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Chaplain Peter Michael O’Leary 2nd SS Bn RCRI Second Anglo-Boer War Heroic Deeds


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The below are snippets....Chaplain Peter Michael O’Leary, 2nd SS Bn, RCRI, Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899 – 1900, Heroic Deeds.

Father Peter Michael O’Leary, Roman Catholic Church…The present officers of the (8th Regiment Royal Rifles, Quebec) are: CO. Hon. Lieut. -Colonel W. M. Macpherson. Chaplains Rev. P. M. O’Leary and Rev. F. G. Scott (hon. captains)….

The Evening Telegram, St. John’s NFL, Jan. 15, 1901. — Rev. Father O’Leary. — A Sketch of the Popular Roman Catholic Chaplain with Colonel Otter’s Force. — THE Revd. P.M. O’Leary, now better known to an appreciative world as Father O’Leary, the heroic and devoted Roman Catholic chaplain of the Royal Canadian Regiment in South Africa, is a product of the Ancient Capital. Needless to say, he is of Irish descent. From both the paternal and material sides the purest Celtic blood flows in his veins. He is one of the three surviving sons of one of Quebec’s most respected former citizens, the late Mr. Maurice O’Leary, in his lifetime one of the City assessors, and one of the founders of St. Patrick’s Church, Quebec, of which he was also for many years treasurer, as well as one of the trustees of St. Bridget’s brothers, Mr J.M. O’Leary reside in Ottawa, where he holds an important position in the General Post Office Department. The other, Mr. Thomas O’Leary, is the well known custodian of the Chateau de Ramezay, Montreal.

Father O’Leary was born in Quebec, June 28th, 1850, so that he is now in the fifty-first year of his age. He was educated at Laval Model School, the College of St. Ann le Pocatiere and at the Quebec Seminary, where on the completion of his college course he studied theology, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1879 by the then Archbishop of Quebec, the late Cardinal Taschereau,. Shortly afterwards he was named as vicar or assistant to the late Father Drolet, parish priest at Sillero, and made himself exceedingly popular among the mixed population of that parish, by his thorough identification with all their needs, spiritual and temporal, so that when he left them to take charge of a parish of his own in Laval, in the county of Montmorency, his departure was viewed with the deepest regret by all, and made  the occasion of a very remarkable demonstration in his honor, in which every element, Protestant and Catholic, Irish and French took part...........

Though poor in world’s goods, his big Irish heart beats responsive to every appeal of human want or suffering, while his jovial, sympathetic nature renders him one of the most delightful of friends and companions. With his broad, tolerant, Christian spirit, the whole world is acquainted. — Ottawa Free Press.

Father O’Leary’s Endeavours in Perseverance Received High Praise From All!… —

Private Charles Harrison, of 2nd ss RCRI, F Coy Quebec wounded in the wrist at Paardeberg, just before Cronje surrendered. — I was near poor Lester when he was killed and helped to bury him and Corporal Goodfellow who was killed at his side. We had crept up near the Boer laager, supported by the Gordons, and got right near the enemy’s laager when we were discovered. Three distinct sheets of fire broke forth and we threw ourselves face downward, but one bullet reached my wrist.

I was sent to the New South Wales Hospital, where I received excellent treatment. Later I went to Kimberley, and was well attended. Lord Methuen visited the hospital and I had a handshake from him. He sent us pipes and tobacco and other luxuries. Private Angus Sutherland, of the Duke of York’s Canadian Hussars, was wounded at the capture of Cronje. He belonged to F Company, and while charging for the trenches during the night was struck by a bullet which first struck his helmet and afterward ploughed along his spine. He is as well as ever again, however. We were in the most dangerous position, said Private Sutherland, and had crept up within from thirty to fifty yards of the Boers’ laager, when all of a sudden some one struck a meat can, and ail at once three sheets of fire broke forth a few yards in front of us and we dropped right down on our faces.......

