Military history of Australia during the Second Boer War

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South Australian mounted rifles training near Adelaide, c. 1900, prior to deploying to South Africa

The military history of Australia during the Boer War is complex, and includes a period of history in which the six formerly autonomous British Australian colonies federated to become the Commonwealth of Australia. At the outbreak of the Second Boer War, each of these separate colonies maintained their own, independent military forces, but by the cessation of hostilities, these six armies had come under a centralised command to form the Australian Army.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, an escalating conflict between the British Empire and the Boer republics of southern Africa, led to the outbreak of the Second Boer War, which lasted from 11 October 1899, until 31 May 1902. In a show of support for the empire, the governments of the self-governing British colonies of Canada, New Zealand, Natal, Cape Colony and the six Australian colonies all offered men to participate in the conflict. The Australian contingents, numbering over 16,000 men, were the largest contribution from the Empire, and a further 7,000 Australian men served with other colonial or irregular units. At least 60 Australian women also served in the conflict as nurses.[1]

Background[edit]

The geography of the region; the South African Republic/Transvaal (green), with the Orange Free State (orange), the British Cape Colony (blue), and the Natal (red).

Great Britain first gained control of the southern tip of Africa during the Napoleonic Wars. The Dutch East India Company built the first Cape settlement in 1652, bringing southern Africa into the Dutch Empire. In 1795 revolutionary France invaded and occupied the Dutch Republic, and established a puppet allied-state there, known as the Batavian Republic. All the former colonies of the Dutch Republic came under the control of the Batavian Republic, who were allied to France, Britain’s enemy in the French Revolutionary Wars.[2][3]

Realising the Cape’s strategic importance for control of the seas and access to India and the Far East, Britain attacked the Batavian Republic's outpost at the Cape of Good Hope in the Battle of Muizenberg. The British victory in the battle brought about the establishment of the Cape Colony. Although it was briefly returned to the Batavian Republic in 1803 under the Treaty of Amiens, a resumption of hostilities saw Britain again take control of the Cape Colony in 1806 following the Battle of Blaauwberg. This battle established permanent British rule over the Cape.[2][3]

Unhappy with British rule, the Southern African Dutch, known as Boers, migrated further north, establishing the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic), Natal, and the Orange Free State.[2][3] British imperial and commercial interests increasingly impinged on the Boer republics, who resented British influence in their affairs. The majority of the territory of Natal was annexed by the British in 1843, and although the British government formally recognised the two remaining Boer republics in the 1850s, they then annexed the Transvaal in 1877. Tired of British aggression towards them, the Boers finally hit back, leading to the outbreak of the First Boer War. Lasting from 16 December 1880 until 23 March 1881, the First Boer War was a humiliating reversal for the British, who suffered a disastrous loss at the Battle of Majuba Hill on 27 February 1881, and were compelled to sign the Pretoria Convention, which granted the South African Republic self-government under a nominal British suzerainty.[2][3]

Just six years later in 1886, gold was discovered in the Republic, and a large influx of British prospectors (referred to as uitlanders by the Boers) increasingly led to confrontation with the Boers. What began as an internal problem for the South African Republic soon became an international problem, as Britain sought to protect, and even extend the rights of its citizens within the South African Republic. Britain had been unhappy with the outcome of the First Boer War, and wished to restore influence over the Transvaal.[3]

Under the pretext of negotiating uitlander rights, Britain sought to gain control over the gold and diamond mining industries, and demanded a franchising policy, which they knew would be unacceptable to the Boers. When the negotiations failed to come to an acceptable outcome, British foreign secretary Joseph Chamberlain issued an ultimatum to the South African Republic. Realising that war was inevitable, President Paul Kruger gave Britain a 48-hour deadline to withdraw its troops from their borders. When Britain failed to comply, the South African Republic, along with their allies, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State declared war on Britain and set about launching pre-emptive strikes into British held territory.[3]

Outbreak of hostilities[edit]

A troop of the Australian Contingent raised for the protection of Johannesburg (1899).

A Boer force of mostly farmer volunteers, formed up as mounted infantry, armed primarily with German built Mauser Model 1895 rifles.[4] The effectiveness and superiority of this weapon over the British Lee-Metford and Lee-Enfield Mark I, led to the development of the Pattern 1913 Enfield, and the upgrading of the Lee-Enfield to the SMLE Mark III, which would be the stock rifle of choice for most British Empire armies in World War I. These highly mobile mounted infantry formed the basis of the Boer Commando, which was the primary organisational unit of the Boers.[5]

At the outbreak of hostilities, a superior rifle was not the only advantage held by the Boers. The British forces in southern Africa were still composed mostly of infantry, while most of the Boers were skilled horsemen, who used their superior mobility to good advantage. Realising that continuing to engage the British in set-piece battles where British troops could utilize their superior numbers would result in a quick defeat, the Boers adopted tactics of hit-and-run guerilla attacks, picking off men, and disrupting supply lines.[6]

The Boers first struck at the Battle of Kraaipan on 12 October 1899. Late at night, 800 commandos rode south into the Cape Colony, attacking the British garrison at Kraaipan and cutting railway and telegraph lines. Although the British repelled their advance at the Battle of Talana Hill, and the Battle of Elandslaagte, the Boers continued to pour south, besieging the British settlement of Ladysmith and advancing on Mafeking and Kimberley.[6]

