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"We'll shoot you in the stomach" - the remarkable account of Lt Harold Agar 7 months 3 weeks ago #67844

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William Harold Agar

Quartermaster Sergeant & Lieutenant, British South Africa Police – Anglo Boer War
Captain, 4th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
Captain, 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, WWI

- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Cape Colony, Rhodesia & Transvaal to Q.M. SJT. H. AGAR, B.S.A. POLICE
- Kings South Africa Medal with clasps South Africa 1901 & 1902 to LIEUT. H. AGAR, B.S.A. POLICE

Harold Agar was born on 8 February 1875 at 48 Lower Hastings Street, Leicester, England. He was the son of Thomas Agar, a retired Wood Stapler, and his wife Fanny, born Page. Mr. Agar, at the age of 42 was young to consider himself retired.

At the time of the 1881 England census a 6-year-old Harold (for this is the moniker he was known by), was at home at 44 King Street, Leicester St, Mary’s along with his family. The youngest of the brood, he was preceded by Emily (13), Alice (10) and Katharine (7). Making up the household and confirming their relative opulence were Jane Jackson, the Cook and Mary Newman, the Housemaid.

Ten years later, when the 1891 England census rolled round, Harold was a 16-year-old schoolboy at the prestigious Oakham School in Rutland. Initially destined for a career in medicine, Agar headed off to University College Hospital in London where he studied medicine from 1894 till 1896. It was in that year that he met in London, and fell into conversation with an officer who had taken part in the abortive Jameson Raid at the turn of the year.

The young and impressionable Agar was so enthralled with what he learned of life in Africa that he threw over his medical studies and emigrated, joining the British South Africa Police in June 1897. Well educated, mature and of considerable sporting prowess (he had played football for Middlesex regularly and had represented London against the Army), his promotion in the force was swift.

Agar at the age of 85

He was appointed Corporal in charge of Fort Solusi, with a detachment of 15 men in December 1897 and the following year was posted to Bulawayo. Promoted to Sergeant in early 1899 he joined Queens Football Club in the same year, and as well as being a member of the all-conquering team which cleared the board in Bulawayo, also played outside right for Bulawayo against Salisbury and for Matabeleland against Mashonaland, being in the winning team on both occasions.

A story Agar was fond of relaying was that of the bully beef tins at Fort Tuli and how they were sampled at Christmas in 1898. There were 50 police stationed on the Limpopo at Middle Drift, and after they had patrolled along the river they returned to Tuli on Christmas Eve. At that time the only buildings were the old store on the north bank of the Shashi and the Fort on the kopje on the south bank.

For their Christmas dinner they had bully beef; it was in 7 lb. “Armour” brand tins, and was, he thinks, quite the best he ever tasted. In those days, lacking any form of refrigeration, when a tin of ordinary bully was opened the contents were a mass of stringy fat, so the Tuli brand was considered to be something of a treat.”

Being in the “tropics” had its downside – Agar, who had already had a bout of Scarlet Fever in 1883, suffered from both Enteric Fever and Dysentery in 1897.

Roll on to late 1899 – Agar was now an established figure in the B.S.A.P. and had continued his meteoric rise through the ranks – being now a Quarter Master Sergeant. 11 October 1899 saw the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War between the two Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, to the south of Rhodesia and the might of Great Britain.

Agar is seated second from left in this 1901 photo of the Sergeants' Mess - B.S.A.P. Matabeleland Division

The B.S.A.P. were fragmented, some of them were caught up with Baden-Powell in the siege of Mafeking, others formed part of Colonel Mahon’s relief force to liberate their compatriots, whilst still others were with Colonel Plumer who had, with his small force, travelled down from Tuli to join up with Baden-Powell’s relief.

Mission accomplished and with the Boers on the retreat, Mahon and Plumer combined forces and moved into the Transvaal where they became involved in the periphery of Lord Roberts’s advance to Pretoria. When Pretoria was captured they were released, and returned to Rhodesia, their active service ostensibly over.

