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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

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Friday, 28 November 2003
1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, Organising the Men from Yass, Letter, 9 January 1900
Topic: BW - NSW - 1NSWMR

1st NSWMR 

1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles

Organising the Men from Yass


Letter from Lieutenant J. Howard requesting Rail Passes.


The following series of letters, telegrams and orders illustrates the work that went on behind the scenes to provide three men from Yass for the 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles Contingent that embarked for South Africa on 17 January 1900. The correspondence indicates that it almost did not happen.


Letter from Lieutenant J. Howard requesting Rail Passes.

Yass, 9th January 1900

From the
Officer Commanding "F" Company
To the
Officer Commanding 1st Infantry Regiment

Subject: Railway Passes, application for.


I have the honour to apply for a Railway Pass for four men to proceed to Sydney and report themselves for the Third Contingent.

These men reported themselves before and were told off to the Third Contingent, but having business to transact in Yass, Major Knight gave them permission to leave and told them they could come down again later on.

They intend leaving here on Friday night.

I have the honour to be Sir your most Obedient Servant,
Lieutenant JW Howard
Commanding "F" Company, 1st Infantry Regiment.


John William Howard, Biography

John William Howard. Born 24 May 1857. Appointed Second Lieutenant  with the 1st Infantry Regiment 12 June 1893. Promoted to Lieutenant and appointed Officer Commanding "F" Company (Yass), 1st Infantry Regiment, 18 November 1895. Passed exam for promotion to Captain at Infantry School, 1900 and promoted to Captain, 1 October 1900. He was placed on the Unattached List 9 February 1904 and then the Reserve of Officers, 10 December 1912.


The response from Major WJN Oldershaw

Officer Commanding "F" Company

Furnish names! How can the matter be dealt with when we do not know the names?

Major WJN Oldershaw
Commander, 1st Infantry Regiment.
12 January 1900


William James Norman Oldershaw


William James Norman Oldershaw, Biography

William James Norman Oldershaw. Born in South Melbourne, 24 April 1856 and educated at Wesley College. Served in the Victorian Voluntary Artillery from 7 February 1877 to 1 January 1884. In that time he was promoted to Lieutenant on 31 July 1881. Transferred to New South Wales and appointed Second Lieutenant with the 1st Infantry Regiment on 22 February 1886. He remained with the 1st Infantry Regiment to be promoted to Lieutenant 15 November 1888, Captain 1 July 1893, Major 3 December 1898 and Lieutenant Colonel 1 January 1900. During this time he was also heavily involved in shooting. He won the Queens Prize in Melbourne, then the chairman of the National Rifle Association of New South Wales (1903-1905), and captained the Australian rifle team which won the Kolapore Cup at Bisley in 1903. He was placed on the Unattached List 1 September 1905 and then the Reserve of Officers, 21 October 1907. He retired on 31 March 1913 with the title of Honorary Colonel. During the Great War was appointed Sugar Commissioner. On 18 March 1918 he was awarded the honour as a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE). He died in London on 17 October 1926.


Since Lieutenant Howard had not received word from Major Oldershaw regarding the passes, he despatched a Telegram on 12 January 1900.


Lieutenant Howard's Telegram, 12 January 1900.


Lieutenant Howard's Telegram, 12 January 1900.

Telegram from Yass Station.

Addressed to the Adjutant, 1st Infantry Regiment, Victoria Barracks, Paddington, 11.34, 12 January 1900.

Please wire reply to my two letters re passes for Comapny and passes for men leaving active service tonight.

JW Howard, Lieutenant, WX7.


The response was rather confounding as the men were about to depart as their ship was due to embark in five days.


Major Oldershaw's response, 12 January 1900


Major Oldershaw's response, 12 January 1900

Telegram to Yass Station.

Addressed to the Officer Commanding "F" Company, 1st Infantry Regiment.

No authority to issue passes for Company to visit Sydney. The men for Third Contingent may wait as there is no hurry.

WJN Oldershaw
12 January 1900.


The men departed with Railway Return Tickets and embarked for South Africa on Active Service.

The following information was sent by Lieutenant Howard in response to Major Oldershaw's request of 12 January 1900 for the names.


List of Rail Pass Holders


Response from Lieutenant J. Howard regarding Rail Passes.

Return of men to whom Railway Return Tickets were issued, in order to proceed to Sydney for examination for Active Service.

        Regt. No.  Rank   Name
        266  Corporal   Tonkin, CJ
        158  Private   Murphy, WH
        210  Private   Jones, C
        816  Private   Mote, FA

Those from the list who embarked to South Africa for Active Service were:

281 Private Charles John TONKIN, "D" Squadron, 1st NSW Mounted Rifles, Murray p. 69. He was wounded at the Zand River and invalided back to Australia, arriving on 15 September 1900. At the conclusion of his service, he was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with two clasps: Driefontein, and Cape Colony.  (Brother of Francis Henry TONKIN.)

