HIGHLAND CADETS IN SOUTH AFRICA.
When, in Oct0ber, 1899, the Boer Republics of South Africa declared war on Great Britain, and the mother country, rather as a concession to that wonderful imperial spirit which had been developing throughout the Empire, than as a matter of military expediency decided to accept some of the offers of military assistance which had been preferred by the principal self-governing colonies, the Dominion government proceeded to raise, by special enlistment, a contingent of one thousand infantry, which was mobilized, equipped and embarked for South Africa in exactly sixteen day’s. The wave of patriotic enthusiasm which swept over Canada, upon the occasion of this call to arms, will never be forgotten. From the barracks of the permanent militia, from the universities, from the workshop, from the farm, from the desk, from the learned professions, the manhood of Canada flocked to the recruiting officers, moved by one impulse of devoted loyalty to the old flag. There is not a more loyal lot of lads in Canada than the Highland Cadets, and the whole corps would have volunteered, had they had a chance. As it was, most of them were but boys after all, and it was men’s work that lay before the soldiers of the Queen, in South Africa. Several of the elder boys, although in most cases several years below the age limit (twenty-two), presented themselves before the recruiting officers, at the Montreal Brigade Office. Several were promptly refused on account of their youth, but a couple of the more stalwart-looking and persistent would have been accepted, but for the interference of their relations. But the existence of the corps was amply justified by the enrollment, in the service contingent, of no less than seven former members of the battalion. Five of these enlisted in E. Company (Captain Eraser), namely J. Phillips, J. Duncan, H. Murray, W. Wilkin and J. Smith. Two formed part of F. Company (Major Peltier), namely W. A. Peppiatt and C. Morrison. Peppiatt was, at the time of the raising of the contingent, a sergeant in the Royal Canadian Artillery, at Quebec, and received the appointment of sergeant in F. Company. He was severely wounded at Cronje’s Laager, February 27th, 1900, and was the only one of the seven ex-cadets in the regiment who had to be invalided home. Sergeant Peppiatt has now quite recovered from his wound, and is serving, as rough-riding sergeant, in the Royal Canadian Field Artillery, Kingston.
Soon after the despatch of the first contingent, the Dominion government offered to furnish a second contingent, but the home government declined the offer with thanks. A month later, in December, the offer was accepted, the second contingent being composed of field artillery and mounted rifles. Still later, another regiment of mounted infantry, now become historical as “Strathcona’s Horse,” was accepted. This splendid corps was raised among the ranchers, cowboys and mounted police of the Canadian Northwest, and equipped, armed and transported to South Africa at the expense of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, to whom the Highland Cadets owe such a deep debt of gratitude for many acts of kindness. On the orders for the mobilization of the second contingent being promulgated, there was another fine outburst of patriotic enthusiasm throughout the length and breadth of Canada, and again the recruiting offices were besieged with recruits. Four former members of the Highland Cadets, A. Smith, D. Ferguson, T. Byrne and A. Hibbs, then serving in the Third Montreal Field Battery (Major Costigan), enlisted for E. Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery (Major G. T. Ogilvie); while Captain Duncan Campbell, a tall, sturdy lad, volunteered straight from the Cadets, and was accepted as a gunner for the same battery. Sergeant F. Berge volunteered dire(5l, and was accepted for the Second Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles A. McKellar, a former member of the Highland Cadets, was in charge of the Young Men’s Christian Association, at Ottawa, when the Strathcona’ s Horse was mobilized there, and he volunteered and went to South Africa with that splendid body of men, as the representative of the Young Men’s Christian Association. A draft of one hundred men, to replace casualties in the first contingent, accompanied the Strathcona’s Horse to South Africa. With this draft, there went to the front another member of the Highland Cadets — Sergeant Butler, who enlisted as a private. This made a total of fifteen members or ex-members of the
