The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (583) Corporal Charles William Norton, 3rd Victorian Bushmen, Boer War.

Accession Number AWM2020.1.1.217
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 4 August 2020
Access Open
Conflict South Africa, 1899-1902 (Boer War)
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Craig Berelle, the story for this day was on (583) Corporal Charles William Norton, 3rd Victorian Bushmen, Boer War.

Speech transcript

583 Corporal Charles William Norton, 3rd Victorian Bushmen
DOW: 4 August 1900

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal Charles William Norton.

Charles Norton was born on 22 March 1865. Records suggest that he was born in England or Wales, but very little is known of his early life. He migrated to the colony of Victoria and in 1891 was living in the gold-mining town of Eaglehawk in central Victoria. He was a member of the local rifle club and was an excellent marksman.

In October 1899, after a worsening political deadlock in southern Africa, Boer forces invaded the British colonies of Cape Colony and Natal. Britain declared war on the two Boer republics: the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. In support of the British Empire, each of the Australian colonies committed troops to the conflict.

Victoria initially sent two contingents of mounted infantry drawn largely from the colony’s existing soldiers.

In early 1900, British commanders in South Africa called for more mounted infantry to be sent. These soldiers were needed due to the nature of the fighting, which occurred on the wide open veld and against mounted Boer soldiers.
Military authorities in the Australian colonies called for volunteers with excellent horse-riding, shooting, and bush skills. It was hoped that men with these skills would bring an advantage to British regular army troops in the field. These new volunteer units were known as bushmen’s contingents.

In 1899, Norton was working as a horse groom at the Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood, a suburb of Melbourne. There was a tale told that Norton was once assaulted at the hotel for his supposedly pro-Boer views.

Perhaps to silence his critics, he volunteered for service early in 1900. He passed the medical, shooting, and riding tests, and was enlisted in the 3rd Victorian Bushmen’s Contingent. He began training with the other members of the unit at Langwarrin, south-east of Melbourne.
With his rifle club experience, horse-riding abilities, and skills in the field, he was selected to become a non-commissioned officer, and promoted to the rank of corporal.

The 3rd Victorian Bushmen embarked on the transport ship Euryalus at Melbourne in early March, and set sail for South Africa. Stopping briefly at Cape Town, the contingent sailed north along the east coast to Beira, in modern-day Mozambique. There the unit disembarked and travelled by rail into Rhodesia, modern-day Zimbabwe. Arriving at the British camp in the town of Marondera, the 3rd Victorian Bushmen joined other units to form the Rhodesian Field Force in May.

By June 1900, the Victorians had marched some 350 kilometres on horseback south to the town of Bulawayo. The Field Force travelled by rail to the town of Mafeking in the Cape Colony, a British outpost that had until recently been besieged by Boer forces. By mid-June, the Boer capitals of Bloemfontein and Pretoria had been occupied by the British, and the Boer commanders began a guerrilla war against British supply lines and isolated outposts.

In mid-July, a small detachment of the Field Force, including Norton, marched east into the Transvaal to guard a depot of stores at a post on Elands River. On the way, they were attacked at Koster River by a Boer force waiting in ambush. Pinned down by heavy rifle fire, the Australians lost nine men killed before the Boer forces retreated in the face of British reinforcements.

When the detachment of about 300 soldiers from Australian colonies arrived at Elands River, they joined about 200 colonial soldiers from Cape Colony and Rhodesia, as well as African mule-drivers and a small number of British regulars.

At Elands River, the men were ordered to dig in on high ground on the 3rd of August. That evening, Norton complained to a superior officer that he still had not seen real soldiering. The officer told him to be careful what he wished for.

That evening, unbeknownst to the colonial forces, a Boer force nearly 2,000 strong was quietly surrounding the post at Elands River.

At dawn on the 4th of August 1900, the Boers opened fire with rifles and artillery. Soon after the firing began, a shell landed among the Victorians, badly wounding Trooper Frank Bird, who survived, although his leg had to be amputated. The same shell struck Norton in the abdomen, and tore his arm off. He survived for some hours before dying of his wounds.

Charles Norton was 35 years old.

When evening fell, the Boers ceased firing. Norton, along with two other Australian soldiers and two Rhodesians, and an African driver, had been killed on the first day of the siege. All six men were buried at around midnight.
Corporal Charles William Norton is listed on the Roll of Honour on my right, among almost 600 Australians who died while serving in the South African War.

This is but one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Corporal Charles William Norton, who gave his life for us, for his country, and in the hope of a better world.

Thomas Rogers
Historian, Military History Section

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