70 Private William Henry MURPHY, "E" Squadron, 1st NSW Mounted Rifles, Murray p. 40. He saw 15 month's service in South Africa. At the conclusion of his service, he was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with four clasps: Johannesberg, Diamond Hill, Wittebergen and Cape Colony.  During the Great War, he enlisted for service in the AIF and embarked as 53 Sergeant William Henry MURPHY with "A" Squadron, 12th Light Horse Regiment.

325 Private Collin JONES, "C" Squadron, 1st NSW Mounted Rifles, Murray p. 66. After completing his contract for service with 1st NSW Mounted Rifles, he re-enlisted in South Africa with the 3rd New South Wales Imperial Bushmen. At the conclusion of his service, he was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with five clasps: Driefontein, Johannesberg, Diamond Hill, Wittebergen and Cape Colony. Additionally, he was awarded the King's South African Medal with two clasps.

And one who did not see Active Service:

Frederick Arthur MOTE.


Promotions to fill the vacancy, 22 January 1900.


Notification of the Promotions, 22 January 1900. 


Yass, 22 January 1900
From the Officer Commanding "F" Company
To the Officer Commanding 1st Infantry Regiment

Subject: Promotions, Temporary

Sir, In accordance with Routine Order No. 2 of 1900, I have the honor to submit the names of the following for promotion to the ranks set against their names:

No. 261 Corporal Curl, CH, to be Lance Sergeant vice Tonkin, FH;
No. 668 Private Fairley N to be Corporal vice Curl CH;
No. 836 Private Edwards AA to be Corporal vice Tonkin CJ;
No. 161 Private Burgess ML to be Lance Corporal vice Brewer MC, resigned.

Lance Sergeant Tonkin FH and Corporal Tonkin CJ are absent on Active Service.

I have the honour to be Sir your most Obedient Servant,
Lieutenant JW Howard
Commanding "F" Company, 1st Infantry Regiment.


402 Private Francis Henry TONKIN, "D" Squadron, 1st NSW Mounted Rifles, Murray p. 69. He was wounded at the Zand River and invalided back to Australia, arriving on 6 August 1900. At the conclusion of his service, he was awarded the Queen's South African Medal with two clasps: Driefontein, and Cape Colony.  (Brother of Charles John TONKIN.)


This exchange indicates the difficulty that was faced in organising an enterprise such as a Regiment of mounted men for Active Service in South Africa. Every name is a story and every story needed to be set into the context of the larger enterprise. This chain of correspondence was replicated many times over during the Boer War campaign. 


Further Reading:

1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles

1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, Roll of Honour

Boer War, 1899 - 1902

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, Organising the Men from Yass, Letter, 9 January 1900

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Monday, 10 May 2010 11:46 AM EADT
New South Wales Infantry Contingent, Legge Letter 28 February 1900
Topic: BW - NSW - NSW Inf


New South Wales Infantry Contingent

Legge Letter 28 February 1900


Legge Letter 28 February 1900


After the arrival of Captain JW Legge in South Africa, he sent a series of letters to Sydney describing the activities of the New South Wales Infantry Contingent. They are a mixture of action and issues and so allow the reader to get to know this unit in an intimate manner. The personality of Legge comes through very clearly in his commentaries. The following is a transcript of his undated letter of about 28 February 1900. 


Camp Arundel
From Officer Commanding NSW Company (Infantry)
To the CSO NSW


I have the honour to state that I have been so pressed in time that I have had no opportunity to write of late.

During the middle of January there were a number of alarms at Enslin and we had a great deal of outpost work on the kopjes.

On the 22nd January it was definitely announced that the Australians were to be converted to Mounted Infantry, and we were hard at work testing the men in riding and practising the poor riders on mules and in stable duties with the horse lines of any mounted troops near us.

On 30th January we marched to Belmont, and entrained there on 31st January, arriving at Naauwpoort on the morning of 1st February. Here we received horses. The horses were from Madras Cavalry Regiment and were evidently not culled out as the best, as was also the saddlery, most of which was perished. We have been patching it ever since.

On 3rd February we proceeded by train to Rensburg, and were inspected "mounted" by the General Officer Commanding, General Clements, on the following morning. The General Officer Commanding was pleased with the Company and could hardly be induced to believe that we had only had one drill mounted. Of course the horses know their duty and so simplified matters considerably.

On 4th February we marched out to the Kloof Camp, west of Rensburg, on the outpost line against Colesberg, and first came under fire while entering Camp, from one of the enemy's Maxim Vicars guns, which fires a stream of shells weighing about 1½ pounds. There were no casualties. This gun is much used by the Boers and is called by our people the "pom-pom" gun, also the "Ten a penny". The effect, morally speaking, is worse even than heavy rifle fire or shrapnel, though the actual damage is generally less than either.

Since writing last time three men have been sent away to hospital with enteric fever, Privates Murray, Bradstock and Sergeant Coles. They have not yet returned.

Three men were poisoned with bad meat and sent to Naauwpoort, Corporal Buckleton and Privates Saxelby and Whiley. They have now recovered and returned to duty. Private Coxhead has returned to duty from hospital at Cape Town. Private Bright is still in hospital as reported in my last letter.

