I was remiss in not mentioning the 12th Military History Carnival at Thoughts on Military History when it took place last month. My eye was drawn to ExecutedToday.com's post about Harry 'Breaker' Morant and Peter Handcock, the Australian soldiers executed in 1902 for killing Boer prisoners-of-war. There's still a debate about whether Kitchener issued an unwritten order to take no prisoners, meaning that the Australians were made scapegoats as a sop to either the Boer government (i.e. so it would consider peace) or to the British public. It seems unlikely to me, on the face of it, or at least unnecessary — it's not like similar, illegal but tacitly accepted, acts were unknown in the later wars of the twentieth century.
By chance, I caught an episode of the excellent (but cancelled) Rewind the other night which dealt with the Breaker.1 The transcript is online, and is worth a read: it does poke some holes in the scapegoaters' arguments.
- Rewind dealt with various mysteries and puzzles from Australian history. I missed it when it originally aired, which is a shame. It was different to most other history programmes in that it wasn't afraid to present the viewer with primary source texts to support (or refute) an argument, or indeed to go digging around in archives for clues. I nearly stood up and applauded when, in a segment on the death of Billy Hughes's daughter, the reporter said 'So where to look for proof? Well, one obvious place is the National Library to look through Billy Hughes's private papers'!
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