The forgotten war

THE Boer War Memorial Society WA invites the public to a commemoration and reconciliation service at the South African War Memorial at King’s Park on May 27.

The service marks the 116th anniversary of the signing of the Vereeniging peace accord, which brought the Anglo Boer war to an end.

The WA branch of the Society was founded in 2016 as part of an effort to raise funds for a national memorial. On May 31 2017 the memorial was opened on Anzac Parade in Canberra, and now the society holds yearly services, with the aim of getting the Boer War included in the education curriculum.

Often overshadowed by the Great War, the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902) fought between the British Empire and Afrikaans-speaking descendants of the Dutch East India Company’s colony was a war of little-known firsts.

Some of the first Aboriginal Australians to volunteer for service in a foreign war were involved: About 50 Aboriginal men served as troopers, trackers and stock handlers, including WA’s John Robert Searle who was born in Albany in 1869 and served with the Imperial Bushmen.

William Skeoch Cumming’s image of a Mounted Yeomanry trooper.

The war also saw the term “concentration camp” come into widespread use. In an effort to combat the guerilla tactics of Boer commandos who eschewed uniforms and were sometimes indistinguishable from civilians, the British rounded people up into concentration camps, where about 28,000 died from poor hygiene, malnourishment and a lack of medical treatment.

More than 100,000 native-born Africans would also be interned, with 20,000 dying in captivity.

Many Western Australians don’t know that to this day South Africa has a hill named after their state: West Australia Hill in the Eastern Cape Province was named for WA as it was the first place the WA Mounted Infantry saw action.

The troop of 27 men under Major Moore happened upon a host of 400 Boers heading for a surprise attack on a nearby British camp and hospital. He sent a messenger to warn the camp and the remainder of his men delayed the Boers while those at the camp and hospital could move further back along the railway out of danger.

Eventually Lord Kitchener’s scorched earth policy, involving the burning of farms and homes, would starve the Boers and many native Africans along with them. Though eventually the British would offer relatively generous terms of surrender to the defeated Boers, many farms would remain unworkable for years due to the burning and salting.

The commemoration and reconciliation service starts 11am on Sunday May 27 at the King’s Park South African War Memorial.

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