Canadian Anglo Boer War Museum Intro 2

Boer War Page 2

Anglo-Boer War Intro 2

Henry Burr (1885-1941): "Break the News to Mother" 1918

You are listening to an original recording from the early 1900s featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Henry Burr, singing "Just Break the News to Mother," a song sung poignantly at home, and with bravado, in camps near the battlefront. Henry Burr from New Brunswick, started recording in 1902 while in his teens, and, with some 12,000 recordings to his credit, was the most prolific recording artist of his generation. "Just Break" was written by Chas. K. Harris, the first man to write a million selling song (After the Ball in 1892). This song, first written in 1891 for a dying fireman, was a flop but took off as a colossal hit during the Spanish American War in 1898, after he rewrote it featuring a soldier. (Lest you think the lyrics far-fetched, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, won his Victoria Cross exactly in this way while a young officer during the Indian Mutiny. But he survived.)

(You can hear these earliest Canadian recordings on our program's sound track. Details on our Music Page)


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by the Government of Canada's Millennium Bureau

A Canada Centennial Project
Goldi Productions Ltd. 



To the Boys of the Old Brigade

Where would I be when my froat is dry?
Where would I be when the bullets fly?
Where would I be when I come to die?
Why summers a-nigh my chum;
If he's liquor 'e'll gimme some;
If I'm dyin' e'll 'old my 'ead,
An e'll write 'em 'ome when I'm dead.

In Proud Association with:


The Canadian Television Fund

The Saskatchewan Communications Network (SCN)


Goldi Productions Ltd. is pleased to announce 
a four hour long
Special Television Documentary Series
on Canada's participation in 

The Great Anglo-Boer War:
The Canadian Experience 


In Commemoration of

the 100th anniversary of the first occasion that the Government and People of Canada sent an army to fight in a foreign war, and


 the 7,000 Canadian men and women volunteers, who, though they eagerly joined up to fight for Queen and Empire, discovered, that above all, they were proudly Canadian.

You guessed right if you recognized the South African Republic's Boer National Flag, the "Vierkleur", which flew over the Transvaal in the late 19th century.  Today it flutters only in the hearts of Boer nationalists who remember the tragic loss of life among Boer men, women and children, and the loss of freedom under the Boer Republics after almost three terrible years of war.

The Boers, 1652 - 1899

The Great Anglo-Boer War: 1899 - 1902

The Great Anglo-Boer War broke out in October, 1899, between Britain and her neighbors in South Africa, the Boer farmers living in the Boer Republics (the Orange Free State & the South African Republic - the Transvaal).

The shooting started on Oct. 11, 1899; Elandslaagte (below) was fought on Oct. 21. Early Boer successes against overwhelming British forces alarmed Britons everywhere (during Black Week of Dec 10 - 15 the Boers won three huge battles in which 2 British generals, and hundreds of British soldiers were killed). Britain called for help. Colonial volunteers came from Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, and Ceylon, to help the Mother Country fight what turned out to be the "Last Imperial War."

In the end it took half a million men (the largest army Britain had ever sent overseas) and two and a half years for the mightiest power on earth, using everything it had, to "defeat" the Boer farmers, in a war that marked the transition from 19th to 20th Century warfare, that some called the "Last Gentleman's War", and others called the "First  of the Modern Total Wars". The Boer War had fascinating elements of both. Some 7,000 Canadian men and women ultimately went to South Africa to fight for Canada and the Empire.

Memories, Memories......

The 5th Lancers at Elandslaagte, one of the early battles of the Anglo-Boer War, made one of the last charges in history here as this "spearing technology" became out of date with the appearance of the modern German Mauser rifle in the hands of expert Boer riflemen. Lance-Corporal Kelly, doing the spearing above, was shortly afterwards himself shot to death, during a controversial charge against fleeing Boers that was to become a major point of contention among the European press.

