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Category: Boer War

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Aussies in The Canadian Scouts

A.T. Mahan, The South African War The 1895 Model Colt machine gun that the Royal Canadian Dragoons and other Canadian mounted units adopted after their arrival in South Africa. 

It was mounted on a carriage that could be pulled by a single horse. Here it is operated by a British team. A.T. Mahan, The South African War

Developed by the celebrated American firearm designer, John Browning, this machine gun was introduced by the Colt Company of Hartford, Connecticut in 1895. Like the Maxim gun introduced four years earlier, it operated entirely by mechanical means. The tapping of a small amount of gas generated by the combustion of the propellant was diverted to a piston, which drove back the breech block and cycled the mechanisms to load, fire, and extract. Unlike the water-cooled Maxim, this gun was air-cooled. It had a lower rate of fire, but was of lighter weight and was more easily handled. 

This .30-calibre machine gun quickly became a favourite of the volunteer mounted infantry units of the British Army, which found the lightweight weapon a natural compliment to their fast moving, highly mobile methods of warfare. Doubtless this was one of the factors influencing the decision of their Canadian counterparts to dispense with their Maxims in favour of Colts after their arrival in South Africa.

The legacy of the Canadian experience with machine guns in South Africa was that the Canadian Expeditionary Force went to war in 1914 armed with the Colt machine gun. Yet, it was the next generation of the Maxim design, the heavy Vickers gun, that was to dominate the static battlefields of that war.

Commanding Officer: Major Arthur L. “Gat” Howard
CWM 85064 Artist Unknown An American by birth, and an officer in the Connecticut National Guard, Howard was sent north by the Colt Firearms Company to operate a Gatling gun that the company had loaned to the Canadian Militia for use in the Northwest Campaign of 1885. 

A colourful and charismatic character, he soon became something of a hero of that campaign, and was given his nickname "Gat" by the popular press. He stayed in Canada, and became quite wealthy as a major shareholder in the Dominion Cartridge Factory. 

Howard offered to provide a battery of four machine guns at his own expense for service in the South African War. The Department of Militia and Defence refused his offer, although Howard accepted the position of machine gun officer in the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles (later called the Royal Canadian Dragoons).

Major Arthur L. “Gat” Howard, machine gun officer with the Royal Canadian Dragoons in South Africa, February — December 1900; founder and Commanding Officer of the Canadian Scouts, December 1900 — February 1901. CWM 85064 Artist Unknown Howard, in his mid-fifties, was an aggressive, fearless leader who fought the Boers at close quarters. 

On one occasion he only escaped capture at the last moment by detaching the machine gun from its carriage and carrying it away.

Instead of returning home with his unit in December 1900, Howard organized the Canadian Scouts and took command of the unit. 

He was killed in action on 17 February 1901. Some claim that he was captured, robbed and then murdered by a Boer.

Major Howard’s impressive military exploits were among the most dramatic in the history of Canada’s participation in the South African War.

I am told that Gat Howard gave all his men the rank of sergeant and paid the difference between a trooper's and sergeant's pay from his own funds.  

Charles Joseph Ross DSO was 2nd in command to "Gat" Howard and took command after his death until the end of the war.  Charles Ross was born in Orange NSW in 1857.

Howard's Sergeant, Edward Holland, won the VC that Gat probably would have won at Leliefontein, 7 Nov 1900, had he not been on leave. The actions that Sgt Holland carried out at Leliefontein were 100%, dyed-in-the-wool Gat Howard: mow down a whole raft of your enemies, keep firing until they get too close for you to get the Dundonald galloping carriage away, dismount the gun and ride off with it on the nearest horse you can find.

History of the Canadian Scouts

The Canadian Scouts, raised in South Africa in December 1900 and January 1901, was the brainchild of Lieutenant Arthur L. ("Gat") Howard, the machine gun officer of the Royal Canadian Dragoons. No doubt reflecting Howard’s enthusiasm for the weapon, the Canadian Scouts’ armament included six Colt machine guns, a larger number than normal. 

Howard commanded the unit with the rank of major. Most of the other officers had served as non-commissioned officers in the second Canadian contingent, among them the former commanders of the scout sections of the Royal Canadian Dragoons and the Canadian Mounted Rifles. Howard must have done a good job of marketing the Canadian reputation as scouts, for the British agreed to pay a premium for their service of two shillings a day above the customary rate.

After Howard was killed in action on 17 February 1901, at the age of 55, the unit continued as a corps of scouts but it evolved into an irregular mounted corps of four squadrons, a machine gun battery, a troop of Black South African scouts, and a transport column, in all about 475 men. By this stage, however, most of the men in its ranks were not Canadians, but included men from throughout the British Empire. 

  • Over 100 Australians served with the Canadian Scouts.

Known for disdaining standard military discipline, the Canadian Scouts gained a reputation as a group of hard-riding, implacable, and death-defying soldiers. They saw plenty of action and suffered a large number of casualties. While not officially a Canadian unit, the Scouts never fully lost their Canadian character, and certainly did nothing to diminish the impressive reputation earned by more conventional Canadian units.

Some but not all of the information here is from (with permission)


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