The men of Inglewood fought in the Boer War
Name: F Company
Unit: 1st Battalion, Victorian Rangers
Location: South Africa
The Victorian town of Inglewood had a strong community spirit in the late 1890s with mining and agriculture bringing great wealth to the region.
With this background, it was hardly surprising that when a call came to develop its own defence system in the form of a militia, there was great support for the plan. Members of the Inglewood Rifle Club were among the first to become members of the Inglewood F Company of the Victorian Rangers but it later expanded to include any skilled male from the district.
Between 1899 and 1902, 44 Inglewood folk, most of them members of F Company, went to the Boer War. Three died; one of them, Nurse Fanny Hines, was the first Australian woman to die on active service.
Many of the men who went to the war wrote detailed letters home and several of these were published in the local newspapers.
They have recently been reprinted in a book produced by the Inglewood Historical Society, Our Boys - Letters from the Front. Following are some extracts:
Private EC Tatchell wrote to his brother in Bendigo describing his first encounter with the Boers.
"I am glad to say that all the men in the Victorian camp are very well," he wrote. "We have the Gordon Highlanders with us and get on splendidly. They will do anything for Australians. I was out on sentry duty about four mile from camp when your last letter reached me. I had been there two days and nights, and you can imagine my delight when I saw a black Kaffir boy running up to me. I knew him to be the mail boy; he brought me seven letters.
"I had been living on tinned meat and dog biscuits for that time. It was a bit monotonous, but the letters removed any feeling of disconsolation.
"I thought of you all on Christmas Day. Ted Jewell and I were in charge of six blacks (prisoners) in a small tent, taking hour about for 24 hours, and it was our misfortune to be on again New Year's Day, but we had a great festival next day, as an annual sports gathering was held.
"About 2000 were present, all soldiers fighting for the Queen, and all friends. The sports were splendid; 32 mules started in one race - it was highly amusing. About 10 were left at the post and 10 started the wrong way.
"So far as I can judge the Boers are a contemptible lot and I consider 100 Britishers equal to 1000 of them, if they would only come out of their hiding places. The Kopjes here are like Pyramid Hill but about twice as high and far more precipitous, and there are more boulders. I never touched a pick and shovel in my life till I came here, and think I can use it with any man in the camp. I am as hard as nails.
"We have dug a lot of trenches and wells for water and have now a good supply; but for the month of December we had little water; and 11 of us used to wash in one bucket of water, and then only wash every other day. I only had my clothes off two nights out of 28, so you can imagine we have hard work. Still it agrees with us and we don't mind it at all but would like better tucker. However, we are fighting for the Queen and for the credit of England and Australia.
"I get on very well with Sergeants Keck and Miller of Bendigo. Ted Jewel and I are always together. We were out the other day with two or three others and a shot was fired at us. There were five Boers. We had three shots each. We killed one and wounded another and took three prisoners. We all claimed the dead one. Just fancy, the oldest was only 19 years old."
Private Charles Rochester wrote from the front to his parents who forwarded the letter to the Inglewood Advertiser.
"We left Enslin on January 31 for Naaupoort to get our horses," he wrote. "As we were leaving the Gordon Highlanders made a lot of us, and played us out a few miles with their band. We marched to Grasspan and there we met more of the Highlanders and they played us along the road with their bagpipes a few miles. We then marched on to Belmont where we camped for the night and took the train next morning for Naaupoort.
"We got our horses and orders to go on to Rensberg where we were inspected by General Clements. We were then sent right to the front at Kloof Camp. We were called out to attack the Boers at Maiders Farm, a distance of about four miles from Kloof Camp.
"We took up our position at about 8.30 in the morning of Saturday 13 February and two of our Victorian Mounted Rifles were killed - Sgt Grant (Ballarat) and Private Wilson. We held the position till Monday morning when we were attacked by a large body of Boers.
"In this fight Major Eddy was killed and also Corporal Ross of Castlemaine. There were wounded and taken prisoners in our company Private Byers, Peters, Roberts. Hamilton, McCance, Captain McInerney, Lieut Treamearne and Lieut Roberts, who has since died.
"We had in the Victorian contingent alone about 30 casualties. All the Inglewood boys came out of the fight without a scratch. Although the bullets were very close at times."
In May, Lance Corporal Tatchell wrote to his brother in Inglewood.
"Since I last wrote you we have had a long march from Norval's Pont to Bloemfontein but owing to our horses knocking up we were eight days longer than anticipated, and passing on route we had to disarm all the Boers and Dutch farmers.
"This was rather an amusing occupation. They did not like parting with their rifles and in most cases said they did not have any but when we threatened to search the house they generally handed over two or three rifles and ammunition.
"We had to march from 10 to 30 miles a day. We had the pleasure of hoisting the Union Jack in many places and were welcomed by the better class of men. I had an amusing experience in Koffyfontein.
