November 7

1900 Battle of Leliefontein

Few Canadians are aware of their country’s participation in African warfare. The exploits of Quebec voyageurs in conducting a British army up the Nile to fight against Islamic jihadists is virtually unknown, even in la belle province. The contribution of Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons in the battle against German and Italian forces North Africa during the Second World War is seldom acknowledged. And how many of my countrymen know of the Battle of Leliefontein?

There was great enthusiasm in Canada for the British efforts in the Boer War. The nation’s foreign policy was still largely decided in London and an imperial war was deemed by Canadians to be their fight too. Men rushed to enlist and battalions sailed from Quebec City to South Africa.

Among them were troops of the Royal Canadian Dragoons who were part of a force in November 1900 pursuing Boer units across the veldt near Leliefontein in the Transvaal. When the British commander realized he had overextended himself, the RCD were charged with covering his withdrawal. In the fighting that followed, the dragoons bought time for the retreat and saved the guns from capture. The British commanding officer Major-General Horace Smith-Dorrien commended their actions in his report to headquarters.

Sir: I have much pleasure in forwarding attached statements on the gallant behaviour of officers and non-commissioned officers of The Royal CanadianForces in the actions of 7th November, 1900 between Witkloof and Leliefontein on the Koomati River. I must in bringing them forward emphasize the fact that the behaviour of the whole Royal Canadian rear guard under Lieutenant-Colonel Lessard was so fine that it makes it most difficult to single out for special distinction. There is no doubt that men sacrificed themselves in the most gallant way to save the guns which they succeeded in doing.

Three Victoria Crosses (the Empire’s highest military decoration) were awarded to Canadians for the battle. The cap badge for the RCD is still a South African springbok.

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