- Note: Please do not add profiles of Boer soldiers interned in POW camps outside South Africa
Monday, February 2, 2015
The English invented the first concentration camps, and the phrases for them too. Yes, it was them.
Please add Profiles of persons who died in or survived the British "hellcamps" to this project. This project is a tribute to them. Included also British soldiers and doctors stationed in these camps.
- you do need to first be a collaborator - so join the project. Project Help: How to add Text to a Project - Starter Kit to get you going!
The camps were formed by the British army to house the residents of the two Boer republics of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. They were established towards the end of 1900, after Britain had invaded the Boer republics. The English term "concentration camp" was first used to describe camps operated by the British in South Africa during this conflict. The camps had originally been set up by the British Army as "refugee camps" to provide refuge for civilian families who had been forced to abandon their homes for one or other reason related to the war. However, when Kitchener succeeded Roberts as commander-in-chief in South Africa in 29 November 1900, the British Army introduced new tactics in an attempt to break the guerrilla campaign and the influx of civilians grew dramatically as a result. Kitchener initiated plans to "flush out guerrillas in a series of systematic drives, organized like a sporting shoot, with success defined in a weekly 'bag' of killed, captured and wounded, and to sweep the country bare of everything that could give sustenance to the guerrillas, including women and children.... It was the clearance of civilians - uprooting a whole nation - that would come to dominate the last phase of the war."
As Boer farms were destroyed by the British under their "Scorched Earth" policy - including the systematic destruction of crops and slaughtering of livestock, the burning down of homesteads and farms, and the poisoning of wells and salting of fields - to prevent the Boers from resupplying from a home base many tens of thousands of women and children were forcibly moved into the concentration camps. This was not the first appearance of internment camps. The Spanish had used internment in the Ten Years' War that later led to the Spanish-American War, and the United States had used them to devastate guerrilla forces during the Philippine-American War. But the Boer War concentration camp system was the first time that a whole nation had been systematically targeted, and the first in which some whole regions had been depopulated.
Eventually, there were a total of 45 tented camps built for Boer internees and 64 for black Africans. Of the 28,000 Boer men captured as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. The vast majority of Boers remaining in the local camps were women and children. Over 26,000 women and children were to perish in these concentration camps.
The camps were poorly administered from the outset and became increasingly overcrowded when Kitchener's troops implemented the internment strategy on a vast scale. Conditions were terrible for the health of the internees, mainly due to neglect, poor hygiene, bad sanitation and food shortages. The food rations were meagre, there was a two tierallocation policy whereby wives and children of men who were still fighting were routinely given smaller rations than others. The inadequate shelter, poor diet, inadequate hygiene and overcrowding led to malnutrition and endemic contagious diseases such as measles, typhoid and dysentery to which the children were particularly vulnerable. Coupled with a shortage of medical facilities many of the internees died.
As many Africans became refugees as the war raged across their farms and with the destruction of their homes, they, like Boers, moved to the towns where the British army hastily created internment camps. Subsequently, the "Scorched Earth" policy was ruthlessly applied to both Boers and Africans; although most black Africans were not considered by the British to be hostile, many tens of thousands were also forcibly removed from Boer areas and also placed in concentration camps.
Africans were separately held from Boer internees. Eventually there were a total of 64 tented camps for Africans. Conditions were as bad as in the camps for the Boers, but although after the Fawcett Commission report conditions improved in the Boer camps, "improvements were much slower in coming to the black camps." It is worth noting that Emily Hobhouse and the Fawcett Commission only ever concerned themselves with the camps that held Boer refugees. No one paid much attention to what was going on in the camps that held African refugees. It is thought that about 12% of all black African inmates died (about 14,154) but the precise number of deaths of Africans in concentration camps is unknown as little attempt was made to keep any records of the 107,000 black Africans who were interned.
After 31 May 1902, surviving families were repatriated to their homes.
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