1st Australian Horse

Battle Honour South Africa 1899-1900
Commanding Officers
Decorations DCM
Conflict South Africa, 1899-1902 (Boer War)
  • Official records of the Australian military contingents to the war in South Africa(Melbourne : A.J. Mullett, Govt. Printer, 1911)
  • Wilcox, Craig, Australia's Boer War : the war in South Africa, 1899-1902(Melbourne : Oxford University Press, 2002)
Category Unit
Conflict South Africa, 1899-1902 (Boer War)
Unit hierarchy

The 1st Australian Horse was a volunteer militia unit raised in 1895 by Colonel J.H.K. Mackay. Mackay recruited men from all over country New South Wales. Detachments were formed at Murrumburrah, Gunnedah, Gundagai, Quirinidi, Mudgee, Scone, Michelago, Boggabri, Cootamundra, Braidwood, Lue, Wallendbeen, and Bungendore. The men were regarded as excellent horsemen and the regiment wore a distinctive uniform of dark green with black embroidery, in a hussar pattern. When the Boer War broke out, the 1st Australian Horse sent two contingents to South Africa, where they served as a cavalry squadron.

The first group left Newcastle on 14 November 1899, on board the transport Langton Grange, and consisted of two officers and 32 other ranks, with 36 horses. They arrived at Cape Town, South Africa, on 13 December. The second contingent was larger than the first, numbering five officers and 102 other ranks, with 121 horses. The second contingent, called the service squadron, left Sydney on 17 January 1900. Travelling on board the transport Surry, they reached Cape Town on 23 February.

The first contingent was attached to the Royal Scots Greys, serving as part of General French's cavalry division. They participated at the battle of Slingersfontein on 16 January 1900, where they suffered heavy casualties. Captain W.V. Dowling was severely wounded and captured, while Sergeant-Major George Allman Griffin was killed. Griffin was the first Australian killed in the war. Another man, Corporal Hedley John Kirkpatrick, was badly wounded and later died.

The squadron were present at various actions in the Cape Colony during February, and in early march they were joined by the second contingent.

At the start of March the squadron moved to Modder River, before moving on to Ossfontein, where they joined the Royal Scots Greys on 6 March. The next day they took part in the battle of Poplar Grove, then moved on to Dreifontein and the occupation on Bloemfontein on 13 March. The squadron was present at the actions at Karee Siding, Sannas Post, and Evan's Farm.

In May the squadron participated in the advance to Pretoria, taking part in the battle of Zand River on 10 March, when the squadron formed part of an attacking force on strongly occupied kopjes; the attackers were repelled. Two of the squadron's men were killed and three were taken prisoner. Despite the setback, the advance to Pretoria continued and the squadron was involved in a number of actions along the way, including at the surrender of Pretoria on 5 June and the battle of Diamond Hill two days later. More minor actions occurred throughout the rest of the month.

During the battle of Belfast, on 27 August, the "splendid scouting" of the Australian Horse allowed General French to turn the Boer right flank, forcing the Boers to retreat. More skirmishes occurred during September and October as French's column swept towards Heidelberg.

Towards the end of October the squadron returned to Pretoria for a rest and remained there until December. The Australian Horse then went to Machadodorp, where it joined Queensland and South Australian troops in patrolling the railway line. In February 1901 the squadron returned to Belfast, where it received remounts. On 14 February the squadron took part in a sharp action near Belfast, after which General Kitchener praised the Australian Horse for its "gallant" conduct.

At the end of March the squadron left Cape Town for Australia, on board the transport Tongariro, arriving at Sydney on 2 May.

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