The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra
|Queensland Imperial Bushmen|
Imperial Bushmen units were mounted infantry like most of the effective units in South Africa. The difference with "Imperial" units was that costs were bourne by the British or "Imperial" government rather than by the Colonial or later Commonwealth government. Enlistees were required to be good shots, good riders and practical bushmen of experience, to have good eyesight and hearing, and otherwise to be of "sound" health. Age 21 to 38 years, chest measurement 86 centimetres, height 1.7 to 1.8 metres; weight, not over 74 kilos; to undergo a physical examination and to be unmarried for preference. The unit consisted of three companies (or squadrons ) commanded Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Ayuoton. The unit consisted of 387 all ranks and 550 horses.
For the story of the Unit's service, we have been supplied with a transcript of Sergeant John (Jack) Joseph Perkins diary by his grandson John Perkins. As with other contemporary accounts, measures have been converted to the metric system.
Friday, 18 May 1900. On board the "Manchester Post" bound for South Africa with 376 troops and 512 horses aboard. Cast off this mooring from Morton Bay at about 1100. Very few people to see us off. About 200 all told. A good lot of chaps aboard. A few cads among the officers, especially A. Bell. I am glad to get away after having three months of disappointments. Would not go through the same for a fortune again. Started in rank as Corporal.
Saturday, 19 May 1900. A lot of chaps sick this morning. I’m as gay as a lark myself. Hope we will have a good trip and leave bad luck behind.
Sunday, 20 May 1900. Dropped anchor this morning at Garden Island within Sydney Harbour. Won’t be allowed in town for fear of plague. We are laying in for coal and water. Would like to have a run through Sydney before I leave my Native Shore.
Monday, 21 May 1900. Same as yesterday, loading coal and taking in water. Had a turn around the island.
Tuesday, 22 May 22 1900. Weighed anchor and shot out of Sydney Harbour this morning to the cheers of the Sailors on the Gunboats. We had a splendid send off, a shame to Brisbane.
Wednesday, 23 May 1900. Splendid trip. I am in splendid fettle. Have been appointed a troop deck Sergeant.
Thursday, 24 May 1900. Queen's Birthday. Sailing along splendidly. First horse died on board today.
Friday, 25 May 1900. Pass Cape Ottaway. Sea like a big pond.
Saturday, 26 May 1900. All hands doing well. Another horse died, which makes the third on the voyage.
Sunday, 27 May 1900. Very calm, today. Sea like a big lagoon.
Monday, 28 May 1900. Arrived off Albany tonight. Had a short delay today through a shaft getting hot. So we cast anchor in mid ocean for an hour for repairs.
Tuesday, 29 May 1900. Sighted Lennon Cape about 1400, leaving it behind tonight. The last of Australia’s Shore. So across the Indian Ocean. Inclined to have rough seas tonight.
Wednesday, 30 May 1900. Had great trouble to keep in my hammock last night and a pretty cross sea today.
Friday, 1 June 1900. Another day such as yesterday.
Saturday, 2 June 1900. Another fine day. Had a pretty funny day. In charge of Fatigue in place of Corporal Bailey. Had an open air concert tonight.
Sunday, 3 June 1900. A Splendid beautiful morning, hardly a ripple on the water. Church of England minister holds service.
Monday, 4 June 1900. Another beautiful day. Hardly a ripple. Started rifle practice this afternoon, which was badly needed. The ship’s blankets found to be lousy with lice.
Tuesday, 5 June 1900. Another calm day, and still the old routine of work, it is quite monstrous. Another horse gone today – makes the sixth, 1900
Wednesday, 6 June 1900. All is well today. We are getting into warm weather again, something like Queensland, almost.
Thursday, 7 June 1900. Going along well, as per usual. Started a boxing tournament. I won my heat in the heavyweight division.
Friday, 8 June 1900. Still going well. Boxed a new contender in the second round of the tournament. I am pleased to say I have been promoted, with fourteen others, to the rank of Sergeant.
Saturday, June 9th, 1900. Nothing of importance. The usual fine weather.
Sunday, 10 June 1900. Another lovely day. It has been like a millpond.
Monday, 11 June 1900. Sighted land tonight for the first time since leaving Australia. The island of Madagascar.
