North West Mounted Police And The Strathcona’s Horse

 

 

 

 

Veteran Ric Hall researched, developed and sent us this article.

 

 

 

 

There is a dotted line connection between the Force and Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) an Armoured Regiment within the Canadian Forces dating back to the South African Wars. Although the lineage of the Regiment dates back to the creation of the School of Mounted Infantry in 1885 and subsequently the Canadian Mounted Rifles and the Royal Canadian Dragoons, the birth date of the Strathcona’s is considered to be February 1, 1900. This was the day on which the Regiment was authorized to be formed with the publication of Militia General Order No. 26. Much has been written about members of the Force who served in South Africa, while still remaining members of the NWMP, while serving with the Lord Stathconas and the Canadian Mounted Rifles.   This will serve as a bit of recap and perhaps some new details may surface that the reader may not have been aware of.

Alarmed by the frequency and the ease with which British foot soldiers were being defeated by mounted Boers in South Africa, Donald Alexander Smith, 1st Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, GCMG, GCVO, PC, DL (August 6, 1820 – January 21, 1914) offered in 1899, to raise and equip a mounted regiment of Western Canadians to fight in the campaign. Lord Strathcona, then the Canadian High Commissioner in London, believed that these ranchers, cowboys, prospectors, former members of the North West Mounted Police, and the like, who were born and bred to the saddle, able to shoot and live off the land would be a match for the Boers. His offer to form such a unit was eagerly accepted. Uniquely, the Regiment was raised as a unit of the Imperial Army and not of the Dominion of Canada, as was the case with all the other units of the Canadian contingents.

The responsibility of forming the Regiment was given to Superintendent Samuel Benfield Steele, Officer # O.40, of the North West Mounted Police. On January 26, 1900 Lord Strathcona approved Steele’s, now a Lieutenant Colonel and the Regiment’s first Commanding Officer, suggestion that the Regiment be named “Strathcona’s Horse.” On February 1, 1900, the unit was formally authorized under Militia Order Number 26/00. By February 25th, Lieutenant Colonel Steele had completed the organization and on March, 16th, 28 Officers and 512 other ranks with 599 horses (176 died during the crossing due to the heat on the horse decks) of Strathcona’s Horse sailed from Halifax on the Elder Dempster Liner, H.M. Transport, “Monterey” bound for South Africa.

Strathcona’s Horse members aboard the S.S. Monterey

Born in Scotland, Donald Smith, the future Baron Strathcona, worked his way up from being a fur trader in the Hudson’s Bay Company to its Chief Executive Officer before returning to the United Kingdom as Canada’s High Commissioner in 1896. Donald Smith is forever immortalized in what Canadian Historian Pierre Berton referred to as “The Great Canadian Photograph” in his 1971 historical documentary “The Last Spike”. For it was Smith on that cool November morning in 1885 at Craigellachie, British Columbia, who had the honour of handling the spike maul and driving the ceremonial last spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Donald Smith lays the “Last Spike”

His Canadian experience left him with a high opinion of the NWMP. Concerned by early British losses during the Boer War, Smith offered to fund a 500-man cavalry unit composed entirely of western Canadian horsemen. He appointed Samuel Benfield Steele, a Superintendent in the Mounted Police, as commander of the new force. Steele had been an officer in the NWMP since its inception, and he was a veteran of the North West Rebellion. The NWMP had an integral role in staffing Strathcona’s regiment. Ten of the 29 officers were policemen, including most of the key appointments. A majority of the NCOs were also active or former members of the Force. The mounted police held the essential positions of command in the regiment, a contribution that would be decisive in South Africa. Following their arrival in South Africa on April 10, 1900, Strathcona’s men swiftly earned a reputation as a fierce combat regiment, participating in two important campaigns: first, with General Redvers Buller’s Natal Field Force, and second, in a guerrilla campaign against Boer General de Wet. NWMP leadership was efficacious during both endeavours.

Lord and Lady Strathcona pose with Sam Steele and his officers in London, England.
The first time Lord Strathcona had actually met his Regiment.

Full disclosure below I have borrowed freely from a paper written by Kenneth Grad who is a MA candidate in History at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He graduated with a BA in History and Economics from the University of Toronto with High Distinction in 2006.

