Boer War Page 29

Great Boer War Battles 2


Harry Macdonough (1871-1931): "When the Roll is Called up Yonder" 1902

You are listening to an original recording from 1900 featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Harry Macdonough singing "When the Roll is Called up Yonder," a religious song popular among Canadians as the casualty toll started to arrive from South Africa in Feb. 1900.

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


SPION KOP: Jan 24, 1900

The British tried, but failed, to remove the Boers holding the top of Spion Kop (right), with a surprise night attack up the slopes.

The British believed that if they could capture this flat-topped hill, they could place guns on top, and clear the way for the army to relieve Ladysmith some 30 km. beyond.

After a ferocious all day battle on top, the British retreated the following night.

Canadians died here even though Canada had no official participation in this, the bloodiest battle of the Boer War.

"An Acre of Massacre" was how the battlefield on top of Spion Kop was described, after a battle in which hundreds of British soldiers were killed before the army retreated back across to this side of the Tugela River (left). 

American and Boer observers claimed they buried over a thousand British soldiers on top. (British records admit to some 300.) In the main trench (above, then and now) the bodies lay three deep. 

Historian John Snyman (left) points to the spot between two rocks, where a friend told him his grandfather, a Boer, lay during the battle sniping at the British on the hilltop near the white cross, which marks the position of the main trench.

British fortunes took a turn for the worse behind this part of the British trenches (marked by white wall of graves, right), when General Woodgate (shown below), was shot in the head by a Boer sniper on greenish Aloe Knoll in the left background. John Snyman shows where a memorial plaque marks the spot where he fell mortally wounded.

Using old photographs, it is possible to find the exact spot were the bodies lay. This cactus now grows where the soldier's arm was folded across his chest.


Spion Kop Sniper- Jan. 24, 1900
Spion Kop
Mass Grave- Jan. 24, 1900

Among the Canadian dead on Spion Kop is Lt. J. Woodburne Osborne from Brantford, ON (below).

He was among some 150 Canadian officers who served in British units during the war. His name is on the memorial column at the far end of the mass grave (left). He lies buried here, among his comrades of the Scottish Rifles, in what was their trench during the battle and now their place of rest.

75 men in this trench were found with bullet holes through the right side of their heads, received from Boers on Aloe Knoll, directly behind us, shooting up into the shallow British trenches.

The Boer War Memorial to Osborne in Brantford, ON, (below) honours his memory with a large Spion Kop relief plaque on the side. Two other plaques are for Norman Builder killed at Leliefontein, and W. Sherrit at Hart's River.

Paardeberg: Feb 18 - 27, 1900

British and Canadian army units surrounded an army of 4,000 Boer men, women and children, defending a huge laager, at a bend in the Modder River (right), near a hill called Paardeberg (below).

The ten day Battle of Paardeberg started with an opening attack, on Sunday, Feb. 18, 1900, left wards across the field (below) as General Smith-Dorrien watched from Gun Hill in the foreground.

(left) The Canadian Maxim machine gun stood here in the foreground, on Gun Hill, covering the attack, which culminated in a disastrous final charge. The result: "Bloody Sunday", Britain's worst day of casualties of the entire war.

For the next 9 days Roberts chose to bombard the Boers instead. A final night attack, led by the Canadians on Feb. 27, ended with the surrender of 4,000 Boers.

The colour images (below) are from the Bacon lithograph "The Charge of the Canadians at Paardeberg (top). About a dozen of these 22 x 32" prints were issued in 1900 illustrating all the key events in major battles of the Boer War.

(Found in Port Hope, ON.)

Historian John Goldi (above) shows the spot (Paardeberg Hill in background), where the Canadians where hit by a wall of Boer fire when they stood up for that final mad charge (above right) on "Bloody Sunday". 

Bloody Sunday at
Paardeberg - Feb. 18, 1900
A Canadian relic of the Battle of Paardeberg recently found on the battlefield. Details Page 10.

21 Canadians died here, including Capt. Harry Arnold from Winnipeg (right), and stretcher bearer Patrick McCreary from New Brunswick (below right).

The Boer trenches (foreground below), and the veldt over which they watched the onrushing Canadians charging from the direction of Paardeberg Hill (background), are unchanged in 100 years.

This rare "Bloody Sunday" plate honouring the attack of "Sunday, Feb. 18th, 1900, was found in Halifax, NS.

Historian Johan Hattingh shows the river bank where the Boer women and children had dug holes to escape the bombardment, and the slope down which they dragged hundreds of dead horses - who could not hide from the shelling - to the river during the night.

Below, the Boer laager above the river bank, which was the focus of the British bombardment.

Some 2000 British soldiers, who drank water downstream, died of enteric fever from the contaminated water, including Sgt. Beattie from Toronto, ON (right). For years after veterans referred to the deadly brew as "Chateau Modder" and "Dead Horse Soup."

Johan Hattingh (above) shows the position to which the Canadians front lines had advanced during the night of Feb.27. This final attack after a week of unremitting bombardment convinced the Boers to surrender to the Canadians (right).

(left) Another of two rare large magnificent lithos of the "Canadians at Paardeberg." This one features Col. Otter (above) directing the Canadian attack as the Boer laager burns in the background.
(Found in Woodstock, ON)

An ammunition cart mule and its driver are hit at the same time; a valiant Canadian is down as another tries to bandage his wounds.
Lord Roberts declared that the Canadian advance was "instrumental" in pressuring the 4,000 Boers to surrender, a few hours later, as memorialized in a Magic Lantern slide (below left) and a photo below.
(below) A plate issued to commemorate the surrender with a fancifully dressed Lord Roberts. In fact Roberts was dressed in the same khaki uniform as the British Tommy, totally without ornamentation. But he wore his sword awarded to him for his fabled March from Kabul to Kandahar in the Afghan War.
(below) Another rare photo of the aftermath of the Battle at Paardeberg with British officers' tents set up amid the carnage of the Boer laager.

In the same location as the pillow above, Hattingh picks up a remnant from long ago - corrugated iron used for protection by a Boer and riddled by bullet holes - which still litters the site and bear testament to the ferocity of the British rifle fire that once swept this quiet field.

31 Canadians died at Paardeberg and rest beneath markers in the cemetery (right). Some 300 British in all died, and some 100 Boers.

Paardeberg was the first major British victory of the war and an enormous psychological set-back for the Boers. Below a treasure trove of archaeological items recently found on this battlefield, including items from Briton, Boer and Canadians. Details Page 10.


c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000