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Boer War, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

Events Leading up to Boer War

The second war in which men from Victoria County saw active service was the Boer War of 1899-1902. The origins of this struggle are to be found as early as 1814 when, after the Napoleonic wars, England took over, for 6,000,000 compensation, Cape Colony, a possession of Holland, who had been an ally and dependent of France. The Dutch colonists, or "Boers," were greatly incensed at the subsequent immigration of Englishmen and the abolition of slavery in 1834. in 1836 and the years immediately following, some 10,000 Boers withdrew from Cape Colony to the wilderness which lay far to the north in the interior and set up two independent republics, Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic. By 1854 England had officially recognized the autonomy of these little countries. In 1877, however, under the imperialistic ministry of Disraeli, the Transvaal Republic was abruptly declared annexed to the British Empire. Gladstone succeeded Disraeli as British premier in 18S0 and opened negotiations with the indignant Boer leaders with a view to annulling this annexation. Unfortunately, while an amicable settlement was thus in sight, some of the Boers resorted to violence and routed a small British detachment at Majuba Hill, February 27, 1881. British feeling ran high but Gladstone persisted in his chosen course and signed in 1884 the London Convention, which recognized the independence of the South African or Transvaal Republic but also guaranteed the right of all white men to reside and trade in the republic and to be liable only to the same taxes as the Boers themselves. The misfortune of this settlement was that the Boers mistakenly fancied that they had won their own independence by force of arms at Majuba Hill and so grossly exaggerated their own strength.

In the following year gold was discovered in the Rand, a mountain range in the Transvaal. A great influx of English miners and speculators followed. These "Uitlanders," or foreigners, soon out numbered the Boers by two to one. The Boer government was an incompetent oligarchy and its leaders were determined to keep control of the state which at the cost of so much hardship they had created in the wilderness. The Uitlanders were accordingly denied citizenship but were forced to render military service and to bear the brunt of taxation. Their demands for more generous treatment were backed by Britain but were refused by the Boers. In 1895 an ineffectual raid was made on the Transvaal by Dr. Jamieson, the administrator of the neighboring British colony of Rhodesia. The raiders were captured and turned over to Britain. The British authorities , however, treated the offenders very leniently and actually shielded the real instigator of the invasion, a millionaire capitalist-statesman, named Cecil Rhodes.

The Boers, under their president, Paul Kruger, now began to prepare for war. Vast supplies were collected. Foreign mercenaries, chiefly Germans and American Fenians, flocked into the country. A staff of German artillerists under Colonel Schiel undertook the training of the Boer army .At last, when all was ready, an impossible ultimatum was issued to Britain on October 9, 1899, and two days later war broke out. Orange Free State threw in its lot with the Transvaal and the two republics set a force of 60,000 mounted fighters in the field.

The Sending of Canadian Troops

On October 13th the Canadian government decided to accept an invitation of the British War Office to participate in the struggle.

As a first contingent, a unit of 1000 men, known as the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, was mobilized and placed under the command of Lt. Col. (now Major General Sir William) Otter. The following men from Victoria County went with this unit: Lieut. Suddaby of Burnt River, Sergt. McCrae of Omemee, Corporal Dodd of Burnt River, Corporal A. J. Mathews of Lindsay, and Privates Corbier, McGregor, and Williams, of Lindsay. This unit sailed for Cape Town October 30, 1899.

Lt. Col. (now Lieut. General Sir Sam) Hughes was in command of the 45th Regiment at this time and was very zealous in service. However, he wrote some very unorthodox letters to Major General Hutton, head of the Canadian forces, and was therefore denied the privilege of serving with Canada's contingent. He thereupon went to South Africa on his own initiative and took part, as Special Service Officer and Railway Staff Officer, in the Imperial Force's operations in Cape Colony.

Early in 1900 Canada sent a second contingent consisting of two regiments of mounted rifles, known as the Royal Canadian Dragoons and the Canadian Mounted RifIes respectively, and three batteries of artillery, designated "C," "D," and "E." With this draft went Sergt. Thos. Gifford, Trooper Ernest EagIeson, and Gunner Perrin, of Lindsay, and Gunner James Moffatt, of Valentia.

