BENNIER Alfred James

Alfred James Bennier is the son of Alfred and Amelia Bennier.

His parents were married in South Australia in 1875. The family lived in the Compton locality near Mt Gambier. This was a sheep and cattle grazing area. Mt Gambier being both the local commercial centre and closest Township.

Alfred was named after his father. He likely worked on the land. Alfred was a good horseman but only a fair shot. He first volunteered and was assessed by Capt. Wilson in Mt Gambier c 21 Jan 1900.  As per Oz-Boer Database. Capt. Wilson was later Surgeon for both the 5th and 6th South Australian Imperial Bushmen.

These units were raised, equipped and dispatched sequentially from Port Adelaide in 1901. However, both these South Australian contingents were later amalgamated in South Africa, to fight as a regiment.

No 586 TPR Alfred Bennier 6th S.A.I.B. fell victim to a friendly fire incident.  He was riding towards the position occupied by the 5th S.A.I.B. at a time when their forward scouts were expecting a Boer attack. He was misidentified as an approaching Boer combatant. Then shot at 200 yards by No 320 SGT R J Ferry 5th S.A.I.B. He had acted on advice of his forward scouts.

However 6th S.A.I.B. elements who were repositioning themselves, had rode onwards past their allocated position. They went a kopjie or drift too far. Further, there was a Boer dog that had tagged along with 6th S.A.I.B. Troopers that morning. The barking Boer dog had presumably spotted or smelt concealed 5th S.A.I.B. Troopers. It was the barking dog that confirmed to SGT Roland Ferry 5th S.A.I.B. that these unknown riders were Boers. The unidentified armed riders were fast approaching his section’s position.

SGT Roland Ferry 5th S.A.I.B. who fired the fatal shot, was later promoted to R.S.M. However, not before he wrote to Alfred’s parents. His letter was published in the Mt Gambier newspaper on 7 August 1901. SGT Roland Ferry recounts his horror when he discovered that he had shot a comrade. However, when dying Alfred enquired from Roland as to who shot him. Sgt Roland Ferry immediately confessed his guilt or error.  The Boer dog that 5th S.A.I.B. had pick up that morning had worked great mischief. However, friendly fire incidents can and do happen. The facts in this case meant that neither SGT Roland Ferry nor his 5th S.A.I.B. section were found liable for Alfred’s death. 

Lest We Forget.        

Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA   1861 – 1954),  Wednesday 7 August 1901, page 3



Mr. and Mrs. A. Bennier, of Compton, whose son, Trooper. A. J. Bennier, a member of the Sixth South Australian Contingent, was, by an extraordinary misadventure, shot by a member of the Fifth Contingent at Hoe Spruit, Orange River Colony, on May 27, have received the following explanatory letter from Sergt, R. J. Ferry, who fired the fatal shot:—

“Kroonstad, June 19, 1901.   Mr. and Mrs. Bennier,

Dear Sir and Madam,—It is with very conflicting feelings indeed that I now endeavour to furnish you with a true explanation of the very sad fate of your most respected son, who came to South Africa with the Sixth South Australian Contingent. I am extremely sorry to have to confess that I was the unfortunate mortal who played the minor part in his untimely end, and God alone knows how I repent. Upon a certain morning the South Australians were ordered to march at 2 30 a.m. to two different drifts, some 8 and 10 miles from camp, take possession of them, and secrete themselves before daybreak, and await the approach of the enemy, who were to be driven on to our position by the main body; and also to prevent Boers crossing the drift to our side. I had been posted with two men to hold a position where the Boers were expected in a few minutes.

After waiting about 10 minutes word was sent me by the Major and lieutenant that Boers were coming in my direction in the far distance, and told me to keep a sharp look out, and waste no shots. A Kaffir guide also came running to me, pointing to the objects, saying, “De Boers, boss; de Boers!” I sent him away to hide himself. On came the supposed enemy, dis-appearing and reappearing on the rocky veldt, in the grey misty dawn. Presently one suddenly came in view abort 200 yards to my right front, with a dog yelping in front of him. That dog settled the matter, ‘Yes, he is a Boer,’ thought I. He swerved off to my right, so I allowed him to pass on to the post on my right, in charge of Sergeant Ewens.  At this moment I heard my comrades make a noise, and the supposed Boer vanished over a rise. I concluded he had heard them, and had gone back to warn his comrades. A few minutes later two more appeared about 200 yards in my front.

They halted, and then came at a canter, I covered one with my rifle, watching him closely, and these were my descriptions —Have turned down all round overcoat on, and muffed up. Instantly there came in view a score of heads over the same way the two had come. This was final. There was no time for delay. I must act. I fired, and he fell from the saddle with a sickening thud, I re-loaded, and covered the second one, when a cry went up, ‘Who are you?’ Only imagine my dismay and horror on discovering I had shot a comrade, for they were no other than the 6th Contingent, who had missed their drift, and had wandered upon our parts. I rushed forward and assisted the poor boy as much as I was able, as did his comrades. As I reached his side, he asked of me who shot him, and I immediately confessed my guilt, or error. He then said he knew a Dutchman would not shoot him. The dog I have alluded to they picked up on the road that morning, and it worked great mischief.

The poor boy died the same evening, and was buried the next afternoon. The name of the place I have forgotten, but no doubt his friends have acquainted you with same. The squadron made him a very pretty grave, over which they erected a cross, upon which was inscribed his name and age.

Your beloved son was greatly respected by his comrades, and his death was severely felt by all. I have written this, dear people, so that you may have a thorough explanation of the whole sad affair. And now I ask that you won’t think too harshly of me, for goodness knows I’ve suffered enough. So kindly permit me to extend you my sincerest sympathy, and I trust that God will soothe you in your sad bereavement.” Allow me to remain, yours sincerely (Signed) SERGT. R. J. FERRY.”

Boer War Memorial Bay Road Mount Gambier

         State Library of South Australia, B 36217
         Virtual War Memorial Australia

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