Capt. C.K. Fraser O.C., Montréal’s, ‘E’ Coy, 2nd SS Bn. RCRI, South African War, 1899-1900.

53rd Sherbrooke, Battalion by 1900 Regiment.

Daily Sun, St. John N.B. Dec. 3, 1900. — Story of Paardeberg. — How Two Montrealers Carried Captain Arnold Out of the Firing Line. — Deserve Victoria Cross – Such is the Opinion of Captain Fraser Who was Bye witness of the Brave Deed. — (Montreal Star). — This is a story of Paardeberg-the record of a gallant deed in which the principal figures were two Canadians-both of tem citizens of Montreal and members of E Company of the Royal Canadian Regiment, or first contingent.

Their names-Sergt. (at that time Corpl.) J.S. Youngson, formerly color-sergeant of No. 3 Company of the Royal Scots; and Pte. W. Wilkins of No. 2 Company of the same regiment. Their deed-The carrying of wounded Capt. Arnold of the British Columbia Company over a tract of bullet-swept ground from the firing line to the field hospital, 1,800 yards in rear of that line. “I am convinced that a more gallant deed has not marked the progress of the present war,” writes Capt. Fraser of E Company to the star, in describing that event, and the readers of the Star, will doubtless come to a similar conclusion when they have perused this tale of Canadian pluck, valour and heroism. In the opinion of the gallant captain, “the Victoria Cross has been given for less meritorious deeds.” It is pleasing to know, therefore, that an effort is about to be made to secure at least the distinguished service medal, if not the Cross, for the heroes of this story. The knowing ones, or rather those conversant with the exploit, among them being the officers and members of E Company and Capt. Gardiner of the Scottish Rifles, are of one opinion in regard to the matter, namely, that the Cross is none too good for these men.

Captain Fraser’s Description. — And now for the story, which, perhaps, is best told in the language of the Capt. Fraser, who witnessed the daring deed, and who, in response to a letter asking for reliable details, has sent the following to the Star: — The incident happened during our first engagement on the morning of February 18. It was about 11 o’clock, I should say, when we entered the firing line. Immediately before moving forward, however, I noticed Capt. 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 stretcher-bearers 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 Capt. Arnold, and that he had been shot, 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.

2nd SS Bn. Royal Canadian Regiment Inf., Crew on deck, South African War, Nov. 1899.

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, Corp. (now Sergt.) Youngson, who was near me at the time and Pte. Wilkins responded at once, and without the slightest hesitation rose from their places and crossed the fire zone to where Capt, 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 firing I may say, became so hot at one time that they had to put down the stretcher and lay beside it. They were in the midst of…The Hail Of Bullets…and I considered their escape from injury and death little short of miraculous. When the fire had somewhat slackened, they again picked up their burden, and their time were successful in carrying the wounded to the rear, where it was ascertained that Capt. Arnold has been mortally wounded. I certainly think that that action of Corp. Youngson and Pte. Wilkins 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, namely, Privets Turner of Quebec and Roberst of Montreal, fell vie times 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.

Dressed Captain’s Wound. — From another reliable source-it could not be more reliable-a number of additional details are gathered. After Corp. Youngson and Pte. Willkins placed Capt. Arnold on the stretcher they carried him about 15 yards to the rear, where they were obligated to put him down owing to the heavy fire. While resting there Corp. 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, the gauze, and afterwards of the oilskin. Before applying these 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 purposed as the cleansing of a wound. As soon as the dressing was completed, Corp. Youngson and Pte. Willkins 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 tract of ground on the top of a ridge overlooking the Boer position, and fully exposed to the enemy’s fire. It is no wondor, therefore, that they often had to put their burden down before they reached the vicinity of the filed hospital, which was distant about two thousand yards from the firing line, and 2, 500 yards away from the Boer position, on the banks of 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.

2nd SS Bn. Royal Canadian Regiment Inf., Officers on deck SS Sardinian, South African War, Nov. 1899.

They Gave Him a Drink. — When they had covered 1,500 yards of the distance they met a British officer, who gave them a flask of rum. Laying Capt. Arnold down, Corp. 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 Capt. Arnold entered his forehead and emerged near one of his ears. “To any intense surprise,” says Corp. Youngson, “the captain opened his mouth in response to my question. I poured a few drops on his tongue. It was evident that he was conscious, although so terribly wounded, and that he relished the stimulant, for he smacked his lips, I suddenly 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.

