The stampless cover’s sender is identified as Trooper D.W. Priest, (Regimental) NO 15, 5th Q.I.B. On Active Service Sth Africa.. It is addressed to his father J. Priest, “Radlett”, Sussex Street, South Brisbane, Queensland and it has an incomplete double circle FIELD POST OFFICE/ 23/ JU 2 ( )/ O1/ BRITISH ARMY ( ). There is a large thick 1D tax mark and the manuscripts may denote that this letter is No 9 in correspondence and it was received on 12/7/ 1901. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).
It is not surprising that Private Priest was identified as a participant in the Boer War, but it must be very unusual for a trooper of his rank is documented in the campaign. In addition, a possible relative, Private Edward Raven Priest, Regimental Number 97 of the 5th Qld Imperial Bushmen also served in the Boer War, but his next of kin was identified as living in Perth W.A.
David Priest’s and the 5 th Queensland Imperial Bushmen’s involvement in one of the historic and military engagements at Onverwacht starts out as follows:“On a ridge overlooking a fertile valley, the farm Onverwacht, on 4 th January, 1902 the advance guard of a British column settled down for a midday meal. The commander of the detachment, 110 men of the 5 th Queensland Imperial Bushmen together with a company of mounted infantry of the Hampshire Regiment and some Imperial Yeomanry, was Major John Maximilien Vallentin of the Somerset Light Infantry. Major Vallentin had been in South Africa since before the war and was Brigade Major in Ladysmith when hostilities began. He had enjoyed a varied career in South Africa, behaving with “conspicuous gallantry” at Elandslaagte on 20 th October, 1899 and later, while inside Ladysmith serving as A.D.C. to Brigadier General Ian Hamilton”. Major Vallentin who eventually dies on the battlefield on 4 January 1902 is shown in Figure 2.
Later, the narrative continues: “The events of the 4 th January have been well documented. The letter of a young private of the 5 th Queensland Imperial Bushmen, David William Priest, to his father and brother also has a sketch map. This, as far as is known, is the only diagram of the action in existence. Exploration of the site turns up a number of the features described on Priest’s map and this has proved to be the key to understanding what happened that day. Priest states in his letter that they “moved off at 5a.m. with light transport and guns only. QIB’s advance guard on left and Pulteney’s corps on the right about 6 miles from us, snipers were shooting at us all morning. No one hit.” Clearly the Boers were watching the advance closely, but not too closely if they could not hit anyone all morning”.
And still later when the battle was underway: “A decoy was arranged, fifty cattle with a few Boers to herd them along the flat ground and down over the rim towards the stream. The Boers in the kloofs were out of sight of the Queensland men on the ridge but the decoy was spotted and reported to Major Vallentin who determined to investigate. Leaving some of the men on the ridge in a secure position, the rest headed off down a roadway leading over the ridge and down onto the lower level. (David Priest’s sketch clearly shows the road which can clearly be identified today although now disused – a pom pom gun mounted on artillery wheels and with horses to draw it could not just be dragged over the veld, some kind of road or track was needed)”. No picture of David Priest has been found, but his map is shown in Figure 3.
“The decoy had disappeared over the edge of the plateau a bit more than a kilometre away and Vallentin’s force chased after them with the Yeomanry as the advanced screen. The Queenslanders followed with orders to support the Yeomanry. Suddenly from the right flank the Boers opened fire and emerged from the ravine where they had been hiding. They made for the pom pom but Lieutenant Reese of the Q.I.B. was ordered to dismount his men and form a defensive line. They opened fire with the pom pom but it jammed after firing only five shots. Lieutenant H.R. Johnstone of the Yeomanry was shot and Major Vallentin was hit as they tried to get the pom pom away. Two of the gun horses were shot but Q.I.B. Sergeant Major Frank Knyvett rallied the men in its defence (apparently including Private David Priest) and the gun was dragged back up the road and hidden in a small donga”.
“Boer casualties were heavy and almost certainly more than the twenty-three killed on the British side (one Imperial Yeoman officer, eight Hampshire Regiment and thirteen Queenslanders as well as Major John Vallentin, their commander). Only five Boers were named as casualties. Jackson states that Sergeant MajorWeston told him that the British prisoners, some seventy-nine of them, were used as a burial party and to get the wounded away, “a favourite game of theirs”. Priest too tells how the Boer doctor whose offer of assistance was refused by the British said the Boers had forty-seven killed and sixty-eight wounded”.