“ Waste are those pleasant forms, and the farmers for ever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o’er the ocean.”
A debate, upon the issues of which depended the lives and well-being of thousands of women and children, took place on the opening of the new Parliament [Dec. 7, 1900]. The Opposition then questioned the success of the severer policy of the last half of the year, but Mr. Chamberlain’s and Mr. Brodrick’s speeches were reassuring [See Times, Dec. 8, 1901.]. The Colonial Secretary thought the destruction would, when statistics were forthcoming, be found to have been brought about by the Boers more than by the English troops. He said they had treated their countrymen barbarously. Moreover, he thought the extent of the farm-burning had been greatly exaggerated, and from an economic standpoint would be found unimportant, as the houses were little better than labourers’ cottages [Mr. Chamberlain, it is believed, has not yet visited South Africa]. He said this particular punishment, which both Government and Generals thought should “ be used as sparingly as possible,” would be still less employed in the future. The deportation of women, which “sounded like something serious,” would be found, he was sure, to be done only for their protection both from marauding bands of Boers and from natives. Mr. Brodrick dwelt on the fresh orders recently issued by Lord Roberts, carefully defining the limits of farm-burning, and said that in the humane conduct of the war there was every reason to believe the new Commander-in-Chief was entirely at one with the Government [Times, Dec. 13, and Times, Dec. 17. See also Part I. chap. i.]
The year 1901, however, opened with a renewal of the devastation so widely practised in 1900. Sweeping movements were carried out in many districts. “The country round Kimberley is being cleared, and women and children are being brought in by waggon and train.” [Jan. 8, 1901. South African Nnus, Jan. 16. Reuter.] So telegraphed Reuter. The destructive work of January is also described by Private M'Cormick, who found leisure to write from the hospital at Potchefstroom—
“I suppose you have read about Kitchener’s proclamation telling the Boers to lay down their arms and go to their farms. Well, I have travelled through the Free State and the Transvaal, and I can say for a fact that there is not a farmhouse fit for habitation in the Free State or Transvaal. They are nearly all burnt, and those that are not burnt are deprived of all woodwork, such as window-frames, doors, and beams. Wood is very scarce here. As for pigs and fowls, there won’t be one left in the two countries when the war is over. Every one who has a fowl has to get wood to cook it, and they go to farmhouses and wreck them for wood. In January [Private M'Cormick to Mr. W. E. Jones, Branch Sec. Nat. Union of Dock Labourers, 17th March. Quoted in Methods of Barbarism, p. 59.] we were a month burning houses.”
Some of the Warwickshire Yeomen who returned about April 1901 gave similar accounts of their experiences. One in particular spoke very freely during an interview with a journalist [Warwickshire Advertiser, June 1901] He had been attached to Paget’s column, and since Christmas had been chiefly occupied with the burning of farms.
‘“What farms did you burn?’ this Yeoman was asked. Not understanding the question, it had to be explained to him that the English at home had been told that only those farms on which concealed Boers or arms had been found had been subjected to this unpleasant treatment. He was surprised at these statements, and, as his reply shows, failed to acknowledge their accuracy. ‘I don’t know,’ he says, ‘about finding Boers or arms. All I know is this, that some days we would start off early in the morning and try, during the whole day, to bum as many farms as we could. I never saw one in some districts that was spared. We used to ride up—half a dozen of us—to the farm door, dismount, and rap loudly with our rifles on the wood. We didn’t wait for an invitation. In we went with a rush, and said to the woman, “Come on, pack up, missus; there’s a cart waiting for you.” And we gave her ten minutes to get a few things together, and then, with the youngsters, she was packed into the open waggon and driven off to the nearest camp.*
“ ‘ Did you ever find Boers or ammunition hidden away ? * ‘ Never, during the whole time, except a few loose bullets lying about in different rooms.’
“ ‘Then why did you burn the farms? * ‘By the General’s orders. We used to have plenty of fun. All the rooms were ransacked. You can’t imagine what beautiful things there were there—copper kettles, handsome chairs and couches, lovely chests of drawers, and all sorts of books. I've smashed dozens of pianos. Half a dozen of us would go up to as fine a grand piano as ever I’ve seen. Some would commence playing on the keys with the butts of their rifles. Others would smash off the legs and panels, and, finally, completely wreck it. Pictures would be turned into targets, and the piano panels would be taken outside and used as fuel to boil our tea or coffee. And then we could enjoy ourselves if it was cold; but,’ he added ruefully, ‘it was generally hot—boiling hot. After this we would set the building on fire, and as we left, riding together or detached over the sandy waste, we could see the flames rising up, and soon there would be nothing left but black smouldering embers. We would do the same with the next farm we came across.’
