Boer War Page 52

Discovering Rare Canadian Historic Sites 3

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.

Below, seeking Coetzee's Drift, Leliefontein, Boschbult Farm.

Harry Macdonough (1871-1931): "God Be With You" 1902

You are listening to an original recording from 1902 featuring one of Canada's very first recording artists, Harry Macdonough and the Haydn Quartet, singing "God Be With You Till We Meet Again," a sentiment shared by Canadians as they saw their boys off at the dock, and later, as they remembered those who never came back.

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

In Search of Great Canadian Historic Site #5 - Coetzee's Drift

The Canadians had been specially detailed to seize the crossing at Coetzee's Drift by Lord Roberts, as his army relentlessly pushed towards Pretoria during May, 1900. During the action, Canadian officers won great acclaim for their courage under fire.

Our Search: No signs of any kind, mark this Canadian Historic Site. Our archival maps came in handy, once again, for figuring out the course of the battle on the ground. Today, a bridge on the Vet River, looks over the crossing which the Canadians seized, and provides a wonderful bird's eye view of a Canadian historic site where deeds of valour by Canadian volunteers, once swelled the hearts of their countrymen.

Frederick Borden, Canada's Minister of Militia (left), was eager to test Canadian men and war materiel under battlefield conditions. He could not know the high price he would pay for his enthusiasm.

When the First Contingent embarked for South Africa, the press taunted his selective jingoism. "Where it the son of the Minister of Militia?"

Young Harold, right, a medial student and a militia officer, against his father's strongest objections, signed up for the Second Contingent

At Coetzee's Drift, perhaps stung by press criticism, Lt. Harold Borden made his mark. As the Canadians forced the crossing he, and Lt. Richard Turner, swam back and forth across the Vet River, to draw the fire of the Boers so their location could be discovered. He was brought to Lord Roberts' attention for gallant conduct.

Left, historian John Goldi, from the bridge that now straddles the crossing, points to the north bank from which the Boers were shooting as Borden and Turner swam across the river below.

Only a few months later, while standing up to scout the Boer positions, as his men were rescuing a British unit, Harold Borden was shot and killed. All Canada mourned his loss.

Richard Turner, right, would be awarded the DSO, the Distinguished Service Order, the Empire's second highest medal for bravery.

Left, one can still see the outline of the old drift which was seized by the Canadians, snaking up from under the bridge.

Below, two actual photos showing Canadians of the Royal Canadian Regiment crossing the Vet River after the Boers had fled.

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 #7 - Leliefontein - Nov. 7, 1900

Leliefontein is a battle most Canadians have never heard of. Yet, it was famous in Canada in 1900 because three of the four Canadian Anglo-Boer War Victoria Crosses were won there, as Canadians were ordered to act as the rear guard to protect the British Army as it retreated from a farm burning expedition near Carolina.

Our Search: We were determined to find the site of the Canadian action even though a professional tour guide had been unable to locate it for us. We made a repeat trip to the probable location, but even the second time around, our usually trusty archival maps were no help at all. After miles of crisscross driving through the area, we just couldn't find where the Canadians went into action. Even the local farmer there, had no clue of what we were talking about.

Finally another cell phone call to an amateur historian in a distant town, and the hundredth study of a battle map and there it was! The problem? The reference pond we had been looking for, had dried up years ago, leaving only a faint outline.

So finally we were able to accurately pinpoint the location of Eddie Holland's gun position, where he won his Victoria Cross. But the search for the site had taken us precious extra days of travel and work.

Leliefontein: On Nov. 7, 1900, British and Canadian army units were returning to camp at Belfast, after a long burning expedition, when they were attacked by a Boer commando. British General Smith-Dorrien ordered Col. Francois Lessard from Quebec (left), to organize his Canadians (Mounted Rifles and artillerymen) to fight a rear guard action to protect the back of the retreating British army. Because of his outstanding work during this battle, Lessard was pictured as one of only 2 Canadians honoured to be among 75 British officers pictured in "Celebrities of the Army".

Found at Last - The Elusive Site: Below, the elusive site of Canada Victoria Cross action - which had taken us days to find - is located on archival maps on a slope above a pond. The problem: the pond, in faint outline, behind the head of historian John Goldi, had dried up and left only a shadow of its former self, which made it easy to overlook the numerous times we had driven past it.

Eddie Holland VC: Historian John Goldi shows the spot from which Eddie Holland (left), fired his Colt machine gun against a wave of Boers charging down on him from the far ridge in the left background.

Just before the Boers reached him, and under extremely heavy fire, Holland carried off the red hot barrel of the Colt in his arms, receiving severe burns in the process. Holland won the Victoria Cross for his bravery.

Eddie Holland was presented his medal during ceremonies on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada (right) in 1901, by the Duke of York (the future George V) just after the dedication ceremonies for the large statue of Queen Victoria.

Richard Turner VC, DSO: Shouting "Never let it be said that Canadians let their guns be captured," Lt. Richard Turner from Montreal, Quebec, (above left), although already suffering from two wounds, made a desperate stand with a handful of his men to give the Canadian gunners time to get away with their 12 pounder guns.

The guns were saved but his men were all killed, wounded, or captured. Turner, who had won the DSO - the Distinguished Service Order, Britain's second highest medal for bravery - at Coetzee's Drift, for swimming the Vet River under heavy fire, now was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The site of the desperate fight - pointed out by historian John Goldi - was around the British memorial column (left.) It is located a couple of kms north of where Eddie Holland made his stand.

