Reid’s Raid: Wayne Barrie unearths daring Boer War tale thanks to letter from Murray Bridge veteran

The date is April 25.

Australian soldiers huddle together in the stillness before dawn, fixing bayonets and steeling themselves ahead of a charge towards a numerically superior enemy force.

But the setting is not a boat off Anzac Cove in 1915 – it is a hilltop in South Africa exactly 14 years earlier.

That remarkable coincidence is just the beginning of the story told in Reid's Raid, a book which author Wayne Barrie will launch in Murray Bridge this Saturday.

It recalls the actions of the Fourth Imperial Bushmen on that morning in 1901, during the Boer War.

The previous night, Lieutenant Herbert Reid had led about 20 men from the newly federated colonies, plus a local guide, on a horseback patrol across the highland veldt.

"It's pitch black, they're 4000 feet in the air, freezing their arses off, and they're supposed to be looking for 400 head of cattle," Mr Barrie said.

Around 8pm they heard voices in the dark, spotted several people filling up carts of water, and discreetly followed them back to a laager, or encampment, of about 60 Boer guerillas.

Visible was a Maxim machine gun.

The bushmen spent the night gathering in the hills around the encampment, preparing to attack.

At dawn, they charged, yelling and shooting into the air, scaring the Boers into thinking there were many more men than there were.

Lieutenant Reid kept up the deception when the Boer commandant was captured, telling his sergeants to "take 20 or 30 men and guard the entrance", and to relay orders to two other sergeants who did not exist.

"It was a typical Aussie bluff," Mr Barrie said with a grin.

"Reid later got a DSO, a distinguished service award, and both sergeants were mentioned in despatches."

Among the Imperial Bushmen was James Smart, later a police sergeant who trained horses at Glen Lossie homestead, at Avoca Dell, and who was buried in Murray Bridge.

It was a handwritten letter from Trooper Smart, shown by his grandson to Mr Barrie several years ago, which spurred him to start researching the incredible tale it described.

The second half of the book details Mr Barrie's efforts to uncover the story.

"There's a whole lot of really interesting parallels to Anzac Day," Mr Barrie said.

"The Anzac spirit is listed as five elements by the Australian War Memorial – endurance, courage, ingenuity, good humour and mateship – and I found all of those in this tiny event."

Mr Barrie will speak about the book, and show a carbine captured during the raid, at Murray Bridge RSL at noon on Saturday.