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MAFEKING IN MARCH


 Five months of  beleaguerment and no nearer the end! Ruefully the caged crowd began to draw pictures of themselves as weird Rip Van Winkles, curious fossilised things that would some day be unearthed by the inquiring

historian. They wondered  whether Ginevra in her sealed oaken chest felt more lost to the world, more forgotten, more impossible of rescue! "We," said some one who shall be nameless, "we are all modern Ginevras-only no one seems to look for  us, and, by-and-by, perhaps no one will even mourn. It is five months, you see! Ginevra was probably asphyxiated in five hours, whereas we-we do the thing more sluggishly-more painfully-we starve mentally and physicaly by slow  degrees. If we get air, it is air that is best not respired." Nevertheless, these people sent forth to the world radiant accounts of their doings, and sported the mask of Punchinello over the visage of Melpomene. It was very  British, this jocose unreserve that was a still more tragic reserve, this festivity on the lips with famine gnawing at the vitals.

Fever, the fever of heat, ennui, and mental and bodily depression, had begun to assail the  unfortunate besieged. The climate of Mafeking-in ordinary circumstances most inspiriting-was be-coming tainted, and the feeling of creeping malaria swept over all who were forced to remain cooped within the sorry regions. But the  chief on whose wits the whole community depended defied the malign influence of his surroundings. During the day, with reserved, adamantine calm, he busied himself inventing the thousand and one projects by which might be defeated  any possible move of the enemy, in reviving the spirits of his followers, and providing for their appetites, in fighting against the encroachments of disease and retaining the perfect discipline, which was no easy matter in so  small a radius with so many conflicting emotions to be dealt with. At night, stealthy as a cat, he would creep forth to make the necessary investigations and acquaint himself with the state of the force opposing him, and if  possible discover the Boer machinations of the future. Creeping along the veldt all eyes and ears, he gathered inspiration from a glimmer, the sound of a hoof, the flutter of bird and rustle of bush. Even the colour of the darkness  in east and west gave him unspoken hints of designs nefarious secrets or prophetic warnings of movements to be. And then he would return from his mysterious peregrinations primed with notions ingenious and plans elaborate, and  remain for the day under the roof of the verandah of the headquarters office concocting some of the multitudinous schemes which confounded the Boers and frustrated their best efforts at assault.

On the 3rd of March a little peace  was secured owing to the disappearance of the Teuton who worked the huge gun. He had been what was described as "providentially potted." On the other hand a more valuable life than that of the German mercenary had been  sacrificed, for Sergeant-Major Taylor of the Cape Boys, who had been doing splendid work for his country, fell early in the morning mortally wounded. The Boers fired something under forty shells before breakfast, and might have  pursued their activities the whole day had the loss of their chief gunner not damped their ardour and forced them to postpone their activities to a more convenient period. They nevertheless "sniped" at intervals through  out the following Sunday, doubtless with the righteous desire to avenge their artillery-man.

New brooms sweep clean. As a fresh gunner had come upon the scene, there now began some more active bombardment. But the activity was no  longer what it had been, and but for the meagreness of the fare, and the fear that the rations might diminish till they became invisible, the besieged would have got on fairly well. On the 7th there died an adventurous Scotsman  whose history would have delighted the heart of the late Robert Louis Stevenson. Major Baillie in his sparkling account of the siege gave a brief outline of his romantic career. "Trooper M'Donald joined the Argyll and  Sutherland Highlanders in 1847, served in the Crimea (French and Sardinian medals and two clasps) and in the Indian Mutiny, was kidnapped when embarking home by Americans, fought for the North against the South, deserted the North  and fought for the South, afterwards went to Australia, thence to New Zealand,

and served in the Maori War, in which he was taken prisoner. Later he came to South Africa, served in the Basuto War with Sir Charles Warren 's  expedition, Carrington's Horse, the Bechuanaland Border Police, and transferred to the Cape Police, in which corps he has died of hardships and old age, fighting the Boers." The Major went on to say: "He is not the only  Crimean veteran we have here. Both the Navy and Army are represented. Mr. Ellis joined the Royal Navy in 1854, served in the Baltic and the Black Sea, came to Africa and served in the Galika War. Mr Brasier served in the Crimea and  the Mutiny, and there are others of service whose records of service I am not so certain. The contrast between them and the cadet corps, utilised for orderly work, &c., is remarkable, and if the Boers have their greybeards and  boys fighting, why so have we. The cadet corps was composed of youths ranging from the ages of ten to fifteen years, game little fellows who did their duty splendidly.

