BADEN-POWELL had agreed to stand the siege to the end of May if necessary, and reported cheerfully as to the health of the place and the spirits of the garrison, but the newspaper correspondence was an appeal to British sympathy. And it was felt that while the Queen did well to send a kindly word of cheer and hope, the British army, then within 300 miles, ought not to subject the beleaguered to such protracted miseries.
With the opening of May came " signs" of relief from Kimberley and Warrenton (30 miles nearer), where Gen. Sir A. Hunter, with 10,000 men, was using a 6-inch wire gun that threw a 100 lb. shell seven and a half miles into the Boer laagers. The passage of the Vaal at Windsorton without opposition, gained a town of 800 inhabitants, 32 miles north of Kimberley.
Twenty-one miles further north on the same side of the river we had to reckon with the foe at Fourteen Streams, facing Warrenton, where on the opposite side of the water a British force was located, and at Boshof, 35 miles south-east of Windsorton, was a fairly large force under Lord Methuen (chiefly Yeomanry) who had been bivouacked there for some time as if enjoying a picnic.
About here the Dutch farmers are low-type squatters who had saved themselves by returning to their farms after the Cape rising, and some of them fought at Magersfontein. The English emigrants thought these swaggering Dutch were treated too kindly.
However the present display of British force might teach them wisdom. On the 4th of May the Boers' position, four miles long, was attacked by our Natal troops, and the grand Imperial Yeomanry (the swell brigade) had a baptism of fire, under Colonel Meyrick. Ridge after ridge was taken, and the burghers, having lost by death and wounds considerably, were chased for miles to Warrenton, where Paget's brigade smote them hip and thigh. Quite 3,000 Boers trekked northward, losing 40 horses to Munster rifles — which is as good perhaps as shooting the Boer for without a nag he cannot take the field. The enemy left thirteen killed and wounded on the ground, besides clothing, ammunition, and personal effects, showing that we had paid them a surprise visit, and that to escape worse consequences, they had evacuated in haste from the position they had held for months. They made for Christiana, a railway station about 20 miles in the Transvaal. We captured several prisoners.
The British now joined hands on both sides of the Vaal. Lord Methuen made a reconnaissance in force from Boshof in the direction of Swartzkoptefontein, and his patrols had a skirmish, but seeing the northward trek of the enemy he returned. The Yeomanry, who behaved well in the encounter at Fourteen Streams, were now committed to an exciting forward march in the Transvaal, parallel with and 100 miles from the army at Smaldeel.
Speculation became right as to the quarter whence Mafeking's salvation should come.
A mystic relief column, advancing along the Bechuanaland railway had, it was said, reached Vryburg by May 9th. It was a flying column of cavalry and infantry, 3000 strong, with a battery of six guns. From Windsorton, the distance covered since Friday, May 4th, was 93 miles. Then nothing more was heard for a week as to the deliverers.
General Hunter's 10th Division had Hart and Barton as Brigadiers, with Col. Murray commanding the Colonials, Major Reade being Chief Staff Officer. This column operating on the west of the Free State, assisted in clearing the Boers from the borders, and so acted on the relief of the too-long imprisoned citizens, but Archie's destination was then uncertain. After taking possession of Christiana, he put a brigade in charge of the place without encountering any opposition, and found it necessary to return to Fourteen Streams. Another disappointment.
The keen suspense and mystery gave place, on the night of the 18th of May, to a thrill of delight that " spread by means of the telegraph to every part of the globe in a few hours—it was the very day Bobs had promised it. And yet it was only a bare Reuter's telegram of one sentence, on which the national delirium rested, and there had been hoaxes before. From Pretoria at 11-35 a.m. flashed the news: — "It is officially announced that when the laagers and forts around Mafeking had been severely bombarded the siege was abandoned by the Boers." This reached London at 9-17 p.m. By 10-30 came a wire that the news had reached Toronto, Canada. The 218 days' siege was really over and the brave garrison and plucky inhabitants were being succoured! The same night came a gleam of explanation—" A British force advancing from the south then took possession of the town." So it was that flying column whom nobody had seen who could speak with authority, that had arrived in the nick of time. And imagination pictured Col. Plumer rushing in from the neighbourhood of Ootsi with hampers and boxes of food, the feast that the ravenous people would have, and the merry-makings.
he long heroic struggle and dogged resistance to overpowering numbers, the daily watchful fight, and patient suffering had won the heart of Britons everywhere, and when the joy bells rang, the flags fluttered, the fireworks were discharged, the bonfires were lit, the illuminations burst out, and the wild shouts of gladness were raised in every jubilating parish in England almost, and in distant colonies, it was a striking proof of that oneness of heart that binds a great nation in patriotic sympathy.
