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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.

Read George Witton's Scapegoats of the Empire

See the forum posts on the BVC and PLH

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(1298 Records)

 Surname   Forename/inits   Regimental no   Rank   Notes 
AbrahamsClaude Leslie188 TrooperSource: Nominal roll in WO127
AbrahamsClaude LeslieSource: WO100/263
AdamsR D110PrivateSeverely wounded. Mapps Valley, 26 April 1901
Source: South African Field Force Casualty Roll
AdamsRobert Dudley110 TrooperSource: Nominal roll in WO127
AdamsRobt DudleySource: WO100/263
AdlerHarry Mark429 TrooperSource: Nominal roll in WO127
AdlerHarry MarkSource: WO100/263
AitkenJohn468 TrooperSource: Nominal roll in WO127
AitkenJohnSource: WO100/263
AkersGeo LittleSource: WO100/263
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© Crown copyright images reproduced by permission of The National Archives, London, England.   The National Archives give no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided.   Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education.  Applications for any other use should be made to The National Archives Image Library, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU, Tel: 020 8392 5225   Fax: 020 8392 5266.   

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From George Witton's Scapegoats of the Empire, chapter 13

Pietersburg is an important town 180 miles north of Pretoria and the terminus of the railway. After the occupation of Pretoria in June, 1900, the Boer Government was set up here, and it was not until May, 1901, that the town was occupied and garrisoned by British troops.

A tragic incident, in which two Tasmanian officers were killed, is related to have occurred on the day the troops entered Pietersburg. These two officers were going out to a magazine on the outskirts of the town, and were sniped at and shot dead by a Dutch schoolmaster who lay hidden in the long grass. When the troops ran up to see what was the matter, this gentleman jumped up, and, holding up his hands, shouted, "I surrender! I surrender! I surrender!" The men walked up to him, and without hesitation ran a bayonet through his body, and in the heat and stress of the battlefield this action of the soldiers was applauded.

My duties as an officer of the Carbineers began on 13th July. There was little to be done, and less to be learned, in the ordinary routine of camp duty7, which consisted principally of attending the stables to see that the men fed and groomed their horses.

When I had been about a fortnight at Pietersburg Major Lene-han returned from Pretoria; he had not succeeded in getting guns for his gun section, and ordered me, much against my inclination, to take over the quartermaster's duties from Lieutenant Mortimer. I held this position about a week.

The Bushveldt Carbineers were raised in Capetown and Pretoria early in 1901 for special service in the Northern Transvaal. A Mr. Levy, a storekeeper at Pienaar's River, who had made some money out of the Pienaar's River garrison, offered to devote part of his savings towards the formation of a mounted corps to operate in that district. He contributed £500; Mr. M. Kelly, merchant, of Pietersburg, also gave £100; Dr. Neel, of Matapan, Spelonken, £100; a few others also subscribed. It was orginally proposed to raise 500 men, but not more than 350 constituted the full strength.

The camp and headquarters of the Carbineers formed part of the Pietersburg garrison, which was made up of the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment, 2nd Gordon Highlanders, a section of the Royal Field Artillery, and a detachment of the Royal Garrison Artillery, with a 5-in. gun, which was known throughout the war as a "cow-gun," on account of it being drawn by oxen. Colonel Hall, C.B., was garrison commandant. The other officers of the corps stationed at Pietersburg while I was there were Major Lenehan, Lieutenant and Adjutant Edwards, Lieutenant and Quartermaster Mortimer, Lieutenant Baudinet, all Australians, and all late members of the first Australian contingents. There were also Lieutenant Neel, an English doctor, and Lieutenant Kelly, a Pietersburg merchant.

A detachment of the Carbineers was at Strydspoort, a post about 35 miles south-east of Pietersburg, and was under the command of Lieutenant H. H. Morant. Another detachment was at Fort Edward, Spelonken, 90 miles north from Pietersburg. This detachment was sent there to assist Captain Alfred Taylor, a special service officer, and was under the command of a captain of the Carbineers; with him went Lieutenant Handcock, a veterinary officer.

Major Lenehan was officer commanding the Carbineers, but in reality this was in rank and name only. The major rarely visited the outposts, which were practically under the direct control of the officers in charge; he was a good-natured man, and much attached to his officers.

There has been argument regarding the nationality of Lieutenant Morant, and the ignominy of his fate has in prejudiced quarters been attached to Australia. He was, however, bom in England and reared as an English gentleman, coming to Australia in manhood. There he was engaged in various bush avocations, especially in droving and breaking horses; hence the pen-name of "The Breaker," by which he became known as a popular writer of verses. He went to the war with an Australian contingent; a good fellow, one could not help liking him, yet he was very hot-headed, and usually did things on the impulse of the moment. He exacted strict obedience, and obtained it, where others holding a much higher rank might have failed.

Captain Taylor was a special officer of the Intelligence Department, and worked the wild and isolated part of the Transvaal around Spelonken. He was an Irishman by birth, but had lived a number of years in Africa among the natives; he had been a lieutenant in Plumer's Scouts in the Matabele War, and had command of a corps of Cape boys. He had been selected and sent to the Spelonken by Lord Kitchener, on account of his knowledge of the natives. As far as the natives were concerned, he had a free hand and the power of life and death; he was known and feared by them from the Zambesi to the Spelonken, and was called by them "Bulala," which means to kill, to slay. He had the power to order out a patrol when he required it, and it was generally understood that he was the officer commanding at Spelonken. At the trials of the officers later on he admitted in evidence that he had held this position.

Source: https://www.angloboerwar.com/books/253-witton-scapegoats-of-the-empire/4801-witton-chapter-7-the-origin-of-the-carbineers


 

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