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MAFEKING IN MAY


 There was an immense amount of undiscovered genius in Mafeking till Colonel Baden-Powell brought it to the front. The art of making ball-cartridges out of  blank, and the manufacture of gunpowder, cannon, shells, fuses,

Postage stamps, bank notes, and a strategetic railway, served to occupy and amuse those whose days were an unending round of monotony. The Colonel's vigilance,  that in other times had earned for him the Matabele title of "'Mpeesi, the wolf that never sleeps," communicated itself to all, and it was to this general spirit of alertness that the success of the garrison's sturdy  defence was due. But on their hearts despond was setting its seal; young faces were becoming lined with anxiety, and even those whose dramatic powers enabled them to feign merriment were conscious that the effort was becoming  even more pathetic than resignation to their fate.

Young Eloff, who had gallantly volunteered to subdue Mafeking or die in the attempt, beguiled the interval in preparing for his feat of chivalry by indulging in a mild form  of jocosity. He informed Colonel Baden-Powell that he had heard of his Sabbath concerts, tournaments, and cricket matches, and would be glad, as it was dull outside, to come in and participate in them. The Colonel replied in  the same vein-begged to postpone a return match till the present one was finished, and suggested as they were now 200 not out, and Snyman and Cronje had been unsuccessful, a further change of bowling might be advantageous! In  reality the young Boer was racking his brains with plans for the future, getting information regarding the forts and defences, and deciding when the time came for assault to do the thing with a flash and a flourish!

And his  ambition was not entirely groundless, for things were coming to a sorry pass, and the tension grew daily more severe. It was necessary to be eternally pushing out trenches and capturing forts in order to secure grazing and  breathing space, but this action had the result of so extending the lines, that the problem of how to protection miles of perimeter against some 2000 Boers, with only 700 men, became harder than ever to grapple with.  Fortunately there was still an inner line, but even this was difficult to guard, now that the gallant seven hundred were reduced in stamina by long privation and immediate famine.

A great deal of irritation was caused by  pilfering and housebreaking that went on. As the men were in the trenches and the women in the women's laagers, all the ill-conditioned vagabonds, the human sauna that had trailed from the Rand and Buluwayo,' at the hint of  loot "made hay,' while there was no police at liberty to cope with them. Every hand in Mafeking had been required, and the police had been forced to become soldiers, defenders of the state and not of private property. And  well they had done their work! For over six months some 2000 to 3000 Boers had found fodder here for their eight guns, including a 9-pounder. They had been kept stationary, and thus prevented from combining with the Tuli  column, or invading Rhodesia, or joining forces with any of the aggressive commandos in the south. And this wonderful arrest had been accomplished by men who at the beginning of hostilities were practically unarmed and  unfortified. It was no marvel; therefore, that President Kruger and his advisers, who had started their fell work with such confidence, now began to wag their heads in acridity and dismay. The overweening bumptiousness of the  several commandants, who, full of buoyant and bellicose aspirations, had attempted the subjugation of Mafeking, had been their undoing. These had become the laughing-stock even of their own people.

Commandant Cronje early in  the war had been so convinced of his ability to capture Mafeking that he had caused a proclamation to be printed annexing the district to the South African Republic. But he had found it a disastrous place, and had left it with  some loss of prestige, as had many others who had attempted "to do the trick" and failed. Until this' date the Boers had expended considerably over 100 tons of ammunition, lost over 1000 men killed and wounded, and  had four guns disabled, yet nothing was accomplished.

Commandant Eloff was then specially deputed by Kruger to pulverise " B. P.", and came to his work in high spirits accompanied by a man-a deserter-who, having  served as a trooper in the Protectorate Regiment, was well acquainted with the plans of the fortifications and the military customs of the place. Of course, it was the object of the youthful commandant to make an attack as  speedily as possible, for rumours of approaching relief threatened to put an end to his machinations and spoil his ambitious scheme. He knew that a relief column had reached and was advancing from Setlagoli, and that what had  to be done must be done now or never. Still he had a notion that after passing Kraaipan any journey for troops would be arid, waterless, and discomforting9 and believed that the column might be cut off before it could offer  serious opposition to his plans.

