The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

 
 
Private Rogie McFadzen

Fergus George (Rogie) McFadzen, was born on the 11th March 1881 in Nebo, 70 km south west of Mackay. Rogie was the fourth child of John McFadzen, an immigrant from Glenluce, Wigtownshire, Scotland. John, the owner of the Mt Flora copper mine, insisted his children receive an education so Rogie attended the Nebo provisional school from February 1885 until July 1894. Despite his forced education, by the age of fourteen when he started work on Plumtree station, he was an accomplished bushman, familiar with the customs and language of the local aborigines.

Early in 1900 he set off with a herd of horses destined for sale to the Queensland army in Brisbane. At a loose end when his droving duties ended Rogie travelled to Enoggera where he enlisted in the Fourth Queensland Contingent on the 8th May 1900 and was posted to ‘G’ Company with the rank of Private and regimental number of 358. He put his age up by two years to enlist as he had just turned 19.

His uniform consisted of khaki field service jacket, pants, puttees, hat, field service cap, greatcoat and boots as well as underwear, shaving gear and cleaning equipment. Cartridge belts and braces, and saddlery were also supplied. Recruits were allowed to keep their own horses. His Martini-Henry Rifle and bayonet was not issued until he arrived in South Africa. His pay records show he was paid 4/6d per day. Of this amount he drew one shilling and the balance was paid by allotment to his mother Mrs Esther McFadzen.

The Fourth Contingent was the first Regiment of Imperial Bushmen raised in Queensland. (QIB) Recruits were required to be good shots, good riders, and experienced practical bushmen, and to have good eyesight and hearing and sound health. To be aged between 21 and 38 years, with a minimum chest measurement of 34 inches, and height between 5 ft 6 inches and 5 ft11 inches, with weight not over 11 stone 10 pounds, and be able to pass a physical examination and preferably be unmarried. The unit consisted of 20 officers, 1 Medical Officer, 1 Veterinary Officer and a Chaplain, 61 N.C.O’s and 305 privates with 150 draught and 400 riding horses.

The horses of the 4th Contingent plus an additional 62 horses left camp with their handlers at intervals of thirty minutes from 4 am on Thursday the 17th of May. The remainder of the officers and men proceeded to Queen’s Wharf to take part in a march down Queen Street before boarding the steamer Otter for the trip to Pinkenba. Embarkation on the steamer Manchester Port was completed before dark and she anchored mid river over night before sailing from Brisbane on the 18th May 1900. They arrived at Beira in Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique) on the 14th June then proceeded to Port Elizabeth in Natal where they arrived on the 20th. After a change of orders they sailed for Cape Town where they disembarked on the 23rd June 1900. After a short rest at Maitland Camp they travelled by train to Pretoria in Transvaal and joined General Hamilton’s force.

On the 13th July their first casualty, Pte Duggan was shot dead while on patrol at Honen’s Nek. They saw action again at De Waggen Drift on the 16th. The next day the QIB were acting as the Division advance guard when the Boers opened fire from the cover of a kopje at a range of 200 yards. The first volley did not cause any causalities but hit over 30 horses. In the engagement that followed, Trooper Gardiner was wounded and Sergeant Maxwell was shot dead when going to his assistance. Fighting continued almost every day until the Boers made a stand at Bronkhorstpruit on the 22nd July. They shelled the column as they broke camp in the morning, from an entrenched position on a kopje. The engagement turned into an artillery duel. By the end of the day the division had captured a large number of prisoners and wagons but the Boers escaped with their guns intact.

From the 23rd July to the 20th August, after engagements at Honen’s Nek and Zilikat’s Nek, they chased De Wet’s force from Commando Nek through Zeekoe Heok and Oliphant’s Nek up the Maghatie’s Valley to Rustenburg to the west of Pretoria. Hamilton’s force then advanced towards Warmbad and skirmished at Krokodil Drift before returning to Pretoria on the 28th where they remained in camp at Daspoort until the 10th September. On the 31st August, while in camp, Rogie was sentenced to 7 days imprisonment by his commanding officer. [Re: RO 32/12]

A detachment joined General French’s eastern movement and the remainder joined General Ridley’s Column under the command of Col Hickman. From the 15th to the 23rd September they were again involved in operations around Maghatie’s Valley and in a skirmish at Zandfontein on the 25th Pte Clancy was killed and Lt Higson was seriously wounded. On the 28th Pte Young and Pte Hilder were killed in action.

