Boer War Page 50

Discovering Rare Canadian Historic Sites 1

Sites 2 Sites 3
How would you like to be the one to discover a Great Canadian Historic Site for the first time?

Historian John Goldi, and his producer wife Joan Goldi, did exactly that, not once but several times, during a two month research and shooting trip to South Africa, from May to July, 2000. Read all about how they rescued three Canadian historic sites from being abandoned to the wretchedness of historical anonymity.

Note: Canadian Historic Sites in South Africa are unmarked and unposted. There are no signs, brochures, or maps, to help you find them. Local English and Afrikaaner historians are focused almost exclusively on their own history of the war and were rarely able to offer us specific information on Canadian sites. And tour guides - who charge for their knowledge - since they serve mainly a British clientele, restrict their knowledge to British battles and sites. After all, it must be remembered, the Canadian participation was only a very small side-show in a giant struggle between Briton and Boer. Of a total of some 450,000 British troops ultimately posted to South Africa, the Canadians made up only 7,000 at most, and many of these saw no action at all.

As a result, when we got to South Africa we soon learned that - except for the huge British battle fields like Paardeberg, Talana, Colenso, Spion Kop, and Magersfontein - which are easy to find - we would have to find the exclusively Canadian locations ourselves. It made following the Trail of the Anglo-Boer War Canadians, to document the "Canadian Experience" for our television program, an extremely hard slog on the ground. It would take a trunk full of books, archival maps, photos, and prints, which we had brought from Canada, and many weeks of dogged research, 11,000 kms by car and many more on foot - including extending our projected stay - to find the Canadian sites. Read about the difficulties in "Interview 2."

Sometimes, as we explain below, our work paid off wonderfully, our determined sleuthing, uncovering Canadian historic sites that Canadians - and precious few others - did not even know existed.


Henry Burr (1885-1941): "When You and I Were Young Maggie" 1916

You are listening to an original recording featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Henry Burr, singing one of the world's most beautiful songs, written by George Washington Johnson from Glanworth, ON, and his friend James Butterfield, in 1866. No doubt the voices of tenors singing this song wafted across the Canadian camp at Belmont. 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.


In Search of Great Canadian Historic Site #1 - Canadians at Belmont Station

Belmont was a station stop along the railway that funneled troops to Lord Methuen's front line battles further north at Graspan, Modder River, and Magersfontein, during October, November, and December, 1899. The Canadians of Canada's First Contingent, newly arrived from Canada were sent here to guard the railway line and station. They watched with dismay the passing of thousands of troops on the way to fight the Boers, while they were stuck, month after month, completely bored in Belmont.

Our Search: Belmont station, a railway stop like any other in South Africa, was easy to find. But we wanted to find signs of the Canadian presence, which as usual, were not marked on brochures and unknown to South African tour guides.

Below left, is one of the photographs - from a rare antique book of the Anglo-Boer War - which historian John Goldi brought from Canada to South Africa, hoping that the building pictured, might still be standing. He - and his producer wife Joan - drove to the small village of Belmont, and walking about, he soon settled on the old station house as a possible candidate. Using the photo left, he compared the structure of the stone blocks around the doors, and found the one at the rear (below) as matching perfectly.

We had found a place of rare Canadian historical significance for the first time, intact and in wonderful shape, still standing 100 years after the Canadians had left it. A retired station master later showed up and reported that local lore held that the Canadians used the station as a Guard Room (door at rear of station below), and a mortuary. Our archival proof confirmed, irrefutably, that this was now a historical certainty.

For us it was a supreme thrill to reclaim for Canadian History a building conclusively proven to be a Great Canadian Historic Site, and to bring it before the public consciousness for the very first time.

Above, the rare photo called "Canadian Guardroom Belmont," which John Goldi had brought to South Africa, to see if the building still survived. It shows members of the Royal Canadian Regiment - Canada's first military contingent ever sent to an overseas war - standing at Belmont where the regiment spent two monotonous months waiting for action (Dec-Feb. 1900). Using this photo he conclusively matched the stones to the same doorway above right, discovering that a Great Canadian Historic Site still stood. Today, the station is virtually unchanged since the Canadians last left here a hundred years ago.
The bullet holes in the wall, pointed out by historian John Goldi (above right), were already there, souvenirs from the Battle of Belmont, two weeks before the Canadians posed for this rare photo.

