Classic History Books


William Wood - The Winning of Canada: A Chronicle of Wolfe

thought there was no one like her. When he was a colonel, and had been through the wars and at court, he
still believed she was 'a match for all the beauties.' He was not lucky enough to take after her in looks,

except in her one weak feature, a cutaway chin. His body, indeed, seems to have been made up of the bad

points of both parents: he had his rheumatism from his father. But his spirit was made up of all their good

points; and no braver ever lived in any healthy body than in his own sickly, lanky six foot three.

Wolfe's parents went to live at Westerham in Kent shortly after they were married; and there, on January
2, 1727, in the vicarage - where Mrs Wolfe was staying while her husband was away on duty with his

regiment - the victor of Quebec was born. Two other houses in the little country town of Westerham are

full of memories of Wolfe. One of these was his father's, a house more than two hundred years old when

he was born. It was built in the reign of Henry VII, and the loyal subject who built it had the king's coat

of arms carved over the big stone fireplace. Here Wolfe and his younger brother Edward used to sit in the

winter evenings with their mother, while their veteran father told them the story of his long campaigns.

So, curiously enough, it appears that Wolfe, the soldier who won Canada for England in 1759, sat under

the arms of the king in whose service the sailor Cabot hoisted the flag of England over Canadian soil in

1497. This house has been called Quebec House ever since the victory in 1759. The other house is

Squerryes Court, belonging then and now to the Warde family, the Wolfes' closest friends. Wolfe and

George Warde were chums from the first day they met. Both wished to go into the Army; and both, of

course, 'played soldiers,' like other virile boys. Warde lived to be an old man and actually did become a

famous cavalry leader. Perhaps when he charged a real enemy, sword in hand, at the head of thundering

squadrons, it may have flashed through his mind how he and Wolfe had waved their whips and cheered

like mad when they galloped their ponies down the common with nothing but their barking dogs behind

them.

Wolfe's parents presently moved to Greenwich, where he was sent to school at Swinden's. Here he
worked quietly enough till just before he entered on his 'teens. Then the long-pent rage of England

suddenly burst in war with Spain. The people went wild when the British fleet took Porto Bello, a

Spanish port in Central America. The news was cried through the streets all night. The noise of battle

seemed to be sounding all round Swinden's school, where most of the boys belonged to naval and

military families. Ships were fitting out in English harbours. Soldiers were marching into every English

camp. Crowds were singing and cheering. First one boy's father and then another's was under orders for

the front. Among them was Wolfe's father, who was made adjutant-general to the forces assembling in

the Isle of Wight. What were history and geography and mathematics now, when a whole nation was

afoot to fight! And who would not fight the Spaniards when they cut off British sailors' ears? That was an

old tale by this time; but the flames of anger threw it into lurid relief once more.

Wolfe was determined to go and fight. Nothing could stop him. There was no commission for him as an
officer. Never mind! He would go as a volunteer and win his commission in the field. So, one hot day in

July 1740, the lanky, red-haired boy of thirteen-and-a-half took his seat on the Portsmouth coach beside

his father, the veteran soldier of fifty-five. His mother was a woman of much too fine a spirit to grudge

anything for the service of her country; but she could not help being exceptionally anxious about the

dangers of disease for a sickly boy in a far-off land of pestilence and fever. She had written to him the

very day he left. But he, full of the stir and excitement of a big camp, had carried the letter in his pocket

for two or three days before answering it. Then he wrote her the first of many letters from different seats

of war, the last one of all being written just before he won the victory that made him famous round the

world.

 

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