Did you know that on Feb. 27, 1900, Canadian soldiers led the charge on a crucial battle for the British that helped to shape Canada’s international image and set a precedence for international wars to come in the 20th century? This crucial battle, the Battle of Paardeberg, was fought on the banks of the Modder River in South Africa during the South African War.
The Battle of Paardeberg was the first action Canadians saw in the South African War, of the early 20th century. The events of Feb. 27 began unfolding on Feb. 18 when British forces began to besiege the Boer army. Part of the attack against the Boers were 31 officers and 866 other ranks of the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. The first day of the charge turned out to be one of the bloodiest days for Canadians throughout the war with 18 dead and 60 wounded. The British then decided to wait out the Boers.
In the night of Feb. 26 and 27, Canadians led the British charge against the Boer army. Their plan to surprise attack the enemy soon crumbled and Canadians came under heavy fire. However, they stood their ground and eventually over four thousand men of the Boer army surrendered. This was the first major victory for the British.
“It also contributed to making a reputation for Canadians because they did get most of the credit for the victory on Feb 27, 1900. In that sense it [the battle] was important,” said Dr. Melanie Morin-Pelletier, from the Canadian War Museum.
The victory, however, did come at a heavy cost. Canadian casualties neared 35, the bloodiest battle for Canadians in the South Africa War.