Source: Andrew Whitehead

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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.

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