A letter from the Boer War

In Australia,  Anzac Day commemorates the landing at Gallipolli by Australian and New Zealand Forces on 25 April  1915. But in 1900, when people spoke about “the war” they meant the Boer War. Australia sent several contingents to South Africa to fight on the side of the British Empire against the Boer (Dutch-Afrikaaner) settlers.

The first Australian troops arrived in South Africa in December 1899. Australian horsemen were very valuable in the guerrilla or commando style warfare which became increasingly frequent in 1900. The war was tough not only on the soldiers and the Australian nurses who also went out, but also on the horses they brought with them.

On 25 April 1900 a newspaper reported a letter from an Australian soldier, Private L. Holm of the NSW Mounted Infantry. He wrote to his wife:

“We have had a very rough time of it since my last letter to you…Our company has been in two battles. In the first we had eleven of our men wounded and two missing. The next battle we were in, one of our men was killed and two shot themselves by accident, myself and also my horses had a very narrow escape. You see, one man out of four has to hold the other men’s horses while they fight. It is even worse than fighting, because the Boers try to shoot the horses as well as the men. …We are having rather a hard time of it for food, as we are allowed only three biscuits a day and sometimes a pound of meat. I and another private had permission to go shooting deer. we shot three or four, the largest weighing one hundred pounds. They made a very delicious meal. It was so nice that the officers sent up for some… I think the war will soon be over, and I for one shall not be sorry, for I am anxious to get back home again.”

The Kiama Independent, 24 April 1900, p.2

However the war did not end until May 1902. More than 250 Australians died, the number who actually served in unclear but was around 15,000.



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