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Community rallies to repatriate rare medal

Posted on September 17, 2014 by Maple Creek

Late last week the Jasper Cultural & Historical Centre, the Maple Creek Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, and the SW Sask. Oldtimers’ Museum & Archive were made aware that a tremendously rare Boer War Canadian Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), which had been awarded to an early resident of Maple Creek, is going up for public auction.

The medal was awarded to Tom Callaghan of Maple Creek. Callaghan was born in Ireland in 1875 and came to Maple Creek as a young man to work as a cowboy.  He was well known in Maple Creek as he drove the water wagon that delivered fresh water door-to-door prior to running water being piped into town.

At the outset of the Boer War, Maple Creek residents patriotically volunteered to support the British Empire’s war efforts in South Africa. Members of the NWMP from the Maple Creek “A” Division barracks as well as a number of other local residents signed up for the war effort.

In January of 1900 Maple Creek threw a ball at the “A” Division barracks in honour of the local men leaving for the South African War. 

Callaghan enlisted with the Canadian Mounted Rifles at “Maple Creek, NWT” on Jan. 2, 1900.  Once in South Africa, he very quickly distinguished himself in the field and rose from private, to corporal, and then finally lieutenant within a short period of time.

According to the Sept. 22, 1901 edition of the Richmond Dispatch which interviewed Callaghan after he returned home from the Boer War; “In March Lieutenant Callaghan was chosen to recruit a party of Boers. He gathered twenty-six, some of whom had surrendered to the British, while others had been prisoners. The Lieutenant had a large photo of these Boers and himself.  He says that they had volunteered to fight for the British, knowing that their cause was lost and the sooner the war was over the better it would be for the people.  He says he found them first-class fighters.”

This unit of men that Callaghan assembled was known as “Callaghan’s Scouts,” and the large photo referenced in the newspaper article is held here in Maple Creek within the collection of the SW Sask. Oldtimers’ Museum & Archive. 

Callaghan was among only 16 Canadians to receive the Boer War Distinguished Conduct Medal. Today, collectors say that only around four of these medals are still known to exist, and remarkably one of them is associated with a resident of Maple Creek!

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Following the Boer War, Callaghan returned to Maple Creek and the local history book Our Pioneers states: “Tom returned to us in 1902 or ’03 and proved himself an outstanding hunter, horseman, and a good baseball player.” He later pursued an interest in aeronautics which led him to visit California where he survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that killed 40 other people in the hotel at which he was staying.

At the commencement of the First World War, Callaghan enlisted with Canadian Forces.  He was sadly killed in action at Vimy Ridge in April of 1917, and currently rests in the Villers Station Cemetery in Villers-Au-Bois, France.

Given the distinction that Callaghan brought to himself and his home community of Maple Creek, a group of concerned Maple Creek residents is looking to pool resources to repatriate Callaghan’s Distinguished Conduct Medal to its rightful home here in Maple Creek.

The group is hoping to make the repatriation a community-wide effort, and is appealing to the people of Maple Creek to rally and make pledges of support to bring the medal home.

The Callaghan medal hits the auction block this Sunday (Sept. 21).  Although the catalogue estimate is $2,800, one just never knows how the auction will play out. Hopefully it goes for less.  However, given its desirability to military collectors, it may go higher.

Either way, it is felt that it needs to come home, and that the community may not ever get another opportunity repatriate this piece of local history.

Community members interested in making pledges of support are encouraged to contact Kristi Yarshenko at 306-662-3442. Once the medal has been secured and pledges have been paid, the Oldtimers’ Museum has agreed to offer tax deductible charitable donation receipts to everyone who supported the efforts to bring the medal back home to Maple Creek.

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