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South Shore Genealogical Society

Letters Home from the Front - Boer War

(If you have any personal letters you might like to contribute, have a photograph or know what happened to any of these men, please email the webmaster or the SSGS).

Boer War letters    World War I letters 1915    World War I letters 1915    World War I letters 1915-17    World War I letters 1917-18

These three letters are transcribed from, and courtesy of, the Berwick Register newspaper, Berwick NS, by Phil and Stephanie Vogler and reproduced here with Phil's kind permission. The Register Extracts and Vital Statistics are at: Berwick Register Extracts Project - a site created by the Voglers consisting of extracts from the Berwick Register newspaper. This site now hosts a collection of vital statistics (1900-1916 so far) compiled and indexed by John Parker. Lots of Lunenburg County names there.

Does W.H. Snyder have a South Shore connection? He did survive the war, was in France during WWI in 1915 and lived until at least 1933.

[Berwick Register of Thursday, May 3rd, 1900]

Principal L. D. Robinson has received the following letter from Mr. W. H. Snyder, of B. Squadron, 2nd Canadian Contingent. It will be read with interest by his friends in Berwick and elsewhere.

On board Str. Milwaukee,
Feb. 28th, 1900.

My Dear Mr. Robinson,

I have a little leisure now, and will try to get a letter ready to send to you at the first opportunity. I have just come off a twenty-four hour continuous watch, so if my letter appears disconnected, please pardon on this account, as I naturally feel a little sleepy.

We are now eight days out on our long voyage and have come about 1,900 miles. It is rumored that we will be at the Cape Verde Islands by Saturday, and that we will be convoyed by a British Man O’War from there.

The first three days out was very rough but since then the water has been as calm as a lake. I was quite sick for two days but am all right now.

We are fairly comfortable but our sleeping quarters are pretty cramped. We sleep in hammocks, wedged in like sardines. We get up at a quarter to six and go at once to stables. The horses, poor creatures! Have the hardest time. Already some eight have died and been thrown overboard.

The weather to-day is simply perfect, the sea is like a mill pond. A breeze, like one is accustomed to meet on a balmy day in June, is sweeping over the decks. I am writing this stretched out on the deck. All over the ship is hustle and bustle. Some are drilling, others at fatigue work, others at target practice, while many are reading or writing. We seem to be altogether out of the track of sailing craft. Occasionally a steamer can be discerned away off on the horizon but never near.

We have a sort of impromptu concert on board every night, consisting of Songs, Instrumental Music, Stump Speeches, &c. Occasionally a sportive whale, shark or porpoise pays us a close call.

One of the prettiest, or at least one of the most impressive sights I ever saw, was the Parade Service last Sunday at 10 a.m. Imagine a large steamer steaming rapidly over a trackless sea. On her decks some 600 men assembled in a Service of Parade One of the old, familiar tunes is given out by Rev. Mr. Lane and as the organ strikes the first note the time is taken up by hundreds of voices. The strain of praise echoes and re-echoes far out over the waters and I feel as if it must reach even the little town in the dear home land where are all I hold dear. God bless and keep all! I hope once again in the future to meet you all, but if it is my lot to offer my unworthy life for my Queen and country, I promise, God helping me, to die like "a soldier and a man."

The strange feature of our voyage seems to be the fact of being away from all news. I dare say stirring events are taking place. The general health of the men is good. Yesterday, and for two days before, we were being vaccinated. I was rather amused at the antics of some of the men when they bared their arms for the surgeon’s lancet. It took quite a while for some of them to get the proper courage. One fellow remarked to me that he always fainted at sight of blood. I wonder what he will do on the battlefield!

Today is wash day on board. Our troop have their turn this afternoon.

I must close now. Will try to write you an interesting letter from South Africa.

With kind regards to all

Your old School Boy.

W. H. Snyder.

B. Squadron, 4th Troop,
South African Field Service.

[Berwick Register of Thursday, May 24, 1900]

Green Point Camp,
Cape Town, S. A.,

April 1st, 1900

My Dear Mr. Robinson:

It is rumored about camp that we are to leave for front on Thursday, so I am going to try and get off a letter to you, as it will be next to impossible the write from there.