Tuesday, 12 June 1900. Sailing west, by north-west since the voyage begun.
Wednesday, 13 June 1900. Expect to pull in Beura on tomorrow. Still going well.
Thursday, 14 June 1900. Dropped anchor off Beura this afternoon, and was disappointed at the news we received. We seem to be too late for the fighting.
Friday, 15 June 1900. Anchored off Beura today. Received orders.
Saturday, 16 June 1900. Left Beura today for Port Elizabeth.
Wednesday, 20 July 1900. – Kronstaad. Although I have missed keeping account of affairs since leaving Beura, I can sum up in a few words. We called at Port Elizabeth. Ordered from there to Cape Town.
We walked all over the town (Port Elizabeth). One thing that surprised us was the number of natives, but we got used to that later on.
We received our orders to move from here to Cape Town, where we landed on 22nd June. We landed our horses (over 500 in number) were in splendid condition. We made out to Maitland Camp, and it is almost midnight when we finished fixing our horses. We were in this camp about three days, and the weather was bitterly cold, our horses cut up very much, and we were delighted when we received orders t embark for the front. Our destination was Kronstaad, on the Valeh River, in the Free State. We reached that place after six days in the train. Our horses were very much knocked about, and no wonder they cut up rough, after coming off the warm boat, and brought out on the cold, open veldt, they would not eat, and consequently pined away.
If the authorities would so manage a little better by taking fresh horses as they came over and place them in depots, for say, three months, giving them time to get over their voyage and get them used to the hard feed. Well, if they had done that they would save the community a lot of expense, by a saving on horseflesh.
We arrived at Kronstaad on the 2nd of July, received orders to march on the 3rd and of course everything was bustle and excitement – and being new chums at the game, we packed a lot of unnecessary articles, thereby overloading our horses. However, we started to march about two o’clock in the afternoon, and after going about 8 kilometres we camped for the night, and the first night out was bitterly cold. Although we had a larger pack for our horses, we were short of blankets. Each man only had one blanket, and we had an awful perish. We received orders to keep our rifles handy, and not to take off our clothes, and keep our bandoliers on. (and I think there were no Boers for miles)
It has often caused a laugh amongst the lads since, at the peculiar orders we received for our first march, and the awful precautions we took against attack. At this time we were out under Col. Hickam, and our column was made up of – The Royal Irish Fusiliers, Robert’s Horse, a few Victorians and New Zealanders and our artillery was made up of a couple of sections of the Elswick Battery. We were about 2,000 men strong, and our object was to come in touch with Boers operating around Kimberley.
However, on the third day of our march out, my horse fell with me, crushing my left foot and causing me to be sent to Kronstaad Hospital. The day after the fall, I was carried in an ambulance wagon and that night we reached Ventersburg, about 50 kilometres S.E. of Kronstaad. From there, I was sent into the railway, which was fifteen kilometres off, and therefore, I missed the last part of the First March. I was in hospital for about 10 days, and was pretty well attended to, and it was there I first saw the first glimpses of the horrors of war.
While I was there, some Australian Bushmen were brought in wounded. They had an engagement at Lindley and it was their first fight. They distinguished themselves by capturing guns that had been abandoned by the Prince Alfred Guards, to the Boers.
About the 10 July, my regiment again returned to Kronstaad after being out a little over a week without coming in touch with the enemy.
They were ordered to entrain straight away, for Pretoria, and I felt very much off while sitting in the hospital, watching my mates, sailing by in the train for the front. However, I had to be contented to try or be. But before my leg was nearly right. I applied to Major Pike (the Medical Officer in charge) to allow me to leave the hospital and join what few men of my regiment were left behind, in charge of Capt Crighton, our Quarter Master. After a little humbugging about, he consented to let me go.
I went and reported to Capt Crighton and joined the little party, which were only six in number, Capt Crighton, Sgt Major Wright, Sgt Peterson, Pvt Dwyer, Pvt Goodwin and myself.
Capt Crighton was living in a house, and was having a good time. However, it was not long before we had a change. Capt Crighton took a house in town and taking the Quarter Master Sergeant Wright and their orderlies. They went in to live and the rest of us were sent to the Detail camp. The camp was under the charge of Capt Vickers of Kitchener’s Horse. We had a pretty good time. The only duty I had was in charge of an embarking port, eleven kilometres from Kronstaad.
