Private No 128 Frederick Harper Booth, was a 19 year old grazier from Harkaway in Victoria, in the second Victorian contingent, (2nd Victorian Mounted Rifles) under Colonel Tom Price 28 December 1899. He had been born in Yorkshire in 1880 and came to Victoria at the end of that year with his family. Harkaway was once agricultural land South East of Melbourne but is now essentially an outer Melbourne suburb. He had served as a private soldier in the Victorian Mounted Rifles in the pre war militia.
He left for the war on the SS Euryalus 13 January 1900.
His unit saw service February – January 1901 in northern Cape Colony (part of the Hanover Road Field Force), Orange Free State, east Transvaal then west Transvaal; it joined with 1st Victorian Contingent April-September 1900.
Outside Bloemfontein on 1 April 1900, Booth noted in his diary that he had had to sleep in his clothes for the last six weeks during the march from Fauresmith to Koffeyfontein."
Moving north from Bloemfontein he noted in a letter published in the Argus 8 June 1900:
"25 April 1900 - We left Bloemfontein on Friday, and are now at Karee Siding, north of Bloemfontein. We crossed the Modder at the Glen. The fine railway bridge here has been blown up by the Boers. We are now right on the fighting line, and are further north than any other troops. We can see Brandford, about seven miles away, and five Boer laagers.
We see their patrols every day. There is a good deal of sniping, and some of both sides are wounded every day. We lost a patrol of four men last, night. They are either dead or prisoners. The Boers got a West Australian patrol yesterday-two shot, five wounded, and one prisoner. Every time we go out we are fired on, and any sheep or cattle we see between our lines and theirs we commandeer. We are trying to run them short of supplies. We get 'rats' when we are driving in sheep. I have not yet been hit, but have been under very heavy fire. Have been on sentry three nights running and feel very sleepy."
A later diary entry states:
"19 January 1901 whilst with a party sent to escort the unit mail in, we ran into trouble with the weather rather than Boers.
During the night heavy rain set in and when we started all the spruits were running a banker … the river rose 18 inches (46 cm) in 15 minutes. At the first drift we waded in ... and landed the bags safely. The last drift was very wide the current was too strong. As soon as the two leading mules entered the water they swerved and went with the current taking the Scotch cart over the weir. The two kaffir drivers had a rough time. It all occurred in a second; the mail bags started floating down with the stream and we had to gallop to get ahead to stop them a mile lower down… we stripped and rescued 19 bags leaving two missing. One happened to be our letters. It was found on the 22nd January after having been in the water for 4 days. Most of the letters were in good condition but some horribly mutilated."
Read more details of his service in his letters being used on the memorial HERE.
He returned on the SS Tongario arriving in Sydney and travelling by train to Melbourne 2/5/1901. He was presented with his QSA and Clasps Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill and Belfast by the Duke of York at Government House, Melbourne. Later he would have received the KSA clasp South Africa 1901.
After working for his father in the wool business before and after the war he travelled to London on the SS Persic to get more experience in 1904. He ended in the United States being employed as a wool buyer by an American company. He worked there during 1905/6. There he sent for his wife to be Mary Finley Towt (sister of Charles Towt 2VMR). They were married in Chicago 5 September 1906. He was sent back to open a Sydney office by his employer. He later set up his own wool buying and classing business initially in Reibey Place but during the 1930s he built Booth House at 44 Bridge St (opened 1938) to carry on the business F H Booth and Son. This building is an Art Deco building in what is described as the inter war functionalist style.
He died 22 January 1974 at ‘Oakfield’, Wahroonga NSW at the age of 93.
David Deasey with research by Rob Droogleaver
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