Boer War

While there was much public celebration of colonial involvement in what we now call the Boer War, no public activity to celebrate sending a young man to fight in the Boer War seems to have been held when David Willis [1] left to fight in the Boer War [2]. It is unclear whether this might be linked to the inability to have formed a Pennant Hills troop of Australian Horse in 1899 because insufficient enlisted and possible officers had not been forthcoming or if there was another reason [3].

While no celebration was held to send off Dave Willis, upon receiving news of his death, at the very next meeting of the Progress Association it was decided to send a letter of condolence to his family and to call a public meeting “as he was the only one in the village to volunteer to assist the Imperial troops in South Africa” [4].

While possibly strictly correct, another had also gone from Beecroft to fight. This was Police Constable Kelly who was the sole police officer in Beecroft and who had announced in January 1900 that he had taken leave from the police and privately enlisted in the NSW Medical Team to go to the War [5].

Despite neglected Constable Kelly, a public meeting was called and held on 29 October 1900 in Miss Ogden’s hall to consider the district’s response to the death of Willis. It was chaired by William Abram. It determined to erect a suitable memorial and to raise public funds to do so. At a meeting of the committee on 17 December 1900 it was decided to erect a drinking fountain and tenders were called [6].

Little progress appears to have been made on this work possibly because the Committee Secretary, Mr Joseph Lovell, had recently sold his orchard and moved to Marsfield – but still retaining as his only continuing local commitment, his membership as secretary to the Willis Memorial Committee [7]. Work did eventually commence and the memorial was then built by Frank Smith of Rookwood and unveiled by Frank Farnell, the Local Member, on 24 November 1901. It was originally located in the Village Green, just north of the intersection with Wellham Street on the other side of Beecroft Road. Originally the inscription was on a white polished marble tablet. The carving represents a rifle, swords crossed and bandolier [8]

By the time of unveiling Constable Kelly had returned from South Africa [9], Sydney Norfolk Barnby had left in March 1901 and Charles Gilbert, William Hopkins and Fred Smith had all left earlier in November 1901.

Sydney Norfolk Barnby left for South Africa with the 2nd Regiment of Mounted Rifles under Colonel Lasseter. His parents Alfred and Angelina Barnby lived in Caastle Howard Road Cheltenham and his uncle, Albert Wachsmann, in Murray Road Beecroft. Unlike Willis, he was given a rousing farewell on 2 March 1901 with over 200 people present at the Beecroft Cricket Ground and the local member, Edward Terry presented him with an inscribed gold watch and chain [10]. He was fortunate and survived the war. He received the Queens South Africa medal. He was given a welcome home party in Miss Ogden’s school room on 11 July 1902. The next month he gave a talk on his experiences to the Literary and Debating Society [11].

Three young men from the Australian Rifles at Hornsby (the same troop to which Willis had been a member) sailed in November 1901 on the SS Cornwall to collect 800 remounts from Bowen in Queensland and then take charge of these horses until all arrived in South Africa. The young men then intended to enlist [12]. The young men were:

Charles Gilbert was the son of Alfred and Marian Gilbert who had arrived in Beecroft in 1896.

William Hopkins was the son of the Beecroft railway master Frederick William Hopkins.

Frederick Smith also proceeded, but nothing further is as yet known about him.

They all appear to have survived and returned.

[1]        For the story of David Willis see the biography of him under People on this website.

[2]        For a history of Australian involvement in the Boer War see: L M Field The Forgotten War (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1979)

[3]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 31 March 1900 and 5 May 1900.

[4]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 13 October 1900 p10

[5]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 20 January 1900, 4 August 1900 and 15 December 1900.

[6]        For this hall generally see the entry on this website under Education for Miss Ogden’s School. Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 3 November 1900 p11

[7]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 20 April 1901 p 10

[8]        Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 14 December 1901

[9]        Kelly was decorated for gallantry and mentioned in despatches. He returned with a “thorough tanning, and has lost about three stone in weight” Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 20 January 1900, 4 August 1900 and 15 December 1900. After returning from war he was appointed to Castle Hill station.

[10]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 9 March 1901 p10

[11]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 12 July 1902 p 10, and 16 August 1902.

[12]      Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate, 9 November 1901; Sydney Morning Herald, 12 November 1901 and 13 November 1901.