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Re: Breaker Morant

From: Anthony Petch - "Pentwyn"
Date: 9/25/00
Time: 9:02:39 PM
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I have recently returned from the Republic of South Africa where I have been researching a book on Morant. I live at Loxton, one my friends is James Robertson whose family owns Chowilla Station which had a tavern which Morant frequented. I have spoken to many people who were small children when he was executed whose fathers were acquainted with him in the Paringa District. Another friends great-grandfather ['Tuppy' Balfour-Ogilvie] was an associate of Morant and was present at his and Handcock's execution. I have grown up with the legend and until I travelled to South Africa was happy to be smeared with the same pap as everybody else is. I am very interested in the thoughts of those who seek to perpetuate the myth of Morant, many of whom who have never ventured to go an see where the events occurred at Fort Edward to get an opinion for themselves other than what they have read from other sources. Ultimately I believe that, despite the fact that Morant did use the examples in his defence which suggested that the hit and run tactics used by the Boers were not in keeping with the 'rules of war', the fact was that the war had become unchristian and brutal due to the very tactics the British employed against the Boers. The Boers reacted accordingly. Go to South Africa and find out about the rapes and murder of Boer women by many Imperial and Commonwealth mounted units, Kitcheners policy of burning famhouses, destroying crops which led to deaths of starvation of many Boer families, or herding women and small children into Concentration Camps [yes the British not the Germans invented them] and see how many thousands perished of Typhoid and Dysentry which was preventable and then you will understand why the Afrikaaners still despise the British and why we as Australians should not be so proud of our part in the Boer War which was caused by the British for no other reason than Britain needing precious metals such as gold and silver which could be obtained from the Transvaal. Units like Hunts, of which Morant was a Lieutenant were tasked with neutralising the remaining pockets of Boer resistence, a task the Bushveldt Carbineers did exceedingly well (as evidenced by the few numbers of prisoners that were brought in to Fort Edward) They followed orders, in a mobile war on the South African veldt the reality was that no prisoners could be taken. Fort Edward did not have any facilities to accomodate Boer prisoners anyway. There is no clear evidence at all, only speculation and conjecture about the fact that Captain Percy Hunt's body was mutiliated by the Boers of the Viljoen Commando. What many people overlook is the fact that Viljoen's body was also found mutilated alongside that of Hunts and it is suggested by the Viljoen family that it was a ritual desecration by Kaffirs (or as we should say Africans). What benefit would be gained by a Commando in mutilating a body of a British Officer. It would be tantamount to signing your own death warrant !. Whether Hunt was formally executed soon after the attack on the farmhouse or interrogated roughly then shot can never corroborated now, but it is clear from accounts that he was stil alive when the Carbineers had to withdraw from the vicinity of the Viljoen farmhouse. After meeting and speaking to many people in South Africa, it is my opinion that Morant "got way out of hand" with his treatment of Boer prisoners captured over the subsequent days. Despite the circumstantial evidence used to convict Hancock and Morant (and the murder of the Missionary Hesse) an example had to be set by an infuriated Kitchener that he still had control of the anti-guerilla units he had raised by recruiting many "incorrigibles" from Australia, Canada, the United States, Germany and even Native South Africans whose service obligations had been completed and had let loose on the veldt like wild animals. It had nothing to do with the fact they were Australians. Sadly, the fact is that for Morant and Hancock they simply got caught out. Morant may have been a little more eloquent at the court martial than poor Peter Hancock, a blacksmith from Ballarat but by this stage things had gone too far. No-one was really concerned about the threat from Germany that it might enter the war which is a furphy promoted by many. There wasa Diplomatic flurry but nothing out of the ordinary. The Kaiser's grand plan was to start a war with England in 1916 anyway after the completion of the Berlin to Bagdad railway. In the end it was Morant's recklessness which is recorded in many texts by those who served with him which was his undoing. For me, I truly believe that Morant had no-where else to go after the Boer War, he wouldnt have settled in South Africa instead he would have continued his itinerant existence which is well noted in Australia. Perhaps it is a fitting thing for a man who successfully "re-invented" himself should become adopted by Australians as one of their own, immortalised in legend and innuendo. Do not misinterpret me, Morant is what I and many others would aspire to be in that era, a knockabout horseman, a bush poet, a brave and fearless soldier who was fiercely loyal to his friends, defiant of the British and cut a romantic figure. But no-one in their right mind would want to be shot by firing squad after being found guilty at a field court martial of shooting prisoners out of hand. Shooting prisoners happens in every war, the smart soldiers just dont get caught at it !. Morant's and Hancock's only practical and lasting contribution has been to the Australian military justice system and this has been that no other Australians have been able to be tried by field court martial with the threat of punishment by firing squad except by the Australian Army itself and this is the only thing they should be remembered for. As a child I once wondered why Morant's name wasnt recorded on the War Memorial on North Terrace in Adelaide. Sadly, I understand why now, he was incorrigible who brought disgrace upon those who served with him in the Bushveldt Carbineers. Regards, ANTHONY PETCH, LOXTON. S.A. pentwyn@riverland.net.au

Last changed: December 29, 2000