I might mention dust storms at this time of year were terrible. Sometimes you could not see 20 metres in front of you. We were ordered a good many times within a few weeks to entrain for Pretoria and join our regiments, only to be disappointed after marching over to the train.
However Major McMahon (who was in charge of Kronstaad District in Gen Knox’s absence) applied to have us attached to some details of cavalry as escort to the ammunition convoy to Pretoria, under command of Major, now General, Remington. An uneventful march, we arrived in Pretoria on 28th August and the 29th I joined my regiment and I was pleased to join my old mates. Forty of them had just come back, after being out as scouts to Iaan Hamilton’s Column, and they all looked very dirty and unshaven. So I had a glimmer of what was in store.
On the 30th, one company of my regiment was ordered to take all good horses and join Generals Mahan and French on their march to Barbarton. So, it fell to the lot of the Company under Capt Jones. So “G” and “H” Companies had about a fortnight’s spell, waiting for re-mounts. We were all at last mounted, and marched to Reilfontein, about 25 kilometres from Pretoria and there we awaited orders.
However, we were not left idle, as after we had a day’s camp, Col. De Lisle, now Gen De Lisle, requested that we be lined up in front of him, as he wanted to say a few words to us. So we all expected something exciting was on. So, we all fell-in and Col. De Lisle addressed us and give us to understanding what he wanted us to do. He had a report that a few Boers were in the habit of visiting a farmhouse about 12 kilometres from Reilfontein. So he asked to be allowed to take Queensland Bushmen, and make a night raid. Well, the raid was carried out and was successful, as we captured a Boer Commandant and another. As the country was very rough and we were out all night, we were glad of a rest next day. However, after that performance, we were ordered to join Gen Riddle at Skeenpoort, which we did.
After the day’s rest, we moved on N.W. all the Magaliesburg Range and after two day’s marching, we came up with Gen De La Ray’s forces, and we constantly skirmished all day. We returned the following day and after loading up with provisions, we started again N.W. for Rustenberg. The second day brought us up with our old friend De La Ray and after negotiating Zookehook Pass safely, we continued our journey West, but were not allowed to go unmolested, for when we arrived at a place called Zandfontein, a small party of Boer occupied a kopje in our front and “H” Company of 4th Queensland Light Brigade was sent out to drive them off, but were driven back at the first attempt, losing two men (Lieut Higson severely wounded and Private Clancy killed).
But in the second attempt, they drove the Boer out, the Queenslanders getting great praise from the General for what they had done. However, the engagement caused us to halt for the day and feel around carefully before continuing our march, and I will never forget the night following that day, as a I formed one of the party of 20 as outpost sentry that night – in the kopje about three kilometres West. We were short of rations and it was a cold night and we had to be very alert on watch. We had a rough time.
The following day we still held the same position, and continued our march, on the day following. At this time we were supposed to be driving the Boer into a corner at Olifant’s Poort, where Gen Broadwood was expected to intercept them. But through some mistake of that General, the Boer got through the pass before he arrived. On that night, we joined Gen Clements, Gen Broadwood and all Laargered together, about 10,000 men, and the following day, we camped and fed our horses in the hayfield close by, in which there was a plentiful supply of oats and wheat – and also indulged in bathing and swimming our horses.
We continued our march on the following day and arrived at our destination (Rustenberg) in the evening, 30th September. On the 1st October we again started to march, and continued till mid-night, when a halt was called. We only had one water wagon for about 2,000 men. I was given charge of four men, to guard the water, and issue one mess tin (about half a pint) to each man, and a very unthankful job it was. At this time, we were joined by Gen Broadwood’s men. We continued our march, Gen Broadwood’s Column being in advance. About 8 O’Clock, our advance, the 9th Lancers, surprised a Boer Laager and after a little sharp work, we captured nine wagons and a great number of oxen but the Boers got clean away with their guns and horses. We continued our chase for some time when, seeing we had no chance of a capture, we made for our camp, Skerkstroom, and arrived there about mid-night.