As the Boers established siege-guns around Ladysmith, the British commander of the garrison there, Sir George Stuart White, attempted a sortie with cavalry against the Boer gun positions, but the attack was a disaster, and a state of siege followed as both side attempted to consolidate their position.[7]

Arrival of the Australians[edit]

The involvement of men from the Australian colonies in the Second Boer War was complex. They included the official contingents dispatched by each of the six colonial governments, Australians who were already in southern Africa working as gold-miners enlisting in British or Cape Colony regiments such as the Bushveldt Carbineers, men who made their own way to participate, and others who joined privately raised units such as Doyle’s Australian Scouts.[8] After Australia federated to become the Commonwealth of Australia, the men of the six separate colonial contingents were reorganised into new Commonwealth contingents.[1] Although in a minority, some Australians were anti-imperialists, and supported the Boer cause. Although their number is uncertain, it is known that some Australians, such as Arthur Alfred Lynch, participated in the conflict on the Boer side. Upon the outbreak of hostilities, the British government initially requested troops from New South Wales, which had previously provided the New South Wales Lancers serving in the Mahdist War in Sudan. Although they were armed with rifles, the NSW Lancers did go into action during the Boer War charging with their lances on more than one occasion.[8]

As planning advanced, and the need for troop numbers increased, this request was soon forwarded to each of the colonies. The War Office devised a plan for two contingents of 125 men each from New South Wales and Victoria, and one contingent of 125 men each from Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia, to be attached to separate British units. The six colonial governments each held their own parliamentary debates about the support that would be offered. Although there were elements of opposition within each government, support was general and widespread in each colony.[1]

Britain realised the value of troops from the Australian colonies. The climates and geography of Southern Africa and Australia were quite similar, and most Australian soldiers, the vast majority of whom were trained as mounted rifles, were well-suited to operating in such terrain. Britain was also quick to understand the need for further horsemen, as the Boers operated with a high degree of mobility across the Southern African grasslands, often referred to romantically as 'the vastness of the veldt'. At that time, most British troops were recruited from within urban environments, and although their ability as soldiers was not questioned, they did not have the natural horsemanship and bush craft of the Australians, many of whom came from rural backgrounds.[9]

Lord Methuen, who had overall command of the British column which the NSW Lancers joined.

The Australian contribution consisted of five phases. The first was the contingents each government dispatched in response to the outbreak of the war. Although hostilities only commenced on 10 October 1899, the first squadron of New South Wales Lancers arrived in Cape Town on 2 November to join the British force assembled under the command of General Sir Redvers Henry Buller. The Lancers had been training in England at the time, and were quickly dispatched to southern Africa as soon as permission was received from the Government of New South Wales.[1]

By 22 November the Lancers were already conducting patrols, and were soon attacked near Belmont, where they forced their attackers to withdraw after inflicting serious casualties upon them. The NSW Lancers were again called into action at the Battle of Modder River, where along with Lord Methuen’s British column, they attempted to relieve the siege of Kimberley. Although they forced the Boers to retreat, the British suffered heavy casualties in the attempt, and also had to withdraw, allowing the Boers to re-establish their trench lines.[9]

As they had less distance to travel, the Western Australian contingent, consisting solely of the 1st Western Australian Mounted Infantry arrived in mid-November, were the first to arrive directly from Australia, and were quickly dispatched for Natal.[8] On 26 November, the first contingents of infantry from South Australia (1st South Australian Mounted Rifles), Tasmania (Tasmanian Mounted Infantry), Victoria (1st Victorian Mounted Rifles) and Western Australia arrived in Cape Town, and despite retaining their own independent commands, for logistical reasons they were designated as the '1st Australian Regiment', and came under overall command of Major-General Sir John Charles Hoad. The 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry had also arrived to join them by mid-December. Another mounted infantry unit from New South Wales, known as the 1st Australian Horse, also arrived in December. Despite their name, they were raised purely from within the Colony of New South Wales, although this unit would go on to become the precursor of the first Australian Light Horse unit. Hoad ordered the combined force to ride north towards the Orange River, where they were to link up with the Kimberley Relief Force under Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen.[1]

Although they were in the Cape Colony at the time, no units from the Australian colonies were involved in the Black Week between 10–17 December, in which Britain suffered three successive defeats at the Battle of Stormberg, the Battle of Magersfontein, and the Battle of Colenso. The Boers knew that Empire forces would be sent to reinforce the British positions, and so sought to strike quickly against them.[8]

By mid-December, the first two contingents of New South Wales Mounted Rifles (A Squadron and E Squadron), and the first contingent of Queensland Mounted Infantry (1st Queensland Mounted infantry) had both also arrived directly from Australia.[9]

Aboriginal trackers[edit]

Between 1899 and 1902, approximately 50 Aboriginal trackers went to South Africa to serve with the British forces against the Boers, after being personally requested by Lord Kitchener.[10] The role that they played during the war has been detailed in the book The Black Trackers of Bloemfontein by Indigenous historian David Huggonson.[11]