“The speaker then went on to describe how news of their approach had often been carried to the inhabitants of the farm, and before the punitive party arrived the house had been deserted, and all the cattle and valuables carried off. On these occasions they undertook the task of making a bonfire of the building with even greater relish than on ordinary occasions.
“‘How did the families take this farm burning?’ ‘Well,’ he replied, the smile on his face abruptly dying away, ‘ to tell you the truth, we had to shut our eyes to a great many sights. The mothers would implore us with the little English they could muster to leave them in peace, and then, as we would not listen to them, they would dry their tears and curse and swear at us. We were the ‘ verdommte rooineks ’ (red-necks), and often they would say, ‘You kill my father or brother at the war,’ and straightway fall to heaping all sorts of bad names upon us. It was not always pleasant. I have often seen a mother in this situation, with a two months’ old baby at the breast, and little ones around her, with a number of Kaffir women howling in sympathy. But we had to do our duty.’ ”
Mr. Cowley, whose letter is written April 17th, describes the events of his various treks in the previous weeks from Heilbron [Boston Guardian, June 8, 1901. From Private G. Cowley, Reservist, Oxford Light Infantry, to Mr. C. J. Phillips.]—
“ Perhaps you will be interested in a brief account of our doings. The first day out from here was quiet, but we burned all farms, native kraals, out-buildings, and other places that might afford shelter for the Boers in bad weather; we also killed all fowls, ducks, geese and pigs, turkeys, or any kind of poultry, and collected all horses, cattle, and sheep into herds, and drove them along with us, and I could not help thinking what a waste it was to kill good things for the sake of killing, after we had halted; but it was grand sport chasing young cockerels and chopping geese’s heads off, hearing pianos play as they were rolled upside down on to a fire lit in the middle of a room, piling pictures and brackets, etc., on a deal table and then putting a straw mattress underneath to start the blaze. Well, it was a go and no mistake, but all the fun is spoiled when you are tired out at the end of the day, and you have to go on outpost, instead of having a sleep, and particularly if the rain sets in. On the second day we had over twenty fires on the go before nine in the morning, and had got about six or seven miles from our last halting-place when we got a check for a couple of hours. We destroyed the nicest residence I have seen in the country. I forget his name that used to live at it, but he was next in position to the President of the late Orange Free State Republic. It took us all the afternoon to get it all destroyed. The threshing machines made the best fire, but the most interesting part for me was to see the explosion of a traction engine that worked all the farm machinery. It was built in England, because it bore the makers’ name-plate —Clayton and Suttleworth, Lincoln—and it was over an hour from the time the fire was lit before the boiler burst.
“ The work we get now has very little interest for a soldier, and the sooner the Colonial Office is prepared to start its work the sooner we can leave.”
By mid-January the burghers were so incensed by the sufferings of their women and children, consequent upon the devastation, that President Steyn and General De Wet issued a letter to their commandoes announcing their resolve to invade the Cape Colony a second time, in order to make reprisals on the property of British subjects. Here was a prospect of more innocent people being made to feel the pressure of the war, though the women and children were to be excepted from molestation. “But,” said these leaders in their circular [Proclamation of Steyn and De Wet, Jan. 14,1901. See also Sequence of Events, p. 36, by F. Mackamess.] “the burghers would be less than men if they allowed the enemy to go unpunished after ill-treating their wives and destroying their houses from sheer lust of destruction. Therefore a portion of our burghers have again been sent into Cape Colony, not only to wage war but to be in a position to make reprisals . . . but at the same time, to avoid being misunderstood, we hereby openly declare that the women and children [Verklaren wy hier openlyk, dat wy nooit de vrouwen en kinderen lastig zullen vallen, wat ook de Engelsche troepen de onzen aangedaan mogen hebben.”] will always remain unmolested, despite anything done to ours by Her Majesty’s troops.”
As a result of the clearing movements of January, families brought in from the country to the various centres were largely on the increase. From Johannesburg we leam that a “large number of families of Boers still on commando are being fed and housed by the military authorities; ” [Reuter’s Service, Feb. 13.] while from Standerton large numbers were reported as being sent to Ladysmith daily, where there were then fully 500 families of “ surrendered ” people already encamped [Reuter, Feb. 15. South African News, Feb. 20]. The intimations of continued devastation indicated by the telegrams at that period were sufficient to occasion further debate in the House of Commons [Feb. 25. Times, Feb. 26]. Mr. Bryn Roberts brought forward the Notice already alluded to signed by General Bruce-Hamilton, by order of which the women and children of the burnt village of Ventersburg were to be abandoned to starvation, asking if it could be true, and what did happen to the families so threatened [See Part I. chap. i]. Mr. Brodrick at once explained that the Commander-in-Chief had indeed directed the burning of the village, but had not approved the wording of the Notice, which was withdrawn and the families given rations from the Army Stores.
