CHAPTER 3: The Issues Crystallize
Canadians in Battle
The Canadians Arrive in South Africa
Whether permanent or non-permanent, Canadian militiamen were prepared for neither war nor the South African climate. Between 12 and 31 October the 2nd RCR Battalion had to be recruited, clothed, trained (though how little!), organized and shipped out. Despite a multitude of problems including almost universal amateurism, by virtue of energy and determination the bare minimum was amassed in under three weeks. As for organization, as soon as the men boarded the aptly named Sardinia on 31 October it became obvious the term did apply. Alterations were to have enabled this cargo vessel to accommodate and transport nearly 700 people. The 1,039 volunteers would be crammed in with the crew and the contingent's nurses, horses and dogs. The equipment, which had not even been inventoried, was stuffed just anywhere.
The voyage took them over an often rough sea that direly tested the endurance of Oscar Pelletier, even with his background as a sailor. For those who had never seen the sea, it was a nightmare.
The Canadians began training as soon as they reached Cape Town on 29 November. By mid-February 1900 they were ready for action. As hostilities began, the Boers had cornered the English in three towns - Kimberley, Mafeking and Ladysmith. In late February the British attempted to break open the bolt of Kimberley in the Paardeberg sector. There, the Canadians would experience their first important overseas battle as part of the 19th Brigade of Major-General Horace Smith-Dorrien, who in 1915 would direct the operations of the 1st Canadian Division in Belgium.