Searching for the Queen’s Cowboys: Travels in South Africa filming a documentary on Strathcona’s Horse and the Anglo-Boer War
By Tony Maxwell
Here is a fine read for the month of November, during which we remember those who lost their lives in the pursuit of peace and freedom.
The Anglo-Boer war is not one that readily comes to mind when remembering the fallen, but in this very interesting account we learn of the first casualty in an attack by Boer commandos against the Strathcona’s Horse squadron. The date was July 1, 1900. The casualty was Trooper Angus Jenkins, of Red Deer. A young Red Deer man a long way from home.
Tony Maxwell was born in Africa and from a youth, was interested in the history of the Anglo-African Wars (there were two).
When he and his son discovered the Canadian connection, that is, Lord Strathcona’s Horse regiment, they resolved to search for Canada’s place in the many battles fought on African soil between 1899-1902. Their plan was to make a documentary of the battlefields, following the path of the Canadian regiment.
The roots of the trouble in Africa were land ownership and the control of it, with Britain getting more interested in the country when, first diamonds and then gold were discovered.
The author gives a clear account of these interests, putting the reader in the picture of the developing conflicts.
When the War broke out in 1899, Britain sent troops who suffered some humiliating defeats at the hands of the Boers.
The Canadian High Commissioner Donald Smith, the Right Honourable Baron Strathcona happened to be in London, and met with Queen Victoria. “Donald,” she said, “we need a regiment of your Canadian Cowboys to help us fight the Boers!”
Who could deny such a request from his Sovereign? He set about to raise, equip and supply such a force under the command of Colonel Sam Steele.
The author points out that we know Lord Strathcona from the famous picture of the man in the frock coat, and bushy white beard, hammering the Last Spike to open the CPR.
One of the charms of the book is the travel back and forth in time. We are told of a battle, the strategy (good or bad), the lives lost and ground lost or gained. Then we are transported smoothly to present day Africa, those same battle sites, and the memorial stones often bearing names of Canadians. It’s a wonderful way to learn history.
This visit to Africa had the focus of the War but the problems of Africa today become very much a part of the picture.
Because he was born and raised there, the author has an insiders view of life under apartheid, the changes that took place and present problems facing the Africans.
This very entertaining book is available from the author locally, or from Amazon.ca or Amazon.com. The price is $19.95
Peggy Freeman is a Red Deer freelance writer.