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Boer soldiers invaded the British Natal and Cape Colonies and subsequently laid siege to ill-prepared British troops at Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberly.The attacks galvanized pro-British sympathies throughout the Empire, whipped up by nationalistic newspapers.Australia and New Zealand sent troops to assist the Mother Country in its hour of need.In Canada, public opinion in English Canada was likewise strongly in favour of Britain and the uitlanders.In Ottawa, imperial sentiment was strong, even reportedly among its francophone population.One such resident opined that “French Canadians had no reason to be other than loyal to England…England had dealt fairly with us and we should be unhesitatingly be loyal.” Another said “Every British subject, whether of French or any other extraction, should be willing to bear the responsibilities of Empire.” Of the first 1,000 volunteers to serve in South Africa in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry under the command of Colonel Otter, sixty-seven came from the Ottawa area.The return of “D” Company was signalled by the ringing of the City Hall bell, a refrain that was taken up by church bells across the city.
Thirty-one Canadian soldiers lost their lives in the battle, including two Ottawa men. Boer losses amounted 350 killed or wounded and 4,019 captured.
Thirty-one Ottawa veterans arrived home at 2.45pm on Saturday, 3 November 1900. Wilfred Campbell, who lived in Ottawa, penned a poem to welcome them.
Titled Return of the Troops, the first verse went: Canadian heroes hailing home, War-worn and tempest smitten, Who circled leagues of rolling foam, To hold the earth for Britain.
The Boer War was a nasty colonial conflict that pitted Britain against two Boer (Afrikaans for farmer) republics called the South African Republic, also known as the Transvaal, and the Orange Free State. The first, in which the British got a drubbing, lasted from 1880 to 1881, while the second more famous one lasted from 1899 to 1902.
The wars resulted from British imperial designs over southern Africa butting up against the desire by Boer settlers for their own independent, white republics.