Mr. Dillon persevered in an attempt to present the whole question of the dealing with non-combatants in its moral light, and deprecated the imprisonment of women and their guardianship by armed sentries [Times, Feb. 2]. But the debate failed to have any good effects as far as releasing the imprisoned women was concerned, or preventing the capture and deportation of thousands more.
Just two days after this debate took place the memorable interview between Lord Kitchener and General Botha at Middelburg [Feb. 28, 1901]. Lord Kitchener, who describes this meeting in the Blue Book [Cd. 902, p. 119.] says he took occasion to bring before General Botha the numerous complaints made to him in the early part of the year by surrendered burghers, who had stated that after they laid down their arms their families were ill-treated and their stock and property confiscated by order of the Com-mandants-General of the Transvaal and Orange Free State. He thought the acts were in consequence of General Botha’s circular, already commented on, of the preceding October [Oct. 6, 1900. See Part I. chap. i].
“ I told him,” writes Lord Kitchener, “ that if he continued such acts I should be forced to bring in all women and children, and as much property as possible, to protect them from the acts of his burghers. I further inquired if he would agree to spare the farms and families of neutral or surrendered burghers, in which case I expressed my willingness to leave undisturbed the farms and families of burghers who were on commando, provided that they did not actively assist their relatives. The Commandant-General emphatically refused even to consider such an arrangement. He said, ‘ I am entitled by law to force every man to join, and if they do not do so to confiscate their property and leave their families] on the veld.’ I asked him what course I could pursue to protect surrendered burghers and their families, and he then said: ‘ The only thing you can do is to send them out of the country, as if I catch them they must suffer.’ After this there was nothing more to be said, and as military operations do not permit of the protection of individuals, I had practically no choice but to continue my system of sweeping certain areas into the protection of our lines. My decision was conveyed to the Commandant-General in my official letter dated Pretoria, April 16, 1901, from which the following is an extract:—
“ ‘ As I informed your Honour at Middelburg, owing to the irregular manner in which you have conducted and continue to conduct hostilities, by forcing unwilling and peaceful inhabitants to join your commandoes, a proceeding totally unauthorised by the recognised customs of war, I have no other course open to me, and am forced to take the very unpleasant and repugnant step of bringing in the women and children.
“11 have the greatest sympathy with the sufferings of these poor people, which I have done my best to alleviate, and it is a matter of surprise to me and to the whole civilised world that your Honour considers yourself justified in still causing so much suffering to the people of the Transvaal, by carrying on a hopeless and useless struggle.’ ”
From this date, April 16, 1901, it became the avowed policy of the Commander-in-Chief to adopt the clearing process which had already been so widely practised. A bargain had been proposed by which, if surrendered burghers were unmolested by Botha, the families of those on commando should also be left alone by British troops, provided they did not actively assist the enemy. Was this a tacit avowal that till then proof of active assistance of the enemy had not been required? The bargain failedfor General Botha argued that the law of the land justified his orders, and his punishment of those who disobeyed. This law, however, limited his control so far as goods were concerned, to movable property, which he was bound to confiscate. Immovable property he had no legal right to touch, and he therefore refrained from all destruction of homesteads, as did also the other Boer Generals.
It is difficult at present to find instances of families who have suffered punishment from Boer hands. That of Mrs. Viviers has been given [Part I. chap. i]. The letter of Mr. Tobias Smuts, published as a Parliamentary paper, mentions three farms which he affirms were burnt by General Chris. Botha. Mr. Smuts had himself burnt the village of Bremersdorp in Swaziland, and had been told by General Botha that this act was “against their principles.” Unable to give reasons for his action satisfactory to the Commandant-General, Mr. Smuts was suspended, and subsequently discharged from his command. In his letter he protests against this dismissal, and urges that the “principle” of not burning houses had been already broken [Sept. 2, 1901, from District Ermelo.]. He says—
“ Already, several months ago, General Chris. Botha burned houses in Sambaansland, which is not neutral territory. About the same time Bremersdorp was burned, the farm of Mr. Bemardus Johnstone, District Wakkerstroom, was burned, or partly burned, by General Chris. (Botha), and also the house of Franck Johnstone, and I have not heard yet that his Honour has been suspended or dismissed for it. When we were at Pietretief the house of Van Brandis was burned, and I was told that this happened by ‘ High Order.’ It is, in my opinion, not the number of houses that breaks the ‘ principle.’
