Researching The Royal Canadian Regiment

Badge worn by the Second (Special Service) Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment while serving in the South African War; 1899-1900.

Badge worn by the Second (Special Service) Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment while serving in the South African War; 1899-1900.

The Battle of Paardeberg
(South African War)

"Let us praise famous men and our fathers that begat us. All these men were honoured in their generation and were a glory in their time." - Ecclesiastes

By: Warrant Officer Ross Appleton, CD; 1st Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment.

The story I am about to tell you is a stirring one, a tale of desperate valour that took place a hundred years ago on the high veldt of Southern Africa. It is an often-told story of heroic effort, sacrifice and courage. Nevertheless, it is important to retell for it links us once again with the glorious past and traditions forged by the soldiers of our Regiment so long ago.

On 11 October 1899 the Boer Republics of South Africa (Transvaal and the Orange Free State) declared war on the British Empire. As the Boers saw it, they were fighting to preserve their independence and unique way of life from British encroachment. From the British point of view, the Boers rode roughshod over English settlers, denying them even the most basic civil rights. For example, though they paid 90% of the taxes in the Transvaal, English speaking residents were not allowed the vote.1

Just who were the Boers? "Boer' is a Dutch word that means farmer. These Boers were the descendants of Dutch colonists who had settled in South Africa from the 17th Century onwards. Their roots were sunk deep in the land, which they loved greatly and from which they made their living as farmers. Fiercely independent, the Boers were a sternly religious people intolerant of any faith other than their own strict Calvinism. Their attitude to outsiders was suspicion and outright hostility. These tough, hardy Boers had the experience of two hundred years of bush warfare against African tribes. They had perfected a highly mobile form of fighting, were superb horsemen and crack shots with their modern Mauser rifles. As well, they could make outstanding tactical use of ground, they were masters of camouflage and concealment, and experts at guerrilla warfare. Every adult male Boer was a member of a military formation known as a "commando." All in all, these Commandos would make formidable opponents for a British Army wedded to the tactics of the Napoleonic Wars and more accustomed to combat with natives armed with spears.2

As the crisis in South Africa worsened, the major British colonies rallied to the support of the Mother Country with significant pledges of military assistance.3 The Canadian Government, however, procrastinated hoping to avoid any direct involvement in the conflict. The Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, was acutely conscious that the opinion among French Canadians in Quebec was decidedly against overseas military adventures on behalf of the British Empire.4 With the outbreak of war, public outcry among English Canadians forced the cabinet to act.5 On 13 October the Government finally offered to send an infantry battalion of 1,000 officers and men to serve with the British Army in South Africa. It would be organized into eight rifle companies each 125 men strong, have a small headquarters, a Transport Section, a Signals Section and a Machine Gun Section consisting of two .303 calibre Maxim machine guns mounted on wheeled carriages.6 As well, there would be cooks, stretcher-bearers, storemen, and grooms and servants for the Officers. The men would be recruited from across the Dominion to serve as volunteers for six months to one year as circumstances dictated. Private soldiers would be paid 50 cents a day (twice as much as a British private) and in contrast, the commanding officer, a lieutenant-colonel, would draw $4.75 per day.7

The battalion now being recruited would be based on an existing Permanent Force unit, The Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. The official title of the new organization would be the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. Command of the Battalion was given to Canada's most famous soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel William D. Otter.8 At 56 years of age, Otter was also Canada's most experienced soldier being a veteran of the Fenian Raids and the North-West Rebellion and having previously commanded both the Queen's Own Rifles and The Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. He was a consummate professional, a meticulous planner and dependable in battle. Otter was also a ruthless disciplinarian who rarely demonstrated any regard for the common soldiers. His cold and aloof manner earned him the less than affectionate nickname, 'Black Bill' among troops who heartily loathed him.9 Almost the complete antithesis of Otter, Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence Buchan had been appointed second-in-command with the substantive rank of major. Buchan had seen active service in the North-West Rebellion and most recently had been commanding officer of The Royal Canadian Regiment. This RCR officer was affable, approachable and had an easy way with the men who soon nicknamed him "Good Old Larry." The contrast between Otter and his popular deputy was painfully obvious and serious professional and personal differences would eventually develop between the two men.10

Within 19 days of the declaration of war, the unit had been organized, concentrated, equipped and was sailing from Quebec City for Cape Town. The Battalion, 1,039 all ranks strong, was crammed aboard the cattle boat S.S. Sardinian that was soon dubbed the 'Sardine' by the troops. With space at a premium, only the most cursory training could be carried out including limited rifle practice and drill. In effect, the unit would have to be trained in South Africa. Also aboard the crowded Sardinian was a small group of supernumerary officers including the relentlessly self-promoting Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Hughes. Sometime soldier, constant politician and future Minister of Militia and Defence, he aggressively sought an appointment in the Canadian Contingent and when he failed, directed his efforts at the British Army in South Africa.11

On 30 November 1899 the Battalion landed at Cape Town and was at once ordered upcountry where they would have the opportunity to train and acclimatize while protecting British lines of communication. A small rear party under a subaltern was left behind in Cape Town to secure excess baggage that would not be used on campaign. As well, when the main body proceeded north by train on 01 December, 33 soldiers were temporarily left behind when, after a night out on the town, they were AWOL or simply too drunk to move. Soldiers will be soldiers.12

On 07 December the Canadians were temporarily located at Orange River Station some 55 miles south of the Modder River. Here a fierce and fateful debate took place as to whether The Royal Canadian Regiment or the 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders would be sent north to join Lord Methuen's command with a major battle looming. The RCR had received minimal training and as yet were anything but a cohesive unit. Major Buchan now refused point blank to take the left half of the battalion, E, F, G, and H Companies northwards when ordered out by Lieutenant-Colonel Otter.13 This was insubordination pure and simple, but, it was inspired insubordination. The Gordons, a regular British battalion, went instead and were decimated along with the Highland Brigade four days later at the Battle of Magersfontein.

