From the time that General Stuart Beatson, British Column Commander, called the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles “a fat-arsed, useless lot of wasters” and “white-livered curs” it seems that the smear has been impossible to remove. Although Beatson apologised for his intemperate remarks, the stigma remained and the scrutiny on the perceived short-comings of the 5th VMR continued to this day.
The overwhelming of the camp of the left wing of the contingent by a smaller number of Boers in the space of some 20 minutes, on the Transvaal farm of Wilmansrust, on the evening of the 12th June 1901, was noted by contemporary correspondents and historians as one of the worst calamities to befall an Australian unit in the Boer War, and the legacy of an ‘easy capitulation’ remains, and it seems that the unit is remembered rather for this single disaster than for the good work it achieved as a fighting force.
One in four of the 5th VMR men took up arms again in 1914 and as a reflection of their contribution there was a 40% casualty rate as well as one Victoria Cross, seven DSOs, eight Military Crosses, six Military Medals and two DCMs gained by them, all of them now in their mid 30s and early 40s. They still considered themselves “the much-maligned Fifth” and the building of a memorial to the unit in St. Kilda Road, Melbourne, paid for by the men themselves, was a defiant reminder of their contribution to Victoria’s military history.
Robin Droogleever, 2017