Memorial to honour Boer War veterans

A PROPOSED memorial to honour the service and sacrifice of Australians who fought in the Boer War is a step closer to reality, after being granted Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status by the Australian Taxation Office.

Dubbo has a link with one of Australia's most infamous Boer War soldiers, Peter Handcock who was executed by firing squad for war crimes along with Harry "The Breaker" Morant on February 2, 1902 at Pretoria Jail.

Peter Joseph Handcock (1868-1902), soldier and blacksmith, was born on February 17, 1868 at Peel, NSW, third of eight surviving children of English-born William Handcock, farmer and carrier, and his Irish wife Bridget, nee Martin. His father died when he was six and as a youth he worked at Bathurst as a blacksmith. When he married Bridget Alice Mary Martin on July 15, 1888 in the Catholic cathedral, Bathurst, he described himself as a labourer from Dubbo.

In 1899, when a railwayman, Handcock enlisted for the South African War as a shoesmith in the 2nd Contingent of the 1st New South Wales Mounted Rifles. Reaching Cape Town in February 1900 he was promoted farrier sergeant before transferring to the Railway Services Police.

In February 1901 he joined the Bush Veldt Carbineers as a veterinary lieutenant. Raised for guerilla warfare, the BVC operated from headquarters at Pietersburg, northern Transvaal.

In June Handcock joined a detachment under Captain Robertson, a British officer, at Fort Edward in the Spelonken district where the fighting was bitter and brutal.

Robertson's detachment lacked discipline and shot prisoners and he was dismissed by Colonel F H Hall, the BVC's Pietersburg area commandant. '

By late July Captain P Hunt, also British, was in command. Lieutenant H H Morant, a close friend of Hunt, was also at Fort Edward. Hunt was killed in action and his body mutilated.

Left in command, Morant ordered all Boer prisoners to be shot from then on. He and his men afterwards swore that Hunt had received verbal orders from Lieutenant-Colonel H Hamilton, General Kitchener's military secretary, not to take prisoners and that Hunt had reprimanded them for disobeying.

The BVC rigorously hunted Boers; prisoners and those who surrendered were shot. Morant praised the work of Handcock, and Hall congratulated Morant for his detachment's success.

During his trial Handcock testified: "I have had a very poor education. I never cared much about being an officer; all I know is about horses, though I like to fight... I did what I was told to do, and I cannot say any more'. In a farewell letter to his sister he wrote: 'If I overstepped my duty I can only ask my people and country for forgiveness".

Handcock was survived by his wife and by two sons and a daughter.

He was the first Australian national executed for war crimes and his sentence, which had been carried out without the knowledge and consent of the Australian government, aroused bitter public controversy.

Minister for Veterans' Affairs Warren Snowdon said donations made to the National Boer War Memorial Association would be tax deductible for members of the public who wished to contribute towards the project.

The federal government has contributed $200,000 in funding towards the memorial. The design for the memorial was unveiled in March 2012.

More than 16,000 Australians volunteered to fight for Britain in the war, with some 250 being killed in action and more than 260 dying of illness. Six Victoria Crosses were awarded to brave Australians for their efforts.

For more information on the Memorial or how to donate visit the National Boer War Memorial Association website at www.bwm.org.au.

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