"War declared to-night, October 10th, 1899, by old Kruger. So much the better, this intolerable waiting is over." This I find is the entry in my diary for that date, but little did I know we were about to commence the "Siege of Mafeking "—a much more intolerable wait, with the additional pleasure of being fired at without the chance of returning it with effect.
Till you have experienced it no one (at least I hadn't) has any idea how trying it is to exist without news of the outside world.
On October 11th nothing happened. On the 12th, the Protectorate Regiment under Colonel Hore took up a position on the eastern heights, which overlook the town and waited attack. The Boers, however, did not arrive.
In the meantime the town defences under Colonel Vyvyan and Major Panzera were progressing apace. We had only quite recently been enabled to do anything in that direction, owing to the repressive policy of the Bond Ministry. Therefore the defences at this time consisted merely of a few breastworks, wagons drawn across the ends of roads leading on to the market square, and a few strands of barbed wire fastened up on these points.
October 13th, 1899. In the morning the same programme; the Boers reported to the south and also to the north. Whilst lying on the heights—if they can be so called—we saw a magnificent sight. For safety two trucks of dynamite were being run up to a northern siding clear of the town. About eight miles out the Boers commenced firing. The engine-driver uncoupled his trucks and ran his engine back towards the town. The Boers closed in and continued firing, thinking it was the armoured train. Result—a terrific explosion, a column of smoke shooting up into the air and mushrooming out until it became a vast cloud in the clear blue sky. In the afternoon I went out in the armoured train to inspect the damage, but they had pulled up the line short of the spot. We opened with a Maxim on the body of Boers engaged in inspecting the hole and bagged a couple. The remainder galloped in the utmost confusion towards their laager.
The armoured train had previously been out in the morning due south and bagged one, and went out again in the same direction on its return, under Captain Williams, and secured another.
October 14th, 1899. The fight to-day may be summarized thus: Boers firing on the picquets; Boer retirement harassed by the armoured train, which was eventually supported by one squadron, which engaged the retreating Boers heavily. The Boers tried to cut them off, but the arrival of another squadron and a seven-pounder settled the matter. Their attack was repelled with great loss, and we retired to our lines.
Whilst we were at breakfast tiring was heard in the direction of the cemetery to the north of the town, and shortly afterwards increased in volume; then came the bark of the Maxim, the boom of heavy guns and the increasing rattle of musketry. D squadron of the Protectorate Regiment was ordered out to support the armoured train. We waited on the Market Square knowing nothing, hearing only the heavy fire.
What had transpired was this: a squadron of the Protectorate Regiment commanded by Lord Charles Bentinck had furnished a strong patrol to discover the whereabouts of the Boers. He happened to come upon them about four miles out. They promptly pursued and tried to cut him off. The Corporal with his right flank patrol galloped on to the armoured train, and on his own initiative directed it to move out in support. The Boers were driven back, hotly engaged by the armoured train, in charge of Captain Williams, British South Africa Police, a train which was constructed and conducted by Lieutenant More, Railway Volunteers. The train drove their artillery from two positions; their shells burst all round, under and over the train, and, strange to say, only two men were slightly scratched.
At that period Captain Fitzclarence arrived, and engaged the Boers who were withdrawing, tiring at the armoured' train, towards their own laager. To explain the situation now, I must describe the field of battle. The railway runs due north and south of Mafeking. The Boers' laager about eight miles N.N.E. of the town. The train had driven the enemy about five miles and a half back from the town, therefore by this divergence, when Captain Fitzclarence came into action he had perforce lost the effective support of the train, and the squadron fought on its own account. It numbered about seventy men: it faced about five or six hundred. Two orderlies were sent to Captain Fitzclarence and the armoured train to tell them to fall back, one on a bicycle who was captured, and the other on horseback.