Their services were soon needed, however - the Boer leaders obstinately refused to agree with the British that they had been defeated. The loss of their capitals, Bloemfontein and Pretoria, meant very little and they merely moved their capitals elsewhere. Phase II of the war now commenced – the guerilla phase where bands of small, highly mobile commandos would snipe at the cumbersome and isolated British lines of communication, plundering wagon loads of much needed supplies, clothing and ammunition. British patrols, likewise, were often easy prey and many a time a patrol would be surprised, be stripped of their clothes, arms and possessions and set free, stark naked, on the open veld whilst the Commando rode off into the sunset.

One of the Boer leaders, De La Rey, operated in the Western Transvaal and, after he had roamed relatively freely about the country for more than twelve months; the British decided it was time to put an end to his activities. A considerable force under General Methuen was assembled in an attempt to not only contain him but to bring him to heel.

The B.S.A.P. were sent for once again – Captain Drury left Bulawayo with 125 other ranks on 27 September 1901 to meet up with Colonel Bodle who had already gone south to join Methuen’s force. It was soon after this that Agar was to make a name for himself and come into his own.

Two accounts are supplied in order to provide the reader with as much detail and context as possible. The first is an account which appeared on pages 178-180 of Colonel Colin Harding’s book “Frontier Patrols” written in 1937. He relates the events just prior to and the later incident itself in which Agar was involved as follows:

“During these months of devastating and relentless hostilities, in some way or the others, and in divers parts of the scene of operations, the B.S.A. Police took a humble but valued part. We read in Colonel Bodle’s report to the B.S.A. Company of 1901 -03 that on September 27th (1901) at the request of Lord Methuen, Commandant Bodle and 124 non-commissioned officers and men, left Bulawayo for Mafeking.

On February 26th 1902, we learn that Sub-Inspector Agar left Bulawayo with a draft of 25 men to join detachments at Vryburg, and that this detachment suffered heavily whilst at the front ‘having up to the present lost 4 men killed, 2 men missing, and 12 died from various causes, mostly enteric fever, also 14 killed in action.’ There is no reason for me to refer further to the bravery and devotion of this small detachment, for most assuredly facts speak louder than words.

In Lord Methuen’s disastrous engagement on March 7th, Sub-Inspector Agar with 20 men formed part of his escort. They were sent back with a gun when the Boers attacked in the rear and succeeded in repulsing the Boers there, but on getting back to the convoy they found the Boers in the convoy shooting the men at close quarters. Our men made a stand in a farm house for some time but the Boers turned the captured guns and pom-poms on them at close quarters and they had to surrender. During this engagement the Police casualties were Sergeant Rhodes, and Trooper Campion killed, Trooper Coney and Cakebread missing, and as they have not since been heard of, I fear they also must have been killed.”

The Battle of Tweebosch

The second account is in Agar’s own words – a remarkable first-hand testimony written in 1957 at the request of Colonel Hickman for inclusion in his book Rhodesia Served the Queen, Volume II. The account appears in chapter XXIII commencing on page 281 and under the heading ‘Battle of Tweebosch: Captain W.H. Agar, B.S.A. Police, 1897 to 1907 and is in the form of letters (correspondence) between Agar, in his rather stackato style and Hickman: -

“Dear Colonel Hickman

I am enclosing a somewhat voluminous account of my life and you must extract from it the details you require.

I met Lt. Alan Wood, B.S.A.C. Police, fresh from Jameson Raid, on leave, and having come of age decided to give up medicine and go to Bulawayo. Introduction to mining heads and to Capt. Hoel Llewellyn, B.S.A.P. Slump in Bulawayo. Met Major Bodle at Club and on his advice enlisted in B.S.A.P. 10th May (I think) 1897. Promoted Corporal, December 1897. In charge of Fort Solosi, 15 men Feb –April 1898.

“Promoted R.Q.M.S. 1900, first under 2 M Lt. Llewellyn and then under 2 M Lt. Griffith. Promoted with R.E. Murray (he then in the Transvaal) end of December 1901 to Lieutenant, February 7th, 1902. In command of draft, Sgt. Rhodes and 21 men, from Bulawayo, to reinforce Capt. G.V. Drury’s squadron of B.S.A.P. with Colonel von Donop’s column in Western Transvaal.

