First Five-nation War

QUEBEC has already lived so many hours of glorious life that she can no longer make new history except on old historic ground. But, even in Quebec, there could hardly have been a stranger coincidence than that the first men to represent the Dominion in an all-Imperial war beyond the seas should have sailed from the very spot where their racial ancestors first united to keep Canada within the Empire. The Allan wharf, where the First Canadian Contingent embarked for South Africa in 1899, is close beside the base of the Citadel cliff, where Montgomery fell defeated in 1775, while attacking the Près-de-Ville barricade, which was defended by ” the undaunted Fifty” French- and English-speaking British heroes who stood there at bay, ” safeguarding Canada.”

But the attention of the expectant patriots thronging the Esplanade was wholly centred in the moving present. The one historic fact they thought of was that Canada’s first Imperial thousand had mustered, armed and sworn allegiance in the world-famous Citadel, and that no knight of old had ever made his vows at any shrine more sacred to the God of Battles than their own Quebec. The war had kindled the fire of their new national pride. The start of the First Contingent fanned it into flame. Every part of Canada was represented in arms ; and every form of her national life was equally represented by those who had assembled at Quebec to give the Contingent a befitting farewell. Lord Minto, representing the Sovereign, was him-self a veteran of the North West Rebellion, the Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, and the Minister of Militia, Sir Frederick Borden, had both taken arms in defence of Canada against the Fenian Raids, and the General, Sir Edward Hutton, had served through the previous Boer War. All four addressed the troops in stirring words, and the General rightly reminded them that they were expected to wipe out the shame of the surrender after Majuba.

It was certainly one of the greatest, and perhaps one of the most significant, scenes ever witnessed in Quebec. But, for me, it was, and always will be, little more than the setting of another scene, which holds only the single figure of my greatest chum. Jack Ogilvy had already done well in the Yukon Field Force, which was sent up to keep order in the mining camps during the first great gold-fever in the Klondike. He had re-turned just in time for the war, and was appointed Assistant-Adjutant, a greater honour than such a very subordinate position would have been under other circumstances. There were more than ten covetous applicants for every vacancy, and at least twenty officers anxious for each appointment ; and jack was only a junior subaltern of twenty-five, up. His scheme was carefully planned and skilfully executed. His widely extended line was riding warily through sparse scrub when it began to close in on the Boer position. This, as so often happened, was well concealed and placed considerably in front of where an attacking force would have naturally expected to find it. But the sudden sharp crackling of hidden Mausers did not take him unawares, when it burst out just in front of where he was leading his centre. Some of the Boers began to bolt, others were evidently determined to stand their ground. In the twinkling of an eye Jack chose the only proper course. Rising high in his stirrups he shouted the one word “Charge ! ” His nearest men cheered ; and in an instant his whole line quickened responsively to right and left and swept forward at full gallop. He saw the enemy divided in opinion and lost. He felt his charge would carry home, while his wings would certainly outflank and perhaps envelop them. Now he knew he had ” done something.” This was his plan, his battle and his victory. For one vivid moment his ardent spirit blazed with the joy of triumph. The next, he and his horse crashed prostrate against the little stone sangar, both shot by the same bullet. An old grey-bearded Boer had marked him down as the leader and let him get so close that the bullet went mortally deep into his groin after passing through his horse’s neck. The Boer ran for cover as soon as he had fired. But one of Jack’s subalterns was too quick for him, riding him down and shooting him straight through the heart.

The doctor shook his head when he saw where Jack was hit, and at once pronounced the wound fatal. But the heroic heart still beat with the wings of victory. “They got me,” he said, ” but I got them ” ; and he laughed. Then his mind turned to her who was giving up a newly-won but assured career as one of the world’s great singers to marry him, a junior Captain, as poor as he was gallant. And, with the words of this dying message on his lips, the last spark of his conscious life went out.

None but a very few have ever heard of Klipgat in the Transvaal. It is, indeed, no more to the world at large than any other obscure, outlandish name that appears among other minor items of war news, and is forgotten as soon as read. And, even of those who followed the fortunes of the war at the time, how many remember now what happened there on the 18th of December, 1901 ? Only a handful of friends know this for the place and date of that far-off little skirmish. But these, who feel, most of all, that their loss was untimely, are yet the very friends who can never regret the manner of it. For this was jack’s own battlefield. And he fell victorious.

At the time of his death Jack held commissions in three different corps, all of which paid his memory such honour as they could. The South African Constabulary escorted him to the Gordon Highlanders, who buried him at Pretoria, in the plot of ground where so many more of their officers were laid to rest with the wail of the pibroch for their requiem. And the Royal Canadian Artillery in Quebec wore mourning for a month.

But he received even greater distinction on the 15th of August, 1905, when the Quebec South African Soldiers’ Monument was unveiled by Lord Grey, the Governor-General of Canada, in the presence of Prince Louis of Battenberg and the officers and men of his Cruiser Squadron, of the whole garrison of Quebec, and of a concourse of people as great as that which had bidden the First Contingent farewell on the same spot six years before. Here the last honours were paid to one officer and eleven men, who, in life, would have saluted and waited for the orders of any one of the leaders present-naval, military or civilian ; but who, by the transfiguration of heroic death, had now won the unquestioned right of themselves receiving the salute of the greatest in the land.

Jack’s friend and mine, Frederick George Scott, wrote the quatrain on one bronze shield :-

Not by the power of commerce, arts or pen Shall this great Empire stand ; nor has it stood ; But by the noble deeds of noble men, Heroic lives, and heroes’ outpoured blood.

And I wrote the four words at the head of the other, which was the roll of honour containing the names of the twelve who died FOR EMPIRE, CANADA, QUEBEC.