My stay in England was exceedingly pleasant. Since June 6th I was at Stockwell and was overwhelmed with kindness by everybody with whom I came in contact. Private Percy Thomas, of Montréal Hussars, who is looking hale and hearty, was wounded at the first Paardeberg engagement on the memorable Sunday, February 18th, 1900, when the first Canadian blood was shed for the defence of the grand old flag in Africa. He was wounded early in the engagement, the mauzer bullet entering his right breast and going diagonally right through his lungs. He said to the Star: ‘I felt no pain and did not know just what happened to me. A slight stinging as the bullet ploughed its way through my flesh was the only sensation I experienced at the moment, but I immediately grew weak and fell to the ground......

Letter received from Private James Herrick, a Londoner with the first contingent, written under date Bloemfontein, March 16th, says he is in good health: — They say the Canadians are devils to fight. I tell them that is what we came for, to go to the front and hold up the Maple Leaf forever, and I think we did our part. We have a chaplain with us named O’Leary. He is a Roman Catholic priest, and he is a grand old man, and every man on the field likes him. He was right in the field all day of the fight. He was better than a doctor to some of the men. He is an old man. You would pity him if you could see him at night, when we go into camp, covered with dust from head to foot. We are now at Bloemfontein. I hope this is the last of the war. We have had our share of the fighting. We lost three men from London. Smith is the only one I knew: White, of Windsor, and Donegan......


Rev. Father Peter M. O’Leary Feb. 18th 1900 Anecdote: — “Canada may well be proud of her noble boys. It is true that ma once happy home is now in mourning since the fatal 18th day of February, but the deep sorrow that has entered into the hearts of the loved ones far away will undoubtedly be tempered by the consoling assurance that all have done their duty—all, every one. So say the brave Gordons, the famous Black Watch, the Argylls, the Seaforths, the sturdy Cornwalls,—so say they all. And oh, that wild mad charge against an invisible enemy. Never shall I forget it, nor shall I attempt to describe it at least for the present. Hell let loose would give but a faint idea of it.......

Darkness settled down on that well-fought field, mercifully casting a veil over the horrors. Then began the search for the dead and wounded. In the total darkness, for the least light drew the enemy’s fire, we groped over the ground, everywhere our hands steeped in blood, blood, blood. From all directions faint moans, coupled with pitiful pleadings for “water, water,” reached our ears. Accidentally one would stumble over a friend. Then what pathetic scenes would take place—a message for home—”Tell mother, etc., etc.,” or perhaps: “Don’t leave me, it won’t be long.”

The moon soon rose over the weird scene and shed its peaceful rays on many an upturned face, and many of them calm and placid in death. That night myself and a few devoted fellows remained until late on the fatal field, exploring every nook and corner for the wounded, often meeting with the mangled dead, until at last our strength gave out, and reaching our line we threw ourselves on the hard ground seeking rest and forgetfulness in sleep. So did most of the survivors. Hardly a word was exchanged, for all were exhausted, what with a forced march of twenty miles the preceding night and the trying ordeal of that long, long day. Monday morning we gathered our dead together, and buried them.................

Ottawa, April 20th, 1900. — Chaplain O’Leary, of the first contingent, writes his brother, James L. O’Leary, of the Post Office Department, from Bloemfontein: — One particular incident may interest you. In Sunday’s battle (Paardeberg), when the enemy’s fire was most furious, we had taken shelter in open as best we could, until a lull in firing would allow us to rush forward. Behind an ant hill, I lay prone, sharing the tiny shelter with one of the Black Watch. Finding that there was not room for two, I decided on making a dash for a little mound some fifty yards forward. As I raised myself on my hands and knees, preparatory to a dash, I remember him calling out, ‘My God, sir, take care. God speed you.’......................

Wyneberg, July 2nd, 1900. — My dear Miss Van Felson…Your welcome letter and ever so welcome parcel only reached me a few days ago, no one is to blame for delay, The mail service is quite demoralized of late. Needless to say how overjoyed the dear boys in hospital here were to receive the precious gifts you procured for them, and they have ail commissioned me to thank you in their name. The Almighty will certainly reward your zealous endeavour. I hope to be going up country again, some of these days after recovering from an attack of deadly enteric; and I shall distribute the balance of devotional articles along the line in the many hospitals.....................................

