The Canadian Mounted Rifles—The Royal Canadian Dragoons—Strathcona's Horse—Recruiting—An offer from Arizona —The corps complete—A farewell banquet—We sail for South Africa—A letter from Lord Strathcona—Arrival at Cape Town—Our first job—Kosi Bay—The plan miscarries—We join General Buller—A reinforcement from Canada—Our general utility—Sir Redvers Buller—White flag incidents—Slanders on the corps—Looting—We join General French's column—Lord Dundonald—Pretoria—A tribute to the corps—Varied duties—Major General Baden-Powell—Our recall—Lord Kitchener's tribute—More slanders on the corps—England—A warm welcome—King Edward presents us with colours—Lord Strathcona's Hospitality—Banquets and sight-seeing—Mr. Joseph Chamberlain—Our last night in England—Our return to Canada —Lord Strathcona's generosity—Promotions and decorations—The South African Constabulary
Two months after the first Canadian contingent had sailed for South Africa I heard that it was likely that a mounted corps would be sent to the war. As the Mounted Police might form part of the contingent I should stand a good chance of being accepted if I wished to volunteer. I placed my name on the list, and in a few days was told to report at Ottawa. When I was presented to the G.O.C. he informed me that the Canadian government had directed him to raise, for special service in South Africa, a four squadron regiment of mounted riflemen.
He intended to give the command to an officer who was already in South Africa. I was offered the appointment of second in command. I was to organize the regiment in every particular, except with regard to recommending the officers, and take it to the theatre of war. Three of the squadrons were to be commanded by officers of the permanent force, and the fourth by an officer of the N.W.M.P. Inspectors were to be offered lieutenancies and the quartermaster’s billet, whilst the permanent force would provide the adjutant, and the transport officer would come from the west. Half of the N.C.O.'s and men would be taken from the permanent force and the militia cavalry, and the remainder from the Mounted Police and stock ranches.
I decided that the arrangement would be unfair to the N.W.M.P., which was more than double the strength of the permanent cavalry, and had for many years been highly trained in all that goes to make a first-class mounted rifle corps. I felt, too, that in such a mixed regiment I should be only a fifth wheel to the coach, so I declined the offer.
I was recalled the next day and informed that two regiments of two squadrons each were to be formed, one in the east and the other in the west. They were subsequently styled respectively the Royal Canadian Dragoons and the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. I was to be offered the command of the western regiment, which I accepted. Having been gazetted, I was on the point of proceeding west to organize the corps, when of my own accord and for reasons of my own I gave up the command and was appointed second. Lt.-Col. Herchmer was appointed to command the corps, and I proceeded west to assist in the organization. I visited Medicine Hat, Calgary and Macleod, to inspect the men and horses, both of which were of first-class quality. The men were expert horsemen and good shots, several were experienced scouts. The staff and the majority of the officers and N.C.O.'s were members of the Mounted Police. Half of the men also were from the force, and the remainder of all ranks were trained military men, and the owners and employees of the horse and cattle ranches of the North West Territory.
When the organization was completed we proceeded to Winnipeg, the city of hospitality, and from thence on to Ottawa, where Lady Minto presented us with guidons.
I went on to Halifax, and had been there only two days when Sir Frederick Borden, minister of militia, telegraphed for me to return to Ottawa to raise and command a corps of mounted riflemen for Lord Strathcona, who was sending a regiment to South Africa at his own expense. I was to be allowed to take with me any officers and men of the Mounted Police who had volunteered for the service and could be spared from their duties, and I could have the services of the remainder to recruit the corps.
One squadron was to be raised in Manitoba, another in the North West Territory, and the third in British Columbia; the whole of the saddlery, clothing, transport waggons, and many other articles of equipment had to be manufactured. The horses had to be purchased at the very worst time of the year, and were to be cow-horses, that is, animals trained in round-up and all range work. Recruits were not wanting; one could have got thousands of the best men in Canada. I had an offer from six hundred first-class Arizona stockmen. They were prepared to supply their own arms, pay for any class of rifle that I desired, furnish their own horses, spare and riding, if I would take them for Strathcona’s Horse. I had, of course, to decline, but it was clear proof of what the Empire can expect in time of trouble. One could have had the assistance of thousands of the finest horsemen in the United States.
The recruiting was completed on February 8, and was most satisfactory. On the 14th we reached Ottawa, and were quartered in Lansdowne Park Exhibition Ground. The regiment was cheered at every station en route. On March 6 I paraded the regiment for the inspection of the Governor General. Our space was limited, and the snow, being above the horses’ knees, prevented me from doing more than march past in sections of fours, but the corps looked well.
The corps was at last complete and ready to move at a moment’s notice, all the result of one month’s work. During these strenuous days I had much encouragement from Lord Strathcona, who wrote me several kindly letters, impressing upon me that I was to spare no expense in providing for the comfort of the men and the efficiency of the regiment. I could say that in every respect I had carried out his wishes to the fullest extent and with due regard to economy, and, thanks to his liberality and the active assistance I received from all concerned, I am sure it would have been impossible to find a better equipped corps in the world.
We were banqueted on March 12 at the Windsor Hall. Many of the leading citizens of Montreal were present, every regiment in the garrison was strongly represented, and the galleries were filled with ladies. The mayor was in the chair, supported by the Chief Justice, Sir Alexander Lacoste, Principal Peterson of McGill University, Archbishop Bruchesi, and others. All made speeches extolling the munificence of Lord Strathcona in sending the regiment to fight for the Empire, and the mayor duly proposed the corps. During the progress of the banquet my brother-in-law, Mr. C. A. Harwood, K.C., placed my two little girls on the table beside me, each of them holding out to me bashfully a pretty bouquet of flowers. The mayor, in the goodness of his heart, not knowing they were my daughters, and to make sure that I should do the right thing, said, “Kiss them, Colonel, kiss the little dears!” which, of course, I did, to the satisfaction of the assembly, who cheered heartily. In the main hall our little boy was passed from hand to hand till his poor mother was in fear lest she would lose him in the crowd.