We rested the following day, and moved off on the 4 October for Commando Nott. After proceeding for about six kilometres, we were ordered to change our direction right, the move being to intercept the Boers, as they were being driven West by Gen Clement’s brigade along the Magaliesburg Range. I was ordered out with eight men, 800 metres on left flank after moving with the column for some distance, and seeing the column halt, and not receiving further orders, I took the responsibility of reconnoitring some farms under the range intending taking my position up between the Range and the farm houses.
After being there for about three hours, I saw our column moving off in the direction of camp, so considered it time for my little party to move on out. We had gone no distance when Lieut Williams of Kitchener’s Horse, Adjt to Gen Riddle, met us and asked us to return with him and to find Col. Legge. In returning we had to pass the farm houses and was riding with Lieut Williams, Pvt Brodie of Queensland Light Brigade and two of Kitchener’s Horse following – as was just level with the houses, when a man was seen in the garden, about 50 metres away to lift his rifle and fire point blank at us. Not knowing how many might be in the garden, we galloped for cover – but he fired five shots at us before we had gone 200 metres, but missed all of us. About this time a man broke away from the garden and ran towards the hills, the men on observation post giving chase, Pvt Hutchinson Q.L.B. galloped straight at the Boer who turned around and fired point blank at Hutchinson, but missed him, Sergeant Huston, of Q.L.B., coming up on the left, shot the Boer through the leg (the man’s name was Brink).
The firing heard on the Column, assistance was sent, with orders to burn the houses, where we were fired at from. But we left the assisting party burning the farm while we started off with our prisoner and after about 11 kilometres, we arrived at camp about 10 o’clock – we got great praise for getting the Boer.
On the 5 October we arrived at Commando Nott and had a day’s spell. The following day we marched south west to assist Gen Hart, but nothing turned up.
The following day, we marched to Blutfontein. At this place my regiment was recalled to Pretoria. Gen Riddle expressed his regret at our leaving him and also Col. Legge. We received great praise for the work we had done while under both officers. The 8th October we arrived in Pretoria.
After being in Pretoria a few days getting re-clothed and remounted, we received orders to march to Watervaal, 20 kilometres north of Pretoria. At this place we were ordered out on a night raid, under Col Lloyd of the West Riding Regiment. We started to march out at two o’clock, not to speak or smoke, but you could hear the Kaffir drivers about 8 kilometres off. At daybreak we came in touch with the Boers, who were on the move. But as we arrived too late, as per usual, they got away from us. We returned about a three kilometres and formed camp. We had one man wounded.
After skirmishing about for a couple of days, we marched back to Watervaal capturing about 1,000 head of cattle and some sheep, getting back there on the 21st October. On the 22nd, we moved north to join Gen Paget’s Column which was supposed to laagered at Jerico, about 65 kilometres distant, more or less. This proved to be an exciting day, but the day following, the 23rd more so.
We were a small part of about 100 Queenslanders under our own Col. Ayteon. We had no guns, so we expected any minute to get a rough time and about noon we surprised a Boer Laager on Buffles Spruit. No. 3 Division of my company (G) under Lieut Fergeson and Sergeant Livingstone, were in advance to charge the Boer camp, capturing five wagons, a couple of horses, and about 1,000 head of cattle.
We had one man killed. The Boers had one killed and one wounded. We continued our march and had not gone far before we met reinforcements sent to our relief. The relief turned out to be our own company who had left us some months back, to go with Gen French to Barbarton. After a great handshaking and pleasant greetings, we commenced our march and about 5 o’clock we arrived at Jerico, all dead beat, but after feeding our horses and having a wash and feed, we felt alright and fit to relate our adventures to our returned comrades, also listen to their tales of adventure, which were many. On the general orders issued that night, we received great praise from Gen Paget for work done by our little party under Col. Ayteon, for the past week. He made special reference to our capture on that day, the 23rd.
Also, the orders that night that the column was to rest on the following day. And of course, we all looked for a well earned day’s rest – going to bed with great heart. But, alas, what a change in a day’s programme the next day. Gen Paget forgot to mention that the Boers intended to disturb our rest, for, as we were quietly lolling about and yarning and our horses munching their oats in their nose bags, the boom of a big gun was heard in the distance, to the west. And the dreaded buzz of a shell, told us only too plainly, what we were in for. It was only a few seconds when the first shell came plumb over the camp, followed by another and then another. And each fired with more accuracy than the preceding one.
