Boer War Page 19

Mounties in the Boer War

The Sousa Band: "Canadian Military March" 1904

You are listening to a popular Boer War Canadian military march recorded in 1904 by the Sousa Band, under the direction of Herbert Lincoln Clarke (1867-1945) in Philadelphia, USA, specifically for use only in Canada.

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

A Great Canadian Mystery at the Coronation of George V (1911)
Background: In 1911, after the death of Edward VII, George, the Duke of York, was crowned George V. It had been only ten years since he had visited Canada and crossed the country by train.

Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier went to London to represent Canada and a troop of Canada's famous red coated policemen was sent as well.

AH Hider: The high point of this grand occasion was illustrated in glorious colour through the wonderful artistry of Canadian AH Hider. He captures the immensity of the pageantry just as the mounted redcoats are passing Sir Wilfrid, who stands in his carriage and salutes the passing Canadians by doffing his hat.
One of the troopers who rode in the parade that day kept two souvenirs of the occasion (above) including the print which was issued as a Supplement to the Toronto Globe in 1911, which he framed in oak.

According to the firm testimony of his descendants, who sold it off from his estate, he also kept the brass "hand-sized" martingale badge and the straps which adorned the chest of his horse as he rode in the parade on that glorious day.

And that is where the mystery begins...

A Mystery? In 1911 the redcoats were known as the Royal North West Mounted Police (RNWMP), a designation by which the force had only been known since 1904, when, as a reward for valiant service to the Crown in the Boer War, Edward VII had bestowed the word Royal on the old NWMP.

Yet the martingale, which the family insists the Staff Sergeant had draped over his horse's neck during the parade, clearly says Royal Canadian Mounted Police. How do you square that with the fact that the RNWMP did not become the RCMP until 1920, nine years later?

A Possible Explanation: The Canadian Government had to decide who would represent Canada in the parade at the Coronation. The red coated Mounties, who were policing the great wild North Western territories, just recently renamed Alberta and Saskatchewan, were an obvious choice.

But "Royal North West Mounted Police" would not be a very noble sounding title to represent a nation with, at a grand coronation spectacle. And "North West" would not convey anything at all to anyone outside Canada. Did someone suggest why - since they were to represent Canada - not just call them the more grand title of Royal "Canadian" - instead of "North West" - Mounted Police? Had a great ring to it, didn't it? A national ring! And why not mock up some glorious brass martingales with the name, just for this one occasion? Even Art Hider and the Toronto Globe were caught up in the national fervour of the time and titled their print Canadians - not "North West Mounted Police" - at the Coronation.

When the men returned home, to work as members of the RNWMP, did they speak wistfully of that grand time when they stood in for Canada, and all Canadians, as the "Royal Canadian Mounted Police" in front of Sir Wilfrid and George V and Queen Mary. Did the name start to gain more currency with each telling, until in 1920, only nine years later, it was decided to formalize what had been initiated for the Coronation of 1911, and had just snowballed into general acceptance.

We know that names or flags are not instant creations but have informal beginnings long before they are written into law. The flag which Lester Pearson supposedly invented in the 1960s had in fact been basically designed by Eugène Fiset fifty years before.

Is that how the RCMP got its name, all due to the Coronation of 1911?

Is this brass martingale the first RCMP equipment item ever created to bear the name Royal Canadian Mounted Police? Bequeathed to us by a Staff Sergeant who treasured it till the day he died.

Is this Great Canadian Mystery solved?

Your comments are welcome.

"Discovery (Dec. 2002) : Rare NWMP Binoculars"
Fabulous Find: Canadian North West Mounted Police

Discovered sitting alone on a back shelf in an antique store, this fabulous set of binoculars, made in Paris, France and inscribed on the barrel "North West Mounted Police." The NWMP went west in 1873 to police the Canadian "wilderness."

Was this a set of the original binoculars issued to equip the force that trekked west? Did these very glasses spy out shameless American whiskey traders, sneaking their wagons down a western coulee? The name NWMP lasted only from 1873 to 1904, when as a result of valiant Boer War service by many members of the force, a grateful Edward VII conferred the name Royal upon the unit which then became the RNWMP.