When the banquet was over we marched to Bonaventure Station, where our train had been transferred, and had great difficulty in getting through a crowd of at least 30,000 which had assembled there.
At Campbellton, New Brunswick, a large crowd was gathered, and we were presented with a beautiful silk standard. Later in the day another silk flag was bestowed upon us by the citizens of Monckton, accompanied by an address.
On March 17 we embarked upon the Elder Dempster SS. Monterey at Halifax. Our marching out state was 28 officers, 512 other ranks, and 599 horses.
Shortly after we had embarked I received from Lord Strathcona by cable the following message, which when published on board was received with hearty cheers in every part of the ship :
Very sorry cannot see my force embark. Have transmitted Dr. Borden gracious message I have received from Her Majesty, which he will publicly convey to you and the men under your command. Have also asked him to express my best wishes to you all, and that you have a pleasant voyage, every success, and a safe return. Appointments of all officers gazetted; they will receive their commissions from the Queen. Hope to forward them to reach you at Cape Town, where you will find letter on your arrival. Report yourself to the General Officer Commanding Cape Town. - Strathcona.
The arrangements on board for the comfort of all ranks were excellent, yet our voyage was far from satisfactory. No sooner did we get out into the open sea than, in spite of the fact that it could not be called rough, the vessel rolled heavily, a motion which she kept up on the shghtest excuse for the greater part of the trip. After a few days one of the horses developed pneumonia, and from day to day many went to feed the sharks. The greatest care was taken, but it was of little avail, the disease had to run its course, and it was a pitiful sight to see so many exceptionally fine animals thrown overboard.
On April lo we arrived and anchored in Table Bay. On the 12th I had letters from Lord Strathcona, all containing useful advice. He sent out 150 field glasses and wire cutters, whilst money was placed to my credit to purchase lassoes, extra tea and tobacco. On the 13th I called on Sir Alfred (now Viscount) Milner, the High Commissioner, at Government House.
All our transport arrangements were soon made, and we could have left for the front at once had it not been for a telegram which I received on the 14th, and which read as follows:
From the Field Marshal, Commanding-in-Chief, Bloemfontein. The officer commanding Strathcona's Horse not to be disappointed at not being brought here. There is important work for his corps to do for which I have specially selected it.
A further annoyance for me was a request made by a general officer friend of ours, who was at Bloemfontein, for volunteers from Strathcona's Horse to join a scout corps for the advance of Lord Roberts. One of his scouts wrote to some of my men, asking them " on the quiet " to volunteer, but they, hke good soldiers, informed me of it. I called for volunteers, but none appeared ; however, I paraded the men and told them that as no one had volunteered I wished to tell them that I was pleased that none would leave the regiment. I also said that in any case I was determined that we should not separate.
We were raised by Lord Strathcona for special service as a unit, and not to be broken into detached parties.
On June 1 we sailed from Cape Town for Kosi Bay, in Ama- tonga Land. Just before we left I received my sealed orders. At the mouth of Kosi Bay we found H.M.S. Doris, the flagship of Admiral Sir R. Harris, commander-in-chief on the Cape station, H.M.S. Monarch, and a small cruiser. The coast to the north of where the Kosi River runs into the little narrow bay is low and sandy, and from a strip about 300 yards in width the land rises abruptly and is steep and rugged, covered with thick, low, scrubby bushes. The cruiser had run a line about 500 yards north to mark the landing place ; the surf was 25 feet wide or thereabouts, but not difficult. Preparations were made to lower the horses and swim them to land as soon as the man who was to meet us appeared on the shore.
My orders were that on account of contraband of war being smuggled through Portuguese territory by the Delagoa Bay railway, I was to land at Kosi Bay and proceed with one squadron to" the railway bridge over the Komati River and blow it up. Captain Livingstone, R.E., and his brother officer, Lieutenant Walker, were to perform the engineering feat. The scheme had been objected to by more than one distinguished officer on the score of its being impracticable, but the authorities had decided that the attempt should be made. Mr. Roger Casement, [He has since been noted as the exposer of the dreadful rubber atrocities in Central Africa and Peru.] who knew the natives, was to accompany me.
Extreme secrecy was necessary. The essence of the plan was surprise, and it could only be effected by landing at Kosi Bay, a lonely spot. The Lebomba Mountains, which had to be crossed, were bad, and it was therefore decided that the party to destroy the bridge should not exceed 200. Pack animals only could be taken. It was understood that if we had the good fortune to blow up the bridge we should not be strong enough to hold the place or to prevent it from being repaired ; for this a stronger force would be necessary. In consequence the majority of Strathcona’s Horse with guns and mule waggons was to move to Eshowe in Zululand, as if moving to cover General Buller’s flank along the western border of Zululand, and while they were at Eshowe they were to collect supplies for the whole force for several weeks. Whilst they were doing this, my party was to land at Kosi Bay and make for the bridge as fast as possible. The ship was then to return to Durban and advise the rest of the regiment that they were to start at once in support, taking the coast road through Zululand to Lebomba, and by that time the bridge would be blown up.
The next day I learned that a ship had been sent to Delagoa Bay and had returned with the bad news that tidings of the plan had got into the hands of the Boers, that the garrison at the bridge had been strengthened, and that 500 of the enemy had been posted on each flank of our route. [Several years later, when in the South African Constabulary, I went to Komati Poort on a tour of inspection, and I learned that the guard on the bridge at this time consisted of, at most, 150 men. It seems incredible that the circumstance was not known to our people in Delagoa Bay. It is good proof of the ability of the Boers to spread false news to deceive their enemy.] On receipt of this intelligence, which the admiral had good reason to believe, and as there was no sign of the appearance of the guide who was to have met us at the bay, he called off the expedition and we sailed for Durban the same afternoon. The abandonment of the expedition had a most disheartening effect on the men, and the naval force regretted the loss of the practice in landing the horses on such a difficult coast.
