Victorian Bushmen – Boer War
Trooper Thomas Yates was greeted by his parents and two of his brothers at Port Melbourne on the 12th July, 1901 on his arrival home from the Boer War. They had no inkling that they would be burying him with full military honors within the week.
Thomas was born in Colac East to William and Marcella Yates on 16th October, 1874 and had five older brothers and one younger sister. As a capable horseman and experienced bushman he joined the 4th Victorian Imperial Bushmen and left for South Africa on 1st May, 1900 on the Troopship Victorian.
Among other experiences, Thomas saw action in three States and corresponded regularly with his family before returning to Australia in July, 1901.
Lord Kitchener, Commander-In-Chief sent a message in the form of a telegram to the eight hundred troops, including Thomas, who were returning on the Orient. “Before Orient sails, please express to the Victorian Imperial Regiment my best for their services to the Empire whilst in South Africa. I lose them with the greatest regret, and shall always remember with gratitude the good work they have done in this arduous campaign. Please say goodbye to all ranks for me, and wish them good luck.”
After disembarking, they were met at Spencer St Station by the band of the 2nd Battalion Infantry Brigade. The men then marched to the Exhibition Gardens where the Victorians among them were presented with their war medals. A luncheon, including speeches of welcome, was hosted by the Victorian State Government for the men, followed by a medical inspection before finally being able to join their families and friends.
Two of Thomas’ brothers, Frank and William, were staying at The Farmers Club Hotel in Bourke Street and Thomas and Farrier Sergeant, Allan Rule decided to share a room there. Apparently in the best of health he went to the races at Flemington the next day.
Like a lot of his fellow soldiers Thomas had returned from South Africa with a cough and took some proprietary medication to alleviate it. He was taken ill on the Sunday evening and was taken to the Melbourne Hospital in the early hours of the next morning. The verdict at the inquest which followed was that he was suffering from kidney disease and his death may have been accelerated by the opium in the medication.
Death and Funeral
Thomas’ death and funeral was reported extensively throughout Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales.
In one newspaper article, death mention is made of the fact that “He was a fine, powerful young man and to use a colloquial phrase, ‘every inch a gentleman.’ He worked for Mr. W. St. L. Robertson, Mr. W. Kirk and others, and they speak in the highest terms of him.”
Thomas was given a full military funeral which was attended by his fellow soldiers, family and friends.
Major Robin was in command, and the order of the cortege was – Mounted Rifles with arms reversed, cadets and the Colac Brass Band. The coffin was covered by the Union Jack and a mounted rifle firing party fired three volleys while the buglers played “The Last Post”.
According to the same article “Much comment was expressed at the fact that Colonel Price, who was in the district participating in a day’s enjoyment, and the leading officer and other members of the local detachment of mounted rifles did not take part in the last tribute of respect to the deceased soldier.”
Story by Norma Bakker