They continued operations around Rustenberg until the 15th of October when they joined General Plumer’s Column at Jericho where Pte Lynd died from wounds received previously. On the 18th they moved camp to the Waterval district north of Pretoria. On the 21st with ‘G’ Company as advance guard they captured a Boer column with 12 men, 13 rifles, 7 wagons and women and children as well as 1300 head of cattle and 1700 sheep. The 22nd saw them surprise and capture a Boer laager of 40 men. They left one wagon with the women and children, burned the rest and took another 500 head of cattle.

On the night of the 23rd October about 1000 men camped at Jericho with a number of Boer prisoners and 5000 head of captured livestock. During the night the Boers moved two guns on to a kopje out of reach of the camps guns and shelled the camp. “One of our fellows was untying his horse bending down at his peg when a shell dropped over his shoulder but did not burst, knocking him over and blinding him with dust, but did not hurt him. The Boers dropped 50 shells into us. Our entire loss was 1 Kaffir boy and 1 bullock. We put this down to defective shells and soft sand, into which they sank fairly deep and very few bursting.” (In a letter from Lt A Bailey) It is believed the trooper involved was Pte FG McFadzen.

On the 25th all prisoners were handed over to British infantry for escort to Waterval and the following day they left with other British troops for Rustenburg. From then until the 14th January 1901 they were involved in continual operations west of Rustenberg on Zelons, Kosters, and Eland’s Rivers where there were several skirmishes with Boer forces and also at Oybrand’s Kraal, Roodepoort and Hartebeestfontein. They were confronted by increasing resistance from the Boers until on the 26th November had a pitched battle at Gibrand’s Kraal. They saw more action on the next two days and several times were engaged by heavy artillery fire. They drove them back about two miles each day until on the fourth day the Boers stood their ground.

The 29th of November saw the force of barely 2500 men involved in a heavy engagement at Rhenoster Kop with the commando of Ben Viljoen that numbered 4000 all told. The night before, the 4th QIB camped about 2 ½ miles from the Boer lines. At 6 am the QIB, the force advance guard, advanced over open ground without the sign of a tree or a rock. The Boer advance guard opened fire from the hill crest suported by fire from their ‘Long Toms’, but when the Queenslanders continued to advance the Boers retired with their guns. After dismounting ‘F’ and ‘H’ companies advanced on foot until they reached the skyline where heavy fire was opened on them. They lay down and crawled to within 300 yards of the enemy.

With the Boer riflemen firing from the protection of low stone kopjes, the Queenslanders held their position without cover for 13 hours. ‘G’ company advanced on the right by crawling 300 yards under heavy fire and on their right was the West Riding infantry. On the far left were the New Zealanders, Tasmanians, South Australians and Yeomanry, forming a battle line a mile long. A lot of the men were exposed to cross fire from three sides. When the ambulance men tried to recover the wounded the Boers fired on the wagons with their Red Cross flags plainly visible, causing many causalities amongst the Royal Army Medical Corps.

At 1 pm ‘G’ company and the Yeomanry were recalled from the line to rest until dark and then re-equipped, advanced to within 150 yards of the Boer positions where they dug in and held the position until dawn. A heavy fire was maintained by the Boers until 1.30 am when they retreated under the cover of darkness. The battle lasted 17 hours during which the 4th QIB had Pte AE Wright killed in action, although the Colonial force lost about 100 killed and wounded and the Boer force lost over 300 men.

The 4th contingent continued scouting in the area around Rhenoster Kop, Transvaal, for the next few weeks before again moving west to the Hammanskraal region, north of Pretoria, in late December 1900. Col Hickman’s brigade was broken up on the 18th January and the Queenslanders joined Lt Col Craddock’s brigade until transferred to Lt Col Jeffrey’s corps. Together with Craddock’s brigade they formed Plumer’s Force. On 31st January they camped near Balmoral. Their last casualty occurred on 3rd February at Grasfontein when Sgt Strang was killed in action. They had been in constant touch with the enemy and had suffered many casualties, both of men and horses, with remounts being obtained from time to time.