EFFECTIVE LEADERSHIP IN COUNTER-INSURGENCY: THE NORTH-WEST MOUNTED POLICE IN SOUTH AFRICA, 1899-1902

Lord Strathcona’s Horse arrived in Cape Town, South Africa on April 10, 1900 and quickly became essential to the British Army. Employed as scouts because of their background as frontiersmen and cowboys, the Regiment was involved in numerous skirmishes and bloody battles against the Boer mounted riflemen. The bravery of the soldiers of the Regiment was best illustrated by the actions of Sgt. Arthur Richardson, NWMP Reg # 3058, during an ambush at Wolver Spruit. Upon seeing one of his soldiers fall wounded from his horse, Sgt. Richardson rode back under a hail of Boer gunfire, retrieved the wounded man and brought him to safety. Sgt Richardson received the Victoria Cross for his valour.

As the London Gazette described his gallant action:

…on the 5th July, 1900, at Wolve Sprait, about

fifteen miles north of Standerton, a party of

Lord Strathcona’s Corps, only thirty-eight in

number, came into contact and was engaged

at close quarters, with a force of eighty of the

enemy. When the order to retire had been given,

Sergeant Richardson rode back under a very

heavy cross-fire and picked up a trooper whose

horse had been shot and who was wounded in

two places, and rode with him out of fire. At

the time when this act of gallantry was performed

Sergeant Richardson was within

300 yards of the enemy, and was

himself riding a wounded horse.

Sergeant Arthur Herbert Lindsey Richardson – Lord Strathcona’s Corp – 5th July 1900.

Richardson was the first Canadian to be awarded a VC in the Boer War, and one of only four awarded to Canadians during the conflict. The Richardson Building in the Strathcona Regimental lines is named after Sergeant A.H. Richardson, VC. Sergeant Richardson became the Regiment’s first recipient of the Victoria Cross due to his actions in the South African War. The Richardson Building is the Regiment’s current tank hanger.

Competent leadership was a primary reason for the enormous success enjoyed by NWMP-led units in South Africa, namely, the Canadian Mounted Rifles and the Lord Strathcona’s Horse. By utilizing personal power, NWMP officers commanded the trust and loyalty of their men. The officers of the LSH and the CMR continually displayed two important components of personal power vital to small unit combat: expert and referent power. The expert power possessed by NWMP officers in South Africa derived from their unique experience in the counter-insurgency operations typical of paramilitary duties in the Canadian Northwest. In addition, several NWMP officers in South Africa were veterans of the North-West Rebellion, a war characterized in part by guerrilla combat, which was analogous to their experience during the Boer War. NWMP competency in performing counter-insurgency operations while on the South African veldt strongly suggests that their experience from the Canadian prairies was invaluable to NWMP officers during the Boer War. Referent power, moreover, also proved decisive in maintaining the cohesion and morale necessary for effective combat. Several NWMP officers received commendations for their bravery, and the courage exhibited by those in charge undoubtedly had a salutary effect upon the morale and comportment of their men.

 Many famous names who were members of the NWMP served in the South African conflicts.   One being Commissioner Lawrence Herchmer, Officer # O.72. When the Boer War erupted in South Africa. Commissioner Herchmer was given permission to lead members of the NWMP overseas to join in this conflict. Part of his duties were also to observe and learn from the operations of other police forces, notable the British Constabulary. Imagine Herchmer’s surprise upon his return home to Canada to discover that he had been unceremoniously relieved of his position as Commissioner by Prime Minister Laurier and replaced by another of the PM’s choices, Commissioner A.B. Perry.   Another was Inspector Robert Belcher, Reg # 3 and # 25 Old Series and Officer # O.101, who was one of the originals to join the NWMP in 1873, served in the North West Rebellion and was the first Regimental Sgt. Major at the newly formed “Depot” in 1885. A close personal friend of Sam Steele, Belcher was appointed second-in-command of the Strathcona’s Horse. Finally, Lt. General Sir Archibald MacDonell (known as “Batty Mac” for his courage under fire during WWI). Another veteran of the North West Rebellion. MacDonell served as an Inspector (O.95) with the Canadian Mounted Rifles in South Africa. In 1907 he resigned from the RNWMP and transferred to the Lord Strathcona’s Horse.   He was later appointed Commanding Officer and took the regiment overseas to England in 1914.

These men all served during the South African War leaving the NWMP taking leave without pay. Individually their stories are what legends are made of.

Arguably, the man most people think of when discussion comes up about the early days of the Force is Sam Steele.

