About Winston Churchill and a clergyman — about colonial prisoners—about the sanitary arrangements —about the general treatment—about the delivery of letters — about mass for the roman catholic officers — about the treatment of the men at Waterval—some notes — officers' and men's rations.
I may in previous chapters have spoken too personally of my new surroundings, and having had the opportunity of ascertaining the general opinion of the officers here as to their treatment, I jot down now a few notes taken from the letter-book kept by Colonel Hunt as the senior officer, prisoner of war. These letters were all sent at various times, but only one reply was received, and one visit from the committee made, though, as you will see by my notes, the condition of affairs, if not satisfactory in the eyes of the officers, was certainly ameliorated. Before touching on these letters, I would refer for one moment to a letter received from the Rev. J. H. Godfrey, to whom I have previously alluded. The letter is so extraordinary, and so unlike my ideas of how a clergyman should act under the circumstances, that I append it in full, in the hope that it may meet the notice of the Bishop, who was not then in Pretoria:—
To the British Officers, Icing Prisoners of War, from Rev. Mr Godfrey.
St Alban's, Pretoria, Z. A. R., Dec. 15, 1899.
Gentlemen,—By the kind courtesy of the Government I have been permitted to hold services for you in connection with the Church of England, which services I have felt it a privilege on my part to conduct. After what has recently occurred—viz., the escape of Mr Churchill from confinement — I exceedingly regret that, in consideration of my duty to the Government, I must discontinue such regular ministrations, as I desire to maintain the honour due to my position. Of course I shall always be glad to minister to you in any emergency with the special permission of the authorities, who will, with their usual kindness, duly inform me.—With my best wishes, I am, Gentlemen, yours sincerely, J. H. Godfrey.
Needless to say, no reply was sent to this epistle. This gentleman, I was also told, did not pray for the Queen! On the 15th February a letter signed by the committee of officers to the State Secretary, Pretoria (owing to the death in jail of Lieut. Tarbutt from enteric fever), " requested the Government to reconsider the position of the prisoners of war who were former residents in the Transvaal, and who were then in prison, and to treat them in a similar way as the British officers were treated, seeing that they were not subjects of the Transvaal, but of the Queen."
A month afterwards (the 20th March) a reply was received through the commandant stating that no difference was made between prisoners of war, and that only those were kept in jail who were considered " too dangerous to be detained with the officers or other prisoners of war at Waterval."
Note.—The arrival of Captain Bates, who commanded at Kuruman, which surrendered at the end of 1899, and of Captain Kirkwood (South African Light Horse), who was formerly a Johannesburg resident, from jail to this place yesterday, after four months' detention, is sufficient proof of the falseness of the commandant's reply.—R.
In reply, the officers' committee on March 23rd addressed a second letter, to which they have had no reply, pointing out that another death had occurred in prison of typhoid— that of a Mr Crewe, a non-combatant civilian —and asking that those "too dangerous to mix with others should be confined in the future under such sanitary conditions as might not endanger their lives."
Note.— We have since learnt that eight prisoners have been sent over the border and twenty to Waterval from jail, probably in deference to this protest.—R.
On March 16 the officers' committee addressed a protest against the accommodation provided for the officers at the new prison. They stated that "the building was such as was usually provided for cattle; the ventilation was defective; the room for twenty-seven soldier servants was only 24 feet by 15 feet; the floors were of loose earth, dusty in dry and foul in wet weather; the beds were much too close, and, except the bathrooms, there was no washing accommodation; the rough fittings, especially in the dining-room, were wholly unsuitable; the latrines were absolutely disgraceful, and were a grave menace to health"; and they concluded by asking the committee of control in Pretoria "to come and see for themselves/' and asked "for their removal to more suitable quarters."
Note.—No answer to this. But some of the committee did come up and condemned the building. Most of the complaints are still unattended to, except that about the latrines; and two tents have been supplied for the servants. The room is now considerably more crowded than when this protest was written.—R.
On March 30 another protest was addressed to the South African Republic as to the general treatment of the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men, in which it was submitted that complaints as a rule received no attention, some being suppressed, others unwarrantably delayed, and in one case a series of protests made never reached the authority to whom they were addressed; the delay which occurred in the receipt and despatch of their correspondence was most unnecessary and annoying; letters were often delayed for weeks after their arrival in Pretoria; communications between themselves and their men at Waterval took two or three weeks, and in one instance five weeks, in transit; approved telegrams to England had been delayed for days or entirely suppressed; letters known to have been sent to officers, and practically all European and Colonial newspapers, had been withheld from them; the shed in which the officers were herded together was quite unfit for the purpose, and that this was pointed out in their letter of 16th, which had not been acknowledged; the place was infested with vermin; the treatment to which the non - commissioned officers and men at Waterval were subjected was contributing to the very serious mortality prevalent among them; for weeks no soap had been issued to these men; many were understood to be without boots; the scale of diet (h lb. of meat bi-weekly) was extremely low, and the sanitary conditions most defective; the officers were never informed of the serious illness or death of any of their men, which they had a right to demand."