“ Also in connection with the transport of women, we took up the same standpoint as a principle, but still I got the order from you to send the women away against their wish, and when I asked you what to do if the English refused to take the women, your answer was that in that case I had to load them off within the lines of the enemy.” [See Cd. 933, It must be remembered that this letter of Mr. Tobias Smuts (who must not be confused with General J. C. Smuts) was but one of a correspondence, all of which must be read to understand its due proportions. The women whom he was told to send away against their wish were a certain few who had been discovered giving regular information to the enemy.]
With regard to these burnings, General Meyer supplied the information that they were not burned by General Chris. Botha, who is son-in-law of the owner, Mr. Johnstone, but that Lieutenant Von Wichmann burnt the waggon-house only, which he found stored with forage for military use, Mr. Johnstone having surrendered. The house of Van Brandis was burned, but not by “High Order." It was the act of a burgher whose name is uncertain, and said to have been done privately as an act of revenge.
From the date of the Middelburg Conference the Boers washed their hands, as it were, more completely of the families of surrendered burghers, and, regarding them as English subjects, sent them into the English lines. One of these cases is alluded to by Mr. Conan Doyle [See The War: Its Cause anil Conduct, p. 102. By A. Conan Doyle (now Sir A. Conan Doyle).}. He mentions that Commandant Albert communicated to the English officer at Krugersdorp his desire to send several of those families whose husbands had surrendered to their rightful protectors. Mr. Conan Doyle adduces this as a proof that the Boer families had no objection to the Concentration Camps.
From the one side or the other it was clear that the Boer women with their little ones must suffer. They were between the devil and the deep sea.
On June the 10th, Mr. Ellis had asked in the House of Commons whether the policy and practice of burning farm buildings in South Africa for military reasons had been discontinued, and if so, at what date and on whose instructions.
Mr. Brodrick had replied—
“ I informed the House some time ago that, except in cases of treachery and certain recognised military offences, farmhouses would not be burned. Specific orders to this effect were given by Lord Kitchener on 7th December 1900, and I have every reason to think they have been observed.” [Hansard, vol. xciv. p. 1458.]
This statement indicated that the discussion of December 6 in Parliament had not been fruitless, but had resulted in fresh orders by Lord Kitchener for more careful discrimination in the work of burning, and it would have been eminently satisfactory had it but tallied with other accounts. In a letter to his friends, Trooper Victor Swift describes his work in the first fortnight of July [53rd Company, East Kent Imperial Yeomanry].
“ We bum every farm we come across, and are living like fighting-cocks. We think it a bad day if we haven’t a couple of chickens and a suckling pig apiece. It’s funny to see us with fixed bayonets chasing the pigs round the farmyard. I have an appetite like a wolf.
“ We went to Vrede next, and after a day’s rest left that place in a shocking state. We killed thousands of sheep, and put them in every house. The stench in a week will be horrible. It is to prevent the Boers from returning.” [Daily News, Aug. 17, 1901. Trooper Victor Swift.]
Soldiers’ accounts are liable to exaggeration, but this one agrees with that contributed by the Rev. Samuel Thompson of Rivington, Bolton, Lancs., who writes—
“ It is popularly believed that the farm-burning in South Africa is now a thing of the past, but I send you an extract from a ietter written by a soldier at the front which shows that it still goes cruelly on. The letter is dated July 5, 1901. ‘ It is very cold out here, especially at night-time: that is the reason that I want a woollen scarf, so be sure and send me one as quick as you can. ... I have trekked hundreds of miles. I have been out with a column, and it is sickening work. We bum every farm we come to, and bring the women and children to the Refugee Camps. No matter where we go we bum the crop, leaving nothing but a waste of country behind us.’ ” [New Age, Aug. 1901,]
It mattered little, -however, from the point of view here taken, that of the women and children, whether a farm was actually burnt or otherwise destroyed. The immediate effects for them were the same. Large numbers of houses, not burnt, were destroyed, all the woodwork taken, and the furniture broken up for firewood. From the scarcity of fuel it is hard to see how otherwise the troops could have cooked their food. The results of the clearing movements were seen in the great increase of the size and number of the camps. Telegrams came from many quarters announcing the arrival of convoys with women and children.
