THOMPSON, RICHARD ROWLAND, soldier; b. 1877 in Cork (Republic of Ireland), youngest of the eight children of Samuel Malenoir Thompson, a baker, and Sarah Ring; m. 25 June 1904 Bertha Alexander in Cape Town; they had no children; d. 6 April 1908 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Richard Rowland Thompson 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 Thompson immigrated to Canada, and at the outbreak of the South African War in 1899 he was living in Ottawa. As a Methodist from Cork deeply influenced by Rudyard Kipling, he felt particularly supportive of British imperialism, and he quickly volunteered for duty as a medical assistant in the 2nd (Special Service) Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry, which left Canada for South Africa in November 1899.
At Paardeberg (Perdeberg), between 18 and 27 Feb. 1900, the RCRI took part in its first battle, during which Thompson 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.
Recommended unsuccessfully for the Victoria Cross, Thompson instead became the only soldier from Canada to be awarded the Queen’s Scarf. Queen Victoria had decided to honour four of the bravest soldiers from the colonies serving in the war by presenting them with scarves she had designed and crocheted (four more were later awarded to British troops). The award, while not as prestigious as the Victoria Cross, was nevertheless a high honour. Thompson also received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps.
In October 1900 Thompson returned to Canada because of complications resulting from sunstroke. 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. In Cape Town he married Bertha Alexander, whom he had met in Canada in 1898 and who had sailed to South Africa to join him. Thompson’s stay with DeBeers was also brief. When he suffered a fatal attack of appendicitis in 1908 he was in Buffalo, N.Y.
The 43rd Regiment (Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles) gave Thompson full military honours at his funeral in Ottawa, after which he was buried at Chelsea, Que., and then largely forgotten for many years. Interest in him was renewed by an article which appeared in the Ottawa Journal in 1965. On 24 May 1965, at a special ceremony on Parliament Hill, a nephew, Samuel F. Thompson of Cork, presented to the people of Canada through their representative, Governor General Georges-Philéas Vanier*, the khaki scarf that commemorates Thompson’s gallantry.
[Additional family information was kindly provided by Thompson’s nephew Samuel F. Thompson, now of Dublin, in a letter to the author of 2 May 1989 and in a meeting in Dublin on 26 July 1989. Richard Thompson’s letters to his brother William, and related papers concerning his medals, remain in Mr Thompson’s possession, but photocopies of this material are available in NA, MG 30, E112, along with a copy of the program for the repatriation ceremony. The Queen’s Scarf awarded to Richard Thompson is now held by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa; a photograph of it appears on the cover of Military Collectors’ Club of Canada, Journal ([Toronto]), edition 149 (1987). g.s.m.]
NA, RG 38, 104. Ottawa Citizen, 7 April 1908. Ottawa Journal, 20 March 1965, Saturday sect. Ottawa Valley Journal (Ottawa), 22 May 1904. W. S. Evans, The Canadian contingents and Canadian imperialism: a story and a study (Toronto, 1901), 233–34. Fred Gaffen, “The Queen’s Scarf: myths and reality,” Military Collectors’ Club of Canada, Journal, edition 149: 47–49. Louis Mackay, “Forgotten soldier,” Sentinel (Ottawa), 22 (1986), no.6: 10–11. E. S. [MacQueen] MacLeod, For the fag; or, lays and incidents of the South African War (Charlottetown, 1901), 118. Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War (London, 1979), 299–342. Quarryman (Cork, [Republic of Ire.]), 2 (1915): 109.