I next received orders to proceed to Eshowe, in Zululand, as soon as possible and make an attempt from there to reach the Komati and destroy the bridge. The orders to join General Buller had been countermanded.
We reached Eshowe, and the same evening we were ready to make a rapid move north to the bridge, but to the intense chagrin of every officer and man in the corps, I received by wire orders to return to Durban by road, and from there proceed to Zandspruit, on the border of the Transvaal, to join General Buller’s force. I was sorry that the attempt was abandoned, for it would have been successful.
On June 20 we joined General Buller’s army at Zandspruit. It was dark before I arrived there, and the hundreds of bivouac fires were a cheerful sight. On the following day the brigade, under Lord Dundonald, which I had been ordered to join, marched early. [It was composed of Composite Regiment, South African Light Horse, A Battery, R.H. Artillery, Engineer Troop, Strathcona's Horse, Thomeycroft’s M.I.]
While we were on the march Sir Redvers Buller rode up with his staff and passed in and out through our troops, which were in column, and expressed himself very much pleased. He said: “ I know Lord Strathcona very well; when I was in Winnipeg on the Red River expedition of 1870, it was arranged with him that I should go west to distribute the proclamation ; but it turned out that I was required with my regiment, and Butler went instead, a very good thing too ; for he wrote a very good book describing his journey, which I could not have done.” Sir Redvers’ manner was delightful. He spoke of Canada and the pleasant time he spent in the country when he was a young officer of the 60th King’s Royal Rifles, and when he saw my general service ribbon he spoke of the Red River expedition and his experiences at that time.
The next day we entered Standerton unopposed, welcomed by large numbers of British people, who waved handkerchiefs and hats, calling out, “ Welcome, Canadians! ” Before we arrived a loud explosion was heard, and a cloud of black smoke arose, which was explained when we entered the town and saw the ruins of the railway bridge which the enemy had blown up. There was also a large quantity of railway stores in flames ; as several of the railway officials had participated in this wanton destruction, they were made prisoners of war.
The names I mention must not always be assumed to be those of towns or villages, as every farm in the Transvaal and Orange Free State was named and numbered. They are very large, generally 6 or 7 miles square, and are shown on the maps with numbers and recorded. There are many of the same name, and they are described thus : Oliphantsfontein No. 10 ; Krokodilpoort No. 50, and so on. When the voor- trekkers came into the country they laid out the farms to suit themselves by riding as straight as possible for an hour at the usual tripping pace—single-footing or racking, we call it - then turning at right angles to the course and again at the end of another hour, until a square of about 6 miles had been described. Marks were placed at the comers, and the house and kraals were erected as near as possible to the water supply furnished by some spruit or fontein, then trees were planted and an effort made to beautify the place.
On the 12th we bivouacked at Witpoort, and on the following day I sent Major Sangmeister out to the right with a troop to cover that flank ; but the clear atmosphere of that region, although he had resided at Heidelberg for some time previously, caused him to miscalculate the distance ordered, and he went out too far, and before there was time to warn him, he approached One Tree Hill, a high kopje which rises abruptly from the plain. He saw some of the enemy on top of it and without hesitation charged them at the head of the troop, receiving a heavy fire at close range, and was captured with seven of the men by the strong commando which was posted on the summit. Two of the men were severely wounded and several horses shot. An ambulance was sent for the wounded men and brought them into camp in the afternoon.
During the following night the plucky major sent in a report by a Kaffir to Lord Dundonald, giving him full particulars of the strength of the enemy. The remainder of the brigade in the meantime came in contact with the Boers in a strongly prepared position across the ravine. I got within a short distance and opened fire, and the brigade pursued them until dark, inflicting severe loss. Our casualties would have been nil, but for the misfortune of poor Sangmeister.
At Waterval Lieutenant Adamson, with 38 men and 40 horses, reported to me as a reinforcement from Canada. They had been sent by Lord Strathcona to fill up casualties, and were a very good lot. I posted them to the regiment at once, keeping them in a troop under Adamson.
I learned at Heidelberg that there was a possibility of the regiment being retained for work on the line of communication. As such was not to our taste I wrote to our brigadier, pointing out that the corps was not raised by Lord Strathcona for work on the line of communication but as advanced scouts and with the advance, as that class of troops had been specially requested at the time of organization, and that there would be great disappointment throughout the corps, and no doubt at home, unless we were kept with the advance of the army. The letter produced the desired effect, the corps being kept well to the front during the remainder of its service in the field.
Poor Sergeant Parker, an ex-captain in the Essex and prominent in the Kootenay district, B.C., was killed near Waterval Bridge. Some Boers had sent in word to the officer in command that they would surrender to a troop if it went out to receive their submission, and White-Fraser was sent to meet them, as they had stated that they did not care to come in to lay down their arms.
White-Fraser, a capable officer in the field, proceeded with caution, and it is well that he had no faith in the proposals of the enemy, for as soon as he approached the place the troop came under a hot fire at long range from about twice its number or more posted in kraals and sheltered by kopjes. He continued his advance until there was a certainty that treachery was intended, and then fell back slowly, keeping well to the front of his men and nearer the enemy. Sergeant Parker and one of the privates, however, when well out to the flank, were fired upon by a strong party of the enemy concealed in a kraal not more than 25 yards from them. The Boers called upon Parker to surrender, but he replied defiantly and was shot dead. The wounded private had to be left on the field, but was picked up by a farmer and kept in the house until medical assistance was sent. As he could not be moved he remained there until my arrival, when I sent out an escort to bring him in from the Boer farm, but the poor fellow died of his wounds before he could be moved.
At Paardekop the men of the west had an opportunity of showing what they could do besides soldiering. A band of 500 horses fresh from Natal broke out of one of the kraals through a gate which had been left open, and were soon careering wildly across the veldt. We had to turn out and lasso at least half of them, the remainder being rounded up in the usual way. In return for this service, which could not have been performed had we not been equipped with lassoes and stock saddles, I was given the first pick of the remounts.
