- Parent Category: Books
- Hits: 579
1st, 1900, New Year's Day. We had anticipated a quiet day, as this is a Boer festival. I presume they thought we anticipated this, for they commenced early with a heavy bombardment and experimented with incendiary bombs, which however were of no success. A valuable member of the garrison, one of our few carpenters, Slater by name, was killed.
2nd. Our usual shelling, and a niece of a Baralong chief killed in the stadt, amongst others. In the evening Mr. Hamilton, Times correspondent, gave the staff and the other correspondents a most excellent dinner, which we all thoroughly appreciated, at Riesle's Hotel. How so good a dinner could be served after about four months' siege is indeed extraordinary.
3rd. The quick Q.-F. Krupp was moved to the north-west of the town, and fired on the western forts, amongst other places into the women's laager, killing two children, one Dutch, one English.
4th. Typhoid has broken out in the women's laager. I suppose we may consider ourselves lucky it is not more prevalent. The usual shelling goes on.
5th. Enemy quiet, with the usual shelling, which is terribly monotonous.
6th. Boers rather vicious to-day, and the usual Saturday's spar all round at sundown. Runners went north and south.
7th, Sunday. In the early morning heavy musketry fire from the Boers, quite contrary to their usual custom. Sports, Christie Minstrels, and a comical turn-out competition.
8th. Rained hard. Shelling went on as usual, and my usual sniping ground destroyed by four shells, and the occupant fatally injured. Shrapnell fired over the women's laager.
9th. From now onwards we may assume a very heavy shelling every day. Two whites and two natives injured while tampering with a hundred pound shell, one white since dead.
10th. Mrs. Poulton, born a Dutch woman, shot through the head and killed, also a few natives; this woman's sister at the commencement of the siege expressed the wish that the streets of Mafeking might run with English blood. This charming lady, named Hammond, created so much disturbance at the commencement of the siege that she was put under restraint; her daughter has since been severely wounded. Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.
11th. Usual day of shelling.
12th. A Boer attack on Fort Ayr. They galloped wildly fifty yards in advance of their trenches, about one thousand live hundred yards from Fort Ayr, and indulged in a fantasia, but never came any nearer. Their guns, however, five, twelve, and one hundred pounders, shot very straight and shelled for two hours. Our casualties, one man wounded, since dead.
13th. Big gun did not fire, enemy very quiet; expect they are running short of small arm ammunition.
14th, Sunday. Great excitement caused by disappearance of Creaky, many rumours. She was seen in at least six different places, but we all hoped she had taken a fond farewell.
15th. Creaky actually discovered about two miles down the Malmani Road. She had apparently been moved by our persistent persecutions, and we thought she had been moved into a worse position for her. We have materially changed our minds, at any rate, at the eastern end of the town, where she fires regularly at meal times, mostly hitting hotels. She commenced firing at 11 o'clock.
16th. Dislike the shelling more since I have fever; one shell struck auxiliary hospital.
17th. Enemy tried to foist Kaffirs into the town, to further diminish our food supply, under a flag of truce. Colonel Baden-Powell refused to receive them. They fired heavily and inexplicably on our white flag carried by Ronny Moncrieffe while retreating. Tremendous indignation in the town, though there is some rumour that one of our Kaffirs fired a shot somewhere (this was subsequently found to be untrue). Shell hit bomb proof occupied by Mr. Vere Stent, Reuter's representative, and myself. Large pieces ricocheted through Dixon's Hotel which was crowded; usual providential escapes.
18th. They shell the town as usual. Most unpleasant this end. They knocked off all corners of the square in two days; several casualties.
Our system of avoiding the gun is having look-out men in all parts, who ring so many strokes when the gun is loaded, so many when pointed, three strokes for the town, six when pointed off it. The enemy, however, have rather frustrated this, as they do not fire till uncertain intervals after the gun is pointed, ranging from an hour downwards. The lookout then rings another bell, but it gives a remarkably short time to take cover, and it is these odd shells and not a sustained shell fire which causes the loss of life; at any rate, there is no doubt that since the change of position of the gun a far greater proportion of damage has been done.
