Uncovering the lie that saved lives
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.