Commandant Snyman, on his side, was as depressed as his colleague was jaunty. He was scarcely flattered to find a youngster determining to solve a problem which for a considerable time had  defeated him, and therefore at the onset, in regard to the momentous plans for attack, the two commandants were scarcely at one. The rift widened as affairs developed. Indeed, in letters which subsequently passed between the  pair, it was discovered that Eloff, to use his own words, "had been preparing to trip him up for years." This Snyman must evidently have known, and determined to show as he did when the opportunity. Offered that  "two could play at that game." At this time, however, though the trail of the green and yellow monster might have been seen winding about the Boer laagers, there was no suspicion that when combined action against the  common enemy, the British-would be needed the older commandant would fail the younger one.

Curiously enough, though at the instance of the Boers the Sunday truce had been agreed upon, they were the first to break through the  compact. On the 6th of May, while the usual auction sales were taking place, and the ladies were cautiously doing their weekly shopping, an affair of some moment since prices ruled high, the rattle of musketry betrayed that  something was wrong. It was then discovered that the Boers had fired on the horse guard, killing Trooper Franch, and wounding three horses, and causing a stampede of the herd towards their own lines. Fortunately the ever-wary  B.P. kept a machine gun in the valley, and a sharp engagement took place, but nevertheless the Boers succeeded in capturing some of the all too precious cattle. The affair was soon over and the terrified ladies continued their  shopping, but the incident was sufficient to demonstrate that soon, if the Boers should fail to succeed by fair means, they would have recourse to foul.

At last, on the 12th of May, came the great, the long-looked-for  assault. It was not yet dawn, the stars were still blinking pallidly, when an ominous crackling awoke the town. It came from the east, where rosy tints of the sunrise were beginning to show themselves. At once every one was  astir The alarm bugle blared out, bells sounded, forms all sketchily attired, some still in pyjamas, rushed to their posts.

Though the bullets came from the east, whizzing and phutting into the market-square, Colonel  Baden-Powell, with his natural astuteness, declared that the real attack would come not from there but from the west, the corner where stood the stadt of the Baralongs. All got their horses ready, armed themselves with whatever  came to hand, and fled precipitately out into the nipping air of the morning. For an hour this brisk fusillade continued, then at about 5.30 there was a lull. The sun now was slowly beginning to rise, reddening the east with  vivid blushes. But the colonel's eyes were fixed on the west, and there sure enough was what at first seemed a reflection of the sunrise-a tremendous flaming mirage surmounted by dense volumes of smoke, and accompanied by a  weird stentorian crackling commingled with yells discordant, and despairing lamentations from the direction of the native village. There was no doubt about it, the stadt was ablaze! whether by accident or design none at that  moment could decide. Away went the guns, after them the Bechuanaland Rifles, rushing to the fray; and then on the morning breeze came a strange sound-cheers-but not British cheers-cheers that sent a thrill of horror through all  who anxiously awaited the upshot of the encounter. It was scarcely to be credited, but it was the truth! The enemy had arrived! They were already in the fort that was held by Colonel Hore and his staff! They were not 500 yards  off! At this time, though the bullets from the east fell less thickly, those from the west began to pour in, and through this cross fire the besieged rushed to their several destinations. Women, distracted, fled hither and  thither; men shot and shouted and gave orders. Columns of smoke and cascades of sparks told the tale of conflagration, and natives scared, babbling, panic-stricken, tore through the streets.

There was just cause for alarm.  The evil hour had come. The Boers had reached the orderly-room which stood outside the Kaffirs' stadt. The clerk, finding himself surrounded, hurriedly telephoned to the Colonel, "The Boers are all in among us." Such  news it was almost impossible to credit, and the Colonel put his ear to the telephone. Then the sound of Dutch voices convinced him of the horrible truth. The next thing was a message saying that the Boers had taken Colonel  Hore and his force prisoners, and that the British were powerless to help them. Telephonic communication was immediately destroyed with wire-pliers, but a state of consternation prevailed. It was perfectly true that Colonel  Hore was powerless, as with his small force of twenty-three all told it was impossible to guard the many outbuildings that surrounded him against such overwhelming numbers, particularly as at first in the dusk it had been  impossible to distinguish whether the advancing men were foes or friends.