Now to show the advantage of khaki as a fighting colour on the well-bleached Veldt. The horseman rode up to the Boers and was fired upon. He then galloped along the front of, and through and along the rear of our own men without seeing a man, delivered his message to the armoured train, and returned to seek his invisible friends unsuccessfully. His horse was shot, and he returned to Mafeking on an engine. In at least two instances he was within thirty yards of his own men and could not see them. The dark clothing of the Beers is, however, more conspicuous, but with smokeless powder and khaki the firing line even at short ranges is invisible as a target.
To return to the actual fight. The Boers pelted by a well-directed fire returned a wild and ineffectual one. The incidents of the fight commenced. Two cousins, Corporals Walshe and Parland, Irishmen, and men of means who had joined not for pay but for patriotism, quickly fell, both shot through the head by the same Dutchman, who was ensconced in a tree, but unfortunately for himself he let fall a piece of paper which caught the quick eye of Private Wormald, who promptly picked him off like a rook. Several other Dutchmen in like positions met the same fate. This treatment did not appeal to the Boer, who came out to shoot and not to be shot at, and so he made his usual move to work round and cut off the squadron from their base.
At the distance the squadron was from the line (over three quarters of a mile), and at the angle it was to the line, in addition to the difficulty with smokeless powder of telling friend from foe, it was impossible for the armoured train to act. Previous to this they had been supported by a troop of A squadron underLieutenant Brady who was wounded on coming into action. The situation was distinctly serious, their flank was nearly turned, and the Boers had almost interposed themselves between the squadron and Mafeking; at this critical juncture Lord Charles Bentinck and two more troops with a seven-pound gun arrived within striking distance. Two rounds of shrapnel and the Boers commenced retiring. "When their retirement was assured D squadron withdrew, placing their wounded in the armoured train. The fight was over.
Surgeon-Major Anderson, who had had his horse shot, attended to the wounded throughout the fight in the firing line. Our losses were two killed, twelve wounded, two of whom subsequently died. Four horses killed, twelve wounded. Boer losses reported eighty killed, about twice that number wounded.
Too much credit cannot be given to Captain Fitzclarence and Lord Charles Bentinck for the coolness and gallantry with which they handled their men, or to the men for the way they responded, and what is said of them applies in the same degree to Captain Williams and the men of the British South Africa Police and Railway Volunteers engaged. The Boers had fought in the scrubb, in vastly superior numbers and had been thoroughly beaten.
The strain on Colonel Baden-Powell and the headquarter staff must indeed have been great. For four hours they were anxiously waiting, reports were not favourable, and they knew that a disaster to a small force engaged risked the whole defence as there was literally not another man to send to their support. Indeed one squadron engaged was actually a part of the defence of the northern portion of the town. On the return of the wounded a train with a relief party under Major Baillie with Father Ogle, and Mr. Peart, Wesleyan minister, went to recover the bodies, and if necessary to render assistance to any wounded Boers who might have been left in the retreat. The train stopped near the scene of the action and the party with stretchers, preceded by a large Red Cross flag, moved towards the spot. They were fired on about half a mile before they reached it, and as the firing increased it was decided to retire as the men were known to be dead, and all the wounded were brought in.
This they did quietly, the Boers in the meantime were working round to the line to cut them off from the train. The train returned to Mafeking, and on a report being made to Colonel Baden-Powell he addressed a letter of remonstrance to General Cronje.
15th, Sunday. Landau and pair, with huge Red Cross flag, arrived containing Dr. Pirow, Cronje's doctor, who came to lunch. He explained that the firing on the Red Cross was a mistake, as the Boers thought that the train was the armoured train returning, and rave us news of Lieutenant Nesbitt and our prisoners of the armoured train which has been captured at Kraaipan. He took whisky and beer back with him for Cronje. Sunday is a tacit truce with both parties, and no fighting goes on. I suppose we are the only two Nations who would observe it. The ambulance went out and fetched in the dead. They were buried by moonlight by Father Ogle, a most impressive ceremony. The Father said a few words to the effect that it was a righteous war, and that the Sisters were praying for us.
