How Mafeking was finally relieved—Exploits of some Australian " Bushmen " under General Carrington—British opinions not flattering to British valor.
The end of the military theatricals carried on by Baden-Powell and Commandant Snyman came on the 17th of May, in a way which tended to redeem the farcical character of the previous operations from a continuous record of absurdity. Two forces started for the town from Kimberley and Johannesburg, respectively —one to relieve, the other to storm, the much-advertised place. Colonel Mahon, at the head of 1,000 picked and mounted men, and with a battery of Horse Artillery, rode north from Kimberley, by Vryburg, and formed a junction with Colonel Plumer and the troopers who had been attempting in vain for months to get past the few Boers who carried on the siege. This was to be the rescuing force.
At midnight, on the 8th of May, a select body of 380 Band and Pretoria Volunteers left Johannesburg under the command of young Eloff, a nephew of President Kruger's, with the purpose of reaching Mafeking before the relieving force from Kimberley could arrive. It was to be a race between the two flying columns for the prize of Baden-Powell's garrison. Eloff—that is, Sarel, of that name—was a brave young burgher and, unlike others of his name, was very popular in Pretoria. He had offered to go and storm Mafeking if 300 men could be found in Pretoria and Johannesburg at that time to accompany him. The necessary number were soon mustered, and comprised some German Uitlanders; but the bulk of the men were burghers.
Eloff reached the Boer lines round Mafeking early on the 13th of May, and proposed his plan of assault to General Snyman. This officer refused point blank to entertain the proposition. He was senior in command, and, unless Eloff could produce President Kruger's own orders superseding him, he was resolved to remain superior in authority and to carry on the siege according to his and his commandoes' ideas. Eloff was furious and, calling Snyman names which did not spell either " courage " or " white man," he resolved with his own brigade alone to attack the town forthwith.
Consequently, at eleven o'clock that night, Eloff at the head of his Volunteers left the lines of investment and rushed into the native location which had been one of the strongest posts in Baden-Powell's outer defenses. The place was successfully carried, and it was felt that the key of Mafeking was in Boer hands; providing that Snyman and the investing force of burghers who had witnessed the capture of the Kaffir kraals would now come on and help to push the advantage thus gained to an assault upon the town itself. They did not come.
Conflicting accounts are given of what followed the initial success of Eloff's attack. One report alleged that before the Volunteers had started to penetrate the outer British lines, a dozen of them turned their rifles upon some of Snyman's command and shot five or six of these for refusing to take part in the assault. Another account asserts that the Volunteers, after capturing the native quarters, overcome by the five or six days' almost continuous journey from Johannesburg, were borne down with fatigue and could not be induced by Eloff to push forward to the main attack; they favored waiting for the morning; while yet another report alleges that Eloff's men had found a drink-store in the Kaffir location and had unwisely indulged in the liquor, hence the collapse of the last attempt to capture the Mafeking garrison.
By whatever means, natural or spirituous, the attackers were induced to sleep in the Kaffir portion of the Mafeking lines, they were so found and overwhelmed shortly after midnight by Baden-Powell's forces. After a manly fight put up by the assailants they were defeated by their more numerous foes. They left ninety killed and wounded on the field, as a proof of the fighting resolve which had animated those who had followed young Eloff, and as a lasting reproach to Baden-Powell's rival, Snyman, whose poltroonery alone stood between the Volunteers and the success of their plan of assault. Eloff and the balance of his men were taken prisoner, and Mafeking was finally relieved by Colonel Mahon and his troops four days subsequently.
It was found on the termination of the siege that the town was amply provisioned for six months' further investment, and that there had actually happened none of the hardships and little of the sensational siege experiences which had been persistently advertised in heart-rending but heroically posing despatches sent to all parts of the British Empire during the continuance of the serio-comic military drama at Mafeking.
General Carrington's achievements, in conjunction with those of General Baden-Powell soon after the siege was raised, have not been the theme of a too fervent Jingo praise. Carrington's force was composed of some 1,300 or 1,500 of " Australian Bushmen " and Rhodesian troopers. By an arrangement with the Portuguese Government which astonished all who understood that this Power had declared its neutrality, the Australian portion of these troops was permitted to land at Beira, with its horses, artillery, and equipment. The explanation given by English papers of this arrangement was that " a rising of the Matabele" was feared in Rhodesia, and that Carrington's force was being despatched thither by way of Beira, as any other approach through British territory was barred by the Boers. The real destination of the British was Mafeking, and its sole object an attempt to relieve that place from the north.
The " Bushmen," so-called, were the choicest lot of khaki-clad adventurers who had enlisted on the English side in the inglorious war. They were, with a few exceptions, Jackeroos, Sundowners, and similar ne'er-do-wells who had been " Bushmen " only in the sense of doing an occasional job of sheep-shearing which would provide drink for a fortnight's spree at the nearest liquor store. They enlisted at the rate of five shillings per day, while the regular British Atkins had to expose his skin in the field for about one-third of this remuneration. The " Bushmen " were therefore joining in a good thing when engaging to sustain the martial valor of Australia in South Africa, at the price of ten drinks per day.