At the Kloof Camp we had a constant succession of outpost work on distant points and were often under fire, even in the Camp, from shots that passed over the outposts.

The force on the Colesberg - Rensburg line had been very much weakened to assist in forming the column which Lord Roberts was arranging for the relief of Kimberley.

The Boers consequently commenced to press us all along a front of about 15 miles.

On 9th February I had to send half the Company with Lieutenants Holmes and Logan to reinforce Slingersfontein on the other side of Rensburg.

On 10th February my half Company were on outpost on the left, nearest to the Victorian Camp at the Windmill Valley. These two outposts were driven in with loss from Bastard's Neck and Hobkirk's Farm. I was ordered round to their support, being relieved by infantry. Some guns (15 pounder) and Inniskillings from Maeders Farm also came up.

The enemy were checked and temporarily held during that day and the following, but were bringing up Pom Pom  guns, a 15 pounder which they use as a howitzer by putting the trail in a hole in the ground, and a 6 inch gun (about 40 pounder).

This we did not know until the morning of 12th February, when two of our field guns went down to a breastwork about 5,000 yards from Bastard's Nek, close to a large dam. The artillery were subjected to a heavy shrapnel fire, and as snipers were coming out, I had to take 20 men down to the dam as a covering party. The men obeyed well and we covered 1,000 yards on the flat at a gallop under shrapnel and pom-pom fire. There were no casualties among the men. Four horses were shot but not permanently damaged, my own in two places, by shrapnel bullets. We remained there 5 hours when the guns had to retire under fire, and we followed after they were out of range, again without casualties.

The ridge at Hobkirk's Farm on the left of us had been gradually forced by the Boers with rifle and artillery fire, although the Victorians fought well and saved a Company of Wiltshires.

We then held the valley with this line of mounted men skirmishing until dark while the Kloof Camp and Cole's Kop in our rear were evacuated. From 6 pm to 12 pm we then held the hills while the Infantry retired, the Victorian Mounted Rifles and our men joining the rear guard to Maeder's Farm.

As we were not in Camp ourselves much of our baggage was lost on the way or left at the Kloof Camp.

Arriving at Maeder's the retreat was continued, the South Australians and our Mounted Men being rearguard. We left them at 2 am and reached Rensburg in good order at 6 am on 13 February 1900. We had been three days and nights out without any rest, and during the last 38 hours the horses had no water and only one half feed.

The other half Company, which had done good work under Holmes at Slingersfontein as escort to guns and on outpost, joined us, and, after feeding and watering, I was sent on with my Company only to escort a Royal Engineers Park from Rensburg to Arundel. No enemy was met.

The following night Rensburg was evacuated and the whole force retired to Arundel, pursued by the Boers, who cut off two companies of the Wiltshires. Their artillery was at this time far superior to ours.

On 14th February we took part in a reconnaissance as escort to guns. Pte Murphy's horse was killed by shrapnel.

On 15th February half the Company was on outpost the other half scouting to the right rear. The Boers have worked round to a considerable extent on both flanks and do a good deal of sniping.

On 17th February we took part in another reconnaissance and were under a heavy artillery cross fire but without loss.

The duty here is extremely arduous and the men and horses are worked to the uttermost.

On 20th February we went out with a force to repel an attack upon our right rear. One Division under Lieutenant Dove was escort to some of the guns, where unfortunately Private Atchison was killed by a shell together with his horse, and Private Southey very slightly wounded.

With the other three divisions, subsequently reinforced by a Victorian Mounted Rifles Division, we were sent to occupy some kopjes in front. After crossing with the two divisions under fire and taking two ridges we received an order to retire which appears more to have been meant for us. The men retired under a heavy rifle fire and kept their heads well. Finding the order was never intended we again went across and by evening drove the Boers along 5 miles of ridges. Of course we were assisted greatly by a cross fire from our Artillery. At dusk we were with 55 rifles and 20 in reserve opposed to 200 Boers in a farm and on the opposite ridge. The rest of our men were holding the other part of the ridge already taken. Here we came to a stop and had a furious rifle duel, which the Boers finished up by firing shrapnel from an invisible gun at about 1,000 yards. They also used explosive bullets. We had good cover however and had no other loss. The whole of the Company, even the horses and horse holders on the far side of the ridge were under a dropping fire and it is really wonderful how we escaped.

As my orders were to secure all I took, I had to move from one part to another, and entrenched the firing line to Lieutenant Holmes, who acted with great dash and coolness. At dusk we received orders to return to the guns, and went back to camp with them. The Boers have not since returned to this farm and ridge, called Wolfefontein. Major Enthoven, Royal Artillery was kind enough to send over and say that "We could not have done better."

No. 17 Private Atchison (Samuel Charles) was a single man, whose mother lives at Shellhabour. He died doing his duty and was a very good lad. He has been buried near the Headquarters at Arundel.

