1899 - 1902



Anglo Boer War
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PRESIDENT  KRUGER'S Ultimatum having been accepted in its full significance, General Cronje crossed the border and the telegraph wires to Mafeking were cut. Mafeking is a smart little town on the Bechuanaland Railway. It stands about eight  miles from the Transvaal border, about 200 miles north of Kimberley, and some 875 miles from Cape Town. It is the headquarters of the Bechuanaland Border Police, a crack corps, whose every member is thoroughly wide-awake and well  versed in the niceties of the guerilla style of warfare favoured of the Boers. In the town is the "Surrey Hotel" and others; English, Dutch, and Wesleyan churches; a cricket-ground and a racecourse. Its supplies, in time  of peace, are drawn from Dutch farms situated in the Marico Valley, while its pure water is drawn from the springs at Rooi Grond in the Transvaal territory.

Mafeking itself is less than a mile square. The railroad, running north  and south, takes a westerly bend as it crosses the Molopo River some 300 yards south of the town. In this westerly direction is a native Stadt, a constellation of mushroom huts wherein the blacks congregate. To east, north, and  west the surrounding country is flat; elsewhere it rises and affords a certain amount of cover. Towards the south-east is Sir Charles ;varren's old fort, n('~med Cannon Kopje, which was viewed as the key of the position ai~d  promptly rendered impregnable. In the north-west corner of the town was the railway station, now useless; on the north-east, the convent; on the south-east, Ellis House; and south-west5 the Pound, near which were the quarters of  the British South African Police. The population of the town consisted of some 2000 whites, while in the Stadt, owing to the presence of native refugees, there were about 7000 blacks.

On the outbreak of hostilities, Colonel  Baden-Powell, who had been sent out on special service to South Africa to report on the defences of Rhodesia, applied himself at once to face a situation which made demands on all his extensive capabilities. In the very early days  of the investment he got guns into position and made dashing sorties, determining to show the besiegers that they would not have what in popular phrase is known as "a walk over. So great was the versatility of this officer,  that, while these energetic measures for the protection of those around him were going forward, he yet managed to correct and send home proofs of a "Manual on Scouting," a work at the moment most interesting and precious  to the military man, while to the layman it makes as good reading as the "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." In Mafeking was also Major Lord Edward Cecil (Grenadier Guards), D.S.O., the fourth son of the Prime Minister-whose  activity and energy were remarkable, even in a community where those qualities were ubiquitous-and Captain Gordon Wilson (Royal Horse Guards), with his wife, Lady Sarah Wilson, a lady of much enterprise, to whose energies the  garrison owed not a little. Among others there were Colonel Hore (South Staffordshire Regiment), Major Godley (Royal Dublin Fusiliers), Captain Marsh (Royal West Kent Regiment), Captain Vernon (King's Royal Rifles), Captain  FitzClarence (Royal Fusiliers), Lord Charles Cavendish-Bentinck (9th Lancers), the Hon. H. Hanbury-Tracy (Royal Horse Guards), Lieut. Single-ton (Highland Light Infantry), Captain the Hon. D. Marsham (4th Bedfordshire Regiment),  Captain Pechel (3rd King's Royal Rifles), and Major Anderson (R..A.M.C.). There were in addition several Colonial officers who proved themselves the soul of activity

-notably Captain Goodyear, Captain Nesbitt, V.C., Lieuts. Paton  and Murchison, and several others. Colonel Vyvyen and Major Panzera also worked like Trojans to secure the safety of the town. Major Baillie of the Morning Post made himself useful in every capacity. Later on he forwarded a  description of the garrison which gave a good idea of the splendid plan of organisation adopted. He said :-"The town was garrisoned by the Cape Police under Captains Brown and Marsh. These and the Railway Volunteers were under  Colonel Vivian, while Cannon Kopje was entrusted to Colonel Walford and the B.S.A.P. Colonel Baden-Powell retained one squadron of the Protectorate Regiment as reserve under his own immediate control. These arrangements were  subsequently much augmented. After the convent had been practically demolished by shell-fire, and the railway line all round the town pulled up or mined during the close investment by the Boers, the small work was erected at the  convent corner, garrisoned by the Cape Police and a Maxim under Lieutenant Murray, who was also put in charge of the armoured train, which had been withdrawn to the railway station out of harm's way.

