The Relief of Mafeking

Success to Colonel Baden-Powell and his praises loudly sing,
For being so brave in relieving Mafeking,
With his gallant little band of eight hundred men,
They made the Boers fly from Mafeking like sheep escaping from a pen.

’Twas in the year of 1900 and on the 18th of May,
That Colonel Baden-Powell beat the Boers without dismay,
And made them fly from Mafeking without delay,
Which will be handed down to posterity for many a day.

Colonel Baden-Powell is a very brave man,
And to deny it, I venture to say, few men can;
He is a noble hero be it said,
For at the siege of Mafeking he never was afraid.

And during the siege Colonel Baden was cheerful and gay,
While the starving population were living on brawn each day;
And alas! the sufferings of the women and children were great,
But they all submitted patiently to their fate.

For seven months besieged they fought the Boers without dismay,
Until at last the Boers were glad to run away;
Because Baden-Powell’s gallant band put them to flight
By cannon shot and volleys of musketry to the left and right.

Then long live Baden-Powell and his brave little band,
For during the siege of Mafeking they made a bold stand
Against yelling thousands of Boers who were thirsting for their blood,
But as firm as a rock against them they fearlessly stood.

Oh! think of them living on brawn extracted from horse hides,
While the inhuman Boers their sufferings deride,
Knowing that the women’s hearts with grief were torn
As they looked on their children’s faces that looked sad and forlorn.

For 217 days the Boers tried to obtain Mafeking’s surrender,
But their strategy was futile owing to its noble defender,
Colonel Baden-Powell, that hero of renown,
Who, by his masterly generalship, saved the town.

Methinks I see him and his gallant band,
Looking terror to the foe: Oh! The sight was really grand,
As he cried, “Give it them, lads; let’s do or die;
And from Mafeking we’ll soon make them fly,
And we’ll make them rue their rash undertaking
The day they laid siege to the town of Mafeking.”

Long life and prosperity to Colonel Baden-Powell,
For there’s very few generals can him excel;
And he is now the Hero of Mafeking, be it told,
And his name should be engraved on medals of gold.

I wish him and his gallant little band every success,
For relieving the people of Mafeking while in distress;
They made the Boers rue their rash undertaking
The day they laid siege to the town of Mafeking.

For during the defence of Mafeking
From grief he kept the people’s hearts from breaking,
Because he sang to them and did recite
Passages from Shakespeare which did their hearts delight.

Rumoured Relief of Mafeking

Persistent rumours were current yesterday in London, particularly in the Parliamentary committee-rooms and at the Law Courts, that Mafeking had been relieved. Inquiry at the War Office, however, showed that, though there was no reason to discredit the report yet, at the same time, there was no official confirmation. The lobbies at the War Office were thronged in the morning, afternoon, and evening, but at a late hour last night the long-expected tidings had not arrived.

In a number of towns in the provinces yesterday rejoicings on an extensive scale were held in consequence of the rumour that Mafeking had been relieved.

Lady Snagge writes :- We have learnt from Colonel Baden-Powell himself, in his message last week, that the best way of showing our sympathy with the women and children of Mafeking would be to provide them with funds for “a trip to the sea” after their long want of fresh air and many other privations. If any will send contributions towards this object to the manager, Union Bank of London, Charing-cross branch, London, for Lady Snagge’s Mafeking “Trip to the Sea” Fund, the sum subscribed will be published and the amount sent by telegram to “B.-P.” when the news of the relief is received.

The Times, 18th May 1900


Public jubilation at the relief of Mafeking was so great that it added a new verb – to maffick – to the english language. The fate of this insignificant town had assumed an importance out of all proportion to its military significance, as the beleaguered garrison held out for the honour of Queen and country.

When ordered to southern Africa in the summer of 1899, Baden-Powell’s orders were to raise two regiments of mounted rifles and use them to hold the western frontier of the Transvaal, drawing Boer forces away from British landings on the coast in the event of war. When, as expected, war broke out in October that year, Baden-Powell was in the town of Mafeking with a garrison of a thousand men some 250 miles from the nearest reinforcements. He was quickly faced with a Boer force four or five times that number who must have expected a quick victory against the isolated post. They were to be disappointed.

As well as digging a strong set of defensive earthworks, Baden-Powell missed no opportunity to bluff his opponents as to his strength and intentions. Imitation forts were built, complete with a prominent flag and flagstaff, to draw the fire of the enemy; Powell would give orders to non-existant assault units for an immediate night attack, using a tin megaphone to make sure the enemy sentries heard him and roused their camp while his own got some sleep; an improvised searchlight was shown from a different fort each night, conning the Boers into thinking that all forts were thus equipped and discouraging them from night attacks. One innovation was to have lasting significance: a corps of boys was recruited to act as messengers and orderlies, releasing men to fight on the front line – the original boy scouts.