Early in August (the 7th) was issued Lord Kitchener’s proclamation calling on all burghers to surrender before September 15, under pain of banishment; and about the same date notices were sent out by the Boer leaders appointing two days for Thanksgiving and Humiliation [Morning Leader, Sept. 10, 1901,]. They met for this purpose on the estate of Willem Pretorius, in the Heidelberg District. The spirit shown by tire women formed one of the subjects of thanksgiving. A force was sent to break up the meeting, but it was already over; there was no one left when the soldiers came but a number of women and children on the farm, who were carried off, and the building was burnt.
These were the subjects of thanksgiving and confession [Proclamation: Thursday, Aug. 8, Thanksgiving Day; Friday, Aug. 9, Day of Humiliation.]—
“ 1. For the greater and smaller victories gained over the enemy, not only in the beginning of the war but even in recent times.
“ 2. For the miraculous preservation and glorious deliverance from the hands of our enemy and his superior powers.
“ 3. For God’s paternal care to provide us with our daily wants as to food, clothing, and ammunition.
“ 4. For the enemy’s failing in his endeavours to rob our country altogether of cattle and grain, and thus to starve us.
“ 5. For the glorious spirit of perseverance and courage, to be found especially with our women and children, who even do not lose courage in captivity and the misery attending it; in one word, for the maintenance of us as a nation during a violent struggle of nearly two years, which distinctly shows us that God takes no delight in our fall, but desires us to return to Him and to live.’’
Day of Humiliation, August 9.
“We wish to confess before the Lord that though He repeatedly delivered us since we have existed as a nation, when we were in distress and called upon Him; we, however, turned from Him and served other gods; and then ask the Lord to deliver our people; and we wish not only to confess our sins so that is only mouth honour which is an abomination in the eyes of God, but beseech the Lord to teach us that we may rightly know what sins we have committed; and to make us willing, without considering to what rank or station in the nation we belong, to leave off sinning, and confess sins of various kinds, such as: sins for breaking the Lord’s Sabbath, drunkenness, unbelief, lip-devotion, infidelity towards each other, laying down arms, cupidity, theft, slander, etc. etc. But the names of other sins we dare not mention, as their name is 'Legion.’
“ Let us, the Government and the people, seriously beseech the Lord on the day of humiliation to give us strength to have ever and exclusively before our eyes in future, as well in our Government as in our legislation, the honour and glorification of our Lord.
(Signed) “Schalk Burger, M.. T. Steyn, Christian De Wet, Louis Botha, J. A. Smuts.”
Lord Kitchener’s proclamation evoked replies from all the \ Generals. Some took the form of counter-proclamations, and the following passage in that of General De la Rey deals with ; the fate of the women and children, and the cost of their maintenance:—
“ Contrary to the laws and customs observed in waging civilised war, His Majesty has removed our wives and children . like criminals, burned their homes, and now keeps them as prisoners of war; and to recover the cost of maintaining them there, Lord Kitchener now threatens to confiscate our landed property. One finds it nowhere stated in God’s Word or in Civil Law that any person is guilty and punishable because he in self-defence protects his life and property.” [Proclamation of De la Rey, Aug, 16, 1901.]
Towards the end of September General Louis Botha’s house on his farm at Vryheid was blown up with dynamite.
A list has been forwarded to me of 58 farms burnt or destroyed in September and early October. The families were brought in to Irene Camp, where the affidavits were taken. I am not at present allowed to make known the name of the person who collected and vouches for the reliability of this information. But it is a responsible person, known to several people of high authority. The list is given in Appendix C.
In Cape Colony a Reuter message of August speaks of anxiety on the part of families in certain districts from the actions of the Boers, and lack of adequate protection from the British—
“Waterkloof, Cape Colony, Aug. 6.
“The families who are being removed from Waterkloof express eagerness to leave that places as their position is intolerable. During the absence of the British columns the Boers constantly live on them, while at the same time they fall under suspicion of the authorities.”
The account given by Mr. Cloete, Magistrate of Steytlerville, shows there was justification for their alarm. The threatened reprisals had begun. This gentleman, who was a prisoner with Scheepers’ commando for fifteen days, and was then released, said that the commando consisted of about 300 men, most of whom were young rebels from Cape Colony, Scheepers having brought only 70 men with him from Orange River Colony. All were well clad, equipped, and fed. They were strongly mounted, and led remounts. They had no transport or pack-horses, and lived solely on the country through which they passed, keeping in touch with every farm, and looting freely whatever they required. Scheepers issued orders to destroy the homesteads of all men known to be serving with the District mounted force. Mr. Cloete reports that many houses lucre accordingly burnt. The inmates were allowed to remove a few blankets and some bedding, and the premises were then fired. Mr. Cloete, during his captivity, travelled nearly 300 miles. He was kindly treated throughout None of the commando are older than Scheepers himself, who was about twenty-four years of age.
