M997.13.1a | John McCrae's Queen's South Africa Medal, 1902

Military medal
John McCrae's Queen's South Africa Medal, 1902
1902, 20th century
8 x 3.5 cm
This artefact belongs to : © Guelph Museums
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Keys to History

As a member of Canada's second contingent, John McCrae disembarked on February 16, 1900 at Cape Town, South Africa. The troops left Cape Town on March 4, 1900 aboard a transport train. John later recorded this journey in his Boer War scrapbook with photographs taken of the damage when several cars derailed.

Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier's (1841-1919) policies included a strong commitment to national unity. This solidarity was threatened by Canada's impending role in the South African conflict. While many Canadians were against fighting a war so distant and seemingly inconsequential, most English Canadians were eager to support and defend the British Commonwealth abroad. Finally, in October 1899 Laurier relented, and two Canadian contingents were dispatched to Cape Town. The British victory gave the returning Canadian soldiers a new sense of patriotic pride.

The Boers were well armed and knew their land, which left the British troops chasing them all over the countryside. Usually, after the battery had marched to the point the Boers had been located, they would find them long gone. These frustrating sorties - along with blistering daytime heat, freezing nights and little water - exhausted the men and the horses and used up supplies. The result was increased illness and a few deaths.

There is still debate about the real reasons for this war. The causes certainly included a clash of cultures, and the political and economic gains that were to be had from control of the newly discovered diamond and gold mines in the self-governed Boer settlements, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

  • What

    Of the 26 possible bars of service, John McCrae received three for his time in South Africa. These bars represent the areas where he served.

  • Where

    The bars on the ribbon indicate areas in South Africa where John McCrae fought - Belfast, Orange Free State and Cape Colony.

  • When

    This medal was awarded to John McCrae and all those serving between October 11, 1899 and May 31, 1902.

  • Who

    The first issues of this medal bore the raised dates 1899-1900. When the war continued beyond 1900, the dates were erased. This left a vague impression that is referred to as a ghost date.