On 21st February, we were ordered out early to the left outposts near Potgieter's Farm to support No. 4 Field Battery under Major Butcher, Royal Artillery. We were met about 3 miles to the left where the Boers were trying out their turning movement. After a reinforcement of guns on the morning of the 22nd February, our force advanced west from the outpost line two miles out another force from Camp attacked the Boers on the South, and subjected them to a heavy shell fire. Lieutenant Dove did an excellent piece of scouting on the right with his division and drove off the Boer patrols, thus rendering the advance of the guns possible.

About 3 pm the Boers retired in great haste making north, and we returned to camp at night.

The last fortnight has been extremely trying to men and horses, constantly standing to arms even when in Camp, broken rest and irregular and deficient food and water. The latter is not the fault of the Army Supply Corps but due to the rapid moves we have to make as mounted men.

I expect that we shall make another move forward in a few days.

I have the honour to be
Your obedient servant
JW Legge, Captain
Commander NSW Infantry Contingent
(Now Mounted Infantry).

War Diaries

All War Diaries cited on this site should be read in conjunction with the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy which may be accessed at:

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy 



Further Reading:

New South Wales Infantry Contingent

New South Wales Infantry Contingent, Roll of Honour 

Boer War, 1899 - 1902

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: New South Wales Infantry Contingent, Legge Letter 28 February 1900

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Saturday, 9 April 2011 11:15 PM EADT
"A" Squadron, NSW Mounted Rifles, Antill Letter, 22 January 1900
Topic: BW - NSW - NSWMR_A


"A" Squadron, NSW Mounted Rifles

Antill Letter, 22 January 1900


Antill Letter, 22 January 1900


The following transcript is of a letter written by Captain John Macquarie Antill, Officer Commanding the New South Wales Mounted Rifles contingent to South Africa to the New South Wales Chief Staff Officer and Assistant Adjutant General Colonel Henry Douglas Mackenzie.

Omdraais Vlei
22 January 1900

The Assistant Adjutant


Since my last advice nothing of importance has transpired. In accordance with instructions. Priesk has been attacked by 800 rebels on the 13th I returned on this place almost 40 miles south and awaiting reinforcements which arrive tomorrow from De Aar when it is intended to re-enter the town and I surmise march on Grequa Town and thus relieve the pressure on Kimberley. Our relief consists of a battery Royal Artillery, one Squadron of Imperial Light Horse, 2 Companies Infantry and 2 Companies Mounted Infantry was fortunately able to effect retirement without loss or mishap but only evacuated Prieska 1½ hours before it was occupied by the Boers in large numbers. Also got my prisoners away to De Aar with 1,000 sheep. The 9 horses we took are a valuable addition to the Squadron as it just fills our casualties. The men are in splendid health two only being exempt from work Private Symonds (slight fever) and Private Maxwell (pneumonia) I am very pleased to state that the discipline is all that can be derived and that the Commanding Officer Colonel Alderson has expressed his very great satisfaction with the work done by the Squadron. Lieutenant McLean and Onslow are of great assistance and Lieutenant Tooth who has had charge of the Transport has given every satisfaction. The Transport at first was a difficulty as it meant leaving De Aar with 40 mules only about 10 of which had been in harness: Warrant Officer Holeman, Staff Sergeant Wasson and all NCOs are doing good work. The duties are arduous for so small a unit there being 20 miles of front to watch. This means only about 2 nights out of bed per week. There are also 3 roads diverging from here to patrol. Greatly miss veterinary assistance having had none whatever. There is a dearth of Veterinary Officers and this country teems with horse sickness. Lieutenant McDonnell is here with us and will have medical charge of this column: Will you kindly have it promulgated that to date there has been no casualty as the men find a difficulty in procuring writing materials and the mails are very disjointed. I will be glad if you will ask General French if he has noted the papers which I arranged to have sent to him from Cape Town.

Your obedient servant
JM Antill, Captain
Commander Mounted Rifles.

Chief Staff Officer
15 February 1900  



Previous:  Antill Letter, 16 January 1900

Next:  Antill Letter, 8 February 1900


War Diaries and Letters

All War Diaries and letters cited on this site should be read in conjunction with the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, War Diaries and Letters, Site Transcription Policy which may be accessed at:

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, War Diaries and Letters, Site Transcription Policy 



Further Reading:

New South Wales Mounted Rifles, "A" Squadron

New South Wales Mounted Rifles, "A" Squadron, Roll of Honour

Boer War, 1899 - 1902

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: "A" Squadron, NSW Mounted Rifles, Antill Letter, 22 January 1900

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Tuesday, 3 May 2011 1:36 PM EADT
"A" Squadron, NSW Mounted Rifles, Antill Letter, 8 February 1900
Topic: BW - NSW - NSWMR_A


"A" Squadron, NSW Mounted Rifles

Antill Letter, 8 February 1900


Antill Letter, 8 February 1900


The following transcript is of a letter written by Captain John Macquarie Antill, Officer Commanding the New South Wales Mounted Rifles contingent to South Africa to the New South Wales Chief Staff Officer and Assistant Adjutant General Colonel Henry Douglas Mackenzie.

