The Minute Book
Sunday, 28 February 2016

Cronje's Surrender
Topic: Paardeberg

Cronje's Surrender

Boer Commando Reduced to Desperate Straits Before They Would Give In
Internal Dissensions and Unsanitary Conditions Compel Cronje to Stop Fighting

The Lewiston Daily Sun, Lewiston, Maine, 5 April 1900
[Correspondent of the Associated Press.]

London, March 28.—By means of the latest mails from Cape Town, the papers have been able to tell the story of the defeat of the "Lion of South Africa."

The Times correspondent at Paardeberg is able to give some idea of what transpired in the Boer camp, prior to surrender.

"The Red House," he writes, "a kind of Dak bungalow which is found near every drift in South Africa, was used as Cronje's headquarters. On Tuesday, the 20th, was marked by the severest bombardment of the entire investment, and a Boer doctor described the position as awful. The losses inflicted upon the horses were the turning point of the siege. Decomposition set in and the absolute need of clean air caused a serious rebellion in the camp, most of the 4,000 men demanding the surrender should be made at once.

"From that moment the Boers scarcely obeyed orders. A sharp division between the Transvaalers and the Orange Free State Boers ensued, and the only bond of sympathy that united them, besides their common adversity was a long-hidden hatred of the Germans in their ranks. Until sunrise, on the 27th, the state of affairs among the Boers was pitiful. Apart from the ever increasing hunger, despair of relief and unhealthiness of the position, mutual recriminations destroyed the last consolation of adversity, good fellowship, and Cronje sat aloof, silent and unapproachable.

"The events of the early morning of the 27th, can best be told from outside.

"Brigadier General MacDonald sent from his bed a note to Lord Roberts, reminding him that Tuesday was the anniversary of that disaster, which, we all remembered, he has by example, order and threat himself, done his best to avert, even while the panic had been at its heights; Sir Henry Colville submitted a suggested attack backed by the same unanswerable plea.

"For a moment Lord Roberts demurred to the plans; it seemed likely to cost too heavily, but the insistence of Canada broke down his reluctance and the men of the oldest colony were sent out in the small hours of Tuesday morning to redeem the blot on the name of the mother country.

"From the existing trench, some 700 yards long, on the northern bank held jointly by the Gordons and the Canadians, the latter were ordered to advance in two lines—each, of course, in extended orders—30 yards apart, the first with bayonets fixed, the second reinforced by 50 Royal Engineers under Col. Kincaid and Capt. Boileau.

"In dead silence and covered by a darkness, only faintly illuminated by the merest rim of the dying moon, the three companies of Canadians moved on over the brush strewn ground. For ober 400 yards the noiseless advance continued, but when within 80 yards of the Boer trench the trampling of the scrub betrayed the moment.

"Instantly the outer trench burst into fire which was kept up almost without intermission from 5 o'clock till 10 minutes past the hour. The Canadians flinging themselves under, kept up an incessant fire on the trenches, guided only by the flashes of their enemy's rifles, and the Boers admit that they quickly reduced them to the necessity of lifting their rifles over their heads to the edge of the earthwork, and pulling their triggers at random.

"Beginning at this line, the engineers dug a trench from the inner edge of the bank to the crest, and then for fifty or sixty yards out through the scrub. The Canadian retired three yards to this protection and waited for dawn, confident in their new position, which had entered the protected angle of the Boer position and commanded alike the rifle pits of the banks and the trefoil-shaped embrasures on the north.

"Cronje saw that matters were desperate. Col. Otter and Col. Kincaid called a hasty consultation, which was disturbed by the sight of Sir henry Colville, General of the Ninth Division, quickly riding down within 500 yards of the northern Boer trench to bring the news that even while the last few shots were being fired a horseman was hurrying in with a white flag and Cronje's unconditional surrender, to take effect at sunrise."

The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Sunday, 28 February 2016 12:02 AM EST
Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Canadians in South Africa
Topic: Paardeberg

The Canadians in South Africa

"Blasts from the Trumpet," The Quebec Saturday Budget, 13 September 1902

In an article on the Canadian Military forces, the Army and Navy Gazette says:—

"To record the prominent part taken by the contingent in the war would fill too ample a space here. The Canadians were moved up with Lord Methuen's forces from De Aar to Belmont, and were active in the events that followed. In the dark days that succeeded Magersfontein the Toronto Company, one hundred strong. Were employed in Col. Pilcher's brilliant attack upon the town of Douglas, and "At last!" was the cry which they had made when they were ordered to advance.