By 09 December The Royal Canadian Regiment was at Belmont, a small town on the Western Railroad, 560 miles north of Cape Town and 30 miles south of the Modder River. At this time the Modder River marked the demarcation between British and Boer spheres of control in this particular theatre of operation. For the next two months the Canadians would garrison Belmont, man defences and carry out patrols and outpost duty. More importantly, the Battalion was undergoing training in new tactics. Standing shoulder to shoulder and firing in volleys was abandoned. Skirmishing, moving forward in short rushes and firing from the prone, were all adopted and practiced.14

Rations for the soldiers were poor and without variety consisting of tinned bully beef and hard tack or biscuit. Wishing to improve this bland diet the men requested permission to start up a dry canteen using their own funds. Maintaining his reputation as a bloody-minded martinet, Lieutenant-Colonel Otter refused and also obstructed the YMCA when that organization attempted to establish welfare facilities for enlisted men at Belmont.15 The soldiers took to looting to supplement their meagre fare, as soldiers always have, but looting in the British Army was punishable by death. Responding to complaints from local farmers, Otter called a Battalion parade and furiously threatened dire consequences, labelling his troops as the 'thousand thieves' and the 'chicken thieves'.16

This routine continued until 09 February 1900 when The Royal Canadian Regiment was ordered to join Major-General Horace Smith-Dorrien's 19th Infantry Brigade in the theatre of operations near Magersfontein. The 19th was considered the best brigade in the British Army. It consisted of the 2nd Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry; the 2nd Battalion King's Shropshire Light Infantry and the 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders. Smith-Dorrien himself was a vigorous and able commander.17

Up to this point, when The Royal Canadian Regiment was about to join the fighting, the war had largely been a series of disasters for the British. During "Black Week" in December three separate British armies had been badly defeated in pitched battles by the Boers. Finally, a new commander-in-chief, Field Marshall Lord Roberts, undoubtedly the best British general of his day, was sent out from England to retrieve the calamitous situation. General Bobs, as he was affectionately known to his troops, arrived in South Africa on 10 January and promptly took action. Eleven Generals and two dozen Colonels who had failed to measure up were ruthlessly sacked. Assessing lack of mobility as a fundamental British weakness, Roberts re-organized his forces creating a Cavalry Division and raising several units of Mounted Infantry.18 He began concentrating his 40,000 man Field Force along the Western Railroad just south of the Modder River. Opposed to Roberts was the main Boer army of about 5,000 men under General Piet Cronje. They were just to the north on the far bank of the Modder, entrenched in an extremely strong defensive position near Magersfontein. The intent of Field Marshall Roberts was to take the offensive within a month. In a bold move, Roberts would cut himself free of the Western Railroad and his own lines of communication and strike northeastwards cross-country in the direction of Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange Free State, 80 miles distant. Cronje would either have to retreat or be trapped at Magersfontein.

On 12 February with the British Field Force already commencing their offensive operation, The Royal Canadian Regiment joined the rest of 19th Brigade at Gras Pan, the starting point for the campaign. Advancing the next day, the Battalion was marching light with a water cart, two ambulances, a train of ammunition mules and a few baggage wagons carrying two days rations and fodder. These wagons also carried one blanket per man and a waterproof groundsheet for every two men. The soldiers themselves wore a cloth covered cork sun helmet, khaki tunic with grey flannel shirt underneath, khaki trousers, puttees or leggings, hob-nailed ankle boots and Oliver Equipment.19 A great coat was rolled and slung across the body when not in use. The Canadian soldiers carried a .303 calibre, bolt action, magazine fed Lee-Enfield Mark One rifle. The Battalion's officers had wisely elected to exchange custom tailored uniforms for standard issue garb and turn their revolvers and swords over to the Quartermaster to be replaced by rifles. Identification on the battlefield as an officer could easily result in a well-aimed Mauser bullet through the head.

The British offensive fell on the Boers with thunderclap surprise. Outflanked and in danger of being cut off Cronje hastily abandoned his position at Magersfontein. He fled northeastwards, moving just north of the Modder River in the direction of Bloemfontein and the Boer heartland. Cronje's intent was to cross the Modder at a suitable ford in order to take the direct route to Bloemfontein. He had to do this before the British came up and they were now pursuing him along both banks of the Modder. The Boer column could move but slowly for it contained a large number of women and children transported in ox-drawn wagons as it was not uncommon for the Boers to bring family and servants along on a campaign.20

The Boers made it as far as the vicinity of Paardeberg Drift where they hoped to effect a crossing of the river. As they paused for rest and a meal they came under artillery fire from a hill about a mile and a half to the north. Field Marshall Roberts' fast moving Cavalry Division, whose artillery now pinned the Boers against the banks of the Modder River, had intercepted Cronje. The date was 17 February.21

The Boers occupied about a five-mile stretch of the Modder River Valley. At this point the river flowed between steep banks between two hundred and three hundred yards apart. The Boers dug trenches on the veldt above the banks on either side of the river and into the banks themselves. Their wagons were drawn up in a concentration in the heart of their position above the northern bank to form a laager. Women, children, horses and oxen were hidden below the veldt in the foliage by the river. Cronje had resolved to stand and fight from a strong defensive position.

The van of Roberts' Field Force, some 15,000 strong under his Chief of Staff, Lord Kitchener, came up from the south early on 18 February. Kitchener established his headquarters on high ground two miles to the south of Cronje's laager and dispatched units of Mounted Infantry upstream and downstream of the Boer positions. The Boers were now effectively surrounded. Kitchener resolved to attack immediately and storm the Boer trenches. The plan called for co-ordinated infantry assaults to go in from the west, the south and the east under covering artillery fire. In the event a series of disjointed infantry attacks took place throughout the day as battalion after battalion was sent in piece meal.22 Murderously accurate Boer rifle fire decimated the oncoming British and sent them back reeling. British losses for the day numbered 1,300 killed or wounded. For the British this was the highest single day toll of the entire war. On the Boer side there were 300 casualties.23

After an all night forced march of 23 miles The Royal Canadian Regiment had arrived near Paardeberg Drift before dawn on 18 February. Coffee, a biscuit and a hurriedly issued rum ration were gulped down.24 There would be no time for breakfast. Smith-Dorrien was now ordered to take his Brigade across the river and occupy a high feature, Gun Hill, to the northeast.25

The Modder River was fast flowing and in flood but Royal Engineers had managed to get a rope across the 50-yard expanse to the north bank at Paardeberg Drift. The soldiers up to their chests in water were just able to get across by 10:15 am.26 As well, the Battalion brought one of the machine guns on its carriage over the river. The Royal Canadian Regiment began to work its way up the riverbank towards the east and the Boer position. The Canadians linked up with the Shropshires on the left who now occupied Gun Hill. The RCR machine gun went into action atop Gun Hill engaging enemy to their front along the riverbank.

