When the British declared war on the rebellious Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State in September 1899 they assumed that they would quickly defeat the Boers and return home in time for Christmas. Instead they suffered a series of humiliating defeats and were forced to call in colonial support.
The First Canadian Contingent had been marching for five days when they finally arrived at Paardeberg Drift at 0600 hours on the morning of February 18, 1900. The dehydrated, footsore Canadian volunteers had just settled down to eat a long-awaited meal—they hadn’t eaten the previous day—when they were ordered to cross the Modder river and attack the Boers.
The Canadians soon found themselves pinned down by enemy fire. Some wondered why they had volunteered to fight in South Africa. Over the course of the day the Canadians suffered eighty-two casualties and were forced to withdraw under the cover of darkness. Some of the wounded Canadians were treated by the yet-to-be-knighted Arthur Conan Doyle.
After another week of desperate fighting the Canadians were ordered to launch a night-time attack on the Boer camp. After a long night of heavy fighting, the Boers were forced to surrender and the Battle of Paardeberg was brought to an end thanks to the determination of the inexperienced Canadian Contingent.
To view the Canadian War Museum’s entry, see this.
Photo (main): Field hospital at Paardeberg Drift. 19 Feb. 1900 (Credit: Reinhold Thiele / Library and Archives Canada / C-006097).
Photo (inset): The Paardeberg Memorial at the Vendusie Drift Garden of Remembrance (Credit: Royal Canadian Regiment, as shown here).