"In the pursuit of Cronje, the Canadians were embodied in Smith-Dorrien's brigade, which was probably the finest in the whole army. When the famous Boer leader was being invested, the pushed across the river and took up their position upon the north bank, where they distinguished themselves by the magnificent tenacity with which they persevered in the attack. When the final assault was made the Canadians had the post of honour, and advanced in the darkness before the rise of the moon. Silently they crept forward, and, when the first Boer rifle sounded, hurled themselves upon the ground. Hardly were they down when a furious burst of fire scattered the speeding bullets over them. How the regiment escaped destruction is extraordinary, but the Boers had had enough, and it was due to the Canadians and a handful of Sappers that the white flag fluttered on the morning of Majuba over the lines of Paardeberg.

"The Canadians were afterwards employed in Hutton's brigade in clearing the South-eastern district, and at Israel's Poort their gallant leader, Colonel Otter, was wounded. In the march on Pretoria they were with Ian Hamilton, and were concerned in many operations. Once again they greatly distinguished themselves by their desperate resistance in an exposed position at Honing Spruit. Later on, when the Boers made their attack upon Springs, near Johannesburg, the Canadians easily beat them off, and in Botha's last attempt upon the positions round Pretoria, on July 16, they held their post gallantly, but two of their brave young officers, Borden and Finch, the former the only son of the Canadian Minister of Militia, were killed.

"In another part of the field of operations, Canadian had done excellent service. For the relief of Mafeking Colonel Plumer was strengthened by four 12 pr. Guns of Canadian Artillery under Major Hudon, and these proved of great use in the relief operations. The Mounted Canadians and their artillery were actively employed during the guerrilla warfare and in operations about Belfast, and did excellent service under Col. Lessard. Strathcona's Horse, that bane body of troopers from the far North-West, whose services were presented to the nation by that patriotic nobleman whose name they bore, were a valuable reinforcement for General Buller in his final advance into the Transvaal. We can, however, give an imperfect picture of the fine service rendered by the Canadian contingent, and the patriotic attitude of the Canadian people throughout the war was one of the most pleasing features of that outburst of Imperial patriotism which it evoked."

Canadian Army Battle Honours


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Saturday, 27 February 2016 12:02 AM EST
Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Cronje's last Stand
Topic: Paardeberg

Cronje's last Stand

Boer Chief Asked For an Armistice to Bury His Dead
An Unconditional Surrender
Demanded by Lord Kitchener, and Crionje Replied That he Would Fight to the Death—British Casualties Now Exceed Twelve Thousand.

The Daily Star, Fredericksburg, Va., 23 February 1900

London, Feb. 23.—General Cronje is seemingly making his last stand. He is dying hard, hemmed in by British infantry, and with shells from 60 guns falling into his camp.

On the third day of the fight the Boer chief asked for an armistice to bury his dead. "Fight to a finish or surrender unconditionally," was Lord Kitchener's reply. General Cronje immediately sent back word that his request for a truce had been misunderstood, and that his determination then, as before, was a fight to the death.

The battle went on. This was the situation of General Cronje Tuesday evening, as sketched in the scanty telegrams that have emerged from the semi-silence of South Africa.

The war office has issued the following from lord Roberts, dated Paardeberg, Feb. 22: "Methuen reports from Kimberley that supplies of food and forage are being pushed on as fast as possible. There will be enough coal to start the De Beers mine in ten days. By this means great misery will be alleviated. Hospital arrangements there are reported perfect. He hopes Prieska and the adjoining country will soon be settled.

Officially Lord Roberts wires that he has scattered the advance commando and of the reinforcement that were striving to reach General Cronje. It is regarded as singular that Lord Roberts, wiring Wednesday, should not mention the appeal for an armistice on the previous day, and also that the war office should withhold good news, if it has any.

Without trying to reconcile the scant materials at hand, it seems plain that General Cronje is in a band, or even a desperate situation, and that the British are pressing their advantage.

