Reconsidering The Heroes of Paardeberg Day - Feb. 27, 1900
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure|
|Bacon Print, Dashing Advance of the Canadians at Paardeberg, Feb. 27, 1900|
|Orig. chromolithograph - Image Size - 56 x 76 cm
Found - Montreal, QC
The March of Civilization - As Canadian troops are once more overseas, fighting in a far distant country, conducting military operations which have killed many - admittedly foreign - men, women, and children, it may be instructive to re-evaluate the Battle of Paardeberg, whose 110th anniversary will be celebrated, in 2010, by the same regiment - the Royal Canadian Regiment - that fought in both wars.
Festive regimental dinners will be held to remember Canada's most storied victory of the Boer War, the Battle of Paardeberg on Feb. 27, 1900. After a horrific 10 day artillery bombardment of the Boer encampment, by the main British Army of Lord Roberts, the final assault was being spear-headed by the Canadians when the Boers decided to surrender rather than see their families pounded into the mud of the Modder River.
But what are the RCRs celebrating? And should they be?
Just what was the Battle of Paardeberg all about? And what was it not?
First, like the Afghans in 2008, the Boers in 1900 were never a threat to Canada in any way, shape, or form. Period. But the independence of both, was a threat to special interest business and industry lobbyists.
French-Canadians knew this and opposed the war against the Boers- en masse - as they do today the Canadian war in Afghanistan, for exactly the same reasons. They believe Canadians have no business shooting up foreign countries just because Canadian politicians and their cronies want to please British or American business and political leaders.
Far from defending Canada in 1900, Canadians were in the Boer homeland, half way around the world, shooting the place up, arresting women and children to put into death dealing concentration camps, burning down Boer homes, farms, and businesses, and deliberately killing thousands of Boer sheep, cattle, horses, donkeys, and goats. They were literally helping to starve the Boers into submission.
Even at Paardeberg Canadians were not fighting a defensive action in the battle, so their military action had nothing to do with self defence. They were the aggressors.
In fact the Canadians were chasing down Boer families in their own country. The Boers, far from being aggressive towards the Canadians, were fleeing. Fleeing for their lives... in their own homeland.
And far from being a hostile military force, the Boers - some 4,000 - were a community of families on the run; they were men, women, and children.
Hundreds of women and children, fleeing for their lives from an approaching British Coalition of the Willing to do the Killing, that the British Government had cadged together from different parts of the British Empire seeking to exert control over the Boers for the benefit of its business elites. (Exactly the way that Bush/Cheney have engineered the war against the Muslims for the benefit of their oil industry lobbyists.)
The Canadians were not there to defend Canada, or Canadian values, against Boer terrorists or insurgents, but were actually acting as mercenaries, placing themselves at the disposition of the British military machine; they were doing what they were doing for Queen Victoria and the British business and industrial elites she was covering for.
At Paardeberg, the Canadians were not attacking a Boer army. They were actually involved in helping to surround and trap a Boer communal camp of men, women, and children. It would be wrong to pretend otherwise. Hundreds of Boer families were fleeing the Dogs of War as they carried everything they owned in the world in their wagons: their children, their belongings.
Then the Canadians, knowing full well that there were hundreds of women and children in the laager, opened fire on the camp, with rifles, machine guns, and artillery.
For a time Lord Roberts was reticent to shoot at women and children but his officers insisted and he relented. The standard military argument of his day, and ours - you can almost hear General Hillier talking - prevailed: if we kill enough people now, we can end the war, so we won't have to kill more later. And besides they were not British women and children anyway. And after all they were the enemy...
And that is probably what was the deciding factor for the Canadian commander Col. William Dillon Otter as well.
At Paardeberg Boer men folk were literally fighting to defend their womenfolk and children from extermination by a deadly foe who was sparing no ammunition, time and effort to try to pulverize their families into the ground.
So for ten days the Royal Canadian Regiment rained a deadly fire on the Boer laager, as women and children dug frantically to dig out caves in the dirt to avoid the deadly bombardment and rifle fire from thousands of British soldiers.
Canadians deliberately targeted and helped kill 100 Boer men, women, and children, cowering in the dirt... of their homeland...
Canadians took part in killing thousands of horses and oxen and destroying hundreds of wagons of Boer belongings which were blown up and burned.
In triumph they took as booty what was not destroyed to show off back home.
4,000 Boer survivors were made destitute, marched off to concentration camps with only the shirts on their backs as their sole possession in the world. Many would die in those camps.
The RCRs, with great merriment, have celebrated Paardeberg annually ever since...
Admittedly the RCRs of 1900 are not the RCRs of today.
The RCRs of 1900 were all civilian volunteers signing up for a one year term as a patriotic duty for the Queen. Within months of the battle all were back home, working at civilian jobs once more. Making war and killing was not a life choice for any of them... They had done their duty for their Queen.
The RCRs of 2008 are all full-time career militarists who feel their highest calling in life is to pursue the profession of arms.
Paardeberg and the war against the Boers was considered a good accomplishment for a Canadian soldier at the time, and for decades since.
But is it something for civilized men to celebrate 100 years later...?
To see how far we have come in 100 years check out your local armoury next February and see if they celebrate Paardeberg Day with laughter, a dance, dinner, and drinks?
