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
toll-free 1-800-555-5621


Zand River

10 May 1900

By 6 May 1900, the British advance northwards from Bloemfontein to the Transvaal capital of Pretoria was well underway. They encountered a Boer defensive position based on a line of kopjes (small hills) north of the Zand River, about 130 kilometres north of Bloemfontein.

The British commander planned to envelop the Boer position. On the left flank, the cavalry division would loop behind the Boer lines. On the right flank, the infantry would force a crossing of the river to allow another mounted infantry force to cross and get behind the Boer positions in an encircling manoeuvre.

The 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry, by this time reduced to approximately half strength through disease and casualties in earlier actions, would kick off the advance on the right. Before dawn on 10 May, "B" Company of the Canadians advanced towards the river. It soon came under heavy fire by a strong party of Boers in the river bed. "D" Company reinforced "B", with two more companies in support.

No one had appreciated the strength of the enemy position. There were over 800 Boers firing from protected positions. Against them were no more than 70 or 80 Canadians firing from the open veldt, although other Canadian companies were fed into the battle as they became available. The Canadians were on their own for several hours, until the threat created by the other British crossings forced the Boers to break off the engagement.

The Royal Canadians, despite having been outnumbered by better than ten to one at some stages of the battle, stood fast. Canadian casualties were remarkably light - two killed and two wounded.