Earlier in the year the Marquis de Kersauson tells of the burning of a farm in the Colony by Scheepers. In his diary, under date March 19, rpor, he writes [French edition, published in the Petit Bleu.]:—
“Our object was to reach the nearest little village, Jansen-ville, which we would gain by following the course of the Sunday River. On the way, at Uitkomst, we met Scheepers’ commando. He had just been setting fire to a farm in the district. This farm, of which the proprietor and his son were English, had been turned into a regular military post, working against the Boers; and the farmer had recruited and armed 12 Kaffirs, and sent them in pursuit of us. In the interior of the house Scheepers had seized several Lee Metford rifles, and two belonging to the Kaffirs in question, whom he had shot, following the terms of the proclamation, interdicting the natives from taking up arms on pain of death. Then he made the farmers leave their house, and set it on fire.”
In November, Mr. Schalk Burger and Mr. Reitz, representing the Transvaal Government, forwarded through Lord Kitchener a long letter to Lord Salisbury [Nov. 21, 1901. Cd. 902.] This appears in the Blue Book, and bearing, as it does, almost entirely on the case of the women and children, is here given in full. The protest was no doubt prompted by the tidings which must have penetrated to the | commandoes, of the appalling figure which the October mortality in the Concentration Camps had reached—346.72 per 1000 for the aggregate.
“ In the Field, Nov. 21, 1901.
“ Excellency,—The handling of affairs with reference to the removal of families of the burghers of the South African Republic by British troops was hitherto left erttirely in the hands of his Honour the Commandant-General, who has from time to time directed protests to his Excellency Lord Kitchener, but as these protests have led to nothing, and the request of the Commandant-General to appoint a Commission—among whom a medical man—to make a thorough investigation into the state of health in the women’s camps, was refused by Lord Kitchener, as will appear from the correspondence carried on with him, this Government feels herself called upon to bring the facts of this question direct to the notice of the Government of His Britannic Majesty. With indignation the Government and the people were surprised with the policy followed by the British military authorities in removing families of burghers from their dwellings. This removal took place in the most uncivilised and barbarous manner, while such action is moreover in conflict with all up to the present acknowledged rules of civilised warfare. The families were put out of their houses under compulsion, and in many instances by means of force, which [the houses] were destroyed and burnt with everything in them—such as bedding, clothes, furniture, and food; and these families, among whom were many aged ones, pregnant women, and children of very tender years, were removed in open trolleys [exposed] for weeks to rain, severe cold wind, and terrible heat—privations to which they were not accustomed—with the result that many of them became very ill, and some of them died shortly after their arrival in the women’s camps. Many of the conveyances were also very rickety, and loaded with more persons than they had accommodation for, so that accidents necessarily took place, whereby more than one was killed. Besides these dangers, they were also exposed to insults and ill-treatment by Kaffirs in the service of your troops as well as by soldiers.
“ As a variation to the above treatment, families have lately been compelled to go out of their houses; the houses, with everything in them, burnt and destroyed, and the women and children left under the open sky without food or covering, whereby some were obliged to accompany the enemy, in order not to succumb to hunger, and to being exposed to storm and wind, as their natural protectors, who would in some way have been able to provide for them, are either on commando, or have been taken prisoners, or killed. And, be it further noticed, that when Lord Kitchener circulated his proclamation of the 7th August last, a number of women were granted passes to betake themselves to our lines for an unlimited period. It may be asked why these women have returned. The reply is simply because their children are kept in the camps as hostages—this is calculated to give the British Government and public the false impression that such families have voluntarily placed themselves under the protection of your troops.
“ Such cruelties are almost unbelievable, and might indeed be sought for in the histories of former centuries, but not in the enlightened twentieth century.
“ And they have gone still further. British mounted troops have not hesitated in driving on foot for miles before their horses, old women, little children, and mothers with sucklings to their breast.
