Standing up for Canberra

2018 Boer War Day Commemoration

Thank you for your kind invitation to join you at this very special event. I commend the National Boer War Memorial Association for continuing to commemorate the anniversary of the Boer War.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are meeting on, the Ngunnawal people. I wish to acknowledge and pay my respects to elders past and present, and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region.

The 31st of May marks the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging which ended the Second Boer War.

At the time, Australia was six self-governing crown colonies in the last stages of forming a federation. It was a time when Australians were serving alongside British, Canadians and New Zealanders as part of an imperial force, which included the first service women to fight overseas.

It has been noted in history that British commanders valued Australians for their horsemanship, bush skills and initiative. This formed a special type of Australian mounted infantry which would become the light horse of the First World War. 

It was also the first time Australia and New Zealand fought together, as our nations have continued to do so to this day. 

In August 1900, Australians defending a small outpost on the Elands River established a reputation of Australian soldiers being fighters. These characteristics were seen again at Gallipoli, in France and in New Guinea.

The first contingents formed units such as the 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles and 1st Queensland Mounted Infantry units.  Soon after, units with a distinctly Australian character appeared. These included the Victorian Bushman and the South Australian Imperial Bushman.  The titles demonstrated the skills and qualities of the Australian bushman - a free citizen of an independent country within the British Empire.

Following federation on 1 January 1901, the Australian Commonwealth Horse was formed and the first version of Australia’s rising sun badge appeared.  This established the Australian tradition of raising specific, volunteer forces to serve overseas.  As would happen late in the 20th century, men were recruited from individual states but fought as Australians.

Over 23,000 Australians served a fight often forgotten in the Boer War. 520 lost their lives and 1,400 sustained serious injury. Among the soldiers were 60 Australian women, including Sister Frances Emma ‘Fanny’ Hines who was the first Australian woman to lose her life on overseas service. She was said to have died of pneumonia at Bulawayo in August 1900, but eventually it was determined her death was a result of exhaustion.

The Boer War was the first war to be commemorated by Australia in public memorials. The names of local citizens who served were placed in country areas across Australia, with special recognition to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Together with the ACT members of the National Boer War Memorial Association, we remember and honour two special Canberrans who are commemorated at St Johns Church in Reid.

A memorial inside the church acknowledges William Bradshaw Galliard Smith who was born in Canberra, and died in the Battle of Brakenlaagte as a member of the 2nd Scottish Horse. He was the son of the Reverend Pierce Galliard Smith.

Outside the church is the grave of Private William Frederick Young who served with the 1st New South Wales Rifles. While serving he contracted enteric fever and died as a result of the illness in Sydney on 4 October 1900.  He too was born in Canberra, the son and grandson of a prominent pioneer family.

We will remember them.

Lest we forget.

SUNDAY 27 MAY 2018