The great news of the capture of Cronje and his horde now  served to raise the drooping spirits of the community. It was also reported that Snyman was on the move, and that Malan, who was opposing Colonel Plumer, had come into the neighbourhood of Mafeking. Sounds of rejoicing came from  the Boer camp, and on the following day Boers with their field kit were seen to be clearing off. The information that the force was marching to Bloemfontein, that Cape Colony was being swept of rebels, that Ladysmith was relieved,  now poured in, and caused the whole place to become simply inebriated with joy.

On the 9th of March, to commemorate the victory at Paardeberg, a special siege slip was published at the newspaper office. The news was announced in  the form of a poster, and concluded with the effectively printed information: "Cronje a prisoner. Snyman to be hanged." Copies were afterwards liberally pelted into the Boer quarter, who digested the news with their  morning biltong.

On the 11th (Sunday) a truce was observed. The Colonel, writing at that date, said

"Our men, sitting upon the parapets, held a friendly conversation with a detachment of the enemy, and an enterprising  photographer endeavoured to get them into line while he photographed them, but they were evidently suspicious, and feared the temptation to turn a Maxim upon them instead of a camera would prove too great. Small parties appeared  throughout the day, and amicable relations were maintained until dark."

The Boers outside were a hardy and stalwart lot, brawny and uncouth and unkempt, though from a distance not unpicturesque. In their rough-and-tumble  attire no two were alike. Some were slouching in velveteen coats and soft felt hats, others in black jackets with "billycocks," and all with the inevitable well-worn neckerchief that some one suggested might "come in  handy for turtle soup. Their bandoliers and their Martini and Mauser rifles gave them a certain uniformity of aspect, but otherwise they seemed the most motley gang that the hands of fate could have shuffled together. Some of the  Boers did not approve of the camera, and were inclined to suspect the British of attempting dodges equal to their own, but others took a pride in being portrayed.

A remarkable, almost a pathetic, feature of Mafeking fighting was  the strange ability of both sides to fraternise when hostilities were suspended. The fact was that the combatants were linked together by ties of relationship so mysteriously interwoven that the fights partook of the nature of  civil war-brothers and cousins-inlaw, and, in one case, two brothers, contending on either side of the battlefield. Naturally, when the bloody business of their lives was ended, they were inclined to foregather, to compare losses  and make kindly inquiries strangely inconsistent with the trend of their antagonistic pursuits. The Colonel further reported

"Sergeant Currie has been promoted to the rank of a commissioned officer. He has thus risen by  gallantry and bard work from a third-class private to be a lieutenant within five months. Early on Monday morning (r2th) the enemy recommenced the bombardment with their six4ncli gun, which had been comparatively silent the  previous week, now firing shrapnel. Used against troops in the open the fire of these projectiles is ineffectual as long as cover can be obtained, but they are more dangerous to persons passing to the front from the streets of the  town. A detachment of Colonial native troops, under Lieutenant Mackenzie, made an advance on Jackal Tree Fort, the position originally occupied by the siege gun on the south-western heights. The Boers got wind of the movement, and  evacuated the position before it could be carried through. To cover the advance on Jackal Tree Fort, a detachment of Baralong natives were despatched to make a feint attack on Fort Snyman, a new work recently erected by the Boers,  and threatening the most advanced western position. They succeeded in creeping to within thirty yards of the enemy, many of whom were sleeping outside, and when near the fort poured in two or three rapid volleys. Trooper Webb got  sufficiently close to the fort to blow out the brains of one of the enemy. The natives then beat a rapid retreat, in accordance with instructions previously given to them, having inflicted some losses upon the enemy. In the  brickfields the Cape Boys were reinforced by a detachment of Protectorate troops under Captain Fitzclarence."

