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April 15th 9 years 8 months ago #3241

  • djb
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1900 - Mafeking siege day 215 (99%). Dundee and Glencoe re-occupied. Hunter enters Transvaal on western border. Lord Methuen advances from Boshof. Mahon joins Plumer.
1902 - Opening of the Vereeniging Conference.
1905 - Natal Ministry (Sutton) resigns. Mr. Smythe forms new Ministry.

In Mafeking:

News has arrived that our troops are within striking distance; "Sister Ann" performance has begun again. We are now beginning to recover from our exciting Saturday. As I wired home, it was the best day that I ever saw, and I must now try and describe it.

Just before four o'clock in the morning we were roused by heavy firing. The garrison turned out and manned the various works. We all turned up, and I went to the headquarters. Everybody got their horses ready, armed themselves as best they could, and awaited the real attack. Colonel Baden-Powell said at once the real attack would be on the stadt. We have had a good many attacks and don't attach much importance to them, but we did not any one of us anticipate the day's work that was in store for us. When I say anticipate, every possible preparation had been made. Well, we hung about in the cold. After about an hour and a half the firing on the eastern front began to slacken. Trooper Waterson of the Blues, as usual, had coffee and cocoa ready at once, and we felt we could last a bit. Jokes were freely bandied, and we kept saying, " When are they going to begin? " Suddenly on the west a conflagration was seen, and betting began as to how far out it was. I got on to the roof of a house, and with Mr. Arnold, of Dixon's Hotel, saw a very magnificent sight. Apparently the whole stadt was on fire, and with the sunrise behind us and the stadt in flames in front, the combination of effects was truly magnificent, if not exactly reassuring. However, nobody seemed to mind much. Our guns, followed by the Bechuanaland Rifles, hurried across the square, men laughing and joking and saying, " we were going to have a good fight." Then came the news that the B.S.A.P. fort, garrisoned by the Protectorate Regiment, had fallen into the enemy's hands. Personally I did not believe it to be true, and started with a carbine to assure myself of the fact. I got close up to the fort, met a squadron running obliquely across its front, and though the bullets were coming from that direction could not believe but that they were our own men who were strolling about outside it. That is the worst of being educated under black powder. I saw poor Hazelrigg, who was a personal friend of mine and whom I knew at home, shot, but did not realise who he was. Both sides were inextricably mixed, but having ridden about, and got the hang of things, I am certain that within twenty minutes, order and confidence were absolutely restored on our side. You saw bodies of men, individuals, everybody armed with what they could get, guns of any sort, running towards the firing. A smile on every man's face, and the usual remark was, "Now we've got the beggars." The "beggars" in question were under the impression that they had got us and no doubt had a certain amount of ground for their belief. The fight then began. At least we began to fight, for up till then no return had been made to the very heavy fusillade to which we had been subjected. I have soldiered for some years and I have never seen anything smarter or better than the way the Bechuanaland Rifles, our Artillery and the Protectorate Regiment ran down and got between the Boers and their final objective. The Boers then sent a message through the telephone to say they had got Colonel Hore and his force prisoners and that we could not touch them. Campbell, our operator, returned a few remarks of his own not perhaps wholly complimentary and the telephone was disconnected and re-connected with Major Godley. Our main telephone wire runs through the B. S. A. P. fort. McLeod, the man in charge of the wires, commenced careering about armed with a stick and a rifle, and followed by his staff of black men with the idea of directly connecting Major Godley's fort and the headquarters. I may mention McLeod is a sailor and conducts his horse on the principle of a ship. He is perhaps the worst horseman I have ever seen and it says much for the honour of the horse flesh of Mafeking that he is still alive. However, be that as it may, his pawky humour and absolute disregard of danger has made him one of the most amusing features of the siege. You always hear him in broad Scotch and remarkable places, but he is always where he is wanted. By this time we were settling down a bit, so were they. They looted everything they possibly could. A Frenchman got on to the roof of the fort with a bottle of Burgundy belonging to the officers' mess to drink to "Fashoda." He got hit in the stomach and his pals drank the bottle. Our men were very funny. When the Frenchmen yelled "Fashoda," they said " silly beggars, their geography is wrong." I was very pleased with the whole day. I have never heard more or worse jokes made, and, no doubt, had I been umpiring, I should have put some of us out of action or at any rate given them a slight advantage. Every townsman otherwise unoccupied, who had possibly never contemplated the prospect of a fight to the finish, now turned out. Mr. Weil (and too much cannot be said for his resource through every feature of the siege) broke open his boxes, served out every species of firearms he could to every person who wanted them.

