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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 25
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    THE SIEGE OF MAFEKING

    This small place, which sprang in the course of a few weeks from
    obscurity to fame, is situated upon the long line of railway which
    connects Kimberley in the south with Rhodesia in the north. In
    character it resembles one of those western American townlets which
    possess small present assets but immense aspirations. In its litter
    of corrugated-iron roofs, and in the church and the racecourse, which
    are the first-fruits everywhere of Anglo-Celtic civilisation, one sees
    the seeds of the great city of the future. It is the obvious depôt
    for the western Transvaal upon one side, and the starting-point for
    all attempts upon the Kalahari Desert upon the other. The Transvaal
    border runs within a few miles.

    It is not clear why the imperial authorities should desire to hold
    this place, since it has no natural advantages to help the defence,
    but lies exposed in a widespread plain. A glance at the map must show
    that the railway line would surely be cut both to the north and south
    of the town, and the garrison isolated at a point some two hundred and
    fifty miles from any reinforcements. Considering that the Boers could
    throw any strength of men or guns against the place, it seemed certain
    that if they seriously desired to take possession of it they could do
    so. Under ordinary circumstances any force shut up there was doomed
    to capture. But what may have seemed short-sighted policy became the
    highest wisdom, owing to the extraordinary tenacity and resource of
    Baden-Powell, the officer in command. Through his exertions the town
    acted as a bait to the Boers, and occupied a considerable force in a
    useless siege at a time when their presence at other seats of war
    might have proved disastrous to the British cause.

    Colonel Baden-Powell is a soldier of a type which is exceedingly
    popular with the British public. A skilled hunter and an expert at many
    games, there was always something of the sportsman in his keen
    appreciation of war. In the Matabele campaign he had out-scouted the
    savage scouts and found his pleasure in tracking them among their
    native mountains, often alone and at night, trusting to his skill in
    springing from rock to rock in his rubber-soled shoes to save him from
    their pursuit. There was a brain quality in his bravery which is rare
    among our officers. Full of veldt craft and resource, it was as
    difficult to outwit as it was to outfight him. But there was another
    curious side to his complex nature. The French have said of one of
    their heroes, 'Il avait cette graine de folie dans sa bravoure que les
    Francais aiment,' and the words might have been written of Powell. An
    impish humour broke out in him, and the mischievous schoolboy
    alternated with the warrior and the administrator. He met the Boer
    commandos with chaff and jokes which were as disconcerting as his wire
    entanglements and his rifle-pits The amazing variety of his personal
    accomplishments was one of his most striking characteristics. From
    drawing caricatures with both hands simultaneously, or skirt dancing
    to leading a forlorn hope, nothing came amiss to him; and he had that
    magnetic quality by which the leader imparts something of his virtues
    to his men. Such was the man who held Mafeking for the Queen.

    In a very early stage, before the formal declaration of war, the enemy
    had massed several commandos upon the western border, the men being
    drawn from Zeerust, Rustenburg, and Lichtenburg. Baden-Powell, with
    the aid of an excellent group of special officers, who included
    Colonel Gould Adams, Lord Edward Cecil, the soldier son of England's
    Premier, and Colonel Hore, had done all that was possible to put the
    place into a state of defence. In this he had immense assistance from
    Benjamin Weil, a well known South African contractor, who had shown
    great energy in provisioning the town. On the other hand, the South
    African Government displayed the same stupidity or treason which had
    been exhibited in the case of Kimberley, and had met all demands for
    guns and reinforcements with foolish doubts as to the need of such
    precautions. In the endeavour to supply these pressing wants the
    first small disaster of the campaign was encountered. On October
    12th, the day after the declaration of war, an armoured train
    conveying two 7-pounders for the Mafeking defences was derailed and
    captured by a Boer raiding party at Kraaipan, a place forty miles
    south of their destination. The enemy shelled the shattered train
    until after five hours Captain Nesbitt, who was in command, and his
    men, some twenty in number, surrendered. It was a small affair, but
    it derived importance from being the first blood shed and the first
    tactical success of the war.

