A Newfoundlander in the Boer War
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 firstname.lastname@example.org