16th, Monday. The Boers brought up two twelve-pounders to a long-range position N.-E. of the town and commenced bombarding. They drove in our picquet at the head of the waterworks and occupied the trench. They directed their fire mainly on the town and station, consequently did most damage in the convent, which was flying the Red Cross and was fitted up as a hospital. The shells that missed the convent struck the centre of the town, but did little harm. The shells that missed the station pitched round the B. S. A. P. fort, which was occupied by Colonel Hore and a squadron of the Protectorate Regiment. This they continued all day. Casualties nil. Our seven-pounders out-ranged. No reply made to their fire.
The Boers had thus occupied the head of the waterworks and cut off our water supply.
The headquarter staff had made provision for this, and under Major Hep worth's supervision had had all wells cleaned out and Sir Charles Warren's old well reopened. We thus have an abundance of water.
Towards mid-day a flag of truce, borne by a renegade English Colonial, rode towards our lines. This was unfortunate. They had not detected the armoured train, and the skirmishing line of the Boers and their artillery was just coming within deadly Maxim range. They rode straight on to the armoured train, and of course the trap was disclosed. It was a message from Cronje, who sent in to demand surrender to avoid further bloodshed. Baden-Powell answered, " Certainly, but when will bloodshed begin?" and pointed out that they were again firing on the Bed Cross flag.
Two of our wounded, both corporals, died to-day. The town is practically surrounded.
17th, 18th, and 19th. Nothing happened. Investment completed. Boers estimated six thousand men, undoubtedly correct.
20th. Boers cut off some cattle which had strayed out too far.
21st. In addition to the main railway line, a temporary line had been laid down in an easterly direction towards the race course, and north of the town extending about a mile and a half. The armoured train now patrolled this line; painted green and covered with bushes, it was indistinguishable from the scrub surrounding it. I slept in the armoured train at the railhead. In the early morning Captain Williams commenced firing on the Boers at the head of the waterworks as they came out of their trench to make their coffee, with two Maxims. I fear they got their coffee rather late, and that some even did not get it at all. This went on with fitful replies for two or three hours, and then firing in that quarter ceased.
On the western front in the afternoon the Boers looted some cattle which had strayed, and from this date sniping commenced, pretty generally all round on both sides.
22nd, Sunday. Band and calls on various outlying forts, hospitals, &c. All church services were held.
And now to endeavour to describe the town and defences of Mafeking. Mafeking is situated on a rise about three hundred yards north of the Molopo river, which flows from east to west. It is about three-quarters of a mile square. The railroad runs to the west of the town, and practically speaking, due north and south, but immediately south where it crosses the Molopo by an iron bridge it inclines rather westward for a distance of two or three miles. The railway embankment north and south of the river thus furnishes cover from the east and south-east heights on the southern bank of the Molopo. To the west again of the railway, and nearly butting it half a mile south of the Molopo, is the native stadt, lying ou both sides of the river, and on the northern bank, commencing about half a mile from the railway, then running in a northwesterly direction for about a mile and a half, and ends about a mile and three-quarters west of the railway. The ground in front of the northern end is slightly higher than the stadt and soon commences to sink away from it, affording good cover to an enemy moving on that side. Near the railway the ground slopes gradually down for a considerable distance to the river. The country round
Mafeking to the west, north and east, is flat, but across the Molopo to the south and south-east it commands the town. The ground to the west of the stadt commands the stadt.
Situated two thousand yards south, and slightly east of the centre of the town, is an old fort of Sir Charles "Warren's—Cannon Kopje. This is the key of the position. It is an old circular stone fort, and only by dint of extraordinary exertion had it been possible to bring it by this time up in any degree to a state of efficiency enough to enable it to resist even old ordinary seven-pounder guns. It has an interior diameter of approximately twenty-five yards. The native location occupied by half-breeds lies directly between Cannon Kopje and the town on the southern bank of the river. Following the course of the river eastward about twelve hundred yards from the town, and on the northern bank extend the brickfields (eventually occupied by both parties), while in the same direction, and about three miles and a half from Mafeking on a ridge, is MacMullan's farm (subsequently the Boer headquarters). To return to the town—at the north-eastern corner is the convent. Due east of that is the grand stand about a mile away, while N.N.E. from the convent, and a mile and a half away, is the base of the waterworks, which extend to a trench at their head in the same direction for nearly a mile.