50 of which I required. I thanked my stars that on my recommendation the regiment had been provided with stock saddles and lassoes. They very often came in useful later on, in capturing wild horses found on the veldt and in dragging others out of bogs or sloughs, for all one had to do in this latter case was to throw the rope over the mired animal’s head, take a turn round the horn of the saddle, and drag the animal out by the neck, not a hard task, for as soon as the brute felt the strain he made desperate efforts to keep up with his captor and plunged forward on each yank of the rope until on dry land.
On August 5 I dined with Sir Redvers Buffer and his staff. Sir Redvers had always kept in touch with Canada, and talked a great deal of his experiences there. He was possessed of the dry humour of a Mark Twain, keeping the table merry during the meal and drawing everyone else out. It was evident to me that he was held in great esteem and was a favourite with everyone.
The story of the South African War has been told many times over, and I do not propose to do more than string together some incidents and events that appear to me to be of peculiar interest. We saw much fighting, and I think proved that from the Dominion came as good fighting men as ever played at the great game of war.
When searching a house that displayed a white flag the system in the 3rd Mounted Brigade was to make good the ground on all sides with the flankers and advance, so that no enemy could escape. The support would then search the house. By taking this precaution there were no white flag incidents. Very often the white flags were put up with no sinister intent; every house in sight placed them, no doubt they were raised sometimes by the women for their protection, and very naturally, as the kraals round the farm-houses were strong stone fences behind which the retiring Boers took cover and opened fire on any of their foes who approached. On one occasion a young cavalry officer with a party of his regiment was reported to have gone straight to a house from which a white flag was displayed, and talked to the occupants, women and children, for the purpose, it was stated, of getting information. When they were on the point of riding away, every saddle was emptied, several of the men being killed outright and the remainder wounded, some mortally, the fire being directed from an adjoining kraal.
Early one morning as the regiment passed out of the bivouac at Vogelsluitspruit to its position on the left of the column we met Sir Redvers Buller and his staff. In response to my salute, and “ Good morning, sir,” he greeted me heartily, saying, “ We shall have hot work to-day, Steele ! ” It was a pleasure to serve that gallant man, a jovial, cool-headed soldier, the perfect type of the best of his race, always where he was wanted, always cheery. That day’s action at Bergendal Farm was a great credit to Sir Redvers Buller, who had planned the battle and was reported in dispatches by the Commander-in- Chief as having handled the operations with great skill.
On one occasion at Machadodorp, as we halted to water the horses at a long ditch, we observed some stragglers from another corps, fellows who ought to have been under fire ; but at that moment they came under that of the tongues of some Boer women of the farm below the hill. There were pigs and fowls about, which these enterprising troopers were carrying off, while the women, young and old, were busy screaming all sorts of things at the “ verdommed Rooineks,” and belabouring them with broom handles and mops. The victims of the assault rent the air with their shrieks of laughter, the pigs and fowls joining in the chorus. This entertainment was still going on when, a few minutes later, we galloped to the front and threw ourselves, dismounted, under cover to the left rear of the Chestnut battery, which came forward at a gallop and was soon busy with the enemy’s Long Toms posted on the heights of the Drakensberg, where they had been for most of the day. Thus comedy and tragedy were being enacted at one and the same time.
One day the provost-marshal of Lyndenberg called at my bivouac, and we had a pleasant chat, during which he said, “ I am told you have been informed that I stated on the day the column entered Machadodorp that your men had looted in that town.” I replied, “ Yes, I was so informed, and reported to Lord Dundonald that immediately after the 3rd Mounted Brigade carried the town I had reassembled the corps in the square, and that I saw every man fall in, and that no looting had been done.” To this he answered that if anyone had stated that he had spoken in that way of the regiment he told an untruth, for he had not made any such statement nor had he any grounds for it. There was “ no regiment in the army more free from any kind of irregularity than Strathcona’s Horse.”
Having taken a prominent part in the Battle of Lyndenberg, we were still at Spitzkop on the 22nd, and the convoy returned from Nelspruit with supplies. Their march was through a malarial tract of country, and they had found the remains of several of the field guns which had been destroyed by the Boers who had retreated before us on the 13th and broken away in that direction. The usual daily summary of news stated that President Kruger had sailed for Holland from Lourengo Marques, resigning the Presidency to Vice-President Schalk Burger. There were also erroneous reports to the effect that General Botha had been forced to resign owing to ill-health, and that many of the enemy had thrown down their arms and retreated into Portuguese territory.
Lord Dundonald had interesting interviews with some of the brigade on the subject of looting. Certain enterprising young Colonials had turned down the brims of their felt hats and put dints in the crowns to make them look like the Canadian hats, but it was not successful, the saddles gave them away, as we had the California stock saddle, which could not be imitated in a hurry. There were no complaints against our men and very few against others, for woe betide the marauder who got into the hands of our chief ! General Buller’s orders on the subject of looting and damaging property were very strict and well carried out; as Lord Dundonald tersely stated, “ It is not war to loot the poor people or to bum their homes.”
Frequently, when we bivouacked, I ordered that no fires should be lighted, as it was not worth while having the corps under fire and having men and horses damaged for a cup of tea. Camp fires would spring up everywhere else, and, as they made an excellent mark for the enemy, fire would be opened upon the column, but no shells fell amongst us. Once when shells, all shrapnel of course, were falling, Major Belcher and I were smoking with our backs against an anthill, and we heard an A.S.C. man say, “ I’ve been looking for a blasted * funk-hole ’ all night and can’t find one 1 ” a remark which caused us much amusement, as the young man was roaming about without the faintest desire for shelter !