All were much perturbed at the sad news of the death of the genial young trooper, Webb of the Cape Police, who was  shot through the head while on guard in the brickfields. This gallant fellow had been previously wounded in October, and had been carried off under fire by Trooper Stevens, and had only just returned to duty when he lost his  life-possibly in revenge for the act described above.

According to Colonel Baden-Powell's despatch of this date. a raiding party of Baralongs, who had gone out on their own initiative, encountered a patrol of the enemy, and  opened fire upon

them, killing one man, whose rifle and bandolier they secured. The enemy retired for reinforcements, but the Baralongs ambushed these reinforcements from a convenient ditch at Madibi Siding, and the enemy fell  back in confusion, losing six men. The Baralongs. being unable to cope with long-range fire, then commenced to retire on Mafeking, having captured two horses with saddles and bridles. Finding the Boers were in pursuit and fearing  the arrival of reinforcements from the investing forces, however, they returned to a kopje in the vicinity of Madibi. Here they maintained their position until dark, and then made good their retreat into the stadt, having lost one  killed and bringing in a few wounded. Three of the party were missing.

It was impossible to prevent the Baralongs from retaliating by Mafeking were not over credulous. The great ideal of the Bechuanas was Dr. Jameson, and he, it  was averred, was coming down from Buluwayo with an army to relieve Mafeking. One rumour had it tat the famous raider had totally annihilated a Beer laager with a bomb from a balloon! Over an extensive area, west and south of  Mafeking, all the natives had been compelled to leave their homes, and were placed near the Transvaal border with a view-it was thought-to prevent despatches passing through to Mafeking. Whatever the object, such a proceeding~  especially in the wet season, was very cruel. The poor people were robbed of their herds and household goods, and driven away, and deposited like cattle wherever the Boers thought fit to place them.

On the 18th the Boers were  found in occupation of the new trench which had just been triumphantly constructed by the besieged. It was, as Mr. Neilly said, "like the soldier crab who gets into the shell of a winkle when the winkle has gone out for a  walk. As a rule the soldier crab keeps what he has gained, but in this case the winkle came back and recovered his shell." He did so very promptly. Lieutenant Feltham and a small party advanced and threw bombs at the  intruders, which caused them quickly to evacuate their raids of this description upon those whom they called the murderers of their women and children. Mr. C. G. Bell, however, rendered invaluable service in dealing with the  natives, and a board was appointed by the Colonel commanding to go thoroughly into the native question.

The Colonel described the effects of the bombardment on the following day

"On Tuesday a shrapnel shell, bursting just  about my bomb-proof sprinkled the wall of the fire brigade office with bullets, which entered the bedrooms of Dixon's Hotel. These were unoccupied, but afterwards a steel-plated shell passed through the wall of the office, and when  spent fell beneath the table, and was scrambled for by the staff of clerks. In the afternoon a shell, bursting in the court-house, killed two natives and wounded four, slightly injuring another. All these belonged to an unfortunate  working party who happened to be passing at the moment. A woman was also slightly wounded.

The conduct of the Boers towards the natives varied according to the policy of the commandant engaged in subduing Mafeking. A Scottish  farmer who remained some ten miles south of the heroic hamlet, said that in the beginning of the war the Boers were not so severe on the natives as they were later on. About Christmas-time natives began to come out of Mafeking and  loot cattle t& take back into the town. Then the Boers were ordered to give no quarter to natives. If this order had had reference to those found looting cattle, it would only have been according to the rules of warfare, but  the Boers were told to shoot down any strange native found in the veldt without a pass from their people; and this was done in a very large number of cases, their bodies being left to rot on the veldt as if they were dogs. In some  cases they had come out of Mafeking, which need hardly be wondered at, in view of the scarcity of food amongst the natives there. Considering the risk run, it was wonderful how natives could be found willing to, creep through the  Boer lines with despatches; but the natives are certainly anything but cowards.