Highland Cadets, who formed part of Canada’s contribution to the truly imperial force fighting the battles of the Empire in South Africa, a generous quota from such a young battalion. And this list given does not include the names of all the soldiers the Highland Cadets have given to the British armies in South Africa, for several former members of the battalion are serving in imperial regiments, or have been accepted in various corps raised in South Africa. Former members of the corps have paid their passage to South Africa to enlist, others have gone to England to do so. By couples or groups of three, they have accepted service on horse or hay transports bound from Canada for Table Bay, with the object of enlisting on arrival. And such corps as Kitchener’s Horse, Brabant’s Horse, The South African Constabulary and The Canadian Scouts — an irregular corps originally recruited from the time-expired men of the Canadian contingents— have been glad to get them. Several of the former cadets have been given rapid promotion in these corps, and, at latest accounts, Lieutenant McCrae, one of the original officers of the Highland Cadets, was holding the responsible appointment of paymaster of Kitchener’s Horse. Altogether, the Highland Cadets have been represented by no less than forty men in the South African war.*
And these old cadets have done their duty well too, bringing honor not only upon themselves but upon their former corps and their country. The gallant work of the Canadian troops in this exceptionally trying campaign, is now a matter of history, and it is but necessary here to refer to a few conspicuous acts of personal gallantry, the recounting of which will always stir the hearts of the Highland Cadets with proper pride, and will doubtless serve as a wholesome incentive to do likewise. In September, 1900, it was announced, in the “London Graphic,” that Private Wilkin, who had already been mentioned in despatches, had with a comrade. Corporal Youngson, been recommended for the Victoria Cross for a gallant act at Paardeberg. A portrait of the smart young soldier was given in the “Graphic,” and also a brief account of the act for which he had been recommended for the coveted honor. He has not received the award for valor, but it was glory enough, for one so young, to be even recommended for it. And now for the story, which perhaps is best told in the language of Captain Fraser, who witnessed the daring deed, and who, in response to a letter asking for reliable details, sent the following to the ” Star “:—
“The incident happened during our first engagement, on the morning of February 18th. It was about eleven o’clock, I should say, when we entered the firing line. Immediately before moving forward, however, I noticed Captain Arnold, or rather the body of an officer — for at that time I did not know who the wounded man was — lying on a stretcher with a stretcher-bearer beside him. I called to the bearer — the distance was about fifty yards — and asked him who the officer was. He replied that it was Captain Arnold, and that he had been shot. The bearer also told me that, in attempting to remove the captain to a place of safety, he, too, had been wounded in the knee, and that one of his comrades, in trying to assist him, had been killed. He also stated that Captain Arnold and he had been lying in the field for some considerable time, and that, if assistance did not reach them quickly, both of them would be killed, as the Boer fire was exceptionally heavy, and bullets were falling all around them. Realizing the desperate position of both men, I called for volunteers from my company to remove them to a place of safety. Two of my men, namely Corporal (now Sergeant) Youngson, who was near me at the time, and Private Wilkin, responded at once, and, without the slightest hesitation, rose from their places and crossed the fire zone to where Captain Arnold and the stretcher-bearer lay. At that time, the Boer fire was heaviest, and I expected that my men would be wounded, if not killed, in running the gauntlet of bullets. They traversed the entire distance, however, in safety, and I soon had the pleasure of seeing them start, with their precious burden, towards the rear. The fire, I may say, became so hot at one time that they had to put down the stretcher and lie beside it. They were in the midst of a hail of bullets, and I consider their escape from injury and death little short of miraculous. When the fire had somewhat slackened, they again picked up their burden, and this time were successful in carrying the wounded to the rear, where it was ascertained that Captain Arnold had been mortally wounded.