19th. There was an artillery duel between one of our seven-pounders—whose shells were made at our own factory here, and the fuses designed by Lieutenant Daniels, B. S. A. P., in which the shells and fuses proved a complete success—and the enemy's five-pounder which was almost immediately silenced. And now as regards the factory. The ammunition for the ship's gun, that weapon of our grandfathers, which was unearthed in the stadt, and which shoots with great violence, though doubtful precision, to enormous ranges, has been cast here. The seven-pounder's shells have been cast, studded, fused, and in every respect made perfect here. Some 2.5-pounder shells, left here by Dr. Jameson, have been fitted with two enlarged driving-bands and have been fired from our seven-pounders with complete success. Too much credit cannot be given to the ingenuity, ability, and energy with which Conolly and all his mates have worked at strengthening that portion of our defences.
20th. The two sides when at trench work happened on each other at night in the vicinity of Fort Ayr, and we drove them back. A very effective day's shelling.
21st, Sunday. Agricultural and produce show, including babies. The first prize for foals since the commencement of the siege to Mr. Minchin, Bechuanaland Rifles; for babies, to Sergeant Brady, B. S. A. P.; a great success, and really extraordinarily good show. My fever nearly gone.
22nd. Rather late shelling to-day, and rumoured attack on Kaffir stadt by Boer friendlies did not take place. A certain amount of firing from Fort Ayr. Rain begun again.
Colonel Baden-Powell protested the other day against the firing on our white flag, and General Snyman, who, as far as I could judge personally whilst in conversation with him after the action at Game Tree fort, is a crabbed old gentleman, somewhat naturally rabidly anti-British, and according to the Boer standard an extreme martinet, sent in an answer apologising for his burghers having fired on the white flag, and stating with regard to Colonel Baden-Powell's remonstrance to his arming and raising the natives,, that he had merely armed a few as cattle guards. In that case the Boers must have many cattle in close proximity to our camp, unseen and unknown to us. He farther stated that he had noticed us building fortifications-on Sunday, to which Colonel Baden-Powell replied that we had merely taken out and relaid some mine lines, and that he had been vastly interested, while riding round the western outposts on Sunday, to see the assiduity with which the Boers had been working at their new fortifications in that part.
23rd. The usual sniping continues on the western front, but peace, punctuated occasionally by one-hundred pound shell, is more or less prevalent on the eastern. As regards our food supply, luxuries purchased at store are a thing of the past, as the authorities have taken charge of all tinned and other eatables in the place. We have now stood four months' siege, and it seems probable that this may be indefinitely prolonged, and it is mainly owing to the private enterprise of Mr. Benjamin Weil, the representative of Julius Weil & Co. here, that we are really ready to stand, as far as provisions and stores go, as long a time again. In addition to having supplied all the Government required, he laid in large stocks on his own account, and when the history of the siege of Mafeking comes to be written, he will be found to have played by no means the least important part. In addition to the white troops employed, and to the Baralongs, who defend their own stadt, we have four other black contingents: the Fingoes under Webster, the Cape Boys under Corporal Currie, C. P., a detachment of Baralongs under Sergeant Abrahams, and the "Black Watch" under Mackenzie, a mixed Zulu crowd. These gentry, to their huge delight, are continually engaged in endeavouring, with some success, to spend as much gunpowder and spill as much blood as in them lies. The Cape Boys, under Corporal Currie, who took charge of them after Captain Goodyear's wound, from which I am glad to say he is recovering, have done notably good service, their motto and apparently only principle being " Don't know retiring." In this there is a good deal of common sense; for the Boer, though not very dangerous when faced, becomes deadly and dangerous when he can shoot quietly at you as you retire. There is another portion of our defences—or perhaps that is a misnomer, I should rather say of our forces—to which I have hitherto not alluded, and that is the excellent transport service. All the mules were individually selected by Colonel Baden-Powell and Colonel Walford, assisted by Mr. Dunlop Smith, A.V.D., and Mr. Mackenzie, transport officer, and anybody who saw the beautiful spans of mules turned out for the driving competitions would have felt that in all cases their choice was well justified, and the condition of the mules reflected the greatest credit on the squadron leaders (for each squadron leader is responsible for his own transport), conductors and drivers, and to the care and supervision given by the two officers before mentioned. The driving was excellent, and the mules looked in the pink of condition.
Rather heavy shelling, and more sniping ihan usual. There were several casualties, mostly natives, one shell exploding in a hut and killing and wounding most of its occupants. From this date the authorities have taken over all stores of food and drink, and nothing, even luxuries, can be obtained without an order from headquarters.
