Born in Sussex, England, in 1870, George Roland Bradford was the first member of a New Zealand military force to be killed while serving overseas.
The South Africa War was not Bradford’s first military experience, as he had served with the Grenadier Guards before immigrating to New Zealand. After settling here he served with the Ohinemuri Rifles volunteer unit. Following the declaration of war in South Africa he enlisted on 7 October 1899 as a Farrier with the first company of the First Contingent.
On 18 December, as part of Major-General Sir John French’s Cavalry Division, the Contingent's first company was sent out on a reconnaissance patrol to determine whether any Boer forces were hiding in the kopjes (hills) near Jasfontein farm. Led by Lieutenant Michael Lindsay, the New Zealanders rode across a donga (dry riverbed) and proceeded up the slopes of the kopje. When the terrain became unsuitable for riding they dismounted and began to exchange fire with Boers who were positioned further uphill. When the Boers began firing their heavy guns at the horses, which were sheltering in the donga, the New Zealanders were ordered to retreat. One by one they fell back to their horses and raced for the cover of the Jasfontein farmhouse.
It was during this retreat that Bradford was wounded. Struck by a bullet that entered above his hip, he fell from his horse and hit his head. When he made no further sign of movement his fellow soldiers assumed he was dead. Along with a wounded soldier from the 10th Hussars, Bradford was later found by the Boer Veld-Cornet R. Van Wijk. Both men were taken to a Boer hospital at Rensburg Siding. There are conflicting accounts of Bradford’s final days. While the official New Zealand report stated that he remained unconscious, Van Wijk claimed that he had spoken with Bradford, who was in great pain. On 28 December the New Zealander died in hospital. The official report lists meningitis, brought about as a result of his injuries, as the reason for his death.
Initially buried at Rensburg Siding, Bradford was later disinterred and reburied at Colesburg. In 1903, a memorial was built in honour of his memory on Primrose Hill in Paeroa.
By Simon Daisley