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Boer War Local Heroes 18
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Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries ( Dec. 2004)

Last Letter Home of Pvt. Curphy RCR ( Mar. 1900)
Great Canadian Heritage Treasures
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Last letter home of Pvt. Curphy RCR #7806, Grimsby, ON 1900
Orig. letter - Size - 3.5" x 5.5"
Found - Pasadena, CA
Pvt. Curphy died of enteric fever, at Bloemfontein Apr. 18, 1900

Friendly Fire: Canadian Private J. Curphy could never have guessed that he would become a victim of "Friendly Fire," long before that term was coined by the US Pentagon.

He - like thousands of other British soldiers - had contracted enteric fever, sometime during the Battle of Paardeberg, in Feb. 1900.

The tens of thousands of British soldiers that Lord Roberts used to surround General Cronje's Boers there, relied on the Modder River to wash in, and drink from - often in that order...

Just Before the Battle Mother: From the stamp we can figure out that Curphy wrote home, at most, a week or two before the Battle of Paardeberg, while he was still hale and hearty. The Royal Canadian Regiment was in the midst of the British Army, chasing the Boers under General Cronje. Curphy's letter does not survive, but we can guess from others written at the time that it was full of bravado about having the "enemy on the run."

Curphy could not have known that his worst enemy - by far - was right behind him, not in front...

British artillerymen - who were not too medically aware - then spent some 10 days bombarding the thousands of Boer horses assembled near the river bank - upstream!

In their eagerness to "have at the Boers" they did not know that what they were doing, in fact, was committing suicide!

The direct fluid run-off, from the hundreds of horse and oxen cadavers, rotting in the heat, would have been water contamination enough. But the Boers - to prevent the spread of disease in their laager - dragged the dead animals, at night, into the river, where their bloated bodies rotted apart in the water for days, and finally floated on down past the British camp and kitchens...

The putrefying flesh created a soupy water ruefully recalled by Boer War veterans, ever after, as "Chateau Modder." But this wine was lethal!

The parched soldiers downstream drank like troopers... and died like flies! Some 2000 British soldiers ultimately succumbed to enteric fever as a result.

Including Canadians, like J. Curphy, who wrote his name on the back of his last letter home...

All killed, indirectly, as surely as if they had been hit directly, by the gunfire of the Royal Artillery. In very real terms, the artillerymen killed far more of their own men this way, than they killed Boers with shells during the ten day bombardment.

A Bacterial Feeding Frenzy! This area of the Modder River, just beside where the Boer laager was located (to the left) was choked with dead horses for a week during Feb. 1900. The resulting "Dead Horse Soup" floated on down to the right, to the British camp, where parched Tommies drank it in in gulps.
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Sheet music 1901
Orig. sheet music - Size - 10.5" x 14"
Found - Potter, NE
Pub. Vandersloot Music, Whaley Royce & Co., Toronto, ON
A Letter from the Front (1901)

1.
A maiden fair with bright golden hair, By a window sat silent one day
Watching the throng as it passed along while her thoughts drifted far away. 
When a knock at the door brought the roses once more,
To her cheeks long so pale and so wan.
The old postman was there, with his old cheerful air,
He'd a message he left and was gone.

Chorus:
Twas just a letter that came from the front,
But it told of deeds both brave and true,
Of a hero who ne'er feared the battles' brunt
And who fought for the Red, White and Blue,
A lad who while off in a distant land,
With grim war searing heaven' blue dome
Wrote a fond letter, with loving hand,
From the front to his sweetheart at home...

2. A woman grey, in grief stood one day, by a packet of letters well worn.
Leafing them o'er till her heart grew sore, and her soul with despair was torn.
When she came to one stained, where the teardrops had rained,
And with sobs she bowed low her tired head.
For as memory went back, all the world seemed so black,
'Twas a message of love from the dead...

Others among Curphy's companions, succumbed to enteric during 1900. Sgt. Beattie, died four days after Curphy, and lies only feet from his grave, in Bloemfontein cemetery. Beattie's comrades collected money for his headstone. Douglas Moore is buried in Kimberley (right), beneath a headstone paid for by the Government of Canada shortly after the war.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000