A and C Companies extended in line to the left. With Gun Hill to their left and the river to their right, they formed the firing line and were commanded by the DCO, Major Lawrence Buchan. D and E Companies formed up just to the rear in support. The CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Otter, would personally command this support line. The rest of the Battalion was kept in reserve for now. The Royal Canadian Regiment was about to be fed into the battle.27

Advancing under the eyes of Major-General Smith-Dorrien on Gun Hill, A and C Companies crested a ridge, five paces between men, and headed down a long, open slope towards the enemy. Private James Findlay was shot through the heart becoming the first RCR to be killed in action in South Africa. The leading troops went to ground behind anthills and attempted to push forward by a series of rushes, employing section fire and movement. On the exposed slope casualties began to mount from well-aimed fire coming from the Boer trench line 500 yards to the east. D and E Companies as well as part of B moved up to join the firing line. The rest of B as well as F and G companies were now in support a few hundred yards to the rear. H Company alone was now in reserve but close enough to be under fire.

The hours dragged by under a hot, pitiless sun. The men had not rested or eaten since the previous day. Exposed movement could be fatal. Scanning the enemy trenches through his binoculars, Captain Arnold, Officer Commanding A Company, was shot through the head. Two stretcher-bearers going to his aid were shot down. Meanwhile, artillery on Gun Hill directed their fire onto the Boers opposite the Canadians.

Towards 4:00 pm Lord Kitchener ordered the Cornwalls to move forward through the Canadians and mount an assault on the Boer trenches. By 4:30 pm three companies of Cornwalls under their CO, Lieutenant-Colonel Aldworth, had moved into the RCR firing line. They would attack frontally with bayonets fixed. At 5:15 pm on Aldworth's command, a bugler sounded the charge and his men moved forward at the double. Seized by the moment, the Canadians fixed bayonets, jumped up and joined in the attack. Up to seven hundred men of the RCR charged forward with the Cornwalls. Otter held G and H Companies back in reserve.28

The attack was met by a storm of fire from the Boer positions. Lieutenant-Colonel Aldworth and his Adjutant were shot dead. Casualties were heavy in both Regiments and the assault was doomed to failure. Amazingly at least two Canadians made it to the Boer trenches where they fell.29

Private Dick Thompson of D Company made it to within a hundred yards of the Boer lines. In an extraordinary act of bravery he was to save the life of Private James Bradshaw, also of D Company. Bradshaw was shot in the neck, the bullet nicking the jugular. As he lay wounded in the open, Thompson crawled to him, lay across his body and stanched the bleeding with direct pressure on the wound. Private Thompson was close enough to the enemy trenches that he could clearly make out the features of the Boer who shot the helmet off his head.30 Dick Thompson braved the Boer sniping for a further seven hours (it was a clear, moonlit night) waiting for stretcher-bearers to come up. During this long wait Thompson, who had eaten nothing in over thirty hours, removed his emergency ration from his haversack. Tearing it open he quickly devoured the contents. Days later a subsequent kit inspection would reveal that Thompson was missing this sacred item. He was charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to ten extra guard duties.31

After nightfall, the Canadians gathered up their dead and wounded and withdrew back to Paardeberg Drift. The action of 18 February had been a costly failure. At dawn next day over half the Battalion was still missing. Eventually the unit was able to concentrate and casualties were found to be 21 killed and 60 wounded, about 10% of the Battalion's strength.32

Though the British attacks on 18 February had been unsuccessful, one important result had been obtained. Boer mobility had been utterly destroyed. British artillery and machine guns had killed three quarters of the Boers' horses and oxen or about 3,000 animals.33

British strength at Paardeberg increased to 30,000 by 19 February and Field Marshall Roberts had come up to personally take command. He was appalled at Kitchener's tactics that had produced such heavy casualties for so little gain. Roberts resolved therefore on a strategy of siege rather than attack. He would starve and shell the Boers into submission.34

For the next several days, 50 guns and several Maxim machine guns pounded the Boer positions while the British trenches crept closer on all sides. Conditions were horrific for both sides. The stench from the rotting carcasses of horses and oxen within the Boer lines could be smelled for miles.35 The Boers had taken to dumping hundreds of these bloated carcasses into the Modder River. These had floated downstream as far as Paardeberg Drift where they had formed a solid jam. Later the Royal Engineers were forced to use dynamite to demolish this wall of dead animals.36 The Canadians and most British units took their drinking water from the Modder below the Drift.37 Soldiers of The RCR remarked on how odd their tea tasted. Not surprisingly, in the aftermath of Paardeberg, 350 Canadian soldiers alone would come down with enteric (typhoid) fever.38

These days were marked by increasingly heavy rainfall that rendered the Modder impassable and made the lot of the soldiers even more miserable. The great coats, blankets and ground sheets of the Canadians had been left in the baggage wagons and they were unreachable on the wrong side of the river until sappers put in a pontoon bridge several days later.

Re-supply had always been a potentially grave problem for the British once they had begun their march overland away from the Western Railroad. Prior to the great offensive Roberts had established several large supply depots along the railroad near his line of departure. To keep his field force supplied from these depots while it was on the move, he created a vast 'supply park' of 2,000 wagons and 20,000 oxen. On 15 February a large British supply column of 170 wagons and 2,000 oxen bringing badly needed rations to the Front had been surprised and captured by a fast-moving, hard-striking Boer Commando under the intrepid Christian DeWet. This loss had resulted in a significant supply backlog that was now catching up to the British at Paardeberg. The soldiers of Roberts' Field Force were reduced to half and soon to quarter rations.39

The Boers were trapped in their waterlogged trenches. There were no doctors in Cronje's force so wounded men received only the most rudimentary medical care. The Boer fighting men must have suffered constant anxiety for their children and womenfolk. Finally, even the diehards must have realized that the possibility of either escape or relief was rapidly dwindling to naught.

By 26 February Roberts sensed that the time was ripe to bring the battle to a decisive conclusion. 27 February marked the anniversary of the British defeat at Majuba Hill in 1881 by the Boers. Roberts decided to time the climactic assault to coincide with this anniversary. The Boer trenches in the west were the key to their position. If these could be seized, or even if the British could establish a trench line in proximity to them, Cronje's laager and the Boer trenches on either bank could be fired directly into.40

The objective of the attack meant that Smith-Dorrien's 19th Brigade would carry out the operation. Smith-Dorrien's plan called for one of his battalions to advance at night by stealth and seize the line of enemy trenches in question. If surprise was lost before the trenches were entered the assaulting troops would dig in where their advance was halted. In either event the entire Boer position would be made untenable.41

On 26 February after a brief period of rest in reserve, The RCR relieved the Cornwalls in the most forward trenches facing the enemy on the western edge of the Boer defensive perimeter. Fate had dictated that The Royal Canadian Regiment would mount the decisive night attack. They had left Belmont on 12 February to join the campaign with 896 men. Now two weeks later, battle, injury, disease, heat stroke and exhaustion had reduced the effective strength of the unit to 708, an attrition of 21%.42

After the relief in place with the Cornwalls the Battalion was deployed as follows. From left to right C, E and D Companies occupied the long, forward trench that was anchored 25 yards above the north bank of the Modder River and extended about a quarter of a mile to the north. A Company had crossed the Modder on the pontoon bridge and now occupied a trench on the south side of the river. The remaining four rifle companies were in reserve trenches a few hundred yards to the rear of the main forward trench. The Gordon Highlanders and Shropshires were to the left of The RCR. The line of Boer trenches to the east, the objective, stood 500 yards distant.