On October 8, in the valley west of Helvetia, we met General French’s column returning from Barberton, and marched with it for some distance. While halted outside Machadodorp to let the transport pass on, I was ordered by Sir Redvers Buller to move in quickly for him to say good-bye to us before he left for England that night. When I arrived on the ground I formed the regiment on foot and, with the officers at their posts, received him with a general salute. Sir Redvers then addressed us as follows : “I have never served with a nobler, braver or more serviceable body of men. It shall be my privilege when I meet my friend, Lord Strathcona, to tell him what a magnificent body of men bear his name.”
At Machadodorp I learned on October 9 that we were to accompany General French’s column to Standerton, and the next day received orders, much to my regret, that the 3rd Mounted Brigade was to be broken up here. I instructed the quartermaster to prepare statements of stores issued to the regiment from time to time, and lost or missing through active operations, these to be submitted to a board of officers so as to have them struck off the books. However, on the nth, we were directed to move by rail to Pretoria, and, at the request of Lord Dundonald, who wished to say good-bye, I paraded the regiment. He stated that he was very proud of Strathcona’s Horse, and from the time the regiment joined the brigade under his command it had covered a great deal of ground and had undertaken and successfully carried out many dangerous duties. At the conclusion of his address we gave him three hearty cheers. He was a very great favourite with all ranks and respected for his fine soldierly qualities. Although the work was hard, everyone of us enjoyed it, and, from the time we joined the Natal army until Sir Redvers Buller and Lord Dundonald departed, I can assert that our experience was delightful and valuable. We received nothing but kindness from our gallant commanding officers, their brilliant and capable staff, and from the whole of our comrades, not only of the 3rd Mounted Brigade, but from all the Natal army which was now broken up and its component parts sent to other columns.
On the 12th I handed over our horses to General French’s cavalry, the major in charge of the party stating, as well he might, that they were the best that he had seen in the country. The animals from Canada did not enjoy the change, and several of them bucked so badly that I had, at the request of the remount officer, to send some of the men over to remind them that they had to behave themselves. These horses had not bucked for months, yet, strange as it may seem, no sooner did they change masters than many of them began their old tricks.
We reached Pretoria on October 14. I took a room at the Grand Hotel for myself and staff to work up back correspondence and prepare for more work. Two days later I was ordered by the Commander-in-Chief to prepare for further service in the field. On the 20th I was sent for by Lord Kitchener, Chief of Staff, and given orders to march to Germiston by the Johannesburg road, leaving at 2 p.m., after Lord Roberts had inspected the regiment. The Commander-in-Chief, however, was indisposed, and did not inspect us, a great disappointment; but Lord Kitchener came out of the headquarters, and when he stated that Lord Roberts could not appear, he inspected us and expressed himself pleased with the regiment.
At Germiston we entrained for Wilverdiend, whence with other troops we were to march under Colonel Hicks to relieve Major General Barton’s column, which was out of ammunition and being pressed by General de Wet at Frederickstadt. None of us had ever met before, but it made no difference, we were all of the same sort. In giving us our orders he told me that he was giving Strathcona’s Horse the danger point, and that I had to protect the left front, left flank and left rear. The enemy had been reported in considerable strength on the left of the long range of rugged kopjes called the Gatsrand.
The firing was heavy, but the march of the column was not checked or interrupted, and we reached Frederickstadt with the welcome ammunition and assistance. Major General Barton at once attacked the enemy, who was occupying a deep donga, which extended for some distance about 600 yards from our position. A heavy fire was opened upon him, and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Imperial Light Horse and Scots Guards attacked, scattering the enemy, who suffered severe loss in killed, wounded and prisoners. Our column remained in reserve during the action. The enemy had his dismounted men too far from their horses, with the result that our infantry, in prime condition, closed with them, and many were bayoneted. While the action was in progress Colonel Hicks came and thanked me for the way the regiment did its work on the way down.
Our subsequent operations were very satisfactory, and included the capture of 600 head of cattle and a very large number of sheep, which were carried into Frederickstadt. On November 10 I received the following from Major General Barton :
I cannot speak too highly of the practical and effective manner in which the duty assigned to your splendid corps was carried out by yourself and all under your command yesterday, and I have specially mentioned this in my report to the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief. I only regret that circumstances prevented my supporting your movements by advancing further with the main body. The capture of the stock is most satisfactory. I regret the casualty of one man missing and one wounded.
Private Reed, who had been captured in the Buffeldom Pass, escaped from the enemy during the night and appeared in our lines in the morning. The Boers, after posting their scouts, had a dance in the farm-house where he was, and while it was in progress Reed was placed in a chair in charge of one of the guard, who sat before him and made himself comfortable with his Mauser between his knees. Reed feigned sleep, and very soon his captor, overcome by fatigue and the heat of the room, was deep in slumber. The door being open to admit the cool breeze, the prisoner seized his chance, stole out into the night, and was soon on his way to rejoin the regiment. He made a clear and highly intelligent report, giving full particulars of the strength of the Boers and the quantity of ammunition in their possession, which I submitted to the general.
Private Stewart, one of the special scouts, had an opportunity one day of showing his courage and determination. He met two of the enemy at a farm-house and was covered by their Mausers. He dismounted and threw down his rifle, but the Boer nearest to him levelled his weapon to shoot him. He was not quick enough, however, and before he could fire Stewart's trusty revolver dropped him at about 50 yards. The other fired at the same time, wounding him in the chest, but seeing some of our scouts galloped off.
At Klerksdorp I got a touch of ptomaine poisoning and on the return march to Potchefstroom was obliged to ride in our ambulance, and when we arrived at Potchefstroom I was very ill, but did not go on the sick list. Near our bivouac there lived the family of one of the Boer quartermasters, and my always active batman, Private Kerr, the son of my old and tried comrade, Jack Kerr, City Clerk of Perth, Ontario, obtained a room for me from the lady of the house. I shall never forget her kindness and that of her daughters, whose husbands were also in the field. I have never felt worse in my life ; but there was nothing that those kind people could do that was left undone to bring me back to health. Their behaviour gave me a good impression of the character of the people against whom we were at war.
