Thursday, 12 January 2017

He Could Ride, and Shoot

It was freezing on the veld as the Australian troops rode night after night to enforce British policy across the Boer territories of the Orange Free State and eastern Transvaal. This was what we now know as The Boer War.

Their mission was to “Sweep” the country to cut the Boer guerrillas off from the support of their families and farms. They rode at night and attacked the Boer farmhouses or encampments at dawn, destroying the farms, confiscating horses, cattle and wagons, and rounding up inhabitants, usually women and children who were taken to concentration camps where thousands died due to malnutrition and contagious diseases.

Horses and riders were exhausted from spending long periods in the saddle, trekking almost 3000kms and with little opportunity to bathe or change their clothes. Lice were a constant problem and temperatures on the veld ranged from relentlessly hot during the day and freezing cold at night.

George was an ideal recruit, having grown up on the outskirts of Sydney on land in the Kenthurst area. He was both good with a rifle and could rise a horse superbly, In fact, he was an amateur jockey at one point in his life. (We also know that during enlistment for WWI, he did the riding test for some of his mates). For enlistment, the troops needed to be aged between 20 and 40, 5’6” or taller, have a chest measurement of 34” or larger, and be unmarried.

George had enlisted with the Imperial 3rd Regiment N.S.Wales Mounted Rifles in Sydney on 27 February 1901. His Regimental Number was 2136 and he was a Trooper with B Squadron. His pay was 4 shillings a day or £6 – £6 4s per month (the national basic wage of £2 2s was introduced in 1907) and was assigned to Mrs Esther McArthur, his mother of Kenthurst via Parramatta. He was noted as being 19 years (he was actually 21), 5’8”, fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair with no marks or scars. The Regiment consisted of 37 officers, 980 other ranks and 1000 horses.

The Imperial 3rd Regiment N.S.Wales Mounted Rifles had embarked at Sydney on the transport “Maplemore” on 15 March 1901 and had arrived at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, on 12 April 1901 with 8 officers and 251 others troops. They saw just over 12 months service, leaving Cape Town on 4 May 1902 and reaching Sydney on 3 June. A total of 7 had been killed or died of wounds and 32 died of disease.

George was discharged on 13 June 1902. He was awarded the Queen’s South African Medal and was eligible for 3 clasps: Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal.

The British acquired the southern tip of Africa during the Napoleonic Wars which caused ongoing tension between them and the independent republics of Dutch-Afrikaner settlers who were known as Boers. The Boers moved north to settle new lands which became known as the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. Tensions continued throughout the 1800’s and in 1880/81, the two sides fought a war in which British army suffered several costly defeats. With the discovery of gold and diamonds in the Boer republics, tensions again rose with many British subjects flocking to the area seeking wealth. This tension led to the Boers attacking the British in 1899 to stop the influx and the possibly takeover of their republics. This second war was known as the Boer War, starting on 11 October 1899 and ending on 31 May 1902.
As part of the British Empire, Australia offered troops who were mainly mounted units but they were poorly trained. Our first contingents were raised by the Australian colonies and were made up mainly of men in the militia. The second contingents were bushmen, recruited from the public ad paid for by public subscription or wealthy individuals. The third were imperial bushmen were paid by the imperial Government in London. Then there were contingents raised by state governments after Federation and finally, close to the end of the war, the Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents were raised by the new government.
The conflict was divided into three phases: October to December 1899 when the British infantry army was defeated by the mobile Boer mounted troops; December 1899 to September 1900 with a British counter-offensive capturing most of the major towns and cities of South Africa; then the longest from September 1900 to May 1902 with guerrilla warfare between the British mounted troops and Boer irregulars.
Approximately 16,000 Australians took part in the Boer War.

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