From the 3rd to the 7th of February they travelled by train from Balmoral to Naauwpoort in Cape Colony, where after drawing remounts and being refitted they set off after De Wett again on the 9th. Skirmishes occurred on the 12th and 13th and heavy engagements on the 13th and on the14th at Wolvekuilen. The next day De Wet’s heavy transport was captured along with a Maxim machine gun and a dozen men. They were joined by Col Crabbe’s and Col Henniker’s Columns on the 16th and on the 24th came in contact with the enemy near Pompean Pan, Orange River Colony. They pushed hard for 8 hours until the Boers had to abandon various field guns and they had captured thirty prisoners. That day they covered about 40 miles.

For most of February and March while chasing De Wet it was wet and cold. The 4th QIB had no blankets, wet and filthy clothes and little food, as they out ran their supply wagons. Food was rationed to 1 ½ biscuits for 4 ½ days and there was no fodder for the horses. Every mile on the road would see a horse go down from fatigue. The saddle and bridle would be transferred to a captured horse until it also collapsed.

The force obtained remounts at Hopetoun, Cape colony and marched to Orange River where they travelled by train to arrive on the 1st March at Springfontein. Operations continued in Orange River Colony as they proceeded to Winburg via Philippolis, Fauresmith and Pietersburg and then by train again from Smolldiel to arrive back in Pretoria on the 22nd March.

It is not known when, or if, Rogie was hospitalised as a result of the injuries he received at Jericho, but Rogie, with a few other invalided members of the 3rd and 4th Contingents left South Africa at the end of March and returned to Sydney on the 30th April 1901 on board the troopship Tongariro with the rearguard of the 2nd Contingent. After 38 hours on a train they arrived at Roma Street in Brisbane at 8 am on Friday the 5th May.

After under going a Medical Board later that day he was discharged in Brisbane on the 17th May 1901 medically unfit due to injuries received while on Active Service. Dr R Thomson reported he was practically blind in his right eye, but as he was in good health he was fit to return to his previous occupation. He was presented with the Queen’s South Africa Campaign Medal (No 266) with the Transvaal, Orange Free State and Cape colony clasps. [Discharge certificate and medals are currently in the possession of WJ McFadzen]

As well as the eight men killed in action, Pte Hastie was left in Sydney where he died from pneumonia on 24th May. Pte’s Dawes, Meredith, Poole and Bourke died in South Africa from Enteric Fever, Mcleod from Bronchitis and Butler from Heart disease. [The 4th QIB departed from East London on the Britannic on the 5th July and arrived in Brisbane on the 5th August 1901. The unit was disbanded on the 10th of August.]

Rogie rode the same horse throughout the campaign. It was a fine gelding from Oxford Downs Station, called Greytail. Greytail was a celebrated outlaw before he joined the army, but like all good soldiers became thoroughly disciplined and got his rider out of many a tight corner. Rogie’s one regret was that he had to shoot Greytail when leaving for Australia as he would not leave him to the tender mercies of the natives.

From an address by Field marshal lord Roberts to the Colonial Forces at Pretoria on the 13th October 1900: “… Officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Colonial Forces, overseas and local - It has often been my lot to thank men of the Regular Army for work they have done, but I never before had the pleasure of thanking volunteers for splendid work done in the field side by side with regular troops. What you have done will never be forgotten by Great Britain…”

After his discharge Rogie was in receipt of a pension paid by the British government, but despite the speech by Field Marshal Roberts it was cancelled some time after Federation. He returned to Nebo where he worked at different times as a stockman, scalper, miner and drover. Over the next few years he led a wild life until in 1906 he was convicted of cattle stealing and sentenced on 9th October 1906 to two years jail with hard labour. He was sent HM Penal Establishment Stewarts Creek before being transferred to HM Prison Brisbane and finally to HM Penal Establishment, St Helena Island, in Moreton Bay until released 4th June 1908. He was married in October 1909. By June1912, when he applied to the Queensland Patriotic Fund for financial assistance, he was blind in his right eye. The grant was refused when the trustees found out about his conviction for cattle stealing.

His Veterans Affairs Department file, only opened in 1938, indicates he was in receipt of a Boer War pension of 10/6d per week. Fergus George McFadzen died at the age of 62 on his son’s farm at East Funnel Creek on the 12th April 1944 and was buried two days later in Mackay cemetery.

Les McFadzen - 2010


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