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May 14th 10 years 4 months ago #3239

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1900 - Mafeking siege day 214 (98%). Buller drives Boers from the Biggarsberg.
Dr David Biggins

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May 14th 4 months 2 weeks ago #83215

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1900 - Diary of the siege of Mafeking by Edward Ross

14, 15,16 May

Although the jubilant haze of victory is still hanging over the town I will endeavour to give you a few more details of the Eloff capture.

When the Boers first took the fort, one of their men went to Colonel Hore’s telephone and rang up the headquarter staff. The man on duty at our end answered the call saying, 'Who’s there?” The reply quickly came, "It is I, a Dutchman, and we have taken your fort.” This of course was at once reported to B.P. who simply said, "Cut the wires.” The operator, however, (he was an Irishman) was for having a bit of fun, so he rang up the Boer and on getting a reply shouted down the phone, "If you’ve got the fort stick to it until you are in hell and that will be very soon,” and then snipped the wire.

The Boers had endeavoured to loot every7 mortal thing there was in the stores, they had drunk everything there was to drink, and had piled up everything they could, ready to cart away. Those that escaped did as a matter of fact take everything that they could stow in their pockets. And one left a very insulting and indecent written message to the Colonel on Colonel Hore’s blotting-pad.

It now turns out that the Boers were led through the native village by the man Hayes who deserted from us, and four Rietfontein natives who knew every hut in the village. Both the white man and the natives I am very sorry to say have escaped us.

The prisoners the first morning refused point-blank to eat sowen porridge so it was left there until they were hungry enough to eat it. They were told that that was the food we were living on and that was all they could get. They said they would send out to Snyman and get some more rate that evening they finished it all off.

The hospital attached to the women’s laager is situate just at the back of bread. I only wish they would, they wouldn’t see much of it, I’ll bet. At any the once captured fort and the two ladies in charge of it, Miss Crawfurd and Miss Buchan, behaved like heroes on the day of the fight. They continually went backwards and forwards from their hospital to the Boers, attending to the wounded of both sides with an attention and kindness that could only be shown by real good women. They were often under rifle-fire and showed as much pluck as any man could possibly have shown. That’s the sort of stuff the Mafeking ladies are made of.

The enemy, although some of them have come right along the edge of the women’s laager, mercifully thank God, left it entirely unmolested. This does not sound like the Boers, but I expect they were in too much of a hurry to get into the fort and under cover.

The prisoners one and all say that our relief column is only a few miles away, and one whom I chipped for telling us yarns, put his hands in his pocket and producing a sovereign says, 'Til bet you this.” I at once closed with the bet, and as I am of course stakeholder it does not matter very much who wins, as I don’t suppose it is probable I shall ever see him again. Lots of others corroborated the tales of our relief and most of them expressed themselves glad as they said they were all very sick of the war, and the hardships it has forced upon them. What about us?

The morning of the 12th was of course the first opportunity any of us had had of seeing B.P. in a temporary corner or at all hard-pressed. And I can assure you it was indeed a lesson to all who saw him. I had that luck. He stood there at the corner of his offices, the coolest of cucumbers possible, but his orders rattled out like the rip of a Maxim. He had taken in the position without a moment’s thought or hesitation, and when he knew his outposts had been passed through by the enemy, within twenty minutes he had formed an inner line of defence right across the front of the town, with men and guns in sufficient numbers to mow down any number of the enemy that would dare to attempt to cross the clear open space still remaining between where the enemy were and the town. You could not realise his commands if put down in cold black and white. It was his tone, his self-possession, his command of self, his intimate knowledge of every detail of the defences, where everything at that moment was, and where it was to be brought and put to, shewed us the ideal soldier, and what the British officer can be and is in moments of extreme peril. It was something I would not have missed seeing for anything. With only one or two with him, his officers all galloping about delivering his orders, there he stood with his hands behind his back, a living image of a being knowing himself and his own strength and fearing neither foe nor devil. Such was B.P. the soldier. The other side of the man is open to much argument. Some say he is egotistical and always aiming at being before the eyes of the British public, such for instance being his idea when he had his head put on the local siege-made postage stamps.