In a few minutes the camp of 6,000 men were all excitement, horses breaking from their halters and stampeding through the lines, men running for cover in all directions.
The order came (from goodness knows where) that we were to drop tents and get our horses off the lines and take cover, which we were doing without orders. The Boers were using three guns on us, and shells were plumping all over the place, but doing little damage, thanks to the soft ground we were camped on, as they used to sink into the ground and then explode, and consequently did not do the damage expected of them. Also every credit must be given to our field batteries, especially the Canadian Artillery, whose quickness in getting into action, and accurate shooting, caused the Boers to retire. So, what was to be a day of rest, turned out to be one of our worst days.
The order came that a company of QIB (the 4th) were to hold themselves in readiness to take 4,000 head of cattle to Zout-Pan about 42 kilometres back. My company, G were told off under Capt Joseph and we marched at 1400. I was placed in charge of cattle and had four white men and about 20 kaffirs to assist. We had a rough time. The escort and prisoners kept close on the heels of the advance guard, then followed the cattle and drovers and Lieut Graham and sixteen men formed the rear scouts. I found it very difficult to get along with the cattle, as the road nearly all the way, was bordered on both sides by a low thorn bush scrub, called by the natives "wait a while"'
We had to trust the natives to work them through the scrub. To make things worse, about 2200, getting close to the Zand River, we got word from a native that the Boers intended to take the cattle from us at the river. So we got the cattle closer in hand and kept a sharp look out, but nothing eventuated to justify the report. And after getting off the track a couple of times, and having our clothes and skin torn with the bushes we arrived at Zout-Pan about 2 hours after daybreak, being on the move from 0200 in the evening of 24th, till about 0600 on the morning of the 25th.
The trip was successful and we handed prisoners and cattle over to an escort, sent from Wahtervaal to meet us. We had a few hours rest and again started for Jerico, about 1400, and had got well along the route, when heavy rain poured down, and as it continued for some time, and the ground becoming saturated, causing our wagon drivers great difficulty in getting through, a halt was called. We camped anyhow and anywhere, but morning broke fine on the 26th and we resumed our march. Arrived at Jerico early, without further trouble.
On the 27th, the column started to march west. We had a lot of trouble crossing the Crocodile River, as it was late in the afternoon when we got our convoy across, so we camped for that night on the river and arrived in Rustenburg a few days later. After halting a day we resumed our march west, and on our second day’s march we came in contact with the enemy on the Ceylon River. Our guns were playing on the Boer position all day, but nothing serious happened. The infantry had relieved us by nightfall and we retired to camp. But we were out again at 0400 to take up a position S.E. and as this morning broke, cold and wet, we put in a miserable time. It continued to rain all the day, and we camped that night in mud up to our ankles. The Column was halted the following day, and about 500 Bushmen were sent out on patrol.
The only exciting incident of the day, was the shooting of a woman by the Queensland Bushmen, H Company, of the 4th QIB (while holding a position commanding a good view of farm houses in front), saw a Boer ride towards one of the farms at about 2,000 metres distant and just as some of the men fired, a woman ran from the house to the man, and received a bullet through her head. She received attention from our Medical Officer, and I believe she recovered.
We moved on the next day to a place called Woodstock. We had a very uneventful day. We were lucky enough to come across a few orchards, and as there was a splendid crop of oranges we had a fair time. We arrived at camp late. We also lost the services of the BSA police, a splendid body of men, but as their term was up, and their services not required, they returned to their duties in Rhodesia.
At this time we were expecting to corner De La Ray and his men, and the report in the lines was to the effect, that he had no hope of escape, as he was surrounded by Generals Broadwood, Metheun, Clements and Douglas, and our Column under Paget. So, as nothing happened so far, of any consequence, we were expecting any day, to have a severe set to, but the chance never came.
On the 8th November, we started to march for Rustenburg, and the only exciting piece of work of the march, happened on the morning of the 8th. The 4th Queensland Bushmen, fighting a rear guard of about four hours, and coming out with colours flying.
