The Issues Crystallize

Canadians in Battle

More Canadian Contributions

To prove it was serious, Canada immediately offered to recruit a new contingent following these criteria. It created the Canadian Yeomanry, a unit of slightly under 600 men claimed by Britain on 25 November 1901 that would later be named the 2nd Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles. As was customary, on arrival in South Africa it would cease to be accountable to any Canadian authority.

The 2nd Regiment Canadian Mounted Rifles served for three months, during which time it earned distinction for the quality of its reconnaissance work. It was assigned to the southwestern Transvaal as part of the final drive to capture the country as far as Vrybierg in the west. Four of its soldiers distinguished themselves at Honing Sprint by holding 50 Boers at bay, but before they could be relieved two were killed and the other two wounded. All four, wrote General Hutton, who was sparing of his compliments to Canadians, "were from Pincher Creek ... at the foot of the Rockies, a region well known for the excellence, daring and boldness of its troopers." 42

Let us touch on a few other aspects of the Canadian contribution. Some 2,000 men in four mounted rifle regiments reached South Africa between 31 May 1902 and the end of hostilities. Theirs would be a return journey without a fight. As well, the 64 men of Canada's field hospital unit would serve various British troops. The Canadians would also provide 16 nurses, and this commitment in South Africa was an appropriate moment to establish the Canadian Nursing Service. Canada's effort extended to sending five postal clerks, 23 artificers (cobblers and blacksmiths, for example) and some 300 Canadians who joined the British irregulars either directly or at the end of their contracts with the units that had brought them to South Africa.

More than a hundred other Canadians served with the regular British troops, not to mention the hundred or so graduates of the Royal Military College (RMC) who had received British commissions. These men included Lieutenant-Colonel Édouard Percy Girouard and Major H.G. Joly de Lotbinière of the Royal Engineers and Philippe-Henri-Duperron Casgrain, Deputy Adjutant-General at British army headquarters in South Africa. Some of them, like Howard's Canadian Scouts, have passed into legend. Howard was an American who in 1885 had moved to Canada and been taught how to operate the Gatling machine gun. Now a British subject, he volunteered for South Africa. When his contract expired he offered a unit of some 125 adventurers of Canadian origin recruited among men whose contracts were ending. Accepted by the British, these Scouts would dare all, sometimes suffering heavy losses.