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Breaker Morant - an alternative view

From: Barry Caligari
Date: 1/28/2002
Time: 4:07:20 PM
Remote Name:


Brevity is a difficulty but Steve Becker’s view on the Morant Affair differs from mine. But I would gladly reconsider my position and settle for the status quo if anyone can satisfy some of my most pressing doubts about the affair. Captain Taylor, Kitchener’s man on the ground, was involved to some extent in all of the charges laid against all of the accused. The court of inquiry recommended several charges against him according to the Deputy Judge Advocate General’s Office, Pretoria. Taylor was allowed to resign his commission (a most improper action) and did not face a court martial controlled by the Army Act. He was tried by a military court, controlled by Kitchener, and charged and acquitted of only two weak charges. Why? Captain Taylor could have been tried by a court-martial within the three months after he resigned his commission but after the three months had expired he could only be tried by a military court. Why does this three months dovetail so neatly with the three months all accused spent incommunicado in solitary confinement? The three months also represents a leisurely period for the authorities during which very little happened.

Captain Robertson was involved in the shooting of 6 Boers. Why was he allowed to escape charges by resigning his commission?

Colonel Hall, commander of all the accused, was well aware of the shooting of prisoners soon after each event. He didn’t need “the 15” disgruntled, disgraced and relieved carbineers whose leader was to face a court of inquiry for “murder, cowardice, rape and robbery” to remind him of these facts. Interestingly enough, the diary of Major Poore, the Provost Marshal of the Army, Pretoria, who took depositions from some of “the 15” admits in his diary, revealed by Nick Bleszynski in Shoot Straight You Bastards, (refer “The Bulletin” 29 Jan 02) that there was an order to shoot Boers attempting to surrender. Why didn’t Hall take action as each incident arose? He should have relieved the perpetrators of command and investigated the matters, or, at the very least, warn them such activity was illegal and would not be tolerated. Colonel Hall acquiesced in the shooting of prisoners and no doubt did so in Kitchener’s full knowledge. If Morant and Co were “out of control” why did Lenehan and Hall allow Morant to pursue the Kelly commando in full knowledge of the Visser, 8 Boers, Heese and 3 Boers incidents?

Why was Hall, a material witness in all of the cases, urgently posted before the courts-martial? It has been suggested he was incompetent. Kitchener was Commander-in-Chief and had a legal and moral responsibility to retain Hall as a witness. Was it that Hall knew what orders Kitchener gave and what information Kitchener received from northern Transvaal? The Deputy Judge Advocate, Colonel Pemberton, noted the absence of Hall as an important witness. The fortunes of war smiled on Colonel Hall. In the following year he ceased half pay and went onto full pay, was awarded the CB, promoted to substantive colonel and provided with a prestigious job at a time the Army was demobilising. (Not bad for an incompetent!)

Between the court of inquiry and the courts-martial, Kitchener sent a secret telegram to London acknowledging he had summarily executed some prisoners for treachery and intended to widen the practice. The consequence of the admission under the Customs of War is the authorisation of reprisals/retaliation. Ignoring the convenient timing, why was such a “reprisal” secret because it should have been promulgated to the enemy? It certainly was critical evidence denied the courts-martial.

Apparently the Morant Affair is the only example of British forces being tried for shooting Boer prisoners in the Boer War. Yet Pakenham, in his book The Boer War, gives examples of units taking an oath to take no prisoners and the routine execution of wounded Boers wearing khaki. Cutlack, Denton, Carnegie and Fields, Bleszynski etc all assert that Kitchener in some way had an influence on the shooting of prisoners. How could so many historians get it so wrong?

The Deputy Judge Advocate commented that, apart from Morant’s conviction, all of the other convictions of the the accused were of concern. Why wasn’t this comment explored?

There was no urgency in the lead up to the courts-martial, as there was an eight week gap between the court of inquiry and the courts-martial. Did that allow just enough time for Hall to be removed and Taylor to escape a court-martial?

Why did Kitchener feel it necessary to invoke extraordinary legal powers, which severely limited the rights of the accused to an adequate defence and formal summary of evidence? These extraordinary legal powers were designed for use “on the eve of embarkation, or in the line of march”, neither of which apply in the case of these leisurely conducted courts-martial. Would courts-martial today, with a competent judge advocate, exposed to a properly prepared defence including: a summary of evidence; a plea in bar of trial on the grounds of condonation: testimony by Colonel Hall; court-martial of Taylor on all charges with all witnesses; secret telegrams from Kitchener authorising shooting prisoners and reprisals/retaliation; find the accused guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” ???

Why was Kitchener so determined to brook no opposition in his desire to have Morant, and Handcock executed? Why did Kitchener seek the unnecessary agreement of the Secretary of State for War in the executions of Morant and Handcock? Why couldn’t Kitchener be contacted after the sentences were confirmed and the recommendations for mercy ignored? Surely any fair minded Commander-in-Chief would be prepared to listen to a petition. Why were all telegraphic communications blocked after the sentences were confirmed and the executions conducted? Was Morant’s prediction correct to the court of inquiry that they should “take us out and crucify us at once, for as sure as God made pippins, if you let one man off he’ll yap”? Witton, of course, did yap!

Last changed: January 28, 2002