General Sir Harry Chauvel, GCMG, KCB in the Boer War
At some stage, Chauvel was under the command of General Ian Hamilton and they became firm friends, to meet again years later on Gallipoli.
One task he was given was to drive a thousand head of cattle to Belfast in the Eastern Transvaal (see maps here) with a mixed force under his command, including his old friend Major “Porky” Selheim as Chief Staff Officer (this sounds a bit grand). He also had an officer of the 5th Dragoon Guards as his “galloper”, i.e. someone to carry messages and orders to the various units (remember they did not enjoy the radio communications as of today). This force became known as Chauvel’s Mounted Infantry. At Middleburg, they were diverted to clear a district of Boers who were threatening the railway. They were also ordered to burn homesteads which had been sheltering the Boers. Chauvel does not record his view on this practice, nor does he mention what happened to the herd of cattle.
Sir Harry with Colonel Tom Price in 1901 (Image source: source AJ Hill, Chauvel of the Light Horse (1978)
Chauvel’s force continued operating on the rail line and had many clashes with the Boers. Two of their men were captured and were returned unharmed but had been stripped of their weapons. As the war continued the prisoners were often stripped of their clothing and their boots. The men filled in any leisure time playing baseball with the Canadians and holding athletic meets. In these Chauvel was an eager participant. They pushed on to Belfast where the QMI was employed on some minor clearing patrols. At the end of November, they were ordered back to the Cape Colony and assembled near Cape Town ready for embarkation on the transport Orient.
Chauvel enjoyed the respite in Cape Town, including lunch at Groote Schurr as a guest of Cecil Rhodes. It seems that Chauvel had taken a dingo pup from Queensland and left it at Groote Schurr when the contingent arrived the previous year. He was surprised that it was now fully grown and Rhodes was very proud of him. The Orient sailed on 13 December reaching Brisbane on 17 January 1901. Six days later the 1st QMI was disbanded.
By now the colonies had federated and Chauvel was an officer in the Australian Army. In April he was no doubt pleased and proud that he had been mentioned in despatches and appointed a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG). The following month he went to Melbourne for the opening of the first parliament of Australia. He went as Brigade Major to Colonel Tom Price, commander of some 14,000 troops.
Chauvel was now appointed Staff Officer, Northern Military District and stationed at Townsville. Late 1901 the United Kingdom requested more troops for South Africa which was readily acceded to by Australia. Units of the Australian Commonwealth Horse (ACH) were raised, with some arriving in South Africa in time for some combat. The 7th ACH was raised in Queensland and Chauvel was appointed to command as a temporary Lieutenant Colonel.
They paraded before the Queensland Governor on 17th May and sailed the following morning. They reached Durban on 22nd June after the Peace Treaty of Vereeniging had been signed on the evening of 31 May in Melrose House, Kitchener’s residence in Pretoria. After a few days shore leave the 7th ACH re-embarked on 28th June, arriving back in Brisbane on 2nd August to be disbanded the following week.
Chauvel had permission to stay in South Africa in order to study battlefields. In Natal, he saw British officers arranging for the erection of memorials. This gave him the idea for an Australian memorial on Sunnyside kopje, where Jones and McLeod had been killed on 1st January 1900—the first Australian soldiers to be killed in battle.
In due course at a high point on the kopje, a cairn of rocks was erected, and a marble plaque provided by the Queensland Government was affixed. A bronze plaque was secured at the base of the cairn on 1st January 2000 by a party of ex-members of the 2nd/14th Light Horse (QMI). It had also been provided by the Premier of Queensland. There is a replica cairn in front of Regimental Headquarters of the 2nd/14th on Chauvel Drive, Gallipoli Barracks. It had been erected there in 1995.
Chauvel continued his army service with distinction, commanding the 1st Light Horse Brigade on Gallipoli, dismounted of course. Towards the end of the Gallipoli campaign he was promoted Major General in command of the First Australian Division. Back in Egypt he chose to remain to command the Anzac Mounted Corps which cleared the Turks out of Palestine, bringing the war to an end there in October 1918. By now (2nd August 1917) he had become Australia’s first Lieutenant General. (Monash was promoted General on the Western Front on 1st June 1918).
The opening of the first parliament of Australia - the Exhibition Building in Carlton (Image source Museum of Victoria collection)
After retiring from his position as Chief of Army he was recalled to the colours as Inspector-in-Chief of the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC). This was when Australia was under threat from the Japanese and many old veterans were delighted to have him lead them, but sadly he died with his boots on in 1945.