"The Railway Volunteers  garrisoned the cemetery, and had an advance trench about 8oo yards to the front and immediately to the right, of the line. To the westward came Fort Cardigan, and then again Fort Miller; to the south-west was M4or Godley's Fort, at  the north of the native stadt, with Fort Ayr, and an advance fort crowning the down to the northern end of the stadt, and though rather detached, having command of the view for a great distance. To the south of the northern portion  of the stadt the Cape Police were intrenched with a Maxim, and 500 yards to the west front of Captain Marsh's post lay Limestone Fort, commanding the valley, on the other side of which lay the Boer laager and intrenchments. At the  south-western corner, and on the edge of the stadt Captain Marsh's fort was situated. The whole of the edge of the stadt was furnished with loopholes and trenches, and was garrisoned by the native inhabitants. Near the railway were  situated two armoured trucks with a Nordenfeldt, and Cannon Kopje with two Maxims and a 7-pounder lay to the south. East. And saw to the immediate defences of the town. At the southwestern corner is the Pound, garrisoned by Cape  Police under Captain Marsh, then eastwards is Early's Fort, Dixon's Redan, Dali's Fort, Ellis's corner, with Maxim and Cape Police, under Captain Brown. On the eastern front are Ellitson's Kraal, Musson's Fort, De Kock's Fort with  Maxim, Recreation Ground Fort. To the left of the convent lies the Hospital Fort. All these, unless otherwise mentioned, are defended by the Town Guard."

Operations began on the 12th with an episode that cannot afford to be  forgotten. It was discovered that two trucks of dynamite were in the station yard, and it was at once decided, for the safety of the population, that they must be removed. An engine was, therefore, despatched in charge of a plucky  driver (Perry) for the purpose of conveying the trucks into the open, where they might explode without danger to the town. While he was engaged in the work of deporting the destructive material, the enemy suddenly appeared and  commenced to fire. Perry, with the utmost coolness, a coolness which in the circumstances was nothing less than heroism, uncoupled his engine, and leaving the trucks to their fate, steamed back to the town. Before he could reach  his destination, however, the shock of an awful detonation greeted his ears. The Boers had again fired on the trucks, believing them to be full of passengers, and, as a natural consequence, the dynamite had exploded!

The  garrison, numbering from 800 to 1000, now began to furbish itself up, to arm and practice with the rifle. The old forts round the place were put into repair and the armoured train, with a Maxim gun and a Nordenfeldt, was made ready  for coming excursions. Nothing was neglected. It was well known that the Boers looked upon the town as their personal property, and when it came to fighting meant to make it so-if they could! The two available regiments, the  Protectorate Regiment and the Mounted Police, spent most of their "time manoeuvring, with a view to awakening the intelligent interests of the ranks and instructing the men on the nature of the ground in the vicinity. Colonel  Laden-Powell lost no opportunity of preparing for Ahe gallant Cronje, and, in order to show that he did not mean to be caught napping, some nights were passed by the garrison in their day kit.

On the 12th October an armoured  train that was esconing two light guns of old pattern from the Cape to Mafeking was seized by the Boers, who had torn up the rails at Kraalpan. They pounded the machine with artillery, and captured it with guns and men in  charge-all, save the engine-driver, being made prisoners. Lieutenant Nesbitt was wounded ahd the driver lost five fingers. The latter escaped through hiding himself in the sand and thus avoiding observation. In Mafeking itself the  Sisters of the Roman Catholic Convent busied themselves. These noble women refused to leave the place, electing to remain face to face with danger in order to nurse the sick. Many of the houses were converted into hospitals, all  the streets were barred with waggons, and even the inhabitants of the town were supplied with rifles and taught the use of them. The telegraph wires were now cut at Maribogo, some forty miles south of Mafeking. The bridge that  crossed the Molopo River above Mafeking was next blown up by the Boers with tremendous uproar. Still tine inhabitants were not dismayed. They had implicit confidence ii~ their commander and worked incessantly. As a defensive  position, Kimberley, whose history will be told later, had the advantage of Mafeking. The refuse heaps from the mines at the former place served as natural fortifications. But Mafeking was in one way fairly secure: its troops,  though few, were efficient, and owing to its not being the abode of Mr. Rhodes, it was no longer looked upon by the Boers as the most attractive prize of the wan Besides this, Colonel Baden-Powell's plans of defence were very  complete.