Nevertheless, according to the Indigenous Histories website, the exact number of trackers who served is unknown and there are few details about them, although there are brief snippets of information that can be found. In the months prior to the departure of the Federal Contingent on 18 February 1902,[12] a short article titled "The Melbourne Enrolment" appeared in The Queenslander on 25 January 1902, stating that: "the number of men so far attested for the Federal Contingent is 212. Two black trackers. Davis and F. King, have been taken on the strength".[12] The contingent sailed on 18 February 1902 and about a month after, a photograph appeared in the Town and Country Journal, which included the description of a man labelled "F King Black Tracker".[13]

According to Dale Kerwin, an Indigenous research fellow at Griffith University, such is the lack of information that is available about the trackers it is even uncertain as to whether they returned to Australia at the end of the war. He has claimed that at the end of the war in 1902 when the Australian contingents returned the trackers may not have been allowed back to Australia due to the White Australia Policy.[10]

Counter-offensives[edit]

Lord Roberts enters the city of Kimberley following the relief of the besieged city in February 1900

The beginning of 1900 saw the first Australian contingents deploying to the north of the Cape Colony. The new year begun much as the previous one had ended though, with the British suffering a further defeat at the Battle of Spion Kop on 23 and 24 January, adding to the set-backs of Black Week. Despite the defeat at Spion Kop, reinforcements were flooding in from both Britain and the Empire. The 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, 'A' Field Battery of the NSW Artillery, the NSW Medical Team, and the 2nd Victorian Mounted Rifles all arrived in February, and the 2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry arrived in March.[8] These Australian units joined the British forces being assembled by Lord Roberts, who had replaced General Buller in January, following concerns over his leadership through the bleak losses of the previous December.[9]

Lord Roberts was placed in command of a five-division strong force of reinforcements sent to launch a counter-invasion of the Orange Free State. By mid-February his force amounted to over 180,000 men, the largest British expeditionary force deployed on overseas operations up to that date.[8] His original plan had involved his column conducting an offensive north along the railway from Cape Town to Bloemfontein, and onto Pretoria. When they progressed north, the discovered the beleaguered forces under siege at Ladysmith and Kimberley. Upon discovering the nature of the situation with the sieges, Roberts broke his force up into several detachments to deal with each of the sieges. One force was commanded by Lieutenant-General John French, and consisted primarily of cavalry. French’s detachment also included the New South Wales Lancers, Queensland Mounted Infantry, and New South Wales Army Medical Corps.[14]

The British victory at Modder River had finally permitted the relief of Kimberley, and the retreating Boers were chased down and again engaged at the Battle of Paardeberg which took place between 18 and 27 February 1900. The New South Wales Mounted Rifles and 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry both took part in this engagement, with the NSW Rifles managing to capture the Boer General Piet Cronjé. His capture caused a massive blow to Boer morale over the rest of the conflict. The British column broke the siege of Ladysmith on 28 February, and entered Bloemfontein on 13 March. Despite suffering heavy casualties from both battle and disease, the British continued to drive on towards Pretoria.[9]

The second wave of units from the Australian colonies began to arrive in April. This wave consisted primarily of the Bushmen contingents. The men for these newly raised units were recruited from a wide range of locales and had been primarily funded through either public subscription, or the donations of wealthy citizens who wished to been seen as contributing to the war effort.[2] These units were again mounted infantry, and consisted of men with a natural skill at horsemanship, riflery and bushcraft who were thought to be able to counter the skills of the Boer Commandoes.[15] The 1st Bushmen Contingent (NSW), The Queensland Citizen Bushmen, The South Australian Citizen Bushmen, The Tasmanian Citizen Bushmen, The Victorian Citizen Bushmen, and the Western Australian Citizen Bushmen all landed and headed towards Rhodesia in April.[1]

The Relief of Ladysmith. Sir George Stuart White greets Major Hubert Gough on 28 February. Painting by John Henry Frederick Bacon (1868–1914)

By May, the Australian contingents numbered over 3,000, and they were involved in the thick of the fighting, including the action at Driefontein, and the Relief of Mafeking on 17 May, which provoked wild celebrations on the streets of London. The third contingents from the Australian colonies had also begun to arrive in southern Africa. These were ‘Imperial Bushmen’ units, which were identical in composition, recruitment and structure as the preceding ‘bushmen’ units, except that they had been funded by the Imperial government in London as opposed to local subscription and donation. The British government had been so impressed by the performance of the Australian units that they had decided to fund the raising of additional units.[1]

An outbreak of typhoid badly affected the British and Empire forces, but they were soon able to resume their campaign. Roberts’ column was again halted briefly at Kroonstad due to problems with supplies, but after 10 days they continued the push towards Johannesburg. On 28 May The Orange Free State was formally annexed, and renamed as the Orange River Colony. By 30 May, Johannesburg had also fallen into the hands of Lord Roberts’ force, and four days later the Boers were retreating from Pretoria. Men from all of the Australian units were in some way involved in the taking of Johannesburg.[9] Pretoria, the capital of Transvaal Republic fell into British hands on 5 June. The first men into Pretoria, were the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, whose commander, Lt. William Watson persuaded the Boers to surrender the capital.[16] Heavy fighting soon again broke out in the Battle of Diamond Hill on 11 and 12 June, fought to prevent the Boer reinforcements from recapturing Pretoria. Men from each of the Australian contingents, most notable the New South Wales, and Western Australian Mounted Rifles all took part in this battle, which was seen as a victory by both sides. Lord Roberts was please to have forced the Boers to retreat from Pretoria, but the forces of Louis Botha had inflicted heavy casualties on the British forces.[8]