SALUTE THE BRAVE
1st January 2000, following a ceremony at the base of Sunnyside Kopje. The great nephew of Trooper Jones carried the heavy bronze plaque to the summit for us. (Image: M.Farmer)
The bronze plaque cemented in place (Image: M.Farmer)
References and Acknowledgements
Hill, A. J., Chauvel of the Light Horse: A Biography of General Sir Harry Chauvel, G.C.M.G., K.C.B. (Melbourne University Press, 1978)
Judd, D. & Surridge, K., The Boer War: A History (Angus and Robertson, 1977)
Mitchell, E., Light Horse: the Story of Australia’s Mounted Troops (The MacMillan Company of Australia, 1978)
Perry, R., The Australian Light Horse (Hachette Australia, 2009)
Perry, R., Monash and Chauvel: How Australia’s two greatest generals changed the course of World History (Allen and Unwin, 2017)
Starr, J., & Sweeney, C., Forward—the History of the 2nd/14th Light Horse (Qld Mounted Infantry) (University of Queensland Press, 1989) See Note 1
Wallace, R.L., The Australians at the Boer War (Canberra: The Australian War Memorial and the Australian Government Publishing Service, 1976) See Note 2
Notes 1-2 (Author's notes)
Both books carried the story “some years ago the memorial, bearing the crest and motto of the Queensland Mounted Infantry, had almost disintegrated. The ruined memorial was removed to Kimberly and incorporated with mortar used in building the permanent British Memorial erected by the War Graves Commission in the Garden of Remembrance which commemorates all the soldiers who fell in the area, and were re-interred there.” This was incorrect—based on the misinterpretation of letters written from South Africa many years after the war. The memorial stands today in as good condition as when Chauvel had it built.
Bob Wallace's first story must be understood in the context of the dearth of information available at the time of his writing. He visited the battlefields on several occasions and his written works became the “bible” for many of us. There was nothing else readily available—not like today. His book was republished by the NBWMA(Vic) to raise funds for the National Boer War Memorial which was dedicated in Canberra 31 May 2017. Bob also wrote the excellent “Elands River Siege”
M W Farmer
9 Jan 2018
Acknowledgement: All images in this article were sourced from the Australian War Memorial unless otherwise specified.
Biographical Note Lieutenant Colonel Miles Farmer OAM (Retd.)
Miles served in the CMF as a Sapper in the 2nd Water Transport Sqn RAE in 1951 before entering RMC, Duntroon graduating into the Royal Australian Armoured Corps in December 1955. He served for 3 years in 1st Armoured Regiment at Puckapunyal before promotion to Captain and appointed Adjutant 1st/15th Royal NSW Lancers in the historic Lancer Barracks, Parramatta NSW. His interest in the Boer War began through the Lancers’ service in that war.
In 1961 he returned to 1st Armoured Regiment before travelling to England to begin the 16th Technical Staff Officers Course at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, where he specialised in Fighting Vehicle Design. This was followed by an attachment to the Army Operational Research Establishment to work on ‘War Gaming” studies.
Returning to Australia 1964 he was promoted Major to command the Trials and Proving Wing (TPW) of the Army Design Establishment (ADE). TPW covered 300 acres of test tracks and obstacles in country Victoria. It was an unusual posting of mainly civilian drivers and mechanics, but was very busy with trials often running day and night.
In 1967 he was posted to the Military Research and Development Centre (MRDC) in Bangkok, Thailand as Deputy Program Manager, Mobility Division. This was a joint US Thai organisation in which Miles travelled widely throughout Thailand with occasional visits to South Vietnam. He was there when the TET offensive of 1968 erupted.
Late 1968 back in Australia he commanded B Squadron 2 Cavalry Regiment, an independent squadron based at Enoggera, Brisbane. His squadron provided 8 RAR with its infantry armour training before it went to South Vietnam. Then in November 1969 he flew to Saigon to become an Advisor to the South Vietnamese in Phuoc Tuy Province, the same province in which the Australian Task Force was based. For this posting he was seconded to the American Joint United States Public Affairs Office (JUSPAO). He later transferred to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV). Arrangements were complex but provided Miles with invaluable experiences.
Returning to Australia he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in charge of a section in a branch of the Master General of the Ordnance in Melbourne which dealt with clothing and general stores. It was a rather unusual posting but it was one in which a lot of good could be done for the comfort and well-being of all soldiers—in combat and at base. In 1973 Miles transferred to the A Res to command 2nd /14th Qld Mounted Infantry (QMI). This was the regiment in which Sir Harry had served in 1900 during the Boer War. After completing this posting Miles did one or two other projects before transferring to the Retired List.
He was awarded the Order of Australia medal for his service in Pony Riding for the Disabled for children and people with a disability. The Centenary Medal was awarded for his service to the community and the RSL, as were other Life Memberships.