It was Colonel Bryan Thos. Mahon, D.S.O., of the 8th Hussars, who was entrusted with the relief. He is a Kitchener-man, and an Irishman, under 40, who received his commission in 1883 and was transferred to the Egyptian Army in 1896.
His composite flying column of 2,300 picked men included the Imperial Light Horse, from Ladysmith, a Kimberley Mounted corps, a large body of infantry from the Fusilier brigade, with Royal artillery guns and pom poms, and a special equipment of 35 light-springed mule transport. Among the officers were Prince Alexander of Teck, Sir John Willoughby, Col. F. Rhodes and Major Baden-Powell, brother of the gallant hero.
Starting on May 4th from Kimberley, they reached Barkley when Hunter was engaging the Boers in the district of Fourteen Streams. Vryburg was reached unopposed on May 9th, 130 miles being covered in five days. At this pleasant village the loyal subjects hailed the military with delight.
The column moved parallel to the enemy's Vaal positions at Rooidam and Fourteen Streams, and were so close that on the Sunday and Monday General Hunter's balloon was visible and his bombardment heard. The route thence was by the Hart river, abreast of .Taungs, where a dozen Zarps scuttled from the fort, Pudimoe, Roodepoort, to Vryburg. After a rest it started at 5 p. m., on May 10th, and marched 21 miles. Then a bivouac from 2 p. m. to dawn. Monjani Mabili was gained by breakfast time. Lieut. Moorsome, of the Protectorate Regiment, who had, with hairbreadth escapes, eluded the Boers from Mafeking, had paid Col. Plumer a visit at Ootsi, 20 miles from the besiegers, and joined the relief column after a daring ride of 300 miles.
Leaving Setladgai on Sunday at sunrise a western detour was made to avoid Koodoosrand and a strong force of Boers. As the column neared Jammasibi on May 15th, Col. Plumer, with his plucky Rhodesian troops, joined hands, and some Canadian Artillery from Bulawayo, who had not before been heard of in this direction, came to the rendezvous.
The south column had done 223 miles in ten days from the jump off at Greefputs, the previous 34 miles from Kimberley having been effected in easy stages.
The reinforcements were in the nick of time, for the next day there was a fight of five hours—from three to dusk—with 1,300 Boers.
The combined forces- moved along the Molopo valley,' being about twenty miles from Mafeking. Soon some of the enemy's scouts were seen, and a force of 500 . under a son of General Cronje, it was said. A mile east of Saane's village, and within ten miles of Mafeking, we halted for watering the horses and cattle, and to get ready for any possible resistance.
Boer activity was observed on the hills, and in two hours we resumed the march. The Boers took up a position on our right and Col. Plumer was sent with six squadrons and some guns to check the enemy's advance. The Boers had several guns on the south side of the river, and started shelling our transport, and the waggon train was therefore sent up a valley to the north east. Col. Edwards' south column joined the left brigade and became engaged, and the artillery were soon in action. The Boer riflemen spread out on Plumer's right flank, and with a pom-pom for a time enfiladed us. The British South Africa Police acted independently on the right bank of the Molopo, and did well, though being nearer the enemy they suffered more from the shelling, but the Rhodesian Regiment had the most casualties. A gun shifted some Boers from the river bed and others from two farm houses. After dark a farm house on the north bank was occupied by the Fusiliers, who came up as the Boers were crossing a drift to the south west with their transport waggons. The Fusiliers fired into the train, killed several mules, and captured a waggon load of pom-pom ammunition. Our casualties were six killed and twenty-one wounded. The Boers left thirty dead on the field and removed others.
The column continued in a north-easterly direction on the Boers trekking, and encamped at 9 p. m. Then at 12-30 we were in motion again, due east, our colonials well knowing the ground, the waggons and guns being flanked by mounted men. We halted several times as we approached our destination and when within three miles of it we struck the road direct to the town.
