South African War
South African War (Boer War), 11 Oct 1899 to 31 May 1902 between Britain and the 2 Afrikaner republics of South Africa (SAR, or Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. When war began, Canadian opinion was already sharply divided on the question of sending troops to aid the British.
South African War (Boer War), 11 Oct 1899 to 31 May 1902 between Britain and the 2 Afrikaner republics of South Africa (SAR, or Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. When war began, Canadian opinion was already sharply divided on the question of sending troops to aid the British. French Canadians led by Henri Bourassa, seeing growing British imperialism as a threat to their survival, sympathized with the Afrikaners, whereas English Canadians, with some notable exceptions, rallied to the British cause. Under intense public pressure, Wilfrid Laurier's government reluctantly authorized recruitment of a token 1000 infantrymen, designated the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, commanded by Lt-Col William D. OTTER. They sailed Oct 30 from Québec. With British reverses and mounting casualties, Canada had no difficulty procuring 6000 more volunteers, all mounted men, including 3 batteries of field artillery which accompanied Canada's 2nd contingent, the 1st Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles; another 1000 men, the 3rd Battalion, RCR, were raised to relieve regular British troops garrisoned at Halifax, NS. Only the 1st, 2nd and Halifax contingents, 12 instructional officers, 6 chaplains, 8 nurses and 22 artificers (mostly black-smiths) were recruited under the authority of the Canadian MILITIA ACT and were organized, clothed, equipped, transported and partially paid by the Canadian government, at a cost of $2 830 965. The 3rd contingent, Strathcona's Horse, was funded entirely by Lord Strathcona (Donald SMITH), Canada's wealthy high commissioner to the UK. The rest, the South African Constabulary, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Regiments of CMR and the 10th Canadian Field Hospital, were recruited and paid by Britain. All volunteers agreed to serve for up to one year, except in the Constabulary, which insisted on 3 years' service.
Canadians also served in imperial, irregular units, such as the Canadian Scouts and Brabant's Horse.
The war can be divided into 3 phases. Euphoria marked the start of hostilities and ended in Britain's "Black Week" of mid-Dec 1899. This first period, characterized by British blunders and defeats, startled Canadians as the more numerous Afrikaner soldiers, highly mobile and armed with modern weapons and the determination to defend their homeland, confounded the British. The second phase, Feb-Aug 1900, reversed the trend. During this period the British reorganized and reinforced, and under new leadership began their steady march to Bloemfontein and Pretoria, the capitals of the OFS and the SAR. After Paul Kruger, SAR president, fled to Europe 3 months following Pretoria's fall, the war continued another 2 years. But it had become dull, dirty guerrilla warfare, with the British resorting to blockhouses, farm burning and concentration camps to subdue the "bitter-enders."
Only the 1st and 2nd contingents, Lord Strathcona's Horse, the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles and the Constabulary saw active service; the rest arrived around the Peace of Vereeniging, signed 31 May 1902. In battles at PAARDEBERG, Zand River, Mafeking, LELIEFONTEIN, Lydengurg, Hart's River and elsewhere, Canadian troops had distinguished themselves. Their tenacity, stamina and initiative seemed especially suited to the Afrikaners' unorthodox, guerrilla tactics. Four Canadians received the VICTORIA CROSS, 19 the Distinguished Service Order and 17 the Distinguished Conduct Medal; 117 were mentioned in dispatches, and Canada's senior nursing sister, Georgina POPE, was awarded the Royal Red Cross. During the final months of the war 40 Canadian teachers went to South Africa as part of Milner's reconstruction plans.
Canadians at home viewed their soldiers' martial success with pride and marked their victories by massive parades and demonstrations lasting several days. They insured the men's lives upon their enlistment, showered them with gifts upon their departure and during their service, and feted them upon their return. They formed a Patriotic Fund and a Canadian branch of the Soldiers' Wives' League to care for their dependants, and a Canadian South African Memorial Association to mark the graves of the 244 Canadian casualties, over half of them victims of diseases, principally enteric fever. After the war they erected monuments to the men who fought. The wounded, men such as the celebrated trooper L.W. Mulloy, who had been blinded, remained for years a living testimony to the war's human cost.
The success of Canada's soldiers and their criticism of British leadership and social values fed a new sense of Canadian self-confidence, which loosened rather than cemented the ties of empire. Many of Canada's young South African War veterans, such as R.E.W. TURNER, E.W.B. Morrison, A.C. MACDONNELL, E.H. Burstall and V.A.S. Williams, played a prominent part in WWI. The war also damaged relations between French and English Canadians. Once during the war the bitterness created by the conflict erupted into a 3-day riot in Montréal. Consequently, although the war undoubtedly sharpened English Canada's identity, it left distrust and resentment in its wake.
S. Evans, The Canadian Contingents and Canadian Imperialism (1901); Carman Miller, "Canada and the Boer War," Canada's Visual History, vol 24 (1978); Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (1979).