I certainly think that the addition of Corporal Youngson and Private Wilkin is deserving of the highest recognition on the part of the imperial authorities. The Victoria Cross has been awarded for less meritorious deeds. I may say that the fire faced by these two men was such that two of my men, namely. Privates Turner (of Quebec) and Roberts (of Montreal), fell victim to it, both being wounded. I am glad you are taking this matter up, for I am convinced that no more gallant deed has marked the progress of the present war.” From another reliable source — it could not be more reliable — a number of additional details are gathered:—
“After Corporal Youngson and Private Wilkin placed Captain Arnold on the stretcher, they carried him about fifteen yards to the rear, where they were obliged to put him down, owing to the heavy fire. While resting there, Corporal Youngson commenced to dress the wound in the forehead of the unfortunate officer. He ran back to the wounded stretcher-bearer, secured gauze, bandages and oilskin, and then returned. With these, materials, he stopped the flow of blood and bound up the wound, first using the wool pad, then the gauze, and afterwards the oilskin. Before applying those materials, however, he washed the wound with water from his water bottle, then a precious liquid to the soldier in the field, and an article that could ill be spared even for such a humane purpose as the cleansing of a wound. As soon as the dressing was completed. Corporal Youngson and Private Wilkin again picked up their burden, and made a fresh start for the rear. The fire, according to all accounts, was exceptionally heavy, and the space over which they had to go was absolutely devoid of any protection or shelter whatever, such as shrubs or trees. It was an open trade of ground on the top of a ridge overlooking the Boer position, and fully exposed to the enemy’s fire. It is no wonder, therefore, that they often had to put their burden down before they reached the vicinity of the field-hospital, which was distant about two thousand yards from the firing line, and two thousand five hundred yards away from the Boer position, on the banks of the Modder. As they made their way thither, the bullets continued to drop around them on every side, and, for some considerable time, it was doubtful if any of the three would reach their destination alive. When they had covered one thousand five hundred yards of the distance, they met a British officer who gave them a flask of rum. Laying Captain Arnold down, Corporal Youngson bent over him and asked him if he would like a drink. And then a remarkable thing took place, when it is remembered that one of the bullets which struck Captain Arnold, entered his forehead and emerged near one of his ears. ‘To my intense surprise,’ said Corporal Youngson, ‘the captain opened his mouth in response to my question. I poured a few drops on his tongue. It was quite evident that he was conscious, although so terribly wounded, that he relished the stimulant, for he smacked his lips. I then said, ‘Would you like a little bit more, sir?’ and again he opened his mouth by way of answer. I allowed him to swallow a few drops, and then asked him, ‘ Are you in very much pain, captain?Slowly he moved his head from side to side, as if he wished to convey a negative reply.
“After the officer, a colonel, had passed, Corporal Youngson and his companions carried Captain Arnold to a cluster of trees, distant about two hundred yards. There Corporal Youngson made him a shelter, by taking his (the captain’s) coat and spreading it over a tree. The latter was thus protected from the burning rays of the midsummer sun. While waiting for the field surgeons, to whom the stretcher-bearer had in the mean time been sent with an urgent message, Corporal Youngson dressed the wound in Captain Arnold’s arm, bandaging it up very carefully, and subsequently supporting the arm by means of a sling made out of the wounded officer’s puttee. This finished, he left the captain in charge of Private Wilkin, and rejoined his company, reaching the latter in time to participate in the series of advances made on the enemy’s position by the firing line.”
Most of these details were communicated to Lieutenant-Colonel W. D. Otter, commanding the Royal Canadian Regiment, by Captain Fraser, to lay them before the proper authorities. Captain J. C. Gardiner, of the Fourth Scottish Rifles (the Cameronians), who enlisted in Montreal and proceeded to South Africa as a private in the Royal Canadian Regiment, in a letter, thus described this gallant action: Corporal J. S. Youngson and Private Wilkin, at the first fight at Paardeberg, when Captain Arnold, of Manitoba, was shot, and the stretcher section, which went to bring him in from the firing line, were also shot down, went out under a heavy fire, and took Captain Arnold back to a safe place. This exceptional gallantry is quite worthy of the Victoria Cross.”
