Copyright Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996-1999-2005
Florence MacArthur's Boer War Scrap Book
Above Florence's fine handwriting outline most of the index pages that make up her 120 page scrap book. 20 more pages are indexed on the next side.
The index lists the subject matter covered by the Toronto Globe, which she mostly cut up and pasted in to tell the story of the First Canadian Regiment and its one year adventure to the battlefields of South Africa, to visit the Queen on their way back, and their welcome as they returned to Canada.
The very first page features a series of portraits of local officers. The main reason for giving this page prominence is that her beau James is at bottom right.
From reading his diaries we know that James was utterly thrilled to be picked as one of Canada's officers for the First Contingent. He starts his multi-volume diaries with the statement of obvious pride.
Now he, like his father before him, would also get a chance to serve his Queen as a military man.
Florence scattered portraits of officers throughout the book, but mostly it is newspaper headlines and complete columns laboriously pasted in to fit.
There are some action scenes in the paper but all are drawn by artists; none are taken by photographers.
Little did Florence know that her beau would be the first war photographer in history to take actual combat pictures with his camera. She did learn from letters he wrote that he was almost shot doing it.
Just an hour later he was actually shot during combat. Florence would learn all this at once and with all the headlines of the dead and dying, worry that James would not survive.
She bravely kept her scrap book going, hoping for the best.
A typical spread for photos taken from magazines and pasted artistically and thematically into a chronological pattern from front to back of the book.
Right second from the left is young Lt. John McCrae, of Guelph, Ontario, who went as an artillery officer.
He would become Canada's most famous poet of World War I for penning "In Flanders' Fields." He would be a doctor then. But his poem is still a call to arms - not peace, because he was distraught over the loss of a close friend.
Millions of Canadian school children have been taught the poem, falsely believing it is some paean to peace, instead of a call for more bloodshed and mayhem to exact a pound of flesh in revenge against the "Boche."
Florence publishes a rare "Agreement for Military Service in South Africa."
But it does note that these are civilians, not military men that are being sent, asking the name of their present, part-time, militia corps, where they train once a week at best and sometimes during the summer.
It also asks their trade or calling, since these are men off civvy street, taking time off from real live pursuits to engage in some adventurous high junks in South Africa, oh, and do a little good for the Queen too...
It also asks for personal marks; those are useful when a cannon ball carries off your head, so there are still ways to identify you.
Notice it does not ask if you can read or write, or have any schooling of any kind.
As you are shouted at, endlessly, by officers and non-coms alike, in the military, "Don't think. I'll do the thinking for you! Just shut up and do what you're told!"
An education is dangerous and a hindrance. Someone might start questioning stupid orders when they are given, instead of following them, and dying for Queen and Country.
But they do ask your medical condition. They don't want you to drop over before they can prop you up as cannon fodder in front of the enemy.
The term of service noted here would never again be repeated by either the Canadian or British governments. The clause here, in the Boer War attestation papers taught them that.
After six months of war, many Canadians wanted to go home; after 12 months everybody did. The war was just not what it was cracked up to be. Everything turned out to be a huge disappointment.
Many of their buddies were dead. Hundreds of them, mostly of disease and wounds.
And the Boers didn't turn out to be so bad after all. Many liked the women and children and hated to see them put in prison camps and have their pianos and furniture smashed, their farm animals all killed, and their houses all burned down. Thanks to the Canadians and their friends.
Many Canadians had their lives saved because they rebelled and refused to extend their service beyond a year though both the British and Canadian commanders pleaded them to. They had had enough.
A dozen years later the British made everyone sign an attestation paper to stay till the war was over, which would be four years.
For some 60,000 Canadians, signing that paper was a death sentence. Most of their bodies were never found in the most horrific - and also the most useless - war ever fought in history.
Right one of the of the very first pages Florence glued in was the list of officers chosen. It is also the only place in the whole book where she penciled a hand made a mark beside someone special.
Obvious pride mixed with an awful dread, that her beau might never return...
But then that is what Victorian men did. And women urged them on in spite of their druthers.
Death at Sea
The Canadian Contingent Buries its First Casualty
The first fatality in the contingent was barely four days after leaving, when Pvt. Edward DesLauriers succumbed, either, to an act of God, or a colossal farewell drunk from which he never recovered, depending on whom you believe.
Below is the story as those great war boosters, Rosie DiManno and Christie Blatchford would write it, you know, the way they do on Afghanistan, to please the military, and their bosses at the Toronto Star and the Globe & Mail. The gals are so obliging...
Showing how slowly news travelled, the dateline - aboard ship no less - was Nov. 10th 1899. In fact Deslauriers died and was buried from Sardinian on Nov. 3.
In his diary James tersely notes the "indirect cause is Alcohol, aggravated by sea sickness," a firm way of saying he way overdosed on booze the last night in town, when he should have known better. All his mates blamed big drinking Teddy, not his weak heart, and not the fates... Was he a soldier who only found his courage in a bottle, and just could never get enough to calm his nerves? Now he would never be able to face the Boers and find out...
The melancholy incident produced one of James,' and one of Canada's, most rare photos: the funeral of Pvt. Edward DesLauriers' at sea aboard Sardinian.
It showed that James, as a photographer, at least, was made of different stuff. He was prepared to look at scenes with new eyes, break taboos, and put himself, and his camera, where they had never been before. From where other Victorians, and those made of weaker clay, might shy away...
What more would this young officer be capable of, if just given a chance...?
