The Bush Veldt Carbineers were raised in Pretoria in February 1901 and did useful work in the difficult country north of Pietersburg in that year. They saw a lot of fighting, but it gained an unfortunate notoriety by the conviction of Morant, Handcock and Witton on charges that they had committed acts not in accordance with the rules of civilised warfare.
Harry 'Breaker' Morant was born in the United Kingdom between 1864 and 1865. He left England in April 1883 bound for Queensland where he was quickly married and divorced. He lived by droving and horse-breaking and thus acquired the name 'Breaker'. He enlisted with the South Australian Mounted Rifles to fight in the Boer War. Handcock, Morant and Witton were court-martialled and all three found guilty of executing several Boer prisoners and a German missionary. Handcock and Morant were executed by firing squad on 27 February 1902. Kitchener commuted Witton's sentence to a lifetime of penal servitude. Witton was returned to England where he served only three years of his sentence. Upon his release, he wrote a book entitled 'Scapegoats of the Empire'.
The story of the trial and execution was told in the 1979 film 'Breaker Morant'.
Undoubtedly a corps such as this, acting beyond the immediate control of higher authorities and far from support, was placed in a very unenviable position. The enemies they had to deal with were not always members of regular commandos, but often leaderless gangs of ruffians not unacquainted with nefarious practices and incapable of appreciating anything but the most arbitrary justice. Mr Green, who was chaplain to the Australian Bushmen, a corps that operated much in the Pietersburg district, speaks in terms of praise of the Bush Veldt Carbineers. He says that they were chiefly English refugees of that district. They acted as scouts for General Plumer, and did well. On one occasion they captured the convoy of a train-wrecking gang and 11 prisoners. These latter would not disclose where their mines were laid, so they were promptly put on a trolley; an explosion did take place, but none were killed. The corps had casualties on various occasions. Captain P F Hunt and Sergeant F Elands were killed on 6th August 1901, and 1 man on the 10th.
The one Mention gained by the corps was in the Despatch of 8th August 1901: Sergean Forbes, on own initiative, on hearing of presence of Boers marched 80 miles, surprised and captured the party.
The Bush Veldt Carbineers were renamed to the Pietersburg Light Horse on 1 December 1901. The unit was employed in the extreme north of the Transvaal — officially designated as 'the wildest part' of that country. They had sharp fighting at Spelonkin on 23 March 1902, when Sergeant-Major Evans was killed. The Mentions gained were:
Lord kitchener's despatches: 1st June 1902: Captain S Midgley (awarded the DSO) for good service in operations east of Pietersburg, 25th March to 21st April 1902.
23 June 1902: Sergeant J R Gray (awarded the DCM), Corporal J Ballen.
Medals to the Bush Veldt Carbineers and Pietersburg Light House
With the change in unit name, some confusion arose as to how the medals should be named. Medals can be found named top both units. As many of the Bush Veldt Carbineers and Pietersburg Light Horse had served in other units, medals to these two units are rare. Only 57 medals were issued named to the Bush Veldt Carbineers or Pietersburg Light Horse.
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