Young Wilkin, who was at the time, though a strapping youth, barely eighteen years of age, rejoined the Highland Cadet Battalion on his return from South Africa, and is now a sergeant in the corps. Captain Duncan Campbell, while serving as a gunner in E. Battery, Royal Canadian Artillery, distinguished himself upon the occasion of the early morning surprise effected by the Boers at Faber’s Spruit. Considerable confusion succeeded the awakening of the camp by the sudden fusilade poured in by the Boers, but young Campbell and a comrade, another Montreal lad, stood to their gun in spite of the fact that the Boers completely surrounded the camp and were pouring in bullets from all sides, from comparatively safe cover. Campbell and his comrade succeeded in loading their gun, elevated and fired it. The elevation was purposely high to avoid hitting our own men. While it was not likely to do much damage to the enemy, it had the moral effect that all shell fire produces, not merely on the defence, but on an enemy not over-sure of his ground. The Boer retreat appears to have commenced at once after the discharge of the first gun, leaving a rather heavy casualty list as a reminder of their activity and a proof that the outposts responsible for the safety of the camp, were not up to their duties.
Campbell, writing to his father, Mr. John Campbell, of the Caledonian Iron Works, after this night attack, gave a modest account of his part in the affair. He wrote: “It must have been about 5.30 a. m. when I was awakened by the enemy’s bullets whistling past and ploughing the ground on every side. After I had managed to get up, and had taken shelter behind our gun, I began to have an idea of what was really happening. It would seem that, during the early hours of morning, the enemy, under cover of darkness, had managed to take possession of several small kopjes on our right and left, and also a garden about a hundred yards in front of and below where we were encamped. By the time I had realized the position, the mounted infantry and Cape Volunteers had begun to reply to the enemy’s fire, which was very severe. In fadl, the general said that he had not been under such heavy fire since the war began, not even at Spion Kop. About half an hour after the attack commenced, we received orders to fire, which we did with great promptitude, our gun being the first to fire, and I having the satisfaction of firing the first shot. Owing, however, to our men being between us and the enemy, we were obliged to fire at a high elevation, and consequently did not expect to do much damage. But the noise of the gun acted like a tonic on our men, and had a very depressing effect on the enemy. I am sorry to say that, within a very short time from our guns coming into action, we had completely routed the enemy. Our boys would have liked a little more of the fun. We had one man killed in our battery, and nine wounded. The engagement lasted about an hour and three quarters, and, when all was over, we found that our column had lost twenty-five killed and forty wounded, while the Boers had thirty killed and seventy wounded. We buried friend and foe together, in the garden where most of the fighting took place,” Sergeant F. Berge, of the Highland Cadets, serving as a trooper in the Canadian Mounted Rifles, was one of the heroic five who distinguished themselves by swimming across the river Vaal in the face of the enemy, and securing a crossing for the column. Surely this incomplete record of what soldiers, trained in the Highland Cadets, accomplished in South Africa, affords eloquent proof of the great national value of that organization, and suggests that encouragement should be afforded for the organization and maintenance of similar organizations throughout Canada. A couple of dozen boys’ battalions throughout the Dominion could be maintained for comparatively little cost, and they would be of incalculable benefit to our defensive force, besides proving an important factor in keeping alive in the country a wholesome military spirit.
A young G.W. Berridge in the uniform of Montreal Highland Cadets. A fine example of early Edwardian-era photographic art. Note the finely detailed painted backdrop. A special thanks to Mr. Donald Perder of the Army Museum of South Australia for identifying Berridge’s membership in the Montreal Highland Cadets. After further research this G. W. Berridge may be George W. Berridge who was born on Montreal 15 June, 1890 the son of John T. Berridge and the former Miss. Isabella Gow. Further investigation is needed to confirm this possibility. Additional information which has been kindly provided by Mr. Jim Berridge of Ontario confirms the above suppositions. He also mentions that his father who was George W. Berridge’s half brother related the story that George W. Berridge died at the age of 22 as the result of a railroad accident. Montreal, Canada March 1908.