(Below) Another rare photo discovered by John Goldi, taken Feb. 8, 1900, shows Lord Roberts (in helmet and leather boots) at Belmont Station, walking to the right of Col. Otter, commander of the Royal Canadians, just before the start of the Great March on Feb. 11. General Kitchener, who within days, would cause Britain's worst day of casualties during the entire war -and Canada's greatest number of battlefield deaths - walks at Otter's left, while a Canadian honour guard stands at attention. It is only days before they will join one of the greatest marches of a conquering army in history.

This occasion was felt to be so rare that Canadian journalist, Stanley McKeown Brown, who was there, devoted a whole chapter of his book "With the Royal Canadians" to the visit, describing the great excitement among the Canadians, and how the men fell all over themselves snapping "Kodaks" as Bobs and Kitchener walked on the station platform conversing with Col. Otter. One of them snapped this wonderful, and now rare, candid photo just after "Bobs" had inspected the honour guard and issued orders that the Canadians were to be issued a better quality bandolier.

Another famous personality who was there that day was the monocled 35 year old Col. Percy Girouard, (left), from Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec, who had been appointed the Director of all British railways in South Africa, during the first war in which railways played a decisive role.

"It is interesting to note that all this immense current traffic - the ebb and flow of war - is under the direct control of three Canadians. Lieut.-Col. Girouard is the director of all the railways; Capt. De Lotbinière is the deputy director of the Bloemfontein line, and Capt. Nanton, an R.M.C. graduate, is deputy director of the Kimberley line. The little English clerk at the station speaks their names with a respect almost amounting to the reverence he bestows on the titles of the lords and baronets who are leading the warlike yeomanry to the front."

Brown breathlessly described the scene at the station.

"As the Field Marshal Commander-in-Chief of the British forces in South Africa stepped from the train .... there was indeed an astonished look on the faces of the men.

"Wot ho!" ejaculated one of the others standing around, "there's that young Canadian railway horficer, Girryward, wi' the heye-glass," as he tried to get his tongue around the name of Col Girouard, who was then making his way out of the end of the car .....

Camera fiends popped up here and there, and shoved their blinking little instruments as close as it was safe to the great generals, and whether sun favoured them or whether kodaks were properly focussed or not, they snapped away in all directions. "

Though there are a number of photos showing Canadian soldiers on campaign in Africa, this is the only photo we have ever seen of Colonel Otter - or any other Canadian senior officer - in Africa.

Sadly .... The station master informed us that Belmont Station would be closed. Today it is boarded up, and this Great Canadian Historic Site, whose links to the Canadian Anglo-Boer War we discovered, and proved, awaits its fate.


Project Update
We are currently in discussions with the owners of the building so we can acquire it to house the "Fiset-O'Leary Centre" in honour of the Canadian Contingents.
To End A Century of Neglect

"Goldi Productions Ltd." has launched "The Belmont Project"
"To Preserve and Protect, Post and Publicize"
Great Canadian Historic Sites & Trail of the Canadian Contingents,
in South Africa.

In Search of Great Canadian Historic Site #2 - Canadian Hospital at Belmont

Our Search: Another rare photograph, which we had brought to South Africa, was this view (below left), entitled "Canadian Hospital Belmont." Since it appeared to be a small frame structure, we doubted it had survived the ravages of time for a hundred years.

But a quick walk-about in Belmont, soon located a building (below right), further along the tracks from the station, that just might fit the bill. Breathlessly, we noted the tell-tale clues which we used to confirm that this house, indeed, was the Canadian hospital: the general configuration of the building, the roof line, and the distinctive chimney pattern at one end of the house.

It was a once in a lifetime thrill to discover, not one, but two structures, both still standing, that played a big role in an important Canadian story, which would otherwise have been forgotten and bulldozed into wretched historical anonymity.

(above) Another rare archival photo - called "Canadian Hospital, Belmont" - which historian John Goldi had brought to South Africa. He discovered, astonishingly, that this frame building, though abandoned and boarded up, was still standing right beside the tracks at Belmont not far from the station. The photo shows little has changed since 1899, when Canada's first fatality to a South African Contingent, occurred inside. Pte. Chappell, RCR, died from tonsillitis, Dec. 13, aged 22. He and other Canadians who died there, were buried just across the tracks from the station and hospital. Today his tombstone - and those of other Canadians who died at Belmont - sit in the town cemetery at Kimberley where they were moved long ago.

One who worked tirelessly inside this hospital to save lives, was French-Canadian Surgeon-Captain Eugène Fiset (left), from Rimouski, Quebec.

