During the Boer War, also known as the South African War, my grandfather William Francis Fowle was in the cavalry. He had his own horses to look after, and he’d charge over hills and down valleys with his arm outstretched, sabre in hand. Fowle died when I was young, so I have no memories of him, but my father shared stories about my grandfather’s war experience.
Given the recent focus on the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War within Canada’s History magazine (October-November 2018), I thought it was appropriate to remind fellow Canadians about the 1899–1902 Boer War — the first deployment overseas of a recognized Canadian force.
Fowle was born in 1876 in Parbold, Lancashire, England. Growing up, he took a train to school. He loved to share stories about riding the train, like the time he ran to catch it while other children cheered him on, or the way he would try to finish his homework on board the train before arriving at school.
Little did he know that he would be “chasing trains” for about forty-seven years of his adult life: He was responsible for mail delivery in Keeler, Saskatchewan, catching the bag of mail as someone threw it off the moving train and then throwing back a bag full of the village’s mail.
My grandfather left England in his late teens to come to Canada. He served in the 90th Winnipeg Battalion of Rifles and volunteered to fight in the first Canadian contingent sent to the Boer War.
Volunteers assembled in Quebec City and departed on October 30, 1899, on the SS Sardinian, arriving one month later in Cape Town, South Africa. Within a week, the soldiers proceeded into battle.