A very deaf old soldier, late of the 24th Regiment, Masters by name, asked where they were, and then proceeded to investigate in a most practical fashion. I went down to the jail which more or less commands the B.S.A.P. fort and buildings, and had a look, and as we saw that no attack was imminent or at any rate likely to prove successful, we knocked off by parties and had our breakfast. We were beginning to kill them very nicely. Jail prisoners had all been released. Murchison, who shot Parslow, Lonie, the greatest criminal of the town, were both armed and doing their duty. We were all shooting with the greatest deliberation and effect whenever they showed themselves, and perhaps I was better pleased with being an Englishman from a sightseer's point of view than on any day since the Jubilee. The quaint part of the whole thing was that we were shooting at our own people unwittingly. I had a cousin there, and we laughed consumedly in the evening when we exchanged notes and found that we had been shooting close to him amongst others, I don't think that any man who was in that light will ever think ill of his neighbour from the highest to the lowest; from our General—or, at least, he ought to be a General—to the ordinary civilian, everbody was cheerful and confident of victory. We had had a long seven months' wait, and at last we were having our decisive fight. After breakfast (like giants refreshed) we began shooting again. I cannot tell you who did well, but I can assure you that no man did badly. Besides the men there were ladies. Mrs. Buchan and Miss Crawford worked most calmly and bravely under fire. All the other ladies did their duty too. Whilst the fight was developing, Mrs. Winter was running about getting us coffee. Her small son, aged six, was extremely wroth with me because I ordered him under shelter. Then commenced what you may call the next phase of the fight. Captain Fitzciarence and his squadron, with Mr. Swinburne and Mr. Bridges, came down through the town to join hands with Captain Marsh's squadron, and then with Lord Charles Bentinck's squadron and the Baralongs, the whole under Major Godley, were now going to commence to capture the Boers. I must endeavour to describe the situation. El off s attack was clever and determined. He had seven hundred men and had advanced up the bed of the Molopo. Into Mafeking he had got, but like many previous attacks had proved—it was easy to get in, but quite another matter to get out. The Baralongs and our outlying forts had allowed some three hundred men to enter, and had then commenced a heavy fire upon their supports. This discomfited the supports, and they incontinently fled. Silas Moleno and Lekoko, the Baralong leaders, had decided that it was better to kraal them up like cattle. One Dutchman was overheard to shout, "Mafeking is ours," when suddenly his friends yelled, "My God, we are surrounded." This species of fighting particularly appeals to the Baralong. He is better than the Boer at the Boer's own game, and never will I hear a word against the Baralong. However, Silas was then engaged in conjunction with our own men in collecting them. He collected them where they had no water, and then the question resolved itself into the Boer showing himself and getting shot or gradually starving. If the Baralongs had been fighting the fight and time had been no particular object, they would probably still be shooting odd Boers, but it is obvious that those dilatory measures could not be pursued by ourselves, and that we had to finish the fight by nightfall. Our men were accordingly sent down to round them up; there were thus in all three parties of Boers in the town, one, nearly three hundred strong, in the B. S. A. P. fort, sundry in a kraal by Mr. Minchin's house, others again in the kopje. The kraal was captured in an exceedingly clever manner. Captain Fitzclarence and Captain Marsh worked up to the walls, but knowing the pleasant nature of the Boer, instead of storming the place or showing themselves, they bored loopholes with their bayonets. The artillery under Lieutenant Daniels also had come up to within forty yards. There was a slight hesitation on the part of the Boers to surrender. The order was given to the gun to commence fire. The lanyard broke, but before a fresh start could be made the Boers hastily surrendered. Captain Marsh, known and respected by the Baralongs, had great difficulty in restraining them from finishing the fight their own way, and small blame to them for their desire. They had had their stadt burned. Odd Boers had been bolting at intervals, and had mostly been accounted for. The question next to be settled was as to the possession of the B. S. A. P. fort. Our men who were captive therein, and indeed the Boers and foreigners to whom I have since talked describe our fire as extraordinarily accurate. Eloff had great difficulty in keeping his men together, and as one man at least was a deserter of ours, it can't altogether be wondered that they did not wish to remain. Our firing, as we had more men to spare, became more and more deadly, and at last now they decided to surrender. Some hundred broke away and escaped from the fort, in spite of Eloff firing on them, but their bodies have been coming in ever since and many will never be accounted for, because the bodies of men with rifles may be possibly put away by the Baralongs, who are always begging rifles we have been unable to give them. Eloff accordingly surrendered to Colonel Hore. The other party in the kopje had made several unsuccessful attempts to break out, Bentinck and his squadron always successfully heading them, but as it got dark, and our men had been fighting from before four, it was decided to let them break out and just shoot what we could. The Baralongs had some more shooting too. As each successive hatch of prisoners was marched into the town absolute silence was maintained by the Britishers, except saluting brave men who had tried and failed. They were brave men and I like them better now than I ever did; the Kaffirs, however, hooted. As each batch marched up, their arms, of which they had naturally been deprived, were handed over to the Cadets, who had been under fire all clay. These warriors range from nine to fifteen years of age. They are the only smartly clad portion of the garrison, for our victorious troops were the dirtiest and most vilely robed lot of scarecrows I have ever seen, still it did one good to see the escort to the prisoners, they were simply swelling like turkey cocks and all round our long lines of defences we would hear cheers and "Rule Britannia" and the "Anthem" being sung with the wildest enthusiasm. It is impossible as I said before, to say who behaved best, but none behaved badly. There was only one thing said afterwards, when all sorts and conditions of men were shaking each other by the hand, and that was, "This is a great day for England." Mafeking is still rather mad with the Relief Column within shouting distance and it is likely to remain so.