Returned to Firing Line. —  After the colonel had passed, Corp. Youngson and his companions carried Capt. Arnold to a cluster of tress, distant about 200 yards. There Corp. Youngson made him shelter by taking his (the captain’s) coat and spreading it over a tree. The shelter was thus protected from burning rays of the midsummer sun. While waiting for the field surgeon, to whom the stretcher-bearers had in the meantime been sent with an urgent message, Corp. Youngson dressed the wound in Capt. Arnold’s arm, bandaged it up very carefully, and subsequently supporting the arm by means of a sling made out of that officer’s puttee. That finished, he left the Captain in charge of Pte. Wilkins, 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. Such in brief is the story of Paardeberg. Such are the principle details of the gallant exploit in which the central figures were two Canadians-both of them Citizens of Montreal and members of E company of the 1st contingent. Most of these details have been communicated to Col. Otter by Capt. Fraser, and it now remains for the former, as the commanding officer of the 1st contingent, to lay them before the proper authorities in England in order that some action may be taken in the matter.

Captain Gardiner’s Story. —  Capt. J.C. Gardiner of the 4th Scottish Rifles ( the Cameronians) in a letter to Lieut.-Col. Ibbotson of the Royal Scots thus describes the gallant action of Corp. Youngson and Pte. Wilkins: “I would like to draw your attention to exceptional gallantry of two members of your corps, namely Corp. J.S. Youngson and Pte. Wilkins, who at the first fight at Paardeberg, when Capt. Arnold of Manitoba was shot, and stretcher section which went to bring him in from the firing line were also shot down, went out under a hellish fire and took Capt. Arnold back to bring this to your notice. It is quite worthy of a V.C.” This, from a British officer, is exceptional praise.

Sherbrooke, June 5th, 1900. — Captain C, K: Fraser, officer commanding E Company first contingent, has written the following letter to Mr. John Wasdell, father of Private Wasdell, who was killed at Paardeberg: —

Bloemfontein, April 14th, 1900. — My dear Mr. Wasdell…I know you have been looking anxiously for some particulars from me of your son’s death upon the field of battle. I cannot tell you how much I sympathize with you in your sad bereavement. Your son had won the esteem of both officers and men of his company, and we ail feel his Ioss deeply. As captain of his company I always found him a faithful and most willing soldier, and he died doing his duty for his Queen and country. He was wounded in the attack on Cronje’s laager on Tuesday morning, February 27th. I was with him when he was carried into our trenches and sat with him for two hours, during which time he was attended by Surgeon- Major Wilson, and everything possible was done for him. He was then taken to the New South Wales field hospital, which is recognized as the best in the army. There he received every care and attention. He died the following morning (February 28th) and his end was peaceful. He was conscious up to a short time of his death. He was buried on Wednesday, the 28th, by a Church of England clergyman in a very pretty spot on the river bank. The grave has been very nicely fixed up and fenced in by some of his comrades, and a cross placed at the head.

His greatest friend in the army was Private Coates, of Montréal, who was with him when he died. I have several little things that were found in his haversack, some letters and his service cap, and also have his watch and purse containing $4 in gold, which I will take care of. I have also got £2 for him from a Montréal fund. This money I will keep with his other things till we return to Canada, as it would almost be impossible to send them from here. If there is anything that I can do or any further information that you would like, I would consider it a favour if you would write me and let me know.

  • With heartfelt sympathy for yourself and family in your sad loss.
  • Believe me, yours faifhfully,
  • C . K. FRASER, ” Captain Com. E Co., R. C. R.”

2nd SS Bn. RCRI Disembarked, Sardinian, Landing in Cape Town, South African War, 30th Nov. 1899.

The Examiner, Monday November 5, 1900. —The Returning Canadians. — Great Receptions Given Them at Quebec, Montreal and Ottawa. — The members of the first contingent belonging to the above cities were accorded great receptions on Saturday on their return from South Africa. Addresses were presented by the Chief Magistrates in each place, and the boys in khaki were feted in a royal manner. The enthusiasm which prevailed in cities referred to surpassed anything over witnessed. The Western men left Montreal for Toronto on Sunday evening and were given a great send-off. They will be feted in Toronto today. It is Sherbrooke’s turn now, and she will not be behind in open arms to receive back again the plucky little captain who has gone through the whole campaign without a day’s absence from his company, and they now show their appreciation for him by escorting him home.