Towards the middle of March the attitude of the Boers towards the natives improved, and they began to allow fugitives to escape through their lines.  The reason for this change of front was attributed to a desire to conciliate the Baralongs in the event of Boer defeat, and to keep them from raiding into Boer territory when their time for reprisals might come.

Native spies  brought in all manner of rumours, to the effect that Colonel Plumer's armoured train had reached Pitsani Pothlugo, notable as Jameson's starting-point on his famous raid, and that the enemy was concentrating at Ramathiabatna to  prevent the advance of the relieving force. But news certainly lost nothing by passing through the medium of native channels, and the inhabitants of trenches. Then some of the Bechuanaland Volunteers "speeded the parting guest  ' with a smart fusillade from the flank, and the prized trench was recovered.

On the 20th the Boers appeared to be breaking up their western laager, and on the 23rd it was discovered that the enemy had evacuated his positions in  the brickfields. These were promptly annexed and dismantled by the Mafeking men. Major Panzera had what some one called "a real sporting day." From morn till night he plied his Hotchkiss and kept the Boers active till  dusk. After dark the acetyline searchlight built by the railwaymen was erected at the main work, but no demonstration from the direction of the enemy took place. Then started off Lieutenant Murray and trooper Mallalen (Cape Police)  to reconnoitre. On reaching the enemy S sap they crawled round cautiously on hands and knees to investigate. It was a ticklish moment, but they were rewarded. They peered in and made the discovery that the Boers had vanished. They  crept still farther along the connecting trench to the rear of the main work and made assurance doubly sure. The Dutchmen were flown. So rapid had been their flight that biltong, biscuits and journals were left behind. Quick as  thought the trench was dismantled. Then Sergeant Page (Protectorate Regiment) burrowed about for the mine which he and Mr. Kiddy had laid in the direction of this trench in the early days of the siege. The Boers had  "slimly" unearthed the dynamite, and presently it was discovered that the evacuated trench was connected by a copper wire with the enemy's line. This was carefully cut. Then its direction was traced, and a neat little  plot of the Boers exposed itself to view. They had arranged some 250 pounds of war gelatine and dynamite in the trench, which, at a given moment, a touch from the wily Dutchman on the lookout was meant to explode and blow some of  the garrison into the air.

This failure served to depress the Boers, and for a time their siege gun ceased fire, something having gone wrong with its works. Colonel Baden-Powell was very proud of the brickfield's success and  those who contributed to it. Colonel Vyvyan, Inspector Marsh (Cape Police), Majors Panzera and Fitzclarence, Inspector Browne, Lieutenant Currie (Cape Police), Sergeant Page, and trooper Thompson (Cape Police), were all eulogised  in general orders.

The captured newspapers afforded great satisfaction to the beleaguered company, for they recounted the entry of Lord Roberts to Bloemfontein, the surrender of Cronje, and the relief of Lady-smith. The  intelligence was intensely heartening, and the garrison seemed to gain in backbone-not that it had ever been deficient in that quality. But now its obstinate resistance of the Boers was resumed with renewed zest.

It must be noted  that besides the Baralongs, who defended their own stadt, were four other black contingents-the Fingoes, under Webster; the Cape Boys, under Lieutenant Currie, B.S.C.P., who succeeded Captain Goodyear when that officer was wounded;  a detachment of Baralongs, under Sergeant Abrams; and a Zulu crowd, called the " Black Watch," under Mackenzie. All these contingents "put their backs into it," and rejoiced in making things as hot and  uncomfortable for the enemy as they could.