We found this 100 year old newspaper clipping, (above), carefully held together with a rusted pin, lovingly slipped inside two uncut pages of TG Marquis, "Canada's Sons on Kopje and Veldt" published in 1900. Capt. Mackie obviously had a secret admirer who may have heard how he and Sam Hughes charged out the front door of the house in which they were sleeping (right), in their underwear, guns blazing, to repel an early morning Boer surprise attack at Faber's Put. The khaki or kharki prose and the sentiments of the people of Pembroke where duplicated in villages and towns in every part of Canada, in fact throughout the entire British Empire.


        by Arthur Conan Doyle

"Who`s that calling?
The old sea-mother calls, 
In her pride at the children that she bore.
Oh noble hearts and true, 
There is work for us to do,
And we`ll do it as we`ve done it oft before.
Under the flag. 
Under the flag our father bore.
They died in days gone by for it,
And we will gladly die for it.
God save the Red Cross Flag!"

There are some 270 Canadians like them, who answered the call, in graves all over South Africa.

It is their story that we want to tell on the hundredth anniversary of the first ever military expedition sent by Canada to fight in an overseas war.

Fred Living (above) wrote after the first Battle of Paardeberg, of the horror of seeing "the fellows all stretched out, some dying, all covered with blood." A week later he himself was to die in the successful assault on Cronje's laager

See our Canadian National Boer War Memorial Page

"You Australians and New Zealanders and Canadians...I cannot understand it at all, why you come here so lightheartedly to shoot down other colonists of whom you know nothing - it is terrible. Such fine men too - fine fellows...and to think that they are going out to kill and be killed, just to please the capitalists!..."
        - Olive Schreiner interviewed by A.B. (Banjo) Paterson October 1899. (He wrote "Waltzing Matilda")

Call US

Have you got interesting PHOTOS, LETTERS BOOKS, MEMORABILIA, SOUVENIRS or ANECDOTES brought back from the Boer War by one of your relatives who went overseas to serve? We've heard of people who've got a bugle that was brought back. Another has a Zulu bow that's been handed down through the family... Can you top that? We'd love to publish it on our web site in remembrance of men and women, and times gone by ......

We'd love to hear from you. Call us at 1-800-672-5005 or 905-855-1510 or e-mail us below

Did You Know ???

- that Christiaan De Wet (left) was the wiliest Boer general of them all and though hundreds of thousands of men chased him and his commando of thousands of men and hundreds of wagons, many thousands of miles, back and forth across the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal during 1900, 1901, and 1902 they could never catch him.

Even Sam Steele and his hundreds of Canadian Mounties, who supposedly always "get their man", spent months in futile efforts to corral this master of guerrilla warfare. In his honour, for 50 years after the war ended, Canadian veterans at their annual Paardeberg banquets, featured "De Wet soup", whose recipe started with abominably dirty river water, liberally garnished with putrefying "corpse of horse" and a dash of "graying gruel of mule."

Soldiers had ruefully referred to their drinking water in Africa, as "Chateau Modder", boasting a rare flavour because it was "full of body". It was all they often had to drink on the campaign and carried the disease which killed far more of their comrades than did Boer bullets.

- that at the left is the famous yellow and orange "General De Wet Tulip" (Liliaceae early single) specially created in the Netherlands to honour this outstanding champion of his people.


Did You Know ??
- that the International Boy Scout Movement, and the uniforms they wear, came out of the Boer War and the exploits of its founder, "BP", Baden-Powell (he pronounced it like "maiden-noel") who fought off the Boers during the siege of Mafeking.

The jubilation in the Empire was so fantastically overblown - the drinking and partying went on for days in London, and in colonial capitals when the siege was raised - that the word entered the English language for wild unrestrained carousing like: "We were Mafeking around!" or "Did we ever have a Mafeking good time!"