From Captain Antill
Commanding New South Wales Mounted Rifles
To the Assistant Adjutant General
New South Wales Forces

Ramah (12 miles East Orange River Station)
8 February 1900

My last advice to you was from Houwater from which place I returned to Prieska on January 27th with a mounted column under Colonel Alderman command from De Aar consisting of the 20th Battery Royal Horse Artillery, 2 Companies (The Eastern and York) Mounted Infantry 2 companies South African (now changed to "Roberts Horse") Horse and 1 mounted section machine guns. The large number of the enemy which occupied the town on my departure we found had recrossed the river which had suddenly risen and the place was found empty. The column again left Priesker for Orange River by route march on January 30th at 2 am a distance of 100 miles where it arrived on February 2nd. The major part of it proceeded to Modder on the 4th and my Squadron to Ramah a post 12 miles east on the Orange River, having the Queensland Mounted Infantry 7 miles north west at Reit Fontein and the 14th Hussars (1 Squadron) and two 15 pounders at the drift at Zoutpaier 7 miles further east. These three posts to clear the vicinity of the enemy and guard against the advance of the enemy who are supposed to be occupying several strong laagers on our front.

On the 6th I made a reconnaissance to a cluster of Copjies 10 miles north east east of Ramah across a large plain and there surprised a small outpost of 12 Boers who retired precipitously on our approach to a laager which was very strongly occupied about 1 mile further east: was unable to get within range although shots were exchanged at long range with what result is no known on their side. Our casualties nil. Burned the post and two large houses belonging to the enemy and took 42 horses and 12 cattle, returning to camp after a long day of 12 hours. These horses of which 20 were suitable were mostly good sorts and I am now engaged in breaking them to fill casualties in the way of sick and unfit. The General Officer Commanding Orange River yesterday informed me by messenger that he is very pleased with the result of the reconnaissance. It is very difficult to secure prisoners. The Boers imbeds in very strong positions with good cover retire very quickly from Copje to Copje and with the small force under my command, it is unsafe to follow unless the country here is fairly open. Most of the Squadrons and Companies have Maxims or one or two guns to assist and find these adjuncts very useful. Am therefore at a disadvantage in this respect. I anticipate being left here for a week or so and then moved to the front at Modder. Our Colonial horses cut up a good deal as previously reported on the very rough country and those taken from the Boers though small are admittedly adapted to this work.

One of my men (Waterson) has contracted enteric which is very prevalent just now and in hospital in Cape Town there are also 5 other men in hospital chiefly slight attacks of fever and one sunstroke but nothing serious.

The discipline of the unit is everything which can be desired and in my opinion, from observation, is far before that of others than Colonial troops. As a case in point en route Colonel Alderson placed the towns in which liquor could be procured, out of bounds to the remainder of the column: allowing me to use my own discretion: I have had no trouble at all: And this officer on more than one occasion complemented the unit on its exemplary conduct and on the manner in which the field duties were carried out: Infantry seem of little use and are not used except in occupying fixed positions and the Imperial Mounted Infantry appear to be not used to the bush work. Occasionally one comes a man or 2 who has lost himself quite close to his own Troop: Our clothing is mostly in rags, and it is difficult to procure any out of stores there being, with unexpected demand a great drain upon all stores: We have had lots of fresh meat from the looted stock and as the Imperial ration is small have done well: The horses however cannot do on the scale and I have had to ask for additional. All that is allowed is 6lb mealies 6lb chaff (straw). Mules can do on this also country horses but our larger horses must have 50% more to work upon.

The sick are:

Sergeant Gilfillan - Sun (slight)
Private McGregor - Epileptic 
Private Waterson - Enteric
Private Maples - Fever (slight)
Corporal Bateup - Dysentery

Your obedient servant
JM Antill, Captain
Commanding Mounted Rifles Unit.  



Previous:  Antill Letter, 22 January 1900

Next:  Antill Letter, 22 March 1900


War Diaries and Letters

All War Diaries and letters cited on this site should be read in conjunction with the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, War Diaries and Letters, Site Transcription Policy which may be accessed at:

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, War Diaries and Letters, Site Transcription Policy 



Further Reading:

New South Wales Mounted Rifles, "A" Squadron

New South Wales Mounted Rifles, "A" Squadron, Roll of Honour

Boer War, 1899 - 1902

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: "A" Squadron, NSW Mounted Rifles, Antill Letter, 8 February 1900

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Tuesday, 3 May 2011 1:41 PM EADT
1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, Hilliard Letter, 11 July 1900
Topic: BW - NSW - 1NSWMR

1st NSWMR 

1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles

Hilliard Letter, 11 July 1900


Hilliard Letter, 11 July 1900


The following letter to an unnamed Colonel in the NSW Military was written by Captain Maurice Alfred HILLIARD (19 March 1964 - 1907), the Officer Commanding “C” Squadron, 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles in South Africa. During his service he was accidentally injured Heidelberg 27 June 1900. Much to his despair he was invalided to Australia and arrived on 17 August 1900. He was Mentioned in Despatches in the London Gazette edition of 18 April 1901 and awarded the DSO. His service in South Africa saw him awarded the Queen’s South African Medal with four clasps – Driefontein, Transvaal, Johannesburg and Diamond Hill. After returning to Sydney he remained in the permanent forces.