Two events of considerable interest, in the history of the Highland Cadets, during the years 1900 and 1901, were the tournament in the Victoria Skating Rink, in the early part of November, 1900, and the visit to Portland, Maine, Labor Day, 1901. The trip to Portland was most enjoyable for the cadets, and produce live of a manifestation of much good feeling between the two branches of the Anglo-Saxon race, which can hardly fail to have a most beneficial effect. The cadets left Montreal by Grand Trunk Railway, on the evening of Friday preceding Labor Day, arriving at Portland early the next morning. They were met by a deputation of local militia officers and public officials, and most hospitably entertained. Saturday was spent in sightseeing, and on Sunday there was a church parade. Monday, Labor Day, there was a street parade followed by an exhibition of drill in the afternoon, and in the evening there was a ball given in honor of the visitors. The lads behaved well as usual, and made a most favorable impression. The tournament given in the Victoria Rink, was not the financial success it deserved to be. It was given to afford the people of Montreal, particularly the members of the active militia, an opportunity to manifest in a practical way their appreciation of the corps, and help it to meet the inevitable demands upon the battalion exchequer. The corps was indebted, to a considerable extent, to its untiring instructor for necessary articles of equipment, and it was hoped to be able to liquidate this indebtedness. A truly splendid programme of fancy drill and military sports was provided, but the attendance was very small, and the net result of the venture was a deficit of no less than three hundred and fifty dollars.
The principal local event of 1901, for the Highland Cadets and the people of Canada, was the visit to Canada of Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. When Their Royal Highnesses arrived in Montreal, on Wednesday, September 1 8th, they made a state progress from Viger Square Station to Lord Strathcona’s residence, Dorchester Street, via St. Denis, Sherbrooke, Peel and Dorchester streets, and the whole route was lined with troops, including some five or six hundred cadets. The Highland Cadets, who turned out one hundred and fifty strong, with pipe and bugle bands, were assigned to line Sherbrooke Street from St. Urbain to Mance streets, giving the royal salute as the royal carriage passed. The following morning, at half past ten, the battalion furnished a guard of fifty rank and file, with a piper and bugle band, at the residence of Mr. James Allaru, the official residence, during the royal visit, of His Excellency the Governor-General. The Earl of Minto carefully inspected the guard, and expressed his complete satisfaction with it. After the departure of His Excellency, the guard proceeded to the Royal Victoria Hospital, where it had the honor of adding as guard of honor, both upon the arrival and departure of Their Royal Highnesses. On Friday, 20th, upon the occasion of the departure of Their Royal Highnesses, the battalion again furnished a detachment to assist the alive militia in lining the streets. All of these duties were performed voluntarily by the cadets. It is interesting to remark here, that, according to the leading English newspapers, the experienced press correspondents who accompanied the royal party in their tour around the world, were unanimous in their opinion that Australia is a great military country, and their views were attributed to the splendid system of cadet instruction prevailing in the new Commonwealth. During the royal review in Melbourne, nearly one-third of the corps on parade were composed of fully-equipped cadet corps. Some of these correspondents pointed out that Lord Roberts, when speaking of the Public Schools and Cadets’ Military Education Bill (a measure which was recently before the British parliament), said that the cadet or school boy with proper instruction would, in after life, be able to take his place in the ranks just as efficiently as the reserve man who has been absent from the colors for a period of years.
His Royal Highness was evidently deeply impressed, himself, with the Australian cadet system, for, in the course of his Guild Hall speech delivered December 6th, 1901, he remarked: —
* I am anxious to refer to an admirable movement which has taken strong root in both Australia and New Zealand — and that is the cadet corps. On several occasions I had the gratification of seeing march past several thousand cadets, armed and equipped, and who, at the expense of their respective governments, are able to go through a military course, and in some cases with an annual grant of practice ammunition. I wall not presume, in these days of army reform, to do more than call the attention of my friend, the Secretary of State for War, to this interesting fact.” The last public parade of the battalion was on the occasion of the annual inspection, October 12th, 1901, on the Champ de Mars. Lieutenant- Colonel Roy, D. O. C, accompanied by Major Stewart, brigade-major, rode on to the ground at three o’clock, in full uniform. The commanding officer. Major Lydon, put the battalion, which was in full strength (four companies, and pipe and bugle bands), through a series of movements, including marching in quarter column, double column, manual exercises, and attack drill. The attack drill was carried out under the command of the officers of individual companies. The lads showed great intelligence, and their youth enabled them to get over the ground quickly. Before leaving the Champ de Mars, the colors were unfurled, and the boys were photographed. At the conclusion of the inspection, Lieutenant-Colonel Roy addressed the boys. He remarked that he did not want to flatter them, but must tell them that they were equal to the very best, in every point of efficiency. He hoped that all of the lads before him would keep up their military work, and that the Highland Cadet Battalion, as a unique and most useful organization, would go on and prosper. As commanding officer of the district, he could only say that it was a splendid addition to the militia.
