A Berry Boy in Africa

Thomas Satchell Knight's Boer War Uniform

Thomas Satchell Knight (1873-1944) from Broughton Village, in the Berry district, was one of a hundred NSW Lancers who travelled to Aldershot, England in February 1899 wearing this very uniform. As the contingent prepared to return home following six months of training, war broke out in South Africa.

Volunteers were sought to disembark at Cape Town to fight for the Commonwealth against the Boers and most Lancers stepped forward. While some may have done so willingly, social pressure was an undeniably powerful force. Those who declined were greeted with derision from other soldiers and the public alike. Despite going against his father’s wishes, Knight volunteered.

After disembarking at Cape Town, Knight travelled 500 miles by train to the dusty base of De Aar Junction where some Lancers were attached to the command of John French, a British General. For months they carried out dangerous operations against the Boers.

On the second day of 1900, the Boers derailed a supply train. Knight spent several hours in and around the upturned rail cars, recovering goods while under heavy rifle and shell fire. Only under the cover of night was he able to escape.

In February 1900, Knight wrote in a letter home: ‘The country is very barren. Our rations consist of tinned beef and hard biscuits. I think our next move will be Bloemfontein.’  Upon arrival they discovered that the city was rife with typhoid and Knight became one of hundreds who contracted it.

With no medicine or beds available, most had to suffer through fever and pain with only a blanket laid on hard ground.  Knight was invalided out on the Persic and in August 1900 touched home soil for the first time in eighteen months.

His hero’s welcome began with cheering spectators in the streets of Sydney. In a quieter but no less genuine expression of pride, people from across the Berry district held a picnic and fêted Tom Knight as the guest of honour.