He would win high praise from the men for his dedication, and later, at Paardeberg, for his courage under fire, while tending to the wounded and dying on the battlefield. He was credited with saving many Canadian lives during the campaign that followed.

"They had long since learned to love him: in their camps at De Aar, at Orange River, at Belmont, he had not only been a physician to their bodies, but to their spirits as well. But it was not till Paardeberg that his true worth was proved. On that day he exposed himself a dozen times to a fierce fire while dressing wounds or helping bear soldiers from the field. That the death rate from fever and wounds had been so low among the Canadians is largely due to his unflagging zeal."
-
TG Marquis, "Canada's Sons on Kopje and Veldt", 1900
In later life Fiset would become a Major-General in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He would be knighted for his work and rise to become Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec. (This heavy and large 3" medal was found in Freelton, ON.)

Did You Know? That, though he died without ever knowing it, Eugène Fiset, more than any other Canadian, could be called the Father of Canada's modern maple leaf flag. In 1918 Major-General Eugène Fiset was the first to recommend that Canada should adopt a national flag featuring a red maple leaf on a white field. It took decades of debate, and slight revisions, but his central suggestion won the day. Eugène Fiset was born in Rimouski, PQ, in 1874, married Stella Tascherau, and died in Riviere-du-Loup in 1951. His medals hang in the Base Borden museum.
(below) A small part of the huge regulation triangular bandage that Fiset - and all British soldiers - would have used throughout the Boer War. It is covered by numerous illustrative pictures so that anyone could figure out how to best use the bandage for the wound he was trying to bind up.

(below) A rare photo shows the British caring for the wounded behind other railway buildings during the Battle of Belmont Nov. 23, 1899. The wounded are being treated in the shelter of stone foundations which also still stand, as the battle rages beyond the Canadian hospital, with its distinctive chimneys, in the background.

Shortly, the Canadians will arrive to take over these buildings, to begin a two month period of battle training and extremely boring train patrol. They would grumble loudly about being sidelined as they stood guard on top of the hills that overlook Belmont.

As we scouted out these old Canadian haunts - hiking up one of these rocky kopjes after another, we would discover the third, and perhaps the most wonderful, Canadian historic site of them all.

Sadly .... Today this building is boarded up, and this Great Canadian Historic Site, whose links to the Canadian Anglo-Boer War we discovered, and proved, awaits its fate.


Project Update
We are currently in discussions with the owners of the building so we can acquire it to house the "Fiset-O'Leary Centre" in honour of the Canadian Contingents.
To End A Century of Neglect

"Goldi Productions Ltd." has launched "The Belmont Project"
"To Preserve and Protect, Post and Publicize"
Great Canadian Historic Sites & Trail of the Canadian Contingents,
in South Africa.


In Search of Great Canadian Historic Site #3 - Canadian Rock Engravings at Belmont

Our Search: How did historian John Goldi discover the wonderful Canadian Rock Engravings at Belmont? The story, from an interview, written in full on Interview Page 54, and the cover article written for the Sept. issue of the Canadian Society of Cinematography Journal.


Philippa McCoyne: The scratchings are not posted? You mean they're not on tourist brochures or signs?

John Goldi: Oh, No. No. Not at all. I had seen a photo montage of Boer War pictures - a collage of scattered images - on a tourist brochure in Canada - before we went.

Among the
Three letters and weeks of dogged sleuthing led to the discovery of a Great Canadian Historic Site on a remote kopje at Belmont.
gobbledygook was a smidgen of what looked like part of a name scratched on a rock, but it was unclear. There were only three letters actually - "RCR."

Were they a soldier's initials? Or short for the Royal Connaught Rifles? Or perhaps Royal Canadian Regiment?

I was almost certain they were Canadian. But a more daunting question was, where - in a country the size of Western Europe - where those three little letters? It became one of the locations we were desperate to find.

When we got to South Africa we started hunting and asking. But nobody we met had any clue of Canadian sites, let alone ones with scratchings. They're not publicized or noted on brochures either. Finally, after several weeks of futile effort, a TV news cameraman in Bloemfontein told us he had seen some scratchings on a hill at Belmont. Maybe we could try there? It made sense. The Canadians had spent two months there on boring railway patrol.... Then it was a matter of repeated hiking to remote locations up one rocky kopje after another.

Ultimately we found them - and they were Canadian - on various rocks on top of kopjes overlooking the station ..... It was a thrill believe me, to stand in far off Africa on the exact remote spot where eager young Canadian boys from towns I knew so well, had squatted down and scratched away so enthusiastically a century before. It turned out, that of all the people we ever encountered in South Africa, only the farmer who owned the property, told us he knew they were there, and that they were Canadian.

