The Battle of Omdurman
In 1898 Kitchener led a force of 8,200 British troops, 17,600
Sudanese and Egyptians up the Nile to capture a city in the
Sudan called Omdurman, the Dervish capital across the river from
Khartoum. The British force attacked the superior numbers of
Sudanese Dervishes. totalling nearly 52,000.
Winston Churchill was there too, as a young cavalry officer, and
took part in the British Army's last great cavalry charge. He
likened the Dervish army to a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry,
although in 1066 the Normans didn't have repeater rifles.
Churchill wrote how "thrilling it was to be fired upon without
forces had superior Lee-Enfield rifles, maxim guns and gunboats
against the swords, spears and single-loading muskets of the
Dervishes. The bulk of the Dervish force was made up of poorly
Churchill wrote the following in his book "My Early Life":
"The next day all the male population of the city were
compelled to join the army in the field, and only the gunners
and garrisons on the river-face remained within. In spite,
however, of his [the Khalifa's] utmost vigilance, nearly 6,000
men deserted during the nights of the 31st of August and the 1st
The result was inevitable - the Dervishes were completely
routed. The Dervish Army, approximately 52,000 strong, suffered
losses of 20,000 dead, 22,000 wounded, and some 5,000 taken
prisoner--an unbelievable 90% casualty rate! By contrast, the
Anglo-Egyptian Army, some 25,000 strong, suffered losses of 48
dead, and 382 wounded--an equally unbelievable 2% casualty rate.
Kitchener called this "a good dusting". (The Dervish leader, the
Khalifa, escaped but only to be hunted down and killed by Sir
Francis Reginald on November 24th 1899.)
description of the slaughter:
"The white flags [of the Mahdi's army] were nearly over the crest. In another minute they would become visible to the batteries. Did they realize what would come to meet them? They were in a dance mass, 2,800 yards from the 32nd Field Battery and the gunboats. The ranges were known. It was a matter of machinery… About twenty shells struck them in the first minute. Some burst high in the air, others exactly in their faces. Others, again, plunged into the sand, and, exploding, dashed clouds of red dust, splinters, and bullets amid the ranks… It was a terrible sight, for as yet they had not hurt us at all, and it seemed an unfair advantage to strike thus cruelly when they could not reply."
Desecrating the Tomb of the
On the death in 1885 of the first leader of independent Sudan,
called the "Mahdi", his body was entombed in a silver-domed
mosque in Omdurman. This was completely destroyed by Kitchener
in 1898, when the Mahdi's body was burned and his ashes thrown
into the river. In 1947 the Mahdi's son had the mosque and tomb
rebuilt. Not surprisingly, it is closed to foreigners, but can
be viewed from the outside.
Killing the Wounded
Sven Lindqvist, a Swedish historian, has pointed out that the
decisive battle of Omdurman was fought in the name of
civilisation, but nobody in Europe asked how it came about that
15,000 Sudanese were killed while the British lost only 48 men.
Nor did anyone question why almost none of the 16,000 Sudanese
wounded survived. In "Exterminate All the Brutes", Lindqvist
turns up 19th-century newspaper accounts of British massacres of
wounded Sudanese after the battle.
At the battle's conclusion, Churchill wept. He wrote to his
mother on the 26th of January 1899: 'Our victory was
disgraced by the inhuman slaughter of the wounded and Lord
Kitchener was responsible for this.'
The Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902):
Some 28,000 Boers perished in Kitchener's concentration camps --
nearly all of them women and children.
The war's non-human costs were similarly appalling. As part of
Kitchener's "scorched-earth" campaign, British troops wrought
terrible destruction throughout the rural Boer areas, especially
in the Orange Free State. Outside of the largest towns, hardly a
building was left intact. Perhaps a tenth of the pre-war horses,
cows and other farm stock remained. In much of the Boer lands,
no crops had been sown for two years.
Even by the standards of the time (and certainly by those of
today), British political and military leaders committed
frightful war crimes and crimes against humanity against the
Boers of South Africa -- crimes for which no one was ever
brought to account. General Kitchener, for one, was never
punished for introducing measures that even a future prime
minister called "methods of barbarism." To the contrary, after
concluding his South African service he was named a viscount and
a field marshal, and then, at the outbreak of the First World
War, was appointed Secretary of War. Upon his death in 1916, he
was remembered not as a criminal, but rather idolized as a
personification of British virtue and rectitude.
are to be distinguished from internment camps,
where foreign nationals from a country at war
are held, and from prisoner-of-war camps,
in which captured military personnel are held under
the laws of war. They are also to be distinguished
from refugee camps or detention and
relocation centres for the temporary
accommodation of large numbers of displaced persons.
A report after the war
concluded that 27,927 Boers (of whom 22,074 were children under
16) and 14,154 black Africans had died of starvation, disease
and exposure in the concentration camps. In all, about 25% of
the Boer inmates and 12% of the black Africans died (although
recent research suggests that the black African deaths were
underestimated and may have actually been around 20,000).
However the precise number of deaths is unknown. Reports have
stated that the number of Boers killed was 18,000-28,000 and no
one bothered to keep records on the number of deaths of the
107,000 Black Africans who were interned in Concentration Camps.
The British system of waging
war was summarized in a report made in January 1902 by Boer
General J.C. Smuts, later Prime Minister of the Union of South
"Lord Kitchener has begun to carry out a policy in both (Boer)
republic of unbelievable barbarism and gruesomeness which
violates the most elementary principles of the international
rules of war. Almost all farmsteads and villages in both
republics have been burned down and destroyed. All crops have
been destroyed. All livestock which had fallen into the hands of
the enemy has been killed or slaughtered.
The basic principle behind Lord Kitchener's tactics had been to
win, not so much through direct operations against fighting
commandos, but rather indirectly by bringing the pressure of war
against defenceless women and children."
"... This violation of every international law is really very
characteristic of the nation which always plays the role of
chosen judge over the customs and behaviour of all other
Even in Britain, prominent voices began speaking out against the
slaughter. Lloyd George, who later served as Prime Minister
during the First World War, vehemently denounced the carnage.
During a speech in Parliament on February 18, 1901, he quoted
from a letter by a British officer: "We move from valley to
valley, lifting cattle and sheep, burning and looting, and
turning out women and children to weep in despair beside the
ruin of their once beautiful homesteads."
Lloyd George commented: "It is a war not against men, but
against women and children."
Another future Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman,
declared in Parliament on June 14, 1901: "When is a war not a
war? When it is waged in South Africa by methods of barbarism."
convention of 1907 denounced Kitchener's
encirclement and closure policies, stipulating that
a conqueror shall take all the measures in his power
to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public
order and safety, while respecting, unless
absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the
country, and condemning collective punishment
procedures, asserting, no general penalty, pecuniary
or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population
on account of the acts of individuals for which they
cannot be regarded as jointly and severally
In the end it took half a
million men (the largest army Britain had ever sent overseas)
and two and a half years for the mightiest power on earth, using
everything it had, to "defeat" the Boer farmers, in a war that
marked the transition from 19th to 20th Century warfare, that
some called the "Last Gentleman's War", and others called the
"First of the Modern Total Wars". But the Anglo-Boer War is now
more often described as the "War that Never should have
It not only irreparably damaged
the British Empire and destroyed the economies of two
independent countries, but directly led to the establishment of
Apartheid in South Africa, by a paranoid Afrikaner nation.
Statistics of Deaths in Concentration Camps
Girls over 16
Boys over 16
Children under 16
Total Women &