The Boers were sufficiently discouraged to abandon any hope of taking the town by assault and settled down to conduct a seige. As the trench lines drew closer a battle of snipers and improvised hand grenades ensued, as bitter as anything to be found on the Western Front a decade and a half later. However the siege could also be a most civilised affair: a cease-fire was observed every Sunday and the garrison amused themselves with concerts and cricket matches. A Boer gunner fired a letter into town in an empty shell case wishing that he had something to drink the garrison’s heatlh with, Powell sent him a bottle of whisky under a flag of truce. Late in the siege the Boer commander sent Powell a note that he and his friends proposed to come into town and play cricket, Powell replied “My side is in at present and yours is in the field. You must bowl us out before your side can come in”.

As the siege wore on, supplies of food and fodder began to dwindle and rations grew shorter and shorter. Baden Powell later wrote how they made the most of available supplies:

When a horse was killed his mane and tail were cut off and sent to the hospital for stuffing mattresses and pillows. His shoes went to the foundry for making shells. His skin, after having the hair scalded off, was boiled with his head and feet for many hours, chopped up small, and with the addition of a little saltpetre was served out as “brawn.”

His flesh was taken from the bones and minced in a great mincing machine and from his inside were made skins into which the meat was crammed and each man received a sausage as his ration.

The bones were then boiled into a rich soup, which was dealt out at the different soup kitchens; and they were afterwards pounded up into powder with which to adulterate the flour. So there was not much of that horse that was wasted.

Meanwhile elsewhere the tide of war was slowly turning against the Boers. The British army under the command of Lord Roberts was moving into the Transvaal, drawing off the besiegers’ strength as well as sending forces by a circuitous route to stage a relief. The whole Empire was watching, determined to demonstrate that there was “no place so inaccessible that the long arm of the empire cannot reach it when her children are in peril”. In April, Queen Victoria herself sent a personal message of support to the garrison.

Realising that time was running out, the Boers made a determined attack on 12th May. Initially successful, the attackers penetrated the town’s outer defences capturing a barracks from which they telephoned Baden-Powell’s HQ in triumph! However, the attack was not sufficiently supported and the Boers were quickly surrounded. After holding out for a few hours they surrendered – to be invited to as good a supper as their captors could manage.

A few days later it was all over. The long-awaited relief column arrived on 17th May 1900 and united with Baden-Powell’s ragged command to drive of the Boer forces. It was the end of a siege that had lasted 216 days, at the cost of 212 killed and wounded. Baden-Powell was a national hero, a celebrity that he was later to build upon as founder of the scout movement.

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Comments (5) »

  1. Des Kennedy
    In the year 2013, on the 21st day of November at 8:56 pm

    To whom it may concern I write a paper which I sent all over Australia called the On Guard it is full our stories about our and allied soldiers from all wars. In Broken Hill NSW 2880 history they write about a Silver Laurel Wreath made from Broken Hill silver that was given to Lord Baden-Powell after the town of Mafeking was relived. Is the wreath still around, where and do you have a photo of it.

    Thank you for your time.
    Des (Bluey) Kennedy Editor of the On Guard.

  2. Mrs Wendy Hewett
    In the year 2014, on the 21st day of March at 12:57 pm

    My grandparents Philip Francis Burnet Adams and his wife Julia Mary were in the Siege. They arrived in a wagon with my grandmothers sister Amy and dog Tim from the Eastern Cape hoping to escape the War and ended up in Mafeking only to be caught up in the siege. They were newly married and had not yet started family.
    I sold the collection of newspapers, stamps and memorabilia that I had but still have photos now looking rather faded. My grandfather was an engineer and later on after the War was made Surveyor General of the Orange Free State. They returned after the siege to Somerset East and found their house had been billeted by the Boers during the War and ransacked. My grandmother told me how short of food they were but how they also bluffed the Boers and on sundays would dress up and walk along the wall to pretend they were in good spirits. The Boers would wave to them she said – did you wave back I asked – good heavens no – she looked quite shocked.
    This may not be of interest as they war not military personnel though knew Baden Powell and the Vyvans to whom they corresponded after the War – mainly Christmas Cards.

  3. j.brooks
    In the year 2015, on the 2nd day of February at 8:08 pm

    My grandmothers sister was at the Seige of Mafeking, I don’t have her married name although I understand he was there in the British Army. Her maiden name was Ashdown are there any lists of the names of all the British who were present during siege, and if so where could I obtain same – she came from Barking in Essex

    thank you
    john brooks

  4. In the year 2015, on the 17th day of May at 6:01 am

    […] 1900 – British troops relieve Mafeking (Cape Colony) […]

  5. Ali Stalley
    In the year 2015, on the 2nd day of December at 4:35 am

    I am hoping that Mrs Wendy Hewett can contact abour her grandfather Philip Francis Burnet Adams

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