Boer War Page 3

Intro to the Anglo-Boer War 3

Harry Macdonough (1871-1931): "When the Roll is Called up Yonder" 1902

You are listening to an original recording from 1900 featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Harry Macdonough singing "When the Roll is Called up Yonder," a religious song popular among Canadians as the casualty toll started to arrive from South Africa in Feb. 1900.

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

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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 905-855-1510or e-mail us below.              

Did You Know ??

- that Boer boys of 12, 13, and 14 took part in many battles.

(right) A Boer youngster hands his grandfather the last shell as they are being bombarded by British guns. In fact hundreds of teenagers fought in this war on all sides.

Canadian Edwin McCormick (below) was only 14 when he joined up with a letter of permission from his parents, to become Sam Steele's bugler for the Lord Strathcona's Horse.

Later, as he walked among the dead on the battlefield after the Battle of  Fredrikstad, Edwin saw a sight he would remember till the day he died....

In his diary he wrote he noticed "a boy younger than himself, a fine looking boy, perhaps not over thirteen years old. His wide open blue eyes looked into the sun." His shirt was open and "a swarm of flies covered his bloody intestines oozing out of a hole in his navel."

With tear-blurred eyes McCormick swished away the flies, glad that the boy "carried no rifle and had no part in the battle. A few yards away lay another dead Boer, his Mauser rifle beside him .... his left arm stretched towards the boy."

McCormick always believed that he was looking at a father who died vainly reaching to help his son.....

The Boer Army 1899
He Brought Honour to Politicians & Lawyers: The "Soul of the Freedom Struggle" proved to be President Martinus T. Steyn, of the Orange Free State, a London trained lawyer, who spent the entire war - in his suit - in the field with the Boer guerillas, setting the example for his people. He - and his leading General, de Wet - were among the 12,000 Bitter Enders who were never caught.
Though many ordinary men have put their lives on the line in armed struggle, and then made themselves "President," (Castro, Tito, Mao Tse-tung), President Steyn was that rarity among human kind, a President "who had it all" and gave it all up, put his life on the line repeatedly, in the front lines, because he believed a politician should lead by the finest example possible. His years of living the life of a guerilla on behalf of his people, undermined his health and he died long before his time.

Did You Know ??

- that French Canadian officers played important roles during the war. Young Eugène Fiset (left) won rave praise for saving numerous lives as a young medical student while under heavy fire at Paardeberg where 32 Canadians died. In later life he became a Major-General in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. His portrait and medals are in the Base Borden Museum near Barrie, ON. Eugène is at rest at Rimouski, PQ.... 

And don't forget young Percy Girouard, the altar boy from Ste. Hyacinthe, PQ, who Lord Roberts made Director of Railways for South Africa, a unique Canadian honour, during the first war ever won because of railway power......

- that several Canadians, who were turned down as volunteer soldiers, reportedly committed suicide out of despair! Another keen volunteer who came to sign up was recognized by a fellow recruit - a Mountie - as the face on a wanted poster as a murderer, and instead of going to South Africa, went to the gallows instead...

- that Australia's republican drive to cut all ties with the British crown, was being fuelled because of the approaching 100th anniversary of the Boer War, which reminds many Australians of the objectionable treatment their Boer War volunteers said they received at the hands of some British officers.

The condescension of many upper class British officers towards colonials - which Canadians frequently complained of too - was so bad that  the Australians mutinied and several of their ringleaders were sentenced to death, though a howl of protest from Australia, resulted in the sentences being commuted.

Australians were especially angered when Breaker Morant (right) and another Australian were executed for "shooting Boer prisoners". "Breaker Morant" became a celebrated film classic and centerpiece of Australia's nationalist film explosion of the 1970s.

British Major-General Beatson:

"I tell you what I think. The Australians are a damned fat, round shouldered, useless crowd of wasters . . . In my opinion they are a lot of white-livered curs . . . You can add dogs too."

For the story behind the quote that started another scandal that outraged Australians during the Boer War see:

The Aussie Experience: The Scandal of Wilmansrust

- that some 500,000 horses were killed, in this, the last horseman's war. Horses were the main means of transport for getting a fighting man into battle - second only to a soldier's own feet..... (Today there are probably 150,000 horses in England.)
The Canadians of Lord Strathcona`s Horse (badge, above), lost 162 horses to disease during the four week trip from Halifax to Cape Town so that the sharks were always following the ship. Wags suggested they started calling themselves the Lord Strathcona`s Foot.
- that some 3,600,000 sheep were slaughtered by British soldiers, and left to rot on the veldt to make sure they didn't fall into the hands of the Boers. The slaughter of oxen, mules, cows, geese and chickens was similarly high. The Canadians were there and recorded their feelings ...

- that some 28,000 Boers, mostly women, old men, and children under 16, died in concentration camps of disease and poor sanitation, - far more that all the fighting men who died on both sides combined.

- that khaki or kharki became all the rage because Boer rifle fire was so accurate at long distances that anything shiny (badges, buttons, buckles, medals), and anything white (pouches, webbing, helmets, sporrans, the horses of the Scots Greys (left) instantly drew great concentrations of accurate fire.

So everything was painted khaki or kharki including medals, webbing, bayonets, and even on occasion, the horses of the Scots Greys. The wonderfully white swinging sporrans of approaching Highlanders became especially enticing targets so that Highlanders going into battle quickly started putting on large khaki aprons to hide their privates from unseemly Boer riflemen's attention. And Canadian officers were given khaki pajamas - probably so they would be invisible to Boer snipers as they slept.

