On 7th November 1899 Canada offered a second contingent, but the War Office did not accept this offer until after the defeats of Magersfontein and Colenso. Preparations, however, had been going on, and when the acceptance arrived, the Canadian Government announced that its second contribution would be two battalions of Mounted Rifles, 2 squadrons each, and three batteries field artillery, 6 guns each. The 1st Battalion MR was mainly officered from the permanent cavalry, and the second from the North-West Mounted Police. Of the artillery the officers, to the extent of a half, came from the permanent artillery. These troops sailed in three different vessels, and arrived at South Africa in February and March 1900.
Early in March the 2nd MR and 'D' and 'E' Batteries became a portion of the Carnarvon Field Force under Sir C Parsons which undertook an expedition into the Carnarvon-Douglas district, where rebels were giving much trouble. This service did not involve severe fighting, but the force covered 700 miles under conditions more severe than any subsequently met with. The rebellion was for the time put down and the force came into De Aar in April, and the same month the two battalions of MR were ordered to Bloemfontein, where they joined the main army and formed part of Major General Button's force of Colonial Mounted Infantry, which, under the direction of General French, swung out far on the left in the advance to Pretoria. Before that advance commenced the 1st Canadian MR had been engaged on 22nd, 23rd, and 24th April 1900 at Leeuwkop, south-east of Bloemfontein, and were said to have done well. The 2nd Battalion got back to De Aar on 14th April, and reached Bloemfontein on the 29th, just in time to take part in the advance to Pretoria.
In Lord Roberts' despatch of 21st May 1900 an account is given of the operations between his leaving Bloemfontein, 3rd May, and taking Kroonstad, 12th May. At para 15, referring to the crossing of the Vet River, which was held by the enemy in force, his lordship says: "Just before dark the mounted infantry executed a turning movement, crossing the river six miles west of the railway bridge, which, like other bridges over the river along our line of advance, had been previously destroyed by the enemy. In this affair the Canadian, New South Wales, and New Zealand Mounted Infantry, and the Queensland Mounted Rifles, vied with each other in their efforts to close with the enemy. We captured one maxim gun and twenty-six prisoners, our losses being slight". In these operations two companies of the Canadian MR under Lieutenants Borden and Turner crossed the river at a part where there was no ford, and established themselves on the north bank. The New South Wales men, supported by New Zealanders and Queenslanders, seized and crossed the main drift, and drove back the Boer rear-guard by a vigorous attack. After dark Captain Macdonald and one squadron CMR rode through the Boer outpost lines and cut a telegraph wire to the north.
The crossing of the Zand was also opposed, and Hutton's 1st Mounted Infantry Brigade again had hard riding to do a wide turning movement.
In his telegram of 18th May Lord Roberts said: "Hutton's Mounted Infantry yesterday surprised and captured, about 30 miles north-west of Kroonstad, Commandant Botha and 23 Boers. No casualties on our side". There were other frequent references to the very fine work of Major - General Hutton and his Colonial Mounted Infantry.
The Vaal was crossed with little opposition, but the enemy took up a series of very strong positions to oppose the left flank of the British. French and Hutton had hard fighting 26th to 30th May, and the infantry had to be called upon to clear the kopjes at Doornkop. The Canadian MR had slight casualties on various occasions between 27th and 30th May. After Pretoria was occupied Hutton's men were chiefly posted north and east of the capital and frequently had fighting. They were heavily engaged on the British left at Diamond Hill, 11th and 12th June.
The casualty list showed that Captain A C Macdonald and 3 men of the 2nd CMR were wounded.
On 18th June Lieutenant Young of the 1st Battalion MR, with 12 Canadians and 3 Rimington's Guides, was sent out to reconnoitre. The small party took 40 prisoners, and having noticed marks of gun wheels, they boldly followed these up. The two guns were found; some oxen were captured and yoked to the guns, and although fired upon, the party were successful in returning to camp with their prisoners, the guns, and oxen. The small detachment received great credit, and Lieutenant Young and Sergeants Purdon and Ryan were specially mentioned by Lord Roberts. From 15th June to 15th July the 2nd CMR were employed, and saw some fighting, in the Orange River Colony, where, with other troops, they shared the all-important task of guarding the line, chiefly between Vereeniging and Kroonstad, at a time when the enemy was making great efforts to hamper Lord Roberts by cutting the communications. On 15th June Lieutenant L Blanchard died at Kroonstad of wounds received. On the 22nd Lieutenant W M Ingles was wounded, and 2 men killed and 3 wounded, in an attack on a post at Honingspruit. Other posts were attacked on the same day, and at Katabosch 2 men were killed and several wounded. The defenders of these posts behaved with the greatest gallantry, and their conduct was praised by Lord Roberts in a telegram to Lord Minto. On 15th July the 2nd CMR rejoined Hutton's Brigade and with him took part in the eastern advance.