Note.—In sending this protest the officers committee contrasted the Transvaal with the British system of treatment of prisoners of ivar, pointing out that each prisoner in our hands had a full days rations, including 1 lb. of meat per diem, and opportunities of seeing visitors regularly, ivhile every possible difficulty was here placed in the way of those who ivished to see even the officers. They also pointed out that among the prisoners there were several whose detention was luholly contrary to the customs of civilised warfare. Several were lodged in common jails, and put to gross indignities, and others robbed of personal effects. The protest further stated that a copy would be placed before the British authorities when opportunity offered!.
There was a certain amount of humour in the last sentence, but there is little doubt the grievances complained of were real. In the Franco-German war officers had their parole, and I believe the men also, but my intuition into the Boer character has made me grateful for even a roof to my head.—R.
On March 7, Colonel Hunt, the senior officer, addressed another protest to the Executive in charge of British prisoners of war, "on the delay in the delivery of letters."
Note.—A great improvement may certainly be noted in this direction, as only yesterday letters were received from home dated a little over a month ago. There are, however, a large number of letters lost, missing, or detained, as several officers have received others saying that previous ones had been written. As I am on the subject of correspondence, it will interest you to know that on handing in a letter or a telegram one could make certain of its being delayed at least a fortnight, and probably a month, before it ivas handed over to the post or telegraph office! Newspapers came very, very rarely, and we were only allowed the ' Volksstem,' notwithstanding the State attorneys promise to use his influence in getting us the ' Standard and Diggers' News.' The arrival of letters was quite one of the most exciting features of our captivity, but ten or twenty among 140 is a poor proportion, and many were lucky enough to get three or four at a time out of these, while the ' Daily Graphic' or ' Weekly Times' took weeks getting round the dormitory, and were read word for word, the pictures being eventually cut out to adorn some artistic bed-space.—E.
Yet another protest was forwarded on behalf of the Roman Catholic officers here, "remonstrating at being compelled to attend mass in the presence of a guard, and asking for permission to see their priest privately or attend the Roman Catholic Church on parole." This was on April 17. On the following day a meeting of officers, representing 100 men at Waterval, was held, when the following authentic information was announced: (1) Nothing in the way of medical comforts had been supplied by the Transvaal Government to either the racecourse or Waterval hospitals; (2) the accommodation at the latter was entirely inadequate; (3) two doctors, owing to their being of British extraction, were refused their services at the hospital; (4) before any subscriptions were raised privately, two and a half months ago, the sick were without mattresses, bedsteads, or pillows: they lay on the ground, and had only their two blankets; (5) this private subscription had reached £2500, but the expense of providing all necessaries amounted to £700 a - month, and that now things were in a much better condition.
Note.—At the conclusion of the meeting it was decided to send a donation from the officers to this private subsection fund, and the magnificent sum of over £700 was almost immediately collected. This must be a heavy drain on many, and it is to be hoped that the British authorities or the Red Cross will refund it at a later period. Meanwhile I have suggested that telegrams be sent to the 'Daily Mail' Absent-minded Beggar Fund and the Red Cross, appealing for immediate assistance, especially for clothing for the men.
Except for the latter want, I am glad to say that we have since learnt of a material improvement in the men's treatment at Water-val, and the decrease of sickness and mortality in the hospitals.—R.
I have thought it better to deal fully with the above protests, feeling that some authentic report of the Boer method of treating their prisoners of war should be recorded. There is but small difference between the Boer treatment of a prisoner of war and an ordinary criminal—the only appreciable difference being that money can buy in the case of the former. But against that must be balanced the fact that all goods cannot (or will not) be supplied, and that prices are exorbitant for even our poorly paid men. A small cake some officer ordered cost him 15s.! Just one more item.
The following were the rations supplied to officers and men:—
½ lb. of meat daily per officer.
1 lb. of bread.
Sugar, salt, potatoes (supply failed frequently), tea, coffee.
N.B.—There was no sugar between January 15 and March 10, as the Transvaal Government said it was too expensive. The salt was rock salt, and the sugar brown.
½lb. of meat per man twice a-week.
½ lb. of potatoes daily.
½ oz. of tea or coffee daily.
1 lb. of bread or biscuit daily.
½lb. of mealie-meal twice a-week.
N.B. — The bread is often sour; and for weeks there was no tea, and men made it from bread-crumbs!