The South African War, 1899 - 1902, is a key event in the military history of Canada. In October 1899, the tensions between Dutch South Africans, known as Boers, and British South Africans erupted into open warfare. The government of Canada eventually responded to the crisis by recruiting, equipping and transporting two contingents of volunteers to serve with the British forces in South Africa. The British War Office paid all other costs, including pay and return transport. Later contingents were financed completely by the British War Office, with the exception of one recruited and paid for by Lord Strathcona.
Before the war ended in May 1902, over 7,300 Canadians, including 12 Nursing Sisters, served in South Africa. The South African war marked the first occasion for which Canada dispatched troops to an overseas war. The first contingent arrived in South Africa in November 1899. From then on, Canadians participated in nine important battles.
To learn more about the South African Ward, you can read For Queen and Country, Canadians and the South African War, 1899-1902 (www.civilization.ca/cwm/disp/dis008_e.html), by Cameron Pulsifer.
The Canadian War Museum published an official history called Painting the Map Red: Canada and the South African War, 1899-1902, by Carman Miller. Miller’s book includes detailed accounts of the battles and a name index. Copies are available in most public libraries.
In 2002, Veterans Affairs Canada marked the 100th Anniversary of the End of the South African War (www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/sub.cfm?source=feature/100africa) with an online exhibition.
For a detailed list of publications, please consult Library and Archives of Canada’s ARCHIVED - From Colony to Country, a Reader’s Guide to Canadian Military History (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/military/025002-5000-e.html).
About the records
A total of 7,368 Canadians served during the South African War. Library and Archives Canada holds 5,935 service files for those individuals. Unfortunately, the remaining files no longer exist. The surviving files are part of the Department of Veterans Affairs fonds (Record Group 38, volumes 1 to 116, microfilm reel numbers T-2060 to T-2090).
These files have been digitized and are available online in this research tool. Service files generally contain:
Some files also contain correspondence relating to pensions, land grants and medals.
Library and Archives Canada holds registers of Canadian recipients of the Queen’s South Africa Medal (www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/
sub.cfm?source=collections/cmdp/mainmenu/group03/qsam), which was awarded to all who saw action in South Africa between 11 October 899 and 31 May 1902. (Record Group 9, II-A-5, volumes 13, 14 and 15, microfilm reel number C-1863). Please note that those who served with the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Canadian Mounted Rifles were not awarded medals because they arrived in South Africa after the end of hostilities.
The registers are a complementary source to the service file. They provide the names of the 4,474 Canadian recipients, and indicate the clasp entitlements and sometimes the place of residence of the soldiers and nurses after the end of the hostilities. The medal registers have been digitized and are available online in this research tool. Please note that in some cases, individual entries in the medal registers do not contain the regiment name.
Land Grant Applications
Under the Volunteer Bounty Act of 1908, veterans of the South African War were entitled to 320 acres of Dominion Land. Library and Archives Canada holds the land grant applications (Record Group 38, volumes 117 to 136, numbers 1 to 7370). These applications are two-page forms that include the name of the applicant, place of residence and service summary. References to those applications are included in this research tool, but the actual documents have not been digitized.
Most veterans opted to receive scrip in the amount of $160 rather than a land grant, or sold their land grant entitlement to a “substitute”. For further information, you might wish to conduct a search in the relevant Dominion Lands Branch series (RG 15 DII9h, Aperture card books 53 to 57), which are only available on-site at Library and Archives Canada. As we lack the resources to conduct extensive research, you might wish to hire a free-lance researcher to search that series on your behalf. See: Hiring a Free-lance Researcher.
South African Constabulary
The South African Constabulary (SAC) was a force raised by the British to maintain order and security in the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal after hostilities ceased. In March 1901, 1,248 Canadians left for South Africa to serve in this unit. As those individuals were not recruited or paid by the Canadian government, few Canadian records exist concerning them. A nominal roll provides their SAC number, previous regiment and date of enlistment (Record Group 24, volume 6562, file HQ903-1).
The service files are in the custody of the National Archives of South Africa, at the following locations. We recommend that researchers contact both offices to request a search of their holdings.
National Archives of South Africa (www.national.archives.gov.za)
Private Bag X236, Pretoria 0001
Free State Archives Repository
Private Bag X20504, Bloemfontein 9300
Records held at the Free State Archives Repository have been microfilmed by the Family History Library (FHL) and are available through their Family History Centers (FHC) (www.familysearch.org/eng/default.asp). On that web site, select Library, then click on Family History Centers to identify your nearest FHC. In the Family History Library Catalog, select Title Search and enter South African Constabulary. FHL microfilm numbers are provided; however, there is no nominal listing of the contents of each reel.
Some British-born Canadians enlisted with the British forces. Also, some soldiers who served with the British Forces in South Africa later immigrated to Canada. Those British service files are held at the Public Record Office (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/) in England in the War Office 97 and War Office 128 series.
A nominal roll exists for Canadians who served in one of the British scout units called the Canadian Scouts, also known as Howard’s Scouts (Record Group 9, II-A-2, volume 340, file 20142). No service files have been located for those who served with scout units.
Killed in action
Casualties resulted from Canadian participation in the South African War. 89 Canadians were killed in action, 135 died of sickness or injuries and 252 were injured. Unfortunately, the military did not retain services files of those who died in service.