The town was divided into sections, each one of which had its separate arrangements for defence. The perimeter was about six miles in circumference. Huge earthworks were thrown up. Shelters were built, with panellings  and roofings of corrugated iron. Colonel Baden-Powell had decided to hold the town, and declared that if he should hold it at all, his grip should be a firm one. For himself, he constructed a bomb-proof bureau, where his literary  work could safely be pursued, if need be, to the accompaniment of a score of guns, and round him were telephonic communications with each of his outposts. He had also a private signaller placed with telescope on the watch to inform  him of outside doings and forewarn the garrison in case of assault. Wire communications were arranged so that each discharge of a shell might be reported by an alarum, in order that inhabitants of the threatened quarter might have  time to burrow in places of safety. During the daytime the bell of the signaller was actively employed, but at night the Boers seldom bombarded the place, and its inhabitants were free to emerge from their hiding-places and breathe  the fresh am

Fortunately in the matter of food much foresight had been exercised. With everything against him, Colonel Baden-Powell had succeeded in making provision for, if necessary, a prolonged state of siege.

At daylight on  the 14th, the whole garrison was on the alert. Reports declared the Boers to be advancing on the south. Firing was at the same time heard from the north, and Lord Charles Cavendish-Bentinck was reported to be in action. While the  firing continued the armoured train was hurriedly got in readiness, and started with the object of engaging the enemy

The crew of the leading truck, "Firefly," consisted of a detachment of the British South African  Police and Railway Volunteers, Captain Ashley Williams himself being in command, Mr. Gwayne being the driver of the engine, and Mr. A. Moffat acting as stoker. The second truck was in charge of Lieutenant Pore, an engineer on the  Bechuanaland Railway. No. I truck was armed with a Maxim, and its crew mostly with Lee-Metfords. Truck No.2, which carried another Maxim, rejoiced in the name of "Wasp.' A third truck, the "Gun," carried a Hotchkiss.  The crew of the trucks numbered barely fifteen in each. The train, after passing Lord Charles Bentinck's squadron, who hailed it with a cheer and various humorous sallies, came on the enemy, about 500 strong, to right front of the  trucks.

A fierce interchange of bullets followed, the Mafeking party firing with such success that the enemy cautiously withdrew into the distance; still they kept up a rattling fire against the armour of the train, which  careered up and down the line for some time with imperturbable yet cheerful activity. Presently, however, Colonel Baden-Powell despatched Captain FitzClarence with a squadron of men to cover its retreat, but before this could be  effected the Boers again appeared, and a determined engagement ensued. Some sharp fighting took place, and Captain FitzClarence, though ordered to return to Mafeking, was unable to do so without reinforcements on account of the  number of his wounded. The phonophore having been connected with the railway line, a telegraph message to this effect was sent to headquarters. Thereupon Lord Charles Bentinck was ordered to take his squadron to the relief of  Captain FitzClarence. Meanwhile Captain Ashley Williams and a party of the South African Police alighted from the train, and went unarmed to the assistance of the wounded. Among these was Lieutenant Brady of Queenstown. Soon, the  hapless were removed into the trucks, and the train was steaming on its return to Mafeking after having done great execution among the enemy.

Travelling in an armoured train, even when you are not wounded, is scarcly an enjoyable  experience; indeed, it may be described as one of the most superb tests of warrior qualities. The machine itself resembles a species of tank-truck, boxed round with seven-feet high walls of iron or steel, without doors or windows,  and with no covering for the occupants save the dome of heaven. You climb in and you climb out as you would into a bath, by hanging on to the loopholes made for the rifles, and planting your feet on the exterior ridges that act as  steps for the nimble toe. Once in, there is Comparative safety. From all sides there is shelter from rifle-fire save when going down-hill below the enemy, who can then with ease pour cascades of bullets upon the heads of the  travellers. The machine is painted kharki colour to make it less observable to the enemy, and has the distinction of being quite the ugliest of the many ugly inventions of modern science. Occasionally the exterior is of varied  hue-particularly in green country, when it is made to look verdant and covered with boughs to give it an arboreal aspect, and render its shape less observable. But the ugliness and inconvenience of the train are nothing to the  dangers it may have to encounter. The occupant may find himself surrounded by a party of the enemy before he has been a mile out from his base; he may find the rail cut behind him; he may steam straight into an ambush at any  moment, or be blown up before he can wink. It has rightly been called a "death trap," for it provides chances of dissolution many and varied.

But notwithstanding these risks, the machine was at this time continually in  use, and the pluck of the defenders of Mafeking rose superior to all tests. The engagement of the i4th, with all its thrilling and painful experience, bore good fruit; for all felt that the encounter had been beneficial in many  ways, more especially in strengthening the sense of security that everywhere began to prevail. To show how much courage and determination was the order of the curse, it must be noted, in somewhat Irish phrase, that the manning of  the town was assisted by women, some of whom refused to go into laager, but elected to handle their LeeMetfords for the protection of themselves and their companions.

