintendents as well as those of Emily Hobhouse showed that this was due to the bad conditions, and there was an outcry from the whole world, including England itself. This forced the British government to order a full investigation by a committee of prominent women, and sweeping changes were made in accordance with their recommendations.

As a result of these changes, introduced toward the close of 1901, and which included great improvements in housing, sanitation, food-supply, medical attention, and protection against cold, the death-rate immediately dropped and by March 1902, was back to ‘normal’. Altogether, approximately 27 927 persons died in the camps – 1 676 mainly elderly men, 4 177 women and 22 074 children under 16. An unknown Boer General wrote the following in his diary. “The terrible prospect..that the continuation of the war would in that manner eradicate our whole generation, was one of the main reasons why the Boers ceased fighting and acknowledged defeat. It left a deeper impression on the Afrikaner’s mind than any other event in their history, and strengthened their determination to strive for national self-preservation and the recovery of political independence.” The five battles of Belmont (Nov 23, 1899), Modder River (Nov 28, 1899), Magersfontein (Dec 11, 1899), Colenso (Dec 15, 1899) and Spion Kop (Jan 24, 1990) respectively, were all fought on the soil of British South Africa. That this would be an advantage in terms of morale and military maneuver turned out to be a rather foolhardy expectation. The conventional military goals of the overthrow and occupation of the enemy capitals were not pursued, but rather the relief of Kimberley and Ladysmith became the modus operandi of the British forces.

Kimberley, because it could have provided a sorely-needed source of capital for the strained coffers of the Boer Republics, and Ladysmith because it would have given the Boer forces a quick road to Durban and more importantly, its seaport, dramatically increasing the chances of foreign intervention. The political ramifications for British prestige throughout the Empire, of the fall of either of these towns were not underestimated by those in Whitehall. On a basic military level, these campaigns were hardly successful. However, their impact on the war in terms of the subsequent change of official attitude was immense. The Boer forces were not tribesmen fighting on foot with antiquated weaponry.

They were mounted and equipped with the latest rifles and artillery from France, Germany and England. Many of the commandos were veterans of various wars against tribes throughout the region. The battles waged after these campaigns were fought with these hard lessons in mind. These stinging episodes introduced the British army to modern warfare and highlighted the weaknesses of the enemy the Boer forces. The Weaponry of the South African War (Boer War) British Army 12 pounder (see picture) Range 5 200 yards, High Explosive.

3 800 yards shrapnel; 12.5 pound shell. 15 pounder (see picture) Range 5 500 yards High Explosive 4 100 yards shrapnel; 14 pound shell. 5 inch Howitzer Range 4 800 yards for both High Explosive. and shrapnel; 50 pound shell. 12 pounder Range 8000 yards High Explosive. only.

4.7 inch Range 10 000 yards for both High Explosive. and shrapnel; 45 pound shell. Boer Forces 75mm Creusot and Krupp (see pictures) Range 8 500 yards H.E. only; 14.5 pound shell. 115mm Creusot (see pictures) Range 11 000 yards H.E. only; 88 pound shell.

Both Sides 1 pounder, 37mm Maxim Vickers (Pom-Pom) (see picture) Range 3000 yards (British Forces) The personnel of a 15 pounder battery consisted of a major, a captain, 3 subalterns and 170 other ranks. Its 6 guns and limbers were each drawn by 6 horses; a gun and limber together weighed about 1.75 tons. With ammunition and other wagons and the riding horses, a battery had 138 horses. The Horse Artillery 12 pounder battery also had 6 guns, but a smaller establishment of men and horses. The Boers possessed no comparable organisation, but their guns were very well handled, and they made good use of captured British guns.

In this war, the artillery played an increasingly minor and the horsed soldier and increasingly major role. The War Statistics (Oct 11, 1889 – May 31, 1902.) British Troops Grand Total: 448 435 (Figures from Official History) Breakdown of Grand Total (to nearest 500) Regulars (including Reservists) 256 000: Cavalry = 27 000; Artillery = 21 000; Infantry = 175 000; Staffs and Others = 33 000 Colonial Troops Over 29 00; 16 363 Australians, 6 400 New Zealanders, and 6000 Canadians. Raised in South Africa approx. 52 000 Casualties British Forces Total Deaths 20 721 (21 942, but including 800 accidental). Casualty Breakdowns: Killed in Action or Died of Wounds 7 582 including 712 officers (7 894; 706 officers). Died of Disease 13 139 including 406 officers (13 250; 339 officers).

Total Casualties from all Causes including Wounded: 52 150 Colonial Forces South African Forces Killed: 1 473 including 119 officers South African Forces Died of Disease: 1 607 including 69 officers Australians Killed:518 New Zealanders Killed: 228 Strangest Statistics of the War 1st Connaught Rangers; no officers but 58 other ranks killed. Bibliography Amery L.S., ed. The Times History of the War in South Africa, 1899-1902. London: Sampson Low. Burdett-Coutts, William L. The Sick and Wounded in South Africa: What I Saw and Said to Them and of the Army Medical System.

London: Cassell, 1900. Davitt, Michael. The Boer Fight for Freedom. NY: Funk & Wagnalls, 1902. Farwell, Byron.

The Great Anglo-Boer War. NY: Harper & Row, 1975. P.495 Great Britain. Royal Commissions. Detailed History of the Railways in the South African War, 1899-1902.

Chatham: Royal Engrs Inst., 1904. Norris, S.L. The South African War, 1899-1900. London: Murray, 1900. Boer War p. 5 Pilcher, T.D. Some Lessons form the Boer War, 1899-1902. London: Skeffingtion, 1900.

Smith, Ianian R. “Reading History: The Boer War.” History Today 34 (May 1984) p. 46-49. Per. Bib essay.

Wisser, John P. The Second Boer War, 1899-1900. Kansas City, MO: Hudson Kimberly, 1901.


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