From the Officer Commanding 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, to the Adjutant General, Militia Department, Ottawa. Toronto. January 26, 1901. —
On the 24th of September, the officers and men who had decided to return to Canada on completion of their engagement, left their several stations for Pretoria, and there entrained on the 26th for Cape Town. Previous to their departure, Lord Roberts inspected them, and expressed his great satisfaction with the services they had rendered during the past ten months. These details, numbering 16 officers and 413 N.C.O’s and men, sailed from Cape Town for Halifax under Major Pelletier on the ss. Idaho on the 1st October, 1900. There now remained only 12 officers and 250 men of the regiment in South Africa doing regimental duty, composing ‘A and B’ Companies, N.C.O’s and men of the permanent corps and of the draft, together with some few men of various companies who had elected to remain. Of the three latter classes, I formed a third, or Provisional Company termed ‘I,’ and placed it under the command of Capt. A. H. Macdonell. Having on the departure of the time-expired details, received orders to furnish garrisons for Eerste Fabricken and Silverton only; I sent ‘I’ Company to the latter station, placing the station under the command of Capt. Weeks, while I retained ‘A’ and ‘B ’ Companies at the former station. On October 6, three companies, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, relieved us at Eerste Fabricken, the two companies there, with myself, being ordered to Silverton, and to which place we marched on the 8th instant. I assumed command of that station on the same day, and we remained there until October 24, without any incident of importance.
On October 24, the Royal Canadians were relieved at Silverton by the volunteer company of the West Riding Regiment, and marched into Pretoria to take part in the annexation ceremony of the 25th, going into camp at Arcadia. On the 25th, the celebration of the annexation of the Transvaal took place, and for the purpose representative units of the army, such as the Composite Regiment of Household Cavalry, ‘A’ Battery, R.H.A.; Grenadier Guards Coldstream Guards, 2nd Gordon Highlanders, Royal Irish Regiment, King’s Royal Rifles, Australian Mounted Infantry, two battalions of English volunteers, Brabant’s Horse and Royal Canadian Regiment, joined the Pretoria garrison. The ceremonies consisted of reading the Proclamation of Annexation and a march past before the Field Marshal, Commander-in- Chief, Lord Roberts. In the march past I am glad to be able to report the Battalion as having done remarkably well, and to have fully held its own with the best regiments present. For the next few days the Battalion remained idle in the camp, and on October 30 received orders to entrain that night and the following morning in three parties, for the purpose of moving to Cape Town and there embarking for home via England.
By 1 p.m. of the 31st instant the last of the Battalion (‘I’ Company and Headquarters’) had left Pretoria. The journey to Cape Town was a most uncomfortable and tedious one; the non-commissioned officers and men being closely packed in open cattle trucks, while the trains were only permitted to run through by daylight, owing to the danger of the line being broken, until we reached Cape Colony. During the first three nights of the journey it rained heavily, and all ranks were more or less cold and wet. It was not until 6 a.m. on the morning of the 7th that we reached Cape Town, and were at once transferred to the transport Hawardea Castle, the strength being 12 officers and 246 non-commissioned officers and men. The transport sailed at 5 p.m. the same day, previous to which, however, the Mayor of Cape Town, Col. Hanbury Williams, representing the High Commissioner, and three members of the Cape Colony Government, came on board to wish us bon voyage, and express appreciation of the services rendered by the Royal Canadian Regiment during the past twelve months.