To place people and places into the context of the letter, a series of explanatory notes have been placed below the body of the letter. These match up with the reference numbers in the letter’s text.


Captain Maurice Alfred HILLIARD (19 March 1964 - 1907)



11 July 1900

My dear Colonel

My last letter to you was written in April last when on Outpost duty at Karee near Bloemfontein and I am afraid you will think I have been rather remiss in not having earlier taken up the thread of our doings since that time, but the fact is our movements have been so rapid that little time has been at my disposal for letter writing.

Owing to rather a severe accident, which occurred to me at Heidelberg through my horse falling and rolling upon me when "galloping a kopje", I am at this place invalided and so have time now to continue the narrative of our experiences since we left Bloemfontein to which place we had returned to be re-equipped and transferred to General Hutton's Brigade.

Our first day's march was a rough one of 30 miles to a place called Constantia at west from Bloemfontein and it was 10 hours on 1st May before we bivouacked.

On morning of 2nd May we immediately got in touch with the enemy and following him very earnestly but without any hot fighting, occupied Brandfort on 3rd May.

The 5th May saw us (for the first time actually engaged under General Hutton) at the Vet River.

My Squadron led the attack and after a sharp gallop under shell fire we left our horses under cover and advanced in extended order on foot.

The advance was over perfectly level ground without any cover whatever and as the firing was very heavy (shell fire, pom-pom, Maxim and rifle) we had a trying time, but rapidly crossing over the 1,500 yards of open, succeeded in driving the Boers out of the drift.

Taking a breather under this welcome shelter we again advanced across the open on the opposite side and stormed the kopje held by the enemy. Our advance was so rapid they were obliged to leave a Maxim behind which we captured. We also seized six or seven prisoners and accounted for a good many killed.

None of our men were killed and only a few slightly wounded, which considering the rain of bullets is to me marvellous. I can only attribute such luck to the rapidity with which we moved and the excellent way intervals were maintained.

General Hutton was too generous in his remarks when congratulating me personally - but the warm praise he bestowed upon my Squadron in particular and the Regiment generally was well deserved and will ever be warmly cherished by us all.

On the 6th inst we met Colonel Parrot and Captain Copeland (1) at Smaldeel the junction of the main Railway and Winburg line.

The 7th inst again found us under a heavy shell fire on the South Bank of the Zand River where we had suddenly come upon a Boer Laager of 10 to 12,000 enemy.

Retiring that night to Welgelegen we awaited the arrival of Lord Roberts' Column and on the morning of the 9th inst he arrived and we were immediately marched out to take a drift higher up the river which we successfully crossed without opposition just as dark and bivouacked on the opposite bank at du Preez Laager. (2)

You have of course read the account of the Battle of Zand River of the 10th May and how the Boers scattered like chaff.

This day was however responsible for a Calamity on our side and I witnessed one of the most painful sights I ever hope to see.

My Squadron having been on outpost all night was told to follow on after the advance had commenced and missing the Regiment on the field we were placed by General Hutton as escort to supporting guns.

It was a most trying day of incessant shell fire and the range being too long for our twelve pounders (without dangerously exposing them to the mercy of the Boers big guns) the Carabineers and Scots Grey (to which the 1st Australian Horse were attached) were ordered to charge the gun positions.

The Boers quickly got their guns away but left an ambush of 300 men in a Kaffir Kraal and our Cavalry seeing no one and cattle on the top of kopje rote to within 70 yards of the Kraal when the Boers opened fire. You can imagine what a sight of dead and dying men and horses met our eyes when we, following up, occupied the position.

It was here that Lieutenant Wilkinson was taken prisoner. He has of course, as you know, been since released.

At 7.30 pm on 12th inst we entered the town from which I am now writing - after all the long marches and hard work we were grateful for a rest on Sunday 13th inst.

Monday 14th May saw us marching again and with much regret we left General French's command and transferred to that of General Ian Hamilton under whom we have since served.

It was here poor Harriott (3) and his troop after having been to Kimberely and back and rejoined my Squadron - of this dear fellow's death I shall tell you as I follow the course of our career.

Our Regimental strength was augmented also by Legge's Company which added on ours as "E" Company under Holmes and Dove (Legge (4) having become adjutant since and joining us at Bloemfontein).

I see I have arrived at page 9 and am afraid I am too exhaustive in my details which weary you to read it all therefore I must curtail and touch only on one or two of the most important days concerning us in my descriptive.

Marching rapidly (always camping and starting again in the dark) we occupied Lindley (without fighting) on 18th May.