We arrived at Elands River on the night of the 8th, and resumed march early next morning. Arrived at Boshoek on the evening of the 9th, and we celebrated the Prince of Wales' (now King Edward) birthday, giving a concert. And it was a great success, as men from nearly every regiment contributed a song or recitation, as it was well on midnight when the rain caused us to retire to our blankets. We continued our march on the following day and arrived at Rustenburg early. We rested a few days, and something occurred here which is worth recording.
Some of our Colonials were getting restless and homesick, and developed a great desire to return home. And letting their feelings get the upper hand, they were guilty of a breach of discipline, that does not reflect credit on them as colonials. The 3rd Citizens' Bushmen of Queensland and Victoria were the offenders and petitioned, through their respective officers commanding, that they be sent home, pleading justification of their action on the following grounds. First, that there was no fighting to be done, the war being practically at an end. Second, that they did not approve of the farm burning going on at that time.
The petition was only presented to General Paget, who at once asked the men to wait such time, as he might have a chance to communicate with Lord Roberts. However, the affair was hushed up for a time and we marched towards Pretoria, at which place we arrived, somewhat about 18th November. However, we were only allowed a day there, when we move out to Essterfabricun, a little place about 20 kilometres from Pretoria, on North Easterly railway line. At this place, we halted a few days and received a fresh supply of horses and clothing.
In the meantime General Paget had been to Johannesberg, to see Lord Roberts. So when he had returned, the order came for all hands to appear on General Parade, a buzz of excitement ran through the camp. We formed a square, Gen Paget in the centre, facing the petitioners, the 4th Imperial Bushmen, having a view of his broad back. He soon came to the point, stating that he put their case before Lord Roberts, and that the Field Marshall intimated that he was the best judge of when their time was up, and that they would get home when they were done with. General Paget could not forbear to indulge in a sarcastic remark or two, at their expense. They got a pretty good slating, and had to put up with many a jibe after – it was not uncommon to hear a cry of "I want to go home" in a piteous wail, as some of the Citizen Bushmen walked through the lines. Well, as everything has an ending, so did our few days of rest there.
So, on 25 November we marched East, and arrived at De Waggon’s Drift early in the afternoon, and our advance scouts made acquaintance with the enemy in front, by exchange of shots.
We marched early on 26th and soon came in touch with the enemy, and a brisk rifle duel went on for some time. We had our Pom Pom playing on their position, with good effect. They plumped a few shells over us, with one of their big guns. However, they gradually fell back, and we pressed forward till nightfall, and camped. Very strong posts were thrown out and a strict watch was kept.
The night passed, and daylight saw the Column moving forward and as was anticipated, we came in touch with the Boer after about two hours march. And the usual rifle firing at long range, and gun practice took place, doing very little damage on either side.
One thing was evident to all hands at this time was that the Boers intended to give a fight very soon. This was plain by their persistent attacks on our flanks, and advance, and their cheeky style, of just falling back out of range of our guns, and their constant sniping when they got the chance.
However, we camped early, and moved off on the following day at daybreak, as, as was to be expected, there in front of us on a distant skyline, numerous men could be seen riding about. It didn’t require the second look through the field glasses to convince on they were our friends, the Boer. But, this day they allowed us to move forward about 16 kilometres, without testing their skill with the Mauser, at long range. At last, two of our Naval twelve-pounders opened fire on a group of distant horsemen, and imagine our surprise when a shell burst close to our guns, in answer to our shot.
Now, for a few hours, a duel continued between the guns on both sides, that was worth watching. But it was soon plain that the shooting on the Boer’s side was more accurate than ours. They appeared to out distance our guns. However, we fell back a little and encamped as darkness was just setting in. By this time we were reinforced by about 500 men, with two Naval twelve-pounders. We knew now, that by the stubborn resistance of the Boer this day, that they intended to give us battle on the morrow.
We were all anxious to get the orders that night, and when they were issued, our surmises were correct. The orders were: Reveille at 0200, move off 0400. The 4th QIB to take up Advance Guard.
Two o’clock in the morning of the 29th November saw the camp all a bustle, but very little noise. At 0400, all hands were ready to march. The 4th Queenslanders had trotted out about two kilometres, and moved in open order forming the advance screen of scouts.
