The Queen's Scarf of Honour
Almost a century ago, Queen Victoria created a very special and personal award for heroism for soldiers serving with British forces in the Boer War. She crocheted a total of eight scarves, working her Royal Cipher, VRI, in the corner of each one in cross-stitch. One scarf was awarded to a soldier serving with a Canadian regiment, Private Richard Rowland Thompson, and it is now on permanent display in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
From 1899 to 1902, troops from Canada, New Zealand, Cape Colony and Australia fought along with British forces in the Boer War. The Queen's grandson, Prince Christian Victor was serving with the British, and some have suggested that it was his letters to his grandmother Victoria about the bitterly cold nights in South Africa that inspired her to make scarves.1
By April 1900 she had sent "four woolen scarves, worked by herself" with instructions to Lord Roberts, the Commander of the combined British forces, that they were to be "distributed to the most distinguished soldiers of the Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and South African Forces under Lord Roberts' command. " Accordingly, Roberts asked the Canadian commander to "nominate the private soldier whom you consider has performed the most distinguished service" and by July 10 Private Richard Rowland Thompson, No. 7552, had been selected "in recognition of his conspicuous gallantry during this campaign."2
Thompson was born in Cork, Ireland and came to Canada some time after 1897; he enlisted with the 2nd Special Service Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment in Ottawa on October 18, 1899. We know that on at least two occasions he risked his life under enemy fire to try and save fellow-soldiers. At Paardeberg he stayed on the battlefield with a man who had been shot in the throat, pressing bandages to the wound to prevent bleeding. A few days later he tried to rescue a wounded man on the battlefield, although this time his efforts came too late to save the man.
Private Thompson never wore the scarf as a soldier. He was invalided back to Canada by the end of July 1900, and after a short career in South Africa and the United States, he died of appendicitis in a hospital in Buffalo, New York in April, 1908. His military funeral was held April 8th in the Drill Hall on Cartier Square in Ottawa, after which his body was sent by the Gatineau train to Chelsea. Here he was buried in the small hillside cemetery we now know as the Pioneer Cemetery. His grave lies next to members of his wife's family and his wife Bertha, who died in 1962, rests beside him.
More than fifty years later, in May of 1965, Samuel Thompson, Private Thompson's nephew, presented the scarf on permanent loan to the people of Canada at a ceremony on Parliament Hill on Queen Victoria's Birthday. In addition to the original displayed in the Canadian War Museum, the Gatineau Valley Historical Society holds an exact replica of this unique award. The Historical Society also has other documents and information about Private Thompson, and maintains his grave and the Chelsea Pioneer Cemetery property.
Each November 11, the Historical Society of the Gatineau organizes a Remembrance Day Service at the Chelsea Pioneer Cemetery to honour and remember Private Thompson those who served in wartime.
Canada recognizes and remembers this award, one of only eight in the world. The Queen's Scarf of Honour reminds us of the heroism of a young man serving with her armed forces, of a unique award made by a Queen, and of Private Richard Rowland Thompson himself.
Gatineau Valley Historical Society
1 Dr. Cameron Pulsifer, Chief, Historical Research with the Canadian War Museum gives the source of this information as Nicholas Rial, Soldiers of the Queen, Vol. 80, page 10.
2 Pulsifer cites National Archives of Canada RG 38A-1 Vol 104, letters from Col. A Neville Chamberlain, Bloemfontein, to Colonel Otter, 21 April and 10 July 1900.