A little fighting on 20th and 21st May and then Heilbron was occupied on 22 inst. We left this place next day and monotonous marchings brought us back to the main railway line again just north of Roodewal on the 24th inst.

All hoped to have crossed the Vaal on Her Majesty's Birthday and we were but a day late as the next day after a long and rapid march we did so.

We fully expected opposition here and waited near the river till dark when we galloped the drift at Boschbok south west of Vereeniging to which place Lord Roberts was advancing. To our surprise the enemy was not in evidence and we felt a joy at being at last in the Transvaal.

Rough marches and hardship and two day's hard fighting gave us Johannesburg which was occupied on the 30th May.

After 2 or 3 day's rest we pushed on for our goal, Pretoria, which after a magnificent artillery duel was ours on the 5 June. We were all proud and I am sure you all were in Australia that Lieutenant Watson (5) of our Regiment was the first into Pretoria.

He was lucky enough to be galloper to our Brigadier (Lieutenant Colonel De Lisle) and the Colonel sent him in to demand the surrender of the town. I must leave Watson to tell his own tale, but I take special interest in the lucky lot falling to him as I induced him to join our Permanent Paid Forces as Subaltern in the 4th Regiment.

Great was our disappointment on the 5th when instead of joining in the formalities of taking the town over we were suddenly saddled up and hastened out beyond Pretoria. From that day until the 11th inst we were kept going hither and thither after the enemy and on the 11th and 12th inst we had some of the hottest fighting on the Campaign.
(See: The Battle of Diamond Hill, South Africa, 11 - 12 June 1900)
All day on the 11th through some apparent blunder we got between two fires and had to simply stand and be shelled. To have retired would have appeared weakness and the only thing to do was to wait until our big guns came up the next day. (British casualties this day were heavy including Earl of Airlie (6))

At day break on the memorable 12th my Squadron was sent as escort to the Big Guns. They got into position by 10 am and having plenty of Infantry escort, I was ordered to rejoin the Regiment. The whole of the day the guns kept pounding away at each other and the sight was one of a lifetime. Towards noon it was with much satisfaction that we observed our guns had silenced those of the enemy which had the day before so much harassed us. The frontage of the battle must have been fully six miles in extent and the position held by the Boers was a long line of Kopjes (here little mountains).

Just about 3 pm our turn came - advancing across the veldt for about half a mile (in columns of troop in extended order) at a walk we then broke into a hot trot and when another half mile had been covered we broke into a gallop and made for the sheltering base of part of the Kopje straight in front of us.

After a most exciting gallop of a mile partly under fire we reached the shelter for our horses, dismounted and then scaled the Kopje.

My Squadron was first up and I had Mr Anderson (7) on my left and on my immediate right Mr Newman (8) and next to him Mr Harriott. It was a difficult climb especially after a trying gallop but out men never hesitated and we soon reached the first rugged "table top".

The bullets began to hiss in real earnest so we dashed across the open and gained the next line of pinnacle rocks. Keeping firing we halted for a little while and then made another rush for the next line of shelter.

It was then that poor Harriott fell shot in the thigh by either an expansive or a MH bullet. Private Cameron was also shot in the stomach.

Seeing the Boers retreating bayonets were fixed and a dash forward made which was too much for the and they "scattered". A Field Cornet was shot and his cousin after narrowly shooting Lieutenant Newman through the head was made prisoner.

The Boers managed to get away all their other dead and wounded.

At this juncture they opened a big gun on us at very short range also two pom poms, and discovering that we were being enfiladed with rifle fire on the left, I ordered the men to lie flat behind cover and so we remained and longed for darkness not daring to lift our heads up to reply to their fire except by an occasional volley. I afterwards learned that the other Squadron Commanders had a similar experience.

Poor Drage (10) fell just on my left shot through the left head – also though he lived a little while he was dead when I saw him. Captain Holmes was sounded in the right forearm but pluckily stayed with me all night on the Kopje which we had to hold. Harriott's loss was a great sorrow to me as I had become greatly attached to him.

He was plucky to rashness and I had often warned him to be careful but on this occasion poor chap it was the fortunes of war and a finer young fellow couldn't have been chosen for a Soldier's fate. He never rallied properly and died next day and was buried in the garden of a farm house.

Drage was also buried at another farm in a most picturesque spot.

Next day finding the Boers had cleared we gave chase and got on to their rear guard about 6 miles out and chased them up at the historical Bronkhorst Spruit. (9)

My Squadron and a company of 6th Mounted Infantry held the enemy whilst the remainder of our Advanced Guard retired which was considered expedient as the enemy was in force.

14th and 15th June saw us resting at Elands River and on the 16th we marched back to Pretoria which town we "did" on 17th and 18th. It was a treat and the town the prettiest we have struck. Houses and gardens like Strathfield.

Leaving Pretoria again on the 19th June easy marches brought us within sight of the hills behind which Heidelberg was hidden on the 22nd inst. We fully anticipated a fight next day but our patrols got right into the town and we following cautiously formed up at the Railway Station at 10.30 am.