    The garrison of the town, whose fame will certainly live in the
    history of South Africa, contained no regular soldiers at all with the
    exception of the small group of excellent officers. They consisted of
    irregular troops, three hundred and forty of the Protectorate
    Regiment, one hundred and seventy Police, and two hundred volunteers,
    made up of that singular mixture of adventurers, younger sons, broken
    gentlemen, and irresponsible sportsmen who have always been the
    voortrekkers of the British Empire. These men were of the same stamp
    as those other admirable bodies of natural fighters who did so well in
    Rhodesia, in Natal, and in the Cape. With them there was associated in
    the defence the Town Guard, who included the able-bodied shopkeepers,
    business men, and residents, the whole amounting to about nine hundred
    men. Their artillery was feeble in the extreme, two 7-pounder toy
    guns and six machine guns, but the spirit of the men and the resource
    of their leaders made up for every disadvantage. Colonel Vyvyan and
    Major Panzera planned the defences, and the little trading town soon
    began to take on the appearance of a fortress.

    On October 13th the Boers appeared before Mafeking. On the same day
    Colonel Baden-Powell sent two truckloads of dynamite out of the place.
    They were fired into by the invaders, with the result that they
    exploded. On October 14th the pickets around the town were driven in
    by the Boers. On this the armoured train and a squadron of the
    Protectorate Regiment went out to support the pickets and drove the
    Boers before them. A body of the latter doubled back and interposed
    between the British and Mafeking, but two fresh troops with a
    7-pounder throwing shrapnel drove them off. In this spirited little
    action the garrison lost two killed and fourteen wounded, but they
    inflicted considerable damage on the enemy. To Captain Williams,
    Captain FitzClarence, and Lord Charles Bentinck great credit is due
    for the way in which they handled their men; but the whole affair was
    ill advised, for if a disaster had occurred Mafeking must have fallen,
    being left without a garrison. No possible results which could come
    from such a sortie could justify the risk which was run.

    On October 16th the siege began in earnest. On that date the Boers
    brought up two 12-pounder guns, and the first of that interminable
    flight of shells fell into the town. The enemy got possession of the
    water supply, but the garrison had already dug wells. Before October
    20th five thousand Boers, under the formidable Cronje, had gathered
    round the town. 'Surrender to avoid bloodshed' was his message.
    'When is the bloodshed going to begin?' asked Powell. When the Boers
    had been shelling the town for some weeks the lighthearted Colonel
    sent out to say that if they went on any longer he should be compelled
    to regard it as equivalent to a declaration of war. It is to be hoped
    that Cronje also possessed some sense of humour, or else he must have
    been as sorely puzzled by his eccentric opponent as the Spanish
    generals were by the vagaries of Lord Peterborough.

    Among the many difficulties which had to be met by the defenders of
    the town the most serious was the fact that the position had a
    circumference of five or six miles to be held by about one thousand
    men against a force who at their own time and their own place could at
    any moment attempt to gain a footing. An ingenious system of small
    forts was devised to meet the situation. Each of these held from ten
    to forty riflemen, and was furnished with bomb-proofs and covered
    ways. The central bomb-proof was connected by telephone with all the
    outlying ones, so as to save the use of orderlies. A system of bells
    was arranged by which each quarter of the town was warned when a shell
    was coming in time to enable the inhabitants to scuttle off to
    shelter. Every detail showed the ingenuity of the controlling mind.
    The armoured train, painted green and tied round with scrub, stood
    unperceived among the clumps of bushes which surrounded the town.

    On October 24th a savage bombardment commenced, which lasted with
    intermissions for seven months. The Boers had brought an enormous gun
    across from Pretoria, throwing a 96-lb. shell, and this, with many
    smaller pieces, played upon the town. The result was as futile as our
    own artillery fire has so often been when directed against the Boers.

    As the Mafeking guns were too weak to answer the enemy's fire, the
    only possible reply lay in a sortie, and upon this Colonel Powell
    decided. It was carried out with great gallantry on the evening of
    October 27th, when about a hundred men under Captain FitzClarence
    moved out against the Boer trenches with instructions to use the
    bayonet only. The position was carried with a rush, and many of the
    Boers bayoneted before they could disengage themselves from the
    tarpaulins which covered them. The trenches behind fired wildly in
    the darkness, and it is probable that as many of their own men as of
    ours were hit by their rifle fire. The total loss in this gallant
    affair was six killed, eleven wounded, and two prisoners. The loss of
    the enemy, though shrouded as usual in darkness, was certainly very
    much higher.

