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Battle of Leliefontein

In November 1900, during the South African War, the Royal Canadian Dragoons held the line when tasked with covering a British withdrawal.

7 November 1900


South African War

Royal Canadian Dragoons

On 6 November 1900, a column of British troops left the town of Belfast in the Transvaal province of South Africa. Among them were several Canadian units, including the Royal Canadian Dragoons. The Dragoons were part of the second Canadian contingent sent to South Africa in early 1900. It consisted of cavalry officers from Canada's Permanent Force, as well as new volunteers from Manitoba and the eastern provinces. Members of the Canadian Mounted Rifles and a section of the Royal Canadian Artillery, with two 12 pounder guns, were also part of our forces there.

Commandos near the Komati River

The British troops leaving Belfast were heading out to engage a large force of Boer commandos believed to have camped near the Komati River. They succeeded in driving the Boers across the river, but chose not to continue the chase. The British made camp near a farm called Leliefontein.

Boer resistance had been stronger than expected, so the British commander decided to return to Belfast. He ordered the Royal Canadian Dragoons and our artillerymen to cover the withdrawal. The Dragoons were under strength, only having roughly 100 men and a single horse drawn machine gun.

Boer attacks

Meanwhile, the Boers had received reinforcements. They were expecting the British to push their attack and were getting ready for the advance. When they realized the British were instead withdrawing, they began to attack the Canadian defensive positions at the rear of the column. They spent much of the morning attacking the Canadian line at various points.

Canadians hold the line

The bravery of the Royal Canadian Dragoons allowed the rest of the British forces to successfully pull back. In recognition of their actions, many of the Canadians received awards for valour. Notably, three of them, H.Z.C. Cockburn, R.E.W. Turner and E.J. Holland, would be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Legacy

The bravery of the Royal Canadian Dragoons allowed the rest of the British forces to successfully pull back. In recognition of their actions, many of the Canadians received awards for valour. Notably, three of them, H.Z.C. Cockburn, R.E.W. Turner and E.J. Holland, would be awarded the Victoria Cross.


Classroom materials

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Lesson plan: Ages 12-18

40 Canadians

Lesson plan: Ages 12-18

Canadian Faces of the South African War

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