All-young and old, men and even women-were madly rushing to the front, all eager to check the Boers in their wild rush forward. The prisoners in the  jail were let loose and armed to join in the common duty, small boys seized weapons, shovels or pokers for want of anything better, and invited themselves to help to turn the invaders out. A singular cheeriness prevailed; the  sniff of battle exhilarated, intoxicated them; they swore to protect Mafeking or die in the attempt!

Meanwhile the dashing Eloff, who so long had boasted that he would bring Mafeking to her knees, had at last achieved  something of a success. The fort was seized. He and his band of 700 men had advanced up the Molopo, burnt the stadt as a signal to his allies, and thus made an entry. The storming party was composed mostly of foreigners, and  numbered some 300 all told. Many of them were Frenchmen, who when they emerged from Hidden Hollow and rushed on Colonel Hore's fort, were heard to be shouting" Fashoda! Fashoda!" while such Boers as could speak  English were sent in front to roar "Hip, hip, hurrah! Relieved at last!" so as to deceive the besieged with the idea that the relief column was arriving. Be-hind were 500 burghers, with Snyman, in support; but when  they heard the firing they discreetly waited to see the result, and through their discretion Eloff eventually lost what lie had gained. The Baralongs, whose stadt was burning, and who themselves were burning for revenge, had  permitted some 300 of the party to seize the outlying forts, and then, with an astuteness peculiar to them, decided they would get between the Dutchmen and their supports, and "kraal them up like cattle." But this was  not done in a moment.

To return. When the storming party had reached the fort, they broke up into three. One hundred and fifty of them attacked the fort and seized it, together with the Colonel and twenty-three men of the  Protectorate Regiment, who, mistaking them in the dusk of the early dawn for friends, had not fired. When they found out their mistake, it was too late.

Regarding Colonel Hore's lamentable position and his surrender, the  correspondent of the Times, who had the ill luck as a man and the good luck as a journalist to get taken prisoner, said: "Commandant Eloff demanded the unconditional surrender of the twenty-three men who were established  at the fort, an order which, had Colonel Hore refused, implied that every man with him would be shot. The exigencies of the situation had thus suddenly thrown upon the shoulders of this very gallant officer an almost  overwhelming responsibility. It was impossible to withdraw to the town. Such a movement would have meant retirement over 700 yards of open, level ground without a particle of cover, and with a force of 300 of the enemy  immediately in the rear for a moment Colonel Flore had considered, but realising that escape was impossible, that indeed the Boers were all round him, he ordered the surrender, accepting the responsibility of such an act in the  hope of saving the lives of the men who were with him. But the situation imperatively demanded this action in consequence of events over which he had no control. It was, perhaps, a moment as pathetic and great as any in his  career, which, honourable and distinguished as it has been, has brought to him some six medals. The surrender was effected at 5.25 A.M., and the news of such a catastrophe did not tend to relieve the gravity of the situation.  With the Boers in the fort and in occupation of the stadt, it was necessary so to arrange our operations that any junction between the stadt and the fort would be impossible. At the same time we were compelled to prevent those  Boers who were in the stadt from cutting their way through to the main body of the enemy. The situation was indeed complex, and throughout the remainder of the day the skirmishing in the stadt and the repulse of the feints of  the enemy's main body, delivered in different directions against the outposts, were altogether apart from the siege which we were conducting within our own investment. From the town very heavy rifle fire was directed upon the  fort, which the Boers in that quarter returned with spirit and determination. But the position in the stadt had become acute, since behind our outposts and our inner chain of forts, which are situated upon its exterior border,  were a rollicking, roving band of 400 Boers, who for the time being were indulging in pillage and destruction wherever it was possible."