Orange Free State President Martinus Theunis Steyn, and President Paul Kruger of the South African Republic, had both retreated with surviving elements of their governments, into eastern Transvaal. Roberts was determined to capture the rebel presidents to end any opposition to British rule. He joined up with Buller’s remaining forced from Natal, and advanced into the eastern Transvaal against them.[1]

The British met a 5,000 strong Boer force under General Louis Botha at the Battle of Bergendal which lasted from 21 to 27 August, and would prove to be the last set-piece battle of the war. Despite fierce resistance, the Boers were overwhelmed by the 20,000 strong British force. The broken Boers retreated from the field, and the next day, 28 August, the British marched into Machadodorp, hoping to capture the Boer presidents. They had already left for Nelspruit, where the temporarily established their governments. With the British still in pursuit, Kruger and his former Transvaal government ministers were nearly cornered. However the Queen of the Netherlands felt a high degree of sympathy towards the Boers, and offered Kruger a means of escape. Ignoring a Royal Navy blockade, 20 year old Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands sent the Dutch warship De Gelderland to their rescue. Kruger escaped to lived in exile in Switzerland, but died there in 1904.[17]

The Battle of Bergendal had forced the Boers to abandon their hopes of achieving an outcome through direct, military confrontation of the enemy. But despite their defeats much of the Boer army remained intact, and Botha dispersed his men to Lydenburg and Barberton to begin a new phase of the conflict.[8]

With all of the major population centres under British control, Roberts declared the war to be over on 3 September 1900, and formally annexed the South African Republic, declaring all formerly Boer territory to be under British control.[17]

Guerrilla warfare phases[edit]

Australians and New Zealanders at Klerksdorp 24 March 1901 by Charles Hammond

The loss of the capitals did not deter the Boers. Instead, they moved their campaign into a phase of guerrilla warfare, in which Boer commandos operating in small groups, picked off men through sniping, disrupted troop movements and supply lines, and launched ambush attacks on individual or isolated units, or launched larger-scale raids against important targets.[17]

Realising the campaign had been progressing well for the British, the Boer commanders had earlier met in secret in Kroonstad, and planned out their guerrilla campaign against British supply and communication lines. The first major attack of this new phase was the attack at Sanna's Post on 31 March 1900, in which Boer commander Christiaan de Wet led a force of 2,000 commandos from the former Orange Free State in a major attack on Bloemfontein’s waterworks system 23 miles (37 km) east of the city. In the same attack they also ambushed a British convoy killing 155 British soldiers, and capturing seven guns, 117 wagons and 428 prisoners.[17]

To sustain their guerrilla campaign, the Boers needed a regular supply of food, ammunition and equipment. In an effort to obtain such supplies, Koos de la Rey led a 3,000 strong Boer attack on the British post at Brakfontein on the Elands River in Western Transvaal on 4 August 1900. At the time, it was lightly defended by 300 Australians, comprising 105 New South Wales Citizens' Bushmen, 141 3rd Queensland Mounted Infantry, 2 Tasmanian Bushmen, 42 Victorian Bushmen, and 9 West Australian Bushmen, as well as an additional 201 Rhodesian Volunteers.[1] De le Rey’s force surrounded the outpost, but magnanimously offered to deliver the Australians to the nearest British position unharmed if they surrendered the supplies they were guarding. The commanding officer of the Australians, Colonel Charles Hore, replied to de la Rey:

The Boers proceeded to bombard the Australian position with artillery fire. In two days they fired over 2,500 shells at the Elands River outpost. The defenders suffered 32 casualties, but continued to repulse any attempt to seize the outpost. The Boers turned back a relief force sent to assist the Australians, but were unable to take the position itself. After 11 days without success, and with the prospect of further reinforcements arriving, the Boers broke their siege and withdrew. The Australians and Rhodesians had successfully defended the Elands River outpost, and were eventually relieved on 16 August.[9] The Boer commander, Koos de la Rey, was quoted as saying:

In response to the Boers desperate need of supplies, the British command changed tactics, adopting a counter-insurgency approach. They established heavily defended blockhouses along supply-lines, and used a scorched earth policy, burning houses and crops, and interning Boers in concentration camps. This caused the costs of the campaign to rise dramatically, and began to have a negative impact on the popularity of the campaign amongst ordinary Australians. Some even started to feel sympathy for the Boers.[1]

Formation of the Commonwealth[edit]

Troops of 1st Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse in the Transvaal 1902
The first version of the Rising Sun badge first appeared during the Second Boer War.