These magnificent binoculars - the finest set we've ever seen from the Boer War period - are huge, a full 8 3/4" when fully extended. They have leather covered barrels, and phenomenally modern, leather covered anti-glare lens hoods that slide out, and in for storage. They are truly well named - La Merveille - marvelous! (Found in Toronto, ON)

The Sentimental Mountie
in the Boer War
CANADIAN MOUNTIES IN THE BOER WAR: With the outbreak of the Boer War, the British military called for infantry from Canada, believing that foot soldiers would put down the Boer "rebellion" in short order. The shocking reverses inflicted on the British infantry during Black Week, December, 1900, by highly intelligent and mobile Boer commandos changed British military thinking. German military thinkers were not alone in believing that the British could never defeat the Boers. Now the British called for mounted troops.

One man who believed he knew where one could find a match for the Boer's ability as horsemen, scouts, and hunters, was Donald Smith, Lord Strathcona. Smith had made his fortune in the western Canadian fur trade and helped develop the Transcontinental Railroad across Canada in the 1880s. He was mightily impressed with the mounted police and the horsemen of the Canadian west.

Right, a lithograph from 1912 of a painting by American Charlie Russell, entitled "Single-handed," which pays tribute to the early Mountie's courage at policing a huge area of the Canadian West peopled by thousands of often disgruntled Indians. (Found in Burlington, ON)

Rare, large (4 x 4 cm) hat badge (above) and a most unusual souvenir (left) of the short period of time (1904 - 1920) that the Canadian Mounties were known as the "Royal" North West Mounted Police. To find out more, read on......

Canada's famed Mounted Police were formed and sent west in 1873 to literally bring law and order to a vast Canadian prairie land called the North West Territories where everyone - Indians, Métis, Americans, and white settlers were often a law unto themselves.

These mounted troopers were called the North West Mounted Police, after the territory they were to patrol. They kept that name for 31 years.

Over the next 25 years they did an admirable job of policing, bringing about a peaceful integration of whites, Métis, and Indians, during a time when the same process in the United States only a few miles to the south, resulted in racial confrontations that resulted in the killing of thousands of Indian women, children, and men.

Canadian Scouts
Scores of men from the North West Mounted Police were recruited into the mounted regiments Canada assembled after Black Week, including Lord Strathcona's Horse, and the Canadian Mounted Rifles. Sam Steele, a former Mountie himself, commanded the Strathconas. He and his men did outstanding work as scouts for the British Army during their year in the war. At the end, the British Commander-in-chief, Lord Kitchener, was sad to see them go. "All my generals are calling for the Strathconas" he told Steele at the farewell.

Ultimately Steele was called back to serve in setting up the South African Constabulary by Lord Baden-Powell of Boy Scout fame, who was organizing a police force to administer the conquered territories. Hundreds of Mounties returned to serve in South Africa in a police force that Steele had modeled on the North West Mounted Police he had commanded in the Canadian west.

Perhaps more than any other group, the Canadians of the South African Constabulary helped to integrate the defeated Boers back into the British Empire.

In 1904, after the war, King Edward VII rewarded the North West Mounted Police for their outstanding work during and after the Boer War, honouring their work both as superlative soldiers and consumate peace makers. In recognition of their accomplishments the Canadian force would henceforth be called the "Royal North West Mounted Police" or RNWMP.

The Mounties were to keep this title for only 16 years, when in 1920 they became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the RCMP. The North West Territories had disappeared when Alberta and Saskatchewan were set up in its place in 1905, as the eighth and ninth provinces of Canada.

Above, brass shoulder flashes with lugs and pins. On the back it says W. Scully, Montreal, who made helmets, bags and military equipment for the Canadian army during the Boer War. Right, a 3 x 3 cm RNWMP collar badge.

These historic relics were found as a group at a Toronto auction. They obviously belonged to a turn-of-the-century Mountie, who kept these souvenirs of a high point in his life, and that of his country.