- that the war balloon and the bicycle (below) played an active part in the war. The Canadian Sam Hughes captured a whole town with a few bicycle troopers and lots of bluffing.

The Queen's Tin of Chocolate
 for a Canadian

(A personal Christmas gift in 1900 from the Queen to every soldier in South Africa)

Canadian Private C. Jackson writing to his father at home, in Dec. 1899.

"I have just received a box of chocolate, Her majesty's present to the South African soldiers, which just arrived today. It is very nice, in fact almost too good to keep here, there is such a demand for them by the officers and everybody else, as mementos. In fact I have been offered 5 pounds for mine, and at the Cape as much as 10 pounds is being paid, so you will readily understand why I am sending mine home. Somebody might take a fancy to it as they did to my match safe. Take good care of it until I return, which I expect will be in a few months....." 

Private Jackson never did get to see Canada again..... He was one of the first to fall on Bloody Sunday at Paardeberg, a few weeks later, on Feb. 18, 1900.

The diary of British Major-General Smith-Dorrien recorded the last moments of Private Jackson and the other Canadians he commanded on that fateful day:

"We then had a regular fusillade all day and were doing splendidly when Lord K. getting impatient ordered half 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 as I could see they had not a ghost of a chance..."

Smith-Dorrien stood here on Gun Hill and watched the Canadians charging across the veldt from Paardeberg Hill in the background, towards the left.

The Canadian Maxim machine gun sat in the foreground, giving cover to the men as they swept forward across the veldt.

But when the sun went down on "Bloody Sunday", Feb. 18, 1900, 1300 British soldiers carpeted the field below, including 21 dead and dying young Canadians.

The Heroes of "Bloody Sunday" at Paardeberg

Feb. 18, 1900

Private Jackson has been at rest, for the past 100 years, at Paardeberg, beside his companions who died the same day, clockwise from below right, Patrick McCreary from New Brunswick, Norman Grey from Sault Ste. Marie, ON, Walter White from Windsor, ON, WT Manion from Toronto, ON, Robert Smith from London, ON, and A. McQueen from Montreal, PQ

They only sought to serve their country ....

Late lamented members of the First Canadian Contingent, the Royal Canadians

Did You Know ??

(right) Historian John Goldi stands at the spot where General Wauchope fell, and points towards the Boer trenches from where the fire storm of Boer fire originated.

- that it was the last war in which generals died fighting in the front lines, and it was the last war in which soldiers wept unabashedly when they were killed. British generals that died leading their men in frontal attacks included Penn-Symons* (below) at Talana, Woodgate at Spion Kop, Legge at Nooitgedacht, and Wauchope (left) at Magersfontein. There wasn't a dry eye in the Highland Brigade as, amid a wail of bagpipes, it accompanied him to his final resting place after the battle... And there were other "old school" generals, like Methuen, who almost died of their wounds.

*Just two hours before he died of his wounds among the Boers - his successor, General Yule, had retreated after the British victory at Talana,  leaving all the British dead and wounded behind - the much-lamented Penn-Symons, (left) abandoned by his fellow countrymen, roused himself feebly on his death-bed and expended the last of his waning energy to write a final letter of farewell to his wife.... 

Six months later Lady Symons re-married...

Historian John Snyman stands in the British trench line on top of Spion Kop and points to the memorial on the spot where General Woodgate was fatally shot by Boer fire from Aloe Knoll and Twin Peaks in the background.

This fateful turn of events precipitated the British disaster during the night of Jan. 23, 1900, when more British soldiers died than during any other battle during the entire Boer War.

Boer Commandants who died were numerous.

During World War 1 the generals - many were Boer War veterans - stayed well to the rear of the fighting, sending orders to the front lines by telephone, something which Lord Kitchener, who succeeded Lord Roberts as commander-in-chief, pioneered during the last months of the war.

Unlike the generals in the Boer War, who led from the front, World War I generals considered it much too dangerous to be in the front lines of a modern war where the fighting men died by the thousands in only a few minutes.

Did You Know ??
- that more soldiers died of disease, enteric fever, measles, malaria, and dysentery, than died in the fighting.

That was true of the Canadian dead including Douglas Moore (left).

Today he rests beneath this stone in Kimberley. "In Memory of Pte. D.L. Moore, RCR. Died 14th February, 1900 Aged 22."

A Wounded Canadian Volunteer's Last Letter to His Mother, From South Africa

Dear mother, I now write to you,
But this will be my last;
A rifle bullet pierced me through,
My strength is failing fast.

Grieve not for me my mother dear;
Though here I wounded lie;
For I'm a Christian volunteer
And not afraid to die.

I have no envy in my breast,
Against my fellow-man;
I know not what caused this contest,
Nor why it first began.

But this I know, if all were good
And righteous in God' sight;
There would be no such loss of blood,
Nor cause for such a fight.

But worldly men for wealth or fame,
Would slay from pole to pole;
And, after all could not obtain;
The value of one soul.  

No more shall I behold the place,
Where once I oft did roam
I ne'er shall see your smiling face,
Nor my Canadian home.

But mother we shall meet again,
On Canaan's peaceful shore
Where there will be no grief nor pain
And parting is no more.

With me it's near the close of day,
Gold bless us one and all:
Farewell, adieu, I must away
I hear the bugle call.......

(below) Canadian graves & the setting sun at Paardeberg Hill.)

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000
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