Boer War Page 93a2
Great Canadian Heritage Discoveries
Below are some of the key items the Canadian Boer War Museum has added to its collections in its ongoing efforts to preserve important Canadian heritage memorabilia from this period.

Battlefield Burials in South Africa 1899-1902

During the Boer War, Canadians had to return to their pioneer traditions, when burying their fallen comrades in the wilderness regions of South Africa. They could not take their dead back to distant towns because they were fighting, dying, and then running after the enemy again, all at the same time, so battlefield burials were the rule for all soldiers who died in action. And their graves where dug where they dropped, or at a central area where most were collected after the battle.

The tombstone of Sgt. Beattie who died of enteric fever would have been set up by his comrades several years after he died. In the meantime, he rested under a makeshift rock marker, on which his name was scratched with a bayonet or painted.

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
The Last Farewell, 1900
Orig. lithograph - Size - 16" x 24"
Found - Port Hope, ON
Special Supplement to the Toronto Globe Christmas 1900

Left, a Globe print from 1900, very rare to find in this condition, that graced countless Canadian parlours for decades after the war, evokes the sadness of a Canadian trooper taking leave of a fallen comrade, buried hastily with a small cross over a pile of stones.

These battlefield graves were always marked with home-made tombstones. Near one battlefield, a farmer showed us an original grave marker, a large boulder on which someone had chiseled out the name of a soldier, and his regiment, probably with a bayonet. Then the army moved on again. These temporary markers were simply abandoned when the bodies were re-interred with commercial tombstones in regular cemeteries after the war.

Left, is the last photo taken of JC Perry from Galt, ON, who had first gone to South Africa with the First Contingent, the Royal Canadian Regiment, in 1899. We found a rare heritage treasure when we discovered a rock where he had carved his name, as well as his picture, in the hills above Belmont below.

He tempted fate by going back for a second tour in 1902, and died at Boschbult Farm, a battle where Canadians suffered the second highest number of fatalities in the war. The dead were buried at the spot shown in the newspaper photo above left - probably within hours of the picture being taken, as the army's tents are still on the battlefield in the background.

The photo above right, was taken at the same spot as the old photo, and shows Canadian historian John Goldi holding the very bugle that was played on that location when they buried JC Perry and the Canadians there on Mar. 31, 1902.

Their comrades then improvised a grave marker with a slab of stone and painted the names of the fallen on it before moving on.

This marker has long ago disappeared, as have most of the remains. In the 1960s the bones were removed and buried in a nearby town cemetery. The stone that now marks JC Perry's last resting place, and that of his comrades, is shown left. The old burial site is now the front yard of a farm house.

Today all the Canadian dead have been removed from their original burial spots on the battlefields, and have been gathered into cemeteries either close to where they fell, or in nearby towns.

Most men now have a unique looking Canadian stone like that right over the grave of Sgt. Perry's friend, from RCR days, MC Chappell, the first member of Canada's First Contingent to die in South Africa. He is buried in the Kimberley town cemetery.

The maple-leaf decorated tombstones were put up, right after the war, by a committee under the direction of Lady Minto, the wife of the Governor-General of Canada.

Some of these grave stones, like that of Sgt. Brothers right - who is still buried close to the battlefield at Badfontein, above, where he died - have suffered damage by vandals, who have badly hacked up his marker, chiseling out big chunks of the name, and large parts off the rest of the stone.

For some, the war is not yet over...

Says Dave Gyles, a sometime contract worker with the Department of Veteran's Affairs, Canada, "It's pitiful to see the negligent upkeep these damaged Canadian grave markers receive. Even for the hundredth anniversary of the war all the government did was spend money to have someone come by to spray paint the names so they're easier to read."

Boer War Battlefield Tombstones

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c Goldi Productions Ltd. 1996 & 2000