This seems to have raised the ire of a good many people, and it is common talk that her Majesty disapproved of it, and that our great B.P. is to be hauled over the coals about the matter. Then again, his having sent the banknotes to be published in the London illustrated papers and many other suchlike acts and deeds, which, people say, if he had applied them in a proper quarter would have made his fortune as the finest advertising medium Pears soap ever had. But still, whatever he has done or whatever he may do, I for one shall never forget that morning of the 12th of May when he showed himself the equal of any officer in the British army, high or low, for no officer and no living man could have done better. So much for our great little Colonel, the one and only B.P. who I have no doubt is soon to become temporarily the idol of the British people.

14 May

Since the big fight on the 12th the enemy have left us entirely alone. In fact they seem too busy attending to their own business without interfering again with us.

Their western laager is entirely broken up and has utterly disappeared. At their main laager on our east great excitement is observed amongst them, taking down tents, moving away waggons, carts, etc., which all seem to be heading towards Ottoshoop, Transvaal. What a shame it is our fellows cannot get behind them, or they at least wait and have one good square fight before leaving.

This afternoon it was reported that large bodies of men were seen advancing from the south. Of course everybody was immediately jumping about with excitement thinking it might be the advance guard of our relief force. But it was just one more disappointment for us as it turned out to be the enemy about 600 strong coming up from the south and making towards their head laager.

Things generally have quietly settled down again since our great capture, outwardly everybody has resumed their usual calmness and quietness, but inwardly every man jack is on pins and needles, every nerve quivering with suppressed excitement and all about the relief column which should be, by all accounts from the prisoners, only just a few thousand yards off.

Having nothing more to write about today’s doings I will just let myself go at a few more siege memories before they entirely escape me.

We see in many old papers different statements as to the number of men we had at the commencement of the siege. Anything from 1 000 to 2 000. The Times gives it at 1 500. The real total was not more than 850 of which 450 were the inhabitants of Mafeking and comprised the Town Guard, Railway Division, and Volunteers, the different nationalities of which represent the following: of course the preponderance being British, Germans, Americans, Russians, Italians, Norwegians, Swedes, Indians, Coolies, Natives, and a few loyal Boers.

I have previously given the number of old-fashioned guns we had. And the reserve stock of ammunition (after every man was served out with 400 rounds each), 143 cases = 28 600 Mark II 303 rifle cartridges; 8 cases = 8 800 Mark IV ditto.

These figures I am positive of, as I was personally in charge of the ammunition and issued out the reserve, as wanted, until I took to making £1 notes. How much was left after the last fight I do not know, but I should consider very little. I had strict instructions not to issue any Mark IV ammunition and with the exception of one case which was accidently sent to Cannon Kopje, these instructions were faithfully carried out. The one in question had lost all marks outside owing to the dampness of the holes in which they were buried. The enemy, however, were not so considerate to us; I have the proof positive in my possession to the contrary in the shape of Dum-Dum, Mark IV; hollow-nosed, soft-lead nosed, split, cut and filed bullets and bullets with a copper percussion cap in the head.

Since Eloff has been a prisoner of ours he has done nothing but swear at and curse old Snyman, the Boer Commandant who failed to come on and attack Mafeking at the proper time, and yesterday this Snyman sent in a letter of condolence and sympathy to him. Eloff replied telling him that he hoped the devil and all his angels would torment him eternally and that he and all his would rot. Of course the letter was written in Dutch, the last word being "frut” and the only translation I can find for this is "rot”. I wonder what Snyman thinks of himself now?

Here is a little secret for you my diary. On the day of the Eloff fight, when down in the native village, I managed to get from one of the prisoners an almost new Mauser rifle with a bandolier full of cartridges. These were strapped under the 7-pounder gun carriage and brought up to the town, and I now have them safely stowed away in my dugout. I shall endeavour to keep them for the rest of my existence.

Reverting back to the Eloff capture, some of the officers now want to say that the whole thing was an arranged thing for the Boers. This is all rot and anybody with a little common sense would know that B.P. could not possibly have allowed such a narrow escape of the town if he had been aware of the enemy’s intention.

During that day the Boers endeavoured to shell our inner line of defence with their 12-pounder from its position at Jackal’s Tree; they could not aim straight to hit what they wanted, but instead put a shell into the gaol, which exploded and shattered into fragments, one of which most unfortunately killed poor Heale the gaoler.

He was a man well liked and very popular and has done his work conscientiously and well during the siege. It was indeed hard luck that he should have gone through everything and get bowled over just at the finish. He leaves a wife and three or four children.
Dr David Biggins
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