Topic: Militia - LHQ - Qld
Queensland Mounted Infantry
Outline, Part 3
March: Soldiers of the Queen
The following outline of the Queensland Mounted Infantry is extracted from a book written by Joan Starr called Forward: the history of the 2nd / 14th Light Horse (Queensland Mounted Infantry), published Queensland, 1989. This section comes from pp. 14 - 17:
The situation was inflamed when the British South Africa Company mobilised its private army of eight hundred men and held them on standby at Mafeking ready to ride to Johannesburg in the Republic of South Africa. On New Year's Day 1896, a shocked would learned that this force was riding into Transvaal to take armed support to the Uitlanders who, it was claimed, had asked for assistance. It was a weak display as the force of eight hundred surrendered to the first Boer troops which confronted them.
The British continued to threaten the Republic by moving troops from the Cape to the Transvaal border and ordering reinforcements from India. On 2 October 1899 President Kruger of the Boer Republic issued an ultimatum to the British, accusing Britain of interfering in the internal affairs of Transvaal and of massing troops to threaten the state. The statement concluded, "That unless Her Majesty's Government complies within 48 hours the Government of the South African Republic (Transvaal) would with great regret be compelled to regard the action as a formal declaration of war."
War began on 14 October 1899 when the Boers swept out of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State on three fronts in an effort to deliver the most telling blows before the arrival of more British troops. In the west they besieged the towns of Mafeking and Kimberley, at the same time severing the road to Rhodesia. In the east they seized the northern Natal towns of Dundee and Newcastle and encircled Ladysmith. The third thrust took place in the centre. There they occupied the railway town of Colesburg, severing the rail system from the Cape Colony. The early battles took place on British territory and it was to be several months before fighting occurred in the republics. The war was only a month old and the Boers had drawn first blood and had laid siege to Mafeking in the north, Kimberley to the west and Ladysmith to the east. Britain was outgunned, outmanned and outclassed!
It is not possible to determine the exact number of men in the irregular Boer forces. Approximately 50,000 men from the two Boer republics, augmented by 10,000 rebels from the Cape Colony and Natal and about 2,500 foreign sympathisers were pitted against the British. They were not all in the field at the one time, the greatest number being about forty-five thousand in December 1899 after which the number gradually declined. Following the fall of Pretoria in June 1900 the number on active service never rose above twenty thousand. After the first ten months of the war, the Boers fought in a purely guerrilla fashion. In the end it was to take 448,000 British and Empire troops to subdue the Boers.
Britain was generally out of favour with the rest of the world because of its bullying tactics against the independent states of South Africa. There had been unfavourable comment both in America and much of Europe (Germany in particular), about Britain's actions in South Africa, but it still had the Empire's colonies and dominions on which to call. Even as early as July 1899, when it first appeared that hostilities would break out, an overeager government of Queensland, acting on a recommendation of the Commandant of Queensland Defence Forces, offered a contingent of mounted infantry with a machine-gun section. The offer was matched at once by the governments of New South Wales and Victoria.
The British War Office had no understanding of the value of these so readily offered colonial troops. The soldiers were assessed as less than first-class and certainly not as skilled or as reliable as British regulars. While the War Office was inclined to send a carefully worded polite refusal, the British government's demand for a show of Empire unity took precedence. Under Cabinet pressure, the War Office accepted the offer from the Australian colonies.
The Queensland Legislative Assembly debated the whole matter of the offer of troops for South Africa, during a four-day sitting from 11 October 1899. Finally it was decided that the contingent would comprise 250 mounted infantry and one machine-gun section and that the cost to raise, equip and transport the force for a six-month expedition, would be £32,000. On 12 October, during the Legislative Assembly debate, it was learnt that war had been declared by the Boers. On the following day the Boers crossed the Natal border. The British Empire was at war. The Queensland contingent was enrolled, organised and equipped with arms, clothing, horses, saddlery, transport wagons with fittings, and stores between October 13 and October 28 - a praiseworthy record of the indefatigable way in which the staff, the Comptroller of Stores, the medical and veterinary authorities, and the government, strove to equip the contingent for war.
The Queensland Government also paid for another two contingents, the 2nd Queensland Mounted Infantry commanded by Lieutenant Colonel K. Hutchison, and the 3rd Queensland Mounted Infantry commanded by Major W. H. Tunbridge. In addition the Imperial Government paid the expenses of three contingents, the 4th, 5th and 6th Queensland Imperial Bushmen, largely consisting of volunteers from the Queensland Mounted Infantry and other units of the Queensland Defence Force. Following Federation the Commonwealth Government despatched eight battalions of the Australian Commonwealth Horse Regiment. The 7th Battalion of this regiment was raised entirely in Queensland in 1902, and was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Harry Chauvel. Queensland also provided a company for the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Commonwealth Horse.
The government decided it was necessary to insure the lives of the men who were about to go to war, and on November 1899, the Queenslander reported "The Government has definitely decided to accept the offer of the Mutual Life Association of Australasia to insure the lives of the members of the Queensland contingent for £250 each. The risk is to commence from the date of arrival in South Africa and to continue for a period of 12 months, or until the termination of the war or the departure of the contingent from South Africa."
Privately subscribed funds were raised by citizens throughout Australia, who felt that by authorising despatch of the contingents, the government and people of this country had incurred a moral obligation to the men, their wives and families. It was considered in the event of death or permanent disability of any man in the contingents, his wife and children should be entitled to receive an allowance from what was known as the National Patriotic Fund. To establish the fund, meetings were held in the various capital cities, and as enthusiasm for the cause raced across the country almost every town and settlement took part in fund-raising. The Patriotic Fund was to continue in existence until the 1980s, helping families of servicemen who had suffered as a result of war or natural disaster.
As well as arranging insurance for the men, the government made provision for families during the absence of the breadwinners, by arranging for married men to assign their pay in favour of their wives before leaving for South Africa. Because of these provisions, the men were able to leave their families with the knowledge that they would be well-cared for, should the need arise, by the government and their fellow Australians.
Citation: Queensland Mounted Infantry, Outline, Part 3