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Nov 17, 2010

No pardon for “The Breaker.”

Image: "Breaker Morant."

The British have decided that no Royal pardon will be granted for Harry "Breaker" Morant in an appeal against the case that saw the Australian soldier executed. Morant, and Peter Handcock were executed after being accused of murdering prisoners during the Boer War. A third, Lt Witton was also found guilty and was imprisoned.

Australian military lawyer Commander James Unkles petitioned the Queen for a Royal pardon for Morant and Handcock. He was researching Morant's lawyer Major James Thomas when he became convinced the soldiers were innocent. "It became very apparent to me that a major injustice had been committed and the only way it was going to be addressed was by taking some action," he said.

It seems odd to me that in this day and age that we would bother to ask the British to act in this matter at all. We are big enough and old enough to decide the matter for ourselves. While the Australian War Memorial says that the evidence suggests that they were guilty of the crimes for which they were tried, there is some dispute about whether they were in fact acting under orders at the time.

Kitchener denied issuing such an order but significant evidence exists to the effect that he did. He was responsible for the placement of thousands of civilians into concentration camps in which many died. Images from these times remind me of the Holocaust. He also reportedly ordered that Boer women and children ride on trains to stop them being targeted by Boers. Such an order would be consistent with those actions. He was a butcher with little regard for human life, including those under his command whom he used as a blunt instrument.

Transcripts of the case ‘went missing’ and were thus unavailable for review, and witnesses included soldiers who were disciplined by Morant, one of whom stated that would walk 100 miles barefoot to serve in a firing squad to shoot Morant and Handcock." The Australian government was not informed.

Since that time, the Australian army never accepted British Army justice, in cases involving its soldiers. This has led to considerable ill feeling on the part of British authorities right through to the end of WW2. There were numerous approaches by British authorities, requesting the right to shoot us to improve our discipline, all of which were rejected.

It is reasonable to assume that they would have satisfied their blood lust by shooting Kiwis, Canadians, South Africans, Rhodesians, Indians, Pakistanis, as well as members of all other Commonwealth countries who were more than happy to allow them to do so, but they seemed to be obsessed with us.

While I was growing up there were a lot of WW1 veterans still around, and they roundly detested Kitchener. Generals like Kitchener were the people who gave rise to the Australian military expression from both World Wars, “England will fight to the last imperial soldier,” which was probably a bit unfair to the British soldier, but none the less heartfelt.

The case is irrelevant at any rate as “the Breaker” has placed himself solidly and immovably as part of Aussie folklore and is likely to remain there.


  1. I did see the movie awhile back. So, the court martial transcripts "went missing". How convenient. Don't get me started on the military "losing" peoples' records.

    So, this was the Boer War. Then there was Gallipoli, Malaya and Singapore, Greece and Crete, Port Moresby and Kokodo (I believe our very own Dugout Doug MacArthur stuck his finger in on that one).

    Maybe they had to throw the Canadians ashore at Dieppe because they ran out of ANZACs?

    I'm very glad I just read a history of the Korean War written by an Aussie. VERY enlightening compared to the sterile, glossed-over official American Army accounts that barely even mention the Commonwealth and other forces involved there.

  2. Before the Boer War, state contingents fought in the Boxer Rebellion and the Maori Wars. The original force in South Africa were state contingents until Federation when they became Australian troops.

    Apart from Gallipoli, a hell of a lot of Australians fought on the Western Front and Palestine. The charge of the Light Horse at Beersheba is legendary.

    You have WW2 down pretty good, but there was Syria, where intelligence said the French would welcome them with open arms, but somebody forgot to tell the Foreign Legion and Vichy forces. After the Siege of Tobruk, most of our troops were sent home to meet the Japanese, but the 9th Division stayed on to do the Battle of El Alamein first.

    Kokoda was mostly done by Militia units until the 6th Division relieved them, one Battalion that had been relieved heard the action start behind them on the way out and went back into the line to help.

    It is generally considered that MacArthur panicked during the Battle of Milne Bay, repeatedly sending messages that it had to be held at all costs. After the Japs were beaten the Commander, General Clowes was sacked for not being aggressive enough, although that was more Blamey than MacArthur although thy agreed on it. Blamey disliked Clowes because of his friendship with Rowel who he detested and who was also sacked.

    Subsequent to this there was Lae, Finchaven, and Borneo.

    After Korea there were a number of engagements in Malaya and those areas against Communist insurgents and Indonesian attempts to crush Malasia, before helping you guys out in Vietnam.

    The press tended to lionise both MacArthur and Kitchener to the point where they were seen as heroic figures by the civilian population. Soldiers tended to have a different opinion. Still Australians were bloody pleased when you guys turned up, we were very much on our own down here until then.