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    Early on 1st January, LtCol Pilcher’s Flying Column (1st Queensland Mtd Infy with its machine guns, 100 Canadians, 2 guns of the Royal Field Artillery and a Maxim gun) set out to find a Boer Commando on the farm Sunnyside near the small town of Douglas. The Commando, consisting of Cape Rebels under Commandant Scholtz, was tasked with preventing the British re-occupation of Douglas, which marked the extreme of Gen Piet Cronje’s right flank.


    However, most men had left the previous day to celebrate the New Year with their 
    families and the remainder left in the camp were not expecting an attack.At dawn, the Column was approaching some low hills at Sunnyside and two QMI patrols went ahead to establish the enemy camp’s location. One patrol was ambushed (resulting in the first Australian casualties of the Boer War) but with the enemy’s location fixed, Pilcher sent the remainder of the QMI onto the hills to block any Cape Rebel retreat whilst directly assaulting the camp.


    At short range across a ditch the QMI and 
    retreating Rebels collided. The QMI hardly hesitated: with fixed bayonets and “yelling like Indians”, they swept forward and the outnumbered and outgunned rebels gave way. 

    In the skirmish the Boers lost 6 killed, 12 wounded, and 40 captured, while 2 men of the attacking force (Tprs V S Jones and D McLeod of the QMI) were killed: the first Australian casualties of the Boer War. There was talk that some rebels had fired in a “white flag incident” and some indignant QMI men had to be restrained from taking action. The skirmish at Sunnyside, whilst a small affair, did have some noteworthy consequences. 

    The Times History saw it as having strategic importance by helping to check rebellion in the area, securing Methuen’s line of communications and lifting British morale after a series of reverses. It was also noted that Lt. Col..Pilcher had given the QMI a key role in the attack when he had a trained Company of Regular MI in 
    reserve. Clearly, he had placed his trust in his “confident and dashing irregulars”.

    Bombr G E G Wieck, 1st QMI, writing to his father on 14 January 1900, said: “We left here on 31st December, to attack rebels at Sunnyside. We were told that there were about 500 of them, and as we were only about three hundred, we anticipated a lively time. We went about twenty miles and camped nine miles from the enemy.


    On New Year’s Day we started out through prickly bushes, to surprise them. We stopped about three miles from their camp, and sent the R.H.A. round some hills, so as to take their attention from us. We were anxiously waiting to advance, when we heard the first shot from the twelve-pounders. It struck the Boers’ laager when 
    they were getting their dinner ready, and caused a great commotion, as they were taken completely by surprise. 

    They started running up the Kopje, and the next shell drove them down again. The third one burst in among their tents, killing a few, and clearing them out on the hills, where we met them. The M.I. were then ordered to 
    advance. After climbing over places with the guns where a goat could hardly walk, we met them, and a hot fire 
    started on both sides. We got a good line on some of them with the Maxims, and when we looked afterwards to see what damage we had done, we found one man with nine holes in him, and another with six holes in him, and a lot of blood leading from the spot.


    After firing at them for about half-an-hour, they raised the white flag and laid down their arms, and we got forty-one of them alive. The next thing was the wounded. We found McLeod was dead, shot through the spine. He was in the battery with me, and I was sorry for him. The Boers lost twenty odd killed and wounded, whilst our loss was two dead and two wounded.”


    Sunnyside was the first British success after the “Black Week” earlier in December 1899, when the Boers defeated the British at Stormberg, Magersfontein, and Colenso. The action received accolades from around the Empire. Chamberlain, Secretary of State for the Colonies, sent a message to the Lieutenant-Governor of Queensland congratulating the Colony on the gallant behaviour of the Queensland troops in the engagement.

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