Using Barbaric Methods in South Africa: The British Concentration Camp Policy during the Anglo-Boer War

  • James Robbins Jewell Bloomsburg University and West Virginia University.
Keywords: Using Barbaric Methods in South Africa, The British Concentration Camp Policy, Anglo-Boer War, Britain's Vietnam, guerilla warfare


The Boer War, which is frequently referred to as Britain's Vietnam or Afghanistan, was marked by gross miscalculations on the part of both British military and political leaders. In their efforts to subdue the Boers, Britain used more troops, spent more money, and buried more soldiers than anytime between the Napoleonic wars and World War I - a century during which it had been busy expanding its empire. Despite the miscalculations, lapses in judgement, and blatant stupidity demonstrated throughout the war by the British leaders, historically speaking, one policy remains far more notorious than any other. Unable to bring the war to a conclusion through traditional fighting, the British military, and in particular the two men who were in command, Frederick, Baron Roberts and Herbert, Baron Kitchener, responded to the Boer use of guerilla warfare by instituting a scorched earth combined with a concentration camp policy.1 Nearly forty years later, Lord Kitchener's decision to institute a full-scale concentration camp strategy came back to haunt the British. On the eve of the Second World War, when a British ambassador to Gernlany protested Nazi camps, Herman Goering rebuffed the criticism by pulling out an encyclopedia and looking up the entry for concentration camps, which credited the British with being the first to use them in the Boer War.2 Under the scrutiny that comes with the passage of time, the concentration camp policy has rightfully been viewed as not only inhumane, but hopelessly flawed. When Lords Roberts and Kitchener, who were desperate to counter the Boers' effective use of guerilla warfare, turned to the concentration camp policy they failed to consider that the plan might fail. In the end the strategy, in a number of ways, actually benefited the Boers militarily while simultaneously proving to be a public relations disaster for theBritish govemment.3

Author Biography

James Robbins Jewell, Bloomsburg University and West Virginia University.
Visiting Professor, Bloomsburg University and Ph.D. Candidate West Virginia University.
How to Cite
Jewell, J. R. (2012). Using Barbaric Methods in South Africa: The British Concentration Camp Policy during the Anglo-Boer War. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 31(1).