24th. Desultory shelling.
25th. There was a good deal of firing to-day round the western trenches. In the evening a native convicted as a spy was executed. He had been sent in to obtain full information as to the stores, forts, their garrisons, and the general disposition of the forces of the town. He quite acknowledged the justice of his sentence, but only seemed to think that it was hard lines that he should be executed before he had had time to procure any information at all. This is the third native spy executed, and the various native contingents are detailed in turn for the duty.
26th. Bradley's Hotel was partially wrecked by a shell. This is the most effective explosion we have so far had. A large piece from the shell went humming overhead beyond the B. S. A. P. fort, quite three-quarters of a mile from its bursting. There is generally time for a morning ride before the big gun commences shelling, but during the last three or four hundred yards into the town, if the bells have begun to ring, there is a certain amount of excitement in returning to the hotel, as it is to this portion of the town that the enemy generally confines his attentions about breakfast time. Later in the afternoon, Lady Sarah Wilson and Captain Wilson, who are both now convalescent, were seated with Major Goold Adams in a passage in the upper storey of the convent, when a shell burst about four feet over their heads, covering them with a -pile of bricks and rubbish, but fortunately they escaped with a few bruises. There were rumours of a contemplated attack early next morning, and the northern and western fronts accordingly stood to arms. More significance was given to the rumours in that the Dutch women in the women's laager unanimously sought the shelter of the bomb proofs at an early hour. It was not till the next day that the reason was patent.
27th. During my return from my morning ride the big gun fired, and I saw the shell burst somewhat short of the women's laager. I naturally supposed this was an accident. It was not, however, the case. The big gun commenced a rapid fire in the same direction, and the effects of the shells as they fell were heliographed back from the western heights. The messages were intercepted by our signallers, under Sergeant Moffat. They placed eight large shells in and close round the laager, and we now understood the reason for the Dutch women taking the cover they did. It was a most deliberate piece of barbarism; mercifully, there were no casualties.
28th, Sunday. A quiet day. I rode round the western outposts in the morning and found them considerably augmented in strength. They are now a series of bombproof block-houses, a zig-zag approach runs from the refugee laager up to Fort Ayr. So approach is possible without clanger (which was not so before). A thousand yards to the front of Fort Ayr the new Boer fort is plainly visible, and flies a flag we have not seen before, blue, white, and orange, with a vertical green stripe. It is possible that there may be some political significance attached to this, possibly that our friends, the Transvaalers, by uniting the two Republics, hope to get the Free State Boers to fight their battles further away from their own territory; but, after all, it is pure surmise, for we get but little news of any sort—and of political news none at all. Due south, and about eight hundred yards away from Fort Ayr, a new fort has been constructed, commanding the bed of the Molopo, and garrisoned by Cape Police. It is about on the position of the old look-out post. In the afternoon I rode round the eastern works. A trench now runs from Ellis's corner across the river, past the gun emplacement, past Webster's Kraal, up to and beyond the Nordenfelt position. It is hard to believe with the much stronger position we now have, and the reduced number of Boers, that they will attack again; but, on the other hand, it is harder to believe that they will leave Mafeking without a desperate effort to capture it. In any case, the garrison are confident. On the termination of evening service we sing the National Anthem. I have heard it sung in many places, the most impressive of all at St. Paul's on Jubilee clay; certainly next to that occasion, I think the-singing of it in Mafeking appealed to me most. For the men who -were singing it on Sunday night would be fighting for it on Monday morning. And now, whilst on the subject, and having just read Mr. Kipling's poem, I hope the widows and children of the irregular troops serving out here will not be forgotten when it comes to " pay, pay, pay."
