Remembering the Boer War

Since retiring, former Singleton nurse Donna Brooker, has spent many hours meticulously researching her family’s rich military history.

DESCENDANT:  Donna Brooker has spent many hours researching the history of the Boer War.

DESCENDANT: Donna Brooker has spent many hours researching the history of the Boer War.

A past that includes her Grandfather’s experience of the Boer War, a bitter conflict fought in South Africa from 1899 to 1902.

She has scoured many thick volumes of archaic looking leather bound books that have been passed down to her.

When The Singleton Argus recently visited Mrs Brooker these printed records were sprawled out all over her dining room table and scattered amongst them are some of the more recent publications she has procured that detail what many describe as the forgotten war.

Her grandfather was Lieutenant Donald Duncan Buchanan and he enlisted on March, 21, 1901 in the third New South Wales Imperial Bushmen. 

He was awarded the King Edward VII South Africa medal for his services during the war.

 He was just one of the 23 000 Australian men and women and some 40 000 Australian horses who served alongside the British against the Boer army.

It was the first war in which Australia fought as a nation after Federation in 1901 and nearly 1000 of our soldiers perished.

Local war historian Leslie H. Perrett describes the conflict as one that caused great privation, especially for the civilian population.

However, his extensive research states that:   “Despite this it was ironically one of the last of what might be termed as the ‘Romantic Wars’, pitting  pioneering people, fighting to establish their independence against the might of the British Empire, which was fighting to maintain its policy of colonialisation of rich lands at the zenith of Queen Victoria’s reign.” 

Mr Perrett’s great uncle was Hunter Valley Trooper, Frederick Avard, of the Royal New South Wales Lancers.

Trooper Avard was a skilled rider and a good shot unfortunately he was severely wounded during a battle near Carolina in Transvaal and died at just 21 years of age.

Seventy-five men from the Singleton Local Government area volunteered to serve in the Boer War and three never came home.

Apart from World Wars I and II, the nation lost more soldiers in South Africa than the total lost in all other conflicts including Korea, the Malayan Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation, Vietnam, East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite this it is the only war that is not commemorated on Anzac Parade.

A situation that causes both Mr Perrett and Mrs Brooker great angst as the 112th anniversary of the Boer War approaches. 

For many years they have both been campaigning to rectify the situation but they have gone about it in different ways.

Mr Perrett  on a national level as a member of the New South Wales committee for the National Boer War Memorial Association and Mrs Brooker at a local level.

Her campaign began in 2008 after she attended the consecration of the site on Anzac Parade where a monument was to be erected

Mrs Brooker made an impassioned plea to the Singleton community through the media.

She said: “Walking down Anzac Parade, there is a glorious memorial to the Australian human sacrifice of the light horsemen, Vietnam, South Korea, etcetera but no Boer War memorial, the very first who died for our liberty and freedom of speech, without fear or favour.”

“The Australian people must move quickly with donation to support the funding of a monument.

“We have only been given two years to achieve our objective and it is only through a show of interest that the Australian Government will come onside.”

 Sadly the site is still empty but the appeal continues and a design has been approved.

However, it is doubtful it will be completed during the lifetime of the remaining sons and daughters of Boer War veterans with their average age being 88. 

An estimated $3.5 million is needed to complete the project.

 The centrepiece of the memorial will be four life size bronze statues depicting a section of Australian mounted troopers on patrol in the South African Veldt. 

According to Mr Perrett almost all Australian and New Zealand forces served in mounted units as troopers and were variously known as Lancers, Bushmen or Mounted Rifles but after Federation in 1901, as the Australian Commonwealth Horse.

They quickly established enviable reputations as fine soldiers using their bushcraft, shooting and riding skills to produce formidable fighting units.

Their courage and mateship created a warrior image that later became the Anzac legend of WW I and future conflicts.

Over 40 000 Australian horses – the famous Walers- went to South Africa, none of whom returned, owing to our strict quarantine regulations.

Mrs Brooker is again calling upon the Singleton public  to donate  to the cause.

“Just a small donation of five dollars would  help,” she said.

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