Uncovering the lie that saved lives

The Invercargill Eye - - OUT & ABOUT - JOANNA GRIF­FITHS

They aimed high and bluffed hard. That was how a South­lander led four men into an en­emy camp dur­ing the Boer War and achieved a blood­less sur­ren­der.

The story of Archie Stocker’s achieve­ment has been un­cov­ered by Aus­tralian his­tory buff Wayne Bar­rie, who is pitch­ing the idea to doc­u­men­tary/movie mak­ers.

Stocker was born in New Zealand in 1876 and grew up in In­ver­cargill. As a teenager he took a job with the Union Steamship Com­pany in Tas­ma­nia. When Bri­tain called for Aust- ralian ser­vice­men to help fight the Bo­ers, Stocker stepped for­ward pre­tend­ing to be an Aussie.

On April 24, 1901, a troop of 22 men, in­clud­ing Stocker, led by Lieu­tenant Herbert Reid, went into the desert in search of cat­tle. They heard peo­ple’s voices in the dis­tance, Bar­rie said. It was an en­emy army camp with more than 40 war­riors, women, chil­dren and hun­dreds of live­stock.

Lieu­tenant Reid had two op­tions; he could go back to base camp and get re­in­force­ments or he could try and take the camp with his 22 men.

He chose the lat­ter.

The men slowly sur­rounded the camp and waited for dawn. As soon as the sun hit the side of the African moun­tain tops on April 25, 1901, the raid be­gan.

Be­cause there were women and chil­dren in the camp, Reid or­dered his men to shoot over the en­emy’s head and not to wound or kill.

‘‘Not one man was killed dur­ing the at­tack.’’

The fi­nal blow to their de­fences was when Stocker grabbed a hand­ful of men and charged into camp with guns blaz­ing.

‘‘The Bo­ers were com­pletely taken by sur­prise and put up a white flag. Stocker’s charge re­ally shocked the Bo­ers and was what prob­a­bly led them to sur­ren­der. I mean charging a camp full of the en­emy with four men is a re­ally ballsy move.’’

But Reid was then faced with a prob­lem. His men were se­verely out­num­bered and, if the en­emy found out, the sit­u­a­tion could have es­ca­lated with dis­as­trous con­se­quences for his men. Faced with few op­tions, Reid bluffed his way to vic­tory. He let the en­emy think they were sur­rounded by hun­dreds.

‘‘He cre­ated fake sergeants and told them each to take 20 men to a post.’’

The en­emy, con­vinced they were sur­rounded, walked them­selves back to the Aus­tralian sol­diers’ base camp.

‘‘By they time they re­alised it was a ruse it was too late. They were re­ally sur­rounded.’’

The 22 men were branded heroes.

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