Boer War Page 31

Great Anglo-Boer War Battles 4

Harry Macdonough (1871-1931): "Nearer My God to Thee" 1901

You are listening to one of Canada's earliest recordings, featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Harry Macdonough, singing "Nearer My God To Thee," a song sung over many graveyard ceremonies in South Africa.

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

Hart's River (Boschbult Farm): Mar. 31, 1902

British and Canadian army units, who had been chasing Generals De Wet (near right) and de la Rey, were camping for the night when they were suddenly attacked by the Boers they had been chasing.

Canadians under Lt. Bruce Carruthers (below) made a heroic last stand, out in the open, after they were abandoned by a British mounted unit.

When they ran out of ammunition, they threw away their rifle bolts so the Boers could not use them and fought on by hand till all were shot, wounded, or captured.

Memories from the battlefield: three spent British Lee-Metford cartridges (above left), from the field where the Canadian Mounted Rifles made their last stand, a 37 mm shell from the dreaded Pom-Pom machine gun, a lonely Boer Martini-Henry shell (with a vintage cartridge for comparison), and left, a horseshoe, and harness remnant.
Historian John Goldi (above), holding Edwin McCormick's original bugle (below), stands on the spot where the Canadian bugler (left holding his bugle), stood playing the Last Post as the Canadian dead were buried in the shaded area after the battle.

One who was buried here, was Pvt. Charlie Evans from Port Hope, ON (left). Though out of bullets, he refused to surrender and was shot.

In all, 13 Canadians were to die from this battle. It was Canada's worst day of casualties since the battles of Paardeberg, two years before.

(below) Edwin McCormick's original bugle, rescued from the trash heap of history by John Goldi who found it by sleuthing the internet.

Edwin had scratched the names "Magelisburg" (through which his regiment had marched) and "Brackspruit" (on the banks of which the Battle of Hart's River was fought) on his bugle as a memento of these historic events.

For more on how we discovered Edwin's bugle click our Boer War Bugle page.

Heroes of Hart's River, from Jarvis, ON
Jarvis, Ontario, Jan. 6, 1901: Jarvis was in a tizzy. People from the entire region formed a parade to welcome home local hero William Knisley, the hero of Leliefontein.

During the battle (Nov. 7, 1900), he had galloped in to save a friend under heavy fire, and had lifted him to safety.

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal - second only to the Victoria Cross - which would later be pinned on his tunic in Toronto by the Prince of Wales - the future George V - who was touring Canada in the summer of 1901. (His medal would have featured Queen Victoria, instead of George VI, left.)

Above the crowd pulling the sled in which Knisley rode in triumph. Below, the members of the Canadian Militia, rode their white chargers at the head of the parade.

The view is north along Highway 6, just above the junction with Hwy 3. All these buildings are still standing.

Later Will had his picture taken with other friends who had served in South Africa.

But William had itchy feet. After a few months he decided he had to sign up for another tour, and joined the 2 CMR (Canadian Mounted Rifles) in December, 1901. The regiment had a date with destiny at Boschbult Farm in the western Transvaal.

Chester Rodgers, below left in his World War I uniform, also from Jarvis, signed up to go with Knisley on the great adventure. From Africa, in the only letter of his that survives, Chester wrote home to a friend, Miss Sadie McCarter.

Later he describes the death of a comrade after the Battle of Boschbult Farm:

"We are taking out a subscription in our troop to get a tomb stone for one of our troop and a chum of mine who was killed Mar 31st. I made a cross of wood and cut his name on it after the fight. It was a pretty tough sight to see them lying in a big trench side by side just with a blanket tied around each of them and the trench barely 3 ft. deep."

Left, historian John Goldi stands at Boschbult Farm in remote Transvaal, on the very spot where Chester stood as he and the Canadians buried their comrades after the fight.

(For details of the battle see page 20)

But while the Canadians were burying their dead, William Knisley and five comrades were on the run. During the battle the group had been cut off and decided to flee back to their base camp at Klerksdorp. For two days they rode through hostile territory being chased by Boer commandos. Finally surrounded in a stone kraal, they were attacked by 50 Boers. The Canadians fought until they ran out of ammunition and Knisley and Thomas Day were killed.

The Boers praised the Canadians for the way they had fought, and then took the uniforms off the Canadians. (At the end of the war the Boers were desperate for clothing and borrowed clothes off the dead and living British soldiers.) But they made one exception.

When they saw the DCM on Will Knisley's tunic they refused to take it so that he could be buried with his medals. The grieving people of Will Knisley's rural Ontario home region took up a subscription and set up this monument to him in front of the court house in Cayuga, ON where it has stood since 1907.

Chester Rodgers returned safely to Jarvis, Ontario. Barely a dozen years later, he once again signed up to fight "For King and Country". Sadly, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Chester was killed.

But war had changed drastically from "the Great Adventure" of the Anglo-Boer War days. Chester was among the tens of thousands of Canadian dead in World War I, whose bodies were never found.

William Knisley, DCM

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000