Wednesday Evening, February 5, 1941
Personal Reminiscences Of The Late Lord Baden-Powell
And Some Memoirs Of South Africa, From Personal Observation While A Member Of The Baden-Powell Constabulary.
Editor The Register, -
In reading an account of the memorial service for the founder of the "Boy Scout Movement," held in Berwick recently, I was forcibly reminded of the years spent in South Africa nearly forty years ago, and my close association with the then Colonel Baden-Powell, head of the Baden-Powell Constabulary, of which I was a member for five years. Its name was later on changed to the "South African Constabulary." The force was made up of Britishers, Australians, Africanders, Canadians and a smattering of surrendered Boers. It was spread out over the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal. The latter division was composed of Nos. 14 and 15 Troops from Western Canada and Ontario, Nos. 16 and 17 Troops from the Maritime Provinces. Colonel Sam Steele, a former O. C. of Strathoconas Horse, was the Controller; Capt. F. W. L. Moore, now Lieut. Col. and residing in Western Canada, was in charge of Troop No. 17, and the late Col. C. R. E. Willets of Windsor was second in command with the rank of Lieutenant.
Our duties were to police the districts and prevent, as far as possible clashing of the natives, who had an intense hatred for their former masters, and the Boers, who had returned to their former homes.
The repatriated Boers were supplied with farming utensils, seed and live stock by the British. The mules and cattle offered a great temptation to the natives, and at first we were kept busy locating stolen animals.
The Constabulary was moulded closely on the lines of the Canadian North West Mounted Police, and under the strict supervision of Col. Steele were not long in becoming an efficient police corps.
And now for a personal recollection of the late Lord Baden-Powell.
An order came from headquarters for six Canadians of the Transvaal Division to be sent to the Remount Depot at Durban, Natal, to oversee the unloading, and despatch up country of remounts and transport mules. The six men were chosen from 14, 16 and 17 Troops. No. 14 Troop sent Sgt. McBrien, who later on was knighted by the King as Sir James McBrien, and who at his death recently was the head of the R.C.M.P.. With him was Cpl. Audy. No. 16 Troop sent Sgt. Bunting and Cpl. LeGallais. The latter was a well known commercial traveller when I last saw him. No. 17 Troop was represented by Cpl. Dobie and myself.
Our headquarters was at the Lords Cricket Ground, Durban. This is a great holiday centre. Along the seashore many thousands congregate during the winter months, for a delightful climate makes sea bathing quite as enjoyable at this time of the year as in the height of summer. The horses we were receiving were from Australia. They were called "Whalers" and in many ways were counterparts of our Western "Bronchos." They had never been broken and most of them would have been good material for the wild Western Rodeos. We kept the pick, or at least some of them to be broken in, for officers "Chargers," and thereby hangs a tale.
Col. Baden-Powell arrived at Durban on an inspection tour. Our O. C.
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was an Englishman named Capt. Smith. He was very proud of his "Canadian Rough Riders," as he called us, and was forever extolling their great horsemanship. I was instructed by Captain Smith to select two of our best saddle horses and to have them at the Imperial Hotel at a certain hour and come mounted to accompany the Colonel and himself on a ride to Umgani, a suburb of Durban.
I may digress to say it had been pouring rain for hours, and how it rains in Africa! But it had stopped and the sun was shining brilliantly, but great pools of water and mud were everywhere in evidence. Our uniform was very attractive, something like the R.C.M.P., but he facings were green. A broad green felt band encircled our Stetson hats. Green shoulder straps, a tight fitting tunic, with riding breeches and Stowesser leggins made up a swell uniform. Needless to say all the outfits were turned out spick and span.
After getting the two officers mounted, I started to mount my own steed, who was a buckskin roan of uncertain temper. As I threw my right leg over I must have neglected to keep my foot high enough to clear and I gave the Buckskin a sharp prod with the rowell of my spur. Of what happened I am not now clearly cognizant. I landed sprawled out in the mud, while my horse careened wildly away. I must have presented a ludicrous appearance, with my face covered in mud and water which was oozing through my fingers. My hat some distance away in a mud puddle, and my swell uniform soiled and dirty. To add to my discomfiture I could hear Captain Smith shouting at me in language more forcible than polite, "For Heavens sake get up off the ground and send a man who can stay on a horse, to overtake us on the way to Umgani. Better send Sgt. McBrien."
After some search I located my equine friend and mounting him I talked to him in a gentle (?) way, suggesting he might restrain himself a little better under certain conditions. Long after the incident was well nigh forgotten, I illustrated a little more forcibly what I meant.
The next day the Chief arrived to inspect the workings of the Remount Depot, and I may say the boys put on an exhibition of riding that would not have disgraced an outfit from a Canadian ranch. I was sent for and on meeting me, while he showed considerable signs of merriment, he was very solicitous as to the results of my unpremeditated exhibition, and said he had had a somewhat similar experience in his first lesson in the riding school for young officers.
Many years have passed since the above happened, but time will never obliterate the memory of the courtesy of the gallant defender of Mafeking and the founder of the worldwide Boy Scout movement, the late Lord Baden-Powell.
W. H. SNYDER.
Jan. 22, 1941