Still another unit sailed in March. This was the "Lord Strathcona's Horse," a regiment of cavalry equipped and supported by the Canadian High Commissioner at London. Lieut. George E. Laidlaw of Balsam Lake, Alex. Skinner of Lindsay, and Wm. J. Baker, of Victoria Road represented Victoria County in this unit.

The Progress of the War

At the outset of the war the Boers swept out into the British colonies which surrounded them and laid siege to Ladysmith in Natal, to KimberIey in Griqualand West, and to Mafeking in Bechuanaland. The British field armies sought to raise these sieges and suffered disastrous reverses at Magersfontein and Colenso. The War Office then awoke at last to the seriousness of the situation. On December 17, 1899, Lord Roberts was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the forces in South Africa and Lord Kitchener his Chief-of-staff. They sailed from England five days later and by February 12, 1900, were ready to begin a great offensive movement across the veldt to Bloemfontein, the capital of Orange Free State. With their army of 35,000 men went the R.C.R. under Lt. Col. Otter.

On February 15th the cavalry under General French raised the siege of Kimberley. On the 18th a Boer force under Cronje turned to face the British at Paardeburg. The ensuing battle lasted five days, and it was the Canadians who finally forced the Boer position at the cost of 110 casualties. Still other enemy forces barred the way to Bloemfontein, but these were quickly brushed aside at Poplar Grove on March 7th and at Driefontein on March 10th. Roberts entered Bloemfontein on March 13th. Typhoid fever now broke out and took heavy toll from the army. For five weeks the Royal Canadian Regiment was practically all out of action, but on April 21st all who were well set out eastward with a force under General Ian Hamilton. They cleared Boers away from hill positions at Israel's Poort on April 25th and at Thaba Mountain on April 30th. These battles left the country east of Bloemfontein free from the enemy.

Meanwhile the other Canadian units had not been completely idle. From March 10th to April 14th, "D" and "E" Batteries of artillery and the Canadian Mounted Rifles formed the greater part of a column under Sir Charles Parsons which marched through alkali deserts from Carnarvon to Kenhart and mopped up all rebellion throughout the wild hinterland of Cape Colony. "C" Battery, under Major Hudon, was sent on a more distant mission. It was landed at Beira in Portugese East Africa and taken on a long railway journey west and south through Rhodesia and Bechuanland, at last to join the forces of Colonel Mahon and Colonel Plumer and relieve Mafeking on the 17th of May, 1900.

On May 1st Roberts started a great forward movement from Bloemfontein north to Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal Republic. An army of 40,000 men, including the R.C.R., R.C.D., and C.M.R., moved forward on a forty-mile front. The Boers offered repeated resistance at Vet River, Zand River, Doornkop and elsewhere, but were pushed steadily back until at last Pretoria was taken on June 5th, 1900.

This seventeen weeks campaign of Lord Roberts, from February 12th to June 5th, ended the war proper. Almost two full years of guerilla warfare were necessary, however, before the Boers consented to come to terms.

The R.C.R. sailed for Canada in October, 1900. Of its original strength, 68 had died and 123 had been wounded. The R.C.D., C.M.R. and the artillery left for home in December. The R.C.D. had taken part in 40 engagements and had had 52 casualties. The C.M.R. had been in 28 engagements and had had 34 casualties. "D" Battery's chief work had been on the lines of communication, and "E" Battery's heaviest campaign under Sir Charles Warren in Griqualand West.

Lord Strathcona's Horse was ultimately sent in from Durban and attached to Buller's Army at Zand Spruit. Here they served as scouts, guards, and escorts to convoys. From July 1, 1900, to January 8, 1901, details of the regiment were almost daily under fire. It sailed for Canada on January 20, 1901.

Canada's official contribution to this Boer War was 189 officers and 3907 men. The total cost was $2,830,965.07, a little more than half the expense incurred in the Saskatchewan Rebellion of 1885.

Formal peace was signed on June 1, 1902, and the Transvaal Republic and Orange Free State became British dependencies. A Liberal ministry, which came into power in England in 1906, wisely granted these colonies responsible government and sanctioned in 1909 a federal Union of South Africa. Time has vindicated overwhelmingly the wisdom of this course.

Military Annals

Victoria County


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