Taken over by Lord Methuen at Vryburg as 3rd Troop of Cullinan’s Scouts (this was actually Cullinan’s Horse) and participated in Methuen’s disaster at Tweebosch, 7th March 1902, in which he was wounded when the column was overrun by De La Rey’s commandos after most of the miscellaneous troops comprising the column bolted (the other two troops of Cullinan’s Scouts (Loyal Boers) included) and the balance under Major Paris eventually had to surrender; my B.S.A.P. Troop had 4 men killed, including Sgt. Rhodes.

In a follow-up letter, Agar was more specific about the incident that had led to his capture.

“Dear Colonel Hickman

You ask for the part played by the B.S.A.P. at Tweebosch, 7th March 1902.

The incidents of the 7th March have been a constant worry to me and I have spent hours in wondering how under the circumstances I could have acted differently.

With Sgt. Rhodes and 23 Troopers I reached Vryburg on 28 February at 7 p.m., was met by Colonel Cullinan and Lt. Macbeth and informed we were attached to 3rd Troop as Cullinan’s Scouts, a part of Major Paris’s Column under Lord Methuen. At dawn 1st March we drew saddlery, remounts etc. (one horse was unrideable and I had to leave 1 Trooper behind when we marched in the forenoon)

Colonel Cullinan introduced me to Methuen and we stood with him (M) watching the Column, roughly 1100 march past. Cullinan’s Scouts being Methuen’s bodyguard. The Column comprised 2 R.F.A. guns, 1 Company of Loyal North Lancs., 1 Company of Northumberland Fusiliers and 2 or 3 Squadrons of Imperial Yeomanry and a squadron of Coloured troops under Cape Police, N.C.O.’s and officers; the rest were negligible as a fighting force – men convalescent to rejoin Methuen’s Column (Grenfell and Von Donop), men riding spare horses practically camp followers, and least that is how they looked to me.

To make matters worse there were both ox and mule transport.

All was comparatively quiet until 4th March when it became apparent that Boers were hanging on our flanks; the 5th and the 6th became lively and Cullinan’s Scouts were several times called on by Methuen to clear the enemy from farm houses on the flanks; the Scouts also reported strong concentrations of De La Rey’s Commandos.

On the night of the 6th we camped in the V caused by the junction of the Hartz and Klein Hartz rivers, an excellent defensive position.
Late that night orders came that the ox convoy was to trek at 4 a.m. and the mules and hour later. We (Colonel Cullinan, Macbeth and I) were amazed; here we were in an almost impregnable position although surrounded, so the scouts said, by anything from 1500 – 2000 Boers, with Grenfell’s and Von Donop’s Columns only 13 miles away and Methuen was really asking for trouble.

My Troop was on outlying picket that night and before starting in the morning I had to shoot one of our horses (sick) and put Tpr. Wood on our baggage wagon, leaving me with 22 men. The ox wagons started as arranged with the L.N. Lancs. and Northumberland Fusiliers and the mule lot later, with Methuen and Cullinan’s Scouts near the front, guns further back and I think Imperial Yeomanry as rear screen.

It was the grey of the dawn, about 7 a.m., when firing broke out in the rear and the guns opened up; Methuen galloped off ordering Cullinan’s Scouts to defend the rear to left of the road, so we went back about 400 yards, and extended to the left, my troop being on the extreme left. We held the Boers there for about 25 minutes by which time our guns had ceased fire having been overrun – Lt. Neasham, being called on to surrender, first smashed the breech block of his gun and was then shot down; he was awarded a posthumous V.C.

The Boers made no ground in our front but then a Commando about 150 strong appeared about 400 yards away on our left flank aiming to come in behind us; we had just turned our fire on them when Macbeth came galloping in to tell us to retire, the other 2 Troops having already done so.

I should explain that Cullinan’s Scouts were entirely composed of loyal Dutch from the Vryburg District who knew that, if captured, they would get short thrift; I never saw any of them again.

