The early campaigns of a famous British soldier and Chief Scout
Robert Baden-Powell is internationally famous as the founder of the worldwide Boy Scout movement, but he first came to the attention of the British public when he commanded besieged the British force during the 217 day siege of Mafeking during the Second Boer War. The beleaguered garrison held out against the numerically superior Boers until it was eventually relieved by troops under Colonel Mahon of Roberts’ command. The successful defence of the town led to Baden-Powell being elevated to the rank of Major-General and made him a national hero. Born in 1857, he joined the army in 1876 as a lieutenant in the 13th Hussars. He was first posted to India and then to Natal Province, South Africa where his service earned him mentions in dispatches and promotion. In 1896, he served in the Second Matabele War in Rhodesia, taking part in the expedition to relieve Bulawayo and in reconnaissance work into tribal territory. He served in the Fourth Ashanti War and in 1897, at the age of 40, went on to became the British Army’s youngest colonel. He later commanded the 5th Dragoon Guards and returned briefly to India. This unique Leonaur book features Baden-Powell’s own accounts of the early campaigns of his military career when his soldiering was very much the ‘hands-on’ business of the middle ranking British officer.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Colonel Plumer, who was commanding the force, now ordered the guns, with a strong escort of 130 men under Captain the Hon. J. Beresford, 7th Hussars, to endeavour to gain a position on the ridge, moving up that shoulder of it which might be termed the thumb. With Beresford I sent two of my boys as guides and scouts, and I told Beresford to keep a good look-out in going out, as he might find Inyanda’s impi on the right of his path, while the remaining four were away to his left. At 7.30 this party moved off to our right front. The main body meantime were to remain concealed where they were until the guns got into position for shelling the strongholds, upon which it would move forward and attack them in succession.
While we were waiting, I climbed up on to a neighbouring koppie to have a look round with my telescope. On almost every hill I could see natives, and on one hill in particular, which overlooked the path where I had been scouting yesterday, and by which they evidently expected us to arrive, were collected a large number of their scouts. It was great fun watching them through the glass, as they seemed so close to one, and were entirely unconscious one’s presence. One or two kept an anxious lookout to the eastward (we were due west of them), while the remainder, in a hidden position, were having their breakfast. Presently the glint of the arms of Beresford’s party attracted their attention, and their consternation was almost ludicrous to watch; on all the other koppies one could see that the alarm had spread, and without noise or shouting the rebels were stealthily collecting together under arms.
Beresford had been gone for nearly an hour, when presently we heard him open fire; there was a rattle of a few shots, quickly followed by a roar of volleys and rapid sustained fire; this, echoing back from the hills around, developed into a continuous roar, which was added to by the roll of the Maxims and the booming of the bigger guns. This was a sound we had not expected to hear, as we thought there could not have been any very serious attack so early in the day in such an outlying portion of the field, but we had not reckoned upon the rapidity in which the enemy would move this day.
So soon as we recognised that serious fighting was on hand. Colonel Plumer sent Captain Coope with a patrol to see how Beresford was getting on. Coope worked his way round, and later on reappeared with the information that Beresford in the course of his march had been suddenly attacked by the enemy converging on him from three sides at once; he had formed his small party into a square on a convenient plateau, and there, for over an hour, remained hotly engaged, the enemy rushing up to within a few yards under the good protection afforded by the boulders and bush. It was a stiff and plucky fight on both sides. The enemy, rushing on in great numbers, seemed confident of overwhelming the little force opposed to them; but the whites were ready for them, and opened a steady, destructive fire on them, which checked them time after time.
Some natives having effected a lodgement in some rocks commanding the position, Lieutenant Hervey was ordered to dislodge them with a few of his men, and it was while dashing forward to do so that his sergeant-major was shot dead, and he himself fell mortally wounded through the body. His place was at once gallantly taken by Mr. Weston Jarvis, who had sauntered out with a gun to look at the fun, but proved himself a cool and able leader in a tight place.
At one moment, seeing a volley from the enemy was imminent, the order was given by one of the officers to his men to take cover. The men in charge of the Maxim by mistake took this order as applying to them and left the Maxim, in order to take cover as directed; in an instant the rebels saw their chance, and made a rush to get the gun. Llewellyn, the officer in charge, saw their move, and jumped forward himself and alone to counteract it. It was a race for the gun; Llewellyn was there first, and, jumping on to the saddle, turned its stream of fire on to the natives, who were within a few yards of him, and they turned and fled, falling to the fire.
The native muleteers behaved very pluckily, taking their carbines and assisting in the defence; the friendly natives who had been employed in carrying the Maxims and Hotchkiss showed very little heart; they crept in and took cover under the back of the mules, excepting one or two, who, when the enemy were close up, got away and joined their ranks. The guns were excellently served, firing case into the enemy at fifty yards; both the officers in charge of the guns—Lieutenant M‘Culloch, R.A., and Lieutenant Fraser, West Riding Regiment—were wounded, but both continued to work with the battery.
At one time a war rocket was fired, partly as a signal and partly to obtain a moral effect, and it certainly succeeded in the latter respect, for after its unearthly bang a dead silence seemed to come over the scene, both sides ceased firing as if by common consent, and then the weird notes were heard of Sikombo’s war-horn reverberating through the mountains with a sound like that of a steam siren, calling up reinforcements for the fight.
But meantime, hearing what was going on there, Plumer ordered an immediate advance of his main body. Coope’s Scouts were to lead the way, supported by the two corps of Cape Boys, backed up by the M.R.F. As we came out into the valley from our position, we could see the enemy collected in front of Beresford; they were not then actively attacking him, but they were evidently ready and awaiting further reinforcements, but our appearance soon changed their plans. Retreating hastily from the immediate neighbourhood of Beresford’s position, under fire of his Maxims, they retired on to the next ridge (or fore-finger) to him, many of them getting into position at the koppie at the end of it. This ridge we at once attacked; pressing on with Coope’s Scouts, we were at the foot of the ridge almost as soon as the enemy were on to the upper part of it, and here the fun began.