As reference was made by Major Thomas to a witness named Wrench, I attach his evidence:-

On the 19th August you were sent out to take charge of some prisoners?

On the 19th August I went out with nine men to bring in some prisoners. The prisoners were handed to me by Ledeboer, of the Intelligence. Five bolts were also given to me, taken out of the prisoners' rifles, and these were distributed amongst the men. We returned, and arrived at the hospital on the evening of the 22nd August, and camped there for the night. On the morning of the 23rd August, at about 7 a.m., Lieuts. Morant, Handcock, and Witton, Sergt.-Major Hammett, and Troopers Duckett and Thompson, came out. Mr. Morant informed me that Tom Kelly, with about forty Boers, were in the immediate vicinity. Mr. Morant gave me orders to saddle up and inspan the waggon at once, and get on the road. I was to extend the men well away in the bush, and keep in the centre of the road myself, and to skirmish at least a mile ahead of the waggon.

Mr. Morant said I was to keep a sharp look-out, as no doubt I would hear firing, and when I did so I was to immediately gallop back to him. When we first came in sight of Bristow's Farm, one shot was fired by somebody hidden. I then gave orders to dismount, and then two other shots were heard in the same place, the farm. I did not go back to report this to Mr. Morant. Shortly afterwards about fifteen shots, as far as we could make out, were fired in our rear, at least 1000 yards behind. I then gave the order to mount, and we went on to Bristow's Farm, to report to Captain Taylor, having received instructions to do so from Mr. Morant. I reported the arrival of the patrol to Capt. Taylor, who was walking about in front of the house in a very excited state. I told Capt. Taylor I had handed over the eight Boers to Mr. Morant and his party. Some time after this I was sent for by Mr. Morant. Mr. Morant and Mr. Handcock were lying each in their beds. Mr. Morant had a letter in his hand, and said to me that I had made a fool of myself, and that this was the letter reporting me, and that it would very likely mean a court-martial for me. After a little conversation Mr. Morant said "Don't let us beat about the bush. From what I can see of it, there are several men here who don't agree with this shooting. I want you to go round to the men and find out those who are willing to do it and those who are not, and then we will soon get rid of those who don't agree. I had orders to weed out the Fort, which you know I did, but I still find there are a lot of sentimental left. I have had several letters of congratulation from headquarters over the last fight, and now I've started I mean to go on with it. From what I can see of it, you had a rotten lot of men, but we will give you another chance. I shall send out a small patrol in a few days; I shall pick my own men this time, and send you with them." When Mr. Morant spoke of finding the men who were agreeable and who were not, Lieut. Handcock said, if he could only get ten men, that would be sufficient for his purpose.

Did Mr. Morant say why you were to be tried by court-martial?

Yes. That three parties of our people met the Boer prisoners returning to the Fort, who were not guarded, which was not true. He said the first party were Kaffir scouts. I said that that did not amount to much. The next party were our own Intelligence. I then asked who the third party were. He said, "Don't let us beat about the bush," and then the subject started.

Do you know who fired the three shots that were heard?

No. They were fired from the farm.

Wrench was cross-examined by the Counsel for the Prisoners.

This conversation you refer to, is it related exactly as it occurred?

Not exactly, but words to that effect. I have not added to it. I may have left something out. It occurred about 8 o'clock. I was not in bed. We were playing cards. The two officers were in bed when this conversation took place. It occurred about a week after the Boers were shot-about the 30th August.

You once got yourself into trouble in the Spelonken with Captain Hunt?

No, never.

Is it not a fact that you were reported for insolent conduct to Sergt.-Major Clark, and were reprimanded for it?

I did not get on well with Sergt.-Major Clark.

On account of your bad conduct, were you not threatened to be tied up to a waggon by Captain Hunt?

No, never.

Did you not ask Mr. Morant to save you from that taking place?

No, but I spoke to Mr. Morant, and reported the conduct of Sergt.-Major Clark on patrol to Saltpan.

Was anyone else present except Mr. Morant and Mr. Handcock?

No; only those two.

Wrench was examined by the court:—

"How many prisoners did you hand over?"

"Eight. They were voluntary surrenders."

"Were you present when they surrendered?"

"No. I was not present when they surrendered."

"Then you do not know whether they were captured prisoners or had voluntarily surrendered?"

"Ledeboer said they had surrendered to him."

A statement of the trains wrecked in the district from 4th July, 1901, was also put in:—

The first wreck occurred on 4th July, about five miles north of Naboonspruit. There were killed and died of wounds: One officer (Lieut. Best, Gordon Highlanders) and fifteen men, three natives. Wounded: Seven Gordon Highlanders, one native.

The second attempt at train-wrecking occurred on 10th August, 1901, 3 1/2 miles N. if Groon Vlei (about 12 or 13 miles N. of Nylstroom). Lieut. Burnett, Gordon Righlanders, beat off Boers. No record of our casualties, which were very slight.

The third train wreck occurred on 3ist August, 1901, at Kilo 35, between Waterfall and Hainan's Kraal. Killed and died of wounds: One officer (Col. Vandeleur), twelve men, and two natives. Wounded: Twenty officers and men.

The Prosecution handed in a written reply as follows:-

I submit to the court that the witnesses have shown by their evidence, which is very clear, that on the evening of the 22nd August the prisoners Lieut. Morant and Lieut. Handcock sent for Troopers Thompson and Duckett and warned them for a patrol the following morning, telling them at the time that they were going out to shoot eight Boer prisoners or surrenders.

About 5 a.m., 23rd August, the patrol, consisting of Lieuts. Morant, Handcock, Witton, Sergeant-Major Hammett, and Troopers Duckett and Thompson, left Fort Edward and proceeded towards Elim Hospital, where they met Sergeant Wrench in charge of the eight Boers. Lieut. Morant told the members of this patrol that these men were to be shot, and that the signal for this would be when he said, "have you any more information," or some words to that effect. Sergt. Wrench was ordered to proceed then with his patrol to the Fort, Lieut. Morant taking charge of the prisoners with his party. About half way back the convoy halted, and the eight men, who were unarmed, were ordered about twenty paces off the road and questioned by Lieut. Morant, and on his giving the signal were shot down by the members of this patrol. The defence do not in any way question these facts materially, but try to justify them in three ways:-

Firstly: That they were only carrying out orders from superior authority. All I have to say on this head is that such orders, if given, do not constitute a lawful command and need not be obeyed.

Secondly: That other irregular corps had done the same thing. Even if so, two wrongs do not make a right.

Lastly: That the character of these men was such that they did not deserve any other treatment. I must submit to the court that, even if these men had been caught red-handed committing some outrage, they, once having surrendered or been taken prisoners and disarmed, were entitled to our protection until such time as they would be brought to trial.

I have nothing further to say, and so leave it to the court to say if the prisoners are guilty of the crime of which they are charged, or if their acts were such as are customary in civilised warfare.

Parent Category: Books
Category: Witton: Scapegoats of the Empire
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