Boer War Page 8

All About Boer War Bugles 1

Henry Burr (1885-1941): "Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight" 1918 - Verse 2

You are listening to an original recording from the early 1900s featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Henry Burr, singing our television program's theme song, "Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight." 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. (Verse 1 Page 6, Verse 2 Page 7, Verse 3 Page 8)

(You can hear these earliest Canadian recordings on our program's soundtrack. Details on our Music Page)

All About Boer War Bugles - Bugles 1

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Bugler Heroes

Buglers were still important members of the army during the Boer War. In the days before radio and telephone communication, they sounded the numerous calls that moved men about on the battlefield, and directed daily activities in camp. Buglers were often young boys of 12, 13, and 14 years of age. Still they put their lives on the line because they had to be in the midst of the action "where the men did the work." Sheet music from the time celebrated their pluck.
The First Hero: Bugle boys became famous for doing daring deeds in conditions that would make grown men terrified. The first to be celebrated, came out of the second battle of the Boer War, at the Battle of Elandslaagte, Oct. 21, 1899, only two days into the war.

During the horrific charge of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers against the fleeing Boers (above), Bugler John Shurlock put aside his bugle, seized a revolver and joined the chase. He shot three Boers and was celebrated in the huge Bacon print (above and below as number 13), with wildly swinging bugle and bare head so he would stand out among the other lancers. He was later photographed with his trademarks, the bugle and the pistol (below right).

In the days before television, Magic Lantern shows entertained people in concert halls. Hundreds of these 3.5 x 3.5" coloured glass slides were produced on the Boer War, including one celebrating the bare-headed John Shurlock, what else, leading the charge (left) at Elandslaagte. This obviously overstates his importance, but not his fame.

Correspondents wrote that, on the evening after the battle, he was carried shoulder-high through the British camp. Said his proud mother, who was not surprised by his exploits, "He is a brave, good, and generous son."

The Hero of Colenso: One of the biggest British disasters during "Black Week" produced the second bugler hero, 14 year old Bugler Dunne (below right). General Hart (right), the architect of one of several disasters that befell British arms at the Battle of Colenso, Dec. 15, 1899, committed one of the gravest military mistakes possible, by unwittingly ordering his men into a loop in the Tugela River (outlined by trees in center below), in order to make a crossing.

Thanks to the folly of their general, the Irish Fusiliers who charged into Hart's Loop, fell by the hundreds, as they came under a withering fire from three sides. In the middle of them all was Bugler Dunne, who was among the few to reach the river itself. Then, surrounded by drowning men, and a faltering British advance, he should have blown the "Retreat." Instead, legend claims, he blew the "Charge" and won undying fame. He dropped his bugle in the Tugela when he was shot in the bugle arm in the melee that followed. Men, made of lesser clay than he, restrained him from going back to retrieve it.

Queen Victoria visited him in the hospital and invited him to Windsor Castle where she presented him with a specially engraved silver bugle to replace the one he had lost in that gallant charge. (below) Bugler Dunne, still nursing his wounds, practices on the Queen's present.

Bugler Dunne

Bugler Dunne, Bugler Dunne, you are missing all the fun,
And another chap is bugling where the battle's being won.
Don't you hear the ringing cheers of the Dublin Fusiliers,
Bugler Dunne?

Yet you sing, yet you sing, though your arm is in a sling,
And your little bone is broken where the bullet left a sting,
And you show a bloody scar. Guess you dunno' where you are,
Bugler Dunne.

(But Bugler Dunne replies.)

Yes I do, yes I do, for I've got a bugle new,
And it's shining all with silver, and its sound is good and true.
Left the old one in the river, and I'll go back there, no never -
Least not for you.

But I'll go back for the Queen, the finest lady that I've seen -
Yes, I've seen her, she's a nailer - and I say just what I mean.
She's a heart that's warm and true for the lads in red and blue.
God save the Queen!

(above) Bugler Dunne as he was carried in triumph through cheering throngs in the streets of Portsmouth, England, on the shoulders of a bluejacket and his father (right).

