A New­found­lan­der in the Boer War

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY BUR­TON K. JANES

Ge­orge An­der­son Wells (1877-1964), a na­tive of Sal­mon Cove, Con­cep­tion Bay, landed at Montreal on May 27, 1897.

“Dur­ing my first four months in Montreal,” he rec­ol­lected in his posthu­mously pub­lished au­to­bi­og­ra­phy,“I was not par­tic­u­larly im­pressed with any­thing that went on around me.”

To com­bat the feel­ing of be­ing “all at sea on land,” he en­listed in the 2nd Bri­gade, Cana­dian Gar­ri­son Ar­tillery. “It was,” he wrote, “the first in­va­sion of the Army into my pri­vate life, and proved to be a most use­ful train­ing.”

By De­cem­ber 1900, the Boer War, also known as the South African War (18991902), had been un­der­way for 14 months. Canada, ever loyal to the Queen, sent sev­eral ar­tillery and in­fantry reg­i­ments, and was now re­cruit­ing mounted ri­fles. Wells de­cided to vol­un­teer for the “Sec­ond Cana­dian Mounted Ri­fles.” Un­known to him, his life “was just beginning.”

The New­found­lan­der was dis­patched to Hal­i­fax. Be­fore re­port­ing, how­ever, he was granted a five-day leave. He spent part of the Christ­mas hol­i­days with his fam­ily. ban, even­tu­ally reach­ing the Train­ing Cen­tre, five miles from the vil­lage of Klerks­dorp. In later years, Wells re­called: “We slept and trained on the open veldt, with the sky for our roof and the earth for our bed.”

The reg­i­ment was called into ac­tive com­bat against the Bo­ers.

Wells wrote,“We were fight­ing against well-trained troops of men who could use their horses to the best ad­van­tage. They could con­trol them with one hand and shoot from the hip with the other, and very ac­cu­rately, too.”

The Bo­ers were fight­ing for their in­de­pen­dence, at­tempt­ing to drive the Bri­tish out of South Africa.

“We all knew they were fight­ing for a cause they thought was just.” The fierce and brave Bo­ers used “any tac­tics to gain ground.”

The Cana­dian reg­i­ments, in their at­tempt to end the war, felt com­pelled to take strong mea­sures. “In the course of action,” Wells rem­i­nisced re­gret­fully, “we had to de­stroy their vil­lages and burn crops which were just ripen­ing for har­vest.”

The fi­nal action took place at Harts River, “a very bit­ter and bloody bat­tle.” Wells’ reg­i­ment was dev­as­tated.

The sur­vivors were sent to four ar­eas

None vol­un­teered. Wells’ only de­sire was to get home as quickly as pos­si­ble.

A fi­nal ride to Klerks­dorp, and the men re­gret­fully sur­ren­dered their horses to the Boer au­thor­i­ties, as par­tial com­pen­sa­tion for their war losses. Wells turned in Pet with a heavy heart. “I had be­come very at­tached to Pet be­cause we had been in ev­ery ride to­gether from Hal­i­fax to Pre­to­ria. I be­lieve she was one of a very few horses who came through the war al­most un­scathed. She had only one small wound in the hind leg, which she got at Harts River and, apart from that, she was in good con­di­tion. Some­thing of Canada was left be­hind in that fine lit­tle war­rior and, as far as I was con­cerned, she had up­held its tra­di­tions just as nobly as the men.”

Fol­low­ing a brief stop at Lady­smith, the train de­parted for Dur­ban, af­ter which the men em­barked on the SS Vic­to­ria for home.

“As you can imag­ine,” Wells stated,“we were all in high spir­its.”

At Hal­i­fax, Wells was given a ticket to Montreal, from where he had en­listed, along with a dol­lar a day in gold, the sum to­tal of com­pen­sa­tion he re­ceived for his ser­vice in South Africa.

Not sur­pris­ingly, back home, he be­came “the hero of the hour and much sought af­ter for a while.”

Bur­ton K. Janes lives in Bay Roberts and can be reached by email at bur­tonj@nfld.net

Photo cour­tesy The Gen­eral Synod Archives, Angli­can Church of Canada

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