Boer War Page 51

Discovering Rare Canadian Historic Sites 1

Sites 2 Sites 3
How would you like to be the one to discover a Great Canadian Historic Site for the first time?

Historian John Goldi, and his producer wife Joan Goldi, continued to seek out other unmarked sites where Canadian soldiers camped and fought during the two years Canadian volunteers served in South Africa. It was no trouble finding the major battlefields where Briton and Boer - and sometimes Canadians - fought, like Paardeberg, Magersfontein, Spion Kop, Colenso, and Modder River. But specifically Canadian battle sites are not marked on maps, and no signs identify them, or point the way there. Throughout South Africa, it's really a giant scavenger hunt to find these national Canadian historic sites.
Below, seeking Paardeberg, and Faber's Put.


Harry Macdonough (1871-1931): "Where is my Wandering Boy Tonight" 1901

You are listening to one of Canada's very first recordings, made c.1901, and featuring one of Canada's earliest recording artists, Harry Macdonough singing "Where is My Wandering Boy Tonight," a song popular on Canadian Gramophones as the casualty toll started to arrive from South Africa. It is the theme song for our television program.

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


In Search of Great Canadian Historic Site #4 - Paardeberg - Feb. 18 - 27, 1900

Lord Roberts' fabled March to Pretoria had started on Feb. 11, and the Canadian infantry, artillery, and mounted units where along. Almost immediately the army started chasing 4,000 Boers under General Cronje who was fleeing after being surrounded at Magersfontein. British General French's cavalry cut them off and the Boers dug in on the banks of the Modder River near a hill called Paardeberg. The infantry - including the Royal Canadian Regiment - soon caught up and the Boers were surrounded. At Paardeberg was to take place Canada's most tragic and most "glorious" battle of the entire Anglo-Boer War.

Our Search: Paardeberg is in a remote part of the Free State, and far from any town, but because it is so famous - it was Britain's bloodiest battle of the entire Anglo-Boer War - it is easy to find because the cemeteries of Britain and Boer are still on the battlefield. The Canadian cemetery - with 31 Canadians - is also there. But there are no plaques on the battlefield to show us where the 10 day battle was fought. And no markers pointed us to the spot where on Bloody Sunday, Feb. 18, Canada suffered its worst day of casualties of the entire war - 21 dead. And nothing to show us the position from which the Canadians launched the final attack on Feb. 27, resulting in Britain's first important victory of the war, and making the Canadians famous around the world. Luckily we had brought British archival battlefield maps, and by walking across the veldt, and using landmarks, were able to find where the Canadian action took place, and where the Boer trenches and laager were.

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) We needed a British archival military map to help us locate the position of the Canadian Maxim machine gun, which stood here in the foreground, on the slope of Gun Hill, covering the attack, which culminated in the disastrous final charge across the field to the left. The result: "Bloody Sunday", Britain's worst day of casualties of the entire war.

"We then had a regular fusillade all day and were doing splendidly when Lord K. getting impatient ordered half the Cornwalls ... over the river to charge with the Canadians. I was horrified when I saw them moving forward to charge about 3.30 pm as I could see they had not a ghost of a chance..." - General Horace Smith-Dorrien observing from Gun Hill

A British military map helped historian John Goldi (left) find 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 and below), on "Bloody Sunday". 

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 (right) showed us 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.

Hiring a professional guide to take you around battlefields is the common practice in South Africa because there is virtually no signage anywhere.

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

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, at memorial Paardeberg dinners, Canadian 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 a wonderful likeness of Col. Otter (above), directing the Canadian attack as the Boer laager burns in the background. In reality Otter was in the rear; his second in command was in the front lines instead. (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.

Abandoned and Forgotten: Simple tomb stones like the ones right, set up a hundred years ago, are the only markers on this huge Great Canadian Historic Site from where the news of the heroism of Canadian volunteers once rang throughout the world, and for decades, swelled the hearts of Canadians with pride.

Harry Arnold - honoured in a post card showing his contingent leaving from in front of Winnipeg's city hall - like his 30 other companions who were killed, has only a tomb stone to remember him at Paardeberg.


Project Update
We are currently researching how, and in what way, this Canadian heritage site should best be marked and publicized.
To End A Century of Neglect

"Goldi Productions Ltd." has launched "The Belmont Project"
"To Preserve and Protect, Post and Publicize"
Great Canadian Historic Sites & Trail of the Canadian Contingents,
in South Africa.


