Towards the close of 1900 and throughout 1901 Canada was represented at the front by a corps known as the Canadian Scouts, commanded by Major Howard.
In December 1900 they were with General Alderson west of Pretoria, and immediately gained the confidence of their leaders, and were given the difficult task of scouting in front of the brigade. In January, February, and March 1901 they trekked with General Alderson through the Eastern Transvaal, his column being one of those which General French led to the Swazi border in a great sweeping movement, when practically all the enemy's artillery was captured.
In Lieutenant Moeller's 'Two Years at the Front', page 153, he says:
"26th January 1901—Object of trek. We formed part of a big movement south to Ermelo to drive Boers east. We are one of six columns. Our force consists of the 14th Mounted Infantry (regulars), 400 men, Major Heigham; 13th Mounted Infantry (regulars), 300 men, Major Pratt; Canadian Scouts, 50 men, Major Howard; Canadian pom-pom, Lieutenant Hilton; Colonel Jenner, DSO, Colt guns, 6; 'J' Battery, 6 guns; ' G' Battery, 2 guns, Captain Sykes; battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 800— all under General Alderson".
As appears from Lieutenant Moeller's Diary, the Canadian Scouts were constantly in the very front, and of course they had to pay the price; indeed on the following day, 27th January, he records that 2 scouts were killed. These were Sergeant Major D J M'Gregor and Sergeant D B Hammond. Sergeant W S Gordon was wounded. All three had served with 'C' Battery Canadian Artillery. On the 28th Lieutenant Moeller remarks:
"The Canadian Scouts are first-rate, and my men are doing well. 29th—A somewhat exciting incident occurred. Davidson, one of the Canadians, about 2500 yards ahead, was suddenly confronted with four Boers, one of whom demanded his surrender. He replied by shooting the man and killing him on the spot; the other three legged it".
Under the 31st he says:
"My skipper, King, captain in Canadian Dragoons, and a colonel, is a sterling good fellow and a first-rate soldier; all the Colonials indeed are splendid and real good fighters; most interesting too. Major Gat-Howard, who is in command of them, is a Yankee, and went all through the American War. He has seen much service with Red Indians, and is a typical scout leader".
On 4th February Sergeant Major J A Patterson was killed, and Sergeants H Bredin, A B Cradock, and E W Muncey were wounded. The first two had served with the Mounted Rifles and Muncey with the Canadian Artillery. Under February 5th Moeller says:
"To-day I got the billet I like, support to the Canadian Scouts. February 8th — I met Callaghan, officer, Canadian Scouts; Davis, Canadian Scout, and really a Red Indian; and another, who rode forty miles through the Boers with despatches from Kitchener, via French and Alderson, to Smith-Dorrien. They had a marvellous ride; one had to bury the despatches and dodge the Boers. Davis, the Redskin, was taken prisoner, but escaped by shooting several Boers with his revolver. At night Callaghan dug up the despatches and got them in safe. It reads like 'Fenimore Cooper'. I have no time to write details, but it was a wonderfully exciting ride. February 17th, Derby—Stood to arms at 3 AM; orders to go out at 6 AM east, then proceed south-east towards Swaziland border to round up 200 or 300 Boers shut up in the hills with their waggons. The force consisted of 14th Mounted Infantry (Captain Brass), 13th Mounted Infantry (Major Pratt), 4 guns 'J' Battery (Captain Sykes), 2 Colt guns, Canadian Scouts (Captain Ross)—all under Major Gat-Howard, Royal Canadians. Singular that a British force should be commanded by a semi-American officer. There is a cold drizzling rain, and it is very misty. We started at 8.30 AM I was support to scouts and advanced guard. Trekked eight miles east and southeast, and halted in the hills owing to the rain and thick white mist. Dick's force is also moving, as well as Campbell and Smith-Dorrien. Objective of all, to round up these Boers and waggons. Waited till 3 PM Still misty. Suddenly the scouts moved forward at a trot, and I followed on their heels. It is an extraordinarily difficult country, with its hills, valleys, and deep gorges. Heard rifle-fire and Mausers going off, so pushed forward, dismounted my men and again pushed forward; found Canadians holding a rocky ridge immediately in front of a huge kopje, which was steep and covered with bush. In the valley were four Boer waggons; pushed on and joined them. I am sorry to say Major Howard and his orderly were found killed, and a native scout shot. Poor Major Howard no doubt met his death by going too far ahead alone. He spotted the waggons, went to them, and got shot. A little later I heard that he actually surrendered and the Boers shot him afterwards. He was hit in three places—arm, jaw, and stomach—all expanding cartridges. His orderly had a terrible wound through the back and stomach. Well, we burnt all the waggons, put the two dead men in sheets, and sent for an ambulance. I only saw the major in the morning, and he gave me all instructions about following his scouts up. He was fifty-five yesterday; a splendid scout and soldier, his one and only fault being his daring, if it can be called a fault. Beattie, the General's ADC, was the first to find them. He had his horse shot, and had a narrow escape as well, as they were potting at him at 200 and 300 yards. Major Pratt took the command, and sent back word that we were to retire as soon as we could, as it was getting dark, besides being more misty. The fact is that Major Howard and his orderly were foully murdered after surrendering and laying down their arms".
On 16th February the Scouts had Sergeant F C A Douglas mortally wounded, and Sergeant G L Abbott and Sergeant Carter wounded; on the 18th Major Howard and Sergeant Northway, who had served with the Mounted Rifles, killed. As will have been seen, the casualties among the senior non-commissioned officers on this trek were most severe, and out of all proportion to the losses of the column, which were otherwise almost none. The fact was that the Canadian Scouts had undertaken extremely dangerous work, and had done it so thoroughly that their self-sacrifice saved all their comrades. Major Ross got the command of the Scouts on Major Howard's death, and they continued to do splendidly under their new leader.
The extracts given above are the words, not written for publication, of a British officer of great insight and intelligence, and no better proof could be wanted of the value of the Canadian Scouts. Lieutenant Moeller was himself to fall in the same Eastern Transvaal on 18th December 1901. His Diary is one of the most valuable war books yet published.
The Canadian Scouts were with Colonel Hackett-Thompson's column in the Megaliesberg for part of the year 1901. In July they joined a column then being organised at Heilbron under Colonel Rimington, and in the war record of that leader's regiment, the Inniskilling Dragoons, there are many references to the fine work of the Canadian Scouts. The column did an immense lot of driving work in the north-east of the Orange River Colony. Under the 3rd New South Wales Mounted Rifles some extracts from the Inniskillings' record are given. These show the nature and great value of the work done by Rimington's force. In February 1902 the Scouts suffered casualties in the Orange River Colony on various occasions; 5 were wounded on the 9th. In April they were taken to the Transvaal and did more heavy work there. On 3rd May 1 was killed and Lieutenant J M'Dougall and 3 men were wounded in the Balmoral district.
In Lord Kitchener's despatch of 8th April 1902 he referred to the great drives in which Rimington's column took a most prominent share. After mentioning the captures, Lord Kitchener said: "In addition to this Major Ross of the Canadian Scouts, belonging to Rimington's column, had discovered in a cave near Tafel Kop a large Boer depot containing 300,000 rounds of small-arm ammunition, mostly Martini-Henry, also 10,000 Lee-Metford, some Krupp and 15-pounder shells and fuzes, 600 pom-pom shells, 200 Ib of powder, one maxim gun complete", etc.
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