On 6th and 7th July Colonel Mahon was attacked south-east of Irene, and Major General Hutton had to reinforce him. The enemy, about 3000 strong with six guns, fought with determination, but were driven off.
Between the 6th and 11th part of Hutton's line was "practically surrounded and worried by enemy for six days". In these engagements the 1st CMR had Adjutant Nelles and 6 men wounded. Within a day or two Hutton was again attacked, and again repulsed the enemy. On this occasion Lieutenant Young, who had so distinguished himself three weeks before, was wounded. On the 11th Button made a "successful advance".
In Lord Roberts' telegram of 17th July he said: "Yesterday the enemy made a determined attack on the left of Pole Carew's position and along our left flank commanded by Hutton. The posts held by the Royal Irish Fusiliers under Major Munn, New Zealand Mounted Infantry under Captain Vaughan, and Canadian MR under Colonel Alderson were most gallantly defended". Among the casualties were—"1st Canadian MR, Lieutenants B Borden and J Burch, killed". In his telegram of the 18th Lord Roberts said, "The two young Canadian officers mentioned in my telegram of yesterday were killed while gallantly leading their men in a counter-attack on the enemy's flank at a critical juncture of their assault on our position. Lieutenant Borden, only son of the Minister of Militia of Canada, had been twice before brought to my notice in despatches for gallant and intrepid conduct". The news of Lieutenant Borden's death caused a widespread feeling of sorrow in the Dominion. Both the 1st and 2nd Battalions were with Hutton in the fighting of 16th July.
On 17th July Colonel Reeves, commanding 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers, wrote most highly complimenting the 1st CMR for their gallantry "in going so nobly and fearlessly to the succour of our beleaguered detachment at Witpoort yesterday".
On 24th July Lord Roberts' army took another step farther east, reaching Bronkhorst Spruit. Alderson's Brigade, including the Canadians, were far out on the right, and were in contact with the retiring enemy all day. The pursuit was continued on the 25th, the night of which was memorable for its wildness. So terrible was the driving rain and cold wind that very many transport animals died. Middelburg was occupied on the 27th. In August the advance was resumed, and the Canadian MR again had important duties. On 5th September a detachment of 105 men of the 2nd MR was guarding the line between Pan and Wonderfontein. They were attacked by the enemy with two guns and a pom-pom. Before the arrival of assistance, the party had succeeded in driving off the Boers. Major Sanders, Lieutenant Moodie, and 2 men were wounded, and 6 men taken prisoners. Lord Roberts, in his telegram of 5th September, characterised the repulse of the attack as a very creditable performance.
General Hutton's Brigade having been broken up, he issued a farewell order which was most flattering to the regulars and to all the Colonials who had served under him. Be spoke of their "steadiness under fire, gallantry in the field, and uniform good conduct in camp". General Hutton also wrote to Colonel Lessard as to the fine work of the regiment, and added: "Nothing can be more certain than the impossibility of raising militia cavalry to the standard of regular cavalry; but it has been demonstrated and clearly proved that, organised as mounted rifles, our Colonies can put into the field a force of the utmost value. I devoutly hope that this fact will be brought home, not only to every man in the Dominion Militia Cavalry, but also to the Canadian people and Canadian public opinion. ... It has been a constant pleasure to me to note how excellently your regiment has profited by its opportunities, and what real good service it has performed".