While the attack on general Cronje proceeds there is a race for concentration between the Boers and the British. The engagement with general Cronje's 5,000 to 8,000 entranched men is likely to become an incident in a battle between the masses. The separated factions of the Boer power are rapidly drawing together to attack Lord Roberts.

Will General Cronje be able to hold out until the Boer masses appear, or if he does will they then be able to succor him? The British are facing the Boers on ground where the arms, tactics and training of the British are expected to give them the advantage.

General Buller, according to a despatch from Chieveley, dated Wednesday, finds the Boers in positions north of the Tegula largely reinforced. This seems strange.

The Cape Town correspondent of The Daily Telegraph says: "General Cronje's request for an armistice was am ere dodge to gain time to make trenches. Lord Kitchener refused, but gave him half an hour to consider whether he would surrender unconditionally or fight to the finish. The Boers having said that their intention had been misunderstood, and that they would fight to the end, the battle was resumed."

The Daily News has the following dispatch from Modder River fated Wednesday afternoon:

The Boer forces under General Cronje are estimated at 8,000 men. At 12 o'clock he asked an armistice of 24 hours, which was refused. Later he sent a messenger to say that he would surrender. The British sent a reply telling him to come into camp. Cronje refused, saying it had been a misunderstanding, and that he would fight to the death.

The bombardment was them reopened and out lyddite shells set fire to the Boer wagons. We continued shelling the laager through the night, and in the morning we resumed with Maxims and rifles, principally from the north side.

On Sunday there was much waste of life in attacking, and the same result will be achieved with it. During Monday night seven Boers made an attempt to break through our lines, but they were captured, and the leader was killed. Four were carrying letters. It is believed that there was one other, who got through.

Other prisoners say that General Cronje marched from Magersfontein here without outspanning, a distance of 33 miles. Had he succeeded in escaping it would have been one of the finest performances in the annals of war.

The Canadians made a gallant charge at the laager, but were driven back with loss.

General MacDonald and General Knox are only slightly wounded.

The war officer, for the first time, has given out an official compilation of the British losses. The total is 11,208 to Feb. 17. This does not include, therefore, Lord Roberts' recent losses, nor the Wiltshire prisoners, which will make the total considerably above 12,000.

The press association learns that the British losses at Koodoosrand were 700.

The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Friday, 19 February 2016

Canadian Regiment [for South Africa]
Topic: Paardeberg

Canadian Regiment [for South Africa]

War Office Intimates That It Will be kept Intact
The various Companies Will Not Be Attached to Several British Regiments

Sherbrooke Daily Record, 17 October 1899

Ottawa, October 17.—An intimation was received from the War Office yesterday to the effect that instead of eight companies being attached to eight different British regiments, they will be kept intact as one regiment. Quebec will be the port of embarkation, and thither all supplies are being sent.

The Department of Militia does not appear to be stinting men in the matter of outfit, which, for each man will be as follows:—

  • One helmet
  • One field service cap
  • One tuque to wear on board ship
  • Two frocks of rifle green, unlined
  • Two pairs of trousers, rifle green
  • One great coat
  • One jacket and one pair of trousers of Khaki
  • One pair of leggings
  • Two pairs of ankle boots
  • Three grey flannel shirts
  • One pair of drawers
  • One undershirt of light woolen to wear on board ship
  • Two abdominal belts
  • One jersey
  • One pair of canvas shoes
  • Five brushes, respectively for the hair, clothing, polishing, blacking and shaving
  • One Razor
  • Spoons, knife and fork
  • Hold-all
  • Housewife
  • Two combs
  • Three pairs of bootlaces
  • claspknife
  • cakes of soap
  • pairs of socks
  • One tin of blacking

Together with a Lee-Enfield rifle, and Oliver equipment, complete with valises and kit bags.

