Private Burley was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for outstanding gallantry in an action at Slingersfontein on 9 February 1900 where he was one of 25 West Australians who defended a kopje against several hundred Boers.
Burley enlisted in the 1st AIF in 1917 as a Company Sergeant Major in the 5th Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company. Burley was awarded a bar to his DCM for an action in Belgium in 1917 when he saved a train by uncoupling a wagon full of explosives from the rest of the train after it had been shelled and set on fire. Burley was the only Australian to win the DCM in South Africa and a bar for bravery in the first world war.
On the outbreak of the South African War in October 1899 Bell enlisted as a private in the 1st West Australian (Mounted Infantry) Contingent. He first saw action at Slingersfontein, and later took part in the relief of Johannesburg and of Pretoria and the battles of Diamond Hill and Wittebergen; on 19 July 1900, in a sharp engagement at Palmeitfontein, he was seriously wounded and was invalided to England. He returned to Perth in February 1901, was commissioned lieutenant in the 6th Contingent on 8 March, and re-embarked for South Africa. On 16 May at Brakpan, Transvaal, while his unit was retreating under heavy fire, he went back for a dismounted man and took him up on his horse. The animal fell under the extra weight and Bell, after insisting that his companion take the horse, covered his retreat; for this action he received the Victoria Cross—the first awarded to a Western Australian.
Following a brief period of infantry training at Karrakatta Camp, the contingent was considered ready to embark for South Africa Boarding the Transport MEDIC,at Albany, the contingent departed on the 7.11.1899. On arrival in Cape Town on the 27.11.1899, the contingent entrained for De Aar to join the Kimberley Relief Force and were employed on the lines of communication between De Aar and Modder River. By now, the British authorities had seen the need for more mounted troops and on the 1.2.1900, the West Australian contingent was converted into Mounted Infantry, with their title being changed accordingly, to the 1st West Australian Mounted Infantry ( 1st W.A.M.I. ). Private Spreadbury fought with the 1st W.A.M.I., for the complete duration of their period of service in South Africa,until the contingent returned to Australia aboard the Transport ORIENT from Cape Town, on the 13.12.1900.
John Barry was one of those selected to be promoted. He was promoted to Lance-Corporal, on a date not specified. After a brief but intensive period of training, the contingent was declared ready for departure for South Africa and preparations began for the embarkation of the troops, horses, wagons, maxim guns and other equipment. After a parade and civic reception at the Perth Town Hall, the contingent left Perth by train and set off for Albany, where they were to embark aboard the transport MEDIC. Lance-Corporal Barry was promoted to Corporal on the 7th of November 1899, prior to the departure of the contingent. Arriving in Albany on the 7th of November, the contingent, now joined by the artillerymen from Albany boarded the MEDIC, which also carried the South Australian, Tasmanian and Victorian units that were also sailing for South Africa. Arriving at Cape Town on the 2th of November, the four companies were joined by a New South Wales company and formed "The Australia Regiment ", although each company would serve in its own right. Stationed at Naauport, the Regiment was converted to Mounted Infantry and thus the title of the West Australian unit became the 1st West Australian Mounted Infantry ( 1st W.A.M.I. ). Corporal John Barry was promoted to Sergeant, in the field, date not specified. On the 15th of October 1900, the 1st W.A.M.I., were inspected by lord Roberts in Pretoria and were complimented on their work. On 13th of December 1900,the 1st W.A.M.I. left Cape Town aboard the transport ORIENT, for return to Australia, with Sergeant Barry amongst them.