One of our duties at Potchefstroom was that of moving Boer families into the town from their farms on the river. The work was not pleasant, the lamentations of the women and children having a depressing effect upon us ; but it was better for them to be brought in and cared for than to be left out at the farms suffering from want of food. A heavy thunderstorm overtook the squadron while it was employed in that way, and when the women and children arrived they were wearing the khaki jackets of Strathcona's Horse to protect them from the heavy rain. A number of soldiers, natives, children and transport animals were killed by lightning in the town and in our bivouac, but none of the regiment was struck, The first detachment of the South African Constabulary arrived there under Colonel Edwards, who was to _ command A Division, 2,500 strong.
While at Frederickstadt the previous month I had been offered and promised to take command of B Division if, when the service of Lord Strathcona's Horse terminated, Sir Wilfred Lamier would permit me to be seconded for service in South Africa, at the end of the war. At that time we were under the impression that it would be concluded very soon.
Soon afterwards Lieutenant Snider came into the bivouac with a convoy of supphes from Smithfield. He had had a good deal of difficulty fighting his way through, but by marching at night he averaged twenty miles per diem. At de Wetsdorp he found a number of dead who had not been properly buried, and set his Kaffir drivers to put the graves in proper order. His trip, in spite of considerable discomfort and responsibility, was not without its amusing features.
He had, on one occasion, a train of two thousand oxen. The officer in command of the escort was a young captain of a celebrated regiment, who did not know much about the pecuharities of ox transport, and one day when they had outspanned and the oxen were lying at rest after feeding, he got impatient and said, " It's time to move on. Snider ; you must inspan ! " to which the latter replied, " We cannot inspan yet ; the oxen will get sour stomachs if we do. They must chew their cud." " Their cud ! What in h_______ is that ? " Snider told him, and he was satisfied to let them carry out that useful operation.
There were many splendid instances of Canadian pluck during the long months of the war. One day at Clocolan two of the men, Corporal Macdonnell and Private Ingram, both sons of good western stock, were sent to cover a ridge at a considerable distance from the remainder of the men. They ascended it and at the top came face to face with eight Boers, who had come up the other side. They dismounted and opened fire with their revolvers, while the Boers followed suit with their rifles. Three of the enemy were killed and two wounded. Poor Ingram, a first-class man, was killed, and Corporal Macdonell was shot through the body, but walked four miles to Clocolan.
Christmas Day found us at Clocolan resting while the horses grazed. Reveille was at half-past four, and the men were given permission to collect some fruit and other articles. We patrolled the vicinity, and cossack posts remained out as usual, and a small issue of rum was authorized. The Irish Yeomanry gave a smoking concert in their lines, and all hands had a very pleasant time. The yeomanry and the regiment got on very well, and when poor Ingram was buried they sent a wreath for his grave and attended the funeral. On the headquarters staff we were in luck, the kind Scotch lady at the drift having supplied us with turkey, plum pudding and a bottle of Cape wine to drink to “ absent friends.” After dinner some of us smoked ; we were, however, reduced to the black twist of the country, and the experience of the first who tested it was sufficient warning for the remainder, and we decided to do without for the present.
The regiment was now within a month of one year embodied, and, as it was the general impression that the war was almost at an end, it was recommended that the corps be permitted to return to Canada, for the majority had come away from the ranches in the west at considerable expense. On January n when at Viljoen’s Drift, I received a telegram from our depot officer to the effect that we were to embark for Canada. The corps had been five weeks without time for a change of underclothing, nor had anyone of us heard a word of news from any quarter.
The next day we lay at Elandsfontein, and I had the pleasure of a call from Major General Baden-Powell and Major Bird- wood, and I called upon Major General Barton, who had several of us to dine with him. On Sunday, the 14th, I paraded the regiment and informed them that Lord Strathcona had arranged for them to return to Canada via England, and that I expected that, while in London and elsewhere, they would prove themselves to be as well behaved in peace as in war, a credit to their country.
On the 15th I received orders to entrain for the Cape. Prior to our doing so, Lord Kitchener, Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, arrived to say farewell to the regiment. The corps received him in line, and, after the usual salute, the Commander- in-Chief, accompanied by Major General Barton and the staffs of both, addressed us. He thanked us for our services and stated that we had marched through nearly every part of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, that he had never heard anything but good of the corps, and that we should be greatly pleased if he told us of the number of letters he had received from generals all over the country asking for Strathcona’s Horse.
The regiment arrived at Cape Town on January 20, embarked at once on the Lake Erie, and sailed on the following day. All hands were refitted with new clothing from head to foot, and new hats were sent out by Lord Strathcona, and the men were trimmed up to the usual smartness.
There were many lying reports circulated to the effect that the regiment behaved badly at Cape Town when waiting there to embark. One officer from another Dominion wrote to a paper in that country stating that, badly though his own regiment had behaved at Cape Town when waiting to embark, they could not hold a candle to Strathcona’s Horse, the misbehaviour of which was the worst he had yet seen 1 As a matter of fact, the regiment marched direct from the train to the ship! Another Ananias put an article in the papers which circulated over the civilized world to the effect that when some Boers fired upon a party of the regiment from a house which showed the white flag, they prepared to lynch them, and did so, and, when a staff officer interfered, threatened to lynch him 1 This is sheer nonsense. There may have been men in South Africa who would have done this, but they were not in Strathcona’s Horse! Proof of the conduct of the regiment under all circumstances is to be had in the report of the evidence of officers of the British army who appeared before Lord Esher’s commission on the conduct of the war in South Africa.
After a very pleasant voyage the Lake Erie arrived in the Thames, but too late for the tide. We had a visit from Mr. Joseph Colmer, C.M.G., secretary to Lord Strathcona, the High Commissioner for Canada. He came on board to welcome us and gave me an idea of the programme which was to be carried out after we landed. I received the following telegram from Lord Strathcona :
Just a message to wish you a hearty welcome. Hope you have all had a pleasant voyage. Informed steamer would land regiment this morning Royal Albert Docks at eight o’clock. Was there to meet you but found steamer delayed. Hope we shall meet some time to-morrow. Colmer going down to see you this afternoon.
