The Bushveld Carbineers
Did you know?
Breaker Morant is an Australian film made in 1980. It won wide critical acclaim and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Sometime in the year 1900, at the height of the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War), a pro-British shopkeeper-publican from the Limpopo town of Pienaar’s River came up with the idea of forming a local defence unit to fight the Boers in the area.
So keen was he that he donated £500 to the establishment of what was to be known as the Bushveld Carbineers. This unit was later recognised as being the 1st-ever special forces group formed to fight a counter-insurgency war.
As a reward, the generous shopkeeper-publican was made a captain and paymaster. He soon used this position to apply for liquor licences at the 10 railway stations between Pretoria and Pietersburg (now Polokwane). The British army, however, did not think that more alcohol outlets were the answer to their war problems, so his application was denied.
The Bushveld Carbineers were made up of a motley crew of Australians, ‘turned’ Boers, Americans, New Zealanders, Germans, Rhodesians and the occasional Briton.
About 50 men from the unit rampaged through the far-northern Transvaal (now Limpopo), fighting the rough-hewn Boers of the Spelonken (Soutpansberg) area on their own terms.
Into the frame stepped Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant, a dapper Australian who could ride a horse, compose a poem, drive a herd of livestock and soldier like nobody’s business.
He was offered a lieutenant’s commission, put in charge of No. 2 Troop of B Squadron, and given the task of raiding farms used by local Boer commandos.
Morant and 3 other lieutenants were later said to have participated in the execution of a number of Boer prisoners of war and the killing of a German missionary.
They were court-martialled and the chief of British operations in South Africa, Lord Kitchener, personally signed the death warrants. Lieutenants Morant and Peter Handcock were executed in Pretoria and buried in the same grave. Lieutenant George Witton’s death sentence was commuted to life, and Lieutenant Henry Picton was cashiered.
However, the passage of time has unearthed conflicting reports of the events concerned, and Breaker Morant and Handcock have been elevated to Australian folk heroes. Morant’s last words to the firing squad were said to be: ‘Shoot straight, you bastards, and don’t make a mess of it!’
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