Williams, Douglas F.

Bugler Douglas F. Williams

How many of you know that it was a young member of The Queen’s Own Rifles who, serving with the RCR, blew the bugle to signal the charge of British and Canadian troops against the Boers at Paardeburg, South Africa, in 1900?

Recalling the incident, Bugler (later Sergeant) Douglas F. Williams, who was still in his teens, said that

“Word was carried along the line to fix bayonets and be prepared to charge. At 3 pm an officer yelled ‘Charge’ and I put my bugle to my lips and sounded the ‘Charge.’ Four times I did it and the last time we were moving forward so rapidly that I was stumbling as I pumped out the notes.”

Empire troops sustained over 1200 casualties in the battle which ended with the surrender of the Boer troops.

His bugle, medals and photos as a young soldier, are destined for future exhibit in The Queen’s Own’s Regimental Museum at Casa Loma. Williams was awarded the Queen’s South Africa medal with 5 clasps, WWI Trio (he went overseas in 1914 with the 3rd Toronto Regt), 1935 Jubilee Medal and the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal. As might be expected of a musical instrument that’s over 100 years old, the bugle shows its age, but it’s all there, including the mouthpiece and the cord and tassel in RCR colours. On the bell is a silver shield outlining his exploit and the fact it had been lost during the action but later returned to him.

Bugler Williams – Little Doug, at all of five feet tall – who eventually made Sergeant in the QOR, died in 1962 and is buried in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery, where many other QOR members also lie. (Powderhorn, Fall 2007)

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Another interesting personality contributed to the Canadian Contingent, that fought at Paardeberg by the Queen s Own was young Bugler Douglas F. Williams (Number 7311), who sounded the now historic charge. A personal story, by this bright young soldier, of his part in this hot day s work is worthy of a place in the regimental  record. He has just returned to South Africa as bugler in the Third Contingent.

Bugler Williams says :

“We arrived at Paardeberg drift about 6 a.m. on Sunday. After a hard night’s march, firing was heard just in front of where we camped, and we knew that a fight was on quite close to us. Just as we were becoming interested in a breakfast of biscuits and coffee, which the cooks had just placed on the fires, we were ordered to parade. This meant fight, and the idea of breakfast was gladly given up for a chance to get at the wily one whom we had been marching after for a week or so. We were soon at the river bank, and after securing our kits tightly around us to prevent them from washing away, we started to cross. I was carried over on the shoulders of some of the bigger fellows. If it had not been for this I should have had to stop at the river bank, because the water was much deeper than I was tall, and the current was too strong to think of swimming.

When on the opposite bank, the companies were soon in line and extended, and we were into it almost before we knew where we were. We advanced in short rushes, taking advantage of any cover we could see. Our company was acting support when we started, but we were shortly brought into the firing line. All day was spent in advancing and firing. The orders came from the centre and were passed to the right and left from man to man. As I was only armed with a revolver, which had not a long enough range to be of any use, most of my time was spent in helping wounded and passing ammunition from one man to another.

By about 4.30 p.m. we had got quite close to the enemy s position, and were the furthest advanced of any of our troops, and we had to keep pretty near the ground. The Cornwalls had moved up to within about 100 yards of our rear, and we heard them getting orders to fix bayonets and be ready to rush.

Bayonets were fixed, straps were tightened and we were ready. Soon I heard the Cornwalls getting orders to charge, and looking back, saw them coming on the run. The orders came from the centre for the Canadians to charge. It was plain that by the time the order had got the length of our line (about half a mile) that the Cornwalls would be past us, and not wanting any regiment to beat us at the finish, when we had led all day, I jumped up and blew the Canadian regimental call, and then the charge. I sounded four times, namely, to the right, left, rear and the front”

(From The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, Chapman, 1901)

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