Arthur Herbert Lindsay “Tappy” Richardson, VC, policeman, soldier, war hero, labourer (born 23 September 1872 in Southport, England; died 15 December 1932 in Liverpool, England). Richardson served in the North-West Mounted Police from 1894 to 1907 but took leave in 1900 to fight in the South African War. He was the first member of a Canadian unit to receive the Victoria Cross.
Sergeant Arthur Herbert Lindsay Richardson wearing his Victoria Cross and Queen’s South Africa Medal (without bars).
(courtesy Directorate of History and Heritage, Department of National Defence)
Richardson attended the Liverpool Institute and School of Arts. After graduation, he was apprenticed to a firm of dentists. However, when he was almost 19 years old, his relationship with his mother broke down (for reasons unknown). Richardson left his apprenticeship in 1891 and sailed to Canada.
Richardson headed out west and worked on a horse ranch in Stony Mountain, Manitoba. He next moved to Regina, at the time part of the North-West Territories, and joined the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) on 7 May 1894 for a five-year engagement.
Richardson loved his new existence and later said it was the best time of his life. When his enlistment expired, he signed on for another three years. His next post was in Prince Albert, North-West Territories, where he was promoted corporal. Then, in October 1899, war broke out between Britain and the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State in southern Africa.
South African War
Support for the South African War (1899–1902) in Canada was mixed and usually broke down along French-English lines, with English Canadians demanding the country send troops. Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier reluctantly agreed and authorized the dispatch of a 1,000-man infantry battalion. Over the course of the war, Canada provided several additional units: eight battalions of mounted rifles, a field artillery brigade and a field hospital.
Canadian Donald Alexander Smith, who became Lord Strathcona in 1897, privately raised one of the mounted rifles units, known as Strathcona’s Horse. The unit was recruited in Western Canada and Richardson joined it on 14 February 1900. It was commanded by another Mountie, the legendary Sam Steele.
On 5 July 1900, Corporal Richardson was part of a 38-man patrol scouting the countryside ahead of the main force. As the Strathconas moved cautiously toward the hamlet of Wolve Spruit, a group of some 80 Boers suddenly fired on them from positions dug into a dry stream bed. The Canadians immediately returned fire, but the more numerous Boers had the advantage.
The patrol commander ordered his men to fall back. As the troop wheeled around, two soldiers were wounded, but stayed in the saddle. A third soldier, Private Alex McArthur, was shot in the arm and leg and his horse was wounded. The horse fell, trapping McArthur beneath him. As the soldier struggled to free himself, the Boers rushed forward to capture him.
When Richardson saw this, he immediately turned and rode back toward McArthur, still trapped under his horse. Laying low in the saddle and riding through a heavy crossfire, Richardson reached McArthur and dismounted, now only 275 metres from the Boers. He dragged his wounded comrade from under the horse, threw him across his saddle, climbed up behind him and dashed back to his own lines.
During the daring rescue, several bullets pierced Richardson’s tunic, but none hit him. His horse was shot twice and died soon afterward. McArthur recovered. For his bravery in the face of the enemy, Richardson was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). When word reached South Africa, Lieutenant-Colonel Steele promoted Richardson sergeant. He was the first member of a formed Canadian unit to receive the VC.
In February 1901, the Strathconas returned to Canada. Richardson, however, went first to Liverpool and in July received his Victoria Cross from King Edward VII. In Canada, he was discharged from the Strathconas. He re-engaged in the NWMP at Battleford, North-West Territories, for another three years, this time as a sergeant. He also re-established an earlier relationship with Florence Hughes and married her in 1901. Their daughter, Dorothy, was born the following year.
Although Richardson was eventually promoted sergeant-major, he believed his VC entitled him to a commission. This disappointment — and his wife’s ill health — pushed Richardson into debt. Florence was diagnosed with tuberculosis not long after Dorothy’s birth and treatments were expensive. Richardson himself subsequently developed health problems. He resigned from the Mounties in 1907 and became the town constable for Indian Head, Saskatchewan. Richardson went deeper into debt and had to be supported by the townspeople.
Return to England
In 1908, Richardson and his family returned to Liverpool, where his wife died. He lived in obscurity, without his relatives knowing he was nearby, and held several labourer’s jobs. Although Richardson remained anonymous, a Scottish man with the same name impersonated him for several years and was treated as a hero. This masquerade was only discovered on his death in 1924 and the real Richardson finally spoke up and briefly received attention.
On 13 December 1932, Richardson was rushed to hospital with acute appendicitis, but it was too late. He died two days later and was buried with full military honours in Liverpool’s St. James’ Cemetery.