The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 22 December 2015 3:36 PM EST
Tuesday, 16 February 2016

In the Firing Line (Paardeberg, 1900)
Topic: Paardeberg

In the Firing Line (Paardeberg, 1900)

Brave Father O'Leary Speaks of the Boer Campaign
The Chaplain Fell Asleep Amid the Hail of Bullets—Many Mistakes Made by the Intelligence Department—Father O'Leary Has Borne all the Hardships of the Forced Marches with the Canadians—Wears Two Medals

The Evening Telegram, St. John's Newfoundland, 13 November 1900

The Rev. Father O'Leary, of the First Contingent, stayed at the Place Viger Hotel last night, upon his way to Ottawa to see his brother, who is seriously ill, says the Montreal Gazette. In his khaki helmet and clerical coat, with the cross of the chaplain and the maple leaf of the Canadians upon the collar, and two shoulder straps, Father O'Leary looks admirably well. He wears two medal ribbons, one the official ribbon of the Imperial medal to be issued to all who took part in the war, the other the ribbon of a special medal, presented to him and a few others as a particular recognition of their services, by the authorities at Cape Town.

But numberless hardships fell to the worthy chaplain's share. He marched nearly all the way with the men, as far as Kroonstadt, for though he had a horse and a spring cart for a few days, the animals were so hard-worked that they succumbed, and he preferred to trudge his thirty miles on two biscuits day after day rather than be left behind. The worst want was the lack of water, but the number of spiders and insects that crawled about the tents at night were very trying, and it was particularly hard to submit to the inspections of a tarantula upon the face for fear of his deadly fangs. However, through it all Father O'Leary kept up, until enteric mastered him at Korrnstadt, and he was taken back to Bloemfontein.

Here he lay delirious and at death's door for ten days, and when he was sent further south he suffered a most trying relapse at Deilfontein, and after a stay at Wynberg was forced to go home. He states that, in his opinion, the hospitals were as good as they could be under the circumstances. Of course, at Bloemfontein, with its 5,000 sick, and its one line of rails, there was much suffering; but no one could help it, and Dr. Ryerson, the Canadian Red Cross commissioner, by his intelligence and activity, did much for the whole army.

At Deilfontein, the C.I.V. hospital, there were almost too many luxuries; the ordinary private even being supplied with champagne, and in England nothing could exceed the kindness of his reception when he arrived. Lady Dudley, a perfect stranger to him, wrote to offer accommodation free of cost at any hotel he might select on the Riviera, or in England, and everyone treated him most thoughtfully.

When the Contingent arrived in Africa things looked terrible blue. As they lay at Belmont the wounded from Magersfontein kept pouring back in a continuous stream in carts and trains, and the moral effect was terrible. No time was so bad on the nerves as the month they lay idle, with nothing to do but build railways, endure sand storms and keep watch among putrefying corpses upon a kopje. But when Lord Roberts arrived the whole aspect of things changed. The Contingent was brigaded with the Gordons, and at once struck up a warm friendship with them. The two regiments used to help each other in every way, pitching the tents or forwarding them after them every time there was a chance.

Yet it was the Gordons who, to their deep regret, bayoneted the Canadians at Paardeberg. The firing line of the Contingent had been ordered to advance, whilst the supports and the Highlanders threw up shelter. When the Boer fire was drawn the firing line were to retire, but when they did do the Gordons, believing that nothing could survive the murderous volleys of the enemy, took them for Boers and treated them accordingly.

Another great mistake at Paardeberg was made by the Intelligence Department. The Canadians had reached the crest of the outward slope of the river-bank. What ought to have been known, and was not, was that the river was as impossible to cross as a millrace, and that the top of the inward slope was not only a sheer drop of 15 feet, but was lined by 500 Boers, who had not yet fired a shot, and were waiting to fire at close quarters. The Contingent charged with the bayonet, but the Boers escaped under the edge of the declivity to the ford, whither they could not be pursued as they were covered by the fire of their friends on the opposite bank.

But is the Intelligence Department was defective, the practice of the artillery was magnificent. They did not bombard the Boer laager continuously, but only when a man was seen out of cover. On one occasion three or four of the enemy made a rush for an ammunition waggon. At once four shots from a howitzer battery were placed in a space not forty feet square, and neither enemy or waggon were seen again. If the Canadian attack had failed the whole force of the artillery would have been turned upon Cronje with shrapnel and nothing would have survived after the storm. Shrapnel was infinitely more effective than lyddite shells. The high trajectory of the howitzer batteries ensured the bursting of every shot fired while many of the lyddite shells from the 4.7 guns with their almost level course, never burst at all, and the much-talked of fumes, poisonous as they are on ship-board, in the open were quite innocuous.