You doubtless know long ago that we arrived in Cape Town on March 21st, just exactly four weeks from the time we left Halifax. We met hardly any sailing craft while coming over, but once we entered Table Bay we found a perfect hive of steamers of all sizes – men of war transports. We heard of the capture of Cronje and of the relief of Ladysmith, shortly after our arrival, and cheer after cheer rent the air from six hundred of Canada’s sons. We did not know for a few hours about the gallant part our first Canadian Contingent had played in it, but when we did hear, cheer after cheer was given for our gallant comrades from the Land of the Maple Leaf.

I am wondering if you will be able to read this, for I am writing on the ground by the flickering candle. The camp where we are located along with the Regulars is about twenty minutes walk from the main part of the city. There are about 5000 men in camp.

Last week we had our first experience of an African sand storm. The sand came down like hail stones, cutting one’s face and hands till it brought the blood. Our tent blew down and our horses got frightened and stampeded. Altogether it was quite an experience.

It seemed a great change to find when we arrived here that the trees were all leaved out and the weather like our summer. The winter or rainy season is about commencing. The houses are very pretty, with beautiful lawns and gardens attached. You will meet nearly all kinds of people in Cape Town.

I was detailed, with about 150 more, to act escort to Boer prisoners yesterday. They were taken to St. Helena by the same boat that we came out in. There were about 400 of them. They took matters very philosophically and laughed and chatted. I was talking to one. He said the Boers didn’t blame Englishmen for fighting but thought that Canada had no business to get mixed up in it and that the Boers were laying for the Canadians particularly.

To-morrow we strike camp, just as if we were moving from place to place, and we have to hustle.

The cars in Cape Town, both steam and electric, are different from ours. The electrics are double deckers; the upper passengers go by a winding staircase. The steam cars are lower than ours, with three compartments and the door opens on the side.

Every day pedlars bring apples, grapes, tomatoes, eggs, pomegranate and other fruits to sell. Grapes are sixpence a pound, apples one penny apiece, tomatoes sixpence a dozen. The apples are small and insignificant.

Most of the vehicles are two wheeled and the mule is chiefly used. The natives get themselves up in very fantastic dresses.

Tell the scholars if they take their geographies and look at that picture of Cape Town and Table Bay and Mountain they will see exactly where we are. We are nearly at the water’s edge, directly opposite Table Mountain.

We are kept busy from 5 a.m., until night, continually on the go.

We will be glad to get to the front. Two of our fellows have died since landing.

April 3rd.

We go to the front to-morrow at 2 p.m. – to take part, if things turn out as anticipated, in what may be the deciding battle of the campaign.

I am well and in the best of spirits, and will give a good account of my self.

In haste,

Your old School. Boy,

W. H. Snyder

[Berwick Register of Thursday, August 2nd, 1900]

Letter from Trooper Snyder,

Guards Hospital,
London, July 15th, 1900

Dear Mr. Robinson: -

You know, no doubt, that I have been invalided to England with enteric and dysentery. For a few days after landing, I was quite “fit,” but to-day have had to re-enter hospital, very sick indeed, with dysentery and abscess of the liver. During the few days of my liberty I saw Her Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, at Buckingham Palace, also St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster, the Tower of London, Houses of Lords and Commons, War Office, Kensington Palace, Crystal Palace, British Museum, Madame Tussand’s Wax-works, etc. I have made the acquaintance of Mr. Murray, private Secretary to the Duke of Connaught. By his influence I was permitted to go into one of the Towers of Buckingham Palace, overlooking the grounds, where last Wednesday the Queen held a garden party. Glorious weather favored it, and afforded a grand opportunity for the display of exquisite toilettes, to which the beautiful garden of Buckingham Palace forms so fitting a background.

