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The Boer War: Australians and the War in South Africa, 1899–1902


6. The Aftermath

Image 7: Three Australians stand over the grave of their comrade.

Image 7: Three Australians stand over the grave of their comrade.
AWM: A04945
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The first significant numbers of Australian soldiers to return from South Africa were members of the first wave of contingents who disembarked at Australian ports at the close of 1900. Nearly all Australian soldiers had returned by August 1902. Not all did so immediately their term of service was concluded. Many hundreds re-enlisted in South Africa or stayed on after the war to farm or mine. Five hundred died during the war.

Many veterans were eligible for gratuities, which were bonus payments offered by governments in appreciation of what seemed selfless patriotism. Some wounded soldiers and the relatives of some of the dead were eligible for what under later Australian parlance became known as repatriation benefits, essentially pensions and free medical treatment. Such benefits were small compared with those distributed in the wake of later wars, and they were paid by a variety of sources: private insurance companies, community-organised 'patriotic funds', colonial and State governments, the Commonwealth Government, and the imperial government. Long after the war, veterans of Australian contingents gradually became eligible for the same repatriation benefits paid to First World War veterans.

Most of the empire's soldiers who served in South Africa were eligible for one or both of two general medals: the Queen's South African medal, awarded for having served between October 1899 and May 1902, and the King's South African medal, awarded for having served on or after January 1902. The ribbons of both medals could be festooned with small metal clasps indicating major actions in which the wearer had fought. Decorations for bravery were freely distributed – too freely, some said. Australians won five Victoria Crosses (VC), the highest award for bravery, and 62 were given the lesser distinction of Distinguished Service Orders (DSO). Twenty-three were made Companions of the Order of the Bath (CB), nominally entering a chivalric order founded five hundred years before. All such rewards were conferred by the imperial government.


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Chapter 6
The Aftermath