    On October 31st the Boers ventured upon an attack on Cannon Kopje,
    which is a small fort and eminence to the south of the town. It was
    defended by Colonel Walford, of the British South African Police, with
    fifty-seven of his men and three small guns. The attack was repelled
    with heavy loss to the Boers. The British casualties were six killed
    and five wounded.

    Their experience in this attack seems to have determined the Boers to
    make no further expensive attempts to rush the town, and for some
    weeks the siege degenerated into a blockade. Cronje had been recalled
    for more important work, and Commandant Snyman had taken over the
    uncompleted task. From time to time the great gun tossed its huge
    shells into the town, but boardwood walls and corrugated-iron roofs
    minimise the dangers of a bombardment. On November 3rd the garrison
    rushed the Brickfields, which had been held by the enemy's
    sharpshooters, and on the 7th another small sally kept the game going.
    On the 18th Powell sent a message to Snyman that he could not take the
    town by sitting and looking at it. At the same time he despatched a
    message to the Boer forces generally, advising them to return to their
    homes and their families. Some of the commandos had gone south to
    assist Cronje in his stand against Methuen, and the siege languished
    more and more, until it was woken up by a desperate sortie on December
    26th, which caused the greatest loss which the garrison had sustained.
    Once more the lesson was to be enforced that with modern weapons and
    equality of forces it is always long odds on the defence.

    On this date a vigorous attack was made upon one of the Boer forts on
    the north. There seems to be little doubt that the enemy had some
    inkling of our intention, as the fort was found to have been so
    strengthened as to be impregnable without scaling ladders. The
    attacking force consisted of two squadrons of the Protectorate
    Regiment and one of the Bechuanaland Rifles, backed up by three guns.
    So desperate was the onslaught that of the actual attacking party -- a
    forlorn hope, if ever there was one -- fifty-three out of eighty were
    killed and wounded, twenty-five of the former and twenty-eight of the
    latter. Several of that gallant band of officers who had been the
    soul of the defence were among the injured. Captain FitzClarence was
    wounded, Vernon, Sandford, and Paton were killed, all at the very
    muzzles of the enemy's guns. It must have been one of the bitterest
    moments of Baden-Powell's life when he shut his field-glass and said,
    'Let the ambulance go out!'

    Even this heavy blow did not damp the spirits nor diminish the
    energies of the defence, though it must have warned Baden-Powell that
    he could not afford to drain his small force by any more expensive
    attempts at the offensive, and that from then onwards he must content
    himself by holding grimly on until Plumer from the north or Methuen
    from the south should at last be able to stretch out to him a helping
    hand. Vigilant and indomitable, throwing away no possible point in
    the game which he was playing, the new year found him and his hardy
    garrison sternly determined to keep the flag flying.

    January and February offer in their records that monotony of
    excitement which is the fate of every besieged town. On one day the
    shelling was a little more, on another a little less. Sometimes they
    escaped scatheless, sometimes the garrison found itself the poorer by
    the loss of Captain Girdwood or Trooper Webb or some other gallant
    soldier. Occasionally they had their little triumph when a too
    curious Dutchman, peering for an instant from his cover to see the
    effect of his shot, was carried back in the ambulance to the
    laager. On Sunday a truce was usually observed, and the snipers who
    had exchanged rifle-shots all the week met occasionally on that day
    with good-humoured chaff. Snyman, the Boer General, showed none of
    that chivalry at Mafeking which distinguished the gallant old Joubert
    at Ladysmith. Not only was there no neutral camp for women or sick,
    but it is beyond all doubt or question that the Boer guns were
    deliberately turned upon the women's quarters inside Mafeking in order
    to bring pressure upon the inhabitants. Many women and children were
    sacrificed to this brutal policy, which must in fairness be set to the
    account of the savage leader, and not of the rough but kindly folk
    with whom we were fighting. In every race there are individual
    ruffians, and it would be a political mistake to allow our action to
    be influenced or our feelings permanently embittered by their
    crimes. It is from the man himself, and not from his country, that an
    account should be exacted.

