This is the third book that I have read in a short time about the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). First a book about the Boer War by Bossenbroek, next to that I read the diary of Sol T. Plaatje about the siege of Mafeking. This third book is about the very same siege of Mafeking, written by a Brit who in the late fifties of the previous century is still able to write about the glorious Empire, as if nothing horrible had happened during those days. Already on his first page (number 9) he writes about an “united and peaceful Empire”. This very book shows how disunited and peace-lacking the Empire was in 1899.
During the first and short Anglo-Boer War the British colonial power had annexed the Transvaal Republic but had to surrender it again to the Boer. Later on the British doctor Jameson, the henchman of Cecil Rhodes, invaded Transvaal to ignite an uprising by the socalled outlanders (non-Boer people) at the Witwatersrand. Jameson failed completely and was arrested by the Boer forces.
The British kept looking for a good excuse to invade the Transvaal Republic and the other one run by Boer: Orange Free State. This led to the second Anglo-Boer war. Thousands and thousands soldiers were brought from overseas to southern Africa to subdue just a few thousand Boer who were fighting for their independence. This must be a great example of the ‘peaceful Empire’.
Mafeking was one of three towns besieged by Boer forces. These forces looked very irregular compared to the professional and hierachic British forces. The Boer were familiar with the landscape, they were flexible, ready to undertake new ways, they were mobile with their horses and they were hardened. Some of these qualities did not show very much at the siege of Mafeking. It seemed that the leader of the Boer forces (first Cronjé, later Syman took over) just took his time. He had encircled Mafeking and waited and bombarded and waited and bombarded. The leader of the British forces was Colonel Baden-Powell (later famous for starting the Boy Scout Movement). He got plenty of time to fix the defensive positions of the town, to organize the food situation. Next he had to wait for British forces to help him. This took some time, several months, during that time (late 1899 – early 1900) he tried to keep morale high in his town (and in the local settlement). At one time he gave the people in the local settlement smaller rations than the white people in town, next he tried to send the people in the settlement away, in order to be left with larger food supplies for the white population.
As I implied earlier this book highlights the achievements of the British, especially Baden-Powell. The orginal title of the book (published in 1957) was “Baden-Powell at Mafeking”. This book is “To Commemorate The Centenary of the Birth of “B-P’ – oppidi mafeking defensor invictus – 1857-1957”. The Foreword of this book is written by General Sir Alexander Godley, who was present at the siege as one of the British army men.
Duncan Grinnell-Milne – Mafeking. Baden-Powells’s heroic defence of the besieged town during the Boer War – 1960