Book Review:  Sydney Grammar School and the South African Boer War, 1899-1902 by Matthew Glozier

by Honor Auchinleck

If we look at the great men and the history they create for our country, we are only looking at part of the picture. As poet John Donne wrote, ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of a continent, a part of the main’.  It follows therefore that behind these men and their deeds is a plethora of other influences contributing to the direction of their careers.  So it is with Old Sydneians’ service in the Boer War, ably researched, well referenced and compellingly written by Sydney Grammar’s history master Dr Matthew Glozier in "Sydney Grammar and the South African Boer War, 1899-1902".


The School’s Boer War Memorial to the memory of the eleven of the thirteen Old Sydneians who lost their lives in the Boer War is featured on the book’s cover.  This memorial only gives us the ranks, initials, surnames and units of those who fell.  Dr Glozier researched their stories and those of the 150 Old Sydneians who served in the Boer War.


Linking former students to Australia’s nascent literary traditions, among the Old Sydneians who fell in the Boer War was Keith Kinnaid Mackellar whose letters to his sister, poet Dorothea Mackellar, give a glimpse of the human context of the conflict.  A B (Banjo) Paterson added his own touch through his work as a war correspondent and poet of the Boer War.


Dr Glozier pays tribute to the far-sighted headmaster Albert Bythesea Weigall CMG MA who formed the School’s Cadet Corps in 1871, thus instilling in his students the importance of service to one’s fellow human beings.  With first aid instruction beginning at the school in 1881, it is not surprising that prominent among the contributors to the history of Australian Army medical services was old Sydneian and veteran of the war in Sudan, medical officer Surgeon-Major (later Surgeon-General Sir) William Williamson.


As so often is the pattern in history, one conflict became the training ground for the next.  Notably, one-third of the Old Sydneians who served in the Boer War were among some 1,750 Old Sydneians who served in the First World War.  General Sir Harry Chauvel, Colonel J A K Mackay and Brigadier General John Macquarie Antill were three of the 150 Old Sydneians who served in the Boer War and then went on to distinguish themselves in the First World War.  Colonel Normand Maclaurin, who at the time of the Boer War had enlisted but was kept back in Australia, fell on Gallipoli and was one of the 300 Old Sydneians who died in the First World War. Other Old Sydneians served with distinction in France and the Middle East and many of those who served in the First World War went on to serve again in the Second World War.


Notably, Chauvel was reputed to have said, ‘that he had been as proud to see his name in the Sydneian as a corporal [in the school cadet corps] as in the Gazette as a Lieutenant General [in the Australian Army] (Sydneian, 1957).  Clearly, Chauvel regarded his training in the school cadets as one of the most formative aspects of his military training.


Dr Glozier’s "Sydney Grammar School and the South African Boer War, 1899 – 1902" has demonstrated that Sydney Grammar has its place in the heart of the history of military service and of wider service in the community. Each time I pick up Dr Glozier’s "Sydney Grammar School and the South African Boer War, 1899 – 1902", I learn something new about those who served and also about my own family history.  Not only is Dr Glozier’s book very readable, but it is also an invaluable reference book about those who served not just in the military forces, but in the wider Australian community. I am proud to have Dr Glozier’s book on my bookshelf.


I look forward to Dr Glozier’s next book, an official history of St John Ambulance in NSW 1881-2021, which will shed much light on the early days of the medical corps. The book is available at