At last light on 26 February three of the depth companies, F, G and H, moved up and into the forward trench to take their place in the line. The rifle companies now in the forward trench from left to right were C, E, D, F, G and H. B Company remained in the rear as Brigade reserve. On the extreme right of the forward trench a detachment of 30 sappers from Number 7 Company, Royal Engineers took their place in support of the Canadians.

The RCR would advance silently with six companies in line and in two ranks. The front rank would proceed with rifles at the ready and bayonets fixed. The rear rank would carry shovels and picks and joined by the Sappers would entrench if the advance was halted. The troops would move shoulder to shoulder with their left hands grasping the rifle of the next man in line. Major Buchan would command the left wing and Major Oscar Pelletier the right. Lieutenant-Colonel Otter would move behind the front rank on the left.43

At 10:30 pm Major-General Smith-Dorrien, his Brigade Major and ADC joined the Canadians in their trenches. He would advance on the right with the Sappers. Finally the Gordon Highlanders came up and jointly occupied the trenches the Canadians would be vacating once the attack began. To the north and east the Shropshires and the Black Watch were positioned to provide covering rifle fire from the left flank. By 1:45 am all was in readiness, with the soldiers wide-awake and at their posts.

At 2:15 am with a slight, rustling sound the front rank rose from their trenches, quickly dressed off to establish alignment and moved off towards the Boer lines. There were 240 Canadians in the front rank. The rear rank including the British Sappers and Smith-Dorrien now advanced keeping about 15 paces behind the leading wave. It was a clear, starlit night and the Boer trenches ahead were completely silent.

The front rank advanced with stealth, absolutely quiet and ever so slowly at a rate of less than twenty yards a minute. It had been anticipated the Battalion would reach the enemy trenches, 500 yards distant, in about 25 minutes. By 2:45 am Smith-Dorrien was becoming alarmed that their approach had veered off the correct line of advance, as contact had not yet been made with the Boers. The Boers had strung wire, with tin cans filled with pebbles hung from the wire, across the front of their position. A Canadian soldier now walked into this obstacle setting off a rattling noise.44 There was a single rifle shot, a cry of pain, then the crash of a volley of fire from the Boer trenches. Within seconds the Battalion, in the open, was under murderous rifle fire from close range.

On the right H Company was sheltered by a wood on the riverbank and suffered no casualties. But G and F Companies were caught completely in the open less than 50 yards from enemy trenches. In these two companies alone, six men were killed and 21 wounded almost immediately.45

The Canadians in the front rank threw themselves to the ground and began to return a steady rate of fire. The soldiers in the rear rank were now literally digging for their lives. Progress on the trench was made quickest on the right. The Battalion was in good order, returning fire and digging in. An incident now took place on the left that remains shrouded in confusion and controversy. Private Tweddel of E Company heard a voice to his right shout 'retire'. Others remember a loud, commanding voice in the dark order, 'retire and bring back your wounded with you'.46 It has never been established who gave this order. The possibility exists that it was a clever Boer ruse. At any rate, though confused by the order, soldiers on the firing line continued to hold their ground. But now a subaltern from E Company apparently lost his head, jumped up screaming 'retire' and ran all the way to the rear. This unfortunate example was infectious as soldiers on the left began to fall back.47 The Boers poured in a withering fire but for the most part the Canadians retired in good order. Lieutenant-Colonel Otter and Major Buchan did their best to stem the unauthorized retreat but in the dark this was an impossible task. Disgustedly they were forced to join the rearward movement with C, E, D and F Companies. They set about reorganizing the Battalion once back in their original trench.48

Meanwhile the redoubtable Private Dick Thompson of D Company hadn't heard the order to retire nor had he seen the general movement to the rear. Blazing away at the enemy with his rifle until he paused to reload, Thompson noticed for the first time there was no one left around him. He beat a quick retreat eventually rejoining his mates at the original starting point.49

The fate of the battle, and one might say the reputation of The Royal Canadian Regiment, hung in the balance. On the right G and H Companies, men from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, had not joined the general retreat, as there seems to have been a gap between F and G Companies resulting from heavy casualties at this point. G and H continued to hold their ground, return fire and entrench. The two respective company commanders, Lieutenant Macdonnel and Captain Stairs would both be subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for the steadiness their men were now exhibiting at this critical phase of the battle. Major Pelletier, ostensibly in command of the right wing, had already taken himself out of the fray. Receiving a slight wound to the hand, Pelletier had gone to the rear seeking medical attention, much to the disgust of Colonel Otter.50 It is noteworthy that Major-General Smith-Dorrien, the Brigade Commander, audaciously remained well forward on the right with the Sappers throughout the action.

The rear rank finally completed the trench and the firing lines from G and H Companies crawled back and dropped into it to continue the fight.51 To the east the sky began to lighten as dawn approached. The Canadians were pouring accurate fire into the Boer position from less than 100 yards. It was apparent that they could dominate the enemy laager and trenches from their own secure trench.52 At this time Smith-Dorrien noted a building on the far side of the Modder from which the new Canadian trench could be enfiladed. He promptly sent back word for A Company to capture this site. A Company soon occupied the building without incident.53

By the light of approaching dawn the men of D Company could make out a fallen Canadian soldier, apparently writhing in pain just in front of the Boer trenches. A corporal from the Bearer Company asked for a volunteer to go forward and see if the man could be saved. Without fuss Private Thompson quickly agreed to go. For the second time Dick Thompson would now deliberately expose himself to enemy fire in order to rescue a wounded comrade. He took off his kit, lay down his rifle, climbed out of the trench and calmly strode towards the Boer trenches all the while puffing on his pipe. Through sheer ignorance of the rules of war, Boers commonly fired on stretcher-bearers and wounded men and showed little respect for the Red Cross. With every step he took young Thompson must have anticipated a Boer bullet. But for whatever reason, the Boers refrained from firing and he soon reached the side of the wounded Canadian only to find that he had died. Thompson removed the man's personal effects, noted his service number and returned to his own trench.54

The success of the Canadians now convinced many Boers that further resistance was futile. This was evident from the many white flags that now began to appear spontaneously in the Boer trenches from 5:15 am onwards. The Canadians mistrusted their enemy and continued to keep the Boers under fire. It was a common Boer practice to hoist a white flag feigning surrender then ambush the unsuspecting British soldiers who had come forward to take their surrender. Eventually Smith-Dorrien himself called on all Boers to surrender and amidst a sea of white flags a Boer emissary came forward to the Canadian trench at 6:00 am. He conveyed General Cronje's wish for an immediate ceasefire and his willingness to surrender unconditionally. Soon after, 200 Boers emerged from their trenches throwing down their rifles in an act of surrender. Lord Roberts ordered a general ceasefire and at 7:00 am received Cronje's surrender at his Headquarters.

