AN interest in the history of the Boer War Memorial in Nowra has led to a superb new book.
Well known local author Keith Paterson will launch South Africa The Volunteers War this Saturday, May 21 at the Nowra RSL Sub-Branch Hall at 11am.
The book, which took Mr Paterson four years to complete, tells the stories of the boys from the Shoalhaven district in the South African war from 1899 to 1902
“The Boer War is often the forgotten war,” Mr Paterson said.
“World War I started 12-13 years later and was a huge war with massive losses. It simply overshadowed the Boer War.
“I have often looked at the Boer War Memorial in Rauch Park and wondered about its history.
“It was first placed in front of the Nowra School of Arts in 1902 and was originally a drinking fountain.
“It remained there for 60 years before being relocated to Rauch Park in Junction Street, opposite the then Shoalhaven Council Chambers.
“A lot of people probably don’t know what it is for or represents. There are no names on it.”
Having learnt the history of the memorial, Mr Paterson then set about finding out more about the 80 Shoalhaven residents who fought in the war.
“While initially I wanted to tell the story of the memorial and how it came to be erected, I soon realised how important it was to honour the locals who fought in South Africa,” he said.
“It took me three years of researching and writing and another year for the computer work to be completed.”
More than 45,000 British Empire troops were engaged in South Africa, including 12,000 from Australia in official contingents, while another 5,000 made their way to the war separately to join the South African regular units.
The book is divided into three distinct sections, describing how the war came about and some of the significant battles including the battle of Modder River, the repulse at Magersfontein, the siege at Elands River, where Pyree Trooper John Waddell was killed, the relief of Kimberley, the siege of Ladysmith and the siege of Mafeking. As well as the many units who fought in the conflict.
Another section features some wonderful photographs of the Shoalhaven men who fought in the war, while their individual stories are told in another section.
“We found 80 residents who went to war, and have stories for 78 of them,” Mr Paterson said.
The Nowra Boer War memorial is built in marble, imported from Carrara quarries in Italy, the same as used by legendary artist Michelangelo.
“We received more information after the book was finished and we added them in as an addendum.”
The book covers an area from Broughton Creek in the north to Ulladulla in the south and west to Kangaroo Valley.
There are stories of brothers, James and Thomas Thomson, of Burrier, George and Alexander Smith, from Tomerong and Hurtle and John De Mestre from Terara.
Other well known local family names such as Bartlett, Bice, Blow, Cashman, Glanville, Goodsell Graham, Pestell, Rankin, Shepherd, Smith, Watson and Watts just to name a few, also feature.
One interesting story was of Berry nursing sister Alexandrina McLay (known as Ina), who paid her own way to Africa to work independently.
“She had been employed at the Berry Cottage Hospital and ended up being the sub-matron and eventually matron at the Imperial Refugee Hospital at Middleburg which also oversaw the treatment of war casualties,” Mr Paterson said.
As matron with three nurses under her control they treated the refugee section which included 8000 women and children.
In one letter home she noted how the Boer women would refuse medical treatment and even food for themselves and their children often suffering from measles, whooping cough, and pleurisy, instead content to watch their children die as “The will of God”. 400 people died in one month alone.
She also treated soldiers including a couple of locals who ended up at the hospital suffering dysentery and enteric fever
A push for a local memorial came soon after news Colonel Robert Baden-Powell with 900 men, including no regular soldiers, defended Mafeking for seven months from October 1899 to May 1900 against a force of more than 5000.
Following the news of the relief of Mafeking great celebrations broke out in Nowra, including a parade.
A drinking fountain had already been built at the corner of Kinghorne and Junction streets in 1897 in front of what is now the National Australia Bank. It was known as the Jubilee Fountain and marked the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria.
"80 local residents fought in the Boer War, which is often the forgotten war."- Author Keith Paterson
It was decided a second drinking fountain was needed in a central position in Junction Street. It was to celebrate Queen Victoria’s record reign and would cost of 15 pounds.
Newspaper proprietor John Maclean proposed a permanent memorial be erected to Colonel Baden-Powell and the heroic defence of Mafeking.
A design submitted by Nowra stone mason James Dudgeon was accepted and the fountain was constructed in marble imported from Carrara quarries in Italy, the same as used by legendary artist Michelangelo.
The front features the words To Our Soldiers In South Africa 1899-1902 and also features the three principle sieges of the conflict, Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith.
It eventually cost 80 pounds.
A special service to commemorate the Boer War is held in Nowra each year on the last Sunday of May, closest to May 31 when the war came to an end. This year’s service will be held in Rauch Park in Junction Street, Nowra on May 29 at 4pm.
Members of the public are welcome to attend the book launch this Saturday in the Nowra RSL Sub-Branch Hall from 11am.