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Pvt. Hubert Duchène, 2 CMR - 1902

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Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A fabulous and extremely rare cabinet card of a Canadian Victorian soldier who signs himself only as Hubert. Who could Hubert be?

It is one of a set of two cabinet cards that recently surfaced and carry only first names on the back.

 


Cabinet Card - Pvt. Hubert Duchene, QOCH, 1899
Orig. photo - Size - 11 x 17 cm
Found - Stoneham, PQ


We know the picture was taken by the AR Roy "Elite Studio," which had business locations at Quebec and Levis. So Hubert must have been a local boy.

Hubert had a most affectionate relationship with his sister, to whom he sent the two cabinet cards, including this one, picturing himself proudly "as I look in the Q.O.C.H."


The QOCH was the 10th Queen's Own Canadian Hussars, a militia unit formed Nov. 13, 1856, and disbanded Aug. 15, 1913, at Quebec.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure

A very rare action photo of a Canadian trooper on campaign in South Africa during the Boer War.

It features the same Hubert as in the previous cabinet card, again, sent by him to his sister Kate.

So Hubert, the QOCH militiaman, signed up for the Boer War.

Luckily Hubert signed his name twice, allowing us to match it with other signatures of the various Huberts who have left a paper trail in the Canadian military of the time.

The only Hubert who fits the profile gleaned from the two cards is Hubert Duchene from Quebec.

He served as Trooper #4 in the 2 CMR and returned to Quebec after the war, where records affirm his request for the King's South Africa medal.


Cabinet Card - Pvt. Hubert Duchene, 2 CMR, South Africa, 1902
Orig. photo - Size - 11 x 17 cm
Found - Stoneham, PQ


We sought out the Boer War Attestation Papers, where we know vital data, including several signatures, exist, of all soldiers who signed up for service in the Boer War. Left are two confirmed signatures of Hubert Duchene, of Quebec.


Is it a match for the anonymous Hubert who signed the two cards? Note the parallel angle to the signature and letters, and the distinctive way Hubert drops off at the end of his terminal "t."

If you need further corroboration from his Attestation Paper, it confirms he had spent three years in the "Q O C Hussars."

Clearly Hubert Duchene of Tadoussac and Quebec is our mystery Hubert.


The 2 CMR was in South Africa in April 1902, when Hubert dated his photo.

The photo also bears the studio stamp of Wilfred May, a photographer in Newcastle, Natal, who specialized in military views.

So was Hubert's photo taken near Newcastle in April?

Just two weeks before, the 2 CMR had taken part in the Battle of Boschbult Farm, hundreds of kms to the west. Weeks later, the unit was still chasing the Boers through the western Transvaal, a long way from Natal.

So what was Hubert doing in Natal, apparently in the midst of a transport train, far from his comrades?

Perhaps a clue solves the mystery. May also notes "Films Developed and Printed for Amateurs." It could be that Hubert, indeed, was fighting in the Western Transvaal "with the 2 CMR," as he wrote, on April 15th, and sometime later brought in his own photos to be professionally mounted by the May Studio in Newcastle. So very likely the photo is indeed, Hubert in the Western Transvaal, in April, in the 2 CMR convoy chasing General De la Rey and President Steyn.

The photo is a fabulous and a very rare view of how a 2 CMR trooper was equipped on campaign during a trek, as opposed to just riding around the camp, of which other photos do exist.

Of interest is the way Hubert carries his rifle, bayonet, knapsack (just behind the pommel of his bayonet), canteen, and some kind of machete in his sword holster, dangling from the saddle. Of further note are his puttees, boots, and spurs.

We get a marvelous view of how Hubert packed his horse, and the kind of bit, bridle, and martingale strapping, saddle wallets, and blanket system the Canadians used at the time. Are those tie-out stakes, draped across his saddle horn, he used to keep his horse from straying at stops? Clearly this load is designed for slow treking, not fast Boer chasing. At the gallop his rifle would bounce about ferociously on his back and things would fly off in all directions. "Fair" riding skills, which Hubert says he possessed, are quite adequate for the slow convoying Hubert was doing here.

In the back of the wagon we get a glimpse of what the Canadians carried as they chased the Boers: corrugated iron sheeting, commonly used to build blockhouses, bales of hay for feeding horses and oxen, and large and odd chunks of firewood for cooking meals. Firewood was very scarce to come across to allow cooking food for a huge army. Which is why Hubert and his mates often went into Boer houses to "borrow" their pianos, and chop them up for burning so they could cook chow.