Were these the sentimental mementoes of a young Mountie who had gone to South Africa and then returned to work in the peace time Royal North West Mounted Police in the Canadian west like Sam Steele did in 1906? (Many other Canadians - who had stayed on - trickled back in the years after the war ended.)

Found in the same box were two horse bits, the snaffle bit above and the straight bar bit left.

We know that troopers brought back many souvenirs from their South African war days. (See the Trooper Moody page). Were these bits that the Mountie used with a favourite horse during the campaign?

Who Is this Man?:

Above, the way a Mountie looked during his campaigning days in South Africa.

To find out more about this painting of a Boer War volunteer (quite possibly a Mountie), see the "Boer War Mysteries" page. Can you use the clues provided to figure out who he was? Let us know of any leads you may have.

Left, vintage spurs that were in the box, along with leather gauntlets, leather wrist cuffs, RNWMP badges and shoulder flashes, and the mystery horse's hoof.


Horses were branded to prevent theft - not from the Boers or Blacks, but from fellow soldiers in other regiments.... So many horses were killed that they were always in short supply, and no one liked walking the thousands of miles needed to cover the veldt in South Africa.

So ...

British General Hutton (left) had been an unpopular head of the Canadian army (militia) from 1897 to Feb. 1900 when he was fired by the Canadian government for refusing to take its direction on military matters. He immediately went to South Africa, where he led a column of Lord Roberts' March on Pretoria. Because of his "Canadian experience," the Canadians were placed under his command.

They showed their displeasure by stealing his horse. Hutton growled that the "Canadians are the biggest thieves in the army."

To prevent this sort of thing elaborate brands were designed to keep everyone honest.

"My Brands - My History"

This Boer War horse has led an interesting life. He was a Canadian import, designated as government property (branded with the Queen's broad arrow up on shoulder). Then he was sold (a cancelling upside down arrow on flank), probably when broken down or badly wounded.

Somehow he was rehabilitated and got into the hands of the enemy, because he was designated as captured (first arrow pointing forward on flank cancelling the sold inverted arrow). He became a government horse again (arrow up on flank). But he must have been lost to the enemy and captured again (last capture arrow pointing forward on flank.)

His hooves are also deeply etched with his regimental number AG for Argyle Guards number 763.

Mystery Solved?

Now we know where the number on the hoof comes from.

This Mountie preserved the hoof of a horse that played a special role in his life. Had a sharp gallop in South Africa taken him to safety? Had his horse taken bullets meant for him?

He had his horse's hoof preserved, filled with plaster of paris. Somewhere in the records the horse's name may be preserved. And the story of where it's feet carried the sentimental Mountie safely on his way. Unlike the Mountie below from the 1900 Globe insert "Hit" who would never return from South Africa.


Also found among the relics, were the leather wrist cuffs (below) that were so commonly worn by the silver screen silent cowboy stars like William S. Hart.

If you can help solve the mystery of who might have owned these things, or who this horse might have been, to whom it belonged, and where it walked, we would be pleased to receive a call.

Now it Can Be Told

In spite of the best the authorities could do, branding didn't always work, at least not against Canadians, who would go raiding against other British, Australian, or New Zealander horse lines.

Willie Griesbach, a westerner, (below) grew up in a household where his father had spent his life as a trooper in the original North West Mounted Police. When war broke out, Willie enlisted for South Africa in the Canadian Mounted Rifles, along with many Mounties. He wrote of his Boer War experiences in "I Remember."

"We had in our ranks a number of expert horse-thieves who made a sortie against a squadron of Australians, the Queensland Mounted Infantry. Their horses were branded Q.M.I. They brought back a fine big chestnut horse and went to work on the brand with nail scissors. They changed the "Q" into a "C" and the "I" into an "R" - Canadian Mounted Rifles. Later on, the over-suspicious Australians walked solemnly through our lines in quest of missing horses. They looked at this horse for some time and finally walked on."

Trooper Willie Griesbach, CMR

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000