Did You Know ???
- that Lord Roberts, VC, the British commander-in-chief (below) and Frederick Borden, the Canadian Minister of Militia, who organized Canada for war, each lost his only son in heroic actions in battle
Frederik Roberts, VC, son of the Commander-in-chief, was killed at Colenso after gallantly volunteering to ride into withering Boer fire, to try to retrieve the British guns so they wouldn't fall into Boer hands. In spite of  his fatal heroics*** , the Boers captured 10 out of 12 British guns, an unheard of battlefield victory against British arms. They became the first father and son Victoria Cross winners. 

***Behind the Headlines - One Father's Grief

As a result of the disastrous British Black Week reverses, on the morning of Dec.16, 1899, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, VC, was told he would get his fondest wish, and become Commander-in-chief of the British Forces in South Africa .... In the afternoon he was told his only son had been killed at Colenso......  Bedeviled by gloom as he silently paced the deck on the ship taking him to South Africa, Roberts wrote his wife how pointless his life had become:

"The rent in my heart seems to stifle all feelings ..... I could not help thinking how different it would have been if our dear boy had been with me. Honors, rewards and congratulations have no value to me...."

Before he had gone to South Africa as a galloper (a dispatch rider), young Freddy had failed miserably in his entrance exams to get into the British army's famed staff college at Aldershot. Lord Roberts (Commander of the British Forces in Ireland) begged  his arch rival, Field Marshal Wolseley (Commander-in-Chief of the British Army), "on bended knee", to make an exception and let his son in anyway. Wolseley firmly refused, saying, "No, but possibly ....., if there was to be an act of outstanding gallantry when Freddy went to South Africa......!"

Boer generals who lost sons include de la Rey, Kock, and Viljoen. 

Frederick Borden, Canada's Minister of Militia (below), was eager to test Canadian men and war materiel under battlefield conditions. He could not know the high price he would pay.

When the First Contingent embarked for South Africa, the press tauntingly reminded the Minister of his enthusiasm with a, "Where it the son of the Minister of Militia?" Young Harold, against his father's wishes, signed up for the Second.

He was brought to Lord Roberts' attention for his battlefield exploits when he swam back and forth across the Vet River (left) to draw the fire of the Boers to expose them as the army launched its attack here at Coetzee's Drift.

Historian John Goldi points to the north bank from which the Boers were shooting as Harold (along with Lt. Richard Turner) swam across the river below.

A few months later, while standing up to scout the Boer positions, as his men were rescuing a British unit, he was shot and killed. All Canada mourned his loss.

Coetzee's Drift - May 5, 1900

The drift (ford) where the Canadians crossed can still be seen snaking out from under the bridge. (Right), Richard Turner from Montreal and the DSO, the second highest award for bravery in the British Empire.

Emotions ran high on all sides and Freddy Roberts wasn't the only "youngster" who wanted to sign up!
The Boers Have Got My Daddy 
(Written and composed by Mills and Castling)

This morning in a busy street, 
A tiny lad I spied,
With paper hat, and little wooden
Sword slung by his side;
Said I, 'Good morning, Gen'ral!'
In a playful sort of way,
'I see by your appearance you're
Preparing for the fray.'
He stood up to attention,
Looked at me with flashing eye,
Then gripped his little wooden sword
As he made this reply _

   'The Boers have got my Daddy
   My soldier Dad;
   I don't like to hear my Mammy sigh,
   I don't like to see my Mammy cry;
   So I'm going in a big ship
   Across the raging main,
   And I'm going to fight the Boers, I am,
   And bring my Daddy home again!'

I smiled down at the youngster, though
A lump came in my throat,
And marvell'd at the pluck beneath
That little ragged coat.
To hear the way that kiddy talked
It really was sublime,
But there you are! The old, old tale
A Briton all the time!
Said he, 'I've wrote to Gen'ral Bobs,
To join his gallant band
I'll pay the naughty Boers for keeping Daddy when I land!'


I learnt his father was a private
In an Irish corps,
But when I heard the name I knew
He'd never see him more;
For in the list of casualties
I'd only read that day,
Beneath the scorching veldt that youngster's
Gallant father lay.
The nipper left me standing there,
And marched away with pride,
But turned his little curly head
Again to me and cried _


c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000