Coeburn or Cockburn?

The third Victoria Cross won on this spot was won by Canadian Lt. Hampden Cockburn, who with a group of his men made another desperate stand to hold off the attacking Boers so that the Canadian guns could get away. They were all overrun and captured or killed. Today his VC and papers are at Upper Canada College in Toronto where he had gone to school.

When doing research for our television program, we asked the custodial librarian, "Exactly how do you pronounce his name?"

She replied warily, "Around here we call him 'Coeburn.' You don't dare say the word "cock" around a private boy's school."

The memorial (above) marks the spot where both Boer generals (including Komdt. H.F. Prinsloo right), were killed during Turner's valiant stand to prevent them from capturing the Canadian guns.
Gen. Smith-Dorrien, who was the British commander at Leliefontein, paid for the memorial, many years after the war, to honour the brave Boer commanders he had fought.
One who died heroically near the monument - was 22 year old Nelson Builder (right), a Sergeant from Brantford Ontario. In 1897 Norman was photographed in his Canadian militia uniform of the Norfolk Rifles. His cheery voice once rang out in the armoury (below) in Brantford, where he trained.

Today, Brantford remembers him - and two of its other Boer War casualties - with one of the most splendid monuments in Canada. Norman lies today in Belfast beside his companions from Leliefontein. (Boer War era postcards found in Oregon, US)

Abandoned and Forgotten: The lonely field at Leliefontein, where three of Canada's four Boer War Victoria Crosses were won, and Canadian volunteers - including Norman Builder - laid down their lives for their country. Like on all Canadian sites in South Africa, no Canadian markers of any kind, identify this as a Great Canadian Historic Site. No plaque to say that here, young men - whose names were once spoken with hushed tones by generations of Canadians - had ever passed this way.

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 Discovery #8 - Boschbult Farm - Mar. 31, 1902

During the last weeks of the war, while the Boers were on the run in the Western Transvaal, was fought one of the last pitched battles of the war, around the farm buildings of Boschbult Farm.

Our Search: We travelled far to the west of Pretoria to the area where our maps told us, Boschbult Farm was to be found. There are no signs to point the way, even when we knew we were getting close. Finally we had to admit we were lost. We drove into a farmhouse and asked if they knew where Boschbult Farm was. The Afrikaaner woman cheerily said, "Oh yes. Follow us. We'll take you there." And the entire family jumped into a pickup truck and drove us to a neighbouring farm, where a small white memorial to Britons and Boers, stood beside some trees well back from the road. We would have driven right past without their help.

But there we discovered another totally unmarked Canadian historic site, a hallowed grave site where Canadians were laid to rest after the Battle of Boschbult Farm.

On March 31, 1902, British and Canadian army units, who had been chasing Generals De Wet (near right) and de la Rey, were camping for the night when they were suddenly attacked by the Boers they had been chasing.

Canadians under Lt. Bruce Carruthers (below) made a heroic last stand, out in the open, after they were abandoned by a British mounted unit.

When they ran out of ammunition, they threw away their rifle bolts so the Boers could not use them and fought on by hand till all were shot, wounded, or captured.

Memories from the battlefield: three spent British Lee-Metford cartridges (above left), from the field where the Canadian Mounted Rifles made their last stand, a 37 mm shell from the dreaded Pom-Pom machine gun, a lonely Boer Martini-Henry shell (with a vintage cartridge for comparison), and below left, a horseshoe, and harness remnant. Very likely the pom pom shell was fired from this Canadian gun below, shown in a photo taken only days before the action at Boschbult Farm.
One who refused to surrender, even though he had no more ammunition left, and was shot, was Pvt. Charlie Evans from Port Hope, Ontario (above.) He and seven other Canadians were buried in the shaded area in front of the tree (right.)

Edwin McCormick (below), blew the Last Post during the service.

Historian John Goldi (above), holding Edwin McCormick's original bugle (below), stands on the spot where the Canadian bugler (left holding his bugle), stood playing the Last Post as the Canadian dead were buried the evening after the battle.

In all, 13 Canadians were to die from this battle. It was Canada's worst day of casualties since the Battle of Paardeberg, two years before.

Chester Rodgers (right) - who was to be killed later in the carnage of World War I - wrote home about the funeral of his comrades in this spot.
"We are taking out a subscription in our troop to get a tomb stone for one of our troop and a chum of mine who was killed Mar 31st. I made a cross of wood and cut his name on it after the fight. It was a pretty tough sight to see them lying in a big trench side by side just with a blanket tied around each of them and the trench barely 3 ft. deep."
(below) Edwin McCormick's original bugle, rescued from the trash heap of history by John Goldi who found it by doggedly sleuthing the internet where it was listed simply as "neat old bugle."

John Goldi deducted that it must have been Edwin McCormick who had scratched the names "Magelisburg" (through which his regiment had marched) and "Brackspruit" (on the banks of which the Battle of Hart's River was fought) on his bugle as a memento of these historic events. (The complete story of how John Goldi found this bugle, please see our Bugle Page.)

Abandoned and Forgotten: Sadly the grave site where the Canadian dead lay for some 70 years, before being moved to a town cemetery, is unmarked, though their blood still soaks the sacred site where they sacrificed their lives for their Queen and Canada.

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