Carved rifle butt

Farrier Sergeant Percy King

When the South African (Boer) War started in October 1899, the two Boer Republics called upon male citizens (burghers) between the ages of 16 and 60 to fight. The men formed militia units, known as Kommandos, with the size of each unit determined by the size of the area from which it was raised. Each man was to provide his own horse and rifle, most commonly a Mauser rifle acquired from the government.

As Boer burghers owned their rifles, they were able to carve their names into the wood. This was unheard of in the British Army, in which weapons were owned by the state and subject to regular inspections. Talented burghers added intricately carved details of home, the coat of arms, or head of state.

Australian soldiers began to copy the Boer custom, carving their name – and sometimes more – into their own rifles. Several Boer weapons with carvings were captured by Australians, who added to the carvings with Australian features. As volunteer forces, Australians were not subject to the same rules as their British comrades and did not face strict punishment for defacing their weapons.

This example was carved onto the Lee-Enfield rifle of Farrier Sergeant Percy King of the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles. On one side is an unofficial, pre-Federation coat of arms. The opposite side features King’s personal details around a Transvaal 2-shilling coin and the Transvaal coat of arms. The carving is similar in style to other examples from the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles, suggesting that a man in the unit, or someone hired by the unit, was responsible for the carvings.