We lost few men in our great success but I take it that no man particularly wants to be lost. I really have seen brave men here, but the man who says he wants to get shot is simply a liar. We know the story of the Roman sentinel and the Highlander who fought in Athlone (or was it Mullingar) against Hoche and many men that have died for their country obstinately. Captain Singleton's servant, Trooper Muttershek, may be added to their roll. He absolutely declined to surrender and fought on till killed. It wasn't a case of dashing in and dashing out and having your fun and a fight, it was a case of resolution to die sooner than throw down your arms, the wisdom may be questionable, the heroism undoubted. He wasn't taking any surrender. As far as I am concerned, I have seen the British assert their superiority over foreigners before now, but this man in my opinion, though I didn't see him die, was the bravest man who fought on either side that day. It is a good thing to be an Englishman. These foreigners start too quick and finish quicker. They are good men, but we are better, and have proved so for several hundred years. I had always wanted to see the Englishman fight in a tight hole, and I know what he is worth now. He can outstay the other chap. Well, you must be getting rather bored by the fighting, and I will write more anon when I have collected some further particulars. The Rev. W. H. Weekes, our parson, organized a thanksgiving service on Sunday night. We were still rather mad, and it gave us a pleasant feeling to sing nice fighting psalms and hymns, because which ever way you look at it we are perfectly convinced out here that it is a righteous war. He had rather a mixed congregation, which probably in times of peace would be, half the size, but he understands his congregation and the congregation understand him.

Poor Hazelrigg died that night.

I went over and saw the prisoners this afternoon. They were very civil, and so were we. I like a Frenchman, and was chaffing them more or less at having left "La Patrie." They didn't seem to mind being prisoners; they apparently enjoyed their fight, but they objected to their food. I did what I could for them, and I couldn't help feeling that they were absolutely uninvited guests. It wasn't their quarrel, and why they wanted to shove their nose into it we all fail to understand. There is really a very charming man amongst them, who asked me to procure him a grammar as he wished to improve his mind by learning Dutch and English. Of course, I got him a grammar, while I couldn’t help suggesting that it might have been as well to remain in comfort in France without travelling all this way to learn the language, also remarking Dutch seemed rather out of date. He rather agreed with me, and asked me for a collection of siege stamps as he said he thought his girl would like them. The funny part of these fellows is that they seem to think that we haven't got homes or girls or anything else, but are a sort of automatic "Aunt Sally," put up here for irresponsible foreigners to have a shy at.