The Book of Remembrance provides the names of men who died during the war and is available on the Veteran Affairs Canada web site (www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/sub.cfm?source=collections/books/safrica).
The Canadian South Africa Memorial Association (1902 - 1909) was organized with the goal of locating the graves of Canadians who died in the South African War, and the purchase and erection of memorial headstones. Those records are held by Library and Archives Canada and include a register of the Canadians killed and buried in South Africa (Manuscript Group 28, I-8, volume 1, file 13). The register includes the following information: name, regimental number, age at time of death, name of regiment, cause of death, where buried and other relevant details, and name of next of kin. References to the register are included in this database.
About the databases
This research tool provides access to four databases containing the following records groups: the service files, medal registers land grant applications and other records.
The service files and the medal registers have been digitized for this research tool. Descriptions of those records appear in the above section.
The service files database was produced in partnership with the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (www.bifhsgo.ca/), whose volunteers provided an electronic version of the index to service files.
The search screen
The search screen allows you to search on one or more of the following fields:
Note that some entries under Given Names include only an initial. Try searching by surname only.
You can narrow the search by including additional search terms but keep in mind that if your request is too specific you may rule out possibilities of which you are unaware.
The names of the regiments are written in full, not abbreviated. For example:
Canadian Mounted Rifles
Lord Strathcona’s Horse
Royal Canadian Dragoons
Royal Canadian Field Artillery
Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry
10th Canadian Field Hospital
South African Constabulary
If you do not know the regiment and regimental number, leave those fields blank.
When you have entered your search terms, click on "Submit query". The number of hits found will be shown at the top of the results screen.
How to interpret the results
Your search results will be posted as a summary list from which you will be able to obtain more detailed descriptions.
Results summary list
The results summary list, sorted by columns, contains the following information that will allow you to rapidly assess the relevancy of the documents. Each page of the results list will default to 20 references, a value that you can change. You can export the results to a diskette or to your own computer.
The identification elements are:
The database title tells you the corresponding records group (i.e. service file or medal register). An ‘x’ under the digital image indicates there is an image attached to the entry.
Clicking on the underlined name will bring you to the detailed description
From the results summary list, you can consult one detailed description at a time.
Each detailed description includes all or some of the following information fields:
When viewing a land grant application reference, you will see the application number.
In some cases, an Additional reference is included to direct researchers to other archival records held by Library and Archives Canada related to that individual.
The content of the database entries reflect the original language used in the archival descriptions of the documents. This information was not translated.
Important note: Given that some of the original documents are very difficult to read, some information in the database may be incorrect and/or incomplete.
How to obtain copies of documents
The service files of the South African War and the medal register records have been digitized and those scanned images are linked to the database references. Researchers are permitted to print copies of those images for their personal use. If you have trouble printing an image, right click on the image, then copy and paste to your word processing program such as Word or WordPerfect.
The Land Grant Application records have not been scanned and they are not available on microfilm. However, you can request photocopies, see: Photocopies and Reproductions. When ordering copies, please note that numbers 601 to 1200 are missing and indexes covering these applications were substituted for them as they contain most of the information that would be found on the applications.
For other records, if a microfilm reel number is included in the database reference, you can borrow the microfilm. See: Interlibrary and Inter-institutional Loans.
Visitors to Library and Archives Canada are welcome to view documents and microfilm on-site. For more information, see: Preparing for a Visit.
The King’s South Africa Medal (www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/sub.cfm?source=collections/
cmdp/mainmenu/group03/ksam) was awarded to all troops who served in South Africa on or after 01 January 1902 and completed 18 months service before 01 June 1902. Records about those medal recipients are held at the Public Record Office (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/) in England in the series War Office 100: Campaign Medal and Award Rolls.
Four Canadians were awarded the Victoria Cross:
COCKBURN, Hampden Zane Churchill
HOLLAND, Edward James Gibson
RICHARDSON, Arthur Herbert Lindsay
TURNER, Richard Ernest William
Other records at Library and Archives Canada
Library and Archives Canada holds other records relating to the South African War that are not indexed by name and are not included in any database. Those records consist of pay lists, nominal rolls, reports and unit diaries (Department of Militia and Defence, RG 9 IIA3 and RG 9, IIF7). Most of these records are available on microfilm and can be borrowed through interlibrary loan.
To identify records of possible interest to you, please consult the Government of Canada Files database. Select Detailed Search Screen.
Findind Aid: 9-16 or 9-69
Keyword: South Africa
Although there are some file references to applications for service, most of those appear to be from individuals whose services were declined.
There is also a register of officers of the Active Militia who had war service prior to the First World War (RG 9 IIB4, volume 32, microfilm reel T-6958).
Some of the South African War volunteers were members of the North West Mounted Police. Please consult our N.W.M.P. genealogy page (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/genealogy/022-913.003-e.html) for more information.
For other references, you can search the General Inventory database (www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/archivianet/020123_e.html). Enter “South African War” in the Keywords box and any other keywords of interest to you, such as Strathcona.
For other Canadian records not held by Library and Archives Canada, consult the Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN) database (www.archivescanada.ca/english/index.html).
Library and Archives Canada gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa Ontario Genealogical Society (www.bifhsgo.ca/) without which this project would not have been possible.