The enemy was non est. The defeat of the assault on the 12th had disheartened the Boers, or perhaps, as reported, Snyman jealous of Eloff, like Ajax sulking in his tent, had abandoned that dashing young man to his fate. Whatever the cause, at 7-30 on the night of Wednesday, May 16th, Major Karri-Davis and eight scouts of the Imperial Light Horse, galloped into the town—now expecting the deliverance, but it was not till Thursday morning that the advance guard of the column came—a party of Cape Police under Major Berange, followed by the rest of the force at nine o'clock, who pitched tents on the polo ground within our trenches.
And as they marched in, what a mighty cheer went up from the British volunteers who had saved the town from the besiegers for six long weary months, and the civilians joined in the happy ebullition of gratitude with no less enthusiasm.
A sortie was at once made by some of the brave colonials who had stood the siege and other colonials who had just arrived, and were weary with marching and firing.
An armoured train with a detachment pushed out to Game Tree Fort, and shelled the besiegers from their head laager, almost capturing Commandant Snyman. They took a gun, flag, and a large amount of ammunition, stores, &c,—the food being very acceptable to the half-starved people of the town. Twenty dead and fifteen wounded Boers were found in the laager and near by. From their housetops the delighted inhabitants of the town witnessed the rout of their tormentors.
Thus was the siege raised at 4 a.m. on the 17th of May. When the men returned from the chase, the town guard formed up in the Market Square for a march-past of the relief force, amidst the enthusiasm of the assembled populace.
On Friday, Thanksgiving and Memorial Services were held close to the cemetery and afterwards Col. Baden-Powell impressively addressed the garrison, giving them every credit for their devotion to duty; then three volleys were fired over the graves of the fallen comrades.
After the " last post" was played, the National Anthem was sung by the multitude.
Provisions first arrived by rail from the north on May 24th, while the line southward was repaired with all despatch. The supplies on the 24th were received at the railway station with popular enthusiasm.
Lady Curzon, sister of Lady Sarah Wilson, had collected £"12,000 in London, for the relief of the sufferers, and she telegraphed to B. P. that he could at once spend £3,000 in urgent cases of destitution.
The total casualties of the siege were—white officers, 6 killed, 15 wounded, 1 missing; white non-commissioned officers and men 61 killed and 103 wounded, 26 missing; j6 died of disease and 5 wounded accidentally. Coloured combatants, 25 killed, 58 wounded. Non-combatants, white, 4 killed and 5 wounded, 32 died of disease. Of the natives 64 were killed and 117 wounded.
Major Edwards was appointed commissioner.
Major General Baden-Powell, glad to be relieved pursued the enemy into the Transvaal.
The first train from the south since the siege began entered on June 9th, and the cheers of the engineers it contained were responded to by the inhabitants. The sick and wounded were sent to the Cape on the nth.
The universal joy expressed at the relief of this little out-of-the-way place is easily explained. To quote Ian Maclaren—
Whether Mafeking stood or fell was a matter of no substantial importance to either side, and yet its standing, I will dare to say, is the bitterest disappointment our enemy has had, and its splendid defence the chief pride of this war for our country.
The defence of Mafeking is not to be estimated by figures which can be placed upon paper, but by that spirit of manhood which is the glory of a nation. This achievement recalls the charge of the Light Brigade, and the Siege of Lucknow, and the sinking of the Birkenhead, and the defence of Rorke's Drift.
The heroism of Baden-Powell and his volunteer army is one of those incidents which quickens the pulse of a nation, and lifts it above itself; which raises the standard of heroism and enriches its history. Our admiration is freely distributed between the ingenuity, and skill, and resources of the commander, and the bravery, and loyalty, and endurance, not only of his men, but also of the people in the beleagured place. But i dare to think that the chief meed of our respect is awarded to the spirit in which that gallant soldier and his comrades did their part. They not only fought and toiled, and kept watch, and suffered hunger, but they did it all with a high heart, without grumbling or complaining, with unaffected cheerfulness and pleasant jesting, as if this were rather a comedy than a tragedy.
No whining message beseeching for relief, came from them any more than from Ladysmith, but they made the best of things, and went on with their sports, and pretended that they were in no danger, and declared that, come what may, they would see that the English flag was kept flying.They carried themselves like Britons of the old breed, who neither boast nor whine, and because they played the game and played up well, and played to the end, and by the will of God have won, we honour them and count the country richer this day for them. And the whole nation, from our old men to our boys, has received another lesson in the old-fashioned English virtue of pluck.