Battlefields Of The World

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Previous Travellers Comments – Boer War Journey 2012

Commodore Max Sulman AM RAN (Rtd) – Sydney Australia
“The 2012 Boer war Tour of South Africa gave me the opportunity to see the country in a way that the normal tourist or traveller will never experience.  Of course some knowledge of the conflict and an interest in military matters helps, but the high quality of the expert local guides who present the various battles and operations makes it easy to enjoy the experience without detailed background knowledge.  Nonetheless, it is important to take your imagination with you, when perched on a rocky kopje in blackthorn country, to help to appreciate the terrain and the obstacles the involved forces were faced with while the guide goes into the details of the action.

We travelled many, many kilometres the length and breadth of the country to visit the sites where, for the most part there was Australian involvement.  Much of the travel was well off the beaten track and gave us the opportunity to see modern South Africa.
We were a happy band, well led, fed and accommodated and had an experience we will all remember with pleasure.”

Colonel Bob Guest (Rtd) Sydney Australia:
“It was a most rewarding tour, off the beaten track and visiting many interesting places that one would not visit on a standard tourist holiday. The knowledge of the guides was outstanding. Suitable for those who want something different as well as those interested in the Boer War. It is a tinling feeling being in the area where your ancestors actually fought”

Ms Dale Liepins – Canberra ACT Australia:
“I was lucky enough to be able to go on the Boer War tour in 2012 led by Dennis Weatherall.  It was an extremely educational tour with learned guides and great camaraderie between all the participants. I was so fortunate in that Dennis and his team arranged for the tour to visit the battlefield and grave where my relative was killed and subsequently buried.  This had been my dream for years and to finally go to these places was an experience I will never forget and the satisfaction of honouring John Semple after over 100 years was so special to me.  Thank you Dennis and team.”

Mrs Adrienne & Mr Paul Bradley – Canberra ACT, Australia:
“For years we have been researching the Boer War to find out more about my great, great uncle and when we found Dennis Weatherall’s tour to the Battlefields we were glad to join.  We learnt so much from the specialist guides and it was a pleasure to follow their lead and learn more about South Africa and in particular the Boer War from both sides.  To stand on the site of the Battle of Brackenlaagte where my uncle died and see where he was first buried was beyond our dreams.  Then to learn all about the Battle of Eland River where another great, great uncle was wounded was a bonus.  Dennis and his expert Boer War guides went out of their way to help us trace our family”.

Dr Tony Stimson – Aldgate, South Australia:
“I travelled to South Africa in October 2012 with Dennis Weatherall’s Battlefields of the World tour of Australian battlefield sites in South Africa 1899-1902.

I was one of about 20 to join the tour group, all Australians apart from two New Zealanders: some were military historians well read on the Anglo-Boer War and keen to see the battlefields at first hand; others were former senior serving officers in the armed forces; and others again were people without much knowledge of the war wanting to see where an ancestor had fought and, in one instance, died. An eclectic bunch, but the tour catered for all of us.

I straddled two of these categories.

My grandfather, Captain AEM Norton DSO, commanded ‘B’ Squadron, 4th South Australian Imperial Bushmen (4SAIB). His tour of duty in South Africa was short-lived. Norton was invalided home after his horse was shot from under him at Vredefort on 24 July 1900, and he was on the ship home only 65 days after diembarking at Port Elizabeth. His DSO was awarded for an action the South Australians fought on a ridge at Leeuw Kop outside Lindley when they relieved three artillery pieces the Boers had seized from the 38th Royal Field Artillery.
It was an extraordinary experience for me to stand on that ridge with the Afrikaner who owns part of the battlefield. My grandfather died in 1922, almost 30 years before I was born, and I felt that this was as close as i would ever be to him. He could so easily have died that day; the one surviving letter describes in graphic detail the charge of his 13 men to retake the guns.

He came perilously close to dying at Vredefort three weeks later when holed up in a mud hut with 15 of his men: one bullet penetrated his cap and took hairs off his head, and another lodged in his boot heel.  Three of Norton’s men died that afternoon.  At the same time, and only 75 metres away, Dr Neville Howse, NSW, was dragging a wounded man to safety. For this action Howse was the first man serving serving in an Australian contingent to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Had Norton died at either Leeuw Kop or Vredefort my mother would not have been born. Suffice to say that I have a considerable personal interest in the inaccuracy of de Wet’s riflemen.

My other reason for joining Dennis’ tour was that I am writing a unit history of 4SAIB. I had read widely before leaving for South Africa and the digitisation of Australian newspapers for this period through the NLA’s Trove project had helped me enormously, but it’s another thing altogether to see the vedlt first hand.

Not only that, the contacts I made have proved invaluable, both in Australia and in South Africa. For example, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Johannes Retief who has written a fine account of Vredefort.  Later, I sent Johannes a number of accounts by South Australians who were there, accounts he had never seen.  They have changed the way he sees the battle and I’m delighted that he will be able to explain what all this means when he leads the Vredefort leg of the 2013 tour.

The guiding was excellent. Major Paul Naish, the lead South African guide, was a mine of information and arranged for a specialist guide for every battlefield we visited. Local knowledge matters. In all we travelled 4,300 kilometres by road; the skirmishes in which the Australians fought were generally on remote farms so a lot of our travel was over dirt roads in country districts of Free State and Transvaal.  This was an authentic, hands-on experience, believe me.

For myself, the 2012 BOTW South African tour was wonderful on two levels: both as a historian and as a family member retracing his grandfather’s footsteps. Never underestimate how emotional the latter can be, unpredictable even.  In Pretoria I even found myself standing, quite by chance, at the grave of a Boer officer my grandfather killed on 26 June 1900 with a fluke shot over one kilometre. As it happened, he was a Russian volunteer, a lieutenant in the Imperial Navy, but that’s another story.”…………yet to be told !

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