Canada & The South African War, 1899-1902

Canadian South African War Insigna
Canadian War Museum
1 Vimy Place
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0M8
Tel. (819) 776-8600
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Honing Spruit

22 June 1900

After the fall of Pretoria on 5 June 1900, the western Canadians of the 2nd Battalion, Canadian Mounted Rifles spent nearly a month guarding the railway line south of Pretoria. The country around the station at Honing Spruit, about forty kilometres north of Kroonstadt, was rolling prairie with a prominent wooded kopje (small hill) about six kilometres to the east. To prevent the Boers from approaching the station and railway using the ground for cover, the Canadians instituted a system of patrols and outposts. By day, they set up a series of four-man defensive positions: one at either end of the kopje, and one each four kilometres north and south of the station along the railway.

On 22 June, four men from Pincher Creek, in present-day Alberta, Corporal Fred Morden, Acting Corporal Thomas Miles, Privates Robert Kerr and Henry Miles (Thomas's brother), manned the southernmost post on the railway. The first action occurred as a patrol of eight Canadian Mounted Rifles neared the kopje, and were attacked by several hundred Boers. A running fight ensued before the Boers were able to ride down and capture the fleeing Canadians. But the Boers then faced an alerted Canadian camp.

While the main attack was mounted from the east, fifty or sixty Boers began to circle around to the south to attack the camp from the flank. Morden and his men, who could have laid low, or fled back to camp, or even surrendered, opened fire from the scanty protection of the half-metre high railway bed. Henry Miles was wounded in the hand almost immediately. Fred Morden sent him back to camp with the horses and a message that the post would hold out. When relief arrived eight hours later, the fight was over. Morden and Kerr were dead, and Thomas Miles lay wounded with a shattered shoulder. Two dead Boers and patches of blood on the veldt indicated that the fight had been stiff. Even when the post was reduced to one wounded man, the Boers dared not approach it too closely and eventually rode off.

The four men from Pincher Creek must have known that they were inviting death by opening fire. They also knew that if they surrendered, the Boers would likely have turned them loose in a few days. The action of these Canadians at Honing Spruit prevented the Boers from attacking the station from an unexpected direction; their sacrifice is worth remembering.