And then ask them, just what are you celebrating? And why?
Paardeberg Ball 2010 - Isn't it time to end the association with the questionable military past of the Paardeberg Ball, symbolizing, as it does, the indiscriminate attacks, in their own country on fleeing men, women and children, and morph it into a celebration of the Best of Man and turn it into an annual Ball for the Homeless during the coldest time of the year, or for children on welfare in the community? Or a fundraiser for the families of Canadian servicemen who have lost loved ones - and often primary breadwinners - while in the employ of the Canadian Forces?
Because it was fragile the busy was always carried in a metal box, which was manufactured exclusively to accommodate the hat's peculiar shape. It was placed inside, on its top.
The box for this busby is very special because it carries the ancient, degraded, painted initials W.D.O. for William Dillon Otter, on the lid.
Sometime, early in his career as a QOR militia officer, this busby was owned by Col. Otter. It was manufactured within a year of his joining the Queen's Own Rifles in Toronto.
Col. Otter was already deployed, as a QOR lieutenant, to Niagara in 1864, to stave off a possible invasion by American Irish Fenians, so this may very well have been his first busby headdress.
It is an extremely rare and old, manufactured by Firmin & Sons, of London, UK located at 153 & 154 Strand. Firmin & Sons were at this address between 1861-1863. (Firmin had been established in 1677 by Thomas Firming (sic) and had made uniforms for the military ever since.)
The chain above has metal links held fast in a bed of red wax sewn onto a ribbon.
This ancient busby shows extremely heavy wear by someone, who was no sometime soldier but was obviously active in his uniform, over many years.
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
What a fabulous discovery is a one of a kind Great Canadian Treasure from the Victorian era - the personal busby box - marked WDO - of Lt. Col. William Dillon Otter, of the Queen's Own Rifles, of Toronto.
Otter led the disastrous attack on Cree Chief Poundmaker's camp, the so-called Battle of Cut Knife Hill, during the Riel Rebellion in 1885.
Militia officers used tin hat boxes like this to protect their fragile headgear when they weren't wearing it, or when going out to train in the field - like at Camp Niagara in the summer - or on campaign - like going out west to help put down the Métis resistance.
The wedge caps they used for everyday wear were made to fold flat, so were easy to pack among their regular clothing. But fragile busbies and pith helmets had to hold their round shape and were easily crushed in the hurly burly of transportation. These invariably black tin boxes were the answer.
The owner usually had his name or initials prominently displayed on top or the sides. Some had tin labels attached.
There was a latch with a place to fit a lock.
|Canadian Militia Busby Box - Col. William Dillon Otter - 1885|
|Orig. tin - Size - 18 x 30 cm
Found - Brighton, ON
The box, and its busby, came from a former militaria collector who got them, decades ago, from a Col. Otter estate dispersal.
This tin box shows an awful lot more wear than most of the ones one finds; obviously it belonged to a very busy and well traveled officer, which Col Otter certainly was. He probably carried this to Camp Niagara many times and very likely also took it with him when he led volunteers from the QOR west in 1885 to join the Northwest Field Force to capture Louis Riel and his men.
Below hat tins for pith helmets from the later Boer War era with painted names as well as brass name plaques, and an 1860s bicorn hat tin.
QOR Busby: Col William Dillon Otter, QOR - 1843-1929
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
A fabulous memorabilia item that once graced the brow of the man considered to be Canada's first ever true professional soldier, Col. William Dillon Otter.
After French Canada was taken over by the British, during the Seven Year's War (1756 to 1763), Canada was protected by British professional soldiers and sailors of the Army and Navy.
Canadians helped to protect the colony from the warlike Americans by forming part-time militia groups that practiced military crafts on weekends and during the summer months at training camps.
During the War of 1812 these Canadian militiamen helped the British regulars to throw back various American invasions of Canada, by "rebels" in 1837, and Fenian troublemakers in 1866, and 1870.
William Otter was born near Goderich, Ontario, and while a clerk in the early 1860s, joined the Queen's Own Rifles militia, which became his passion. He fought the Fenians, in a QOR uniform, at the Battle of Ridgeway, Ontario, in 1866.
By 1883 his keenness had secured him a permanent place in Canada's tiny professional army and a teaching post at the infantry school in Toronto.
|Queen's Own Rifles Busby, Col. William Dillon Otter c 1870|
|Orig. busby - Size - 19 x 26 cm oa
Found - Brighton, ON
Left Colonel Otter early in his career, at the time he purchased this busby.
When the Riel troubles flared up out west, in 1885, Col. Otter was picked to lead an Ontario Contingent from the Queen's Own Rifles, as part of the Northwest Field Force under British General Middleton, west to tackle the Indians and Métis.
The Queen's Own Rifles of Toronto was a leading volunteer militia unit dating back to 1860. William Otter was an early QOR member who became its most famous alumnus.
The QOR attire was similar to British army uniforms of the time.
For full dress uniform members wore a black fur rifleman's busby above which gave way for a while to the white pith helmet. By 1900 they would be back to wearing a busby for their full dress uniform.
Right, Lt. Matheson QOR, c 1890, wearing a similar busby, showing the plume.
(The Otter busby here is missing its plume.)