South African War & WWI

Sherbrooke Record - - REMEMBRANCE DAY -

Name: Alexan­der Ge­orge Beg­bie

Ge­orge Beg­bie was born in Eng­land in 1878, son of an Angli­can Min­is­ter, schooled at Seven Oaks, and at a young age went to sea, was ship wrecked and wound up in South Africa dur­ing the time of trou­bles.

He en­listed as a sta­ble boy with the Kitch­n­ers Horse Brigade and even­tu­ally be­com­ing a calvary man, tak­ing part in the South African Cam­paign. Ar­riv­ing in Canada and in the Town­ships, he worked for the Grand Trunk rail­road, spend­ing time in Water­ville and Richmond.

Ge­orge en­listed in the Cana­dian Army in Water­ville in Au­gust of 1914 join­ing the First Cana­dian Field Am­bu­lance Corp to even­tu­ally be­come a Field Dresser serv­ing on the lines in France for the du­ra­tion of the war. He re­turned to Canada in 1919 at 36 years old and sin­gle, a quiet man (they were all quiet, those who ex­pe­ri­enced the bat­tle fields). He mar­ried a young lady from Water­ville, Marie Len­non, and raised a fam­ily work­ing in Sher­brooke at St. Ge­orge’s Club.

The rest is his­tory. Quiet, good-na­tured and a gen­tle­man, never spoke about his ex­pe­ri­ences.

He left me words of wis­dom.

Once when eat­ing some bread that had mold on it, I said, “Dad that bread is moldy.” He con­tin­ued to eat it and said, “What’s a lit­tle mold in a great war.” That says it all.

The South African War (1899-1902) or, as it is also known, the Boer War, marked Canada's first of­fi­cial dis­patch of troops to an overseas war.

In 1899, fight­ing erupted be­tween Great Bri­tain and two small re­publics in South Africa. (See map) The two re­publics, set­tled by Bo­ers, descen­dants of the re­gion's first Dutch im­mi­grants, were not ex­pected to sur­vive for long against the world's great­est power. Pro-em­pire Cana­di­ans nev­er­the­less urged their gov­ern­ment to help. The war, they ar­gued, pit­ted Bri­tish free­dom, jus­tice, and civ­i­liza­tion against Boer back­ward­ness.

While many English-cana­di­ans sup­ported Bri­tain's cause in South Africa, most French-cana­di­ans and many re­cent im­mi­grants from coun­tries other than Bri­tain won­dered why Canada should fight in a war half way around the world. Con­cerned with main­tain­ing na­tional sta­bil­ity and po­lit­i­cal pop­u­lar­ity, Prime Min­is­ter Sir Wil­frid Lau­rier did not want to com­mit his gov­ern­ment. Yet the bonds of Em­pire were strong and pub­lic pres­sure mounted. As a com­pro­mise, Lau­rier agreed to send a bat­tal­ion of vol­un­teers to South Africa.

Over the next three years, more than 7,000 Cana­di­ans, in­clud­ing 12 women nurses, served overseas. They would fight in key bat­tles from Paarde­berg to Lelie­fontein. The Bo­ers in­flicted heavy losses on the Bri­tish, but were de­feated in sev­eral key en­gage­ments. Re­fus­ing to sur­ren­der, the Bo­ers turned to a guer­rilla war of am­bush and re­treat. In this sec­ond phase of fight­ing, Cana­di­ans par­tic­i­pated in nu­mer­ous small ac­tions. Gru­elling mounted pa­trols sought to bring the en­emy to bat­tle, and harsh con­di­tions en­sured that all soldiers strug­gled against dis­ease and snipers' bul­lets.

Im­pe­rial forces at­tempted to deny the Bo­ers the food, water and lodg­ing af­forded by sym­pa­thetic farm­ers. Bri­tain’s grim strat­egy took the war to the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion. Cana­dian troops burned Boer houses and farms, and moved civil­ians to in­tern­ment camps. In these filthy camps, an es­ti­mated 28,000 pris­on­ers died of dis­ease, most of them women, chil­dren, and black work­ers. Civil­ian deaths pro­voked out­rage in Bri­tain and in Canada. This harsh strat­egy even­tu­ally de­feated the Bo­ers.

Of the Cana­di­ans who served in South Africa, 267 were killed and are listed in the Books of Re­mem­brance. The Cana­dian gov­ern­ment claimed at the time that this overseas ex­pe­di­tion was not a prece­dent. His­tory would prove oth­er­wise. The new cen­tury would see Cana­di­ans serve in two world wars, the Korean War, and dozens of peace­keep­ing missions.

(Source: www.war­mu­


Cana­di­ans on the veldt in South Africa

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