And, considering that the smart little battalion, during the comparatively short period of its useful existence, has supposed over three hundred well-drilled, well-set-up and high-spirited men, to the active militia force, no one is likely to dispute the point.
* As there has been some delay in proceeding to press with the last few chapters, owing to disappointments with the original publishers, necessitating the transfer of the control, recently, to Messrs. Desbarats and Company, the officers of the corps desired that the record should be brought, in part, up to date (December 26th, 1901).
E. J. C.
* list of members and ex-members of the Highland Cadet Battalion who have served in South Africa, or are on South African service, December 27th, 1901:
- Sergeant C. Black, now serving; Sergeant B. Massiah, Baden Powell’s Police;
- Private A. Bouchett, Brabant’s Horse, wounded but back to duty, twice captured;
- Sergeant F. Berge. served in Mounted Rifles, wounded, again serving in local mounted corps;
- Sergeant J. Walroth, now serving;
- Sergeant C. Paton, on way out to join local corps;
- Sergeant H. Hibbs, went to South Africa with first contingent, volunteered to Canadian Scouts, still serving;
- Sergeant McCrae, serving in Irregular Horse;
- Sergeant A. Smith, served in E. Battery, rejoined Mounted Rifles under orders for South Africa;
- Captain Nivan, joined Mounted Rifles now en route for South Africa;
- Private J. Watson, joined Mounted Rifles now en route for South Africa;
- Captain T. Hansen, joined Mounted Rifles now en route for South Africa;
- Private E. Robinson, serving in Irregular Horse;
- Bugler H. Campbell, serving in Irregular Horse;
- Corporal J. Mault, serving in Irregular Horse, wounded in hind but now back to duty;
- Corporal J. Fletcher, serving in Irregular Horse, wounded in leg, back to duty;
- Private M. Sullivan, now with First Pioneer Rifles, previous in Kitchener’s Horse;
- Private M. Smith, serving in Irregular Horse;
- Private McOwatt, serving in Irregular Horse;
- Sergeant J. Phillips, first contingent through all that battalion’s service, was present at Paardeberg;
- Captain D. Campbell, E. Battery, served throughout;
- Sergeant W. Wilkin, first contingent, present at Paardeberg, in company with Sergeant Youngson brought in the body of Captain Arnold under a heavy fire;
- Private J. Duncan, first contingent;
- Private Murray, first contingent;
- Private Bolt, first contingent ;
- Private Jacobs. serving in Irregular Horse;
- Private Mcleod, serving in Irregular Horse;
- Sergeant Peppiatt, first contingent, wounded at Paardeberg now serving in Royal Canadian Field Artillery;
- Pipe Sergeant Ferguson. E. Battery, served throughout, returning with battery;
- Sergeant M. Markell, serving with Irregular Horse;
- Sergeant T. Byrae, E. Battery, served through, returning with battery;
- Sergeant-Major I. Parr, on the way out to join;
- Lieutenant F. Hoffman, on the way out to join;
- Private W. Sullivan, now serving;
- Private S. Roberts, now serving;
- Private S. Robinson, now serving Sergeant A. Barber, Baden Powell’s Police:
- Sergeant J. Butler, first contingent;
- Private T. McCall, on way out to join;
- Private A. McKellar, representing Young Men’s Christian Association with Strathcona’s Horse, now in Government railway employ.