“ But still more pitiable was and is the lot of these families in the women’s camps—several of which camps are situated in the coldest winter (sic) and most stormy places in our land, namely, at Belfast, Middelburg, Standerton, and Volksrust. The great majority of these families are property owners, and were in a well-to-do position until they were totally robbed and exposed, as has already been described. They were taken away from their comfortable homes, where they had every comfort, and were well provided for with good food for themselves and their children, and were able to get sufficient servants. From these places they were transferred to packed and uncomfortable tents, and which moreover did not give sufficient shelter from storm and wind, while the majority of them have been deprived of the help of their servants. On account of the stingy supply of fuel which is allowed, women of the most noble families of South Africa have been obliged to gather with their own hands fuel consisting of dry cow-dung in order to prepare food for themselves and their children. At the same time they are obliged personally to wash their clothes and other linen besides, because, as has already been stated, they have been deprived of the help of their servants. Besides this, according to information given to this Government, the food is not sufficient, nor sufficiently varied, and the class of food not nourishing enough, especially for children,
“ The abnormal and terrible number of deaths in these camps must be put down to what has been said above, and very likely is increased by insufficient medical help. One of the facts in connection with this case is that very young children, as soon as they become ill, are separated from their mothers, and all this on medical orders. The mothers are only now and then allowed to visit their children. That such treatment must injure the health of the child speaks for itself.
“ It was alleged as a reason for the removal of the families, that if they were left on their farms they would act as a commissariat for the commandoes. It therefore surprised us to see that later, in the English Parliament, it was alleged as a reason for such removal, that the families would succumb to hunger if not removed in this way. These two reasons are directly in conflict with each other, and neither of the two is the truth. That the wives of the burghers have not acted as a coihmissariat for the commandoes, is apparent from the fact that the burghers in the field have still been continually provided with the necessary food. From the above it must therefore be clear to every one that the ‘ Refugee Camps ’ is an unjust and misleading representation.
“ This Government therefore most strongly protests against all the aforementioned actions employed by the British military authorities in connection with the removal of the families, and insists on improvement (or amendment), also because of the houses from which these families have been forcibly removed, hardly a single house now stands on the whole area of the two Republics—not, as was lately alleged in the British Parliament, five hundred (500), but at least thirty thousand (30,000) dwellings having been burnt and destroyed by orders of your military authorities, and to say nothing of the villages that have been totally destroyed.
“ At the same time, this Government repeats the request already made by his Honour the Commandant-General, that a Commission from our side, of whom at least one member will be a medical man, shall be allowed to visit the women’s camps to render a report to her (the Government).
“ We have the honour to be your Excellency’s obedient servants, “ S. W. Burger, Acting State President,
F. W. Reitz, State Secretary.”
Lord Kitchener, in forwarding this despatch to the Home Government, enclosed also a copy of the reply he had made to the Boer leaders. The communication was brief—
“Dec. 1, 1901.
“ I observe from your Honour’s communication, which you have asked me to forward to Lord Salisbury, and which I have so forwarded, that you complain of the treatment of your women and children, and the camps which we have established for their reception.
“ Everything has been done which the conditions of a state of war allowed to provide for the well-being of the women and children, but as your Honour complains of that treatment, and must therefore be in a position to provide for them, I have the honour to inform you that all women and children at present in our camps who are willing to leave will be sent to the care of your Honour, and I shall be happy to be informed where you desire they shall be handed over to you.”
Commenting on the foregoing correspondence, the Com-mander-in-Chief wrote explaining that in his opinion it was clear that the responsibility for the condition and sufferings endured by the women and children lay with Generals Botha and De Wet rather than with himself. However that may be, it is probable that Mr. Schalk Burger’s letter resulted in a change of policy, for an order was given in December to bring in no more families. The statistics of the camps show that on the whole this order was carried out. The populations remained stationary, or rather showed only a decrease consequent upon the high mortality.
The despatch of Lord Kitchener ran as follows [ Cd. 902. Dec. 6, 1901]:—
“It will, I believe, be perfectly clear that the responsibility for the action complained of by Mr. Schalk Burger in his letter of 21st November 1901 rests rather with the Commandants-General of the Transvaal and Orange Free State than with the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa.
“ It is not the case that every area has been cleared of the families of burghers, although this might be inferred from the despatch under discussion. On the contrary, very large numbers of women and children are still out, either in Boer camps or on their own farms [Accounts received since peace was declared speak of some 10,000 who were under the care of commandoes. See Part III. chap. i] and my column commanders have orders to leave them alone unless it is clear that they must starve if they are left on the veld.
“In addition to the families of surrendered burghers who either came in of their own accord, or were brought in solely to save them from the reprisals of the enemy, there are three other classes represented in our Refugee Camps:—
“ (a) Families who were reported to be engaged in a regular system of passing information to the enemy.
“ (b) Families from farms which were constantly used by the enemy as places from which to snipe at our troops.
