Tasmanians commemorate the 'overshadowed' Boer War

Boer War memorial service organiser and Tasmanian military historian Reg Watson says the Boer War, which is the third largest conflict Australia has been involved in, is often overshadowed by World War I. Picture: Tess Brunton

Boer War memorial service organiser and Tasmanian military historian Reg Watson says the Boer War, which is the third largest conflict Australia has been involved in, is often overshadowed by World War I. Picture: Tess Brunton

Known as the ‘forgotten war’, a Tasmanian historian is striving to keep the Boer War in people’s minds.

About 860 Tasmanians, of which 50 per cent were from Northern Tasmania, participated in the three-year conflict.

Tasmanian military historian Reg Watson organised a commemorative day in Launceston 11 years ago after organising a similar service in Hobart four years prior.

This year’s event, held on Sunday, marked the 115th anniversary of the end of the war, with about 90 people commemorating Australians involved in the Boer War.

“I think it’s overshadowed by the first world war … yet it was the third largest conflict Australia has been involved in,” Mr Watson said.

The Boer War (1899 to 1902) started before Federation, which meant men were sent as Tasmanian soldiers, not Australian soldiers, Mr Watson said.

At the time, Tasmania had its own Minister of War.

Mr Watson, who wrote a book on the Tasmanian participation in the Boer War, said his grandchildren were now five generations from the conflict, but it was vital to still remember the soldiers who served.

Many Tasmanians would have relatives involved in the war so their memory should be commemorated, he said.

“Every year [the commemorative event] seems to grow in attendance. It is a colourful ceremony with many volunteer groups involved,” Mr Watson said.

“However, the main attention is to honour those who served.”

Mr Watson has a special connection to the Boer War. 

His grandfather served in the war, alongside up to 23,000 other Australians, Mr Watson said.

Two Tasmanians received one of the six Victorian Crosses awarded during the conflict, both were the first Australian borns to receive the medal.

Recipients John Hutton Bisdee, of the Midlands, and Guy Wylly, of Sandy Bay, furthered their careers in World War II, which was not uncommon for survivors to do.

“But they discovered the Boer War was a very different conflict to WWII.”

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