Susan Gardner


The guerrilla war was fast brutalizing both adversaries. The worst scandals on the British side concerned colonial irregulars - Australians, Canadians and South Africans - whose official contingents, ironically, had won a reputation for gallantry in so many set-piece battles. The most notorious case involved a special anti-commando unit, raised by Australians to fight in the wild northern Transvaal, and called the Bush Veldt Carbineers. Six of its officers (five Australians, one Englishman) were court-martialled for multiple murder. The facts were admitted: in August 1901, 12 Boers, earlier taken prisoner, had been shot by the Carbineers on the orders of their officers. The Australians' defence: as a reprisal, shooting prisoners was now accepted practice. Two of the Australian officers, Lieutenants 'Breaker' Morant and Handcock, were executed in February 1902, on the orders of Kitchener. The affair caused an outcry in Australia. There arose a misconception (still current) that foreign political pressures had induced Kitchener to make scapegoats of Morant and Handcock. In fact Kitchener's motives were cruder: evidence of his own army's indiscipline drove him wild with frustration.



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