I ordered my Troop to mount which all but one man did; his (Laycock’s) girths were too loose and his saddle twisted under his horse’s belly; by this time the Boers were only 200 yards away firing from horseback and I told Sgt. Rhodes to take the others and gallop like hell. Laycock meanwhile was fumbling with the girths and I told him to undo them let the saddle drop and jump on the horse bareback; he continued fumbling at the girths and as by this time the Boers were not more than 100 yards away and their bullets all around us I said ‘Well this is getting too hot for me, and as I turned my horse Laycock let go of his reins and collapsed backwards. I thought he had been hit so galloped off; by this time the Commando was practically between me and the direction taken by the Troop (which I could not see) and was giving me a very hot time which continued for a quarter of a mile when I came to the road and remnants of the mule wagons – some with dead mules, others overturned, but no sign of any of our troops except and Army Surgeon whom I overtook as he was sprinting up the road on foot. He got up behind me and we went on, still being fired at by small groups of Boers.

The Doc got one which grazed his shoulder under the strap – and after about ½ mile he got down and on to a wagon which was intact but halted. I continued till I came to a farm house kraal where there were about 20 men mostly Coloured whom a Cape Police T.M.S. Graham (an ex-B.S.A.P. Trooper) was trying to rally but thought he shot 6 of them as they ran; nothing could be done with them.

By this time there did not appear to be any sustained rifle fire such as one would expect if a stand were being made by a main body but Graham and I decided we should try to keep some detachment we could join up with so we rode alone keeping about 100 yards off the road as there were small groups of Boers on it.

Had we known it, the surrender had already taken place, the whole convoy being taken, though the Boers were still firing at stragglers such as ourselves.

We proceeded another one-quarter mile when a white Trooper called to us; his horse had been shot and he was pinned under it lying in a dip in the ground; we dismounted, put our carbines on the ground and had just pulled the horse off him, when 3 Boers came over the rise within 20 yards of us and “Hands up, you bloody b….” there was nothing for it but to comply. The first Boer said to me “Where’s your money?” and took my watch, signet ring, carbine and horse, also £13 which was in my tunic strapped on the saddle.

I was wearing a rough type of British warm which Macbeth had got for me in Vryburg and it had no rank insignia on it.

Within 5 minutes we had 2 more visitations by Boers and I was reduced to shirt and riding breeches; then came 3 young ones, 16-17 years old, and they demanded my breeches; by this time I was so mad that I did not care although they pointed their rifles and said “We’ll shoot you in the stomach”. At this juncture a patriarch with a long white beard appeared 50 yards away driving a Cape cart with 4 mules and when I called out to him the young ruffians beat it; but the old gentleman was very apologetic about the way I had been treated but said that I must remember that the Boers were terribly short of clothing. He drove me in his cart to a laager where the ox convoy prisoners were collected; here I saw the L.N. Lancs and N. Fusiliers and some Yeomanry but none of my men.

After about an hour spent in this laager the officers all officers were called out to go and say farewell to Methuen whose thigh had been smashed and by a Martini (or expanding) bullet.

Ferreira, De La Rey’s secretary, seeing my shoeless plight put me on his horse and we proceeded about ½ mile to where Methuen lay in a tent and we filed past him, approximately 15 in all.

Incidentally, Ferreira told me that had the rank and file of the Boers known that “Metuen” was in command it would have been difficult to have got them to attack as they did as they were scared of him.

After seeing Methuen, the officers were put in the garden of a farm house, the only two I remember by name being Major Paris and Captain Geogeham the C.R.A., also a Cape Police Lieutenant.

Having had no food since the previous night we were very hungry and Geogeham managed to cadge a piece of bacon from the farm vrou; we lit a fire and the bacon was just beginning to sizzle when we were called out to start our march to Kraaipan 45 miles away. The Cape Police Lieutenant and I kept together, he giving me his puttees to wrap round my feet and we arrived at Kraaipan the following evening.

None of my men were there and as I had no money and food was not obtainable I accepted a lift in Lt. Manie’s (R.E.) Armoured Train to Mafeking where Lt. Merry of the B.B.P., who was both Paymaster and R.S.O., fitted me out with money and uniform. My men arrived the following day and I learned of the deaths of Sgt. Rhodes and 3 Troopers; I was too upset to question them closely but gathered that they had reached the road and found our baggage wagon where they were surrounded and suffered their casualties. Sgt. Rhodes body being placed on the wagon; it was some comfort to know that none had bolted.

