Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Canadian Contingent: South African War

Oval Canadian Army Post Office cachet

The South African War, also know as the Boer War, was fought from 1899 to 1902 between Great Britain and  the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State, two independent republics in South Africa. The republics, founded by Boers, descendants of Dutch immigrants who had first settled in the area, were rich in diamond and gold deposits.

Boer War Maps : Map of Southern Africa showing the British colonies and the Boer republics - 2.a.2.1 cgr5

Initially, the Boers inflicted heavy losses on the British, but by September 1900, they had been defeated in several key engagements. Refusing to surrender, the Boers launched a protracted guerilla war against the British forces.The British, under the leadership of Lord Kitchener. responded with a scorched earth policy of destroying Boer farms and moving civilians into concentration camps, where thousands died from disease. Boer forces finally surrendered in May, 1902. Both republics were annexed by the British Empire which became incorporated into the Union of South Africa in 1910.

Canadian Participation

While many English-Canadians supported Britain's cause in South Africa, most French-Canadians and many recent immigrants from countries other than Britain were opposed to Canadian involvement. However, pressured by Pro-Empire Canadians, Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier agreed to send volunteers to South Africa. Over the three years of the war, more than 7,000 Canadians, including 12 women nurses, served overseas. Of the Canadians who served in South Africa, 267 were killed.

Canadian contingent in Quebec City, 1899 before departure

Canadian War Museum

 Mail from the Canadian Contingent South Africa

Postal services provided to Canadian troops in South Africa are described at pages 7 and 8 of L. Dawson`s excellent 1992 treatise, A History of the Canadian Forces Postal Services.

The covers shown below were mailed by George Hulme to Lieutenant Colonel Ponton of the 15th  Argyll Light Infantry, Belleville. Hulme was wounded at the Battle of Paardeberg in February 1900. 

 YMCA Stationery

"Active Service" RCR (Royal Canadian Contingent) in blue pencil under flags
British Army Field Post Office circular date stamp, September 20, 1900
London Transit October 20, 1900

 Canadian Contingent Oval Cachet

 British Army P.O. 55 handstamp, October 27, 1900
Canadian Contingent South Africa cachet November 7, 1900
Montreal transit December 8, 1900

Toronto South African War Memorial

 Toronto`s South African War Memorial was unveiled in 1908:

File:1908 Toronto SouthAfrican War Memorial QueenSt.jpg