27 February 1902
On this day in 1902 Two australian soldiers serving in the second Boer War in South Africa, Harry Harbord ‘Breaker‘ Morant and Peter Joseph Handcock were executed in Pretoria for the murder of Boer Prisoners of War and a German missionary.
Although it is generally accepted that Morant and/or others in his regiment, the Bushveldt Carbineers, were responsible for the deaths of a number of Boer commandos, historical opinion is still divided over the central questions of the case — how many Boers were killed, by whom were they killed, and on whose orders? In South Africa, Morant is regarded as having been a murderer, marauder, womaniser, and a man generally without morals or remorse. The Bushveldt Carbineers are generally regarded as war criminals, rogue soldiers and cold-blooded murderers.
Morant’s supporters, on the other hand, argue that he and Handcock were unfairly singled out for punishment even though many other British soldiers were known to have carried out summary executions of Boer prisoners. In their view, the two Australians were made scapegoats by the British, who were intent on concealing the existence of the “take no prisoners” policy against Boer insurgents — a policy which, they claim, had been promulgated by Kitchener himself.
Both Morant and Handcock refused blindfolds. Morant’s last words are reputed to have been ‘Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!‘ which he directed at the firing squad made up of soldiers from the Cameron Highlanders Regiment.