Boer War Page 38

Battle Prints During the Boer War 3


Harry Macdonough (1871-1931): "Little Boy in Blue" c 1902

You are listening to an original recording from c 1902 made by one of Canada's very first recording artists, Harry Macdonough singing "Little Boy in Blue." Though "kharki" was the common uniform colour for British soldiers in the Boer War, songs of "boys in blue" still hung on from the Spanish American War of 1898, when blue shirts were still commonly worn by American soldiers.

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


Battle Prints: 1880s

During the late 1880s and early 90s, the advent of affordable mass colour printing coincided with Britain's heroic feats of arms in different areas of Africa and Asia. These heroic military adventures could now be enjoyed vicariously by the "stay-at-home" adventurers as publishers now issued famous paintings - formerly only enjoyed by their wealthy owners - as chromolithographs for popular consumption. These turn up at estate auctions - the one left at St. Catharines, ON - over a century later.

Robert Gibb - The Thin Red Line, 1881:

The Canadian litho here features one of Victorian England's most celebrated paintings, "The Thin Red Line" by Robert Gibb - probably his finest work - which he painted in 1881.

It shows the 93rd Highland Regiment under Sir Colin Campbell at Balaclava sending crashing volleys into the massive charge of Russian cavalry, holding their ground and winning renown for a tremendous feat of British arms that rang down the ages.

"There is no retreat from here, men!" shouted General Sir Colin Campbell . "You must die where you stand." Some of the Highlanders replied cheerily "Ay Ay, Sir Colin if needs be we'll do that." Right an outstanding 16" high Parian bust of Sir Colin from the 1850s, recently sold from the fabulous Elizabeth Collard estate at Sotheby's in Toronto, ON.

Original Canadian Chromolithograph, 1900 - "VC" - (Victoria Cross)

This ultra rare, original chromolithograph printed in Buffalo, NY, in 1900, is said to feature Canadian William Knisley's gallant rescue of a comrade, for which he was widely reported to have won a Victoria Cross, (below far, left). (Found in Wellington, ON)

In fact Knisley (right) got the DCM, the second highest decoration (below right) but it would have featured King Edward VII, not George V who is shown

Others claim in reality it depicts Sgt. Arthur Richardson VC (below) of Lord Strathcona's Horse, who, for performing a similar feat of heroism, did win a VC, Canada's first of the war.

The Crimean War: The original Victoria Cross was struck at the time of the Crimean War in the 1850s to honour men "For Valour." All the early medals were in fact made from captured Russian cannons.

In fact the first black man - and only the second Canadian - to win a VC was William Hall, born and died in Nova Scotia. Right, sporting his VC on top, he had early volunteered for the British Navy and was part of the Royal Naval Brigade that marched overland to help relieve the British Residency at Lucknow in 1857, during the Indian Mutiny.

Like so many other Canadians, some fifty years later during the Boer War, Hall had joined to see action in the British Forces at a time when Canada had no standing army or navy of its own. During the Anglo-Boer War some 150 Canadian officers alone, enrolled to fight in the British Army. Many more men served in the ranks.
On the same battle front the day William Hall won his VC, was a young officer who would many decades later be the Commander-in-Chief in South Africa during the Boer War. Above Lord Roberts - in a large 1900 litho found in Port Hope, ON - sports his VC on the far left, won during the Mutiny for charging into shot and shell and cutting his way with slashing sabre to recover a Union Jack captured by the mutineers.
The litho shows the rescue, with the dead horse nearby, as a white puff from a glancing bullet raises dust, and the Boers shooting and rapidly closing on their quarry. This scene happened many times during the war among Australian, British, New Zealand, and Canadian troopers, some of whom - many who did not - win the VC for their selfless act of heroism in the face of certain death.

Battle Prints: The End.....

After all these brilliant encounters, the Boers, hugely outnumbered by the imperial troops, refused to be drawn into set-piece battles anymore, and shifted into guerrilla warfare. The war did not end as predicted. Bacon, like the British public, lost heart in this war. Though it went on for one and a half years more, no more prints were issued.

With the horrendous revelations about concentration camps, and Kitchener's orders to execute both Boers and Britons, for war crimes, the heart went out of this war.

The last of the Gentlemens' Wars had gradually faded into the reality of the first of the Modern Wars of the 20th century. No longer "the greatest game of all," a gallant exercise for gentlemen, war now became to be seen as a dirty job "but someone has to do it."


c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000