Romanticised image of Methuen's surrender

“Remarks gleaned from officers I talked to”-

The Boer attack began in the grey of dawn at which time there was a gap of approximately 1 mile between the ox and mule transport; the rear screen was ridden through and simultaneous attacks made on the flanks, the Boers riding straight in firing from horseback.

The escort strung out in small detachments was soon surrounded and made to surrender, the only ones to escape being those who bolted in the first few minutes, among these being, of course, the Coloured troops of whom there must have been about 200; the 2 Dutch troops of Cullinan’s Scouts also got clean away I imagine.

It was all over by 9 a.m. and the first refugees got to Kraaipan before noon, something like 300 arriving during the day.

It would appear the Boers were particularly bitter towards the Coloured troops because on the 6th a party of Coloured scouts had shot 2 Boers, refusing to take them prisoners.

Trooper Wood who, as previously mentioned, was on our baggage wagon, gave evidence at the Court of Enquiry on Boer Atrocities held later at Vereeniging and stated that a Boer rode up on each side of the wagon and ordered the native driver and leader to get down when the Boers shot them; the driver was not instantly killed and crawled under the wagon whereupon the Boer dismounted and putting his rifle through the spokes of the wheel blew his brains out.

This butchery of unarmed natives was prevalent until the Boers remembered they would have no one to drive away the convoy and I myself saw a native driving a Scotch cart coughing up blood as he drove, evidently shot through the lungs.

I might add that on the conclusion of peace Capt. Drury and Lt. Murray took the squadron across country while I took train from Klerksdorp round by De Aar to Mafeking where I was to buy remounts. On the night I arrived I went into Lt. Merry’s office and was introduced to a Boer (Marais I think) who had come to surrender.

We fell to talking of Tweebosch – Klipdrift we called it then – and by a strange coincidence he was the leader of the Commando of 150 which had come in behind our left shoulder. He said it was pure accident; his orders from De la Rey had been to wait for our column on the Hartz River (or Klein Hartz, I forget which); at any rate, Methuen took the other route and hearing our guns Marais had taken his commando across country and just happened to come in where he did.

I told him what a hot time he had given me and he remarked that I had been very lucky and he was glad that it was so.

And that is all I know of Tweebosch; and you may understand why the subject is a very sore one to me. The only redeeming feature is that we were fighting I believe longer than any other detachment and none of us bolted.”

This detailed account sheds new light on a regrettable incident and brought to a virtual close the role Agar had played in the Boer War – he went on, in the same letter, to detail his later movements:

“Refitted at Mafeking and joined Capt. G.V. Drury and Sergeant R.E. Murray a month later with Von Donop’s Column till end of the war.

May, 1903 got my first 6 months leave home.
1905 - Captain A.J. Tomlinson then O.C. D Troop, Bulawayo. I was the first B.S.A.P. to prosecute our own cases in Magistrate’s Court.
1906 - May. Posted officer in charge of Wankie District. Saw Professor Darwin open the Victoria Falls Bridge for railway traffic.
1907 - May. Went on 6 month’s leave. Applied for 1-month extension being full of malaria. And when refused resigned from B.S.A.P.
1908. Commissioned Captain in the 4th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) retiring 1912. Partnership in Insurance brokers.
1915. asked by Lieutenant-Colonel W. Bodle to take Majority in Brigade he was to command but had already got Captaincy in 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.
1917. Judged unfit for active service (sprung Achilles tendon) and seconded to be Staff Officer to Colonel A. Courtenay, Chief Inspector of Substitution under Neville Chamberlain and later to ‘Release from Colours Dept.” till end of war. Retired from Seaforths 1920.
1926. Moved with wife, 2 sons and 1 daughter to Okanagan Lake, B.C., and to Victoria in 1938.
1939. Special Constable (Security Guard) in R.C.M.P. till war end. Younger son joined Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and went overseas with 1st Canadian Division, later he transferred to R.A.F. and as a Pilot Officer was killed in 1943. Elder son turned down, veins doubtful. Daughter joined Canadian Women’s Army Corps and became Captain. Her husband, Flight Lieutenant in R.C.A.F., was Radar Officer at Malta during the Blitz.

