Between 1899 and 1902 the two Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State were at war with the British Empire. Great Britain wanted to gain possession of the goldfields of the Transvaal and the Boers fought desperately for their freedom against the most powerful state of the time. Winston Churchill, who was a war correspondent for a London newspaper, thought that the Boers had no chance against the British and wrote:
I thought it very sporting of the Boers to take on the whole British Empire.
In conventional warfare the Boers, with 35 000 men on the battlefield, could not prevail against a British army of 150 000 men. Kruger left the country and by 1 September 1900 both the Orange Free State and the Transvaal had been declared British territory. The British military leader Lord Roberts triumphantly returned to England under the impression that the Boers were conquered. The Boers, however, embarked on guerrilla warfare and for almost two years continued the war, which cost the British government dearly in terms of money and moral prestige.
The British reacted to the guerrilla warfare with a scorched earth policy in which farmhouses, harvests and even churches were burnt. With their houses destroyed, the women, children and old people were taken to concentration camps. Resources for the Boers on the battlefield became limited. Food was scarce, their clothing in rags and they slept in the open under pieces of canvas.