Canadian Bugler Heroes

Canadian Hero: Canadians had their own bugler heroes, among the teenagers who followed the men to war. (Boer War sheet music right.) Bugler Douglas Williams (below right), from the Queen's Own Rifles in Toronto, went to South Africa with the Royal Canadian Regiment, Canada's First Contingent. He won high praise from British Col. Pilcher for carrying despatches under fire at the Battle of Sunnyside, the Canadian baptism of fire. After Paardeberg, his fame resounded throughout the Empire.

On "Bloody Sunday," during the Battle of Paardeberg, Feb. 18, 1900, "The youngest member of the Canadians, Bugler Williams, leaped on an anthill, and while the bullets rained about him, the clarion notes of the charge, so welcome to the Saxon ear, rang out." (T.G.Marquis, 1900)

(above) In the shadow of Paardeberg Hill (background right), Canadian historian John Goldi shows the approximate location where teenager Douglas Williams blew the charge and the Canadian front line rose to attack.

The charge ended in disaster, and was to be the worst day of casualties for the British army during the entire war. 21 Canadians - including Walter White from Windsor, ON (below right) - who responded to Bugler Williams' charge, were killed, and lie today beneath this stone (below), in a far corner of this remote battlefield.

But Douglas Williams survived and marched to Pretoria with the RCR's and returned to Canada with the regiment. Like Bugler Edwin McCormick, he returned to Africa for a second tour of duty, signing up with Canada's second contingent.

Mother's Letter: Bugler Edwin McCormick (right), brought a letter from his mother to Canadian Colonel Sam Steele, commander of Lord Strathcona's Horse, granting permission for him to go to war "With the Men Who Do the Work". He was one of a number of boy buglers posing on the foredeck of the Monterrey (front, far right), as the Strathcona's sailed for South Africa (below).
(above) Edwin McCormick poses with his bugle during the regiment's stopover in Ottawa where it received its flags from the Governor-General's wife, Lady Minto, on the steps of Parliament Hill.

Edwin would survive the campaign that included the March on Pretoria, and chasing General De Wet, before returning with the regiment to Canada after their year's tour of duty was over. The following year Edwin joined up with Canada's Fourth Contingent, and was to take part in the Battle of Hart's River, Canada's second worst day of casualties during the war. The night following the battle, he played the Last Post on his bugle (below right), as they laid eight Canadians to rest.

(below) Historian John Goldi stands on the spot where Edwin stood as they buried the Canadians in the area shaded by the tree. He is holding the very bugle Edwin used on that occasion. On the bell collar are the words Edwin scratched in memory of the historic places where he campaigned.

Edwin would survive the war, live to a ripe old age, and record his memories with CBC radio in the 1950s.

In 2000, while sleuthing the internet among the thousands of old bugles that regularly crop up, breathless Historian John Goldi came across this bugle with its strange words, and saved it from the ash heap of history.

Careful research confirmed this as Edwin McCormick's South African campaign bugle.

Toronto Globe Honours the Canadian Bugler: The Globe issued several supplements to honour the soldiers who served in South Africa during the Boer War. At Xmas 1901 it issued this magnificent and large (16 x 24") portrait of "The Bugler," which bears an uncanny resemblance to Bugler Edwin McCormick.

Discovering a Real Boer War Bugle!!!!!

Historian John Goldi came across a one-of-a-kind, genuine, Canadian Boer War bugle, while sleuthing among the many "Old Bugles" always for sale on ebay. Using the words scratched on it, and records of the Canadian Contingents, he was able to put together the remarkable life history of this wonderful Canadian Boer War artifact and save it from being lost to posterity.

How do we know what we have?

1 - The bugle is stamped with the Queen's broad arrow. 
Meaning it was produced by the British military for use anywhere in the British Empire. Hundreds of bugles were stamped with the broad arrow. These bugles were used in Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, India. A very few ended up in South Africa; most did not. (But of course, if a bugle has no broad arrow it never was a military bugle period...... So one must be wary of antique dealers who are quick to tag every bugle as Boer War to snag the unwary into spending a bundle on bogus historical memorabilia.)

2  - Our bugle  is stamped C. Mahillon & Co. 1901.
So it was made in England sometime in 1901. It therefore could not have been in the Boer War in 1899 or 1900, probably not even in 1901, if produced in the fall of the year...... That leaves only five months of war left.....Then how can we pretend this is a Boer War bugle?

