Breaker Morant by Peter FitzSimons

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Breaker Morant’s story has echoes in the current crisis facing the Australian SAS soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. In Fitzsimons’ book a small elite force operating in hostile Boer territory in South Africa in the early 1900s, becomes embroiled in controversy due to the brutal killing of non-combatants.

The story of Harry Morant is told through extensive research into his life and the story of the Boer War. Morant is described objectively as a larger than life character, who invented his own persona but at the same time developed skills as a drover, horseman, bush poet, and soldier. He engineered wildly untrue stories about himself that were accepted by others and ensured he had hero status long after his trial and execution for murder.

A brief description of Breaker Morant’s early life and Australian bush adventures is followed by chapters two to nine which provide the background to the Boer attacks on British forces and the largely Australian stand at the heroic, terrible and ferocious battle of Elands River in August 1900. The second half of the book returns to the subject and thoroughly examines the roles of various personalities that made up the leadership of the Bushveldt Carbineers that included Morant.

This is a book for mature readers and contains vivid accounts of battle. Peter Fitzsimons writes in the present tense with an eccentric observational style. The author has very definite views about the morality of the Breaker and his associates: they were cruel and murderous. The book, with detailed footnotes, is accompanied by excellent photographs and maps that enlighten the reader about a distant largely unknown and forgotten war.

Themes: Boer War, Breaker Morant, Australian identity.

Paul Pledger