In 2004 the C.B.C. ran a TV series to determine who was the “Greatest Canadian” working from 100 down to # 1. At the end Tommy Douglas was selected as the “Greatest Canadian” (I still do not get that one…but I digress). Our very own Sir Samuel Benefield Steele CB, KCMG, MVO – “The Lion of the Frontier” was # 99, beaten out by Pamela Anderson at # 51 and Louis Riel at # 11.   Now that is interesting twist of history when you consider Sam Steele and his Steele Scouts were sent out to find and capture Louis Riel during the North West Rebellion.  But once again that is another story!

Sam Steele – The Lion Of The Frontier

Samuel Benefield Steele – Original Series Reg. # 5 – New Series Reg. # 1, Officer # O.40 – born in Orillia, Simcoe County, Ontario, January 5, 1851. Promoted to Sub-Inspector August 31, 1878, Superintendent – August 1, 1885. During his time in South Africa Steele commanded the Strathcona’s with distinction in the role of reconnaissance scouts.  Steele, however, disliked greatly what he was ordered to do by the British, which included burning towns and moving the populace to concentration camps. After the war, the regiment arrived in London in February 1901. Here they met Lord Strathcona for the first time and were presented with medals by King Edward VII during a visit to Buckingham Palace.  He retired, after serving with the Strathcona’s Horse during the Boer War in South Africa (still on strength with the NWMP) on March 1, 1903. On its return to Canada the regiment was disbanded, and the officers received honorary promotions. Steele was promoted to honorary Lieutenant-Colonel in March 1901.

After taking the unit back to Canada early in 1901, Steele returned to South Africa that same year to command ‘B’ Division of the South African Constabulary, a position he held until 1906. On his return to Canada in 1907, Steele assumed command of Military Division No. 13 in Alberta and the District of Mackenzie, and then in 1910 assumed command of Division No. 10 at Winnipeg, where he spent his time regrouping the newly named Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians)

He returned to duty during WWI rising to the rank of Major-General. He wished to serve overseas, but due to his age, he was appointed commander of the 2nd Canadian Division until they went overseas. He accompanied them to England, never making it to France, being re-assigned to administrative duties in England. Matters were complicated, however, when Canadian Minister of Defence Samuel Hughes insisted that Steele also be made commander of all Canadian troops in Europe—a slight problem, as there were two brigadier-generals who each believed the Canadian command was theirs. The issue was not resolved until 1916, when the new Minister of Overseas Military Forces of Canada, Sir G. H. Perley, removed Steele from his Canadian command after Steele refused to return to Canada as a recruiter. He kept his British command until his retirement on July 15, 1918. While in Britain, Steele was knighted, on January 1, 1918, and was made a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, and Knight Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George. Steele died during the 1918 flu pandemic just after his 71st birthday and was later buried in Winnipeg.

Photograph of Royal North West Mounted Police members carrying the casket of Major General Sam Steele. (Source of photo - Ric Hall's Photo Collection).

Photograph of Royal North West Mounted Police members carrying the casket of Major General Sam Steele. (Source of photo – Ric Hall’s Photo Collection).

Sam Steele laid to rest in Winnipeg – 1919

Mount Steele in the Yukon, the fifth highest mountain in Canada, is named after him. Due to his importance in Canadian history, particularly in the west, Major-General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele, KCMG, CB, MVO was honoured on May 11, 2000 when the former Namao site of the Edmonton Garrison was named Steele Barracks.

As well, Steele Ave., Calgary; Steele Civic Building, Orillia; Steele Creek, Yukon, west of Pelly Crossing and Steele Creek Kluane National Park Reserve; Steele Crescent, Battleford Trail subdivision, Swift Current; Steele Crescent, Regina; Colonel Sam Steele Street, Fort Macleod; Fort Steel, BC, near Cranbrook; Steele Glacier, Kluane National Park Reserve; Steele Height subdivision, Edmonton; Steele Narrows, SK near Loon Lake; Steele Narrows Provincial Park, SK; Steele Park, Fort Saskatchewan; Sir Sam Steele Junior Public School, Toronto and finally, Steele Street, Whitehorse, Yukon, are all named after Major-General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele, KCMG, CB, MVO, NWMP Superintendent. Should have just named the whole country after him!

Whatta guy! I have always said that if Sam Steele had been an American, John Wayne would have played him in a movie!   Good for us he was born in Canada.