Rev. Father O’Leary Kind Letter From The Countess of Dudley. — Ottawa, September 17th, 1900. — A very kind letter has been addressed by the Countess of Dudley to Father O’Leary, chaplain to the first Canadian Contingent, in which she says: —  “I hear that you have been invalided home from South Africa and I venture to write and ask whether you would allow me to have the great pleasure of being of any use to you and of offering for your acceptance the loan of one of the houses mentioned on the list enclosed, or of apartments at any of the hotels in England or abroad, whilst recruiting your health........

FOR THE FLAG or Lays and Incidents Of The South African War By Mrs. MaCleod, 1901, p. 92-93. — Daylight began to come, and we could see that we had them; but still we continued our fire. Then the word flew along our line that the enemy was flying a white flag. Knowing of their treachery on other occasions we did not at once stop firing. Then we saw several white flags waving in their line, and we got the order to “cease.”.......................


After the Battle of Paardeberg, Chaplain O’Leary’s Prayer Too the Dead: —

“We gathered from the gory field
Those who had earned their crown;
And tenderly we wrapped them round,
Each in his shroud of brown.

“Among the thorn trees in the glade
Our heroes gently sleep;
And though nor maid nor mother dear
By that lone grave may weep.

“Beneath the spreading hawthorn wild
As peacefully they’ll rest
As if the flowers of Canada
Bloomed sweetly o’er each breast.

“Rough stones from off the dismal veldt
Shield well their lowly bed;
We piled them high and set a cross
As guardian at the head.

“And scribed thereon our comrades’ names
That all who mark that mound
May learn that every patriot heart
Doth sleep in hallowed ground.

“Then, crushing back the rising sob-
Deep feeling unexpressed;
We took one last, sad, lingering look
And left them to their rest.

Looks like I surpassed the alloted amount......
Part II.

Paardeberg, Feb. 22. — “The Canadian Regiment has done admirable service since its arrival in South Africa. I deeply regret the heavy loss it suffered during the fighting on the 18th and beg j’ou will assure the people how much we all admire the conspicuous gallantry displayed by our Canadian comrades.”

P. 121-122, — CHAPLAIN O’LEARY. — “Chaplain O’Leary has been specially mentioned in despatches, and will probably be awarded the Victoria Cross.”

“We lay for fourteen hours on our faces and hands with bullets flying over our heads. But nobody flinched when we saw Father O’Leary, 68 years of age, walking about, smiling and talking to the men. He helped all night looking for the wounded and performed, next morning, the last rites at the graves of our heroes who died.”.........

The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, Nov. 5th 1900. — Father O’Leary. — The Gallant Chaplain Given a Grand Reception at Quebec Yesterday. — Quebec, Nov. 4— The reception tended today to Rev. Father O’Leary catholic captain of the first Canadian contingent, was the most enthusiast of all the polite demonstrations in the same nature. The heroic chaplain arrived with a dozen invalided soldiers by the steamer Cambroman from Liverpool this morning and landed from the government steamer Druid which they had been transferred the Queen’s wharf about 2 o’clock this afternoon. Detachments of the RCA and of the RRCI were there transport him to the skating rink where he addressed of welcome and praise of …in gold were presented to him. The surroundings of the Queen’s wharf and cities streets on the line of march were.........

The Quebec Chronicle. — Quebec, Monday, November, 5th 1900. — Nobel Chaplain Of The Canadians. — Returns to the City of His Birth. — An Outburst of Enthusiasm. — A Triumphal March From The Wharf to The Skating Rink — Twenty Thousand People In The Streets. — The Heroes Removed From Father O’Leary’s Carriage — Willing Hands Drag It Through The Streets — Enthusiastic Cheering At All Points. — Yesterday’s demonstration in honor of Rev. Father O’Leary, Roman Catholic chaplain to the first contingent to South Africa, was undoubtedly one of the most popular and enthusiastic ever witnessed in this city. The acts of heroism displayed by the brave chaplain on the field of battle had been frequently referred to by the men who had returned from the war and the citizens of Quebec had fully resolved to tender him a reception to which he was justly entitled.......