At 9:30 am The Royal Canadian Regiment was ordered forward to Cronje's laager to disarm the Boers and stack their rifles. Four thousand Boers were taken prisoner. As well, 5,000 rifles, 1,000 horses and five guns were captured. Towards 4:00 pm Field Marshall Roberts himself appeared at the Boer laager to personally congratulate and thank the Canadians for the decisive role they had played in winning the victory. In the euphoria of triumph the precipitate retreat of half the Battalion and the less than inspiring behaviour of certain officers that morning could be conveniently glossed over.55 In the final action on 27 February The Royal Canadian Regiment had lost 13 men killed and 36 wounded. The Regiment's total losses for the period 18-27 February were 34 killed and 100 wounded.56

Paardeberg Drift was the first great British victory over the Boers and the Canadian contribution had captured the public's imagination. In particular, the Battalion's climactic assault on the Boer trenches in the early morning darkness of 27 February was lauded and glamorized throughout Great Britain and the British Empire.

Paardeberg marked the decisive turning point in the South African War. On 06 March, Roberts resumed the advance on Bloemfontein. He entered the capital of the Orange Free State on 13 March. More critically his Field Force had reached the Central Railroad, significantly easing its re-supply problems. However a grave new problem now surfaced. The consequences of British and Canadian soldiers drinking polluted water from the Modder River at Paardeberg were now visited upon Roberts' Field Force. Within ten days of occupying Bloemfontein more than 1,000 British soldiers, including 100 Canadians, had been hospitalized with enteric fever. This highlights the crucial, even decisive, influence disease has had on the course of military history.57

The refrain now heard throughout the Field Force was, 'we are marching to Pretoria'. Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal undoubtedly the more bitterly implacable of the two Boer republics, had always been the ultimate object and prize of the campaign. If Pretoria fell the war must be surely won. Inexorably the British marched northwards towards Pretoria using the Central Railroad and as their axis of advance. On 05 June the South African Field Force, including The Royal Canadian Regiment, marched unopposed into Pretoria. The string of British victories begun at Paardeberg Drift now seemed complete.

To everyone in the British camp the war seemed all but over requiring but some little further mopping up. And indeed conventional Boer resistance was at an end by October. In November Field Marshall Roberts issued a communiqué emphatically stating that the war was over. But this was wishful thinking. There were substantial Boer forces still in the field and determined to carry on the war. They would wage a dogged and ingenious guerrilla struggle for nearly two years before finally admitting defeat. The British would have to commit over 300,000 troops to South Africa and implement harsh policies in the occupied Boer Republics that tarnished British prestige for a generation. The British incarcerated 117,000 Boer dependants in over-crowded, filthy "concentration camps" where some 20,000, mostly women and children, perished from disease. But towards the end of 1900 this was all in the future.58

For the soldiers of The Royal Canadian Regiment the months following the capture of Pretoria were agonizingly anti-climactic. These men were volunteers for the most part, who had signed up for a strictly defined period of time for the purpose of fighting in a war. That war now seemed to be over or as good as over. These Canadians had absolutely no interest in performing the policing duties associated with an army of occupation. The men increasingly chafed under the boring routine of garrison and outpost duty. They vocally reminded their officers that their contracts with the Canadian government would soon be expired, within the period 13-30 October.

On 08 September Field Marshall Roberts cabled Otter at Eerste Fabriken, a garrison east of Pretoria, requesting that the soldiers in the Canadian contingent extend their terms of service until the end of the war. With typical lack of sensitivity as regards the feelings of his men, 'Black Bill' promptly wired Roberts in the affirmative. He had made no effort to consult his men or their officers on this all-important question. Colonel Otter had completely overstepped his bounds. He had absolutely no legal authority nor had he the backing of the Canadian government to arbitrarily extend his soldiers' contracts. Word of Otter's action soon leaked to the outlying companies, as only A and B were with Otter at Eerste Fabriken. The result was near mutiny. The detached company commanders soon cabled Lieutenant-Colonel Otter that their men would under no circumstances consent to extend their terms of service. Only the troops of A and B companies were willing to extend. Otter decreed that all Permanent Force men must serve on, whatever their preference. These soldiers would form the new I company.59

The refusal of most of the men in the Battalion to serve until the end of the war did not stem from lack of patriotism or dedication. They were civilians at heart and anxious to return to their peacetime callings now that the war was apparently winding down. Perhaps more fundamentally the men in the ranks thoroughly disliked and distrusted Otter.60 His autocratic methods and perceived lack of concern for their welfare alienated the soldiers and even most of the officers. Lieutenant-Colonel Otter had badly mismanaged this affair from start to finish. A Commanding Officer who would have taken the time to establish a sympathetic bond with the men, who would have made the effort to patiently explain the ramifications of the issue at hand, could undoubtedly have talked the men around. After all, the extension of service would only have involved a few weeks.

In any event the campaign finished with Otter's command divided against itself. On 01 October 17 officers and 385 men, over half the remaining strength of the Battalion, took ship in Cape Town and sailed directly back to Canada. These time-expired men who had served gallantly throughout the campaign would not share in the official ceremonies and honours that awaited The Royal Canadian Regiment in England. It is a great shame that the Battalion, so united in spirit and purpose at Paardeberg Drift, could not have finished this way. The blame in large part belongs to William Otter.

With the war 'officially' concluded by Field Marshall Roberts' optimistic pronouncement the balance of the Battalion under Otter sailed from South Africa on 07 November. They arrived in Portsmouth, England aboard the Hawarden Castle on 29 November. For the next several days The Royal Canadian Regiment was lionized and fêted.61 The Canadians received the ultimate honour on 30 November when Queen Victoria herself reviewed them at Windsor Castle. This was one of the old Queen's last official acts as she had but a short time to live. The RCR would depart Liverpool on 12 December and complete their journey at Halifax on 23 December. The Battalion returned home to thunderous acclaim. On Christmas Day, 1900 the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment was officially disbanded.