Nobody bears any malice about the fight, but the Frenchman calls the Boer " canaille," the Boer doesn't seem to like the Frenchman or, indeed, any other foreigner, regarding him as an impetuous fool who would probably lead him (the Boer) into some nasty dangerous place, and the Englishman laughs at the lot; however, as I said before, the poor devils can't help being foreigners. I always like a Frenchman, a good many have been kind to me and they are invariably amusing. Their stomachs, however, are at present proud, and they cannot swallow "sowen," or horse flesh, or any local luxuries. However, as we pointed out, it was rather their fault that we had not any rations in here. Some of these men had only been in the country a week. It seems a long way to come to get put in "quod," and live on horse flesh and "sowens." One told me he passed a battery of our relieving column in harbour at Beira. I suppose he thought he had put in a smart day's work when he got ahead of it. He has, but he isn't working now. I never liked Eloff much, not that I knew him personally, but now I like him better for his performances. He very nearly did a big thing, but both sides have apparently an ineradicable mutual contempt for each other, which has led to some very pretty fighting through the whole war. There is no mistake about it, he did insult the Queen, and I am glad we have had the wiping out of that score, but he is a gallant fellow all the same. When we look back on our discomfiture of Cronje, and the mopping up of Eloff, it gives a pleasant finish to the siege. It wanted just a finishing touch to make it satisfactory. There should be another fight within a few hours, but I reckon that it will be the Relief Column's turn, and though everything is ready for us to assist them I honestly don't think we could go far and do much. The men were dog tired on Saturday, absolutely dog tired. I always thought the Boer was a bad bird to get up to the gun, but he came up that day. I don't think he will again.

On Monday we saw the tail end of some Boer force arriving. We had hoped it might be our own people, but they appear to be a few miles further off. However, we know they are there or thereabouts now. Nobody minds now, we know we are winning.

To return again to my story of the fighting, the foreigners did try their best to stop the Boers looting, but loot they did most thoroughly. They stole everything they could lay their hands on. Not one officer, whose kit happened to be in the fort has recovered anything. One “clumpy" of Boers galloped forth laden with food and drink. The food belonged to themselves, the drink belonged to us. They happened to fall in with the galloping Maxim, a piece of bad luck because they all died and our people took the food and drink. One fellow had taken a pair of brown boots and a horse, he had a few bullets through the boots, the horse was killed and so was he.

Life had been very dull here, but that morning put everything all right. We had never before seen a dead or wounded Boer or a prisoner, and it is weary work to see your friends and neighbours shot and not see your own bag too, but personally, except in the way of business, I hope I haven't killed a Boer. In the fight in the morning, though everything had been prepared for as far as we could tell, we had had to take up positions which were absolutely enfiladed by the fresh development of affairs. The trench occupied by the Bechuanaland Rifles, Protectorate Regiment, and others on the spur of the moment, was directly enfiladed by the enemy's quick-firer. Why we were not wiped out on that line I never shall quite make out. They shot the jailor, Heale, who has done very good work all through the siege, who I am afraid leaves a wife and family. Then the prisoners took charge of themselves. Our gunner prisoners ran down to the guns, one was shot, the others served the gun all day. The others, armed with Martinis, commenced a heavy fire on the enemy, or cautioned the Dutch prisoners, the suspects, as to their behaviour, and put them down a hole. It was an exhilarating sight and struck me as exceedingly quaint to see men who had committed every crime, and were undergoing penal servitude, dismissing their past, oblivious of anything except the fact that we were all of the same crowd, and had got to keep the Dutchmen out.

I hope Her Majesty will exercise her clemency; they certainly deserve to regain their rights as citizens.

We have had rather a dull day for some reason or other. A general idea pervaded the town that relief was at hand, and when towards evening a cloud of dust and troops were seen to the south-west, we most of us got on the roofs and looked at them with some interest. It transpired subsequently, however, that they were the enemy retiring before Mahon. They passed round the south of the town, and opposed him later.
Dr David Biggins

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