The s.s. Cambroman, on which Rev. Father O’Leary had taken passage, was expected in port between eight and nine o’clock yesterday morning, but owing to fog only arrived at 10.15, and moored at the G.T.R. wharf, Levis. The Government cruiser Druid, having on board Messrs. W. Lee, J.U. Gregory, Mayor Fages G. Gale and P. Lewis, members of the Reception Committee, west down the river a short distance to meet the returning hero and moored alongside of the Cambroman at Levis. When the steamer was made fast Rev. Father O’Leary was seen on the upper deck and was given a cheer by those on the wharf, which was immediately taken up by the passengers........

As Rev. Father O’Leary been vicar at Sillery in 1884, the Committee decided to land him at that place for a short while, so as to allow him sufficient time to see Rev. Father Maguire and Rev. Mr. Audet, chaplain of the convent. Although his arrival was far from being expected, a number of his former parishioners were on the wharf and received him with great enthusiasm, which was renewed again by a very large number when he took his departure. The scene between the chaplain and a number of his old parishioners on his return to the wharf was very touching one and can never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.....................

Rev. Father O’Leary on leaving the cruiser was received by Pro-Mayor Tanguay, Hon. R.R. Dobell, Lt.-Col. Pelletier and the members of the Committee and escorted to a carriage driven by four horses. On entering the carriage he was presented, on behalf of his former parishioners of Sillery, with a magnificent basket of flowers, he also being the recipient of several other bouquets on behalf of some of the citizens. The Triumphal procession then started, Capt. Fennee acting as marshal, being fallowed by a detachment of police and the St. Patrick’s band, the latter being fallowed by a carriage drawn by four horses and containing Rev, Father O’Leary, Pro-Mayor Tanguay, Lt.-Col. Pelletier and Mr. Thomas O’Leary..........

It was at first intended to present the address and testimonial at the City Hall, but owing to the immense crowed it was deemed advisable to go to the Skating Rink, where thousands had already assembled. From the Queen’s wharf to the Skating Rink it is estimated that at least 20,000 citizens viewed the procession, and all along the route the cheering was continuous and enthusiastic. When the carriage containing Father O’Leary had reached the Place d’Armes, opposite the Terrace, the four horses were unhitched and ropes attached to the carriage, which was drawn up to the Skating Rink by hundreds of citizens. Upon arrival at the Rink the crowd cheered and cheered, and it was sometime before Pro-Mayor Tanguay could read the fallowing address: — To the Reverend Father Peter O’Leary, Roman Catholic Chaplain of the First Contingent in South Africa. Reverend Sir: — Your fellow citizens of old Quebec, of all elements and creeds, are proud to be the first to welcome you back to your native soil. You were born and reared among us; you are one of ourselves, and we feel that by right this great honor, as well as pleasure, legitimately belongs to us more than to any other community in this wide Dominion. We, therefore, eagerly seize this glad occasion not only to manifest our joy at your safe return to our shores, but to publicly pay to you the tribute of our heartiest admiration and to gratefully acknowledge our deep indebtedness to you for the world-wide lustre which your heroic and truly Christian conduct during the war in South Africa has shed upon the name of Quebec and Canada. We are aware that your well known modest, as well as your priestly character, will lead you to deprecate the attaching of anything like exaggerated importance to what you conceive to be merely the performance of your sacred duty, for which you expect no special thanks. But peace has its triumphs as well as war, and your fellow-citizens of Quebec, as well as your fellow-countrymen of the Dominion at large, must be excused if they except the universal verdict that seldom ever before was the holy and peaceful mission of a Minister of Christ, in the midst of a hell of war, more devotedly, more heroically and more triumphantly carried out than it was by you, sir, in your quality of Roman  Catholic chaplain of the first Contingent in South Africa.

The praises of the good, the brave Father O’Leary have been so incessantly sung by all, that we would be singularly devoid of emotion if they did not find an echo in our hearts, and thrill us with pride and gratitude for the precious services which you so modestly depreciate, but which reflect so much honor upon yourself, your native city and Canadians in general. We have the unanimous testimony of our own brave boys, who have so freely watered the South African veldt with their blood in defence of the Empire, that you were none more than a spiritual father and guide to them, that in darkest hours of the terrible ordeal through which they have passed you were always there to comfort and cheer them, and that wherever the deadly hail of battle and the dying were thickest you were ever in the firing line to your sacred calling, true to the proverbial valour of your race, helping the wounded and ministering to the departing souls with the most complete disregard of your own personal safety. And when the grim spectre of deadly disease stalked through the camps and decimated the ranks, when the fever wards of the army hospitals were filled with sufferers, many of whom, alas, will return to us no more, who could be more kindly and loyal to the sacred duty than you, until you yourself were stricken down by the terrible malady, from the effects of which we regret to perceive you have not yet fully recovered, but which we earnestly hope to soon see thoroughly removed by the bracing air of Canada.

