New South Wales contingents

During the Boer War, between 1899 and 1902, the colony of New South Wales sent six contingents to South Africa. These troops were mainly mounted infantry, although two cavalry units and a field battery were also sent, as were two medical teams.

In addition to the commandants, in January 1900 the New South Wales Medical Team left Sydney, as part of the colony’s second continent. The unit, which consisted of a field hospital and half a stretcher-bearer company, numbered 108 medical staff, including 14 nurses. From February to December they served in the Cape Colony, the Free State, and in the Transvaal, before returning to Australia.

A second New South Wales Medical Team went to South Africa with the fifth contingent in April 1901, working there for a year. The second team was smaller than the first, numbering 53 staff, and operated in west, rather than east, Transvaal.

After Federation the state of New South Wales also provided troops for four of the eight regiments of the Australian Commonwealth Horse, as well as the Australian Medical Team.

The first contingents from New South Wales were made of volunteers from the three New South Wales mounted regiments, the militia, and, in the case of A Battery, were professional soldiers from the New South Wales Artillery. These recruits, therefore, were already familiar with drill and soldier discipline. This was not the case with the later bushmen contingents, who were mainly civilians who had volunteered for service in South Africa for 12 months or the duration of the conflict.

Instruction camps were established at places like Randwick, in Sydney, where the men were taught drill, trained in “musketry”, squadron work, and the duties of a horseman when mounted and dismounted, and where they were issued uniforms and equipment. Horses were selected, purchased, and handed over to their riders, who were taught about stable duty. Each unit was organised into squadrons, squadrons into troops, and troops into sections.

Having thus completed this rudimentary training, each contingent was able to make a “credible appearance” as they marched to Circular Quay for embarkation to South Africa. No horses were brought back to Australia. Those that survived were handed over to the remount depots before each contingent returned to Australia.