Above is the cover of the scrap book, which, like all James' Boer War books, is very heavily worn.
Right is the headline of Bloody Sunday, of February 18, 1900, where James was wounded, listed under the London men. It was also the worst day of casualties for Canada during the entire war.
Below Florence's signature proudly featured on the front page of the book.
Without doubt it remains the finest Royal Canadian Regiment Boer War scrap book in existence.
On some pages Florence featured photos taken by James and published in magazines. The square format, of his Kodak #2 Folding Camera is clear.
These are photos James took at Belmont while the Canadians were in training there just days after the Battle of Belmont saw the British Army under Lord Methuen defeat the Boers there. They fled and the Canadians took over the site as a training camp while Methuen and his men moved on.
Right James stands in the Canadian tent camp.
Next James photographed a Canadian sentry standing near a grave where a dead Boer is partially uncovered. His pant-covered knee protrudes from the middle of the rock pile.
Below A Company marches back into camp returning from a training march.
These photographs can be seen in detail below:
|Go to James' Belmont Photos|
James did not sell these photos, unlike all the other war photographers who were all paid huge amounts of money to gather snapshots of the war. Their publishers paid them very well, believing they were under great danger; in fact the war photographers stayed away from the shooting areas. They all wanted to live to enjoy their big pay checks.
For his part, James gave many photos away to friends, when he came home, as well as to other soldiers like Father O' Leary.
Above is the back of all the photos he gave Miss Florence MacArthur, for whom he obviously also had great affection.
Right for her scrap book, James even drew Florence a very detailed map of the Belmont site where the Canadians stayed for two months before going on the March to Pretoria. Now that is a labour of love...
Clearly this was a meticulously drawn map, for a special friend, to make her scrap book complete, and was exactly like the other map of Belmont he had drawn for himself, shown on page 5.
Florence's devotion and perseverance paid off; on June 29, 1904, she became Mrs. James Cooper Mason DSO.
She was to remain his devoted wife until James died on August 6, 1923.
|Go to the Belmont Site|
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure||
Another fabulous book that memorialized a big part of both, the life of Canada, and that of the family of James Cooper Mason, during the Boer War.
This one belonged to Florence MacArthur, who in 1901 when she assembled this book was a close personal female friend of the war hero of Paardeberg, James Cooper Mason.
In the meantime, while her gallant beau's life was under threat in South Africa, she kept a meticulous newspaper account of the all the doings of Canada's First Contingent, and the happenings on the war front, from the time they left, till they returned, at the time of the death of Queen Victoria which she spends lots of print on.
Scrap books were all the rage in Victorian times. this one has 120 pages of all the important newspaper headlines and cuttings that tell the story.
|Boer War Scrap Book, Florence MacArthur, 1899-1901|
|Orig. book - Size - 27 x 32 cm
Found - Cambridge, ON
The Education of a Victorian Canadian Soldier/Photographer
These are the very images that inspired James Cooper Mason, as they did countless other Victorian boys, to dream of military action as Soldiers of the Queen.
Not as a life time career of course - for him that was banking - but as a "Special Service" for the Queen if she required it.
Right is a combat drawing of the kind that have appeared in publications for scores of years. These were often drawn by men, many of them soldiers, who had captured these scenes with their eyes, lived to tell the tale, and put down their experiences with pen and pencil after it was all over.
No one tried this with a camera; it was just too dangerous. Some might say foolhardy.
"Gol Blimey, when you're up there Gov'nor being shot at, I'll be damned if I stand up and shoot back with a camera? It's lying down I'll be, and potting back with me Martini. That is, when it's safe to git up on me elbows and zing off a few..."
That was not only the attitude of soldiers; more so it was the attitude of war photographers. Which is why, sixty years after the invention of the camera, still no one had taken a combat photograph....
Now, if only there was someone motivated by the credo of a Victorian British army officer, and a special passion for documenting gallant men at war?
The picture above must have impressed young James mightily. He would, someday, try to be up there where these men were facing danger, like his father had. Why couldn't he photograph their bravery, in between dodging bullets, with his camera? The thought must have gone through his head...
Another picture that must have impressed him the most was the celebrated charge of the Midland Battalion at Batoche with a sword-waving Col. Williams waving his men on for the victory charge. This might well have been how his father had he not been shot doing exactly this on the first day of the battle. How glorious; how daring. But would he have the courage of his father?
And would the Queen ever need a "Special Service?"
Fifteen years later, only hours before the Battle of Paardeberg, this dreamy young boy - now a young officer, with sword by his side - stands among the men he would lead in battle on Bloody Sunday, the most deadly battle of the Boer War.
The Queen had called! Canada formed a "Special Service" Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment, and James, a Captain in his father's old regiment, the Royal Grenadiers, was accepted as a lieutenant to go to South Africa.
And in the midst of the firing, on the front line, he would put down his sword, pick up his camera, prop himself up briefly, and make world history, in snapping the first certifiable combat photograph of men at war in the front lines.
And after a drought of sixty years, it would also become the world's first photo of a dead man on an active battlefield.
In the moment it took, his helmet was punctured by a bullet and his badge shot off.
And like his father, within the hour, he would pay for his audacity by suffering severe wounds on his first day in battle.
But in that short period of time he fulfilled a boyhood dream, did honour to the military traditions of his father, brought glory to Canada by winning the DSO, and set a new benchmark for those who seek to photograph men at war.
But others were, understandably, slow to follow his lead - probably not till the 1930s, and the Spanish Civil War.