Wednesday Night, 7.30 P.M.
Mafeking, May 16th, 1900.
The relief of Mafeking is now an accomplished fact, and the first Imperial troops to enter our lines were eight of the Imperial Light Horse, under the command of Major Karri Davis. They had ridden in advance of the main body in an effort to pierce our lines while General Mahon, who had already formed a junction with Colonel Plumer, was engaging the main body of the enemy along the watershed of the Molopo, some seven miles north-west of the town.
We had known since Sunday that an Imperial force was approaching Mafeking from the south, and during Monday immense activity was displayed in the Boer laagers, while towards the south-west a thick fringe of dust was drifting slowly under the commotion of a column of Boers who were retiring rapidly before the approach of the Southern force. During Tuesday we thought we heard the distant booming of the guns, and we could see the Boers preparing to take up positions along the north-western ridges of the Molopo River. At an early hour on Tuesday morning news reached us that the respective commands of General Mahon and Colonel Plumer had joined at Saane's Town, a few miles up the valley of the river. From the moment that the town received this news the memory of the past seven months was dissipated in the first flash of the glad tidings. Speculation was rife as to the precise hour of the arrival of the relief, but the day passed without much prospect of the siege being raised before nightfall. However, this morning the most positive information had arrived during the night, and it seemed that within the next forty-eight hours the combined forces would be here. The morning passed uneventfully. No one seemed quite to know how to spend the few remaining hours which were all that remained of the siege. About noon it became known in town that the forces would not enter Mafeking without having a smart brush with the enemy. We had observed small, detached forces of Boers making from north and south of the town for the ridges about the western areas of the Molopo. Artillery accompanied these men, whose numbers had been drawn from the various Boer positions around Mafeking. A large contingent had moved from the eastern laager and similar bodies had been called out from the south-western and northern camps. It was an anxious time for us in Mafeking, and, although there was no doubt about the final result, we still felt that the fate of the relief column hung in the balance. About half-past two General Mahon's guns opened upon the enemy, the smoke of the bursting shells being plainly discernible away towards the north-west. There was a constant booming of artillery, and the smoke of heavy rifle fire just above the horizon. As the news swept through the town there were many who gathered upon coigns of vantage to witness the action. It was impossible to see details, and indeed it was about half-past four before we even caught sight of the moving masses of men. It seemed then that the Boers were falling back; the artillery had ceased to play, and we were under the impression that they were engaged in taking up fresh positions. About five o'clock a large force of Boers was noticed moving rapidly along the ridge to the east, while a smaller body of three hundred men, detaching themselves from the main column, were riding rapidly towards the west.
In the meantime Colonel Baden-Powell, Colonel Hore, Colonel Walford, of the British South Africa Police, and Captain Wilson, A.D.C. to the Colonel commanding, had taken up their position upon the roof of the railway sheds, where during the last few days a special outlook had been prepared. The scene in the railway yards was animated and dramatic, and in order to be close at hand I secured permission to sit upon the ladder which led to the outlook. In the town people were taking events quite calmly. The final in the siege billiard tournament was taking place at the club, and in many other respects it seemed difficult to realise that our deliverance was at hand. Between the railway yards and the outposts there were men shooting small birds, while in the yards around us natives were engaged in skinning and cutting the carcase of a horse which, shot overnight, had been handed over to the soup-kitchens. For perhaps an hour everything was calm and peaceful, but ever and anon the bubble of voices reached me from the roof as orders were transmitted over the telephone to Headquarters. Of a sudden Captain Wilson scrambled down the ladder, calling an order to Lieutenant Feltham to saddle up the horses and mount. While this work was in progress orders were issued to Captain Cowan, of the Bechuanaland Rifles, to march his men at once to the barracks of the Protectorate Regiment, while in a cloud of dust and with a cheering rattle Major Panzera galloped by with the guns. "I think we can catch them," said Colonel Baden-Powell, and a minute afterwards he had mounted his horse and was off. I found that he was referring to the detached party of three hundred Boers who were making their way from the scene of the fight in a south-westerly direction. I mounted and followed, and the small force which had thus been rapidly collected moved quickly towards our extreme position in the north-west of the town. It was just possible that we should catch them between the fire of General Mahon's guns and our own, and there was every necessity for speed. In a short time we were out at the "Standard and Diggers' News Fort," where, while our horses were given a short rest, the guns were unlimbered. That particular body of Boers who had been our objective seemed to be unconscious of the movement which had taken place in our own lines. As they emerged from the valley we opened fire and turned their head. For a moment they did not seem to realise their situation, when they rapidly wheeled about and put themselves out of range by a hurried retreat towards the main body. Dusk was now falling, and it was impossible to see any longer, and as a consequence the guns were ordered to retire to town and the men to return. It was half-past six when we reached town, and General Mahon's artillery had not been heard to fire for quite an hour. We went to dine, cheered by the comforting and consoling thought that by noonday upon the morrow the siege would be raised. However, about seven o'clock, in the bright moonlight, and totally unexpected, eight mounted men suddenly appeared in the Market Square. In a short space of time the news flashed round the town, and a concourse of people gathered to cheer vociferously about the precincts of the Headquarters Office. As round after round of cheers broke out it became known that these mysterious horsemen had galloped in under Major Karri Davis with a despatch from General Mahon. In a trice they were surrounded, besieged with questions, clapped upon the back, shaken by the hand, and generally welcomed. These plucky troopers seemed as surprised as ourselves and as glad. Major Karri Davis called for cheers for the garrison, while the crowd took up with tremendous fervour the National Anthem and "Rule Britannia." It was an exciting moment and a picturesque scene, bathed in the soft moonlight and irradiated by the glow of countless stars; but the men were hungry, and Major Lord Edward Cecil, the chief staff officer, busied himself in making arrangements for the care of these eight Imperial Light Horse, who, not content with relieving Ladysmith, had insisted upon being accorded the privilege of making the first entry into Mafeking.
