The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

 
 
Trooper (later Lieutenant) Alfred Du Frayer

One of the great mysteries from the records of awards to Australian Boer War soldiers is that of Trooper (later Lieutenant) Du Frayer’s scarf.

103 Pte A. H. Du Frayer (several alternative spellings, and rank is sometimes Tpr) joined C Squadron First NSW Mounted Rifles

A and E squadrons had left in the first NSW contingent. Squadrons B, C (Du Frayer’s) and D sailed from Sydney in the second contingent, departing 17.1.1900 on the Southern Cross. His unit served in seven significant actions for which he was awarded four clasps to attach to the ribbon of his Queen Victoria’s South Africa medal. During the second of these actions, at Karee, his conduct in rescuing a wounded fellow soldier was recognised by being awarded one of four scarves knitted by Queen Victoria herself. Pte Du Frayer was returned to Sydney to recover from enteric fever, arriving 17 September 1900.

The best description of Pte Du Frayer’s act of bravery is by RL Wallace in his 1976 book “Australians at the Boer War”, published by the Australian War Memorial and the Australian Government Publishing Service, page 184:

April 1900 in the Orange Free State

“At a farm near Karee, a railway siding north of Bloemfontein, the enemy surprised and fired on a NSW Mounted Rifles patrol. Private A H Du Frayer turned back to pick up a mate whose horse had been shot. For this action he was awarded one of the four scarves knitted by Queen Victoria for presentation to a colonial soldier from each of the Empire countries – Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa – who had distinguished himself in the field. Lord Roberts stated that ‘the selection for these gifts of honour was made by the officers commanding the contingents concerned, it being understood that gallant conduct in the field was to be the primary consideration."

The regimental citation describing Pte Du Frayer’s action read: “In April last when the regiment was on outpost duty near Karee, a reconnoitring patrol was sent out in the early morning. When approaching a farmhouse flying the white flag every precaution was taken, but seeing no-one about the men, numbering about 12, rode within the stone fence enclosure when they were immediately fired upon from within the house and also by a party of Boers concealed in a donga on the veldt.

The gateway was narrow but all succeeded in getting away safely except Pte Clark of “B” Squadron whose horse was shot dead and, in falling, stunned his rider. Du Frayer noticed his predicament and, turning back, galloped to Clark’s rescue. The gateway was only about 150 yards from the farmhouse, but Du Frayer dismounted, shook Clark into a semi-conscious state, and mounted again, got Clark up behind him, and finally out of danger. Pte Du Frayer was exposed to a heavy fire from both quarters previously mentioned.

The Scarf

Queen Victoria was well versed in heraldry and understood the language of the symbols (devices) and the artefacts on which they were painted used to convey both public and private meanings. Her Majesty was well known for her interest in the history of the large European network of her family, over which she appears to have held great authority.

Tradition of a scarf

In medieval times when knights wore armour it was difficult to distinguish them when they fought jousts. To assist in recognising her man, his lady gave him a scarf that she had lovingly hand woven and embroidered. She would publicly tie it to his helmet, around the handle of his lance, or over his shoulder.

Perhaps the lady concerned was not quite convinced about her knight’s ability or bravery. She might choose to wait until he proved victorious in the jousting contest before granting him her favour in the form of a kerchief or scarf.

The sport of jousting was one thing, but the needs for recognition changed when knights went into battle. Both sides needed to be able to distinguish those completely dressed in armour. The knights’ followers also needed to be able to keep track of their leader. And before the invention of telescopes, field commanders directing many units could only keep track of them by their flags and the leading knight’s colours. Again the scarf carrying well-known heraldic devices made this easier.

In modern armies the monarch may still grant royal recognition, for example we read of various UK units named “Queen’s Own …” Most regiments have preserved the symbols of their antecedents, however tenuous the link. In Australian forces with such a short history many of our arms use the same symbols as the British ones.

Queen Victoria’s personal tribute to four brave soldiers in the colonial forces was an extension of both traditions: recognition and reward.

During their visit to Australia in May 1901, the Duke and Duchess of York and Cornwall, soon to be King George V and Queen Mary, presented Du Frayer, who was still recovering from his illness, with the scarf at a royal review in Sydney. The couple had been invited to open the first Parliament of the new nation Australia.

It was during the period of Du Frayer’s leave that controversy began. Promoted to Lieutenant, Du Frayer planned to return to South Africa. While still in Sydney he also attempted to make social capital from his award by claiming a prominent place at society events. When he left newspaper columnists did not miss him.

Probably owing to the intense publicity given to the Scarf by the wearer, the "Sydney Bulletin" at this stage waxes somewhat satirical. In its edition of 29th June, 1901, is the following:-

"Lieutenant Du Frayer and his Scarf are a much-photoed pair in this town. Sometimes the scarf is pictured without the Lieutenant. Never the Lieutenant without the scarf. It is a homely brown thing - such as any old lady might knit - but it has the merit of being entirely the late Queen's work". AWM File of Research 569

After the war

Du Frayer’s family moved to South Africa, he served in the SA army in WW1. Then in 1938 Du Frayer petitioned Queen Mary (King George V died in 1936) to have the scarf recognised as the equivalent of the VC. Du Frayer died in 1940 but his son persisted in his father’s quest. In addition, the son wished to have a British pension awarded to his mother. The full story of the scarf is in the AWM online document: The Queen’s Scarf awarded to A. Du Frayer, AWM File of Research 569, 15 August 1956: http://www.awm.gov.au/encyclopedia/scarf/doc.php 

The British web site of the Queen’s Royal Surrey Association has additional information and a UK perspective on the scarves, including two excellent colour photographs. The Queen’s Royal Cipher (VRI) can be easily seen in the close up. Du Frayer’s name is mentioned in the article. http://www.queensroyalsurreys.org.uk/museum/agq_0109.html 

Can You Help?

The AWM’s interesting and detailed account of Du Frayer’s scarf was written in 1956. Perhaps you have some more or different information about the scarf itself or the Du Frayer Family.

The curators at the Australian War Memorial are eternal optimists, hoping against the odds that there is still material from the Boer War at the bottom of tin trunks, covered in a century’s dust in the loft of the barn or hidden from parents in secret places that only returning young soldiers would know. There is fear that the Victorian bushfires may have destroyed just such material. So next time you feel the urge to Spring clean…. Remember the AWM museum’s Boer War collection needs whatever you can find. http://www.awm.gov.au/

Keith Smith 2009


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