Boer War Page 25

Boer War Places: Then & Now 1

Alan Turner: "Rule Britannia" c 1902

You are listening to a very early recording, made c. 1902 by Alan Turner singing "Rule Britannia," a song enormously popular among Canadians as their troops left for South Africa to subdue the Boers in 1899 and 1900.

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

Train Wreck at Frere: Nov. 15, 1899

The Boer War was the first war in which trains played a decisive part in bringing up supplies and ammunition quickly for the fighting troops. To cripple the British war machine, a principal war activity of the Boer commandos was to sabotage railway lines and bridges.
The most famous train wreck during the Boer War - because young Winston Churchill (below), was aboard as a war correspondent - took place just outside Frere, Natal, on Nov. 15, 1899 (left).
The armoured train passed on its daily run to Colenso, up and beyond the hill (above). In the meantime, a Boer commando under Louis Botha, placed rocks on the track this side of the curve, and then occupied the hill above on the left.

As the train returned over the horizon at the top, and descended the grade, the Boer gunners opened fire. The engineer, adrenalin now pumping wildly, naturally opened up the throttle on the engine - just as the Boers had hoped. As the speeding train rounded the curve - at the spot where the modern train is located above - it suddenly came upon the rocks, too late to stop. The train cars in front of the engine derailed at the spot where the overturned car can be seen on the right and left below.

Historian John Goldi stands at the wreck site, and points to where the rocks derailed the train and the battle ensued, which was celebrated on the Magic Lantern slide (below).
Churchill rallied the troops, and under fire, cleared the track to let the engine get away with the wounded. Most of the British, including Churchill, were captured.
Comrades Who Fell: The grave of the British dead is still tended beside the tracks. The memorial is written with the empty shell casings, shot off by the defenders, now held in place by cement.

Churchill became wildly famous when he escaped from the Boer prison, and after an adventurous flight through the Boer lines, rejoined the British army.

To View our Anglo-Boer War
'Armoured Train'
Slide Show

Stop Play "Rule Brittania" on the controller at the top of the page.

Right Click The train right
and Press

Belmont Station, where members of the Royal Canadian Regiment spent two monotonous months waiting for action (Dec-Feb. 1900), is unchanged since they last left here a hundred years ago.
"Great Canadian Discovery"


(Above) A rare candid photo of Lord Roberts (in helmet) at Belmont Station, walking to the right of Col. Otter, commander of the Royal Canadians (Canada's First Contingent), just before the start of the Great March in Feb. 1900. General Kitchener walks at Otter's left, while a Canadian honour guard stands at attention. It is only days before they will join one of the greatest marches of a conquering army in history.

(Above) Col. Otter's Royal Canadians stand outside the door to their guard room at the rear of the station in December, 1899. Behind them stands the telegraph pole and the wires which connected them to the other stations.

The bullet holes in the wall, pointed out by historian John Goldi (above) were already there when the Canadians posed, souvenirs from the Battle of Belmont two weeks before they arrived.

Using these old archival photographs, which he had brought from Canada, historian John Goldi was able to match the architectural details with buildings still standing in Belmont, and discover and publicize, their Canadian connection for the first time.

Canadians at Belmont - Feb. 1900
The Canadian commander-in-chief at Belmont was Col. William Otter, featured below in an extremely rare pin tray. (Found in Pottageville, ON)

"Great Canadian Discovery"


The Canadian hospital (below today and in 1899), right beside the tracks at Belmont, is still standing. Canada's first fatality in South Africa occurred inside. Pte. Chappell, RCR, died from tonsillitis, Dec. 13, aged 22.

One who worked tirelessly inside, was French-Canadian Surgeon-Captain Eugene Fiset (left), from Rimouski, Quebec.

He would win high praise from the men, for his courage under fire, while tending them on the battlefield, and was credited with saving many lives during the campaign that followed.

"They had long since learned to love him: in their camps at De Aar, at Orange River, at Belmont, he had not only been a physician to their bodies, but to their spirits as well. But it was not till Paardeberg that his true worth was proved. On that day he exposed himself a dozen times to a fierce fire while dressing wounds or helping bear soldiers from the field. That the death rate from fever and wounds had been so low among the Canadians is largely due to his unflagging zeal."
TG Marquis, "Canada's Sons on Kopje and Veldt", 1900

In later life Fiset would become a Major-General in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He would be knighted for his work and rise to become Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Quebec. This heavy and large 3" medal was found in Freelton, ON.

(left) A small part of the huge regulation triangular bandage that Fiset - and all British soldiers - would have used throughout the Boer War. It is covered by numerous illustrative pictures so that anyone could figure out how to best use the bandage for the wound he was trying to bind up.

(below) Treating the wounded behind the railway buildings during the battle; Canadian hopital, with its distinctive chimneys in the background.

Canadian Hospital at Belmont
Using these old archival photographs, which he had brought from Canada, historian John Goldi was able to match the architectural details with buildings still standing in Belmont, and discover and publicize, their Canadian connection for the first time.
Father O'Leary, the chaplain to the Canadians at Belmont, won their undying respect and gratitude, during the hard campaign to come, for repeatedly braving heavy fire to bring succour to the wounded and courage for the dying.

"Great Canadian Discovery"

Canadian Rock Engravings

Gun Hill at Belmont: Jan 1900

The Boer memorial on top of Gun Hill at Belmont (left), from which their guns shelled the attacking British down below in Nov. 1899.

Just weeks after the battle, the Royal Canadians arrived, to begin a two month training period. They hiked to this hill overlooking the station, and on the rocks left their inscriptions which still endure 100 years later. 

(above) W. Burns, RCR, Feb. 3, London, Canada.

In the past, most names have suffered defacing attempts by patriotic descendants of the Boers who didn't take kindly to graffiti from British invaders of their homeland. Today local Afrikaners are incensed at anyone trying to write on these rocks or deface the Canadian inscriptions in any way.

(left) W.R. Lawrence, RCR, 1900, Cornwall, Canada.

(below) W.R. Lawrence, again.

(above, and far right) George Downey, Montreal.

(right) E.W. Sprague, 1900, St. John, NB.

W. Dixon, RCA, Quebec, Canada, a visitor from the Royal Canadian Artillery.

(right) A light-hearted self-portrait, complete with jaunty mustache, by Sgt. J. Perry C Co RCR (Galt, ON) . John Perry (above) would enlist again with the 2 CMR, and at the Battle of Hart's River, Mar. 31, 1902, would die a hero's death among Lt. Bruce Carruthers' "Last Stand" troopers. Though wounded he fought till he died. (Details on Page 31)

(Right) View from the summit of Table Mountain, near Gun Hill, Belmont railway station in the background, and rock sangars in the foreground where the Boers had their guns, and Canadian RCRs later stood guard.

Here, hidden on a small rock probably no one has ever seen before (right), was the name "N Cluff, D Coy, Ottawa, Canada", (below right).

As we bent over to take the pictures (below), the tripod leg dislodged these two shell casing (left), with bent over flattened tops, that soldiers often used to store dry powder for starting fires.

Did they fall out of Pvt. Cluff's pocket as he bent over to scratch his name for posterity?

c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000