Many of the players in this story would go on to even higher honours. Field Marshall Roberts turned his command over to Lord Kitchener and upon return to England was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Army. Kitchener would finally bring the South African War to a successful conclusion in 1902. During the early years of the Great War he would dominate the British Cabinet as Secretary of State for War. Horace Smith-Dorrien was to become first a corps commander and then an army commander holding the rank of full general during the First World War. William Otter would gain the distinction of becoming the first Canadian general and eventually rise to become Chief of Staff of the Canadian Militia.

Napoleon once said that every soldier carried a field marshall's baton in his knapsack. The enlisted men of The Royal Canadian Regiment who served in South Africa were living proof of this adage. Corporal Hart-McHarg would command the 7th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, and Private Docherty would command the Lord Strathcona's Horse during the First World War, unfortunately both men were killed in action. In the same war Private Victor Odlum would become a brigadier general. He was renowned as the pioneer of the large-scale trench raid and led the 11th Infantry Brigade at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

For his extraordinary bravery in rescuing wounded men under fire, Private Richard Rowland Thompson was subsequently awarded the Queen's Scarf of Honour. Queen Victoria had knitted several scarves of Berlin wool. Four of these would go to a deserving soldier in each of the Colonial contingents Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, serving in Roberts' Field Force. It was further stipulated that the soldier must be a private and that gallantry in the field should be a principal consideration. In early July 1900 Lieutenant-Colonel Otter, in consultation with his company commanders, had decided that Thompson would be the Canadian recipient. Thompson was recovering from enteric fever and sunstroke. He had already been invalided back to Canada by way of England.

It must be remembered that the Scarf of Honour was in no way recognized as an official honour or award. That it was not rated as the equivalent of a medal of bravery, say the Victoria Cross or the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the two gallantry medals that enlisted men were eligible to win and therefore, brought no gratuity or life pension. The Scarf was simply a gift from a grateful Monarch.62

Of the 79 Victoria Crosses awarded to British and Colonial soldiers during the South African War, 40 went to men who had risked their lives under fire going to the aid of wounded men. If a timely recommendation for the Victoria Cross had been made by Otter, Dick Thompson most surely would have won it. But Lieutenant-Colonel Otter did not so much as put him up for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, a lesser award. Over a year later, after prodding by Thompson's family and Dr. Frederick Borden, Minister of Militia and Defence, Otter half-heartedly requested that the British War Office review Thompson's case with a view to awarding the VC. The curt response, which Otter must surely have anticipated, was that too much time had elapsed to even consider the possibility.63

There is no sadder proof of Otter's lack of sympathy or concern for the men in the ranks than his apparent policy regarding the award of medals. During the course of the campaign five RCR officers were awarded the highly prestigious Distinguished Service Order, a decoration that for commissioned ranks rated just below the VC. As well, seven officers were Mentioned in Dispatches (including Otter himself who was 'mentioned' no less than three times), a device whereby gallant conduct could be officially recognized without the award of a medal. This was a wealth of recognition for a unit compliment of 41 officers.

In contrast, of the nearly 1,000 enlisted men not so much as one was ever recommended for a medal for bravery.64 Several days after the battle at Paardeberg, three men, including Private Thompson, were Mentioned in Dispatches, seemingly as an afterthought. They had not rated mention in the initial dispatches published after the battle. Colonel Otter was either unable to recognize or unwilling to reward the achievements and gallantry of common soldiers. Perhaps he only saw them as the "thousand thieves!"

In the years to come, the Canadians who fought in the Battle of Paardeberg Drift recognized it as a golden moment in time, as the most significant event in their lives. Soon the anniversary of this battle would be commemorated with formal dinners, speeches and nostalgic reminiscences. These things would become traditions that would be passed on to future generations of The Royal Canadian Regiment.

On 27 February 1881 a Boer commando, 180 men strong, had trounced a much larger force of 540 British Regulars at a place called Majuba Hill during the First Anglo-Boer War. The British infantry had worn their bright scarlet tunics and carried their Colours into battle for the last time. That day the Boers had taught them an unforgettable lesson in the nature of modern warfare.

Thereafter the Boers celebrated 27 February, Majuba Day, as a sacred anniversary. Upon hearing the news of the Boer surrender at Paardeberg on 27 February 1900, the dawn of Majuba Day, the President of the Transvaal, 'Oom' Paul Kruger, remarked: "The English have taken our Majuba Day away from us!" In light of the climactic blow struck by the Canadians in this the most decisive of battles in the South African War, Kruger might just as easily have said: "The Royal Canadian Regiment has taken our Majuba Day away from us!"

Pro Patria.