Surgeon-Major Wilson’s Testimony. — On board the train at Levis, Nov, 3 —Surgeon-Major Willson’s, in speaking of the general health of the Canadians, made some very interesting statements in regard to the claim of certain medical papers that the showing made by the colonies had been disappointing. He said: — “As for Canadians, I know from my experience that physically they were greatly superior to the rank and file of the Imperial regiments with whom they came in contact, better able to endure fatigue, less apt to fall out during forced marches, and less liable to disease. This I know from my own experience, for example, during the last of our long forced marches, it might be that one or two of our men would fall out, but in the regiments beside us the number would be up in the dozens and twenties, and sometimes at the end of three or four days half a regiment. As to liability to succumb to enteric and other fevers, the percentage in the Canadian Regiment was much better than that of accustomed regiments of the Imperial forces.”

“It must not be forgotten that men who were on the reserve and had seen service were naturally litter than Government troops. After a man has once had typhoid or other fever he is not likely to have it again. Those troops who had served in India were thoroughly seasoned before they came to Africa and suffered much less than other regiments man for man. However, the Canadians showed conclusively that their constitution was such as to render them far less liable to disease than the average British soldier. Their endurance is, of course, a matter of history,, and the exertions they were subjected to was great enough to have broken a weaker body of men. I am confident from my experience that they bore up under privations as few regiments could have done.”

Major Pelletier, the idol of his men, is not slow in expressing his conviction that the Canadians have acquitted themselves gloriously in comparison with the trained soldiers of Great Britain. And in all the Royal Canadian Regiment there was no company he says, which did not acquit itself creditably. “The Montreal men,” Major Pelletier said yesterday,” came under my particular attention on several occasions, aside from Paardeburg and other regiments took part. E Company was acting in conjunction with one or two other companies under my command during the long chase after De Wet, and in the affairs at Silverton and Groot Elephant’s River. In every engagement in which they took part the efficiency and general attention to duty of the Montreal company impressed itself on me. In time long chase after De Wet, which meant for the Canadians who took part in it the longest and hardest marching of the campaign there was no question as to the zeal of the Montreal Company.  Possibly there was no other time during the war when troops were so hard pressed or so tested as to endurance. General Hart, who commanded the division, is known through the British army as one of the hardest task-masters when work must be done and one who does not hesitate to ask his men to attempt almost impossible feats.

2nd SS Bn. RCRI D Coy crossing …. to get over, South African War 1900.

The regiment as a whole were under fire about twenty times and took part in everything from a skirmish to a general engagement. From what I know of the qualities of the Canadians, I would take them, not only for their marching but for their endurance, against any regiment in the British army. The discipline of the regiment as a rule, was excellent, such breaches as did occur being those of ignorance rather than any wrongful defiance of authority. The estimate in which colonial troops are held by officers has been greatly enhanced by this war. Time after time English officers have gone out of their way to express to me their appreciation of the qualities of the Canadian soldiers, I also heard much praise from the Mounted Rifles from officers who were well able to judge and who did not praise without cause. One of them told me that after he saw the Canadians scouting he was convinced that they were the best mounted infantry he had ever seen.

A Tribute To E Company. — Levis, Que., Nov. 3- The Montreal Company showed the stuff of which it was made whenever occasion presented. The men were brave in action and patient under the harder trails of long marches. Their gallantry was known and appreciated by all the officers and men of the regiment, and their record is one of which not only Montreal, but Canada may be proud. Oscar Pelletier, Major.

What Captain Fraser Says. — Captain Fraser, commanding the Montreal company: “ I cannot use too strong terms to express my admiration for the men of the Montreal company, for their bravery in the face of the enemy, their cheerful endurance of extraordinary hardships and their unflagging attention to duty. I have nothing to regret in my connection with them. They are men of whom every Canadian must feel proud, and soldiers any captain would be proud to command upon the firing line. In camp they were always prompt to obey commands. I do not mean any disrespect to the other companies, but in my eyes none bore themselves so well as the men of Montreal.

