A Most Dashing Advance in the Boer Wars

Scorched earth tactics by the British Army dur...
Scorched earth tactics by the British Army during the Second Anglo-Boer War. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Background info: Between 1835 and 1845, about 15,000 Voortrekkers (people of Dutch extract) moved out of the (British) Cape Colony across the Gariep (Orange) River into the interior of South Africa.The Boer Wars was the name given to the South African Wars of 1880-1881 and 1899-1902, that were fought between the British and the descendants of the Dutch settlers, mostly farmers (Boers), in Africa.

In 1884 Canada was asked to send troops, but Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, whose election battle-cry was, “A British subject I was born; a British subject I will die,” refused.

Late in 1899 Britain was in trouble again in South Africa.  German-Dutch leaders trying to win independence for the Transvaal and Orange Free State had besieged British-held Mafeking, Ladysmith and Kimberley.  The second Boer War had begun.

This time when Britain asked Canada for help, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, a French-Canadian, was Prime Minister. He authorized sending of troops within three days.  One contingent sailed from Halifax on January 21, 1900. Altogether more than 7,000 Canadians fought in the Boer War.

One of the Canadian units was the Lord Strathcona Horse, recruited and financed by Donald A. Smith (Lord Strathcona). The Canadians were better suited to the South African type of warfare than British “Regulars”.  They understood the guerilla type of fighting needed in that terrain.  After the battle of Paardeberg, Lord Roberts, British Commander-in-Chief, said: “A most dashing advance made by the Canadian regiment and some engineers …  apparently clinched matters.”

Many Canadian place names commemorate the part played in the Boer War by Canadians.  Kimberley and Ladysmith, British Columbia, are among them.

On “Bloody Sunday”, February 18, 1900, at Paardeberg Drift, a poorly planned British assault left 18 Canadians dead and 63 wounded, Canada’s bloodiest battle since the War of 1812.

Before the war ended on May 31, 1902, more than 7,368 Canadians (officially aged 22-40, though some as young as 15) served with British troops.  Canada also sent 23 artificers, a 64-person hospital unit, 12 nursing sisters, 12 instructional officers, 6 chaplains, and 5 postal clerks.

Some 270 Canadians were buried in South Africa; over half fell victim of disease.  Another 252 were wounded. Some, like the Ottawa trooper L.W.R. Mulloy who lost both eyes, remained a living monument to the human cost of Canadian participants in this distant conflict.

To get better understanding and more information on the Boer Wars, I suggest Sparticus Educational. For a British point of view, go to BBC History. There’s also the Anglo-Boer War Museum.


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