On February 14 the regiment disembarked at the Royal Albert Docks and proceeded to Kensington Barracks, where, later in the day, we were met by Lord Strathcona, who welcomed us heartily. There were present with Lord Strathcona, Lady Strathcona, the Hon. Mrs. Howard (now Lady Strathcona), Dr. Howard, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Colmer, with many personal friends. When the ceremony was over one half of the regiment was quartered in Kensington Barracks; the regimental staff and half of the squadron officers in the Royal Palace Hotel, Kensington, and the remainder at St. John’s Wood Barracks. The accommodation was all that could be desired. At the Royal Palace Hotel, mess-room, ante-room, the best bedrooms and an orderly-room with telephone were provided. During the parade several photographs of the corps were taken at Lord Strathcona's request. Lord and Lady Strathcona and I formed one group.
On February 15 I marched the corps to Buckingham Palace and formed up inside the grounds, which were kept by the King’s company of the Grenadier Guards. The snow had already been swept off, but there was scarcely sufficient space for the regiment on parade. It was made to answer the purpose, however, and the ceremony was concluded without a hitch. On the terrace of the Palace the King and Queen were present, attended by a large number of ladies and gentlemen. The Duke and Duchess of Connaught, the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, the Duke of Cambridge, with the Duke and Duchess of Abercom, Earl Roberts, Lord Strathcona, Sir Evelyn Wood, Sir Redvers Buller and many others, were there. His Majesty presented each officer and man with the South African war medal, the first issued to any troops, as the decoration had only just been struck. When this was done His Majesty presented the regiment with the King's colours, and said to us : “It was the intention of my late mother to present you with this colour. I do so now, and ask you to guard it in her name and mine.” He then handed the colour to me, and I in turn placed it in Lieutenant Leckie’s hands. His Majesty then presented me with the Victorian Order; the regiment presented arms and His Majesty addressed us as follows :
Colonel Steele, officers, non-commissioned officers and privates, I welcome you to these shores on your return from active service in South Africa. I know it would have been the ardent wish of my beloved mother, our revered Queen, to have welcomed you also, but that was not to be, but be assured, she deeply appreciated the services you have rendered, as I do.
It has given me great satisfaction to inspect you to-day, and to have presented you with your war medals, and also with the King’s colours. I feel sure in confiding this colour to you, Colonel Steele, and to those under you, that you will always defend it and will do your duty as you have done during the past year in South Africa, and will do so on all future occasions.
I am glad that Lord Strathcona is here to-day, as it is owing to him that this magnificent force has been equipped and sent out. I can only hope that your short sojourn in' England will be agreeable to you and that you will return safely to your friends and relatives.
Be assured that neither I nor the British nation will ever forget the valuable service you have rendered in South Africa.
I replied on behalf of the regiment, and the regiment then marched past his Majesty and returned to Kensington Barracks, and was formed up and addressed by Lord Strathcona. Photographs were taken of the corps, and it was then dismissed for the day, and Captain Mackie and I had the honour of lunching with Her Royal Highness the Princess Louise and the Duke of Argyll. General Strange, our old friend of the far west. Miss Strange, Colonel Chater and Mr. Hulme were present.
On Saturday, the 16th, by express command of His Majesty, I proceeded to Buckingham Palace with three of the privates of the regiment who, on account of being on baggage guard, were not able to attend the ceremony the previous day. The hour was 9 a.m., and punctually to the moment His Majesty appeared in the brilliant uniform of a Field Marshal and surrounded by many officers in full dress, a gay contrast to our sombre garb. We were then ushered into his presence, and I presented the men to him in turn by name. When he had pinned the medals on their breasts he shook hands with each of them and wished them long life and happiness. They were self-possessed and soldierlike, and no doubt felt the great honour paid to them in being specially ordered to appear to receive their medals, a mark of consideration so characteristic of our late great and good King. The ceremony over, we were permitted to depart, and from that time until the regiment left London I had little time to spare except for the regiment.
The officers and men had a splendid time, and I did not neglect the opportunities given me. I was never in bed before 3 a.m. and was up at 6. Moir, the orderly-room sergeant, was invaluable and almost sleepless, for he never retired before me. Many whom I had met in the west in the earlier days and who resided in England called, among them Major General Sir Ivor Herbert. Major (now Brigadier General) Paget of “ A ” battery, R.H. A., asked the officers down to the west of England to have a few days with the hounds, a delightful act of courtesy which indicated how we stood with “ A ” battery. The Royal Artillery mess at Woolwich invited us down to lunch, and as many as possible went and received the most kindly attention from the gallant gunners. The men were invited out and asked to accept the hospitality of some of the most influential people in the city.
On February 17 the majority of the officers and men attended church. I lunched with Lord and Lady Strathcona. The next day the theatres and all places of amusement and interest were thrown open to the officers and men. Splendid arrangements were made to show the N.C.O.’s and men the sights of the greatest city in the world, an opportunity few of them had experienced before. Guides from the Household regiments and brakes containing 25 men each were provided for their use. The late Marquess of Hertford, whose son served in “ C ” squadron, invited the whole of his comrades to dinner, including, of course, the officers of " C,” and they had a delightful evening under his hospitable roof.
Lord Strathcona gave a magnificent banquet, modestly called a luncheon, to the officers, N.C.O.’s and privates of the corps. Many leading personages were present, including the Earls of Derby and Aberdeen, ex-Govemors General of Canada, the Earl of Dundonald, Major General Laurie, M.P., Major General Hutton, and many other officers of the army, prominent Colonial statesmen and gentlemen interested in the Dominion and other oversea portions of the Empire. Lord Strathcona, surrounded by his guests, received each officer, N.C.O. and private at the entrance of the banqueting hall. The fine physique and hardy appearance of the regiment was freely commented on. When I saw the men at the tables I felt that any country would be proud of them.