The Commonwealth of Australia came into existence on 1 January 1901 as a result of the federation of the Australian colonies, and defence was made a responsibility of the new centralised, federal government. This brought about the creation of the Department of Defence, and two months later on 1 March 1901, the formation of the Australian Army.[8]

All existing military units of each of the six colonies were transferred into the Australian Army, which at the time of formation consisted of 28,923 colonial soldiers, including 1,457 professional soldiers, 18,603 paid militia and 8,863 unpaid volunteers, including those on active service in South Africa. For practical reasons, and so as not to disrupt the ongoing war effort in South Africa, individual units continued to be administered under the various colonial Acts until the Defence Act 1903 brought all of the units under one piece of legislation.[8]

In reality the only clear indication of the Australian men’s new allegiance to the Commonwealth, was in the form of hat-badge changing ceremonies that took place in the field.[20] The colonial troop’s original badges of their home colony were replaced with Rising Sun Badges, the symbol of the newly formed Australian Army.[8] It was also not practical or economical for the men to adopt a single uniform, or standardise equipment, and so each colonial unit continued to utilise their original uniforms and equipment.[20][21]

After Federation in 1901, eight Australian Commonwealth Horse battalions of the newly created Australian Army were also sent to South Africa, although they saw little fighting before the war ended.[22] Some Australians later joined local South African irregular units, instead of returning home after discharge. These soldiers were part of the British Army, and were subject to British military discipline. Such units included the Bushveldt Carbineers which gained notoriety as the unit in which Harry "Breaker" Morant and Peter Handcock served in before their court martial and execution for war crimes.[23]

Closing stages[edit]

Harry 'Breaker' Harbord Morant, whose execution caused an increase in anti-war sentiment in Australia.
A surviving blockhouse in South Africa. Blockhouses were constructed by the British to secure supply routes from Boer raids during the war.

By the beginning of 1901, British forces were in control of almost all Boer territory, with the exception of some zones in northern Transvaal. While the Boers continued to conduct raids against British infrastructure and supply lines, their ability to disrupt British operations, or launch significant attacks had been totally reduced. Boers returned to their local districts in the hope that locals that knew them would offer sustenance and support. Although the Boers continued to hit back when they could, once the armies were dispersed their effectiveness diminished greatly.[1] By mid-1901, the bulk of the fighting was over, and British mounted units would ride at night to attack Boer farmhouses or encampments, overwhelming them with superior numbers. Indicative of warfare in last months of 1901, the New South Wales Mounted Rifles traveled 1,814 miles (2,919 km) and were involved in thirteen skirmishes, killing 27 Boers, wounding 15, and capturing 196 for the loss of 5 dead and 19 wounded.[2] Other notable Australian actions included Sunnyside, Slingersfontein, Pink Hill, Rhenosterkop and Haartebeestefontein.[2]

By 1902 British and colonial forces were concentrating on denying the Boers movement. Using the blockhouses, armoured trains, concentration camps, and denial of supplies, the British eventually began to starve the Boers into submission. The British began to utilise ‘sweeper columns’ on mounted infantry that ranged across entire districts, hunting and harassing any armed men they could find.[2]

The British policy of containment and dispersal had been highly effective, and by March 1902, all significant opposition from the Boers had ended. In March, the British offered peace terms, but these were rejected by Louis Botha. Suffering from disease and starvation, the last of the Boers surrendered in May, and on 31 May 1902, thirty delegates from the former South African Republic and Orange Free State met British officials in Vereeniging to discuss terms. Out of the negotiations Jan Smuts and Lord Kitchener produced the Treaty of Vereeniging (also known as the Peace of Vereeniging), in which the Boer republics agreed to end hostilities, surrender their independence, and swear allegiance to the crown. In exchange, a general amnesty would be granted, no death penalties would be administered, and Dutch and Afrikaans would be permitted in schools and courts.[24]

Although a brief period of self-government as British dominions followed, Cape Colony, Colony of Natal, Orange River Colony, and Transvaal were soon abolished by the South Africa Act 1909, which created a new British dominion over the whole of southern Africa, known as the Union of South Africa.[3]

Conclusion[edit]

Troops from the Australian colonies were widely considered to be the most effective on the British side, and with a higher degree of bush craft, horsemanship and riflery that many British units, were best able to match the Boers tactics of high mobility warfare.[25]

Australians were not always successful however, suffering a number of heavy losses late in the war. On 12 June 1901, the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles lost 19 killed and 42 wounded at Wilmansrust, near Middleburg after poor security allowed a force of 150 Boers to surprise them. Three of the Australians were subsequently court-martialled for inciting mutiny.[26][27][28] On 30 October 1901, Victorians of the Scottish Horse Regiment also suffered heavy casualties at Gun Hill, although 60 Boers were also killed in the engagement. Meanwhile at Onverwacht[disambiguation needed] on 4 January 1902, the 5th Queensland Imperial Bushmen lost 13 killed and 17 wounded.[23] Ultimately the Boers were defeated however, and the war ended on 31 May 1902.[2]

In all 16,175 Australians served in South Africa, and perhaps another 10,000 enlisted as individuals in Imperial units; casualties included 251 killed in action, 267 died of disease and 43 missing in action, while a further 735 were wounded. In all likelihood, the total number of men from the Australian colonies to have served in the Second Boer War is probably between 20,000 and 25,000, making it the second largest contingent behind British troops.[29][30] Five Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross. These were Neville Howse of the New South Wales Army Medical Corps; Trooper John Hutton Bisdee of the Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen; Lieutenant Guy Wylly of the Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen; Lieutenant Frederick William Bell of the West Australian Mounted Infantry; and Lieutenant Leslie Cecil Maygar of the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles.[31]

Australian units involved in the Boer War[edit]