  1. Rayne Kruger, Goodbye Dolly Gray (London: Pan Books, 1983), 29-30, 45.
  2. Ron Bester, Boer Rifles and Carbines of the Anglo-Boer War (Bloemfontein: War Museum of the Boer Republics, 1994), 9-16. In the chapter entitled "Organization and Armament of the Boer Forces" the author gives a concise but informative account of the development and structure of the Boer military system.
  3. John Stirling, The Colonials in South Africa (London: J.B. Hayward and Son, 1990), X. By the end of the war British Colonies and Dependencies had supplied some 80 000 troops for employment in South Africa. The breakdown by Colony is: South Africa - approx 50 000; Australia - 16 415; New Zealand - 6 513; Canada - approx 6 500; India and Ceylon - approx 500; Total - 79 928.
  4. W. Sanford Evans, The Canadian Contingents and Canadian Imperialism (Ottawa: Eugene G. Ursual), 14-17, 29. Writing in 1901, the author states "The Liberals were returned to power in 1896 chiefly because of the great gains they made in the province of Quebec. If they alienate the electors of Quebec, their chances of re-election will be greatly reduced. Party interest would naturally lead them to humour Quebec up to the point at which it became certain that by continuing to do so, they would inevitably lose the support of all the other Provinces." An additional reason for Laurier's reluctance to become involved in South Africa at this time was the growing crisis between the Canadian and U.S. governments over the Alaska boundary dispute.
  5. Carman Miller, Painting the Map Red (Ottawa: Canadian War Museum, 1993), 40-48.
  6. The Machine Gun Section was made up of 23 soldiers and was commanded by Captain A.C. Bell of the Scots Guards, a British officer attached to The Royal Canadian Regiment. During the opening phase of the Battle of Paardeberg on 18 February 1900, one of the Maxims of the Machine Gun Section had provided outstanding fire support from Gun Hill, so much so that Bell subsequently received a Mention in Dispatches. The Machine Gun Section also had the distinction, along with C Company, of participating in the Sunnyside Raid on New Year's Day 1900, thus becoming the first RCR soldiers to see action in an overseas theatre.
  7. Evans, 54-55, 65-67, 80-81. The technical and legal basis for raising, organizing, and paying a Canadian Contingent for military operations overseas was provided in the following documents: a. the October 3 telegram from the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, to Lord Minto, Governor-General of Canada, accepting in advance any Canadian offer of troops for service in South Africa and suggesting the form such a contribution should take; b. the Order in Council passed by Laurier's cabinet on October 13 directing the Militia Department to raise, equip and transport an infantry battalion of 1 000 volunteers to South Africa on the basis indicated in Chamberlain's cable; and c. a Militia Order dated October 14 and signed by Colonel Hubert Foster, Chief Staff Officer of the Canadian Militia, establishing terms of service, pay rates, benefits, physical and medical standards for recruits and the organizational structure of the battalion. It was determined that pay scales would be the same as for the Active Militia (Permanent Force). The Canadian government agreed to fund the equipping, payment, and transportation of the battalion to South Africa. Thereafter the British authorities would assume financial responsibility for the upkeep of the Canadian Contingent to include supplies, ammunition, pay, wound pensions, and compassionate allowances, all at Imperial rates. Eventually the Canadian Government would make up the difference between the Canadian and British pay scales while their troops served in South Africa.
  8. The definitive biography of Otter is The Canadian General: Sir William Otter by Desmond Morton (Toronto: Hakkert, 1974). While eminently fair and objective, Morton depicts the controversial soldier far more sympathetically than other historians. Otter played a long and pivotal role in Canadian military history and for better or worse indelibly left his mark on both the Canadian Army and The Royal Canadian Regiment.
  9. CBC Ideas Transcript "Patriots, Scalawags and Saturday-Night Soldiers" (Toronto: CBC, 1992), 10. Also R.C. Hubly, G Company or Every-day Life of the R.C.R. (Montreal: The Witness Printing House, 1902), 89. Private Hubly of G Company is sarcastic in his concern for LCol Otter when the latter is wounded in action. "Didn't the men go into mourning when a bullet scraped his jaw? Certainly. But what for?"
  10. Serge Durflinger, "Otter's Wound and Other Matters: The Debate Between William Dillon Otter and Lawrence Buchan," Canadian Military History vol. 7, no. 4 (Autumn 1998), 55-60.
  11. Brian A. Reid, Our Little Army in the Field (St Catherines: Vanwell Publishing Ltd, 1996) 25-26.
  12. NAC, William Otter Papers, Lieutenant-Colonel Vidal (for Chief Staff Officer) to Otter 11 January 1900. Also Hubly, 38.
  13. Stanley McKeown Brown, With The Royal Canadians (Toronto: The Publishers Syndicate, 1900), 103-104. This act undoubtedly saved a great many Canadian lives. The RCR could not possibly have been ready for battle. There had been no opportunities to train either as a battalion or as companies since the unit had mustered. With the exception of the small handful of officers and NCOs who were Permanent Force, the large majority of personnel were civilian volunteers or non-permanent militiamen with little or no military background. It would have been short sighted in the extreme to send such novices against the crafty Boer without first giving them a chance to absorb the new tactics and battlecraft required in this war.
  14. Reid, 48.
  15. W. Hart-McHarg, From Quebec to Pretoria: With The Royal Canadian Regiment (Toronto: William Briggs, 1902) 61-62, 66-68.
  16. CBC Ideas Transcript, 5.
  17. Colonel Lawrence Buchan, "With the Infantry in South Africa" lecture delivered at the Canadian Military Institute 03 February 1902, 5. Buchan gives the total strength of Lord Roberts' Field Force as some 40 000 men. The infantry component numbered 26 350 men organized in three divisions: the 6th was commanded by LGen Kelly-Kenny, the 7th under LGen Tucker, and LGen Sir Henry Colville's 9th Division. The artillery consisted of 3 100 troops and 100 guns. LGen Sir John French commanded the Cavalry Division of 9 550 men. As well there were ammunition columns with 700 soldiers and the Naval Brigade with two 12 pounder and two 4.7 inch guns. The 19th Brigade, of which The RCR was a part, formed, along with the Highland Brigade, the 9th Division. The Highland Brigade was commanded by Major General Hector "Fighting Mac" MacDonald and was made up by the 2nd Black Watch, the 1st Highland Light Infantry, the 2nd Seaforths, and the 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
  18. General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, Memories of Forty-Eight Years Service (London: John Murray, 1925), 142.
  19. Jack L. Summers, Tangled Web: Canadian Infantry Accoutrements 1855-1985 (Ottawa: Canadian War Museum, 1992) 42-51. The Oliver Equipment (Canadian Infantry Equipment) was adopted by the Canadian Militia on 17 January 1898 and named after Deputy Surgeon-General Oliver. It consisted of a waist belt, main brace or yoke, and front straps all made of brown leather. A tan ammunition pouch holding 80 rounds was attached to the front centre of the waist belt. Other accoutrements included: a brown canvas valise worn at the lower back by strapping it to the main yoke; bayonet and leather frog attached to the left side of the belt; glass water bottle in leather holder carried on the right side of the belt; mess tins and carrier secured above the valise; and, white canvas haversack slung on the left hip under the Oliver Equipment or alternatively worn high on the back. In South Africa a canvas or web bandolier that held 50 rounds was issued and carried slung over the left shoulder across the chest. The whole apparatus of the Oliver Equipment was designed to make the soldier self-sufficient in the field for 24 hours. An extra flannel shirt, spare pair of socks, toiletries and 40 rounds of ammunition were placed in the valise. Rations of tinned bully beef and hard biscuit, the emergency ration consisting of four ounces of beef concentrate and four ounces of chocolate in a hermetically sealed pouch, never to be consumed without proper authorization on pain of punishment, a field dressing, and 30 rounds of ammunition all went in the haversack. A soldier's non-essential possessions were placed in his kit bag and left in a secure rear area while he was on campaign.
