Friday, July 29, 2011

Henry "Breaker" Morant

Harry 'Breaker' Morant sailed to Australia in 1883 at the age of 19 and became a skilled horsebreaker hence the handle of 'Breaker'. In 1902 he was convicted at a court martial of murdering 12 Boer prisoners and was executed by a British firing squad.

The subject of the film "Breaker Morant" starring Edward Woodward, Somerset-born Morant was among thousands of men from Australia who volunteered to fight against Dutch settlers in South Africa. This was a sometimes savage guerrilla campaign, when numerous atrocities were committed by both sides. Morant and another Lieutenant in the Bushveldt Carbineers named Peter Handcock are said to have intercepted a group of eight prisoners being brought in for questioning and was accused of ordering them to be shot at the side of the road as well similarly summarily executing other Boers who had waved a white flag of surrender.

In 2010, Queen Elizabeth was petitioned to pardon Morant which she refused to do.

I saw the film, "Breaker Morant" while stationed in the Republic of Korea.  Now there's an audience to which to play this subject.  All soldiers, sailors, airmen or Marines and all trained, some extensively, in the law of land warfare.  Several in the audience I knew to be field grade officers.  It seems to me, although my memory might be a bit dodgy, that the main facts of the case are correctly shown in the film.  At the time as well as now, I appreciated the apparent accuracy of clothing and equipment used.  The Boer wars have long been an interest of mine and seen in that light alone, it is an interesting film.

However, to that audience, it was certainly a reminder of the duty's requirements when we thought we might at any time be fighting a rather implacable foe proven to have committed many atrocities of their own.  I thought that it was pretty sobering. 

For those of you who might be interested, the Boers used a large number of different rifles and carbines as was necessary.  The British used the Long Lee-Enfield and Lee-Metford rifle and Lee-Enfield carbines (adopted in 1896).  That's a Long Lee-Enfield that Edward Woodward as Morant is holding in the photo to the right. 

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