A few years ago I was surprised and very pleased to discover that this gentleman was buried in a cemetery close to where I lived. I was surprise to see that someone who did such brave actions for his country was so unknown and buried in a cemetery almost forgotten by everyone. The cemetery is so small and in a remote area that I passed three times in front of the entrance before noticing the small sign of the cemetery. Today, they’ve replaced it with a larger sign that is much easier to see from the road.
Private Richard Rowland Thompson fought during the Boers’ War and was awarded the Queen’s South Africa medal with the clasps Paardeberg, Driefountain and Cape Colony. For his action he was also awarded the Queen’s Scarf. His medal and the scarf are at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
He was born in Cork, Ireland in 1877
He completed his secondary schooling at Cork’s Model School in 1892.
From 1895 to 1897 he studied for a medical degree at Queen’s College in Cork, where he was apparently a keen football player but an indifferent student. There is no record of his having written a single examination and college authorities referred to his “very bad attendance” at lectures.
After leaving university, he immigrated to Canada.
Private Richard Rowland Thompson enlisted as a medical assistant in the Royal Canadian Regiment on October 18th, 1899 in Ottawa, Ontario. His enlistment number was 7552. The battalion left for South Africa on November.
Picture of Richard Rowland Thompson
Trade: Medical Student Single Religion: Anglican
Hair: Light Brown Eyes: blue Height: 5’6” Weight: 129 lbs.
February 18th to the 27th: He was at Paardeberg, the Royal Canadian Regiment took part in its first battle, during which he showed notable courage offering assistance to wounded comrades. On the 18th he remained seven hours in an exposed position maintaining pressure on the ruptured jugular vein of Private James L. H. Bradshaw. Nine days later he went across 200 yards of bullet-swept ground to reach a wounded soldier. On finding that the man had died, he walked back to his lines in defiance of the enemy fire.
The 3 pages letter written by Lieutenant-Colonel William D. Otter recommending Private Thompson for the Victoria Cross.
His recommendation was unsuccessful. Letter of refusal for Private Thompson Victoria Cross
Instead, he became the only soldier from Canada to be awarded the Queen’s Scarf. The Queen’s Scarf was designed and crocheted by Queen Victoria and was given to men did an act of bravery on the battlefield in South Africa. Although it was never part of the British Honour and Award System and was not a higher decoration than the Victoria Cross, the scarf was given to men in order to mark their brave conduct on the battlefield. Only eight Commonwealth soldiers received such an honour.
Picture of the Private Thompson Queen’s Scarf
He was invalidated to England on July 31st, 1900 and discharge on October 30th in Quebec City, Quebec. He suffered of sunstroke followed by rheumatism.
He went back to South Africa the next year as a Lieutenant in the South African Constabulary, a position he kept less than a year before accepting employment with DeBeers Consolidated Mines at Kimberley, South Africa.
August 6th, 1903: He received his Queen South Africa Medal
He married Bertha Alexander, Cape Town, South Africa who he had met her in Canada in 1898. She sailed to South Africa to join him. His stay with DeBeers was also brief. He suffered a fatal attack of appendicitis in 1908 he was in Buffalo, New York. The 43rd Regiment (Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles) gave him the full military honours at his funeral in Ottawa, after which he was buried at Chelsea, Quebec, and then largely forgotten for many years.
In 1956 a journalist from the Winnipeg Free Press, R. S. Malone got interested in his story and published his story reviving the story of this gentleman.
Letter received from Canadian War Service Records by the Winnipeg Free Press
Article published by R.S. Malone in the Winnipeg Free Press of November 10th, 1956
Picture of Richard Thompson grave in Chelsea Pioneer Cemetery in Chelsea, Quebec.
A plaque in english at the cemetery entrance commemorating Private Thompson
A plaque in french at the cemetery entrance commemorating Private Thompson
Private Thompson gravestone
On a final note, 24 May 1965, at a special ceremony on Parliament Hill, his nephew, Samuel F. Thompson, presented to the people of Canada through their representative, Governor General Georges-Philéas Vanier, the khaki scarf that commemorates Thompson’s gallantry. The scarf is now at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, Ontario.
Picture sources – Library and Archives Canada – Canadian War Museum