  20. Smith-Dorrien, 147-150.
  21. Stirling, 300-301.
  22. Historical Section, The Great (German Army) General Staff, The War in South Africa (London: John Murray, 1904), 215-218.
  23. Lieutenant-Colonel A.D. Greenhill Gardyne, The Life of a Regiment: The History of the Gordon Highlanders, Volume 3, (London: Leo Cooper, 1972), 121-128.
  24. NAC, William Otter Papers, Otter to Chief Staff Officer, 26 February 1900.
  25. Smith-Dorrien, 150-154.
  26. NAC, J.C. Mason File, Lieutenant J.C. Mason to father, 21 February 1900.
  27. NAC, William Otter Papers, Otter to Chief Staff Officer, from Paardeberg Drift, 26 February 1900. Otter recounts the events of 18 February in thorough detail.
  28. Horace Smith-Dorrien, Diary, 18 February 1900. Smith-Dorrien witnessed this attack in disbelief, "We then had a regular fusillade all day and were doing splendidly when Lord K (Kitchener) getting impatient, ordered 1/2 the Cornwalls... over the river to charge with the Canadians. I was horrified when I saw them moving forward to charge about 3:30 pm (sic) as I could see they had not a ghost of a chance." The attack was mounted on Kitchener's orders without prior co-ordination or even informing the brigade commander, Smith-Dorrien, whose troops were involved. Thus the Cornwalls and Canadians charged without artillery support though the guns of the 82nd Battery were atop Gun Hill and without the co-operation of the 2nd Shropshires though this battalion was nearby.
  29. J.C. Mason File, Lieutenant J.C. Mason to mother, 27 February 1900. Lt Mason of B Company gives a lengthy description of the action on 18 February including his belief that the attack across 700 yards of open ground swept by murderously accurate fire from a well-concealed enemy was futile in the extreme. Mason nevertheless made the charge and gallantly led his men until severely wounded. He had advanced further than any other officer and was the last officer wounded in the assault. Despite his wound he continued to direct the fire of his men. Lt Mason was subsequently awarded a well deserved Distinguished Service Order.
  30. NAC, Richard Roland Thompson File, R.R. Thompson to W.F. Thompson, 19 February 1900.
  31. Richard Roland Thompson, letter to unknown person, undated, published in Carillon Magazine vol. 2, no. 1(Jan-Feb 1969), 10.
  32. R.C. Fetherstonhaugh, The Royal Canadian Regiment 1883-1933 (Fredericton: Centennial Print and Litho Ltd., 1981), 111.
  33. Reid, 62.
  34. Smith-Dorrien, Memories, 155.
  35. Hedley V. MacKinnon, War Sketches (Charlottetown: The Examiner Publishing Co., 1900), 25-26. The smell was so bad the Canadians began referring to Paardeberg as "Stinkfontein."
  36. CBC Ideas Transcript, 7, 9.
  37. Buchan, 9.
  38. Fetherstonhaugh, 112.
  39. Buchan, 6, and Greenhill Gardyne 114-115.
  40. Evans, 117-118. The British were obsessed with forcing a Boer surrender on 27 February to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the Battle of Majuba Hill where British arms had suffered a humiliating defeat. The Gordon Highlanders (92nd Regiment of Foot) had been present that day as had Lt Hector MacDonald, now a Major General, and in command of the Highland Brigade. It was MacDonald in particular who was pressuring Roberts to attack the Boer positions and bring the battle to a successful conclusion on 27 February.
  41. Smith-Dorrien, Memories, 155.
  42. Reid, 63.
  43. William Otter Papers, Field Diary, 27 February 1900.
  44. MacKinnon, 26-27.
  45. Fetherstonhaugh, 115.
  46. W. Hart-McHarg, From Quebec to Pretoria: With The Royal Canadian Regiment (Toronto: William Briggs, 1902), 129.
  47. Private W. Tweddell, E Company, Diary.
  48. Greenhill Gardyne, 134.
  49. NAC, Richard Roland Thompson File, R.R. Thompson to W.F. Thompson, undated, written from Bloemfontein after 03 April 1900.
  50. William Otter Papers, Otter to Molly, 04 March 1900. Otter comments favourably on the performance of Lt Archie MacDonnel and Capt Stairs while expressing doubts as to the conduct of Maj Pelletier.
  51. Hubly, 78.
  52. Smith-Dorrien, Memories, 160. Smith-Dorrien relates, "By dawn a good trench had been dug in the open... and an admirable work constructed by Colonel Kincaid and his men (the attached Royal Engineers)... This latter not only gave cover from fire in all threatened directions, but was so well traversed with earth-banks and sandbags, and so well loopholed, that not a casualty occurred in it after it was occupied. It proved to be only 93 yards from the Boer trenches, and being on higher ground, looked straight into them for the Boers had deep trenches without any parapets, so that a man in them could only see out to fire by standing... with his head in full view."
  53. Ibid.
  54. CBC Ideas Transcript, 8, and NAC, Richard Roland Thompson File, Captain Maynard Rogers (Thompson's Company Commander in South Africa) to William Otter, 15 July 1901.
  55. William Otter Papers, Otter to Molly, 04 March 1900. Otter writes: "You have of course heard of our last fight on the 27th last. It was a beastly enterprise though we ought to consider ourselves lucky on being the only regiment actually 'in at the death.' We are the envy of the army and from the messages I have received and congratulations bestowed on us conclude that we have attained a fair amount of 'Kudos.' To ourselves it was not quite as satisfactory and complete as we hoped for."
  56. Fetherstonhaugh, 115-116.
  57. Miller, 120. During the Battalion's stay at Bloemfontein it was devastated by disease. Miller gives a telling account of the effect sickness had on The Royal Canadian Regiment at this time and of the utter inadequacy of the medical services to cope with the problem.
  58. Kruger, 391-392, 424.
  59. Hart-McHarg, 243-249.
  60. Miller, 141-145.
  61. Private E.F. Pullen, C Company 2 RCR, Diary, entries from 29 November to 12 December 1900.
  62. Brian A. Reid, "Queen Victoria's Scarves," unpublished, 1998.
  63. Cameron Pulsifer, "Richard Rowland Thompson and his Queen's Scarf," Canadian Military History vol. 6 (Spring 1997) 79-82. In his article Dr. Pulsifer gives a thorough account of Thompson and the Queen's Scarf, including the Scarf's significance and the discrepancy between the complete lack of medals for other ranks in The Royal Canadian Regiment and the numerous decorations awarded to the soldiers of subsequent Canadian contingents. For example, six Distinguished Conduct Medals had been won by men of the Lord Strathcona's Horse, five by the Canadian Mounted Rifles and two each by the Royal Canadian Artillery and the Royal Canadian Dragoons. The RCR had received nil.
  64. MacKinnon, 22. As Private Hedley V. MacKinnon of G Company wrote at the time, "... in our regiment dozens of brave deeds were performed, any one of which was worthy of the Victoria Cross had the proper report been sent in. It is a very strange thing that in The Royal Canadian Regiment, which did its part so well and received such praises, not one man ever received the V.C. This was not because no one had earned it but rather that the deeds of valour performed in our numerous engagements were never reported, and no effort was made to reward any of the boys for their heroism."

Pro Patria

Follow The Regimental Rogue on facebook.