New South Wales[edit]

Name Type Commander Strength Service period Casualties Notes
New South Wales Lancers Cavalry Capt CF Fox / Maj GL Lee 112 (+58) Nov 1899– 6 Dec 1900 2 KIA, 3 DFD
New South Wales Army Medical Corps Medical Col WDC Williams 86 Dec 1899 – Dec 1900 2 DFD Neville Howse awarded the VC
'A' Squadron NSW Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry Maj JM Antill 104 Dec 1899 – Dec 1900 3 KIA
New South Wales Mounted Infantry (later "E"Sqn) Mounted Infantry (+ 1 machine gun section) Capt JG Legge 126 Dec 1899 – Dec 1900 7 KIA
First Australian Horse Cavalry Lt WV Dowling / Cap RR Thompson / Capt JFM Wilkinson 143 Dec 1899 – Mar 1901 3 KIA, 7 DFD
'A' Bty. New South Wales Artillery Artillery Col SCU Smith / Maj EA Anthill 175 (+44) / 6 guns Feb 1900 – Aug 1901 1 KIA, 2 DFD
First New South Wales Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry Lt Col GC Knight 405 Feb 1900 – Mar 1901 10 KIA, 13 DFD Absorbed A and E Sqns
New South Wales Citizens' Bushmen Mounted Infantry Lt Col HP Airey / Maj JF Thomas 525 Apr 1900 – Apr 1901 17 KIA, 13 DFD
New South Wales Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Col JAK Mackay / Lt Col H Le Mesurier 762 May 1900 – May 1901 13 KIA, 9 DFD
Second New South Wales Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry (+ 1 machine gun section) Lt Col HB Lassetter 1050 Apr 1901 – Apr 1902 30 KIA
Third New South Wales Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Lt-Col R Carrington 1000 May 1901 – May 1902 4 KIA, 18 DFD
Third New South Wales Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry (+ 1 machine gun section) Lt-Col C F Cox 1017 Apr 1901 – April 1902 7 KIA, 32 DFD
Special Service Officers (NSW)

Queensland[edit]

Name Type Commander Strength Service period Casualties Notes
1st Queensland Mounted Infantry Mounted Infantry Lt-Col PR Ricardo 262 Dec 1899 – Dec 1900 4 KIA, 5 DFD
2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry Mounted Infantry Lt-Col K Hutchison / Maj HG Chauvel 144 Mar 1900 – Mar 1901 0
Queensland Citizen Bushmen
(later) 3rd Queensland Mounted Infantry / 2nd Bushmen Regiment
Mounted Infantry Maj WH Tunbridge 316 Apr 1900 – Apr 1901 3 KIA, 5 DFD
Queensland Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Lt-Col A Aytoun / Maj WT Deacon 387 Jun 1900 – Jun 1901 8 KIA, 5DFD
5th Queensland Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry / Bicycle Infantry Lt-Col JF Flewell-Smith / Maj FW Toll 529 Apr 1900 – Mar 1902 26 KIA, 4 DFD, 3 FF Initially arrived with 3 mounted squadrons and 1 cyclist company
6th Queensland Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Lt-Col OA Tunbridge 404 May 1901 – Apr 1902 7 KIA, 5 DFD
7th Queensland Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Cap RB Echlin / Lt AD Chrichton 99 Oct 1900 – Apr 1900 2 KIA, 7th Contingent was in fact drafts for 5th and 6th Contingents
Special Service Officers (Queensland)

South Australia[edit]

Name Type Commander Strength Service period Casualties Notes
1st South Australian Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry Maj FH Howland 127 Nov 1899 – Oct 1900 2 KIA, 3 DFD
2nd South Australian Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry Maj CJ Reade 119 Mar 1900 – Mar 1901 0 KIA, 4 DFD
South Australian Nurses Nurses Sis MS Bismead 9 Mar 1900 – Mar 1902 0
South Australian Citizens' Bushmen Mounted Infantry Cap SG Hubbe† / Cap AE Collins 99 Apr 1900 – Apr 1901 3 KIA, 0 DFD
South Australian Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Lt-Col J Rowell 234 Jun 1900 – Jun 1901 6 KIA, 3 DFD
5th South Australian Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Maj W Scriven / Maj HLD Wilson 316 Mar 1901 – Mar 1902 9 KIA, 10 DFD Amalgamated with 6th SA Imperial Bushmen in May 1901 under Maj JSM Shea
6th South Australian Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Ca AF Cornish / Maj FW Hurcombe 136 May 1901 – Mar 1902 3 KIA, 3 DFD Amalgamated with 5th SA Imperial Bushmen in May 1901 under Maj JSM Shea
Special Service Officers (South Australia)

Tasmania[edit]

Name Type Commander Strength Service period Casualties Notes
Tasmanian Mounted Infantry Mounted Infantry Maj C St C Cameron 84 (+47) Nov 1899 – Nov 1900 4 KIA, 5 DFD
Tasmanian Citizen Bushmen Mounted Infantry Lt-Col ET Wallack / Cap AH Rigall / Lt WH Lowther 52 Apr 1900 – Apr 1901 1 KIA, 0 DFD
1st Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Maj RC Lewis / Cap AA Sale / Maj RC Lewis 122 Jun 1900 – Jun 1901 4 KIA, 2 DFD Trooper John Hutton Bisdee, and Lieutenant Guy Wylly both awarded VC
2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen Mounted Infantry Lt-Col ET Watchorn 253 May 1901 – May 1902 2 KIA, 4DFD
Special Service Officers (Tasmania)

