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Sunnyside 1 January 1900

Sunnyside Farm 40 kilometres north of Belmont was the site of the first Australian combat death, Private (Trooper) Victor Stanley Jones of A Company, 1st Queensland Moumted Infantry contingent. We are pick up Private Conway Drew's diary, he gives a contemporary account of the action.

Sunday, 1 January 1900. We all wished each other a Happy New Century. We knew there would be some hard fighting done today.

Colonel Pilcher in command of the column formed the QMI together and addressed us. He said that we are now going on active service and gave us a few hints:

1. Take a tip from the enemy, when you stop throw up breastworks and don’t forget to cover the front with grass and bushes.
2. Go down when ordered and do not hesitate.
3. Take all the cover you can and do not expose yourself to the enemy.
4. Do not try to help the wounded when you are under fire.
5. Do not approach the firing line mounted on horseback.
6. Remember that the Boers are a wily foe, do not trust them or they will lead you into a trap.

As we advanced, a patrol of the enemy was seen. We dismounted, A Company (my company) advanced under cover. Lieutenant Aide with Privates Butler, Jones and Rose scouted forward. Some 20 metres from the party a group of Boers emerged from the tall grass. They fired. Lieutenant Aide was shot three times and is not expected to live; Jones was shot dead (the first Australian soldier to die in battle); a bullet grazed Butler’s head; two horses were shot dead.

Our guides captured Commandant Schultz commander of the Boer detachment.

We found the Boer camp at the foot of a kopje, they were at dinner when they saw us and quickly ran up the hill. The two 12 pounders and the Maxims took up positions to the right, the Fusiliers to the left. The artillery opened fire at 10 past 11 o’clock while we crawled through the tall grass to the foot of the kopje. At 11:30 we were ordered to charge, the slope was almost perpendicular with quite a few rocks. When we reached the top of the hill, the Boers wre not in sight, only some puffs of smoke from behind rocks revealing their firing positions. Private McLeod of B Company to our left fell seriously wounded. His falling inspired us, we charged with bayonets fixed. Bullets whistled around our heads like hail, our own Maxims were firing at us in error. The Boers seeing there was no go threw up a flag of truce, we surrounded them. I had never seen a more ragged crew, some had no boots on. We destroyed their arms and ammunition and took 44 prisoners. The rest of the force was not aware of our charge, a few Canadians made it to the top of the hill after the Boer Surrender, the victory was ours, the place was called “Sunnyside”.

There were 17 wounded Boers, we dressed their wounds, 17 had been killed. We took their horses, looted and burned their camp and wagons. The Boers were dressed as civilians carried a bag to hold ammunition and were armed with Martini-Henry rifles. In the camp we found fine clothes and jewellery. Real Boers do not speak English; the enemy were men of all nations, in one tent we found a Bible and books in English.

The battle had lasted five hours.

I was in one of three groups sent to bring forward our transport. When we returned we found our fellows camped at a Boer farmhouse. We ate well, killed twelve goats and sheep, made a clean sweep of the poultry, fed our horses on the framer’s hay and eventually made off with his cattle and horses.

I can honestly say it was the liveliest new years day I ever spent.

The QMI were at the relief of Douglas on the 2 January 1900

Australian Mounted Troops Involved Included:

1st Queensland Mounted Infantry

Reference: Private Conway Drew's diary. This website is the only known place of publication.

  

John Howells

 

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