In default of other amusement some of the inhabitants interested themselves in the Dutch snipers, and began to grow so familiar with them that they resorted to the primeval mode of  christening, that of designating each individual by his personal attributes. One would be called "Bow4egs," another "Bluebeard," or "Draggle Beard," and so on. One Rip Van Winkle was particularly  admired. Despite his years and his probable "rheumatics," he would take up his post from dawn till dusk, and snipe with persistence worthy a better cause. His patience and perseverance somewhat endeared him to the  garrison, and there was felt to be something missing in the excitement of life when it was found that he, like many of his compatriots, had been "curried," otherwise "dished," by Lieutenant Currie, B.S.C.P., and  his ever-active contingent. These cheery fellows in off moments were ready enough to exchange jocosities with the foe, almost treating him, despite his barbarism, as one of themselves.

The correspondent of the Pall Mall Gazette quoted a sample scene to describe the style of friendly intercourse that took place.

"Cape 'boy' to Boer: 'Could you hit a bottle?' 'Yes, I think so. Put one up.' (A hand rises cautiously to the top of the  British trench, and a black bottle is deposited there.)

"Boer: 'I can't see it. Put it higher.' (The Cape 'boy' balances a hat on the head of the bottle arid says, 'There you are; you can see that') The Boer fires, and the  bullet flies wide.

"Cape 'boy': 'Wide to the left.' (Boer fires again and asks, 'Is that nearer?')

"Cape 'boy': 'Rather high.' Boer fires a third shot that comes through the loophole.

"The Cape soldier  announces the result, and the Boer, fearing that he will lose his good reputation for marksmanship, and angered by his bad display, sings out-"'Look here, you rooinek, we were sent here not to shoot bottles, but men.'"

Curiously enough many of the Boers were hopelessly ignorant and unsophisticated. They hardly knew what, they were fighting for, and one raw individual was heard to declare that he didn't believe the Queen had caused this war, but  the foreman of the English Raad. They retained their bumptiousness in all circumstances. After a victory they would brag of the number of British killed, about 8o,ooo as a rule, their news being gleaned from the imaginative columns  of the Standard and Diggers' News. On the subject of defeat they were reticent, but fairly confident that the Dutch flag in a month or two was bound to be floating over South Africa.

On Sunday the 25th, a great  Siege Exhibition took place-an exhibition notable for its originality. Among the articles on view were bonnets which had been trimmed with "siege "materials by ladies of the town. These were never tired of showing their  usefulness and versatility, but, as Lady Sarah Wilson-a host in herself-declared in the Daily Mail 'even the dogs played a prominent part in the siege. One belonging to the base commandant was wounded no less than three  times; another, a rough Irish terrier, accompanied the Protectorate Regiment in all its engagements; a third amused itself by running after the small Maxim shells, barking loudly and trying hard to retrieve pieces; while the  Resident Commissioners dog, a prudent animal, whenever she heard the alarm-bell tore into the bomb-proof attached to her master's redoubt, and remained there till the explosion was oven The sagacious creatures rendered themselves  most valuable, for no sooner had the warning bell announced the' firing of a shell than the town dogs began to bark loudly in all quarters, thus enabling persons who, owing to the direction of the wind or other circumstances, had  failed to note the signal, to escape to their shelters." The natives were much more apathetic, and Reuter's correspondent gave curious instances of their stupidity and laisser faire. "They would gather in great  crowds round the soup-kitchens in the town, and when bells were rung warning them that the enemy's 6-inch gun had been fired they were too lazy to take cover in the lee of the surrounding buildings, and had to be driven to do so by  means of sticks and sjamboks. Many would rather die than work, and were too lazy to attempt the now comparatively safe journey to Kanya."