    The garrison, in the face of increasing losses and decreasing food,
    lost none of the high spirits which it reflected from its commander.
    The programme of a single day of jubilee - Heaven only knows what they
    had to hold jubilee over -- shows a cricket match in the morning,
    sports in the afternoon, a concert in the evening, and a dance, given
    by the bachelor officers, to wind up. Baden-Powell himself seems to
    have descended from the eyrie from which, like a captain on the
    bridge, he rang bells and telephoned orders, to bring the house down
    with a comic song and a humorous recitation. The ball went admirably,
    save that there was an interval to repel an attack which disarranged
    the programme. Sports were zealously cultivated, and the grimy
    inhabitants of casemates and trenches were pitted against each other
    at cricket or football.[Footnote: Sunday cricket so shocked Snyman
    that he threatened to fire upon it if it were continued.] The monotony
    was broken by the occasional visits of a postman, who appeared or
    vanished from the vast barren lands to the west of the town, which
    could not all be guarded by the besiegers. Sometimes a few words from
    home came to cheer the hearts of the exiles, and could be returned by
    the same uncertain and expensive means. The documents which found
    their way up were not always of an essential or even of a welcome
    character. At least one man received an unpaid bill from an angry
    tailor.

    In one particular Mafeking had, with much smaller resources, rivalled
    Kimberley. An ordnance factory had been started, formed in the
    railway workshops, and conducted by Connely and Cloughlan, of the
    Locomotive Department. Daniels, of the police, supplemented their
    efforts by making both powder and fuses. The factory turned out
    shells, and eventually constructed a 5·5-in. smooth-bore gun, which
    threw a round shell with great accuracy to a considerable range.
    April found the garrison, in spite of all losses, as efficient and as
    resolute as it had been in October. So close were the advanced
    trenches upon either side that both parties had recourse to the
    old-fashioned hand grenades, thrown by the Boers, and cast on a
    fishing-line by ingenious Sergeant Page, of the Protectorate Regiment.
    Sometimes the besiegers and the number of guns diminished, forces
    being detached to prevent the advance of Plumer's relieving column
    from the north; but as those who remained held their forts, which it
    was beyond the power of the British to storm, the garrison was now
    much the better for the alleviation. Putting Mafeking for Ladysmith
    and Plumer for Buller, the situation was not unlike that which had
    existed in Natal.

    At this point some account might be given of the doings of that
    northern force whose situation was so remote that even the ubiquitous
    correspondent hardly appears to have reached it. No doubt the book
    will eventually make up for the neglect of the journal, but some short
    facts may be given here of the Rhodesian column. Their action did not
    affect the course of the war, but they clung like bulldogs to a most
    difficult task, and eventually, when strengthened by the relieving
    column, made their way to Mafeking.

    The force was originally raised for the purpose of defending Rhodesia,
    and it consisted of fine material pioneers, farmers, and miners from
    the great new land which had been added through the energy of
    Mr. Rhodes to the British Empire. Many of the men were veterans of
    the native wars, and all were imbued with a hardy and adventurous
    spirit. On the other hand, the men of the northern and western
    Transvaal, whom they were called upon to face, the burghers of
    Watersberg and Zoutpansberg, were tough frontiersmen living in a land
    where a dinner was shot, not bought. Shaggy, hairy, half-savage men,
    handling a rifle as a mediæval Englishman handled a bow, and skilled
    in every wile of veldt craft, they were as formidable opponents as the
    world could show.

    On the war breaking out the first thought of the leaders in Rhodesia
    was to save as much of the line which was their connection through
    Mafeking with the south as was possible. For this purpose an armoured
    train was despatched only three days after the expiration of the
    ultimatum to the point four hundred miles south of Bulawayo, where the
    frontiers of the Transvaal and of Bechuanaland join. Colonel
    Holdsworth commanded the small British force. The Boers, a thousand
    or so in number, had descended upon the railway, and an action
    followed in which the train appears to have had better luck than has
    usually attended these ill-fated contrivances. The Boer commando was
    driven back and a number were killed. It was probably news of this
    affair, and not anything which had occurred at Mafeking, which caused
    those rumours of gloom at Pretoria very shortly after the outbreak of
    hostilities. An agency telegraphed that women were weeping in the
    streets of the Boer capital. We had not then realised how soon and how
    often we should see the same sight in Pall Mall.

