The South African War (1899-1902) is a key event in the military history of Canada. It was the first time in its history that Canada dispatched troops to an overseas war.
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.
Canadians participated in nine important battles between the November 1899 arrival of the first contingent in South Africa, and the end of the war in May 1902.
To learn more about the South African War, consult Dr. Cameron Pulsifer's article entitled For Queen and Country, Canadians and the South African War, 1899-1902.
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 2012, Veterans Affairs Canada marked the 110th Anniversary of the End of the South African War with an online exhibition.
For a detailed list of publications, please consult Library and Archives of Canada's From Colony to Country, a Reader's Guide to Canadian Military History (Archived).
A total of 7,368 Canadians and 12 Nursing Sisters served in South Africa. This database brings together three groups of records pertaining to the South African War: the service files, medal registers and land grant applications.
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:
- attestation paper, with a physical description of the recruit;
- service history;
- medical report;
- discharge certificate; and
- notation on medals awarded.
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, which was awarded to all who saw action in South Africa between 11 October 1899 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.
The King's South Africa Medal 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 National Archives 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
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. Please consult Hiring a Freelance Researcher for further information.
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).
To identify records of possible interest to you, please consult Archives Search. Enter "South African War" in the Keywords box and any other keywords of interest to you, such as Strathcona.
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 the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) - Personnel Records, 1873-1904 page for more information.
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:
(Important note: We recommend that researchers contact both offices to request a search of their holdings.)
National Archives and Records Service of South Africa
Private Bag X236, Pretoria 0001
Free State Archives Repository
Private Bag X20504, Bloemfontein 9300
The South African Constabulary personal files, 1900-1912 have been microfilmed by the Family History Library. Please note that while microfilm numbers are provided, 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 National Archives 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.
Veterans Affairs Canada's Book of Remembrance provides the names of men who died during the war.
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. The Canadian South Africa Memorial Association fonds held by Library and Archives Canada includes 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.
This database provides access to the following: records service files, medal registers, land grant applications and other records.
The service files and the medal registers have been digitized.
The search screen enables you to search by:
- Given names
- Regimental number
Note that some entries under "Given names" include only an initial. In some cases, you may want to 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 Scouts
- 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". 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.
Search Results Page
The search results page displays the following fields:
- Item Number
- Given Name
- Regimental Number
- Type of Records
Click on the underlined Item Number of a record to access the Item page, which contains additional information specific to that record.
The item page has digitized images of the some of the original records available in JPG format and contains the following fields:
- Given Name(s)
- Regimental number
- Unit Name
- Type of Records
- Page Number
- Item Number
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.
To suggest a correction, click on the Suggest a Correction link to access an electronic form.
To return to the Search Results page, click on the Back button of your browser in the upper left corner of your screen.
How to Obtain Copies
The service files of the South African War and the medal register records have been digitized. You can print the images or save the images on your computer. To print a copy of a scanned image, right click on the image, select copy, then paste to your word processing software, using the Edit: Paste Special Feature: Device Independent Bitmap.
The Land Grant Application records have not been scanned and are not available on microfilm. However, you can request photocopies by visiting Copy services. 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.
How to Access Library and Archives Canada Records.
Library and Archives Canada gratefully acknowledges the contribution of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa, without which this project would not have been possible.