L.A. Cannon Geo. Gale, Joint Secretaries. — At the conclusion of this address an envelope containing a cheque for $500.00, was handed to Rev. Father O’Leary on behalf of the citizens. Upon listing to the respond the hero of the day was received with loud and prolonged cheering, which lasted for several minutes. He began by thanking the citizens of Quebec for the reception they had tendered him, remarking that he never would forget the kindness shown him by his fellow-citizens. He did not consider that he had deserved any more praise than other officers and men who had volunteered to serve in South Africa, and he had heard nothing but praise on all sides for the bravery and conduct displayed by “our boys.” The regiment which left here one year ago was now pretty much disbanded and the majority of the men who had now returned and gone to their homes, perhaps never more to meet again. Hey would not say “never to meet again,” as some day, when the last trumpet is sounded, the Canadian heroes who had dropped at Paadeberg, at Modder-River and else where would again muster with their former comrades-in-arms to answer the roll call.

Rev. Father O’Leary also spoke in French, and was fallowed by Hon. E.R. Dobell, Sir C.A.P. Pelletier, Hon. Charles Fitzpatrick and Lt.-Col. Pelletier. Rev. Father O’Leary was then escorted to the presbytery in Buade street, the men again drawn the carriage down with ropes. While in this city the hero of Paardeberg will be the guest of Rev. Mr. Faguy at the Notre Dame Presbytery. This morning he will celebrate Mass at the Quebec Seminary and will lunch there to-day. He is ill at the capital. Father O’Leary yesterday was dressed in uniform of the staff, blue frock coat with gold letters R.C.R. and two stars on the shoulder straps, ranking as a Captain. He also wore the khaki helmet and looked altogether a typical soldier..................

NOTES. — Flags were displayed on all public buildings yesterday, as well as Laval University. The Archbishop’s Palace, Presbytery and a number of private residences. Father O’Leary received a telegraph message yesterday from Mgr. Begin, who was at Rever a Pren. Congratulating him on the bravery he displayed in South Africa and on his safe return to the country and hoping that his health was completely restored. The members of the Committee and nine invalids who arrived yesterday were entrained to a sumptuous luncheon on board the Druid yesterday.

Ottawa Citizen Nov. 7th 1900. — Rev. O’Leary In Ottawa. — The Renowned Chaplain of the First Contingent Welcome Today. — A distinguishing visitor arrived in the city on the 12.25 Canadian Pacific express today in the person of the Rev. Father O’Leary, the gallant priest who won high distinction in South Africa. He will spend a few days visiting his brother, Mr. J.M. O’Leary, Lisgar street. He was met at the station by his brother and Mr. E.P. Stanton, Mr. Morris Bennet, Mr. M.F. Waish and Mr. J.P. Clarke. Mr. Fred Cook, secretary to the soldier’s reception committee was also present and welcomed the distinguished clergyman in behalf of the committee..........


Jeffrey Hoare Auctions Inc. Numismatic & Military Sale No. 115 September 20th & 21st, 2014.— It’s to be noted; medals with an estimated value of $600.00, sold for $3800.00, + auction fees and tax, ca $4,600…During the SSAW Father Rev. P.M. O’Leary, certainly worked in mysterious ways, his heroic gallantry was undeniably highly commendable.

SVP...The fallowing is a different account in the french language, which completes his story...Noted the good Father's English & French were impeccable, unlike moi, the above and fallowing short link, are first hand accounts of the day in full.

Lettres Du Chapelain Rév. L'abbé Peter M. O’Leary, 2e SS Bn, RCRI Guerre d'Afrique du Sud, 1899-1900. http://wp.me/p55eja-NO