Father O'Leary's own position at the great battle was right in the firing line. He had borne all the hardships of the forced march and the short rations with the men. At first under fire it was very trying to feel the top of the long grass in which he lay actually cut down by bullets, and he never got used to the spiteful sound of the pom-poms. But tired nature asserted itself and he fell asleep in the midst of it all, with a request to his neighbour to awaken him if anything important occurred.

The bursting on an English shell right over his head aroused him and he saw that the shelter he was sharing with a soldier was not sufficient for both. With the utmost courage Father O'Leary determined to make for a nearby ant heap and, regardless of the storm of bullets he drew, he raised himself on his hands and knees and managed to get safely behind it. Then came the famous charge and he was in the midst of it, picking up Colonel Alwarth as he fell. After the battle he went around with the stretcher-bearers, attended the wounded, comforted the dying, and burying the dead. Worn out with fatigue, he slept for an hour or so on the ground and resumed his mission of mercy, and it was not until the next day that he found his regiment again. As Father O'Leary tells his experiences as mere ordinary facts, it is easy to see why he was the most popular of all the men who left Canada for the front.

Father O'Leary's medals were sold at auction by Jeffrey Hoare Auctions Inc, in September, 1014. Although the pair of medals had an auction estimate of $600, the final hammer price was $3800 (with buyer's premium and sales tax, this was a final cost to the buyer af nearly $5000).

The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Tuesday, 16 February 2016 12:04 AM EST
Monday, 2 March 2015

The Days After Paardeberg
Topic: Paardeberg

The Days After Paardeberg

The Canadian General Sir William Otter, Desmond Morton, 1974

In immediate recognition of their feat [at Paardeberg], the Canadians were ordered to move forward to take possession of the Boer laager, a particularly nauseous honour since the shattered camp was "littered with dead animals, broken or burned waggons, trunks, mattresses, saddles, harness, tents and parts of household furniture &c., while the smell was fearful. "Personally I possess little of that sense but it was weeks before the horrible odour of the Laager left me." As Canadians scrambled for appropriate souvenirs, firm orders arrived that nothing was to be touched; instead, the battalion was to stand by for an inspection by Lord Roberts. Accordingly, they remained for most of the day under arms and ready, although it was after 4.00 p.m. when the elderly commander-in-chief appeared with his personal congratulations. Rather more appreciated were two bottles of champagne, a present from General Hector Macdonald for wiping out the shame of Majuba. They were not shared with the men who, instead, gorged themselves on pancakes made from supplies of cornmeal and flour found in some of the wrecked waggons." The effect of so much badly cooked and hastily eaten food was rather disastrous with a good many," McHarg recalled, "but they doubtless thought it was better to run the chance of a 'pain' than continue hungry."

After a disagreeable day and night in the laager, the R.C.R. marched with the rest of the army a few miles up the Modder to Kodoes Rand. For almost a week the army of 30,000 men bivouacked while its commanders sorted out the administrative chaos and considered their next move. The rainy season had firmly arrived and the troops, lacking tents or other shelter, were constantly cold and wet. While officers had tarpaulins pulled from waggons to make themselves makeshift tents, the men paired up to errect tiny shelters with their blankets and rubber sheets. The Canadians grumbled that their own blankets were cheap, thin, and inadequate when compared to those issued to the British soldier. Indeed, much of the equipment issued to the Canadians had turned out to be utterly unsuitable, beginning with the water bottle, which Otter had simply exchanged for the British issue, including the uniquely Canadian "Oliver" equipment which chafed under the arms and became brittle after constant wetting and drying, and the greatcoats which were too thin to provide adequate protection for the chill nights on the veldt. Worst of all were the canvas uniforms. According to A.S. McCormick, a veteran of the contingent, "they were so stiff that until they became pliable and softer after a week's wear they irritated and inflamed the groin. After being rained on several times they fell apart. Sleeves would fall off and sometimes the tunic below the belt." After three months of constant wear, most of the men were in rags and, with the British transport organization struggling to provide the army with half-rations, there was no possibility of getting extra clothing, blankets or even mail.

