“A” Field Battery is the oldest permanent unit of the Australian army. Before 1870 each of the major ports in colonial Australia were defended by the British garrison troops from the Royal Garrison Artillery. At the end of 1871 the Royal Garrison Artillery was withdrawn from the colony of New South Wales and the colonial government passed an act allowing for the raising of a Permanent Military Force to provide the coastal artillery. A Battery, New South Wales Artillery, was formed in August 1871, and was trained and organised to replicate the Royal Artillery. In 1885 A Battery was sent to the Sudan, as the New South Wales Battery, and 14 years later it was sent to the Boer War, as part of second contingent from New South Wales.

A Battery embarked for South Africa on 30 December 1899, in the transport Warrigal. The battery numbered 177 men, consisting of seven officers and 170 other ranks, and 148 horses. Five men were veterans of the Sudan. The battery was equipped with six 15-pounder guns and was organised into three field sections with two guns each. In 1901 the first draft received 44 reinforcements and another 19 horses.

A Battery arrived in Cape Town on 5 February 1900 and soon joined General Settle’s column, which was clearing the districts of Prieska, Kenhardt, and Goodania, in the north-west of the Cape Colony.

In December a section from battery joined Colonel Crabbe’s column, operating in the Orange River. The battery remained with Crabbe until March 1901, when it took part in the chase of the Boer leader De Wet, in the Hopetoun district, and was instrumental in the capture of De Wet’s guns, north of Pompean Pan. Another part of the battery was attached to Colonel Grenfell’s column, in the Graff Reinet district. While part of the battery was employed in the Cape Colony, the other part was used in the Transvaal, with Colonels Williams’ and Remington’s columns, operating against the Boer commandos.

For most of its time in South Africa, the battery was split up and hardly served together as a complete unit. In October 1900 the battery’s commander, Colonel S.C.U. Smith noted in his diary: “My battery now has its right section at Vryburg, its left at Prieska, and the centre here [Upington], thus covering a front of 360 miles.”

The battery served in South Africa for 18 months and on 12 August 1901 left Cape Town on board Harlech Castle. The voyage to Australia took a month and, after stops at Albany, Adelaide, and Melbourne, the ship reached Sydney on 15 September.

Glossary

Battle Honours

  • nil

Casualties

  • 1 killed
  • 2 died of disease

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and Boer War Nominal Roll databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • nil

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

References

  • Cubis, Richmond Miller Crawford, A history of "A' Battery : New South Wales Artillery (1871-1899), Royal Australian Artillery (1899-1971), (Sydney: Elizabethan Press, 1978)
  • 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)