29th. Good news of victories from the south. It seems as if the tide had turned, and as if Old England, slow as usual, was going to forge ahead at last. Her Majesty's message was received with the deepest satisfaction here. It was a month late, but none the less acceptable for being delayed. Colonel Baden-Powell issued an order, in which he referred to the execution of the spy, and warning all persons, women included, who might be found treasonably corresponding with the enemy, that, on conviction, they would be inevitably shot; also that he regretted having to take such strong measures, but that as the enemy chose to fire on the women's laager, he should confine the Dutch prisoners in a gaol constructed in the laager, so that, if the enemy persisted in their brutality, they would kill their own friends. (It was a curious coincidence that on Sunday, after Saturday's performance, there was a feeling of insecurity in the town, and most people were of opinion that in all probability the Boers would violate the Sunday truce; but when the Dutch women were seen walking about, the feeling of confidence was quickly restored.) In the afternoon the gun bequeathed to us by Lord Nelson commenced firing on the Boer laager at Wessel's Springs, near the head of the waterworks—a range of something over three thousand yards. Her round shot bounded about the veldt through, over, short of, the laager, rapidly dispersing a mounted body of Boers in its proximity; for, unlike a shell, when she strikes, you have by no means done with her. The drill is somewhat complicated, but thanks to an edition of Captain Marryatt's works, we have succeeded in resuscitating this long extinct form of exercise.
30th. The results of our ancient piece's firing last night has been that the laager has shifted away, in the direction of Signal Hill, and that the Boers generally have been so busy that they have not yet found time (midday) to discharge their Creuzot gun. There was an alarm last night, and the eastern front and reserve squadron were held in readiness all night. Yesterday the Boers re-established themselves on the nearest brickkiln, and a sniping entertainment was organized for them by Corporal Currie, C. P., who has charge of the Cape Boy Post, within three hundred yards. One Boer, who for some extraordinary reason, wore a white shirt (which he will never do again) occasionally showed his back over the edge of a shelter he was constructing for himself, acting apparently on the principle of the ostrich, Trooper Piper of the Cape Police eventually got him, and at the same moment, his friend who was firing from a loop-hole, fired at Piper; fortunately Currie, who was covering the loop-hole, fired almost simultaneously and got him too, to the huge delight of the Cape Boys; stretchers came up under the Red Cross and removed the bodies, the second man was a bearded man and a well known sniper, he was an excellent shot, and the news of his demise was received with universal pleasure by the garrison, while for the rest of the day his friends made the post very warm for its occupants.
31st. There is one effect of this continual shell fire which is perhaps undesirable, and that is the remarkable degree of selfishness it engenders. There is really nothing to do and no excitement. News is rare, and not always of the best, and with lack of the proper amount of exercise and the frequent ringing of bells, which are almost as bad as the shells themselves, tempers get short, and the solicitude on " No. l's " account increases. However, entertainments like the one organized this evening, go far to relieve our spleen and vary the interminable monotony of the siege. We were warned in the afternoon that our artillery was going to bombard the Boer lines, and from various points of vantage numerous spectators strolled out to look on. Personally, I made my way to the trench running from Ellis's corner to the river, and selected a spot where I was well away from other people, and which commanded a good view of the Boer trench, and, above all, of the big gun, which showed clearly against the white marquees in rear of it. At the time there was no firing going on, and cattle on both sides were being brought home. Absolute stillness reigned, only broken by the lowing of the beasts, the sounds of the poultry yards, and the barking of dogs. These, with the drowsy hum of the insects, made one feel extremely sleepy, and one might well have imagined oneself lolling between two peaceful villages at home. However, at 5.30 p.m. a change came very distinctly " o'er the spirit of the dream." Our guns commenced, three seven-pounders and the Nordenfeldt, and steadily shelled for about an hour, answered by the nine-pounder quick-firer, five-pounder Krupps, and old Creaky, who swung her nose backwards and forwards from one extremity of the eastern defences to the other, making, on the whole, moderate but extremely varied practice. As I had a pair of very strong glasses, a small cluster soon collected around me, thereby inviting the undesirable attentions of their riflemen, who, however, were pretty well engaged themselves, and consequently did not annoy us very much. It was about as safe a performance for the onlookers as could well be imagined. The guns drew most of the fire, and were scattered over a large extent of front. One could plainly see the big gun, and when she fired our way, had ample time to get into the trench. There were no casualties on our side, but after dark the Boers, who had been much upset by this disturbance of their reliefs and feeding arrangements, commenced to shell the town, killing one man outside the newspaper offices, and contriving, in some extraordinary manner, to drop a fragment of shell down the chimney of the headquarters' staff offices. This they continued till past nine, doing no further damage, except to houses. The Boers in the course of the day put a five-pounder shell through a portion of the hospital, and at night fired a volley into the operating room, where a patient was being examined. So we conclude that they must have lost some men during the day, which made them vicious. During the past fortnight they fired upon a flag of truce, deliberately shelled the women's laager, and fired on the hospital.