In October and November 1900 Colonel Lessard, with both battalions of the MR and two guns 'D' Battery Canadian Artillery, were in a force operating under Major General Smith-Dorrien from Belfast. On 2nd November the General moved out in two columns to attack a Boer encampment near Van Wyk's Vlei; but on account of a very severe rainstorm the attack had to be abandoned, and on the way back to Belfast the enemy assumed the offensive with the greatest vigour, coming up to within fifty yards of the flank and rear-guards. The Canadians particularly distinguished themselves. In his telegram of 5th November Lord Roberts said: "Smith-Dorrien reports that Major Sanders and Captain Chalmers of the Canadian MR behaved with great gallantry in the rear-guard action on November 2. The former rode under heavy and close fire to bring in a sergeant who had lost his horse. As the two were riding back together on Sanders' horse it was killed. Sanders was wounded. Chalmers went to his assistance. Sanders implored him to leave him. This Chalmers would not do, and the gallant fellow was, I grieve to say, killed".
On 6th November at 3.30 am Smith-Dorrien again set out. About 8 o'clock fighting commenced; the enemy were driven back, but took up a very strong position on the Komati River. "Here they made a determined stand, and it was not till 4 pm that a wide turning movement brought the 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment and the Royal Canadian Dragoons (1st CMR) on the Boers' flank, and forced them to withdraw across the river towards Carolina ... On the following day Smith-Dorrien started to march in an easterly direction. Observing this, several hundred Boers at once galloped back to seize their position of the previous day, but were forestalled by Lieutenant Colonel Evans and the Royal Canadian Dragoons and a section of the 84th Battery RFA, who, by going at full speed for two miles, succeeded in seizing the key of the position and in holding about 300 of the enemy in the bed of the river, while the 5-in guns did good execution among masses of the Boers in the open. As it now became evident that the enemy had received large reinforcements after the engagement of the previous day, Smith-Dorrien directed Lieutenant Colonel Spens, commanding the advance-guard, to secure the high ground near Van Wyk's Vlei, which was done by the 5th Lancers. Colonel Lessard, with the Royal Canadian Artillery under Lieutenant Morrison, with great gallantry covered the rear of the force against the enemy's close attack. About 2 pm some 200 Boers suddenly charged our rear-guard, and without dismounting fired wildly, coming to within seventy yards of the dismounted Dragoons. Not succeeding in this attempt on our rear-guard, the Boers then threatened us on both flanks in large numbers. Our guns were, however, so ably handled that they prevented them coming to close quarters and caused them to retire. Our casualties were 2 killed and 12 wounded, including Lieutenants Elmsley, Turner, and Cockburn, all of the Canadians. The Boers suffered very heavy losses. Amongst the killed were Commandant H Prinsloo and General Fourie, and amongst the wounded General John Grobelaar". In his telegram of 8th November as to this affair, Lord Roberts most highly praised the conduct of the Canadians. Sergeant D Builder, returned as wounded, died of his wounds within a few days. Lieutenant H Z C Cockburn, Lieutenant R E W Turner, and Sergeant E Holland, all Canadians, were each awarded the Victoria Cross. Lieutenant Cockburn, at a critical moment, with a handful of men held off the Boers to allow the guns to get away. To do so he had to sacrifice himself and his party, all of whom were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners. Later in the day, when the Boers again threatened seriously to capture the guns, Lieutenant Turner, although twice previously wounded, dismounted and deployed his men at close quarters, and drove off the Boers, thus saving the guns. Sergeant Holland did splendid work with his Colt gun, and kept the Boers off the 12-pounders by its fire at close range. When he saw that the enemy were too near to allow him to escape with the carriage, he calmly lifted the gun off and galloped away with it under his arm.
That one small corps gained three Victoria Crosses in one engagement is a most worthy cause for pride, and the announcement did send a thrill through the Dominion.
On 20th November 1900 General Smith-Dorrien issued a complimentary order on the occasion of the Royal Canadian Dragoons and CMR leaving his force. He used these words: "He can merely say he would choose no other mounted troops in the world if he had his choice". Brigadier General Alderson also wrote in a letter to Colonel Lessard: "The more I get to know the 1st CMR (I must call them by the name I know them best by) the better I like them ... We in the regular army are brought up with cut-and-dried ideas and red tape, and I should like to say how much I appreciate the ready way in which those of your people who have not been so brought up have fallen in with my ways".
The regiment had marched more than 1700 miles and had fought on 44 days.
See the forum posts on the Canadian Mounted Rifles.