    The adventurous armoured train pressed on as far as Lobatsi, where it
    found the bridges destroyed; so it returned to its original position,
    having another brush with the Boer commandos, and again, in some
    marvellous way, escaping its obvious fate. From then until the new
    year the line was kept open by an admirable system of patrolling to
    within a hundred miles or so of Mafeking. An aggressive spirit and a
    power of dashing initiative were shown in the British operations at
    this side of the scene of war such as have too often been absent
    elsewhere. At Sekwani, on November 24th, a considerable success was
    gained by a surprise planned and carried out by Colonel Holdsworth.
    The Boer laager was approached and attacked in the early morning by a
    force of one hundred and twenty frontiersmen, and so effective was
    their fire that the Boers estimated their numbers at several thousand.
    Thirty Boers were killed or wounded, and the rest scattered.

    While the railway line was held in this way there had been some
    skirmishing also on the northern frontier of the Transvaal. Shortly
    after the outbreak of the war the gallant Blackburn, scouting with six
    comrades in thick bush, found himself in the presence of a
    considerable commando. The British concealed themselves by the path,
    but Blackburn's foot was seen by a keen-eyed Kaffir, who pointed it
    out to his masters. A sudden volley riddled Blackburn with bullets;
    but his men stayed by him and drove off the enemy. Blackburn dictated
    an official report of the action, and then died.

    In the same region a small force under Captain Hare was cut off by a
    body of Boers. Of the twenty men most got away, but the chaplain
    J. W. Leary, Lieutenant Haserick (who behaved with admirable
    gallantry), and six men were taken.[Footnote: Mr. Leary was wounded in
    the foot by a shell. The German artillerist entered the hut in which
    he lay. 'Here's a bit of your work!' said Leary good~humouredly. 'I
    wish it had been woise,' said the amiable German gunner.] The commando
    which attacked this party, and on the same day Colonel Spreckley's
    force, was a powerful one, with several guns. No doubt it was
    organised because there were fears among the Boers that they would be
    invaded from the north. When it was understood that the British
    intended no large aggressive movement in that quarter, these burghers
    joined other commandos. Sarel Eloff, who was one of the leaders of
    this northern force, was afterwards taken at Mafeking.

    Colonel Plumer had taken command of the small army which was now
    operating from the north along the railway line with Mafeking for its
    objective. Plumer is an officer of considerable experience in African
    warfare, a small, quiet, resolute man, with a knack of gently
    enforcing discipline upon the very rough material with which he had to
    deal. With his weak force -- which never exceeded a thousand men, and
    was usually from six to seven hundred - he had to keep the long line
    behind him open, build up the ruined railway in front of him, and
    gradually creep onwards in face of a formidable and enterprising
    enemy. For a long time Gaberones, which is eighty miles north of
    Mafeking, remained his headquarters, and thence he kept up precarious
    communications with the besieged garrison. In the middle of March he
    advanced as far south as Lobatsi, which is less than fifty miles from
    Mafeking; but the enemy proved to be too strong, and Plumer had to
    drop back again with some loss to his original position at
    Gaberones. Sticking doggedly to his task, Plumer again came south, and
    this time made his way as far as Ramathlabama, within a day's march of
    Mafeking. He had with him, however, only three hundred and fifty men,
    and had he pushed through the effect mighit have been an addition of
    hungry men to the garrison. The relieving force was fiercely
    attacked, however, by the Boers and driven back on to their camp with
    a loss of twelve killed, twenty-six wounded, and fourteen
    missing. Some of the British were dismounted men, and it says much for
    Plumer's conduct of the fight that he was able to extricate these
    safely from the midst of an aggressive mounted enemy. Personally he
    set an admirable example, sending away his own horse, and walking with
    his rearmost soldiers. Captain Crewe Robertson and Lieutenant
    Milligan, the famous Yorkshire cricketer, were killed, and Rolt,
    Jarvis, Maclaren, and Plumer himself were wounded. The Rhodesian
    force withdrew again to near Lobatsi, and collected itself for yet
    another effort.

    In the meantime Mafeking -- abandoned, as it seemed, to its fate --
    was still as formidable as a wounded lion. Far from weakening in its
    defence it became more aggressive, and so persistent and skilful were
    its riflemen that the big Boer gun had again and again to be moved
    further from the town. Six months of trenches and rifle-pits had
    turned every inhabitant into a veteran. Now and then words of praise
    and encouragement came to them from without. Once it was a special
    message from the Queen, once a promise of relief from Lord Roberts.
    But the rails which led to England were overgrown with grass, and
    their brave hearts yearned for the sight of their countrymen and for
    the sound of their voices. 'How long, 0 Lord, how long?' was the cry
    which was wrung from them in their solitude. But the flag was still
    held high.