 The Examiner, Monday November 5, 1900. — Welcome To Our Heroes. — Reception Has Been Postponed. — Capt. Fraser and About 40 men Will arrive To-morrow Night. — Splendid Programme Has Been Arranged. — Owing to the fact that the Sodier’s Wives’ League in Montreal had of E. Company, the proposed reception to Capt. Fraser and his men has been postponed until to-morrow, Tuesday evening. The Captain and his men will arrive at the Union Depot at 8.12 p.m., and will be received by the Mayor and Council, members of the Board of Trade, Reception Committee, 53rd Regiment, Bishop’s College School Cadets, Harmonie Band, Tuque Range and Sherbrooke Snow Shoe Clubs, will receive the boys in khaki at the station. The 53rd Regiment will be drawn up in three side of a square and the Mayor and Council and others will be inside the square. As soon as Captain Fraser and his men have been received the procession will start, proceeded by fireworks, up King, Wellington, Commercial and Montreal Streets to the residence of Capt. Fraser where a halt of fifteen minutes will be made, and about four hundred school children will sing patriotic songs.

The procession will reform and march by way of Queen, Melbourne and Commercial Streets to the Skating Rink, where addresses will be made and an entertainment and smoking concert will be held. The Ladies of the city will supply refreshments to the visitors and members of the Regiment. The Skating Rink presents a very pretty appearance. A number of storekeepers and residents along the route of march have began to decorate, and others are falling in line. The 53rd Regiment specially invite retired, reserve and officers from outside corps in uniform to take part in the parade. The order of parade will be as fallows: —

  1. Chief Davidson and squad of police
  2. Harmonie Band.
  3. The Reception Committee.
  4. The 53rd Regiment and their bands.
  5. The Members of the Contingent.
  6. The Bishop’s College School Cadets and their band.
  7. Citizens.

Capt. J.F. Morkill will organize the citizen’s parade.

The late Major H.M. Arnold, First Winnipeg Contingent, 2nd SS Bn. Royal Canadian Regiment Inf., South African War, 1899 -1900.

The Gazette Montreal. — Wed., May 2nd, 1900. — Our Boys At Front. — Capt. Fraser Writes of March From Gras Pan. — Thinks War Nearly Over. — Transvaalers, He Says, May Give in Before Lord Roberts’ Forces Arrive at Pretoria. — Sherbrooke, May 1st. — (Special) — Capt. C.K. Fraser, in command of “E” Company of first Canadian contingent, has written a letter to his father, from Bloemfontein under date March 23, from which the fallowing extracts are made: — Everything has quieted down here now, and we have gone back to our old camp routine again, two or three parades a day and occasional fatigue duty. It is uncertain how long we will remain, but the C.o. has ordered our tents, and everything that was left behind at Belmont to be sent on here, so it looks as though we might be here some weeks. This is quite a little town, and I go in every day or so and take advantage of the swimming bath and clubs, of which there are two, one quite a large one, in the business part of the town, and which is usually pretty crowded. The other is a little out of town, and is very comfortable and much quieter.

I tell you what, we have had a great experience so far, and one I would not have missed for anything. Our March from Gras Pan, nearly 140 miles, is looked upon by Lord Roberts. I understand, as equalling his great march from Kaboul to Candahar, and, as I marched every step of the way, I feel as if I will have something to be proud of, and look back upon in years to come. We have had a shelter built with tarpaulins that we use as an anteroom, with a large table down the centre and benches on each side, so we can sit down and write a letter now with a certain degree of comfort. We have heard nothing from the second contingent yet, but I understand they are somewhere on the way up.

Capt.. H.M. Arnold, 2nd SS Bn. Royal Canadian Regiment, South African War, 1900.

It is raining quite hard today. This is the first real wet day we have had for several weeks. We have been most fortunate in this respect, and with the exception of two nights, when we were at Paardeberg, have had little or no rain. The parson and I went into town yesterday afternoon and had our photographs taken. They don’t cost anything-only eighteen shillings a half dozen. We cam to the conclusion, after we found out the price that was rather a bad investment. Everything is very expensive here; ale, four shillings a bottle, and Scotch whiskey nine shillings. The result is we indulge to any great extent. I went to service at the cathedral in town on Sunday morning. Lord Roberts and staff were there, and it was a very impressive service. The dean gave each one of us a church prayer-book with the place and date on the fly-leaf. We are looking forward to the war being over before very long now. It is simply a question as to how long the Transvaalers will hold out. Pretoria is the only place very strongly fortified, and no doubt they will make a stand, although a great many think they will give in before we get to Pretoria.







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