Long before Her Majesty’s appearance thousands of guests thronged the velvet lawns and shady alleys of the grounds, or floated in lazy enjoyment on the cool waters of the lake, in boats manned by the Queen’s bargemen wearing their picturesque scarlet coats and enormous black headgear, very much resembling a huntsman’s cap. Precisely at five the bands of the Royal Horse Guards, the Royal Artillery and the Irish Guards, which were stationed at different points in the gardens, struck up the National Anthem, and the Queen’s carriage, drawn by grey horses, made its appearance. I shall never forget my first impression of the Queen. She looks a good woman in every sense: - kind, motherly and sympathetic. With her was the Princess of Wales and her granddaughter. The Lord Chamberlain and Lord Steward walked on either side of the carriage which proceeded at a foot’s pace down the broad walk skirting the garden, between rows of guests standing ten deep to greet their royal hostess, who bowed and smiled. After driving twice around the grounds, during which the carriage was often stopped that her Majesty might speak to some of her more distinguished guests, the Queen entered the Royal pavilion, which was one mass of roses, orchids, lilies and ferns, and there received the diplomatic corps.

Now, if I am fit, I shall have to return to South Africa on August 9th, but the doctor ridicules the idea.


[Berwick Register of February 6th, 1902]

The following letter, recently received by Rev. D. H. Simpson, will be read with interest.

Zondogskraal, Transvaal,
Dec 12th, 1901.

My Dear Mr. Simpson.

I have been going to write to you for some time, and now as I have a good opportunity I shall not delay any longer. We are “out on the veldt” in genuine earnest. I am on outpost duty with a squad all by myself – that is, the nearest S. A. C. post that we can see is No. 14 Troop. Our own head quarters is nearer, but we can not see it from our position. The last few days we have had plenty of excitement as numbers of Boers come very close to our squad. One of my men and myself had a very narrow squeak day before yesterday. I had just come back to my post from No. 14 Troop, when away off in the Valley below I saw a stray horse making straight for the skyline, and a horseman in pursuit.

When I got down to my outpost one of the men told me that McDonald was after a stray horse. Handing my rifle over, I immediately started out to help him. As I got to the foot of the Kopje, McDonald and horse disappeared over the skyline. When I got up to the top I saw the pair disappearing over the next skyline. I followed on, but got no sight of them, so I concluded to await developments. Time passed and I began to feel uneasy. (I may say that 400 Boers under Botha and others were not more than two miles away and are still out there and we are looking for an attack everyday.) I mounted and went on. Soon I espied two horses coming towards me. I felt relieved and was congratulating McDonald on his success, when over the skyline next me I saw McDonald coming waving, his hat. At once I knew they were Boers. My first impulse was to fly, for remember we were both unarmed, but I saw that McDonald’s horse was completely played and I could not desert a comrade, so I waited. Pretty soon he was up to me, and his first exclamation was that he was almost into the Boer lines. Now our race, perhaps for our lives, commenced. The Boers got near enough to fire, and soon those little bursts of dirt around showed us that they had the range, and on we went, my horse leading the way. His tired one plucked up heart and before long we were out of harm’s way, for my outpost had seen us coming. Now we might have been all right but it was one of the narrowest escapes from death or capture I have yet had in the S.A.C.

That night we made a night march to lay for Boers, Corporal Dobie and myself being the non-commissioned officers in charge. We waited till day light but did not see any. We may go out again tonight.

It is very hot and rainy now, and miserable campaigning. I have a splendid squad under me, one lance corporal, six troopers and myself. It is called the fighting squad, as they had been considerable fighting before I took charge of it.

I am sending you a sketch of our outpost, showing our tent, trench and wire entanglements, with the skyline in the distance.

I have been offered a promotion in the Canadian Scouts, but think it best to stick where I am.

I suppose the new Canadian Contingent will have left Canada before this. It seems hard to realize that Christmas is so near, for the weather is almost killing in the intensity of the heat. Then at night we can hardly sleep for mosquitos, flies, lice, tarantulas and other vermin.

I am fortunate in having several P.E.I. men in my lot, for they are excellent fellows. Capt. Moore, of Charlottetown, and Lieut. Willets, of Windsor, our two officers, are splendid men; good, capable officers and always alive to our best interests. Lieut. Willets is the son of the President of King’s College.

We are living high on bully beef and hard tack.

I am thankful to say I am in good health and spirits.

With kindest regards and best wishes that you and yours may spend a Happy Christmas and enjoy a prosperous New Year, I am your friend.

(Corporal) W. H. Snyder,
17 Troop S.A.C.
C. (Eastern Division,) Transvaal.

Boer War letters    World War I letters 1915    World War I letters 1915    World War I letters 1915-17    World War I letters 1917-18

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