I am now 82 8/12 years, but still active; the last time I saw my doctor after a slight operation 2 years ago he called me a “tough old nut.”

There are many references to Agar after the Boer War – for which he was awarded the Queens and Kings Medals – one of the first appeared in “The Diary of Edwin Clarke, a Police Officer in Rhodesia in 1906” – the entry for Wednesday, 23rd May 1906 records that, “Lt. Agar left for Victoria Falls on last night’s train. I went down to the hospital to relieve Creedon for a few hours.” This supports Agar’s contention that he was present when the Railway bridge over the Falls was opened.

After resigning from the B.S.A.P. Agar continued his military career, joining the 4th Battalion, the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) – the announcement of which appeared in the Aberdeen Press and Journal of 30 October 1907. This was followed by the announcement in the Morning Post of 9 September 1908 that he had been placed on the Reserve of Officers.

At the time of the 1911 England census he and his family (he had married Violet Emily da Fonseca, the widow of the Manager of the Wankie Colliery in Southern Rhodesia) in about 1909. Sebastian Da Fonseca was a well-to-do gentleman of Portuguese extraction who had passed away on 21 February 1908 from Malaria. Da Fonseca appears to have kept a house in Kimberley in the Cape Colony as it was in this city, on 12 March 1908, that his daughter, Zoey Lillian, was baptised. Having been born on 21 January 1908, her father had died exactly a month later and was thus not at her baptism. Interestingly Harold Agar appears on the baptismal certificate as a witness – could something have developed between the grieving widow and himself at this time?)

The 1911 census has the family living at Parkside, near Barrow in Furness. Agar, now 36, was a Correspondence Clerk working under the aeronautical supervisor at Vickers and the couple had wasted no time with 1-year-old Arthur Victor Harold Agar making up the family.
This scene of almost idyllic domestic bliss was about to be shattered by a war on a much larger scale than the one Agar had seen service in.

The Great War erupted on the world stage on 4 August 1914 and Agar, almost 40, was Gazetted to the Seaforth Highlanders with the rank of second Lieutenant (dated 24 December 1915).

Confirming that he now lived at 23 Bowron’s Avenue, Alperton, Middlesex; Agar completed the Questions to be Answered by a Candidate for Appointment to a Commission in the Territorial Force on 6 October 1915. Claiming now to be an Insurance Broker, he stated that he had resigned from the Cameronians in July 1910 because he “was now married and couldn’t afford the time”.

He also stated that he “Had tried to get into communication with my late Colonel (of B.S.A.P.), now Brigadier General Bodle, C.M.G., but cannot determine his whereabouts”. This would appear to have been remedied as there is a note in Agar’s file from W. Bodle, Bury St. Edmunds, Commanding 208th Infantry Brigade and dated 9 October 1915 which read, “This is to certify that Harold Agar served under me in the South African War 1899 – 1902 as a Lieut. In the British South Africa Police. His conduct both in the field and on parade as all that could be desired. I consider him a most valuable officer”.

Agar did not see service outside of England and was not eligible for any medals. He was released from service on 10 November 1917 and the resignation of his commission was Gazetted on 2 June 1921. He was allowed to retain the rank of Captain.

As mentioned by himself above, Agar emigrated to Canada where he passed away at Victoria in British Columbia on 15 August 1962 at the age of 87 – he had been a regular correspondent to the Outpost up until a few months before his death.

The “tough old nut” had gone to meet his Maker.

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"We'll shoot you in the stomach" - the remarkable account of Lt Harold Agar 7 months 3 weeks ago #67849

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An excellent account and so nice to have access to a personal memoire too!
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"We'll shoot you in the stomach" - the remarkable account of Lt Harold Agar 7 months 3 weeks ago #67852

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Thank you Rory, a great piece of research..... For some reason the name Agar is familiar, maybe it is because of work at the PPCLI and Strathcona museums...…

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"We'll shoot you in the stomach" - the remarkable account of Lt Harold Agar 7 months 2 weeks ago #67875

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Thanks for the feedback chaps - Agar was a die-hard Colonial who did good work

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