How they have done this I will allow one of their chaplains, the late Father Timoney, of Sydney, N. S. W., to relate. This reverend gentleman accompanied these select Australian warriors as their spiritual guardian, and on the 10th of December, 1900, he wrote as follows of the prowess of his precious charges:" A battle in South Africa means that two bodies of men strongly posted on two hills about a mile or two apart, throw lead in the form of shells and bullets at one another, until the guns become jammed or until the rifles become red hot, or nearly so. As a rule our casualties are few, but if one listens to the mendacious troopers the enemy has lost hundreds. There is, of course, no means of ascertaining the losses of the enemy. Now and then one can see through glasses a man fall from his horse, but the lively imagination of our men supplies all details, gives the precise number of the enemy killed, wounded, and missing, the nature of the wounds inflicted, and the number of those who are beyond recovery. It often happens that the enemy escapes without losing a man, but in our camp they invariably lose dozens. I have heard cooks, tailors, and other artists enumerate the number of Boers whom they had killed, and modestly refer to their deeds of valor. Most of these fellows would fail to strike a haystack at a hundred yards' distance, and a Boer armed with a broomstick would annihilate a company of such braggarts. Besides, these swaggering warriors live in mortal terror of the Boers, and it would require a Baldwin engine to drag them within range of the Mauser rifle. I am now referring to the noisy, rowdy element of our army, to the men who neither do nor dare anything, but who are ever gabbling overland recounting exploits that never took place. I suppose every army has its coterie of worthless individuals. Anyhow, we are singularly privileged in possessing large numbers of Munchausens. I marvel what will be the number and nature of the stories with which our doughty warriors will entertain their friends when they return to Australia! "—Sydney (Australia) " Catholic Press."
Following the occupation of Pretoria by Roberts and the relief of Mafeking by Mahon, General De la Rey, who had fought in the rear-guard of the Boer forces from Brandfort to the Transvaal capital, was despatched to his own district of Lichtenburg to rally the burghers of the west in a campaign against the operations of Lord Methuen and Baden-Powell, who had several thousand troops at their disposal. General Carrington's incomparable warriors from Woolamaroo, and elsewhere, were also swooping down upon the hen roosts and liquor stores of the Marico regions carrying fire and slaughter into the farmyards of the northwest of the Transvaal. De la Rey's task was to stand in between these three hostile columns, and to defend such homesteads and villages as had not been burned in the Rustenburg district by the British vandals.
He organized a force of 1,500 men out of the burghers who had been under Snyman's command, and placed that disgraced commandant in prison for cowardice. With this small force, he fought his assailants on all sides, more than holding his own against three columns, in a series of brilliant encounters. He succeeded in shut-ting Baden-Powell (now a general) and 2,000 troops within Rustenburg, in August, 1900. By his usual display of military judgment, he had detached some of his men southward to harass Lord Methuen's march, and so well were these plans executed that the titled guardsman and his column of 3,000 men were successfully kept off during the investment of Baden-Powell in Rustenburg. Finally, the newly-made general was rescued by Hamilton with a large force despatched for the purpose by Lord Roberts from Pretoria, and his exploits since then have not been such as to bring him under the daily notice of the newspaper-reading world. He marched with his 2,000 men, when leaving Rustenburg, towards the Elands River where a body of Rhodesian and other troopers, under Colonel Hoare, were being assailed by the ubiquitous De la Rey. Baden-Powell knew that General Carrington and the invincible Woolamaroo Brigade were marching from Zeerust, directly west of Elands River, also to the relief of Hoare; but for some unexplained reason the defender of Mafeking, tho advancing until within earshot of the Boer guns, returned upon his footsteps, to emerge some months afterward from a too oppressive surfeit of military fame, and become the head of a special constabulary force, for, presumably, more civic duties.
It has been said, in explanation of General Baden-Powell's action on this occasion, that he believed General Carrington had joined hands with Colonel Hoare, and that his aid was not, in consequence, required. What Carrington and the " Bushmen " did on the occasion had better be related in the words of Jingo loyalty itself, so as to avert a possible charge of prejudiced testimony against this volume.
On the 1st of January, 1901, the London "Daily Chronicle" published the following statement:
" The ' Rhodesian Times,' just to hand, gives a full account of the failure to relieve the Elands River garrison and the subsequent evacuation of Zeerust by General Carrington, as told by several of the men serving in the Rhodesian regiment. They all reflect severely upon the action of the general. The 'Rhodesian Times,' referring to these statements, says :
"' The particular events narrated in the following columns are the gallant defense of Elands River by some 400 Rhodesians and Australians on Aug. 3 and succeeding days, together with the lamentable failure of General Carrington to relieve the post, and the shameful evacuation of Zeerust with the consequent breach of faith to surrendered neutrals and to British loyalists. This whole story has never been fully told before, and, in order that free and fair statements might be obtained, each of the four who have contributed a statement has been interviewed separately, and had no idea that any one else had been consulted. There are, therefore, four independent accounts, each man telling all he could and believing he was telling the whole story. Mere hearsay statements have been eliminated as not being evidence, otherwise the accounts are in the narrators' own language. Yet the stories are practically identical, and it seems to be a fact that a British general, with a complete, well-equipped force of 1,200 men, suffered himself to be driven backward, fled in such haste that he never knew how weak his enemy was, and then evacuated a fortified defensible position thirty-six hours before the first small body of the enemy appeared. It is a pitiful tale; a shameful and disgraceful tale. It has caused the shedding of an infinite amount of blood, and prolonged misery to thousands, both of British and Boer families, by encouraging the Boers in their futile resistance. The only relief in the story so far as this country is concerned is the gallantry of the Rhodesians, who, under Captain " Sandy " Butters, declined to surrender, and with the cry, " Rhodesians never surrender," held the advanced post at Elands River, and made the defense of the whole camp possible, until Kitchener's welcome relief came."
The end of the operations of the Methuen-Powell-Carrington-Hoare forces in the west of the Transvaal, in the months of July and August, 1900, was the rescue of the lot by the arrival, first of General Hamilton, and then of Lord Kitchener, with large relieving columns, and the subsequent burning of hundreds of farms and homesteads and of numerous villages by the 8,000 or 10,000 British who had failed to beat or capture General De la Rey and his 1,500 burghers.