Government of Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

CHAPTER 3: The Issues Crystallize

Summing Up (2 pages)

Canadian Opinion on the British Army

Rudyard Kipling and J.H.M. Abbott (in Tommy Cornstalk) would portray the Canadian as the champion pillager and horse thief. (Among themselves, Canadians called this a sense of initiative, an especially useful gift against the vagaries of the British logistics and remount system.) For their part, British military leaders from Redvers Buller to Smith-Dorrien had only good things to say about the valiant Canadians. Hutton, who did not easily change his mind, was more reserved. In his opinion, the Canadians' great successes were due to gallant leaders (such as himself, no doubt) and previous service with professional British cavalry units. However, he added, it was impossible for militia troopers to rise to the level of regular troops. [43]

Canadians had their own opinions of their British big brothers. Lieutenant-Colonel S.B. Steele, for example, condemned their lack of initiative: Unless ordered, the British did not budge and thus missed out on some excellent opportunities. As his stay wore on, Steele grew more critical of the British generals, their tactics and especially some of their orders, which created problems and needlessly exhausted the men. In one case, for example, they had set up bivouacs right under the guns of small groups of Boers, who soon ringed the British campfires with shells. Only then was it decided to shift camp. The British would also routinely advance without first securing the heights, which would immediately be seized by the enemy. A pointless battle would then be needed to dislodge them. 44 The records teem with examples of this type. In a situation where imperial troops were spending the night in a depression, Sam Hughes was roused by a sentry who had spotted Boers hurtling down the slope with their sights on the British soldiery. Hughes and his group, who were on the heights and passed undetected, set a trap for the Boers as they escaped into the night. The future defence minister of Canada would not be sparing in his comments on this situation and never forgave the British for an even bigger mistake: They failed to decorate him for his feat. [45]

Other aspects of imperial co-operation were destabilizing for various Canadians. Since troops were often split up into small groups, some of them were subject to British disciplinary measures without a Canadian officer being notified. For example, Lieutenant-Colonel Lessard would learn that two of his men were being court-martialled on a charge of attempting to resell to the Boers weapons they had seized from them. When Lessard got wind of this, he also learned that his two privates had been lured into their crime by a British sergeant. [46]