Thus we have the railway station the north-west corner, the convent the north-east corner, Ellis's house the south-east corner, and the south-west corner the pound; while in a line from the south-west corner of the town and the northern portion of the stadt, the B. S. A. P. barracks and fort lie about midway. With the exception of a strip of scrub about a mile wide to the north and east of the convent the country all round is almost bare.
The town is composed of one-storey houses , built of soft bricks and roofed with corrugated iron, the only exception being the convent of two storeys and the station, which is not yet complete. The native stadt consists of Kaffir huts. The B. S. A. P. fort is a duplicate of Cannon Kopje, thus the outline of the defences of Mafeking is, roughly speaking, an obtuse angled triangle, of which the apex is Cannon Kopje, while the other two angles are the northern end of the native stadt and the convent. The population in time of peace is, Mafeking two thousand whites, the native stadt four to five thousand, location five hundred. At the present moment fifteen hundred whites approximately, native stadt seven thousand owing to native refugees, location five hundred.
The perimeter of the defences was between five and six miles. Commencing with the convent, and working westward at the outset, the defences were as follows:—The railway line and armoured train protected the north-west front, then nearer to the railway came Fort Victoria, occupied by Railway Volunteers; and in the arc of a circle extending to the north end of the stadt trenches occupied by the Protectorate Regiment at night. These were gradually turned into forts. The women's laager was established on the edge of the stadt near the B. S. A. P. officers' quarters, and a refugee camp in the hollow north of the stadt, the northern end of which was held by Captain Vernon and C squadron Protectorate Regiment, while B squadron, under Captain Marsh, and the natives, held the stadt itself—the whole under Major Godley, who commanded the western outposts. The town was garrisoned by the Cape Police under Captains Brown and Marsh; these and the Railway Volunteers being under Colonel Vyvyan, while Cannon Kopje was entrusted to Colonel Walford and the B. S. A. P. Colonel Baden-Powell retained one squadron of the Protectorate Regiment as reserve under his own immediate control. These arrangements were subsequently much augmented. After the convent had been practically demolished by shell fire and the railway line all round the town pulled up or mined during the close investment by the Boers, the small work was erected at the convent corner, garrisoned by the Cape Police and a Maxim, under Lieutenant Murray, who was also put in charge of the armoured train, which had, however, been withdrawn to the railway station out of harm's way. The Rail way Volunteers garrisoned the cemetery, and had an advanced trench about eight hundred yards to the front and immediately to the right of the line. To the westward came Fort Cardigan, and then again Fort Miller. In the south-west was Major Godley's fort, at the north of the native stadt, with an advance fort—Fort Ayr— crowning the down to the northern end of the stadt. Although this was rather detached, it commanded a view and fire for a great distance to the south of the northern portion of the stadt, and here the Cape Police were entrenched with the Maxim. Five hundred yards to the west front of Captain Marsh's post lay Limestone fort, commanding the valley, on the other side of which lay the Boer laager and entrenchments. At the south-western corner, and on the edge of the stadt Captain Marsh's fort was situated. The whole of the edge of the stadt was furnished with loopholes and trenches, and garrisoned by the native inhabitants. By the railway were situated two armoured trucks with a Norden-feldt. Cannon Kopje, with two Maxims and a seven-pounder, lay to the south-east. And now to the immediate defence of the town. At the south-western corner is the pound, garrisoned by Cape Police, under Captain Marsh; then eastwards Early's fort, Dixon's redan, Dall's fort, Ellis's corner, with Maxim and Cape Police, under Captain Brown. On the eastern front, Ellitson's kraal, Musson's fort, De Kock's fort, with Maxim, recreation ground fort, and so back to the convent, on the left of which lies the hospital fort—all these, unless otherwise mentioned, garrisoned by Town Guard. These so-called forts are garrisoned with from fifteen to forty men, and furnished with head cover and bomb proofs against artillery. Bomb proofs have been constructed everywhere, traverses erected at the end of streets, trenches giving cover leading from every portion of the town and defences; and it is possible to walk round the town without being exposed to aimed fire. The trenches are constructed with a view to being manned in case of need. Telephones are established in all the headquarter bomb proofs of outlying forts, and are connected with the headquarter bomb proof, thus securing instant communication and avoiding the chance of orderlies being sniped, which would assuredly otherwise be the case. These defences were all improvised on the spot—every conceivable sort of material being utilized therein.