For those inside the fort the tension was extreme. Colonel Hore, with Captain  Singleton, Veterinary Lieutenant Dunlop Smith, fifteen non-commissioned officers and men of the Protectorate Regiment, Captain Williams and three men of the South Africa Police, and some native servants, were packed in by a  crowd of the enemy,. while a babel of tongues-German, French, Italian, Dutch-made a clamour that obfuscated the senses. Many of the Boers were busy looting, breaking open anything that came to hand in the officers' quarters,  notwithstanding the remonstrances of their allies, the foreigners. Trooper Hayes, a deserter from the Protectorate Regiment, who was well acquainted with the fortifications, and had led Eloff into the town, swaggered about in  the presence of the prisoners adorned with Colonel Hore's sword, and his watch and chain. His desire to get rid of as many of the British as possible was shown by his suggestion tat they should stand on the verandah as a mark  for their own men. Through the long hours the prisoners were cabined and confined in a very limited space, listening to the progress of the battle which still raged outside, and hearing the hail of bullets, hostile and  friendly, that spluttered and splintered around the fort. It was a dreadful day of suspense and agony. Food was handed in, but water, owing to the tanks having been perforated by bullets, was scarce, and the sufferings of the  wounded, both Britons and Boers, were horrible. Bravely Mr. Dunlop Smith and his assistants responded to the call of Eloff to assist the wounded Boers, and nobly they risked their lives over and over again, running the gantlet  of the British fire in the service of their fellow-creatures.

Meanwhile Baden-Powell's braves had surrounded the fort, and managed to make a vigorous stand against further encroachment of the enemy, while skirmishing of a  more or less desperate kind was taking place in the direction of the stadt, round the kraal, and a kopje in its vicinity.

The capture of the kraal and surroundings by Major Godley, Captain Marsh, and Captain Fitzclarence was  ingeniously accomplished. They had not taken lessons in Boer warfare for six months for nothing, consequently, instead of making themselves targets f6r the foe, they crept towards the walls, bored loopholes with their bayonets,  and poured their fire on the invaders. These fought pluckily, but presently came the artillery, and directly the order was given to commence fire the enemy thought it high time to surrender. Then came the question of the fort,  where Colonel Hore was still the prisoner of Eloff. Brisk and accurate firing took place, and so hot was the attack that many of the British were wounded by their own people. The victorious Eloff and his party, cut off from his  Supports and devoid of the assistance reckoned on from Snyman, flow found his position as conqueror highly unenviable. Night was coming on, and many of his party struggled to slink out and desert him, but he fired on them and  left their dead bodies to add to the confusion. Finally, as there was no help from without, Eloff-surrounded by Colonel Baden-Powell's troops-did the only thing that could be done in the circumstances-he surrendered to his own  prisoner, Colonel Hore. Thereupon, he, and others of his gang, numbering I 10, including Baron de Bremont, Captain von Weissmann, and several field-comets, were deprived of their arms and marched into the town, to be  accommodated in the Masonic Hall and in the jail. Their appearance ,was greeted with courteous silence and a certain admiration for the daring of the attack, but the exuberance of the Kaffirs was uncheckable, and they hooted  lustily. They had suffered much at the hands of their tormentors, and in this, their hour of triumph, they would not be denied. Of the Boors, 110 were prisoners, 10 were killed, and 19 wounded. It was supposed that other  corpses may have been dragged away and disposed of by the natives, who thus got possession of rifles, which weapons had been refused them by the British.

The British casualties were

Kit/ed-Lieutenant Phillips, Trooper  Maittisehek, Trooper Duberley. Wounded.-Captain Singleton, Lieutenant G. Bridges, Sergeant Hoskings, Regimental Sergeant-Major S.' Malley-all of the Protectorate Regiment; Hazelrigg, Cape Police; Smidt, Town Guard.

Sergeant-  Major Heale, in charge of the Dutch prisoners, an esteemed member of the garrison, was killed by a shell. Of Trooper Maltuschek, a few words written by Major Baillie deserve to be quoted, as showing the manner of man and Briton  he was. It appears that the gallant fellow absolutely declined to surrender, and fought till he was killed. "It wasn't a case of dashing in and dashing out and having your fun and a fight; it was a case of resolution to  die sooner than throw down your arms; the wisdom may be questionable, the heroism undoubted. He wasn't taking any surrender. As far as I am concerned, I have Seen the British assert their superiority over foreigners before now,  but this man, in my opinion, though I did not see him die, was the bravest man who fought on either side that day. It is a good thin~ to be an Englishman. These foreigners start too quick and finish quicker. They are good men,  but we are better, and have proved so for several hundred years. I had always wanted to see the Englishman fight in a tight hole, and I know what he is worth now. He can outstay the other chap." In these last words is the  whole summing up of the story of battle. In Mafeking, particularly on this terrific day, the British men-and women-had "outstayed the other chap.'