In the engagement of this day, Lord Charles Cavendish-Bentinck  and Lieutenant Brady were both slightly wounded. Major Baillie had a narrow escape, his horse having been shot under him, while his water-bottle was also struck by a bullet. In the evening Colonel Baden-Powell issued a general  order congratulating the A and L squadrons, commanded by Captain FitzClarence and Lord Charles Bentinck, and the crew of the armoured train, under Captain Williams and Lieutenant More, for their highly creditable performances.

About this time some discomfort and anxiety was occasioned by the fact that water became scarce in the town, owing to the Boers having taken possession of a fountain from which the inhabitants were supplied. Still, as Colonel  Baden-Powell is an officer of genius, 'full of resource and infinite capacity for taking pains, all had confidence that he would not allow himself to be overcome by a temporary difficulty, and that he and his would emerge from all  tests much as Colonel Pearson and his gallant party emerged from the ordeal of Eshowe. So the water difficulty was soon settled. Under Major Hepworth's supervision all the wells were cleaned out, and Sir Charles Warren's old well  re-opened. On the 16th of October Commandant Cronje's commandoes took up a position among the thorns above the racecourse and opened fire on the town. Then a Boer party bearing a flag of truce was sent by Cronje to demand surrender  to avoid further bloodshed. "Certainly, but when will bloodshed begin?" asked Colonel Baden-Powell, who, alive to all the little dodges of his enemies, knowingly kept the Burgher messenger blindfolded while he formulated  his reply. Of course he meant to hold out, and he said so in round terms, and the Burgher departed discomfited and without having secured a plan of the fortifications! Subsequently some Boer Krupp batteries were brought up to cover  the town, to impress those concerned and to show that the enemy meant business. But the bombardment so far was not fraught with much damage, for Colonel Baden-Powell, telegraphing - on the 21st, thus comically described the  situation "All well. Four hours' bombardment. One dog killed."

The Boers had now begun to penetrate to Tuli in Rhodesia. Tuli is the nearest post on the north to Transvaal territory. It stands on a river that comes down  from the Matopo Hills, and joins the Limpopo about twenty miles beyond the town, which commands the cross-roads from the Transvad to Buluwayo and from Mafeking to Victoria. The troops here were under the command of Colonel Plumer,  who, from the time that Mafeking was besieged, was Untiring in his efforts to come to the rescue. With Colonel Plumer were the following officers: Majors Pilsen and Bird, Captain Maclaren (13th Hussars), the notable polo-player,  Captain Blackburn (Cameronians), Captain Rolt (York and Lancashire Regiment), Lieutenant Rankin (7th Hussars), Lieutenant French (Royal Irish Regiment), and several others.

On the 19th of October a party of the enemy was suddenly  met on the Rhodesian side of the river by a reconnoitring patrol. The Dutchmen fired on the patrol, wounding a trooper. Captain Glynn went off for the purpose of locating the enemy, and discovered the presence of a Boer column in  his neighbourhood. Two days later a smart skirmish took place between a strong patrol and the enemy, who was encountered at Rhodes's Drift, with the result that two troopers were killed and two wounded. The Boers afterwards took  tip a strong position on a kopje at Pont's Drift, fired in a dastardly manner on Major Pilsen, Sergeant Shepstone, and his party while they were removing dead and wounded to an ambulance and a cart brought for the purpose, and  their work of mercy had to be carried on under the most trying and aggravating conditions. There were also some skirmishes at Crocodile River. An armoured train got within about 1500 yards of a Boer laager three miles south of  Crocodile Poort. Captain Blackburn (Cameronians) was seriously wounded and died on the road to Tuli, whither the British retired by Colonel Plumer's orders. It is satisfactory to note that Sergeant Shepstone, who gallantly came to  Captain Blackburn's assistance, received his commission.

Skirmishing took place at odd intervals, and Colonel Plumer continued to send reconnoitring parties up and down the river. On many occasions these were fired upon, but  without serious result. On the 28th, however, Captains White and Glynn reconnoitred a kopje at Pont's Drift-each approaching the hill on a different side-whereupon a brisk skirmish ensued, when five of their men were shot by the  enemy and four wounded. Later on, after his reconnaissance westward along the Crocodile River, Colonel Plumer returned to Tuli. Boer commandoes were at that time supposed to have retired to the neighbourhood of either Pietersburg  or Mafeking. Colonel Spreckley's camp was shelled by the enemy on the 3rd of November, and the mules and horses belonging to the squadron promptly stampeded.

