This Week in History
The Canadian Army in South Africa
|For the week of Monday February 13, 2006
Starting on February 18, 1900, Canadians distinguished themselves in combat at the Battle of Paardeburg, Canada’s most famous engagement in the South African War. This conflict marked the first occasion that the Canadian army was dispatched overseas.
The Canadian government of Wilfrid Laurier responded reluctantly to London’s request for assistance. As a compromise, the Prime Minister agreed to provide a small contingent of troops, with the British covering half the expedition’s expenses. In the end, Canada sent the 2nd Special Service Battalion, the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Canadian Mounted Rifles, and three artillery batteries. In total, nearly 8,400 Canadians served in this war, where a number of soldiers served with distinction.
The South African conflict fanned nationalist sentiment in Canada. Initially, this imperialist war was seen as supporting the mother country, but national pride soon developed throughout the Dominion. However, the conflict also created tensions at home and deepened Canadian duality. Canadian opinion was divided over the issues of showing allegiance to the British Empire and sending troops abroad. Most Anglophones supported both positions, while minorities, mostly Francophones led by Henry Bourassa, opposed them.
Peace was signed at Vereeniging on May 31, 1902. Canadian casualties numbered 244 dead, with over half lost to disease, and close to 252 wounded. Canada and the South African War is a National Historic Event commemorated in 2005.
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