Even Canada’s 99th Greatest Canadian was subject to crass commercialization.

Sam Steele is also portrayed, along with Jack London, in Don Rosa‘s Walt Disney comic book Hearts of the Yukon, episode 8C from The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck.

Below is a statue located in the City of Calgary dedicated to the men of Alberta who served during the South African Wars. Although not specifically dedicated to the Strathcona’s Horse the figure is a mounted member of the Regiment. The statue, unveiled in June 1914 was the last monument ever created by one of the world’s best known sculptors, Louis-Philippe Hébert.  The statue is often referred to by locals as a point of reference, incorrectly, as “the Mountie” statue. There was much controversy over who was the model for the statue. Taken from the City of Calgary’s Beltline Group web site “….it is not any particular one. It was never meant to be any one man, living or dead. The reason the rider was never identified was because the statue is of no one… and everyone. The statue is of an unknown soldier, embodying all of the traits of an Albertan soldier sacrificing himself for the betterment of his country and principles of the British peoples of the world. To attach a name, or a specific person, whether they were historical figures or models, to the South African War Memorial is not only incorrect, but it is disrespectful to those that the monument was built to remember… The ones “who sleep beneath the far-off veldt”.

It is interesting reading through the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) Manual and seeing the connection to the NWMP and the early days of the Strathcona’s Horse. Of particular note is Chapter Five – The Regimental Guidon and Colours.

ARTICLE 5503 – SILK GUIDONS:

  1. During the same period (prior to leaving Canada for South Africa) the unit received a number of flags and banners from various cities, it also received four silk guidons or pennants (pennons) from Mrs. Robert Borden, the wife of the Minister of Militia and Defence, on behalf of the ladies of the Civil Service. The guidons were presented at a mounted parade in front of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa on 8 March 1900. The four guidons, one for the Commanding Officer and one each for A, B and C Squadrons have since been lost or stolen.
  2. The silk guidons were made of red silk with a broad band of white silk down the centre, across which was inscribed the name “Strathcona’s Horse” worked in red silk. Lord Strathcona’s crest is in the left corner. The crest is oval-shaped and Lord Strathcona’s motto “Perseverance” is worked in crimson letters upon the white ground of the garter. The garter is outlined in gold and has a gold buckle. The crest is surmounted by a baron’s cornet. In the middle of the garter is a maple leaf embossed in shades of green. On the maple leaf is a beaver, in shades of brown. The designating letters “A.”, “B.”, “C.” or “C.O.”, as appropriate, are in the lower corner of each guidon. Each guidon was attached to a lance by four crimson ribbons.
  3. In 1929, the Regiment requested the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to conduct an investigation into the loss of the silk guidons under which it first fought but they were not found. In later years, however, one of the guidons was found in the RCMP Commissioner’s office. Presumably because the continued existence of the Regiment was not known, the guidon was sent to the RCMP Centennial Museum in Regina, Saskatchewan. In 1989, the Regiment requested that the “A” Squadron guidon be returned to the Regiment. This request was refused.

Photo above of the pennant, no doubt filed away in a drawer, was supplied by the Force Historian. The picture below shows similar pennants being carried by members of the Strathcona’s Horse. I wonder why the Force would not return the “A” Squadron pennant to the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) to enjoy as part of their regimental history. Just thinking out loud, unless there is some compelling reason it should be retained by the Force, perhaps it is time to return it to the Regiment it was originally given.

Photo above of the pennant, no doubt filed away in a drawer, was supplied by the Force Historian. The picture below shows similar pennants being carried by members of the Strathcona’s Horse. I wonder why the Force would not return the “A” Squadron pennant to the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) to enjoy as part of their regimental history.  Just thinking out loud, unless there is some compelling reason it should be retained by the Force, perhaps it is time to return it to the Regiment it was originally given.

The above photo was found on the City of Red Deer’s archives web site “During the War Years“. There was nothing to indicate when this photo was taken or how it related to Red Deer. But it would appear the pennants are the one’s presented to the Strathcona’s Horse by Mrs. Robert Borden. I dispatched a friend living in Red Deer to contact the Red Deer Archives to see if there was some additional information on how they came to have the photo of the four pennants.

The head Archivist could provide no further information other than to offer this….The Lord Strathcona Horse were very popular with the roughriding gun totting prairie boys and many from this area enlisted with the Regiment.”

image of Ric Hall closing block for his Photo Corner webpage

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