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Chapter 24

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.

Arthur Conan Doyle