That night the town retired early, but about two in the morning a subdued roar came from the direction of the north-western outposts, and in a very little time word was passed round that the troops were making their entrance into Mafeking. Just as the relief column had proceeded from Vryburg without any flourish of trumpets, so was their entry into Mafeking unexpected and unostentatious. But the town had aroused itself and was soon flocking across the veldt to the ground where the combined columns had already begun to form their camp. It was not a large force; its full muster was below two thousand men; but amid the soft and eerie shadows of the starry, moonlit night there seemed no end to the lines of horses, mules, and bullocks, to the camp fires, to the groups of men, to the number and variety of the waggons. In a corner, as it were, were the guns, a composite battery of the Royal Horse Artillery, eight pieces of the Canadian Artillery, and a number of Maxims. It was these which we had heard booming to us the first distant echoes of relief, and we were of course proud of them. Then and there we examined them, felt them over, pondered upon them, and then and there we thanked our God that we had in our own hands at last some really serviceable artillery. But there were other sights to be seen, early as was the hour, tired as were the troopers. There were the men of the Kimberley Light Horse and their comrades of the Imperial Light Horse to be inspected, to be patted upon the back, to be admired, and to be congratulated. There was scarcely any one who could not claim a friend among the mere handful of men who had marched from Vryburg to our relief, but if by chance there were such a one he quickly placed himself en amitié with the first group of troopers with whom he came in contact. Alas! such was our plight that we could not give them anything to drink, but we most willingly had prepared cauldrons of steaming soup and boiling coffee. A cup of coffee is not much to offer, but the goodwill was taken with the spirit, and there was no one who did not seem glad to receive even so small a thing. It was not possible to stay long in the camp. The men were weary, and, moreover, there was much to be done before, with their martial cloaks around them, they were able to snatch a few hours' repose; and so the town returned to its bed, drunk with enthusiasm, in an abortive effort to calm its excited brain with sleep. But, good heavens! was such a thing possible? It was now four, and although it was somewhat early, in the morning we began to call upon one another, passing the hours between dawn and sunrise in hilarious uproar. About seven the camp was all a-bustle. There were rumours that the men were to move out and attack the Boers, who were still in position upon the east side of the town. Presently, as we moved about the streets down by the western outposts, clouds of dust were tossing themselves in the air. The guns were coming—our guns, if you please—and thereupon a pandemonium was raised. Every one seemed to be screaming, and as the Royal Horse swept through town we streamed after them, feebly endeavouring to keep pace with them, so as to be able to witness the effects of their power. The Market Square at this time presented a picture of military life which has never been equalled by any of the scenes that have been enacted there in its earlier days. Men in uniform were hurrying from point to point, troops from the various squadrons were coming in, squadron-leaders, majors and colonels were falling over one another. These were the beginnings of the fight, and much as the relief had fought its way into Mafeking so were they now going to secure definite freedom for the townspeople by driving out the Boers. As the guns came into the Square willing hands tore down and pushed aside the line of carts and fencing of corrugated iron which for these seven months had served duty as a traverse. Then the guns of the Horse Artillery swept on, taking up positions upon the veldt in front of the town, in readiness to begin the bombardment of the Boer position, while, in simultaneous co-operation with this movement, the Canadian Artillery were sent out with orders to shell Game Tree. However, the fight did not last long. In a very short time the Game Tree fort was deserted, the Boers from there hurriedly joining their main body. But the presence of the guns had terrorised the Boers, and they fled precipitately, leaving their camp, their guns, their stores behind them. We shelled for an hour with the composite battery of the Royal Horse, comprising four 12-½-pounders and two pom-poms. Then we advanced in skirmishing order, extending our line rapidly until we had outflanked their position. Then we charged, and the day was ours. The enemy had vanished, and we were in possession of their camp, while so undignified had their retreat been that they did not even wait to remove their hospital. Upon General Snyman's house there was still floating the Republican flag, while the Red Cross hung drowsily in the air above the hospital. There were thirty wounded in the hospital, and these, for the time being, were placed under a guard, but otherwise left undisturbed; in this manner did the siege come to an abrupt conclusion.