VISIT TO ENGLAND. — On Nov. 29 we reached Southampton at 9.30 a.m. some 24 hours later than expected. At 11.30 a.m. the same day the battalion disembarked, and was met by Maj.-Gen. Stewart, commanding the southern district, who welcomed us in a very spirited and stirring speech, after which we entrained at the dock, and were steaming out of the station for London by noon. A quick run of two hours brought us to the Addison Road Station, Kensington at 2 p.m., and we found thei’e waiting us His Grace the Duke of Abercorn, and Earl Grey, chairman and vice-chairman respectively of the Colonial Entertainment Committee , Lord Onslow, Under Secretary of State for the Colonies; Lord Strathcona, High Commissioner for Canada; J. G. Colmer, Esq., C. M. G., Secretary to High Commissioner for Canada ; Colonel Lake, late Quarter Master General, Canada, Major General Trotter, commanding Home district, and many others who extended to us the most kindly and hearty welcome………
Arriving at the barracks, Major General Trotter officially welcomed us to his command, and referred in the kindest terms to the services of the regiment. The men were then told off to their rooms, and we found that every care had been taken for our comfort, even to the provision of a staff of cooks and waiters, etc., leaving us with no duties to perform, save that of a small regimental guard. That evening, the non-commissioned officers and men were kept in barracks, in order that they might clean their things ready for next day’s parade, of which I had been given notice. A decided change in the weather from cloud and rain to a bright sun took place on Friday, the 30th November, when the battalion paraded at 9.30 a.m., and marched to Addison Road Station, where it entrained for Windsor, arriving there at 11 a.m We were met by the Mayor and corporation of the borough at the station, and heartily welcomed. Headed by the band of the Grenadier Guards, we marched to Windsor Castle, amid the hearty cheers of the citizens, and at 11.45 a.m. we received Her Majesty in the quadrangle with a royal salute. I was then sent for by Her Majesty, who in a few words expressed her pleasure at seeing us, and asked most kindly after the sick and wounded. The battalion then marched past in fours, and formed quarter column in front of the royal carriage with the officers in review order. Her Majesty then spoke to the battalion, expressing her thanks for their services in South Africa, and regret for the losses sustained in that campaign. I replied in a few words expressive of our delight at being permitted to serve the Empire in such a way, and then called for “three cheers” for Her Majesty the Queen, which you can easily imagine were given in the most hearty and enthusiastic manner possible……………
On Monday, 10th, the battalion paraded at 7 a.m., marched to the Addison Road Station and entrained for Liverpool, leaving at 8.10 a.m. Lord Strathcona, Mr. Colmer and many other Canadians seeing us off. Having many matters to attend to in connection with the pay, clothing, etc., of the men, I was unable to leave London with the battalion, which went under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Buchan. That officer informs me that the reception received in the streets of Liverpool was simply marvellous in its enthusiasm and expression of good feeling. The Court of Assize adjourned in order to welcome the battalion as it passed St. George’s Hall. The Lord Mayor and Aldermen officially received it at the town hail. It was entertained at a banquet at which the Lord Mayor presided at the city hall, and the climax was reached in the “ Exchange,” where the members of which seemed to have gone wild with enthusiasm.
The steamer “Lake Champlain,” having arrived late from Canada was not ready to receive the battalion, and consequently it was embarked on “The Ems,” another vessel of the same line for the night and following day. Leaving London on the 11th, I arrived at Liverpool early on the morning of the 12th, and finding the “Lake Champlain” now ready, the battalion was transferred to her from the “Ems” at 10 a.m. The Lord Mayor and Lord Bishop of Liverpool, with numbers of our friends came down to the steamer at 11 a.m., when the two former addressed the officers and men, expressive of their pleasure at having been able to demonstrate the feeling of the city of Liverpool towards Canada and Canadians, and wishing them a safe and happy return to their homes. Cheers were given by us for all our friends in Liverpool, and at 12 noon the steamer left the landing stage. Thousands of people filled the stages and lined the docks, cheering vociferously as the steamer moved down the river………………..
VOYAGE To CANADA. — The SS. Lake Champlain, of the Beaver line, left Liverpool at noon of the 12th December, and soon after officers and men had settled into their quarters. These were found to be most comfortable, the officers having first class, and the N.C.O.’s and men second class accommodation, while in the matter of food nothing was left to be desired. The passage out was rather slow, owing to head winds and a heavy sea, and it was not till the morning of the 23rd that we reached Halifax. The N.C.O.’s and men were at once paid off, received their discharges, and entrained for their respective homes.
- I have the honour to be, sir,
- Your obedient servant,
- W. D. OTTER, Colonel,
- Late Commanding 2nd Royal Canadian Regiment.
The Gazette, Montreal, 26th. — Toronto’s Welcome: —Colonel Otter And His Men Given Enthusiastic Reception. — Toronto, December 25th. — Colonel Otter, Captain Mason, Lieutenant Temple and some forty men of C Company, R.C.R., and invalids of other corps, arrived home this morning, and were given a hearty welcome by the civil and military authorities. At the Union Station a big crowd had gathered, and the city regiments were formed up on parade to welcome the colonel and his men. Colonel Otter and Mrs. Otter, with Mayor and Aldermen, entered carriages in waiting, and the men were conveyed in two tally-hoes to the armouries by way of the principal down-town streets, which were pretty well filled with spectators. On their arrival at the armouries the city regiments lined the street on both sides, and amid great cheering, the gallant little band passed into the armouries where the formal welcome took place.
Replying to the civic address and that of the Queen’s Own Reserve, Colonel Otter said he had had the unique experience of having thrice been welcomed back from the front by the citizens of Toronto. In 1866, after the Fenian Raid; in 1885, after the North-West rebellion, and on the present occasion. The Colonel paid a splendid tribute to the Royal Canadians. So fully imbued he said, were they with the necessity for maintaining and upholding the honour of Canada, that there was nothing that could be imposed upon them; no work which they were asked to do, which they were not only glad, but anxious to accomplish, to meet the wishes of those in authority. The Royal Canadians were imbued with only one object, and that was to do their duty and to gain credit and honour for Canada, and that there was no one in that battalion but would freely and willingly again enroll for service against any cause that threatens the safety, honour and integrity of this country, or of any part of the British Empire. To-night a number of the principal buildings are illuminated in honour of the Colonel’s return. The huge transparency on the Parliament buildings, ‘Welcome home heroes of Paardeberg,’ can be seen a mile off in the snowstorm.
