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Bacon Battle Prints (1900) - 2

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Dashing Advance of the Canadians at Paardeberg - Orange Free State - 1899

Paardeberg: For two months, since he had taken over command of the British armies in South Africa, in Dec. 1899, Lord Roberts had been preparing to invade the Boer Republics. On Feb. 11, the great March to Pretoria began, hard on the heels of General Cronje and his 5,000 fleeing Boers. Seven days later Roberts cornered them at Paardeberg, and Bacon had print #10.

For the Canadians, the 10 day long Battle of Paardeberg has always been the highlight of the Boer War.

More Canadians died there than in any other battle of the war. (31 including Capt. Arnold from Winnipeg, right, and grave on the battlefield, below)

And the Canadians were also in the front line trenches on the final assault that led to the Boer surrender on Feb. 27, 1900. It was the first major British victory of the war.

The Bacon print (left) is the only Bacon battle print that recognized a national achievement, in titling it the "Dashing Advance of the Canadians at Paardeberg," in Canada's honour. In another innovation Bacon also notes the Canadian sacrifice, showing five figures being hit in the panel at left, dominating a major portion of the print. Bacon - foreshadowing the Pentagon's penchant for publishing a high body count of the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War - preferred to show dead Boers.

The print (top and below left) shows the laager of massed wagons in the background, where some 5,000 Boers defend themselves with an arc of riflemen (top) on a bend in the Modder River (below), while from every side, the British army attacks.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Dashing Advance of the Canadians at Paardeberg, Feb. 18, 1899
Orig. lithograph - Image size - 22" x 30"
Found - Port Hope, ON
Signed GW Bacon & Co. Ltd., Bacon's South African Battle Pictures #10
All That Glitters: The Bacon artist, though, had apparently not heard that no one was wearing swords, let alone waving them about, anymore. Swords - for hundreds of years - had been the symbol of honour for military officers. Now modern Mauser rifles, in the hand of Boer experts, had a range of almost two kms. Swords, that glittered in the sun, had marked for death scores of British officers for Boer sharpshooters in the opening battles of the war. They had a death rate far out of proportion to their numbers. Swords - and anything else that glittered - was quickly discarded as officers tried to meld into the khaki rank and file as it advanced on the battlefield.

Barbed Wire: The Bacon print also points out - for the first time - the barbed wire fencing that Boers were stringing routinely in front of their defences (above & below). Boers, with their farming background, had adapted this modern invention for keeping livestock in, for use on the battlefield, as a defensive tool in front of trenches, to keep Tommy Atkins out, or hold him up long enough so they could get a good shot at him while he was all tangled up. They used it with deadly effect, underwater at river crossings, and at Boer victories at Colenso and Magersfontein, where the British infantry advance was stopped and many Tommies died draped over the wire.

Historian Johan Hattingh (above) shows the river bank where the Boer women and children had dug holes to escape the bombardment, and the slope down which they dragged hundreds of dead horses - who could not hide from the shelling - to the river during the night. Johan is pointing downstream where the British army is camped during the battle, drinking the utterly contaminated water. Some 2,000 would die from drinking this poisonous "Dead Horse Soup," of dysentery and enteric fever. Only about 100 Boers died during the battle.

Left, the Boer laager above the river bank, which was the focus of the British bombardment. (Hattingh is standing on the near bank, where the track crosses the river.) The Bacon artist give some sense of the thousands of people that were there. They all had to dig into the ground for protection from the shelling.

Historian John Goldi (left) shows the spot (Paardeberg Hill in background), where the Canadians where hit by a wall of Boer fire when they stood up for that final mad charge (above) on "Bloody Sunday." The attack was a disastrous failure; for the British it was the worst day of casualties of the entire Boer War.

Telescoping Time, Events, & Places: The Bacon print also rolls the ten day battle into one. It shows the Canadian attack, on Feb. 18, in the foreground, and the Canadians accepting the Boer surrender (below), on Feb. 27 - they were in the front line trenches that day - in the middle ground.

Left, Johan Hattingh stands on the spot where the Canadian front line trenches were when the Boers surrendered there (below). It is several kms. east of the Bloody Sunday site.

Bloody Sunday: But the focus of the print is really the charge of the Canadians on Bloody Sunday, Feb. 18., (right), that came towards the camera on the photo below.

The British had just surrounded the Boers and had been exchanging rifle fire all day. At the end of the day, Lord Kitchener called for a frontal attack by all the British forces, including the Canadians.

Send Him a Wire: The Bacon artist reminds us not to forget the barbed wire. He should have reminded Major Haig (later Sir Douglas, "The Butcher") who was there that day, as Chief of Staff of the cavalry commander General John French, who, by heading off the Boers on Feb. 18th, had made the Battle of Paardeberg possible. Who knows, knowledge like that might come in handy some day for the Major...
Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Soldiers of the Queen, Paardeberg Drift Plate, Feb. 18, 1899
Orig. ceramic plate - Size - 8.75"
Found - Truro, NS
Labeled "Soldiers of the Queen, Paardeberg Drift, Sunday, February 18, 1900," back unmarked.
Lest: The Canadians who fell at Paardeberg lie on the battlefield (below), but were remembered, at home, by grieving family, friends, and fellow townsmen, with the "Bloody Sunday" plate which commemorated their sacrifice at Paardeberg Drift, on "Sunday, February 18th, 1900."
Go to Relics from Paardeberg

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000