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The Battle of Paardeberg: a landmark engagement

Royal Canadian Regiment preparing an assault on the Boer Fortifications at the Modder River.
It’s the 124th anniversary of the Boer War’s Battle of Paardeberg. Not only was it a major British victory in what is also known as the South African War, but it was a landmark engagement for Canadian forces. It was the first time the country participated in a foreign conflict.

In 1899, the British called on the Canadians for reinforcements in the Boer War. Though Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier opposed the request, English Canada was resoundingly in favour, so a thousand volunteer soldiers were sent as part of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment.

In late February the following year, the Boers, descendants of Dutch and Huguenot colonists in southern Africa, occupied a position near the Paardeberg Drift when the Canadians launched an attack. With 18 Canadians killed in the skirmish, the British command decided to wait for the Boers’ surrender. The Canadians then launched a sneak attack on Feb. 27, but the Boers were alerted when their tripwire was triggered.

After sustained fighting, which cost the Boers around 10 per cent of their army, Piet Cronjé, a Boer general, knew he could not continue without more support. With the muzzles of Canadian rifles staring his men down, he surrendered. While action continued until the war’s end in 1902, Canadian forces proved their worth in Paardeberg. “Canadian,” said British commander Field Marshal Frederick Roberts, “now stands for bravery, dash and courage.”


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