Special To the Star. — Toronto, December 28th, 1900. — Toronto Honours Colonel Otter Governor-General’s Speech. — The toast of the Governor-General given by the chairman, was prefaced by a speech, in which reference was made to the past record of Lord Minto in Canada. After some preliminary remarks, Lord Minto said: ‘I have come to assist in doing honour to Colonel Otter, and I need not assure you how glad I am to have such an opportunity of being present at this great demonstration to him in my public capacity, and also as an old friend and comrade. I rejoice to see him receive this well-earned appreciation from his fellow-countrymen. I first knew Colonel Otter when I was here with Lord Lansdowne, fifteen years ago. He had then made for himself a reputation as a first-rate officer and organizer, and when the rebellion broke out in the spring of 1885 he was given charge of the column destined to relieve Battleford. Though I myself served with another column, I was enabled to find opportunities of forming an opinion of the abilities of Colonel Otter, and how he conducted the long march across the prairie, and the subsequent operations around Battleford. I will say now, what I thought then, that Colonel Otter received but chary praise for the valuable services performed by him at that time. ‘Lord Minto went on to say that when the war broke out in South Africa there was no doubt as to who was Canada’s best officer. It was a proud duty for Colonel Otter, and, in considering his duty, it was essential to take into account the composition of the battalion which he commanded.
A SPLENDID REGIMENT. — Referring to the nature of Colonel Otter’s command in South Africa, Lord Minto sald: ‘His was a magnificent regiment, composed of splendid material. It was raised in the shortest time, and under circumstances which reflected the greatest possible credits upon Canada; but is was composed of company units, raised from localities at very great distance from each other, ail full of magnificent esprit de corps, and full of the very best kind of material; but, when gathered as a battalion it must have been necessarily rather deficient in that internal machinery which is the main standby of the commanding officer.’Lord Minto then continued: ‘You ail remember, under the administration of Colonel Otter, the gallantry in the field of battle of Royal Canadians, who have so distinguished themselves. It was Colonel Otter’s lot to command the first Canadian régiment that left the shores of the new world. Now that he has returned to the Dominion, I hope it will fall to his part to organize the troops of the Dominion.’ (Applause.)
. . . . ‘Whatever the Dominion may be able to do for Colonel Otter, out of the very deep debt of gratitude which she owes to him, I can certainly say this, that when the question of the distribution of distinctions comes to be considered by Her Majesty’s Government for those who have served the Empire so well in South Africa, Colonel Otter’s services there will not be forgotten.’ (Loud applause.)
AN OVATION TO OTTER. — The toast of Colonel Otter’s name was drunk with the greatest enthusiasm, the cheers and singing being kept up for some minutes. When the gallant Colonel rose to respond there was another tremendous outburst. Colonel Otter replied to the toast as follows: — ‘Your Excellency and kind friends. I feel that I am beginning one of the most trying ordeals that have fallen to my lot during the last fifteen months, viz., that of properly acknowledging this more than enthusiastic reception this evening. Your Excellency has kindly said you hoped and you have no doubt that I shall get my reward from those in authority, but I will ask you, can any man ask for more than I received to-night? Can anyone give me the respect, the confidence, the love, I may say, that is shown me this evening? No, good friends, I am satisfied. You trusted me. You had confidence in me when I left fourteen months ago. You had every confidence in me ; and now, after fourteen months have elapsed, after I and the others have gone through many hardships, privations and troubles, you meet me here to say: ‘Otter, you have done well.’ I cannot ask for more. I do not. I am perfectly well satisfied that you most intimate, and my best friends, can certainly now take me by the hand and say: ‘Otter, you have done well.’ It is useless for me this evening to try to thank you properly for this demonstration. If I strive to do so I cannot, I feel that I shall go to bits. But, believe me, that while I thank you from the very bottom of my heart for this, that I fully appreciate its whole meaning, and that I am more than satisfied with the welcome that you have given me, I don’t think it is fair or right to the regiment, that I have had the honour to command for some time past, to sit down without craving permission to say a few words in connection with their services. I don’t think I need refer to the composition of the regiment. His Excellency the Governor-General has already told you how it was formed, of what it was composed ; and I can, I think, bear him out by saying that I agree with him that it was composed of the best physique and the best intelligence that our country can produce, which is saying a good deal. We were, I must admit, however, on leaving Canada, a rather fresh lot. Ail of us required a great deal of training. The majority of us lacked experience, but owing to that peculiar spirit that exists in Canadians, namely that of enthusiasm in whatever they may be called upon to do and the determination to carry it out, to say nothing of the deep and fervent feeling for the country that has given them birth, that feeling under which we are ail so proud to serve, it became a very easy matter for the officers of that battalion to soon convert it into one of the most efficient battalions that tramped the veldt of South Africa. And we did a good deal of tramping. Our record as a marching regiment, I think, we can safely flatter ourselves, was a good one. The many privations and hardships, long marches and heavy outfits and the other incidents of warfare were always borne and always performed with the greatest possible good humour and always with the prevailing desire to do our duty. I could, if I had time, enumerate hundreds of instances of endurance on the part of officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the Royal Canadians. We saw a lot of service; we had the good luck to form a part of the main army which moved from the west to Bloemfontein under Lord Roberts, that army of 35,000 men which cut it self adrift from all communication and virtually broke the back and broke the hearts of the Boers. We had the honour after-wards of forming a part of the same army, and marched with it from Bloemfontein to Pretoria, and it was there that after a march of 1,000 miles, the Royal Canadians swung through the streets of Pretoria singing ‘The Land of the Maple.l (Great cheering.)
