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Friday, September 7, 2007

Morant 1

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The Breaker
In 1905, Commander Harry 'Breaker' Harbord Morant with brother officers Lieutenants Handcock, Witton received a heroes welcome at a reception held in their honour at the Hotel Australia. Originally sentenced to death for the execution of Boer prisoners, the protests of the Austrialian government had resulted in the commuting of the sentences of imprisonment.
The soldiers had been transported to naval detention quarters England and then to Lewes prison in Sussex. Some time later they were transferred to the prison at Portland, Dorset and released after serving twenty-eight months. Their life sentence was overturned by the British House of Commons on 11 August 1905.

The pivotal event of the Morant affair took place two days later, on the night of August 5, 1901. Capt Hunt led a seventeen-man patrol to a Boer farmhouse called 'Duiwelskloof' (Devil's Ravine), about 80 miles south of the Fort, hoping to capture its owner, the Boer commando leader Veldt Cornet Viljoen. Hunt had been told that Viljoen had only twenty men with him, but this appears to have been a ruse and Viljoen was lying in wait with eighty men. The Boers surprised the British as they approached and during the ensuing skirmish, Viljoen was killed. Witnesses later testified that Capt Hunt was wounded in the chest while firing through the windows and his Sgt Frank Eland was killed while trying to recover his body.

Hunt's body was recovered the next day. It had been found lying in a gutter, naked and mutilated; the sinews at the backs of both knees and ankles had been severed, his legs were slashed with long knife cuts, his face had been crushed by hob-nailed boots. According to Kit Denton, he had also been castrated.

Significantly, Morant did not see Hunt's body himself; according to Witton, Morant arrived about an hour after the burial. He questioned the men about Hunt's death and, convinced that his friend had been murdered in cold blood, he again vowed to give no quarter and take no prisoners. Witton recounted that Morant then declared that he had, on occasion, ignored Hunt's order to this effect in the past, but that he would carry it out in the future.
~ variant entry by Steve Payne

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