Lord Strathcona proposed the health of the regiment, coupled with my name, and I responded. Several toasts were drunk, that of Lord Strathcona producing the wildest enthusiasm, the officers and men springing to their feet and making the roof echo with their ardent cheering. The names of Sir Redvers Buller and Lord Dundonald, who, in the absence of Lord Roberts, took his place on Lord Strathcona’s left, were also heartily received, the men rising to their feet to honour them. When the banquet broke up the men went on their round of sightseeing.
On the 19th Majors Belcher and Jarvis, Captains Howard, Mackie, Cartwright and I had the honour of dining with the Duke and Duchess of Abercorn. Major General MacKinnon was amongst the military men who dined, and he gave me much pleasure by saying that the admirable bearing of the men of the regiment “ was the talk of the clubs.” During the evening a number of young officers of the Household troops came in to add to the brightness of the scene, one of them a son of the house. The Duke and Duchess took a great interest in the war and in matters connected with Canada and other parts of the Empire.
On February 21 several of us dined with Mr. St. John Brodrick (now Viscount Midleton), Secretary of State for War, at his home. Amongst the guests were Earl Roberts, Commander-in-Chief, the Earl of Derby, Lord Strathcona, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, Sir James Willcocks, the successful leader of the latest Ashantee Expedition, and Mr. Winston Churchill, now First Lord of the Admiralty. The evening was very pleasant, and I had the pleasure of a long and interesting conversation with Air. Joseph Chamberlain. We had a most agreeable time indeed, and the next day, the last we were to spend in London, Lord Strathcona gave a splendid banquet to the officers of the regiment, all of whom were present. Lord Strathcona received all the guests in the great drawingroom of the Savoy Hotel, and presented me to them when they had greeted him. I had the place of honour on his right, Earl Roberts, the Lord Mayor of London, Lord Lansdowne, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, Sir Redvers Buller, Lord William Seymour, Sir James Ferguson, and about thirty other gentlemen were present. The Rev. John Macdougall, our old friend from the far west, was there, too, and said grace. An enjoyable evening was spent, and I responded for the regiment, and proposed the health of the Commander-in-Chief.
This, our last, night will never be forgotten by Strathcona’s Horse. The splendid hospitality we had received, the uniform kindness of all whom we met, Lord Strathcona’s goodness to all ranks, had overwhelmed us to such an extent that we felt we were utterly undeserving of it all. When I returned to the hotel there was so much to do that it was useless to think of sleep. Next morning at 7.30 the regiment entrained for Liverpool; Lord Strathcona, the Earl of Dun- donald and many friends of theirs and ours came to see us off. After a splendid reception there we sailed for Halifax, N.S. This was the first time for years that I felt the need of a rest, and I took full advantage of it.
We had a very bad voyage, and, when we arrived at Halifax, thirteen days from Liverpool and six days overdue, we found that there had been great anxiety on the part of our relatives and friends. We were in port on the night of March 8, and everything was got ready to enable us to proceed to our homes without loss of time. On the following morning Mr. (now Sir Frederick) Taylor, Inspector of the Bank of Montreal, and Lieutenant Ketchen, assisted by our paymaster, who produced the vouchers, proceeded, by order of Lord Strathcona, to pay the regiment for the full period of its service the difference between the Imperial Cavalry pay and that of the North West Mounted Police, which was much higher; a bonus was also given to each officer, Lord Strathcona treating all with the greatest liberality. This came as a surprise, for all thought that he had been more than generous already. Many ladies and gentlemen came on board, amongst them my dear wife, who had been, with our three young children, a prey to very great anxiety, as the ship was so long overdue.
We left by special train for Montreal. The journey was an ovation ; we were welcomed at every station en route, and the the first night at Monckton I was presented with an address by the citizens who had assembled in a great crowd to welcome us back, and the ladies presented me with a handsome travelling bag, which had been subscribed for in small sums so as to enable as many as possible to participate in the presentation.
I remained one day in Montreal, and on the 13th proceeded to Ottawa and called upon the Governor General and Sir Frederick Borden. With the former I talked over commissions for a few of the officers and men who were willing to join the South African Constabulary, a large contingent of which had been raised and was at that date stationed in the Exhibition Buildings. There were very few vacancies, but I sent in some names.
When I called on the minister of militia he informed me that it had been the intention of the government to make Strath- cona’s Horse a part of the permanent force, which it is now, but there was no hope for that at present, which was reason for me to prefer to return to South Africa. While in Ottawa The London Gazette appeared, granting many officers and men of the regiment special decorations. The C.B. was given to me ; the C.M.G. to Majors Belcher and Jarvis; the D.S.O. to Captains Mackie and Cartwright and to Lieutenants Christie and Leckie ; and many N.C.O.’s and men were granted the medal for distinguished conduct in the field. The officers of the regiment were given their honorary ranks in the British army for life. The Canadian Gazette promoted Lt.-Cols. Otter, Drury, Lessard, Evans and myself to Brevet-Colonels, dated May 17.
After I had finished the work in connection with Strathcona’s Horse I applied to Sir Wilfrid Laurier for leave to proceed to South Africa and take up the appointment of Substantive Colonel on the staff of the South African Constabulary, which I had been granted by Sir Alfred Milner, on the recommendation of Major General Baden-Powell, and he very kindly consented. Sir Frederick Borden also was so good as to second me to the constabulary for five years, and placed me on the reserve of the Canadian forces. I was to have sailed with the Canadian contingent for the S.A.C., but was not quite ready, and had to get a month’s leave from the Inspector General in South Africa.
I cannot close this chapter without placing on record my appreciation of the honour conferred upon me by Lord Strath- cona in putting me in command of the regiment, and my gratitude to Sir Frederick Borden for his kindness under all circumstances, and I can say without hesitation that all ranks under me did their utmost to prove that they were worthy soldiers of the Dominion and this great Empire of ours.