THOSE LEFT ON THE VELDT. — ‘All this was not done, of course, without loss. Many who left with me from Québec in health and spirits were left on the veldt; many others have returned with me, but not the same men, and never to be the same men again. The regiment had its full share of losses, its full share of sickness and of every other privation that falls to the lot of the soldier in active service. It may be of interest to you to hear that our deaths numbered 70, and wounded 120 and that 400 were invalided from fever. His Excellency has referred to the Royal Canadians as having been the first battalion that had the honour of rubbing shoulders with the Imperial troops. Such is the case, and I am glad to be able to tell you that that association was one of the greatest possible pleasure. Our relations with the battalions and the corps of the Imperial service were from the beginning to the end of the campaign most pleasant, and while we bring with us the happiest recollections of the different corps in the Imperial service I feel glad that I am safe in saying that the same happy feeling exists with regard to us on the part of many of the battalions of Her Majesty’s Imperial army. ‘Very soon after our arrival in South Africa we came in contact with the Cornwalls, Shropshires and our fast and lasting friends, the 1st Gordons. These four battalions ultimately formed what was known for many months in the campaign as the 19th Brigade. Other corps we met in equally friendly relations, particularly the Household Brigade. We were enabled, I am glad to say, to merit the confidence of our own brigadier, the gallant Smith-Dorrien, in our own divisional battalion, the man who was the mainspring in the defence of Ladysmith, Ian Hamilton, and that great soldier and statesman, Lord Roberts.
MANY ANXIOUS MOMENTS. — ‘One cannot, of course, go through a campaign such as occurred in South Africa without some anxious moments, and those we had. In connection with this, I might refer to one in particular, viz., in the cold, dark morning of the 27th February last, when, at 2 a. m., we began our advance on the Boer laager at Paardeberg. We experienced then trying moments, moments that none of those who have survived will ever be likely to forget. We felt in those moments that not only the reputation of the regiment, but that of Canada and the future of the campaign rested upon us. The interval between the time in which we left our own trenches until that when we came under the fire of the enemy, at less than 100 yards from their trenches, seemed an age; and it was almost a relief when their hellish fusillade came upon us, and, for the time, stopped our further progress. There were many more anxious minutes, I may say hours, which were to follow, and it was only at six a. m., when the white flag went up, that we could breathe freely, for we knew that, on its 19th anniversary, Majuba was avenged, and the Canadians had done it. (Loud applause.)
A RECORD OF GOOD SERVICE. — ‘This was only the beginning of the record of good service of Canadians in South Africa. Much more was to follow, for there were other Canadians who had come to join us. You all, no doubt, recollect the death grip with which the Second Canadian Mounted Rifles held on at Honing Spruit. You recollect the spirited march of the Canadian artillery to the relief of Mafeking. You recollect the glorious death of Borden and of Burch at Reitz Vlei, followed by that of Captain Chalmers, in an attempt to rescue one of his men (great applause), and only a month ago, we read, and heard of one of the pluckiest incidents of the war, in which the Royal Canadian Dragoons of Second Mounted Rifles saved a column of Smith-Dorrien’s and his guns. In this, as on other occasions, several officers, who distinguished themselves, were known in Toronto. Colonels Lessard and Evans, Lieutenants Cockburn and Elmsley, and while doing homage to those officers, I feel that I should not forget another Torontonian, one of my own, who was the first man on the 27th February in the Boer laager, viz., Captain McDonnell.’
MADE ARCHIE STAND UP. — Cries of ‘Stand up, Archie.’ Captain McDonnell was received with great cheering. Colonel Otter continued: ‘ We have nicknamed him ‘Light-house,’ and he will answer to that name.’