In Search of Great Canadian Historic Site #5 - Faber's Put - May 30, 1900

Out in the dry and dusty wilderness of the Karoo, is the desolate farm of Faber's Put, where a small battle took place, which is largely ignored today by Briton and Boer alike. But the Royal Canadian Artillery regarded it as probably its fiercest fight of the war.

Our Search: We found this remote farm courtesy of local advice, when we drove to Douglas. At the end of miles of dusty trail, we found what remained of an abandoned farm around which the Battle of Faber's Put was fought, on May 30, 1900.

But now, there was no sign of life anywhere, and no signs posted of any kind, to tell us what happened here, or that Canadian volunteer soldiers had ever passed this way, just a small family cemetery. Luckily, once again, we had brought archival maps from Canada, drawn by men who had been on the site during the battle, and so we where able to plot out the progress of the action, as it raged around the major structures which - in spite of 100 years - we could still identify, like the ruins of the farm house among the distant trees (below) and the stone kraal around which much of the shooting took place (foreground.)

General Warren, left, still smarting from his disastrous defeat at Spion Kop only four months earlier, led British and Canadian troops in search of Boer guerrillas hiding in the desert-like Karoo. They were careless as they settled down for the night around the kraal and house, right.

Suddenly, the Boers launched a surprise dawn attack on the sleeping British and Canadian units.

The Canadians had their horses penned in this kraal while Capt. Mackie (below left) and Col. Sam Hughes (below right) slept in the farmhouse. They were asleep in the room below right, when they were wakened by gunfire on the sides of the house (below). 

The bullet holes (below) are still visible on the farmhouse wall behind the head of historian John Goldi (below left), who shows where Hughes and Mackie had come running out to stand, in socked feet and underwear, while shooting to try to repel the Boers attacking the distant kraal. 

Hughes would later claim he deserved the Victoria Cross for his heroic actions.

Standing where the Canadian guns were parked for the night (below), John Goldi points to the kraal which held the Canadian horses, and from the far side of which, the Boer fire was coming. 

When Canadian gunners aimed over the heads of the Boers at their horses, the Boers, fearing they would lose their only means of escape, fled the scene.

Jack Randell, of the Royal Canadian Field Artillery, (above) poses proudly beside his 12 pounder at Cape Town. Weeks later, he would service the gun at Faber's Put as it fired, from where John Goldi is standing, over the horses in the kraal (beyond) and put the Boers beyond to flight.

"The Boers surrounded us on three sides and gave us hell. The horses ..... stampeded, and everything was confusion. Our artillery horses stood their ground, and after the drivers had taken them to safety behind the farmhouse, we opened fire with our twelve-pounders and machine-gun and soon had the Boers on the run. We lost twenty killed and about one hundred wounded out of a column of five hundred men." - Jack Randell

The first fatality of the Royal Canadian Field Artillery, Bmdr. W. Latimer, from Granby, PQ, occurred on this spot. He was only 21. He was buried here, but years later his body was removed to Kimberley where it now rests beneath this stone (left.)

The grateful citizens of Granby set up this memorial in his honour celebrated on an antique postcard. (Found in Oregon, USA.)

(below) The Canadian wounded after Faber's Put.
Postscript: Sam Hughes (top right) was angry that many British soldiers had died, and complained to the press in Cape Town and Canada, that General Warren - for whom he was the Intelligence Officer - had picked a bad camping spot and posted too few sentries. The military high command ordered Hughes back to Canada for insubordination.

And Later: During World War I Sam Hughes would become Canada's Minister of Militia, in effect directing the Canadian war effort during World War 1. But in the end he would be fired for writing an intemperate memo to Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden, which in effect accused him of being a liar.

Abandoned and Forgotten: The ruins of the farmhouse in which Canadian officers slept, as the Boers surrounded the camp. No Canadian markers of any kind, identify this as a Canadian Historic Site, where the Royal Canadian Artillery had probably its fiercest encounter of the war, and where the first Canadian artilleryman died in action in the service of his country.

Project Update
We are currently researching how, and in what way, this Canadian heritage site should best be marked and publicized.
To End A Century of Neglect

"Goldi Productions Ltd." has launched "The Belmont Project"
"To Preserve and Protect, Post and Publicize"
Great Canadian Historic Sites & Trail of the Canadian Contingents,
in South Africa.


c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000