Military History of Australia During The Second Boer War - The Arrival of The Australians

The Arrival of The Australians

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. After Australia federated to become the Commonwealth of Australia, the men of the six separate colonial contingents were reorganised into new Commonwealth contingents. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

Read more about this topic:  Military History Of Australia During The Second Boer War

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