We moved about six kilometres (all the time, from daybreak, the Boers would be seen dropping back out of range) when suddenly the Boers open fire on us with a seven-pounder, from the front, the shells bursting amongst the 4th Queenslanders, F Company getting the brunt. But not a man wavered, but passed on, the Boers falling back. Supports were now brought forward. The infantry consisting of about 500 men of West Riding and Munster Fusiliers, under the command of Colonel Lloyd forcing the right, the Queenslanders and IBC taking centre under Colonel Hickmann, 3rd Queenslanders, 3rd West Australians and New Zealanders on the left under Colonel Craddock of New Zealand. General Paget was in command of the Column. Colonel Plumer (now General) conducted the operations of the mounted troops.
Well as soon as the Boer started to play with their seven-pounder, all hands pushed forward, and in about 5 minutes, rifles were barking from both sides and in a very short time, the guns were belching forth from both sides as well.
At this time, we had all dismounted and sent the horses back under cover. By mid-day, we had forced ourselves within 500 metres of the enemy’s position. There we were prone on our stomachs in the grass and the fire from the Boer lines was terrific. A man could not move an inch before he was shot. The infantry on the right, tried to force a position, but were unsuccessful in three attempts, having Colonel Lloyd killed and a number of men killed or wounded. The New Zealanders, in rushing a position on the left, had about 20 men killed and wounded. The Boer were using their guns well, especially two Maxims on the right.
We had two fifteen-pounders within 900 metres of the Boer position, and bursting shot after shot of shrapnel. The Naval 12 pounders were also constantly pouring in shells on the right. But the Boer position was impregnable and by nightfall we had failed to dislodge them, having 120 men killed or wounded on our side.
A Field Hospital was hastily rigged, out of range of fire, and the Red Cross Ambulances were kept busy all day. The heavy fire continued after darkness had set in. We were supplied with picks and shovels and we entrenched ourselves as close as possible to the Boer position. The firing ceased about 1 o’clock but no sleep for us. We held the trenches with fixed bayonets, all night, expecting an attack, but none came.
We expected a greater engagement on the day following, as we knew we would try and force their position. And at first glimpse of daybreak, we were up and at their position but were surprised to find them gone. A camp was formed on the ground which was the Boer position the day before. So ended an engagement that almost unique since the beginning of the war in South Africa, in as much as it was almost all Australians versus Boers.
After looking at the position held by the Boer, one could understand how difficult it was to dislodge them. Their left flank rested on Rhenostos Kop and position extended for about eleven kilometres where their right flank rested on another range. And a low chain of rocky Kopjes extended from right to left of their position forming complete cover for all their line.
The Boers, in retiring, had taken their dead and wounded with them, and when we occupied their position, the only indications of a severe struggle were dead Boer horses and the rocks were simply cut to pieces by our shrapnel. The day following the engagements was a sad one, putting our fallen comrades underneath the ground.
General Paget gave the Australians great praise for their work. Colonel Hickman was heard to remark to Colonel Plumer "what do you think of my Queenslanders?" as the shells were pumping in amongst the 4th Queenslanders, as they advanced cool as Veterans.
We operated for about a week, constantly skirmishing and getting prisoners occasionally.
At this point we loose Sergeant Perkins diary, and continue with the official history.
The unit continued in the vicinity of Rohensterkop until 17 December then between Rustenberg and Pretoria until 14 January 1901.The unit then changed brigades, and took partr in a sweeping movement as far as Balmoral until 2 February 1901. By this time the unit had an effective strength of 145, the Queenslanders had been in constant touch with the enemy and there had been many casualties of men and horses.
On 3 February, entrained at Balmoral for Naauwpoort Cape Colony, arriving on the 7th, drawing remounts, they started in persuit of De Wet on 9th. There were skirmishes on 12th, 13th where the enemy were engaged twice and Lieutenant Kellaway severely wounded, and an engagement at Wolvekuilen on 14th. On 15th De Wet's heavy transport ammunition wagons, over 30 of them and a maxim gun and 12 prisoners were captured.