It was annoying to hear perpetual rumours of relief and to find relief as far off as  ever. Runners continually brought in telegrams of congratulation, which added not a little to the bitterness of incarceration. At one moment Plumer seemed to be coming; he was said to be only eleven miles off, and the town was in  ecstasies; at another bombardment began briskly as ever, and spirits descended to zero. One of the besieged, writing home on March 22, said :-"Things are going on as usual. Every one is heartily sick and tired of the siege.  Colonel Plumer, with 1500 men, is only about thirty-five miles away, with provisions for us. . . . Every one here feels the want of more, better, and varied food. A friend of ours was very ill for ten days, and the only comforts  the doctor could order were two tins of milk and some lunch biscuits. There is no margarine left in the town, and the Commissariat Department is calling in all the starch. The hospital is very ftill; and there is a good deal of  malarial and typhoid fever . . . Sometimes the bread is awful, black, and made from locally-crushed oats, with all the husks on, simply split in long pieces. We are all downright hungry, and cannot buy a bit of food, except on some  special occasion. Last Sunday Weil's store was allowed to sell certain articles of food, e.g. pea flour and margarine; former, 2S. 6d. a tin; latter, 3S. per lb. The crush outside the store was so great that women fainted,  and some were waiting for hours, and then unable to get in. . . . The railings of the park and tennis-courts are used for firing, and we are authorised to use our fences for the same purpose. Our meat is good, but poor and tough.  We almost entirely depend upon the natives looting enemy's cattle, and sometimes we have horse-flesh, but that I cannot manage, so on those days I am hungrier than ever. . . . My husband is quarter-master-sergeant in charge of the  rations-not a very enviable billet. The whole town is on rations. We are all under martial law, and Colonel Baden-Powell looks after us all, and we may be very thankful that the defence of Mafeking has been entrusted to such a  capable man."

The menu was not variegated. You took your choice between a species of porridge (made from the husks of oats fermented for some hours prior to boiling) and a noxious brown biscuit, or, as the Indians called it,  "chupattie." But it had none of the savouriness of the chupattie, and was described as a cross between a ship's biscuit and a baked brick. It was certainly filling at the price, so filling, in fact, that those who  devoured it suffered from what was styled "hippopotamus on the chest" for some hours afterwards.

March 27th was described as the hottest day in the siege, the mud walls of Mafeking being liberally dosed to the tune of  200 shells by Creusots and quick-firing Krupps. As many as 250 shells were said to have been fired into the town, while the 100-pounder was responsible for 70. Sergeant Abrams, of the Cape Police, an officer who had been in the  thick of the whole siege, was caught by a high-velocity shell and had the misfortune to lose his foot. Some of the shells penetrated the bomb-proofs, and one or two persons were more or less injured. It was calculated that during  the sixty-four days of the siege as many as 1300 shells from the 100-pound Creusot, independently of minor missiles, had descended in the midst of the valorous community. Some of the shells were sold as curios and fetched as much  as five guineas apiece; rarer ones sold for ten or twelve. The losses of the garrison up to this date were killed and missing: 7 officers and 93 men, besides 53 native and other non-combatants. Wounded: I 1 officers and 38 men,  besides 114 native and other non-combatants.

The congratulations of the Lord Mayor of London on the relief now arrived, and all began to hope that "coming events cast their shadows before." But cruel disappointment  followed.

Heavy firing was reported from the north on the 31st, and there was tremendous excitement. One and all agreed that it was Colonel Plumer coming to the rescue. They hoped, they prayed, and when at last the sounds died  away hope died with them. The next morning explained it. General Snyman sent in a letter under a flag of truce requesting Colonel Baden-Powell to send an ambulance for Colonel Plumer's dead! A horrible description of the  battlefield "strewn with corpses" followed, and caused deep concern to those who were the cause of the gallant enterprise which had cost so many lives. Fortunately only three bodies were found, but these had rifled  pockets, while the boots of one had been removed. The action of removing boots from the dead savours of the barbaric, but it must be remembered that the Boers, and indeed some of our own men, were almost soleless. War brings about  strange conditions and strange ethics. A trooper, one of the remnant of the Light Brigade, told a strange story of how on that "great occasion he came on the corpse of a Russian officer magnificently booted, while he himself  could barely hobble in his tatters. He could not resist the prize, and possessed himself of the much-needed apparel. He was in the act of going off in triumph when his conscience smote him; he returned, and taking off his own boots  reverentially clothed the feet of the dead man! He appeased his qualms by arguing that exchange was not robbery!