The Boer memorial on top of Gun Hill, looking west, at Belmont (left), from which their guns shelled the British, advancing across the plain down below, on Nov. 23, 1899. The Battle of Belmont was one of the opening battles of the Anglo-Boer War as Lord Methuen pushed the Boers from the left towards Modder River.

Just weeks after the battle, the Royal Canadians arrived, to begin a two month training period. In their boredom, they hiked to this hill overlooking the station, and on the rocks around the top, left their engravings which still endure 100 years later.

(below) W. Burns, RCR, Feb. 3, London, Canada 

Mystery Solved
FoundW.R. Lawrence, RCR (left) from whose inscription the three mysterious letters - for Royal Canadian Regiment - were used for a tourist brochure.

(below again) W.R. Lawrence, RCR, 1900, Cornwall, Canada. He wanted to make sure that he was remembered. And so he will be.

In the past, most names have suffered defacing attempts by patriotic descendants of the Boers who didn't take kindly to graffiti from British invaders of their homeland.

Today local Afrikaaners are incensed at anyone trying to write on these rocks or deface these Canadian engravings in any way.

Canadian rock engravings showing the signs of desecration.

(above, and far right) George Downey, Montreal

(right) E.W. Sprague, 1900, St. John, NB.

W. Dixon, RCA, Quebec, Canada, a visitor from the Royal Canadian Artillery.

(below) One especially poignant find was made by Joan Goldi, when she discovered this light-hearted, self-portrait, complete with jaunty mustache, by S.J. Perry C Co RCR (London, ON).

Joe Perry would enlist again, with a later contingent, become a Sergeant in the 2 CMR, and at the Battle of Hart's River, Mar. 31, 1902, would die a hero's death, among Lt. Bruce Carruthers' "Last Stand" troopers. Though wounded he fought till he died.

(above right) The view from the summit of Table Mountain, a couple of kms from Gun Hill, showing the Belmont railway station (white dots) in the background, and rock sangars in the foreground where the Boers had their guns, and where the Canadian RCRs later stood guard.

Another Site: Here, completely isolated, part way up the slope, and hidden on a small rock, cameraman John Goldi discovered a name probably no one has ever seen before (right): "N Cluff, D Coy, Ottawa, Canada", (below right).

As he bent over to take the pictures (right), the tripod leg dislodged these two shell casing (below), with bent over flattened tops, that soldiers often used to store dry powder for starting fires.

Did they fall out of Pvt. Cluff's pocket as he bent over to scratch his name for posterity?

Goldi Productions - Proudly "Keeping Canadians in Touch With Canada"
Feedback: #21: Ingersoll, ON: "Thank you very much for your terrific production 'The Great Anglo-Boer War: The Canadian Experience'.

After my Mother passed away a year ago, I became the repository of any historical artifacts found while closing up the old family home. Included were some artifacts from her uncle's tour of duty with the RCR in South Africa - his service medal, cap badge, Queen Victoria's chocolate tin, etc. I mounted them under glass and put them on my mantle along with a framed copy of a 1901 calendar that chronicled the war to that point.

Still I did not have a true understanding of the war. Until, that is, your documentary came on the History channel. It explained the conflict in an informative and entertaining way. I've ordered a copy of the video set so that my son will have it as a resource in years to come.

Towards the end of episode one, you talk about the Canadians boredom while stationed at Belmont and how they took to carving their names on rocks at Gun Hill. As the camera panned over the names of several of the troops still evident on the rocks, there it was - A. Woodward, RCR, London - my great Uncle Albert W. Woodward.

Thank you for giving this Canadian a personal experience."

It was an enormous thrill for us to discover for the first time, the existence of three major Canadian historic sites, which were the haunts of young Canadian volunteers so long ago, bring them to the attention of the Canadian consciousness for the first time, and establish clearly that Belmont is a Great Canadian Historic Site worthy of preservation.

Sadly .... The Great Canadian Rock Engravings, are not physically protected, or noted on signs or brochures or maps.


Project Update
We are currently in touch with the owners of the property to see how we can best help protect, as well as publicize, these wonderful Canadian heritage engravings for tourists who wish to view them.
To End A Century of Neglect

"Goldi Productions Ltd." has launched "The Belmont Project"
"To Preserve and Protect, Post and Publicize"
Great Canadian Historic Sites & Trail of the Canadian Contingents,
in South Africa.


c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000