On the 17th, there was an engagement at Geeluck’s Poort, then on 23rd the unit came in touch with the enemy at about 1200 (noon) near Pompean Pan on the Orange River, the engagement was not broken off until 20:00, and by then the enemy had been pushed 65 kilometres, forced to abandon a 15 pounder and a pom-pom. Thirty prisoners had been taken.
The unit arrived at Hopetoun on 24 February 1901, obtained re-mounts and rode to Orange River station where they entrained for Springfontein on 26th. From 1st to 15th March 1901, they rode to Winburg via Philippolis, Fauresmith and Pietersburg without incident. Entrained at Smoldiel on 20th and arrived at Pretoria on 22nd. Occupied Warmbad 30th, Nyalstroom 1st April, Pietpotgeiter’s Rust 5th, Marabaastad 7th and Pietersburg 8th after slight opposition. Rode out to Oliphant’s River on 14th, then to Pretoria on 6 May. Refit commenced a sweeping movement towards Bethel; there were daily skirmishes. Bethel was reached at 14:00 on 20th April, and a considerable number of the enemy surrendered as the stronghold was occupied. Under orders, the town was torched after the populace were removed (presumably to a concentration camp).
On 22 April 1901 the unit quitted Bethel and rode to Standerton via Reitpan. The enemy were present in large numbers, at one point charging within 250 metres before being driven back by our pom-poms. There was daily contact with the enemy until Standerton was reached on 27th. They moved out on 30th and engaged on a sweeping operation towards Piet Retief which was occupied on 9 June.
The unit now under orders to return to Australia escorted a convoy of prisoners to Utrecht. The 4th Queensland Imperial Bushmen embarked on 5 July 1901 at the port of East London on the transport Britannic. They disembarked in Brisbane on 6 August 1901, their eventful tour of duty concluded.
Sergeant Perkins returned to Australia, and saw no further active service. However; his brother served in WWI, three of his sons, served in the Army during WWII. His grandson spent 20 years in the RAAF through the Vietnam era and his great grandson served in the Navy during Desert Storm. Almost 100 years and four generations of the same family in the Australian Defence Forces.
After The Horses
Have they ever waked you early
While the shadows lingered yet
E’en the grey dawn gathered fairly
Or the drowsy stars had set
Have you heard a the wagtails cheery
Tell the dawn wind creeping cold
Till your foot was in the stirrups
And the whole world turned to gold.
Ah, the joy of daybreak riding
How it makes the warm blood start
With a good horse stretching, spreading
To the music of your heart.
And the morning’s welcome, olden
With the magpies all astir
And long wet grasses, golden
Wipe the dry blood from your spur
How they gather from their feeding
In the white mists far and near,
To take the pack with "Sunflower" leading
And old “Possum” in the rear
How the bare hoof rattle under
For the carefree fillies know
When they hare the distant thunder
It is time for them to go
Ah, the joy is in your rider
When the old grey horse takes hold
Through mulgas, where the spiders
Are spinning webs of gold.
Down the overflow, where the grasses
Dipped silver with the dew
And the last brown shadow passes
As the fairy dawn breaks through
On the sandhills how they muster
‘Cross the ridges see them swing
In the gullies how they cluster
Down the hill sides how they string.
Ponies fat yet lithe and limber
Shoulders creamed with sweat and foam
Head them at the river timber
Rush them up the flat for home
Gone forever your glad hour is
When the sunrise floods the plain
I shall never run the horses
Down the blue grass flats again
Drop the slip-rails in their place
Take the saddle from the grey
Foamy shoulders, white starred faces
Take a look and fade away
But you have fought the forces
Of the drought and wind and sun
How we ever trailed the horses
On a far out Western run
You’ve every heard them neighing
As they gathered to the whip
You will understand me saying
I would let a fortune slip
Just to take the old malacca
From the place upon the wall
With of foot of greenhide cracking
And a yard of greenhide fall.
I’ll tell you a tale of battle
There isn’t so much to tell
Eight Hundred went to the slaughter
And over four hundred fell
With shot and Mauser rifle
The thirst and burning sun
We were mowed down by the hundred
E’en the long day was done
Sergeant John Perkins Diary (otherwise not known to be published) Courtesy John Perkins of Higgins ACT
Lieutenant Colonel PL Murray (Editor), Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa 1988-1902, Pages 474 - 477.
John Howells (Editor) 2009