"One evening I visited a farmhouse in search of something to eat and found a Dutch farmer, his wife and 16 children. They were very Dutch and I had great difficulty in making them understand me but eventually I had a good square feed and I stayed talking, there being a rather nice Dutch girl there but her young man arrived and seeing a British soldier talking to his 'best girl' he did not like it and became troublesome. But when I showed him my bayonet hanging by my side - that being the only arm I had with me - he was quite willing to do anything for me.
"We passed by Jagersfontein and the diamond mines. Many of us would have liked to have assisted ourselves. We saw some nice diamonds and garnets. The latter are not of much value. The mines are guarded by Kaffirs but we passed along and did not interfere with them."
In March 1901, Sgt JH Kelly of Inglewood received a letter from Private Mahoney who was serving with the Imperial Bushmen's Contingent at Magersfontein.
"We left Bulawayo on 7 January for De Aar. We passed through scrubby country all night, only stopping to get wood and water. We travelled all next day through King Chamber's country and the following day found us at crocodile pools, close to the Transvaal border.
"From here down every bridge is guarded and the rations also. We passed over the new bridge where Plummer's column was stopped owing to the line bridge having been blown up. Rathambalama is only a wayside station; it was here that Colonel Baden Powell was stationed before going to Mafeking. We reached Mafeking after travelling over 490 miles (790 km).
"The town is on a bare plain and on approaching from the north one could hardly think it had been besieged for there are only a few scattered forts about a quarter of a mile apart. These are of horseshoe shape and are made os loose dirt topped up with bags of sand. They are about five feet high and have 15 yards of fighting front.
"The Boers had no earthworks on the north, owing, probably, to the sweeping fire from BP's armoured trains. But on the east of the town they had trenches that would take a day to walk round them.
"They worked them forward till they were within 500 yards (457m) of the town. It was here that Captain Fitzclarence, in a midnight sortie, bayoneted the Boers in the trenches. The townspeople said the volleys from the trenches compelled them to keep under cover."
What turned out to be the last letter written by Lieutenant Palmer was received by his parents. It was dated 12 May 1901 and was written from Bronkersprint.
"Just as the advance scouts came down the neck they were greeted with ping ping on the right. We retired and a gun got to work and shelled the hillside. All was quiet for half an hour, till we crossed the drift. The scouts were mostly up the Kopje and came in for the fire from the steep hillside opposite where we entered.
"With Captain Tatchell, I then dismounted and we started to lead up towards the scouts, when the Mausers were turned onto us. They came a bit thick and Tatchell called out to me to make for cover. Before I could turn round there were several shots whizzing past and some turning up the dust around.
"I heard a dull ping, and my pony jumped and refused to lead for a second or two. I eventually got behind a tree and whilst the bullets whizzed past I saw blood running over my hand where I held the pony.
"The guns soon started and the fire was diverted on them so I got back to the drift where I found two holes through my saddle and a wound in the pony's wither. I left it there, put bandages in my pockets and got up the hill where Munsters were volleying.
"The VM rifles turned the flanks. The guns with shrapnel set the front hill on fire and the enemy were driven and smoked out but not until the artillery had fired 80 shots. This transpired to be an hospital day, the death of two officers, Captain Kelly and Lieutenant Johnson, and the wounding of three men."
One of the many heroes from the Boer War was Captain Tivey DSO. He arrived home in Inglewood in December 1901 and a few days later the Inglewood Advertiser ran the story on how he won the award.
"At about daybreak the 12th February 1901, Captain Tivey was with his squadron of 55 men, about five miles form Phillipstown in the north of Cape Colony. The town was garrisoned by 25 British soldiers. Information was received at daylight that De Wet was advancing on the town with his forces. There was a high Kopje within half a mile of and commanding the town.
"Then ensued a race between De Wet's column and the squadron under Captain Tivey as to who should occupy the Kopje. There was no hesitation on the part of the commanding officer. Many another man would have counted his forces and looked at his little band in dismay - would perhaps have waited until it was too late. But not so in this case.
"The order was give, the little band sprang into their saddles, their horses hoofs thundering over the ground as they raced madly for the Kopje which was key to the position.
"History records that the gallant Australians got there first - history records that they held it all day long, notwithstanding the desperate attempts made by the Boers to recover the lost ground. Their rifles rang out defiance to the enemy, whose guns pounded away at the position, but to no avail.
"Late in the afternoon they were relieved by Colonel Honniker, from whose column they had been detached, and the Boers retired beaten. As showing the excellent strategy of the commanding officer (Captain Tivey) the squadron emerged from the conflict without losing a man.
"We need not dwell on the joy of the garrison at being rescued from their uncomfortable position, or at the congratulations the Antipodeans received at their plucky and successful action.
"The sequel to the affair is that Captain Tivey received the Distinguished Service Order at the hands of His Majesty King Edward in England, and has returned to Inglewood to visit his home and friends with the additional rank of Major."
The material for this article was supplied by Howard Rochester, President of the Inglewood Historical Society, Victoria