Dawn of Majuba, (surrender of Cronje), Morning After
R. Caton Woodville. London. 1900

The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Before Vimy, there was Paardeberg
Topic: Paardeberg

Before Vimy, there was Paardeberg

"Where is the Canadian who does not thrill with pride at the mention of Paardeberg? Where is the Canadian who does not know the whole story; who does not see plainly, in imagination, the whole picture in all its glorious tints, with background of loyalty and colouring of blood?"

"Every schoolboy knows the tale and longs for manhood; every school-girl, with blanching cheek but kindling eye, has heard how the raw, undisciplined sons of Canada led the way and forced the victory."

Thus reads the opening paragraphs of the chapter covering the battle of Paardeberg in Russell C. Hubley's small book "G" Company; Everyday Life of the R.C.R. (Witness printing House, 1902). And yet, the Battle of Paardeberg is almost unknown to Canadians outside those who still celebrate it annually.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge has often been described as a formative moment for young Canada, but the same sentiments and heightened nationalism was also felt after the victory of British forces over Boer General Piet Cronje, the first major victory of the South African War (the Boer War). What few realize is that Canadians, the first Canadian unit to fight on foreign shores, were in the forefront of that battle, and on its concluding day were in the leading charge to force the Boer surrender.

On the 27th of February, 1900, the following telegram from Sir Alfred Milner, Governor of Cape Colony, was read to the House of Commons by Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier at the start of that day's session:

"Cape Town, Feb 27, 1900 – Cronje surrendered at daylight. Congratulate you on noble share taken by troops from your colony."

During the day, the following was also received and read, from correspondence from Mr Chamberlain to Lord Minto:

"Her Majesty the Queen desires you to express to people of Dominion her admiration of gallant conduct of her Canadian troops in late engagement and her sorrow at loss of so many brave men."

Paardeberg was recognized across the Empire as a Canadian feat of arms. The battalion raised by Canada for the South African War was the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment (The RCR). A unit of over 1000 soldiers, but how was it raised from a Regiment that totaled no more than 400 at the time?

The 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment was raised from across Canada. From "A" Company in British Columbia and Manitoba to "H" Company raised in Nova Scotia. There were 1158 all ranks. Of 55 officers (including Nurses), only 8 were originally from The RCR. Of the 1103 non-commissioned officers and soldiers, 76 were originally of The RCR, and of those, 58 were Corporals and Privates.

The remainder? Over 90% of the unit were Militia soldiers and officers. These soldiers of the Militia came from 120 different original units and corps, including 82 different Militia infantry units. They also came from 6 cavalry, 15 artillery, 1 engineer and 2 medical units.

For actions in South Africa and the Battle of Paardeberg, The Royal Canadian Regiment would receive the theatre battle Honour "SOUTH AFRICA 1899-1900", and the Battle Honour "PAARDEBERG." In addition, twenty-six regiments of the Canadian Militia would be awarded the Battle Honour "SOUTH AFRICA" because of the size of their contribution to the Canadian contingents in South Africa.

Focus for a moment on those Canadian soldiers who served in South Africa. It is important to realize that the soldiers of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, were mostly soldiers of the Canadian Militia, and that they came from every province across our great nation. The pan-Canadian make-up of that unit is the same mix of Canadian origins that would be so well hailed after the Battle of Vimy Ridge in the next war.

Vimy Ridge was certainly an important milestone in Canadian history, as much for the act as for the evolving historiography surrounding it in the century since. But before Vimy, there was Paardeberg.

Every year, The Royal Canadian Regiment continues to celebrate the Canadian role in the victory at Paardeberg.

Canadian Army Battle Honours


Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EST
Updated: Thursday, 26 February 2015 10:28 PM EST
Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Paardeberg Compass
Topic: Paardeberg

The Paardeberg Compass

A soldier's medals are an interesting connection of the soldier to his (or her) period of service. Medals might be for a specific campaign, placing the soldier in time and place, they could be long service awards, for valour or meritorious service, or for commemorative purposes. Some medals show hard evidence of years of wear on parades, dutifully polished until finer details are removed, or even until most details are obliterated through that pride of service and a heavy polishing technique.