Hubert, who signed his name Duchène, had his surname repeatedly misspelled by the recruiting officer as Duchené.

Hubert also dropped the grave once, on the second last "e" . The family dropped it entirely later.

Since he attests that his is presently in the militia, and has been for three years, we can confirm that the earlier studio photo of Hubert was probably taken sometime around 1899, when he was 20.

Hubert calls himself a clerk, but, like his other Quebec pals in the regiment, Otto Moody and Eddy Pownall, he says he is only a "Fair" shot and "Fair" rider.

So much for the Canadian expertise at shooting and riding in a mounted unit, going off to make war on the Boers, who were masters at riding and marksmanship.

Hubert is an interesting guy. He was born in Tadoussac, which remains the "de souche" heart of Quebec sovereignty even in 2010.

Yet he appears to be a dyed-in-the-wool Anglo, apparently most comfortable in English as his first language.

His chummy private notes to his sister are obviously in his most comfortable language. He also calls her by her English term of endearment - Kate.

English is hardly the common way that private notes are written today in the part of Quebec where the heart of the sovereignty and nationalist movement flourishes and fights to prevent the English language from eroding French language and culture.

Yet Hubert's family complained about our characterizing Hubert as leaning towards the English part of his upbringing, protesting that he was a real French-Canadian and not an "Anglo" in any sense of the word.

Which leaves the question: why did a strong French-Canadian sign his historic pictures for his sister the way he did? Completely and intimately familiar with the use of English in terms of endearment to a level of sophistication that few Francophone journalists even today can boast.

You can be certain René Lévesque, Lucien Bouchard, Gilles Duceppe, and Jacques Parizeau do not have private cards like this in their box of treasures to leave to the nation...

Hubert Duchene remains a more interesting guy than any of them. He chose to go fight in what everyone at the time characterized as an Anglo war, which the vast majority of French Canadians opposed.

Above two years after returning home Hubert appeals for his KSA - King's South Africa medal - from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich in the UK. (Hubert has Anglicized his last name by dropping the grave.)

The request had gone in in May, and by November there still was no response. Hence Hubert's urgent appeal above.

The form of Nov. 21, 1904, right reflects the gap and urges action.

This time the reply below is sent from Ottawa on Dec. 5, saying the medal is being sent from there.

It appears very likely, from the correspondence and time intervals, that the medal had been in Ottawa all along but the military was just slack in passing it on.

Once soldiers have gone home, after serving, the military loses interest in them.

And the veterans have to get testy - like Hubert's letter - before the military looks out for their welfare...

Nothing has changed in 100 years.

So complain countless veterans of Canada's fighting troops, after coming home from the Afghan Wars, over the last several years.

Plus Ça Change - The Toronto Star, in June 2009, published a blistering exposé of how callous the Canadian military is, in the treatment of the veterans who put their lives on the line for their country in Afghanistan, and are now relegated to the trash bin of History, by dismissive generals and civil servants in Ottawa.

Who, of course, take every care to provide fat pensions for themselves, and lucrative lobby payoffs, when they retire. For which not one of them risked their lives.

While lower echelon military men and women, who did, are either dead and buried, or left to rot, alive, abandoned, and in dire straits in all corners of the country, by callous and greedy military administrators and bureaucrats.

Of Interest - Montreal Gazette Mar. 7 2008

THOMPSON, Helen Mae (nee Duchene). At the Griffith McConnell Home on Wednesday March 5 in her eighty-fourth year. Daughter of the late Hubert Duchene and Mae Boudreau of Quebec City. Loved wife of the late Kenneth Neil Thompson. Loving mother of Kathy (John Morrissey of Toronto and Louise (Eddie Peltzman) of Stoney Creek, ON. Cherished grandmother of David, Heather (Steve Ferguson), and Taylor. Memorial service will be held at St. Mark's Church, 865 Lakeshore Rd., Dorval on Monday March 10 at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations to the Canadian Cancer Society would be appreciated. Published in the Montreal Gazette on 3/7/2008.

It appears to us that this was an obituary of Hubert's daughter.

When family members pass on, their memorabilia and photos get sent to auctions.

The Canadian Anglo-Boer War Museum is proud to have saved these priceless photos from the trash heap of History, and established their link to Hubert Duchene, a great Canadian patriot.