" (c) Families from farms which were used as commissariat depots by the enemy.
" (a) and (b) speak for themselves. Mr. Schalk Burger seems to consider that (c) is in conflict with the statement that such families would have succumbed to hunger if not removed. If, however, a Boer commissariat dep6t is found with perhaps regular messing arrangements for thirty men and thousands of pounds of flour and mealies, of course these supplies have to be withdrawn, leaving only a margin of a few weeks’ food for the resident inmates of the farm. At the close of a few weeks the family runs in danger of starvation and has to be brought in, so that the want of logic complained of is merely an attempt on the part of Mr. Burger to make a clever point on paper.
“ The majority of the women and children in the Refugee Camps are those of surrendered burghers [Lord Kitchener seems to have been totally misinformed on this point.] but neither they nor the wives of prisoners of war, nor of men on commando, make any serious complaint, although they are constantly being invited by commissions, inspectors, etc., however little it may be, against the arrangements made for their comfort, recreation, and instruction.
" Mr. Burger is anxious that a Boer Commission should be permitted to visit the women’s camps and render a report upon them. Indeed, this is the one practical suggestion contained in his letter. It is strange, to say the least of it, that no mention is made by Mr. Burger of the fact that I have already told the Commandant-General I would permit a representative appointed by him to visit the Refugee Camps in order that an independent report might be furnished on the subject Nor is there any reference to the inspection of these camps which was actually carried out by Captain Malan. It will be remembered that I immediately acceded to General B. Viljoen’s request that he might depute an officer for this purpose. He selected Captain Malan [He does not appear to have been allowed to visit more than one camp, viz. Middelburg. See p. 149.] who went around asking if there were any complaints, and who afterwards expressed his entire satisfaction with the arrangements which had been made on behalf of the Boer women and children. I take this opportunity of stating that I would make no objection to Commandant-General Botha himself, accompanied if he likes by General De la Rey and Mr. Steyn, visiting these camps, provided they undertake to speak no politics to the inmates, who as a rule appreciate the general situation much better than their husbands or brothers on commando.
“ Finally, I indignantly and entirely deny the accusations of rough and cruel treatment to women and children who were being brought in from their farms to the camps. Hardships may have been sometimes inseparable from the process, but the Boer women in our hands themselves bear the most eloquent testimony to the kindness and consideration shown to them by our soldiers on all such occasions.
“ I enclose copy of letters which I have just despatched on this subject to Mr. Burger, Mr. Steyn, and to General de Wet, offering to return to them any women who may be willing to join the Boer commandoes in the field.”
No information has yet been received as to how this offer was met by the Boer officers, and we do not know if the permission was made known to the women in the camps.
Late in December 1901, General De la Rey sent his official report to Mr. Kruger and the Boer representatives in Europe. This, published in England and on the Continent, gives the following picture of the country as it appeared at the close of the year:—
" Our land is one heap of ruins.
“ Nothing remains but the walls of buildings, except where even these were blown up with dynamite. Nothing has escaped this destruction. The properties of neutrals as well as of burghers killed in battle, and of those who are now prisoners of war, and of the widows and orphans—everything has been destroyed.
“ Neither churches nor parsonages nor schools have been spared.
“ In my division the villages of Wolmaransstad, Bloemhof, Schweizer-Reineke, and Hartebeestfontein, which have not been occupied by the enemy, have been totally burnt.
“ It is exactly the same in the Eastern Districts of the South African Republic, where General Botha is at present.
“ The treatment of women and children, defenceless creatures, is really the darkest page among the many dark pages of this sad war. At first hundreds of our women who were living in the villages were taken prisoners and sent to the commandoes. We formed women’s camps at several places, where our women and children were taken care of. But soon the enemy changed his conduct Our women who had been taken prisoners after the homesteads had been burned, were sometimes carried along with the columns on trolleys for weeks. At night the women were placed around the laagers as a protection against a night attack from our side. When the women realised what was the object of the enemy, they tried to escape, but were pursued. They were even fired upon. Sometimes they were caught again, and then they were removed to greater distances, and placed in tents. But from the camps hundreds of sweet messages reach us, telling us not to worry about them, but to continue the struggle for our country.
“ Many women have already lost their lives either from wounds or from the misery they have endured. My own wife was ordered by Lord Methuen to leave her home and everything she possessed. She has been wandering about the country for over twelve months with six small children. My mother, an old woman of eighty-three, who has been a widow for nine years, has been carried away as a prisoner. All her cattle have been taken away, and her house burnt. She has been removed to Klerksdorp.”