Home History These Canadians Earned the Victoria Cross — in South Africa

These Canadians Earned the Victoria Cross — in South Africa

by Enochadmin

Boers, who right now quantity some 1.5 million souls, are the descendants of predominantly Dutch-speaking settlers who arrived in southern Africa starting within the seventeenth century. Within the wake of the Napoléonic wars Britain exerted rising management over the area, sparking battle with the remaining Boer republics. The Second Boer Battle broke out in October 1899 when Boer irregulars and militia launched raids into the British Cape Colony and Natal. British troops and contingents from Canada, Australia and New Zealand counterattacked north alongside current railways, capturing Bloemfontein (capital of the Boer Orange Free State), Johannesburg and Pretoria (capital of the Boer Transvaal) by June 1900. They then wheeled east throughout Transvaal and by fall had superior greater than 100 miles to Belfast.

On Nov. 6, 1900, Maj. Gen. Horace Smith-Dorien, commander of the nineteenth Brigade, ninth Division, led parts of the Royal Canadian Dragoons and Canadian Mounted Rifles, D Battery of the Canadian Subject Artillery and numerous British infantry items on a sweep for a Boer laager (base camp) alongside the north financial institution of the Komati River some 20 miles south of Belfast.

Whereas the drive was bivouacked close to Leliefontein farm that evening, Smith-Dorien decided that stiff Boer resistance rendered additional motion futile and determined to withdraw at daybreak on the seventh. He directed Canadian Lt. Col. François-Louis Lessard to type a rear guard comprising almost 100 dragoons, a horse-drawn Colt-Browning M1895 machine gun and two 12-pounder weapons from D Battery. They alone stood between the Boers and Smith-Dorien’s essential drive, the latter’s baggage prepare lumbering alongside. Lessard estimated it might take no less than 4 hours for the slow-moving procession to clear the primary ridge earlier than the rear guard may fall again. When Boer commanders realized the enemy drive was withdrawing, they dispatched two maneuver items, the Ermelo and Carolina commandos, to harass and isolate the rear guard. 

Threatened with encirclement and peppered by Boer sniper hearth from each flanks and their entrance, the boys of the rear guard fought on all through the day, all of the whereas falling again. The 2 12-pounders “leapfrogged” one another, one gun offering protecting hearth whereas gunners limbered up the opposite and withdrew. The dragoons and their machine gun moved beneath the 12-pounders’ protecting hearth. 

Accountable for the machine gun, Sgt. Edward J.G. Holland engaged each risk until the overheated gun jammed. Determined to maintain the weapon out of Boer fingers, and with the horse too exhausted to tug its carriage, Holland pulled the M1895 from its mount and rode off with it tucked beneath an arm.

Although twice wounded, Lt. Richard E.W. Turner remained within the battle, directing his males to carry off repeated Boer assaults geared toward capturing each the machine gun and the 12-pounders. They engaged the enemy at point-blank vary earlier than lastly falling again. 

Lieutenant Hampden Z.C. Cockburn was not as lucky. He and his troops on the left flank absorbed withering Boer hearth that by day’s finish had killed or wounded most each man in his command. But the wounded officer rallied his troops, repeatedly repulsing the Boers till his males have been overrun and captured. 

The collective actions of Cockburn (a 32-year-old barrister from Toronto), Turner (a 29-year-old grocer and lumberman from Quebec) and Holland (a 22-year-old graduate of Ottawa Collegiate Institute) had safeguarded the weapons that in flip spared Smith-Dorien’s essential column from seize or destruction. All three have been awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for fight valor, and every survived the Battle of Leliefontein. Cockburn was freed in a prisoner change and returned to his authorized follow, Holland fought in—and survived—World Battle I as a significant within the Canadian Machine Gun Corps, and Turner participated in the identical battle, rising to the rank of lieutenant common.

this text first appeared in Navy Historical past journal

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