Mafeking—the siege and relief by one who was there
By the turn of the twentieth century the age of industrial warfare ensured that the time of protracted sieges was all but at an end. However, southern Africa—far from the modern world—brought its own characteristics to the waging of war and so the Second Boer War (1899-1902) contained two notable sieges where the Imperial force was beset and remained contained. These were the sieges of Ladysmith and Mafeking, the most renowned Boer War siege, which lasted an incredible eight months from October, 1899 to May, 1900. It should be noted that Mafeking was deliberately established as a focus for defence to attract and tie down superior and often elusive Boer forces. This was a tactic employed both before the Boer War and since, though not always with a happy or guaranteed outcome for the defenders. This gripping account, told with the immediacy of reportage by a soldier on the sharp end of the conflict, is a siege diary kept by Major F. D. Baillie of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, it was originally published in ‘The Morning Post’ newspaper and includes illustrations provided to the author by ‘The Daily Graphic.’ After months of privation the tactic to concentrate the Boers in one place achieved its objective, Mafeking was relieved—a notable victory for British forces and a substantial defeat for the Boers. The siege drew particular attention to one of its principal officers and one of the architects of the military plan, Baden-Powell, who was propelled to fame and went on to found the boy-scout movement.
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After breakfast (like giants refreshed) we began shooting again. I cannot tell you who did well, but I can assure you that no man did badly. Besides the men there were ladies. Mrs. Buchan and Miss Crawford worked most calmly and bravely under fire. All the other ladies did their duty too. Whilst the fight was developing, Mrs. Winter was running about getting us coffee. Her small son, aged six, was extremely wroth with me because I ordered him under shelter. Then commenced what you may call the next phase of the fight. Captain Fitzclarence and his squadron, with Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Bridges, came down through the town to join hands with Captain Marsh’s squadron, and then with Lord Charles Bentinck’s squadron and the Baralongs, the whole under Major Godley, were now going to commence to capture the Boers.<br>
I must endeavour to describe the situation. Eloff’s attack was clever and determined. He had seven hundred men and had advanced up the bed of the Molopo. Into Mafeking he had got, but like many previous attacks had proved—it was easy to get in, but quite another matter to get out. The Baralongs and our outlying forts had allowed some three hundred men to enter, and had then commenced a heavy fire upon their supports. This discomfited the supports, and they incontinently fled. Silas Moleno and Lekoko, the Baralong leaders, had decided that it was better to kraal them up like cattle. One Dutchman was overheard to shout, “Mafeking is ours,” when suddenly his friends yelled, “My God, we are surrounded.”<br>
This species of fighting particularly appeals to the Baralong. He is better than the Boer at the Boer’s own game, and never will I hear a word against the Baralong. However, Silas was then engaged in conjunction with our own men in collecting them. He collected them where they had no water, and then the question resolved itself into the Boer showing himself and getting shot or gradually starving. If the Baralongs had been fighting the fight and time had been no particular object, they would probably still be shooting odd Boers, but it is obvious that those dilatory measures could not be pursued by ourselves, and that we had to finish the fight by nightfall.<br>
Our men were accordingly sent down to round them up; there were thus in all three parties of Boers in the town, one, nearly three hundred strong, in the B.S.A.P. fort, sundry in a kraal by Mr. Minchin’s house, others again in the kopje. The kraal was captured in an exceedingly clever manner. Captain Fitzclarence and Captain Marsh worked up to the walls, but knowing the pleasant nature of the Boer, instead of storming the place or showing themselves, they bored loopholes with their bayonets. The artillery under Lieutenant Daniels also had come up to within forty yards.<br>
There was a slight hesitation on the part of the Boers to surrender. The order was given to the gun to commence fire. The lanyard broke, but before a fresh start could be made the Boers hastily surrendered. Captain Marsh, known and respected by the Baralongs, had great difficulty in restraining them from finishing the fight their own way, and small blame to them for their desire. They had had their stadt burned. Odd Boers had been bolting at intervals, and had mostly been accounted for. The question next to be settled was as to the possession of the B.S.A.P. fort. Our men who were captive therein, and indeed the Boers and foreigners to whom I have since talked describe our fire as extraordinarily accurate. Eloff had great difficulty in keeping his men together, and as one man at least was a deserter of ours, it can’t altogether be wondered that they did not wish to remain.<br>
Our firing, as we had more men to spare, became more and more deadly, and at last now they decided to surrender. Some hundred broke away and escaped from the fort, in spite of Eloff firing on them, but their bodies have been coming in ever since and many will never be accounted for, because the bodies of men with rifles may be possibly put away by the Baralongs, who are always begging rifles we have been unable to give them. Eloff accordingly surrendered to Colonel Hore. The other party in the kopje had made several unsuccessful attempts to break out, Bentinck and his squadron always successfully heading them, but as it got dark, and our men had been fighting from before four, it was decided to let them break out and just shoot what we could. The Baralongs had some more shooting too.