The Royal New South Wales Lancers

Lancer - Warrant Officer Ash Whitney

In 1898, a seventeen year old Ashley Whitney of Prospect joined the New South Wales Lancers at Parramatta. He raised the £20 (equivalent today of $(AU)20,000 - note that Ash says £25, the £20 is as referenced in the Lancers' Regimental History page 32) and in March 1899 was able to join the squadron that departed for training in the United Kingdom. On the way home, the troop ship docked in Cape Town to find permission had been granted by the New South Wales Government for those over twenty one to disembark and take part in the Boer War. Ashley was only nineteen; he and a number of others disembarked and hid-out 'till the ship departed. They were determined to stay and fight. Ashley served from November 1899 in northern Cape Colony, Free State, and east Transvaal; with French’s cavalry division from relief of Kimberley (February 1900) to sweep to Heidelberg (October 1900). Eventually he was invalided to Australia from South Africa arriving 13 November 1900.

Ashley saw no further active service, however, continued to serve in the New South Wales Lancers. Had the distinction of as a Warrant Officer Class 2 of carrying the Regiment's Boer War King's Banner when it was laid up and the Regiment's Guidon at the opening of Parliament House Canberra in 1927. He retired from the Regiment on 31 August 1935 as an honorary Warrant Officer Class One and senior Warrant Officer in the Australian Military Forces. When he left the Regiment, the small arms trophy was named after him. He continued to present this on the Regiment's annual birthday parade until shortly before his death. In 1974, the City of Parramatta granted him the rare personal honour of "Freedom of the City".

The King's Banner is on display at the NSW Lancers Museum, Parramatta; the Guidon laid up at St John's Cathedral, Parramatta NSW. Warrant Officer Whitney served 37 years in the New South Wales Lancers (including a few months in the Royal New South Wales Lancers).

In Ashley's case we have something rare. In 1975, a documentary was made featuring some Boer War Veterans talking about their experiences. Thanks to the generosity of the Australian War Memorial, we have been given access to a video transcript of almost the entire interview. Activate the play button below to view. The interview is preceded by some even rarer film of NSW Lancers, Australian Horse, and Mounted Infantry (possibly QMI) on parade, and a troop ship leaving harbour.


Number 10 General Hospital Field Forces
South Africa
June 8th, 1900

Dear Madam
Although your son [Ash Whitney] is not now in my ward I often go and see him as I take a great interest in him. He is such a good patient. I am glad to be able to say ……

He has had a bad attack of Pneumonia as well as Enteric and his temperature for the first week was daily 40°C. He wishes me to give you his best love and he hopes to be home again ere long and hopes you are all well. Believe me.

Yours sincerely

Sister N V Blythe

Number 10 General Hospital
Field Forces
South Africa
July 22nd /00
Dear Mrs Whitney
It was not until you're bawdy was well out of danger that I dared raise your hopes and tell you that the Almighty has spared him to you yet a little longer. You will I am sure the glad to hear that he is now much better and getting up. Poor laddie, he is very thin and I am afraid if you saw him now you would scarcely know him but now we hope to fatten him up and send him home as soon as possible. I am very glad indeed to be able to write this to you and hope it will cheer you up. This is indeed a very sad time for the people at home. God grant it a speedy ending. Believe me.

Sincerely yours
Sister NV Blythe

Letter writer

Sister Nora Valentine Blythe
Princess Christian’s Army Nursing Service Reserve No 22
Trained - General Infirmary, Worcester, England

Deployed to South Africa from RAMC Depot Aldershot, with No 10 General Hospital on the SS Avoca March 1900 No 10 was variously located at Norvals Pont and Bloemfontein
Transferred No 9 General Hospital January 1901
Later married Robert Coofe

The video below is an extended version of the newsreel intro, and the full interview with Ash Whitney.


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