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OP-ED: Price of War Echoes Down the Generations

Thursday 24 June 2021, The Examiner

Many of us are familiar with the various memorials around our city and parks but often we don't always know what they are for.

How many people knew that the monument near the monkey enclosure at City Park was to commemorate the Tasmanians and Australians who participated in the Boer War?

Given that last Sunday was Boer War Commemoration Day, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on this.

According to the Australian War Memorial website, the Boer War was a conflict which ran from October 1899 to May 1902 and occurred between the British colonies and independent republics of Dutch-Afrikaner settlers, known as Boers.

The southern tip of Africa, the territory in question, had been shared between the British and the Boers, but given the Boer's strong resistance to British rule, and the discovery of gold and diamonds in the Boer republics in the 1880s, armed conflict resulted.

Given Australia's place in the Commonwealth, our involvement was inevitable.

Again, according to the Australian War Memorial, Australians served mostly in mounted units formed in each colony (which Tasmania was then) and were sent in waves to Africa.

Bushmen contingents, imperial Bushmen contingents, draft contingents, the Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents and existing officers of the militia and colonial forces comprised the Australian contribution.

The initial support for the war in Australia waned, as the conflict was drawn out and the effects on civilians in the area were made apparent.

A total of 860 Tasmanians served during the conflict and at least 27 of those men lost their lives.

Half of those 860 Tasmanians were from the state's north and two received one of the six Victoria Crosses that were awarded during the three-year war.

Something which many people may not realise is the important job that animals were tasked with during the war, a job that was to continue through many more conflicts.

According to the Australian Boer War memorial website, animals were an important part of the logistics for the Boer War, with some 360,000 Australian horses sent to South Africa.

Without the use of motor vehicles we know today, horses were the primary way in which people and equipment were moved around and, for cavalrymen, were taken into active conflict.

On occasion, horses had to be slaughtered for food and 60 per cent of horses died in combat or as the result of mistreatment, as opposed to three per cent of human combatants.

Of the 360,000 horses sent to South Africa, none were returned to Australia.

We now keep the memory of the Tasmanians who participated in the Boer War alive when we observe Boer War Commemoration Day at the memorial at City Park in June every year, organised with tireless effort by local historian Reg Watson.

When attending and laying flowers at the memorial I am always struck by the profound effect these sacrifices have had, even today.

This year descendant Judy Kilby read out a letter from Private William Isaac Wadley to his parents, William and Louisa Wadley of Bishopsbourne.

He was a first-class footballer and captain of the Bishopsbourne Football and Cricket Clubs, a splendid horseman and a first-class shot and grand bushman.

In the letter to his parents, marked Friday, March 29, 1900, he says:

"My dear Mother and Father, I am not very well at present. I have a very bad cold, but still I hope you are well at home... I have heard nothing about Tassy since I left, but there is no place like it. Mother, I don't think it is any use writing back to me, because I might never get them. None of us has received any letters from Tassy yet... We landed at Port-Elizabeth... in the train for 3 days and 4 nights, and the nights were very cold without any bedding, and in a cattle truck at that, about 40 of us... we marched all Sunday till about 12 o'clock at night without anything to eat or drink."

William, whose love for his parents and home are very clear, sadly died 18 days after this letter of enteric disease at the tender age of 22 years and five months.

The year 2021 marks 119 years since the Boer War ended and we now have several generations who have since fought in other wars and built legacies in Tasmania.

Tasmanians still feel the effects of the Boer War because the lives lost during these conflicts cannot be replaced and we cannot know what these people might have otherwise achieved or built had they not been casualties of war.

This is why, thanks to historian Reg Watson, and Judy Kilby who, like William Isaac, is one of the descendants of William Wadley who came from England, the memories of those we have lost are kept alive.

It is very so important. We must not forget those who have served and sacrificed.

Rosemary Armitage, independent Launceston MLC


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