Victoria[edit]

Name Type Commander Strength Service period Casualties Notes
1st Victorian Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry Maj GA Eady / Maj D McLeish / Col T Price 250 Nov 1899 – Oct 1900 9 KIA, 7 DFD
2nd Victorian Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry Col T Price 265 Feb 1900 – Dec 1900 2 KIA, 7 DFD
Victorian Citizen Bushmen Mounted Infantry Maj WW Dobbin 251 Apr 1900 – Apr 1901 8 KIA, 7 DFD
Victorian Nurses Nurses Sis M Rawson 10 Apr 1900 – Mar 1901 1 DFD
Victorian Imperial Bushmen (Australian Imperial Regiment) Mounted Infantry Lt W Kelly 631 May 1900 – Jun 1901 8 KIA, 6 DFD
5th Victorian Mounted Rifles Mounted Infantry Col AE Otter / Maj W McKnight / Maj TF Umphelby 1018 Mar 1901 – Mar 1902 36 KIA, 13 DFD Lt Leslie Maygar awarded VC
Recruits for Scottish Horse Mounted Infantry
Special Service Officers (Victoria)

Western Australia[edit]

Name Type Commander Strength Service period Casualties Notes
1st Western Australian Mounted Infantry Mounted Infantry Maj HG Moor† / Cap FMW Parker 130 Nov 1899 – Oct 1900 5 KIA, 1 DFD
2nd Western Australian Mounted Infantry Mounted Infantry Maj HL Pilkington 103 Mar – Nov 1900 0
Western Australian Citizen Bushmen' Mounted Infantry Maj HG Vialls 116 Apr 1900 – Apr 1901 2 KIA, 2 DFD
Western Australian Nurses Nurses Sup MA Nicolay 11 Apr 1900–1901 0
4th Western Australian Mounted Infantry (Imperial Bushmen) Mounted Infantry Maj J Rose 132 Jun 1900 – Jun 1901 3 KIA, 0 DFD
5th Western Australian Mounted Infantry Mounted Infantry Cap HF Darling 221 Apr 1901 – Apr 1902 6 KIA, 3 DFD
6th Western Australian Mounted Infantry Mounted Infantry Cap J Campbell 228 May 1901 – Apr 1902 10 KIA, 4 DFD Lieutenant Frederick William Bell awarded the VC

Commonwealth of Australia[edit]

Name Type Commander Strength Service period Casualties Notes
1st Australian Commonwealth Horse Mounted Infantry Lt-Col JS Lyster (QLD) 560 Mar–May 1902 0 KIA, 8 DFD 4 & ½ mounted rifle sqns (3 NSW, 1 QLD, ½ TAS)
2nd Australian Commonwealth Horse Mounted Infantry Lt-Col D McLeish (VIC) 553 Mar–May 1902 0 KIA, 1 DFD 4 & ½ mounted rifle sqns (3 VIC, 1 SA, ½ WA)
Commonwealth Army Medical Corps Medical Maj TA Green (NSW)/Maj NR Howse (NSW) 183 Mar – May 1902 0 recruited from NSW, QLD, SA, VIC, WA
3rd Australian Commonwealth Horse Mounted Infantry Lt-Col ET Wallack (TAS) / Lt-Col Wallace (VIC) 615 Apr 1902 0 KIA, 9 DFD 5 mounted rifle sqns (3 NSW, 1 QLD, 1 TAS); did not see action
4th Australian Commonwealth Horse Mounted Infantry Lt-Col GJ Johnstone (VIC) 492 Mar – Apr 1902 0 KIA, 2 DFD 5 mounted rifle sqns (3 VIC, 1 SA, 1 WA); did not see action
5th Australian Commonwealth Horse Mounted Infantry Lt-Col JW Macarthur-Onslow (NSW) 487 0 4 mounted rifle sqns (all NSW); arrived after war ended
6th Australian Commonwealth Horse Mounted Infantry Lt-Col GCH Irving (VIC) 489 0 KIA, 4 DFD 4 mounted rifle sqns (all VIC); arrived after war ended
7th Australian Commonwealth Horse Mounted Infantry Lt-Col HG Chauvel (QLD) 490 0 KIA, 4 DFD 4 mounted rifle sqns, (all QLD); arrived after war ended
8th Australian Commonwealth Horse Mounted Infantry Lt-Col H Le Mesurier (NSW) 485 0 KIA, 3 DFD 4 mounted rifle sqns (2 SA, 1 WA, 1 TAS); arrived after war ended

Australians also fought in the following units which were either privately raised or were raised in South Africa, but were not official units of the Australian colonies, or of the Commonwealth of Australia:

Timeline of the Australian contribution to the Second Boer War[edit]