Medals, however, lack one connection to the service they represent. They are invariably issued after the fact, and could not have been with the soldier during the events that saw them earned. For that connection, we must seek other artifacts, ones we can be reasonably certain were in a soldiers backpack, or pockets, or even in hand on the field of battle or in an operational area. Such items can be difficult to attribute with confidence unless they are received from the soldier with provenance. But occasionally we do discover just such a piece of memorabilia.

One such is the pocket compass of 8077 Colour-Sergeant John David Fox Eustace.

Colour-Sergeant (now we would know him as a Company Sergeant Major) Eustace was a Militia soldier serving in Halifax with the 63rd Regiment, Halifax Rifles, at the outbreak of the South African War (Boer War). Eustace, like many of his country-men from coast to coast, volunteered to serve with a battalion of infantry raised as Canada's First Contingent to South Africa. This battalion was the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment.

While The Royal Canadian Regiment continued to garrison its four Company stations in Fredericton, St Jean, Toronto and London, it also provided 84 officers Non-Commissioned officers and soldiers for this new battalion. the remaining 921 members of the Battalion came, almost completely, from over 100 units of the Canadian Militia from across the country. John Eustace was one of those Militia soldiers, and he served as the Colour-Sergeant of “H” Company, which was raised in Nova Scotia.

Colour-Sergeant Eustace enlisted at Halifax on 20 Oct 1899 at the age of 30. An immigrant born in Dublin, Ireland, Eustace was serving in the 63rd Regiment (Halifax Rifles) at Halifax when he volunteered for service in South Africa. A single man, he was employed as a grocer in his civilian life. His service record describes him as five feet, six inches in height, 140 lb, with a 36-38 inch chest, fair complexion, dark brown hair and blue eyes. He was assessed as having good muscular development, good intelligence, a sanguine temperament. fair complexion, hearing and feet good and, finally, heart, lungs, hernia; all normal.

Eustace served with The Royal Canadian Regiment in South Africa until he was invalided to England on 13 Aug 1900. His discharge followed not long after, with his Certificate of Discharge dated 31 Aug 1900, reading:

This Certifies that No. 8077 Colour Sergt. J.D.F. Eustace of Halifax in the County of Halifax, Province of Nova Scotia, Dominion of Canada, aged 31 years, served continuously in H Coy, 2nd Battn., The R.C.R., S.S. Force of Active Militia of Canada, from the 20th day of October 1899 to the 31st day of August 1900 and is now discharged therefrom.”

Signed BH. Vidal, Lt. Col., D.O.C. 8.

Eustace was eligible for the Queen's South Africa Medal with two clasps: Cape Colony and Paardeberg. In late 1903, Eustace's medal was sent to the South African Constabulary, with which unit he was then serving, having returned to South Africa. (Eustace's QSA is known to have survived, location unconfirmed.)

John Eustace's company was in the front lines of the assault at the Battle of Paardeberg on 27 February 1900, the first major British victory over a Boer force. In this action, which saw the surrender of General Cronje, the contribution of the Canadians was celebrated throughout the Empire.

While we are certain John Eustace's medals could not have been at Paardeberg, we can be reasonably certain that he had his pocket compass with him.

So, how do we determine that a man who served many years before South Africa, and again afterwards, carried this compass at Paardeberg?

Eustace's compass is marked, stamped inside the brass cover, with the following details:

  • 8077
  • J. Eustace
  • H Co
  • RCRI

John Eustace only held the regimental number “8077” while he served with the 2nd (Special Service) battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment. Similarly, he was only in “H” Company of that unit for his service in South Africa. And the “RCRI”? For a brief period, between 1 April 1899 and 1 November 1901, The Royal Canadian Regiment was officially known as “ The Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry.”

Imagine, a Colour-Sergeant (Company Sergeant Major) on the open veldt of South Africa, as his company approaches occupied Boer trenches in the darkness before the dawn of 27 February 1900. Did he use this compass to help keep direction as the distance to the enemy closed? How many years afterwards did he carry it, a constant reminder of his service in South Africa as a Royal Canadian?


Posted by regimentalrogue at 8:55 PM EST
Updated: Saturday, 18 February 2017 2:53 PM EST

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