Have We Forgotten About West Australian Hill South Africa

02/28/17 02:30:pm

Our study trip to Kings Park reminded me to ask just how well we know of the individual battles that our soldiers, sailors and airmen were involved in. The different battles in WWI at Gallipoli,  the Western Front have been mentioned time and time again as have the battles in WWII e.g. Kokoda,  D-Day, Coral Sea, Milne Bay etc.

But how many Australians are aware of the different battles that occurred in the Boer War in which Australians forces were involved in other than the ‘Breaker’ Morant issue?  There is little knowledge, I feel, because there is a misconception that the Australians fought under the banner of the British Empire. However, Western Australia sent 930 soldiers to the Boer War. The first contingent embarked in November 1899 and the final contingent left in June 1902. Due to the proclamation of the Commonwealth of Australia many of the later units went as Commonwealth troops.

There were a number of skirmishes by Australian units. Over 150 + engagements were recorded i.e. exchanges of gunfire. The Australian War Memorial site lists a number of actions involving Australian troops of which I consider 10 were significant engagements with the Boers. However one battle that is not mentioned and I believe is of significance to Western Australians. This is the engagement involving Australians and the Boers on a hill subsequently called Western Australia Hill.

On February 9th 1900, 28 men of the 1st WA Mounted Infantry held a small hill to the south of Slingersfontein to delay the advance of the Boers and to prevent the Boers from outflanking the British camp. The hill was continually exposed to fire from the Boers including artillery fire from sunrise to sunset. Two infantry assaults were launched against the Australians but were repelled. By nightfall Lieutenant Hensman had been severely wounded and Corporal Conway had been shot. Lieutenant Hensman died later from his injuries. The Australians withdrew at nightfall. Over 400 Boers were estimated to be involved in the engagement. 

The Battle for Western Australia Hill is not mentioned on the Australian War Memorial site other than a very brief mention in “Operations Around Colesberg 9 -28 February 1900” (see http://www.bwm.org.au/site/Colesberg.asp). Google Earth does not recognise Western Australian Hill at all or Australia Hill as it was occasionally referred to. 

Is this historical battle being overlooked because it was a “little” battle not involving hundreds of personnel.  In fact it was 28 persons vs. 400 Boers.

How should this situation be rectified? I suggest that the action at Western Australian Hill be included in the Boer War history unit of the WA secondary school curriculum and possibly a WA Boer war page hosted by the Army Museum of Western Australia. This last suggestion could well be part of the museum’s educational role that other museums are adopting  

The engagement with the Boers at Western Australia Hill or that a Western Australian Hill even exists is not known by many Western Australians. The site is part of Western Australian military history. Perhaps one day Western Australian Hill will be visited to the same extent as Anzac Cove or Menin Gate.

Blog post written by John Adeney.