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Forgotten valour – The only Canadian soldier to win the Queen’s Scarf of Honour

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

–For The Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon

September 2017

In the small Chelsea Pioneer Cemetery in Chelsea, Quebec, is the final resting place of a Canadian soldier and veteran of the South African War: Private Richard Rowland Thompson, who served with distinction with the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.

Thompson survived the war and returned home, but died in 1908 from a sudden illness.  He was buried with full military honours.

For almost 60 year afterwards, Thompson and his valour were forgotten to history and his grave went unattended and neglected.  It was through the efforts of a small group of people, including the Gatineau Valley Historical Society, that the valour and story of the only Canadian soldier ever to win the Queen’s Scarf of Honour is honoured today.

The Queen’s Scarf of Honour is an award given to soldiers at the rank of private for special gallantry during the South African War of 1899-1902.  Queen Victoria personally knitted eight scarves, so receiving one was a tremendous honour.

Thompson was awarded The Queen’s Scarf for exceptional courage during the Battle of Paardeberg, when he went to the aid of wounded soldiers on two separate occasions on the 18th and 27th of February.

While The Queen’s Scarf is not comparable to other valour awards like the Victoria Cross, for which Thompson was originally nominated twice, one must have been nominated for the Victoria Cross to be eligible for one of them.

Thompson’s story was pretty much forgotten until 1956, when Brigadier General R.S. Malone, Vice President of the Winnipeg Free Press and a noted public relations officer with the Canadian army during the Second World War, wrote an article about Thompson.

However, nothing much came of Thompson’s story until 1964, when the army’s information department at DND headquarters in Ottawa tasked Bombardier Kenneth Richardson with tracking down more information on Thompson, including the locations of his gravesite and the scarf.

The scarf was found to be in the possession of Thompson’s descendants in his birthplace of Cork, Ireland and his grave was located in a small, neglected pioneer cemetery about 10 km north of Ottawa in Chelsea , Quebec.

In May 1985, the revitalized cemetery was rededicated by the National Capital Commission in conjunction with the Historical Society of Gatineau, the owner of the cemetery, in a ceremony that featured a Quarter Guard from the Royal Canadian Regiment, who honoured their long-deceased regimental hero.

Two cedar benches bearing the regimental insignia were placed by Thompson’s grave, which were officially dedicated by Major-General Frank Norman, Commandant at Royal Military College.

A Remembrance Day service has been held at Thompson’s gravesite every year since 1986.

Thompson’s scarf is now on display at the Canadian War Museum in the South African War section, on “permanent loan” from the family.


Sources:  http://www.quesnelobserver.com/community/local-knitter-recreates-the-scarf-of-honour, http://www.warmuseum.ca/cwm/exhibitions/boer/queensscarf_e.shtml, http://www.gvhs.ca/news/remembrance/pulsifer.html, Sentinel magazine, June 1986.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/forgotten-valour-the-only-canadian-soldier-to-win-the-queens-scarf-of-honour/

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