The reason that the loss after so many hours' fighting was comparatively  insignificant, was owing to the fact that the garrison was so splendidly handled, and that every soul, ladies included, took a plucky share in the work. Lady Sarah Wilson, Mrs. Buchan, Miss Crawford, and Miss Hill, the matron  of the hospital, all distinguished themselves by their plucky actions; and Mrs. Winter and Mrs. Bradley were indefatigable in ministering to the wants of the men. Even the most peaceful beings became bellicose in the common  cause, and Reuter's correspondent gave an amusing account of how Mr. Whales, the editor of the Mafeking Mail, who was exceedingly plucky but quite unacquainted with military matters, comported himself in the dire emergency.  When the railway workshops were manned Mr. Whales got a gun to help; but every time he discharged it, it hit him on the nose, with the result that when all was over, he returned to the bosom of his family covered with his own  blood!

Of course this was merely a passing jocosity, for the same chronicler declared that "the most interesting phase 6f the fight was the manner in which every one in the town showed himself' ready to take his share in  its defence. The seven months' siege had left very few cowards. All sorts of men who have staff billets and do not generally man the forts seized rifles and hurried to the railway line, the jail, and the workshops, resolved to  die in the last ditch, which was the railway line, within three hundred yards of the market-square, the enemy being only five hundred yards below the line." He further said, "It Is customary in London rather to look  down on town guards~, Volunteers, and citizen soldiers, but it was by these that the town was held and Commandant Eloff was beaten."

Strange tales were told in that eventful day of the kind treatment meted out to the  Boers. They were given clean towels and soap (the latter was-at first mistaken for an eatable), and tended like brothers, while all the past aggravations endured at their hands were forgotten or at least ignored. The prisoners,  wounded or sound, were greeted almost affectionately by the town. Such drink as there was, was shared, and for the time being, amid the general jubilation, at the close of the melodramatic episodes of the day it was difficult  to decide which were the happier, friend or foe. Thus generously wrote Mr. Angus Hamilton of the enemy: "We who had been prisoners and were now free rejoiced in the liberty which was restored to us, yet it was difficult to  restrain oneself from feeling compassionately upon the great misfortunes which had attended the extraordinary dash and gallantry or the men who were now our prisoners. They had done their best. They had proved to us that they  were indeed capable, and that we should have kept a sharper look-out, while it was indeed deplorable to think that it was the treachery of their own general in abandoning them to their fate, that had been mainly instrumental in  procuring them their present predicament."

Sergeant Stuart's account of his experiences was curious. On the morning that Eloff entered, he heard shooting at the east end of the town, and sprang out of bed,  "shoved" on a coat, and seized his rifle. When he got out he saw flames at the west end, and ran across the open towards the fort. When he came nearer he saw 400 Boers looking over a wall. They cried out, 'Up hands!  surrender.' He was within forty yards, so he turned and bolted. They fired but did not touch him, and he reached the fort. He surrendered soon after, with Colonel Hore and twenty-four others. They were put into a little hut,  and kept there all day, firing going on all round. At 6 P.M. Eloff came into the room-about six feet square-and leant against the door, and said, 'Where is Colonel Hore?' 'There he is.' 'I surrender,' said Eloff, 'if you will  spare our lives and stop the firing.' The prisoners then sprang up and took their rifles from them, making them their prisoners." Another authority declared that when Eloff was taken before Colonel Baden-Powell, that  officer with his customary ease received him affably, and merely said, "Come and have dinner; I am just about to have mine!" Certain it is that Commandant Eloff, Captain von Weissmann, and Captain Bremont were  entertained at headquarters.