A postcard from 110 years ago of a military camp in southern Sri Lanka (once Ceylon) - the main use of which, to this date, had been as a detention camp for Boer prisoners of war. Diyatalawa is 5,000 feet up in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. Indeed, it's described as a hill station - the sort of place where people came to escape the suffocating heat and humidity of the plains.
The British established a military training base here in the 1880s which was expanded hugely to take in Boer prisoners (I've blogged before about the British policy of dispersing Boer PoWs across the Empire) in the early years of last century.
This camp when enlarged could take up 5,000 prisoners - and you can see from this image how extensive the base had become. There are other photos of the camp, and some its detainees, here. It's curious that a detention camp appears in a series of postcards. But clearly there was demand to be met. The postmark is 1910 and stamped Ratnapura, the centre of Sri Lanka's gem trade, about seventy miles away.
Once established as a detention camp, that the role Diyatalawa reverted to in both the First and Second World Wars. In the latter conflict, enemy aliens - including German nationals in Hong Kong and Singapore - were held here; another section of the camp housed, unlikely as it seems, Italian PoWs until the threat of Japanese attack prompted their evacuation to India.
It's always nice when these cards have a message on the other side. There are a couple of Edward VII stamps ... on the front not the rear of the card. What I don't quite understand - given the absence of an address - is how the postcard reached its intended destination.
A really choice piece of ephemera - which throws light on the personal, the social, the political and the global.
During the Boer War, roughly 120 years ago, the British notoriously rounded up tens of thousands of civilians - particularly women, children and the elderly - and kept them in what amounted to concentration camps. They were insanitary and the diet was very poor. More than 27,000 people - mainly women and children - died in these camps.
Very few adult men were detained in this manner, largely because Boer men were either combatants or likely to be seen by the British as potential combatants. 28,000 Boers were detained as Prisoners of War (and thousands more surrendered to the British) - and in a chapter of this grisly conflict which is rarely talked about, almost all of them were shipped out of South Africa to detention camps in other parts of the world, largely to deter escape.
Initially, these prisoners were held on the tiny Atlantic island of St Helena, where Napoleon was detained and died. When that proved too small, prisoners were sent to Bermuda in the Caribbean, to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and to India. Several hundred Boers who fled to Mozambique to escape the fighting ended up in detention in Portugal.
This sliver of paper is a permit giving Lieutenant Jones standing permission to enter the Boer camp at Bellary and talk to the PoWs. Bellary is a city in the south Indian state of Karnataka, half-way between Bangalore and Hyderabad.
These rather grainy images of the Bellary camp are from the excellent angloboerwar.com site.
Another site records these details:
'A camp for 821 prisoners was in operation at Bellary, in Madras Command, between May 1901 and August 1902. The men were accommodated in barracks, and tents with thatched roofs, surrounded by barbed wire entanglements. During the 15 months of the camp's life three prisoners broke parole and were subsequently recaptured, and another was shot one night trying to escape from the hospital. Although conditions within the camp were described as generally good, the health of the prisoners was indifferent, despite having the use of a 50 bed hospital at the station: during 1902 smallpox accounted for two deaths and the hospitalization of six men.'
Some of these Boer camps in India even issued their own informal currency notes - I found this image on the net.
It's all evidence of a classic Imperialist strategy - bringing one part of the Empire into play to help out with problems in another.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!