I thought I would share this seldom seen Underwood and Underwood stereoview image of British Prisoners of War walking down the 13 miles of railway line to Pretoria after their release from Watervaal Camp on 6 June 1900.
There were 3,187 prisoners released that day. A train was sent to collect them and take them back to Pretoria, but the the train was not able to carry all of the men and most, thousands of them, walked the thirteen miles into Pretoria. The men were so weak and exhausted, that it was almost three weeks before all had been accounted for. Most were accommodated for the while in Pretoria in a ‘Prisoner’s Camp’. They were issued rations of Bully Beef, biscuits and vegetables. The next morning Kitchener himself visited the camp and assured the men of proper clothing and as much food as possible as soon as practicable. In the afternoon Lord Roberts came and inspected the men.
Three Courts of Enquiry were held at Pretoria Artillery Barracks over three days, where prisoners were interviewed and held on account for their capture. Where an officer was captured, he answered for his men as well as himself. On their release, most rejoined their regiments in due course, but some took to hanging around the streets drinking until rounded up by the temporary Police force.
Colonel Porter’s Brigade had arrived in time to affect the release of 3,187 prisoners. Unfortunately Captain Maude’s squadron of Scots Grey’s had been too late to prevent the nine hundred prisoners (Gloucestershire Regiment and Irish and Dublin Fusiliers) from being taken away the day before. These men were taken to Nooitgedacht and eventually released on the 30th of August 1900 by the force commanded by the Earl of Dundonald. However, the Boers still managed to remove twenty-three officers and fifty-nine other ranks from there before he arrived and took them to Barberton. These last prisoners were housed in a local goal and a barbed wire enclosure. Their ordeal finally ended when General French arrived in September.
“Many pieces of good luck we had in the campaign, but this recovery of our prisoners, which left the enemy without a dangerous lever for exacting conditions of peace, was the most fortunate of all”. Arthur Conan Doyle.
My own Great Grandfather was one of the prisoners released on 6 June 1900. He was 3629 Pte John Heath, D company, 2nd Battalion Wiltshire Regiment, captured at Rensburg on 14 Feb 1900, when, by mis-fortune, two companies (D & G Companies)were left behind when the the Brigade retired on Arundel ahead of some 5000 Boers led by De La Rey.
I wonder how many other members have relations who were held at Watervaal?