3 - Like most real Boer War bugles, it is in very good shape because it was regarded as a precious souvenir
Everybody who went to South Africa was souvenir crazy. They brought back souvenirs and wrote on them, scratched on them, or had plaques affixed to them. To show off to friends for years to come. See... this bugle really went to Africa!!!!!  They scratched " Africa" and " Boer War" on pipes, letters, canteens, belts, bibles, and especially on bugles. They wanted to enshrine the highlight of their lives. (If it was not so marked in some way, it is virtually certain the item never left Canada, or Britain, or Australia, however loudly the antique dealer hollers ....... )

4 - The bell collar of the bugle is inscribed with the Afrikaner word "Magelisburg."
The Magaliesberg were the hills west of Pretoria, in South Africa. (Hey he was hired to blow bugles not spell.....)  It would seem probable that the owner of the bugle inscribed this obscure word in a foreign language on the bugle bell because to him it was important. He may have been there .....

5 - The bell collar is also inscribed with the Afrikaner word "Brackspruit"
The Brakspruit (Brack Creek in English) is a small river west of the Magaliesberg. Again we assume this word was inscribed by the bugle's owner because it had special significance to him.....

The bugle was picked up by an antique dealer at an auction in Toronto, Canada. Perhaps the bugle's former owner, or his family, had a Toronto tie-in? Because of the engraved inscriptions on the bell, we assume it went to Africa with Canadian soldiers. Probably with one from Toronto.

Canada raised 6 Contingents during 1899-1902. Since the bugle was only manufactured in 1901, the only possible contingents that it could have gone with are the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth. The Fourth Contingent, went to Africa in January 1902. We believe the bugle went with this group. Here's why......

6 - The written record confirms that in March, 1902, the Canadians of the Fourth Contingent, traveled west through the Magaliesberg in one of the last huge campaigns of the war. (hence inscription #1 - Magelisburg.). 

The army they were part of, was hot on the trail of President Steyn of the Orange Free State (center), and legendary Generals Christiaan De Wet (left) and Koos de la Rey.

On Mar. 31 the Canadians of this contingent, were attacked by de Wet and de la Rey, and fought the Battle of Hart's River or Boschbult Farm during which 12 Canadians were killed. It was Canada's second bloodiest battle of the entire Boer War. Boschbult Farm, where the British army and the Canadians were camped when they were attacked, is on the banks of the Brakspruit or Brak Creek (hence inscription #2 - Brackspruit.

Only one bugler was listed for the 2 CMR, (Canadian Mounted Rifles) - Bugler Edwin McCormick. 17 year old Edwin McCormick had enlisted from Toronto. This was his second tour of duty in South Africa. At 14, he had gone as Sam Steele's bugler with Lord Strathcona's Horse. His mother had written a letter to Steele permitting her son to go off to war. McCormick (shown left, with his bugle) was present at the Battle of Hart's River.

Eyewitness accounts describe the burials after the battle, and how Edwin played the Last Post with his bugle on the evening of Mar. 31, as they buried 8 Canadians on Boschbult Farm. It is hard to believe that anyone else but him would have scratched the names of these places on this bugle.

The conclusion seems inescapable, that this was his bugle, and the very one that he used on that solemn occasion. It is a unique historic artifact that can verifiably be tied to a time, a place, an event, and a man.

After the war Edwin McCormick returned to Toronto, lived to a ripe old age, wrote a diary, and described his adventures  in a CBC radio interview in the 1950s.

In the course of time his descendants, presumably not caring, or knowing about history or the bugle, dumped it on the auction market in Toronto. Luckily the watchful eyes of historian John Goldi salvaged this valuable artifact for posterity. We believe this bugle is the most precious Boer War bugle in Canada - if not the world - and ranks with the one blown by heroic Bugler Dunne at the Battle of Colenso. (And his was lost to history.) 

In June, 2000 we took the bugle back to Boschbult Farm in South Africa. John Goldi, holding the bugle, stands on the spot where Edwin McCormick stood as he used it to blow the Last Post on the evening after the battle. Eight Canadians were laid to rest on Mar. 31, 1902 in the shaded area which is now the front yard of a house. The remains were removed in the 1960s to a local cemetery, but the soil and the rocks that covered the graves of the Canadians, the memories, and the history, are still in this place.

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000