Lieutenant Bowman and his patrol were first into the town and hoisted the "Jack".

We were just preparing to settle down when it was discovered the enemy held the hills on the opposite side of the town and had to be driven out.

It was just lunch time when we moved off at a smart trot to a position on the left of the attack.

There was only Captain Lenehan's (11) and my Squadrons engaged of our Regiment as the remainder were holding the town.

After about two hours firing the advance was ordered and we broke into a canter and it was just at this juncture that my horse (a large waler) put both his fore feet into a hole and turned completely over rolling I am told twice over me. I came off very lucky as outside a sprained foot, slight concussion of the brain and a nasty shaking I am sound in limb.

However, it was with the deepest regret that I saw my Regiment march off without me en route to Frankfort on the morning of the 27th June inst.

Since that date I have news of the Regiment anticipating they would work across here have made my way down gradually hoping to rejoin.

The doctor here however advises me to rest for a week or two longer after which I hope to be once again in the saddle.

This is all my news up to date except perhaps I shall like you to know that Colonel Knight informs me my name has gone forward in despatches.

Of matters generally you will know more than we do out here so that I need not add to my already too lengthy resume of our doings. Will you kindly send this letter on to Colonel Ranclaud (12) and I would ask him to accept it as a communication from me also.

Trusting you have all escaped the ravages of the Bubonic plague and with kind regards

I am dear Colonel
Yours Sincerely
MA Hilliard, Captain.


(1) Colonel Parrot and Captain Copeland = Colonel Thomas Samuel PARROTT and Captain Henry Paul Ramsay COPELAND, Special Service Officers.

(2) du Preez Laager = The laager formed by Field-Cornet Jan du Preez.

(3) Harriott = Lieutenant William Rupert HARRIOTT, "C" Squadron, NSWMR. Died of Wounds at Diamond Hill 13 June 1900. His grave is in Diamond Hill Cemetery

(4) Legge = Captain James Gordon LEGGE, see New South Wales Infantry Contingent.

(5) Watson = Lieutenant William Walker Russell WATSON, appointed Captain "D" Squadron, NSWMR. Appointed Service Officer 2nd Imperial Mounted Infantry Corps. Mentioned in Despatches, 18 April 1901.

(6) Earl of Airlie = Lieutenant Colonel David Stanley William Ogilvy, 11th Earl of Airlie (20 January 1856 — 11 June 1900)

(7) Anderson = Lieutenant Charles Godfrey ANDERSON, later Captain "C" Squadron, NSWMR. Born 1862 Stockholm Sweden.

(8) Newman = Lieutenant William Augustine NEWMAN, "C" Squadron, NSWMR.

(9) Bronkhorst Spruit = (From Wikipedia - Action_at_Bronkhorstspruit )

The Action at Bronkhorstspruit was one of the first serious clashes of the First Boer War. It was a skirmish between a British army column and a group of Boers, fought a few miles east of the town of Bronkhorstspruit, Transvaal on 20 December 1880.

A column of British soldiers consisting of six officers and 246 men of the 94th Regiment, as well as 12 men of the Army Service Corps and four of the Army Hospital Corps, were marching on a road to Pretoria, when at least 250 Boers appeared to the left of the column. Making use of the limited cover, the Boers crept to within 200 yards of the British. Lt. Col. Anstruther parleyed with a Boer envoy, who had brought a request from the Transvaal government to turn back. Anstruther refused, but before he could move his column into skirmish formation the Boers opened fire at 12:30 pm.

Within 15 minutes, most of the officers were killed or wounded, and the horses and oxen pulling the covered wagons at the front and rear of the column were killed, preventing any movement. Shocked by the sudden and aggressive nature of the attack, Lt. Col. Anstruther gave the order to surrender. In a battle lasting just 15 minutes, 156 British soldiers were killed or wounded, with the rest taken prisoner. Reported Boer casualties were only two killed and five wounded.

(10) Drage = Lieutenant Percy William Chanter DRAGE, "D" Squadron, NSWMR, Killed in Action at Diamond Hill 12 June 1900 buried and buried at Rhenosterfontein Farm and reburied with his grave at Diamond Hill Cemetery.

(11) Captain Lenehan = Captain Robert William LENEHAN, Officer Commanding "B" Squadron, NSWMR.

(12) Colonel Ranclaud = Colonel Charles Mark Ranclaud (b. 31 July 1851 - d. 1931 )

Second Lieutenant: 3 March 1882
Lieutenant: 31 May 1882
Captain: 14 March 1884
Major: 2 November 1885
Lieutenant Colonel: (Local) 9 January 1896, Commanding Officer 4th Infantry Regiment.
Lieutenant Colonel: (Substantive) 19 January 1897.
Colonel: 1 October 1906
Commanding Officer 1st Infantry Brigade: 1 January 1907
Retired: 1 January 1912


Further Reading:

1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles

1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, Roll of Honour

Boer War, 1899 - 1902

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles, Hilliard Letter, 11 July 1900

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Monday, 11 April 2011 3:55 PM EADT

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