1899
  • 2 November – First Australians Arrive in South Africa
  • 19 November – Belmont / Modder River
1900
  • 1 January – Sunnyside
  • 11 February – Kimberley
  • 3 May – Bloemfontein
  • 5 May – Coetzee’s Drift
  • 16 May – Mafeking
  • 28 May – Johannesberg
  • 1 June – Pretoria
  • 12 June – Diamond Hill
  • 4 August – Elands River
1901
  • 29 March – Rhenosterkop
  • 8 April – Pietersburg
  • 15 April – Middleberg
  • 12 June – Wilmansrust Incident
  • 16 September – Spelonken Incident
1902
  • 1 April – Newcastle
  • 19 April – Klerksdorp
  • 7 May – Vryburg
  • August – Last contingents sail for Australia

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k R.L. Wallace, Australians at the Boer War, AGPS, Canberra, 1976.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Australia and the Boer War, 1899–1902". Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Thompson, L. The Unification of South Africa 1902–1910, Oxford University Press 1960
  4. ^ "Mauser". Mafinkeng Siege Cultural Website. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  5. ^ "Boer Commando System". Anglo Boer War.com. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  6. ^ a b Reitz, Deneys (1930). Commando: A Boer Journal of the Boer War. London: Faber and Faber.
  7. ^ "Siege of Ladysmith, 2 November 1899-27 February 1900". Military History Encyclopedia on the Web. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Grey, Jeffrey (2008). A Military History of Australia (Third ed.). Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Odgers, George (1994). Diggers: The Australian Army, Navy and Air Force in Eleven Wars 1. London: Lansdowne. ISBN 978-1-8630-2385-6. OCLC 31743147. 
  10. ^ a b "The Full Story: Claims 50 Aboriginal trackers left behind during the Boer War". ABC News. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  11. ^ "Army Trackers abandoned and left to find their own way home". Treaty Republic. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  12. ^ a b "Aboriginal Trackers: Boer War". Indigenous Histories. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  13. ^ "The First Federal Contingent, The New South Wales and Queensland Companies". Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, New South Wales: 1870–1907). 15 February 1902. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  14. ^ Odgers, George (1994). 100 Years of Australians at War. Sydney: Lansdowne.
  15. ^ Deasey, David The Australian Bushmen of 1900 Monumentally Speaking newsletter of the NSW—National Boer War Memorial Association No. 21 March 2014
  16. ^ Craig Wilcox, Australia's Boer War, Oxford University Press, 2002.
  17. ^ a b c d Neil G. Speed, Born to Fight, Caps & Flints Press, Melbourne, 2002. (an Australian Maj. Charles Ross DSO who served with Canadian Scouts)
  18. ^ Murray, PL (1911). Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa. Melbourne: Australian Government Printers
  19. ^ Murray, PL (1911). Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa. Melbourne: Australian Government Printers
  20. ^ a b "Anglo-Boer War 1899–1902 The Australian Regiments". The Anglo-Boer War Study Group of Australia's EXHIBITION GALLERY No. 1. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  21. ^ Festburg, Alfred S. and Barry J. Videon: Uniforms of the Australian Colonies: Hill of Content Publishing: Melbourne, 1971
  22. ^ Odgers 1994, p. 32.
  23. ^ a b Odgers 1994, p. 48.
  24. ^ "Peace of Vereeniging". Wikisource. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  25. ^ "Boer War". Digger Info. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  26. ^ King, Jennifer. "Search for family of accused Boer War mutineer after WWI service medal found". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Commission. Retrieved 16 February 2014. 
  27. ^ Odgers 1994, p. 47.
  28. ^ Grey 2008, p. 62
  29. ^ Grey 1999, p. 61.
  30. ^ Grey 2008, p. 57 and pp. 63–64.
  31. ^ Grebert, R. Australian Victoria Cross Recipients

References[edit]

  • Bufton, (1905), Tasmanians in the Transvaal War.
  • Dennis, Peter; et al. (1995). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-553227-9.
  • Dennis, Peter; et al. (2008). The Oxford Companion to Australian Military History (Second ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia & New Zealand. ISBN 978-0-19-551784-2.
  • Festburg, Alfred S. and Barry J. Videon (1971). Uniforms of the Australian Colonies: Hill of Content Publishing: Melbourne.
  • Field, LM (1979). The Forgotten War: Australian Involvement in the South African Conflict of 1899–1902. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
  • Grebert, R (1990). Australian Victoria Cross Recipients.
  • Grey, Jeffrey (1999). A Military History of Australia (Second ed.). Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64483-6.
  • Grey, Jeffrey (2008). A Military History of Australia (Third ed.). Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-69791-0.
  • Murray, P.L. (1911). Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa. Melbourne: Department of Defence. OCLC 13323046. 
  • Neil G. Speed (2002). Born to Fight, Caps & Flints Press, Melbourne. (an Australian Maj. Charles Ross DSO who served with Canadian Scouts) ISBN 0-9581356-0-6.
  • Odgers, George (1994). 100 Years of Australians at War. Sydney: Lansdowne. ISBN 1-86302-669-X.
  • Reay, WT (1901). Australians in War: With the Australian Regiment from Melbourne to Bloemfontein. Melbourne: Massina.
  • Thompson, L. (1960). The Unification of South Africa 1902–1910, Oxford University Press.
  • Wallace, Robert (1912) The Australians at the Boer War. Melbourne: Australian Government Printers.
  • Wilcox, Craig (2002). Australia's Boer War. The War in South Africa 1899–1902. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-551637-0.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]