To return to Mafeking. The Boers had now begun their activities, and  miniature artillery duels were continually taking place between the British and the enemy. More guns were brought to bear upon the position by Cronje and his gang, and they set to work to do as much damage as possible. The Convent  was hit, but no one was injured. Finally, after several days of bombardment and reciprocated shelling, Colonel Baden-Powell decided to give the enemy a taste of cold steel. A council of war was held, and on the 27th of October a  most courageous night attack was

made on the Boer trenches by Captain FitzClarence. As dark-ness descended, the little force stole noiselessly out of their strong-hold with fixed bayonets, creeping like cats along the veldt,  breath even being most suspended lest a sound should put the enemy; on guard. Then, on a given signal-a whistle from Captain FitzClarence-the men dashed forward on the foe, cheering lustily, while from the town the echoes and the  voices of anxious watchers: gave back cheer for cheer. The tussle was short and sharp. It was a case of fifty desperate men with fifty bayonets dealing destruction to a roaring rabble under the tarpaulins! Then came a storm of  hostile bullets from the rear of the trenches, a swift reply from the attacking party, followed by Captain FitzClarence's whistle, "Cease fire. Scatter homeward." Under a withering fire the forces obeyed, returning as  they went, in silence and in darkness. Then came the roll-call. Six were killed and eleven wounded, but of the latter all returned, none being left on the field. Here we may read Colonel Baden-Powell's general order :-"The  Colonel commanding wishes to record his high appreciation of the dash with which the attack on the enemy's trenches was carried out last night by D squadron of the Protectorate Regiment, under Captain FitzClarence, supported by the  Cape Police under Lieutenant Murray. The whole operation was executed exactly as was wanted, and the results, though gained at the cost of several gallant lives, were entirely successful and of great value. By this action the  intention of the enemy to push their intrenchments to within rifle distance of the town has been checked, and the heavy loss that they have sustained has given them a wholesome fear of the dash of our men, and they have had an  introduction to cold steel such as will not encourage them willingly to face it again. The steadiness of the Town-Guard on the east front was noticeable later in the night, when the enemy had a scare, and broke into wild firing, to  which the guard made reply.-By order (Signed) E. H. CECIL, Major, C.S.O.'

After this the Boers brought a big gun to bear on the position, and blazed away at a distance of seven miles from the town. Out of sixteen shells only one  struck. This set fire to a store. The huge weapon evidently proved a white elephant, for before long the besiegers, much to the joy of the besieged, ceased their attempts to work it.

But heavy bombardment still took place. The  Boer hosts attacked the town from three sides at once and were steadily repulsed by the British Maxims. All through the week Cronje's commandoes indulged in desultory rifle-fire, now and again throwing a shell by way of variety, to  which attentions Colonel Baden Powell and his smart garrison responded with such zest and animation, that the Boers, discomfited, declared that the place contained "not men, but devils!"

On Tuesday, the 31st of October,  in the early hours of the morning, some hard fighting again took place. Colonel Walford and his detachment of the British South African Police held the fort called Cannon Kopje against an advance of the enemy, made under cover of  four heavy guns and one 100-pounder. The affair ended in an entire defeat of the Dutchmen, but not before some gallant lives were sacrificed. The following order, issued the same day by Colonel Baden-Powell, describes the action

"The detachment of British South African Police forming the garrison at Cannon Kopje under the command of Colonel Walford, have this day performed a brilliant service by the gallant and determined stand made by them on their  post in the face of a very hot shell-fire from the enemy. The intention of the Boers had been, after getting their guns and attacking force into position during the night, to storm Cannon Kopje at daybreak, and thence to bombard  the south-east position of the town and carry it with a large force. They collected in the Molopo Valley. Their whole scheme has been defeated by the gallant resistance made by the garrison at Cannon Kopje, who not only refused to  budge from their position under a cross-fire of artillery, but succeeded in inflicting such losses on the enemy as compelled them to retreat. In this way they were assisted by the timely and well directed fire of a seven-pounder,  under Lieutenant Murchison. The Colonel Commanding deplores the loss of the gallant officers and men who fell this day. By the death of the Hon. Douglas Henry Marsham and Captain Charles Alexander Kerr Pechell, Her Majesty loses  two officers of exceptional promise and soldier-like qualifications. The Colonel Commanding believes he is giving voice to the feeling of the whole Mafeking garrison in expressing the deepest sympathy with the British South African  Police in their loss. At the same time he congratulates Colonel Walford and his men on their brilliant achievement."

A pathetic funeral followed, the honoured dead being wrapped in the Union Jack, and buried by the grim  light of a lantern, while the Rector and Roman Catholic Chaplain each said over the graves the last solemn words according to the rites of his Church. There was no Dead March, nor were any volleys fired, but the dumb grief of the  community told its own tale of mourning.