    April was a trying month for the defence. They knew that Methuen, who
    had advanced as far as Fourteen Streams upon the Vaal River, had
    retired again upon Kimberley. They knew also that Plumer's force had
    been weakened by the repulse at Ramathlabama, and that many of his men
    were down with fever. Six weary months had this village withstood the
    pitiless pelt of rifle bullet and shell. Help seemed as far away from
    them as ever. But if troubles may be allayed by sympathy, then theirs
    should have lain lightly. The attention of the whole empire had
    centred upon them, and even the advance of Roberts's army became
    secondary to the fate of this gallant struggling handful of men who
    had upheld the flag so long. On the Continent also their resistance
    attracted the utmost interest, and the numerous journals there who
    find the imaginative writer cheaper than the war correspondent
    announced their capture periodically as they had once done that of
    Ladysmith. From a mere tin-roofed village Mafeking had become a prize
    of victory, a stake which should be the visible sign of the
    predominating manhood of one or other of the great white races of
    South Africa. Unconscious of the keenness of the emotions which they
    had aroused, the garrison manufactured brawn from horsehide, and
    captured locusts as a relish for their luncheons, while in the
    shot-torn billiard-room of the club an open tournament was started to
    fill in their hours off duty. But their vigilance, and that of the
    hawk-eyed man up in the Conning Tower, never relaxed. The besiegers
    had increased in number, and their guns were more numerous than
    before. A less acute man than Baden-Powell might have reasoned that
    at least one desperate effort would be made by them to carry the town
    before relief could come.

    On Saturday, May 12th, the attack was made at the favourite hour of
    the Boer -- the first grey of the morning. It was gallantly delivered
    by about three hundred volunteers under the command of Eloff, who had
    crept round to the west of the town -- the side furthest from the
    lines of the besiegers. At the first rush they penetrated into the
    native quarter, which was at once set on fire by them. The first
    building of any size upon that side is the barracks of the
    Protectorate Regiment, which was held by Colonel Hore and about twenty
    of his officers and men. This was carried by the enemy, who sent an
    exultant message along the telephone to Baden-Powell to tell him that
    they had got it. Two other positions within the lines, one a stone
    kraal and the other a hill, were held by the Boers, but their supports
    were slow in coming on, and the movements of the defenders were so
    prompt and energetic that all three found themselves isolated and cut
    off from their own lines. They had penetrated the town, but they were
    as far as ever from having taken it. All day the British forces drew
    their cordon closer and closer round the Boer positions, making no
    attempt to rush them, but ringing them round in such a way that there
    could be no escape for them. A few burghers slipped away in twos and
    threes, but the main body found that they had rushed into a prison
    from which the only egress was swept with rifle fire. At seven
    o'clock in the evening they recognised that their position was
    hopeless, and Eloff with 117 men laid down their arms. Their losses
    had been ten killed and nineteen wounded. For some reason, either of
    lethargy, cowardice, or treachery, Snyman had not brought up the
    supports which might conceivably have altered the result. It was a
    gallant attack gallantly met, and for once the greater wiliness in
    fight was shown by the British. The end was characteristic. 'Good
    evening, Commandant,' said Powell to Eloff; 'won't you come in and
    have some dinner?' The prisoners -- burghers, Hollanders, Germans, and
    Frenchmen -- were treated to as good a supper as the destitute larders
    of the town could furnish.

    So in a small blaze of glory ended the historic siege of Mafeking, for
    Eloff's attack was the last, though by no means the worst of the
    trials which the garrison had to face. Six killed and ten wounded
    were the British losses in this admirably managed affair. On May 17th,
    five days after the fight, the relieving force arrived, the besiegers
    were scattered, and the long-imprisoned garrison were free men once
    more. Many who had looked at their maps and saw this post isolated in
    the very heart of Africa had despaired of ever reaching their heroic
    fellow-countrymen, and now one universal outbreak of joybells and
    bonfires from Toronto to Melbourne proclaimed that there is no spot so
    inaccessible that the long arm of the empire cannot reach it when her
    children are in peril.

