- Parent Category: Other information
- Hits: 2020
A total of 383 officers and 9,170 NCOs and men were taken prisoner in the course of the war. 97 men died in captivity.
The grounds on which each person was taken prisoner was investigated. One of the publications from The Royal Commission on the War in South Africa contains the results of these enquiries. For the most part, prisoners were exonerated but in some instances the captives were later subject to disciplinary action. The Royal Commission on the War in South Africa lists all surrenders, gives brief details of the incident, numbers involved and the outcome of the investigation.
The Boers were even less prepared for prisoners of war than were the British. The first crop came in the first few days of the war, at Kraaipan. Officers were held at the State Model School in Pretoria. Their most famous 'guest' was Winston Churchill who was captured at Frere. NCOs and men were held separately at Waterval, north of Pretoria, in the Transvaal.
In March 1900, officers were moved to a new camp at Waterval. It was described as a 'long, white shanty, with a fairly large compound, enclosed by formidable barbed-wire entanglements . . . There are electric lights all around the enclosure making escape a matter of difficulty. Inside, the place looks more like a cattle shed than anything else. A long, galvanised iron building, divided into sleeping rooms, and four small bath rooms, a servants' compartment and kitchen, and eating rooms . . . There is no flooring. The drains consist of open ditches, while the sanitary arrangements are enough to disgust any human being.'
With the Flag to Pretoria states 'The plight of the captured Colonial and Uitlander officers was far worse. They were treated as common felons and thrown into gaol.'
Lieutenant Colonel Hunt, captured at Colenso, reported to Lord Roberts that the medical arrangements were inadequate. Lord Roberts forwarded the complaint to the Boers and added that he was no more impressed with the rations for other ranks, sanitary arrangements and treatment of the sick.
Winston Churchill was the most famous of the people to escape from prison. Incarcerated in the State Model School, he reportedly climbed the fence, boarded a train and hid in a coal mine near Middelburg. He ten took another train to Portuguese territory. In March 1900, Captain Haldane, Lieutenant le Mesurier and Sergeant Brockie escaped from the school. They hid beneath the floor. During the removal of prisoners to Waterval, they stayed hidden and were able to stroll out of the emptied prison.
The advancing British made the retention of prisoners increasingly problematic. When the British troops entered Pretoria on 5 June 1900, 129 officers and 36 other ranks overpowered their guards just prior to the arrival of the troops. On 6 June, 3,187 non-commissioned officers and men were released at Waterval.