23rd, Monday. Bombardment threatened, so commenced by forestalling it. Two guns under Captain Williams, B. S. A. P., and Lieutenant Murchison, Protectorate Regiment, started at 3 a.m., to take up a position at our end of the waterworks and the rail head temporary line, respectively, with orders not to fire unless fired on. I rode out with them and saw as pretty an artillery duel in miniature as one would wish to see. We waited patiently, Lieutenant Murchison laid his gun on the enemy's seven-pounder, which we could distinctly see in their trenches at the head of the waterworks. We were under cover from view. At last a puff of smoke came from their gun, and before it was well clear of the muzzle ours had answered, and that gun was out of action for a considerable period. In the meantime, both of our guns were playing gaily on their trenches and remaining gun. This went on intermittently till mid-day, and then both their guns ceased fire altogether. We then returned, and since heard that their guns were rendered useless for some time. On the south-western portion of the defences a similar seven-pounder fight was going on, and the Boers then fired their twelve-pounder high velocity gun a few times. Their ninety-four-pounder Creechy (an abbreviation for Marguerite) or, as the men call her, Creaky, has arrived and taken up a position at Jack-all Tree, 3400 yards S.S/W. of Cannon Kopje, accompanied by some field guns.
24th. Creaky commenced her ministrations by firing about forty shells and damaged property but hurt no one. The convent of course was hit, and the twelve-pounders also joined in the fire. Marvellous escapes reported all found.
25th. Creaky began in real earnest, and also seven-pounders, twelve-pounders, Maxims, and all. They fired about four hundred shells, mostly in the direction of the convent hospital, trying, I fancy, to it the station. I was in the trenches in the recreation ground. The convent was struck several times. Their shell fire seemed very noisy, but its effect was more moral than physical, as casualties therefrom were few; the musketry fire, however, did more damage. The advance party down the Malmani road had a man hit badly (since dead), young Kelly, Protectorate Regiment, and when a party went out to fetch him, though obviously wounded, they were exposed to a hail of bullets—for at least half a mile. I saw the lad in the hospital, and his only anxiety was to get out and have another go at them. At the same time on the other flank the Boers made an attack on the native staff, hoping on the assurance of the Baralongs to obtain a footing there; and then when they had got us thoroughly engaged on the south-western face, their real attack was to have been made from the north. The Baralongs, however, supplemented by two squadrons of ours, greeted them with a heavy fire, killing many. Consequently that attack on our face never came off.
