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5 corrections, most recently by anonymous - Show corrections

THE BUSHVELDT CARBINEERS.

To the Editor.

Sir-Now that the South African war has

ended, the time seems to be opportune to ask the public to come to a corrected im- pression in regard to the Bushveldt Car- bineers. The operations of that Australian corps-it was almost entirely composed of Australians-have been steeped in infamy and shame by a flood of calumny and,slan- der. It is true that there may be put to the discredit of some of its officers serious crimes, to others misdoing. But invaddi- tion to what may he truthfully slated, there has been a series of monstrous allega- tions published-in all good faith-by the

majority of the newspapers deceived by the     representations of persons, some with most

unworthy objects to serve, others indulg-   ing with sheer recklessness their ''Dead-   wood Dick" imaginations. Partly because     as an Australian I am interested in the re- putation of an Australian corps, partly be- cause I know personally several of the per-

sons concerned, I have taken every pos-   sible means to ascertain the real facts as

to the operations of the Bushveldt Carbi- neers-the examination of all official and   private documents available, careful ques-

tioning and cross-questioning of returned   soldiers - and as a result I am convinced that very grave injustice has been done to the corps collectively and to some Austra lians individually.      

The facts are these: In the Pietersburg

district during the late war a very bitter   tinge was from the first given to the cam- paign. The British forces looked upon

the train-wrecking operations of the Boer   guerillas as murderous, and on their side retaliated with several proved instances of shooting prisoners in cold blood. Some of   these incidents occurred before the Austra- lian Bushveldt Carbineers were operating   in the district at all. Others were clearly traced to Lieutenant H. H. Morant and Lieutenant P. J. Handcock. ln these tra- gedies there was a certain degree of com- plicity by Lieutenants G. R. Witton and H. Picton. At a series of court-martials. Lieutenants Morant and Handcock and Witton were found guilty of murder and

Lieutenant Picton of manslaughter. Be- fore the court Lieutenant Morant swore

that he had considered himself justified in   his executions of the prisoners, and that he had been inflamed to rage by the thought that the Boers had murdered a comrade, Captain Hunt. He claimed that he [Morant] as senior officer was respon- sible throughout, and that Handcock and others had acted only on his orders, and in the belief that those orders were con- sistent with instructions from a higher source. Major Lenehan at the same series of court-martials was found guilty of hav- ing failed to report one of the incidents, and was reprimanded.

That is the whole truth so far as Austra-   lians are concerned. Lieutenant Morant,

on his own confession, killed unarmed   Boers, and ordered his subordinates to as- sist him. But his actions, however savage and condemnable, were not of that despi- cable nature alleged by some reports. He killed for revenge, not for gain or from mere lewdness of bloodshed. His subor- dinates, however reprehensible their con- sent to actions which they should have re- sisted, seem to me to be absolved in a large measure from responsibility by the fact that they were under military disci-

pline, and thought they had to obey the orders of a superior officer.        

Now as to the punishments. Morant   and Handcock were shot. Picton (an Eng- lish officer, great-grandson of Waterloo General Picton) was cashiered and dis- graced. Witton was sentenced to im-

prisonment for life, and is now in gaol.   Lenehan was reprimanded, though from   careful perusal of the court-martial evi- dence I fail to see that he in the smallest degree went outside his duty to the army or to humanity. So much for the legal punishments. In addition thereto, Major Lenehan was shut up in a fort for some three months in Pietersburg; was, after

the sentence of the court-martial, kept as   a prisoner in the cells at Cape Town until he left for Australia, and returns now to this country a broken man. The illegal and extraordinary imprisonment to which he was subjected seems to have had no rea- son but that it was feared that he might communicate with the Australian Govern- ment in regard to the accused officers of the

Carbineers.

In regard to the dead nothing can be done. But the living? Picton, dismissed, and disgraced, is not an Australian, and, therefore, is out of reach of any action on our part. Witton, however, an Australian citizen, now in gaol, is guilty of nothing but that he was not firm and courageous enough   to prevent his superior officer doing wrong.   To those who know his character, weak and amiable, the sentence on him seems a savage one. Lenehan was absolutely guiltless of complicity in any outrage, and how he could even have been convicted of omitting to report one of them puzzles me. He was, however, subject to most severe (and ille- gal) penalties. Yet his was a brilliant war record. Going to South Africa with the Second New South Wales Contingent, he took part in Lord Roberts's advance on Pre- toria, led the bayonet charge over the River Vaal, took part in the Mounted Infantry charge in the suburbs of Johannesburg, the battle of Diamond Hill, and some 15 general engagements. His services and merits were

recognised by his being entrusted with a column working from Pretoria to the Machadodorp district, subsequently with a staff appointment under General Alderson, and finally he was entrusted by Lord Kit- chener with the formation and command of the Bushveldt Carbineers. And the result of two years hard campaigning is to be un- merited disgrace with no fault even alleged against him, but a minor breach of techni- cal regulations. The court-martial in South Africa which had the measuring of his of- fence punished it with a reprimand only- not even a serious reprimand. 'But mili- tary authority, nevertheless, subjected him to dishonoring treatment, and public opi- nion here in Australia, acting on a wrong impression, condemns him to disgrace.  

I cannot hope that merely on my word any great change can be made; but if you, sir, will - for the sake of the good name of Australia, and for the sake of doing justice to certain deeply-injured men - reconsider the first decision on this unhappy matter, and in the light of the information now available, investigate a-fresh all the circum-

stances, your verdict will, I am sure, agree, with mine, and its publication will secure justice. Or, if Parliament will take steps to enquire, through the medium of sworn

evidence, into the circumstances, the same

happy result will be achieved.

I am, etc,

FRANK FOX.   Northwood, Sydney, N.S.W.

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