The Siege of Mafikeng

September is Heritage month in South Africa. For this reason I have decided to post these articles of the Siege of Mafikeng. It was originally entered into the Think Quest web design competition back in ’99 when we were still in High School. Myself, my brother and sister designed the website and we placed among the first 3 places for that competition in South Africa. You can view the original project here. All 3 of us are still active on the web. I have my blogs, my sister has the most amazing photography page find it here. My brother is a real world traveller you can find his blog here. His blog is not very up to date as they are in Peru at the moment. I hope you enjoy this series. Thank you again for my brother and sister for the great journey of discovery that it was to get all the information. Enjoy reading this about the history of our hometown.

WAR WAS DECLARED by the Transvaal Government on October 11, 1899 and the opening shots of the war were fired by General de La Rey’s forces on an armoured train at Kraaipan, south of Mafikeng.  The train was carrying guns and ammunition meant for Mafikeng. When the siege of Mafikeng began on October 14, 1899, there was a population of some 1500 whites of widely varying backgrounds and nationalities, of whom 630 were women and children. There was also a smaller Chinese, Indian and Coloured community .And about 5000 Barolong in the Barolong Stadt. The town itself occupied an area of about 1000 square yards laid out around the market square with the municipal offices in the center. The station and railway workshops lay on its north. After the siege began, further contingents were raised amongst the Africans. The Barolong contingent  reached a strength of 500 men. Each unit was assigned a different section of the defense perimeter of Mafeking, with Warren’s fort and Cannon Kopje being key points in the defense scheme. Colonel Baden-Powell and his staff occupied Dixon’s Hotel with an adjacent attorney’s office as headquarters. Mafeking’s defenders were reasonably well-equipped with rifles (Lee Medford’s and the older Martini Henry single loaders) but were very short of artillery, having only four antiquated seven-pounders, one one-pounder Hotchkiss, one 2-inch Nordenfeldt and seven Maxim guns. With regard to food supplies, Mafeking was well prepared to withstand a siege. It had been expected that a new customs duty would be imposed on goods entering Rhodesia in 1899 and a large number of consignments were on their way northwards up the railway line from the Cape. The imposition was postponed because of the war, leaving Mafeking with large quantities in transit. These were supplemented as a result of the willingness of Ben Weil, proprietor of Marking’s largest wholesale business, to take in more supplies on the strength of a promissory note for £500000 from Lord Edward Cecil, Baden-Powell’s Chief Staff Officer and son of the British Prime Minister. A number of forts were constructed  in addition to Cannon Kopje and Warren’s For and these were connected by telephone to BP’s headquarters.The besiegers numbered between 6000 and 8000 men under the command of Commandants- Snyman and Cronje. Snymans’ headquarters were at McMullen’s farm, three kilometers east of the town. The Transvalers brought in a 94-pound Creusot gun one of  four purchased from France — which fired a total of 1497 rounds into the town. Altogether 20000 shells of various weights were loosed on to the defenders. The defenders had an armoured train for which a spur line was constructed on the north side of the town to strenthen its defenses there. The first battle took place on the northern side of the town towards Signal Hill where the Transvalers had a large laager near site of the present Mmabatho Sun Hotel. On October 27, Captain. FitzClarence led a night attack on a Transvaal trench just beyond me present golf course. Transvaal losses were high and in reprisal a heavy attack was made on Cannon Kopje on October .11, when 800 Transvalers attacked the fort, but were repulsed- The siege then settled down to a fairly hum-drum, day-to-day routine- The town was shelled daily and sniping continued with sporadic engagements occurring from time to time. Sunday was mutually agreed upon as a day of rest. The Transvalers held their church services and the townsfolk came out of the dugouts and resumed — for one day in the week — a fairly normal life and tried to complete the week’s domestic chores. The Anglican church continued with regular church services throughout the siege. One of Baden-Powell’s biggest responsibilities was keeping up the morale of the townsfolk and garrison, and to this end he organized baby shows, polo matches, concerts and the like. Lady Sarah Wilson the daughter of the Duke of Marlborough, who was at Setlagoli when the siege commenced and whose husband was an officer on Baden-Powell’s staff, surrendered to the Transvalers at McMullen’s farm with the request that she be allowed to enter the town. She was exchanged for a Transvaler at the beginning of December and spent the rest of the siege in Mafeking. On Boxing Day the garrison attacked Game Tree fort which stood just south of the present parliament building in mmabatho. The British lost 26 lives. Rationing was introduced on January 19, when it became obvious that the siege was going to last longer than initially expected. The daily ration of bread and meat fluctuated between half to 1 pound per person per day and the sale of matches and milk was prohibited. Rations were later reduced even further and the population was forced to eat horse meat two or three times a week. A locally-made biscuit which contained a high percentage of husk was also baked and the population even took to frying locusts — with the verdict that they were “not bad, all the aroma and subtlety of chewing string”. Towards the end of March whisky was fetching a sovereign a bottle and brandy 7/6d a bottle. It was during the siege that young boys, who had already been formed into a cadet corps, were first used by the military for running messages and errands. They proved so useful hat Baden -Powell all conceived the idea of founding the Boy Scout movement. Postage stamps were printed by the Garrison Mint at the end of March along with money vouchers to meet the requirements of the townspeople since there was a great shortage of money in the town. The shortage of artillery was alleviated when the Railway Workshops constructed a gun nicknamed “The Wolf’. It threw a shell weighing seven and a half kilograms, a distance of two and a half kilometers with great effect, A 1792 vintage ship’s cannon, found by the military being used as a garden ornament on Rowland’s farm, was reconditioned In the Railway Workshops. Cannonballs were cast for it and it was brought into service. In April, Commandant Sarel Eloff, the grandson of President Paul Kruger was sent to Mafikeng from Pretoria with reinforcements which included a French contingent. Eloff commanded the Barolong Laager outside Mafikeng and on the 200th day of the siege wrote a letter to BP saying that he had seen in the Bulawayo Chronicle that the Mafikeng defenders were playing cricket on Sundays. As life was so monotonous, he proposed that he and his men should play the Mafeking defenders at cricket and Join them in their dances — if Baden-Powell didn’t mind. Baden-Powell sent a reply stating that the score to date was 200 not out and that three bowlers — Snyman, Cronje and Botha — had tried, without success, to get Mafikeng out and it was high time that the Transvaal put on other bowlers. Snyman, who read the letter, was apparently not amused. On May 12, Eloff breached the western defenses, came into the Stad up the Molopo river, and succeeded in taking Warren’s fort with 300 men. He in turn was then besieged in the fort and had to surrender on the evening of the same day. The Relief Column, under Plumer from the north and Mahon from the South, entered Mafikeng on May 17. The jubilation in London at the Relief was such that a new word was coined in the English language (“to maffick” came to mean “to revel inordinately”) But the war dragged on for another two years. A refugee camp was established in 1901 in Mafeking and a large cemetery to the south west of the town marks the spot where all the Transvaal non-combatants who died in the Western Transvaal were laid to rest.

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