27th. Shelling continued, and now, having beaten the enemy in the field, Colonel Baden -Powell resolved to give them a taste of cold steel, accordingly, at 8 p.m. D squadron, fifty-three strong, paraded under Captain Fitzclarence, with two parties of the Cape Police in support. It was a fine dark night, and the squadron moved off with injunctions only to use the bayonet. The two parties of Cape Police moved towards the brickfields, one considerably further east than the other to enfilade the rear of the Boer trenches. The object of the attack was some trenches of Commandant Louw's on our side of the racecourse and to the north of the Malmani road (which runs due east of the town to Malmani). It was a still night, and lying waiting one could hear the order to charge, and then the din began. The first trench was carried with a rush; the Boers lying under tarpaulins did not hear the advance till they were almost on them. Sword and bayonet did their work well, and with the flanking parties firing on the rear trench, and the Boers commencing a heavy fire in all directions and from all quarters, things for a time were very lively indeed. It was estimated that six hundred Boers were in laager, so after giving them a thorough dose of the bayonet, the signal to retire was given by a loud whistle, and carried out in the same cool and orderly manner as the advance. In the meantime a furious fire was being maintained by the Boers all round;
the volleys from the Cape Police completed their confusion, and they kept on firing even after the wounded had been dressed and placed in hospital. Something frightened them again about 2 a.m., and they recommenced their fusilade at nothing and continued it for about an hour. Our losses were six killed, eleven wounded and two prisoners, including Captain Fitzclarence and Lieutenant Swinburne slightly wounded. We subsequently heard that the Boers lost one hundred —forty killed by the bayonet, and sixty whom they had probably shot themselves in the hideous confusion that reigned in their camp. Captain Fitzclarence used his sword with good effect. The Cape Police, who were under Lieutenant Murray, lost none. The attacking squadron did not fire a shot, but in the rush to the second trench the occupants probably shot their own men in the dark at close range. This story later shows the terror the Boers here have of cold steel. Our snipers were now close to the enemy's trench, and one of the Boers, probably an artilleryman, waved his sword over the top, whereupon one of his comrades was overheard to shout, " For God's sake do not do that, or they will come with their bayonets."
What I said about coolness and gallantry in the first fight applies in even a greater degree to this encounter. The men were admirably led and did splendidly. Our success so far was marked. The Boers had been kept at a respectful distance from the town. They never felt safe at night; they had been beaten at their own game in the open, and we practically disregarded their vaunted artillery, on which they had pinned their faith to reduce the town. Daily the situation became more a question of endurance.
28th, Ambulance, under a flag of truce, fetched in our dead. Boers very surly. The dead were buried that night. Shell-fire and sniping continued; little harm done.
29th, Sunday. Band, &c.
30th. Transferred my residence to the western portion to watch the Boers moving to and fro on our western front, about two miles out, sniping going on both sides all round. Desultory shell fire.
31st. Enemy's force occupied a position on the south-eastern heights and from Jackall Tree three thousand four hundred yards S.S.W. of Cannon Kopje, where they had erected earthworks, their artillery pushed forward to Within two thousand yards, and opened a heavy fire on the kopje, commencing at 4.40 a.m., under cover of which their infantry attack was pushed from the south-east to within three hundred yards of the kopje, but was repelled by the B. S. A. P., fifty-seven strong, with two Maxims and a seven-pounder under Colonel "Watford. They attacked with great resolution, but our fire was held till they came within good range, and then after sustaining it for some time they broke and fled. Their ambulances came to pick up the dead and, under their cover, many who had been playing " possum " got up and ran for their lives. Our losses were six killed, including Captain the Hon. D. H. Marsham and Captain Pechell, K.B.R., and two sergeant-majors, five wounded severely. I may perhaps be permitted to say a few words about personal friends. It seemed as if it could not be true. In Captain Marsham's case, well known as he was to the Boers, and popular as he was on both sides of the border, the enemy will regret his death almost as deeply as his comrades here did. Captain Pechell had a brother serving here as a private in the Protectorate, who has since got his commission in that regiment; an additional sympathy must be felt for his family and regiment, as almost at the same time his brother in the same regiment was killed in a Natal fight. I only voice the one feeling here of personal sorrow for their loss and sympathy with their relations.
The Boers were well thrashed, and my previous description of Cannon Kopje will enable readers to grasp what a thoroughly gallant fight it was. The Boers must have lost very heavily. Later in the day they attacked the southern end of the native stadt, in a halfhearted manner, but it was not pushed home, and were easily driven off. Both these fights were easily visible across the valley, with the exception of the commencement of the Boer infantry advance, which one could only gather from the continuous musketry fire. This night we buried the dead, all the available officers in the garrison attending.