Corporal Cobbs rode into the camp, his mare lathered by the hard going.
Sergeant Collinsworth stood to unlatch the gate. He nodded as Cobbs led in the long column of prisoners, the other men of the platoon riding alongside the ragged group like drovers, calling out to keep them moving.
Cobbs dismounted and limped over. “I counted sixty-five of ’em, Sergeant,” he said. “But probably a good idea to count ’em again. Might’ve left a few back there.”
“Escaped?” asked Collinsworth.
Cobbs grinned. “Doubt any of these buggers have the spirit. More likely slipped off the trail to have a kip. Or die, maybe.”
The sergeant surveyed the prisoners. He judged them the sorriest lot yet. Dirty dresses on the women, threadbare coats on the old men. Some of the children had no shoes. No young men at all.
“Bloody hell,” he said, scratching his head. “Where are we going to put them all?”
During the Second Boer War (1899-1902) thousands of Boer farms were destroyed by the British under their “Scorched Earth” policy. This included the systematic destruction of crops and the slaughtering of livestock, the burning down of homesteads and farms, and the destruction or confiscation of all foodstuffs. The purpose was to prevent the Boer Commando forces from resupplying from a home base.
During this period, tens of thousands of women and children were forcibly moved into concentration camps, the first time in history that an entire nation was systematically targeted for total depopulation. Eventually, there were a total of 45 tented camps built for Boer internees and 64 for black Africans.
It almost goes without saying that the camps were poorly administered, all the more as they became increasingly overcrowded after 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, and bad sanitation. Thousands died of starvation and disease.
Photos of these prisoners are virtually indistinguishable from those of Nazi atrocities forty years later.