    Colonel Mahon, a young Irish officer who had made his reputation as a
    cavalry leader in Egypt, had started early in May from Kimberley with
    a small but mobile force consisting of the Imperial Light Horse
    (brought round from Natal for the purpose), the Kimberley Mounted
    Corps, the Diamond Fields Horse, some Imperial Yeomanry, a detachment
    of the Cape Police, and 100 volunteers from the Fusilier brigade, with
    M battery R.H.A. and pom-poms, twelve hundred men in all. Whilst
    Hunter was fighting his action at Rooidam on May 4th, Mahon with his
    men struck round the western flank of the Boers and moved rapidly to
    the northwards. On May 11th they bad left Vryburg, the halfway house,
    behind them, having done one hundred and twenty miles in five days.
    They pushed on, encountering no opposition save that of nature, though
    they knew that they were being closely watched by the enemy. At
    Koodoosrand it was found that a Boer force was in position in front,
    but Mahon avoided them by turning somewhat to the westward. His
    detour took him, however, into a bushy country, and here the enemy
    headed him off, opening fire at short range upon the ubiquitous
    Imperial Light Horse, who led the column. A short engagement ensued,
    in which the casualties amounted to thirty killed and wounded, but
    which ended in the defeat and dispersal of the Boers, whose force was
    certainly very much weaker than the British. On May 15th the
    relieving column arrived without further opposition at Masibi Stadt,
    twenty miles to the west of Mafeking.

    In the meantime Plumer's force upon the north had been strengthened by
    the addition of C battery of four 12-pounder guns of the Canadian
    Artillery under Major Eudon and a body of Queenslanders. These forces
    had been part of the small army which had come with General Carrington
    through Beira, and after a detour of thousands of miles, through their
    own wonderful energy they had arrived in time to form portion of the
    relieving column. Foreign military critics, whose experience of
    warfare is to move troops across a frontier, should think of what the
    Empire has to do before her men go into battle. These contingents had
    been assembled by long railway journeys, conveyed across thousands of
    miles of ocean to Cape Town, brought round another two thousand or so
    to Beira, transferred by a narrow-gauge railway to Bamboo Creek,
    changed to a broader gauge to Marandellas, sent on in coaches for
    hundreds of miles to Bulawayo, transferred to trains for another four
    or five hundred miles to Ootsi, and had finally a forced march of a
    hundred miles, which brought them up a few hours before their presence
    was urgently needed upon the field. Their advance, which averaged
    twenty-five miles a day on foot for four consecutive days over
    deplorable roads, was one of the finest performances of the war. With
    these high-spirited reinforcements and with his own hardy Rhodesians
    Plumer pushed on, and the two columns reached the hamlet of Masibi
    Stadt within an hour of each other. Their united strength was far
    superior to anything which Snyman's force could place against them.

    But the gallant and tenacious Boers would not abandon their prey
    without a last effort. As the little army advanced upon Mafeking they
    found the enemy waiting in a strong position. For some hours the
    Boers gallantly held their ground, and their artillery fire was, as
    usual, most accurate. But our own guns were more numerous and equally
    well served, and the position was soon made untenable. The Boers
    retired past Mafeking and took refuge in the trenches upon the eastern
    side, but Baden-Powell with his war-hardened garrison sallied out,
    and, supported by the artillery fire of the relieving column, drove
    them from their shelter. With their usual admirable tactics their
    larger guns had been removed, but one small cannon was secured as a
    souvenir by the townsfolk, together with a number of wagons and a
    considerable quantity of supplies. A long rolling trail of dust upon
    the eastern horizon told that the famous siege of Mafeking had at last
    come to an end.

    So ended a singular incident, the defence of an open town which
    contained no regular soldiers and a most inadequate artillery against
    a numerous and enterprising enemy with very heavy guns. All honour to
    the towns folk who bore their trial so long and so bravely -- and to
    the indomitable men who lined the trenches for seven weary months.
    Their constancy was of enormous value to the empire. In the
    all-important early month at least four or five thousand Boers were
    detained by them when their presence elsewhere would have been fatal.
    During all the rest of the war, two thousand men and eight guns
    (including one of the four big Creusots) had been held there. It
    prevented the invasion of Rhodesia, and it gave a rallying-point for
    loyal whites and natives in the huge stretch of country from Kimberley
    to Bulawayo. All this had, at a cost of two hundred lives, been done
    by this one devoted band of men, who killed, wounded, or took no fewer
    than one thousand of their opponents. Critics may say that the
    enthusiasm in the empire was excessive, but at least it was expended
    over worthy men and a fine deed of arms.
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