NEW ZEALAND MOUNTED RIFLES
South African War 1899 – 1902
On October 21st 1899 the first detachment of 214 men of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles departed from Wellington on the troopship SS Waiwera for the South African or Boer War.
During this conflict the New Zealand Government would put a total of 6,495 troops into action. Men who served with distinction and valour. Fifty-eight men would be killed in action, and eleven others would die later of wounds. Another one hundred and ninety would be wounded in action, while twenty seven other soldiers died from accidents (with sixteen men killed at Machavie on 12th April1902 when their troop train collided with a goods train). A further 136 soldiers died from disease.
78 Victoria Crosses were awarded to British soldiers during this conflict.
The only New Zealander to win the Victoria Cross during the South African War and the first to win it overseas (i.e. other than the Maori Wars in New Zealand) was William James Hardham, (1876-1928) of Wellington. He won his Victoria Cross near Naauwpoort in January 1901 when he rode to the rescue of a fellow mounted rifleman whose horse had been shot from under him, and who had been injured as he fell to the ground. With a group of Boer marksmen trying to cut him down, Hardham lifted the injured trooper onto his saddle and then ran to safety behind a rock outcrop, pulling his horse behind him.
The South African War was concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902.
When the NZMR troops returned home, departing 17th July 1901, the men had built a fighting reputation second to none. When the government formed four military districts covering the country. The Otago Mounted Rifles, the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, the Wellington Mounted Rifles and the Auckland Mounted Rifles became the mounted regiments of those districts.
New Zealand and the South African War
The South African War (or Second Anglo-Boer War) was the first overseas conflict to involve New Zealand troops. Fought between the British Empire and the Boer South African Republic (Transvaal) and its Orange Free State ally, it was the culmination of long-standing tensions in southern Africa.
Eager to display New Zealand’s commitment to the British Empire, Premier Richard Seddon offered to send troops two weeks before conflict broke out. Hundreds of men applied to serve, and by the time war began in October 1899, the First Contingent was already preparing to depart for South Africa. Within a few months they would be fighting the Boers.
By the time peace was concluded 2½ years later, 10 contingents of volunteers totalling more than 6500 men (plus 8000 horses) had sailed for South Africa, along with doctors, nurses, veterinary surgeons and a small number of schoolteachers. Seventy-one New Zealanders were killed in action or died of wounds, with another 159 dying in accidents or from disease.
The South African War set the pattern for New Zealand’s later involvement in two world wars. Specially raised units, consisting mainly of volunteers, were despatched overseas to serve alongside forces from elsewhere in the British Empire. The success enjoyed by these troops fostered the idea that New Zealanders were naturally good soldiers who needed little training to perform well.