Skip to comments.Australia to ask Britain to pardon two 'Breaker Morant' soldiers executed in Boer War
Posted on 10/21/2011 5:09:44 PM PDT by naturalman1975
The Australian government is calling on Britain to pardon two of its soldiers executed more than a century ago for war crimes in South Africa.
The intervention comes after the British government rejected in June a petition to pardon Lieutenants Harry 'Breaker' Morant and Peter Handcock, who were killed by firing squad in 1902 for murdering prisoners during the Boer War.
They are the only Australian soldiers ever executed for war crimes.
Australia said today that it would tell Britain that the pair were likely denied fair trials under the British military justice system.
The case has become folklore and underscores lingering anger among Australians over their former colonial master's treatment of the pair, who are variously regarded as either scapegoats or murderers.
The story became famous globally in 1980 through the award-winning movie 'Breaker Morant,' directed by Bruce Beresford and starring Edward Woodward.
The pair were executed in Pretoria on February 27, 1902 - 18 hours after separate British courts-martial convicted them of murdering 12 prisoners a year earlier during the Boer War.
Australian Attorney General Robert McClelland said he was preparing a submission to British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond outlining alleged defects in the court-martial system, including that the defendants received inadequate legal representation and were denied access to some evidence.
(Excerpt) Read more at dailymail.co.uk ...
I have more sympathy for Lieutenant Peter Handcock and Lieutenant George Witton. Both of them were poorly educated men, commissioned from the ranks who were very possibly not aware of Queen's Regulations or the niceties of international law. Morant himself, attempted to take all responsibility on himself at the trial on this basis. Witton wound up having his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment because of his youth, and ultimately served only two years. Handcock was shot by firing squad alongside Morant.
Having said all that, this 'appeal' is not primarily based on whether or not Morant nor Handcock were guilty of the crimes for which they were executed. It is based on technical legal arguments about whether or not they received a fair trial in which all their rights as British subjects, British officers, and British soldiers were treated properly. If they did not receive a fair trial, then I hope the appeal succeeds - the right to a fair trial is exceedingly important. Especially in a case like this, where part of the case against them was that they had not afforded their prisoners a fair trial.
Also, none of the above, diminishes the case that Morant and Handcock were treated as scapegoats. It is well known that a number of other officers who committed similar crimes - officers from Britain, rather than colonial units - were simply dismissed from the service and sent home. Morant and Handcock were shot when others were treated much more leniently. They were scapegoats in a very real sense.
That said, as an amateur student of the Boer War, I think you're right on the basic facts, and the technicalities of British Army vs. colonial auxiliary court martial procedure are a smokescreen for a Policial Statement. But whatever, everyone who's dead will still be dead, no matter what.
The night before he was executed, he wrote his final poem. It is, in my view, a wonderful poem, which I will share at any opportunity.
Thanks for sharing.
No surprise at all you would have these guys shooting prisoners.
In short, we don't need to see the orders to know what was going on.
“There once was a man from Australia....”
I would question how educated you would have to be to know that killing prisoners is wrong.
Guards in prisons were also very poorly educated at the time and yet they knew that killing prisoners was wrong otherwise no one would have walked out alive.
The argument that they were treated differently then others who did the same thing is a good point. If it was not so long ago I would vote for rounding up the guys that got off and putting them on trial and having them shot.
In other words I do not find the Morant sentence too harsh, I find the punishment meted out to the others too light.
However it is much too late to do something like that. A pity really.
Certainly there were atrocities against Boer civilians that largely went unpunished, and very often unremarked.
But in this case, the issue did primarily revolve around Boers who were under arms - which is, in fact, why they were entitled to the protection of Prisoner of War status. If they had just been civilians shot down in cold blood, it’s less likely anything would have happened at all.
What's a D.S.O. ?
If they’d been shooting women and children they’d gotten a Victoria Medal.
Morant may have been guilty ,but did Kitchener give unofficial orders to kill Boer pow’s
It’s not exactly Kipling, but it rhymes and scans, with a nice use of dialect and a culturally appropriate cynical insouciance.
It isn't as simple as that. They certainly would have known that you couldn't normally shoot Prisoners of War.
However, Queen's Regulations did allow the senior British officer on the scene (who in this case was Lieutenant Morant) to, in certain very specific circumstances, convene a field court martial to deal with spies and similar people and there were orders circulating that said that Boer prisoners wearing British Khaki should be treated as spies.
Morant knew the special circumstances didn't apply (they were intended to deal with cases where it was impossible to hand the defendants over to proper authorities). He had actually protested similar interpretations in the past to his superiors. He also probably knew the orders about Khaki were unlawful.
Handcock and Witton probably didn't know either of those things. When Morant told them about the exceptions that allowed his actions, they believed him.
Whitehall gave orders to exterminate Boers. I would have to assume they bothered at some point to advice the field command ~ wouldn’t you?
Whitehall gave orders to exterminate Boers. I would have to assume they bothered at some point to advise the field command ~ wouldn’t you?
"As to rules and regulations, we had no Red Book, and knew nothing about them. We were out fighting the Boers, not sitting comfortably behind barb-wire entanglements; we got them and shot them under Rule 303"
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