A GRIPPING diary
A GRIPPING diary which belonged to one of the soldiers involved in the heroic British rearguard during the Siege of Mafeking has come to light.
The 15,000 word diary, filling four notebooks, was penned by a British soldier identified as ‘Bob’ who wrote home to his parents to keep them abreast of their defiant 217-day stand against the Boers. The entries capture their precarious plight as 2,000 British troops resisted a Boer army who had besieged the town. But they also reveal how everyday life went on behind the town’s walls during the Second Boer War as competitions were held for the ‘best’ baby born during the siege.
Addressing his ‘darling old parents’, on November 24, 1899, a little over a month into the siege, he wrote: “I can but guess the extent of the suspense and anxiety you must have undergone as regards the fate of this little town. “This is the place where the war which is to once and for all decide British supremacy in South Africa started.“ In another extract, he wrote: “We are hoping that by tomorrow night we may be relieved but have to keep a very sharp lookout tonight.
“I expect you have some very conflicting reports about this town, my dearest ones, but up to now the old flag still waves aloft.” One entry describes how Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, who led the rearguard against the Boer besiegers, raised spirits with a rousing address.
He wrote: “We were addressed by Colonel Baden Powell, the officer commanding here who won laurels in the Matabele war.
“He said a few nice words of cheer to which we all responded with cheers for the Queen and the Colonel. “Another harrowing entry spoke of a horrific injury inflicted upon a fellow soldier by a shell. He wrote: “Two days ago Elkington, a very nice fellow, had both of his eyes and a piece of his nose knocked out by a piece of a 5 pounder shell. He says he wishes to die.“
Away from the heat of battle, the soldier documents an agricultural show where prizes were awarded for the ‘best’ baby born during the siege.
He wrote: “Last Sunday we had an agricultural show here & also a prize for the best ‘siege baby’. “It is really wonderful what few lives have been lost here considering that about 100,000lbs or nearly 50 tons of lead have been hurled into this little place.”
“This is a remarkable manuscript diary of the Siege of Mafeking. “It contains a wonderful, literate and easily legible account of conditions in the town, a detailed almost blow by blow account of the military operations both of the British and the Boers including the relief.
“It refers to many of the people involved including Lord Edward Cecil and Colonel Baden-Powell. “The manuscript is previously unpublished and is an important Boer War document.”
Bob, the author of the diary, The Siege of Mafeking was a battle for the town of Mafeking in South Africa during the Second Boer War from October 1899 to May 1900. The British force stood firm long enough for the town, where Lord Edward Cecil, the son of the Prime Minister, was among those held captive, to be liberated, earning Baden-Powell his status as a national hero.
Baden-Powell deployed cunning strategies like planting fake minefields and getting his soldiers to pretend to avoid non-existent barbed wire while moving between trenches. On one occasion, he loaded an armoured locomotive with sharpshooters and sent it down the rails into the heart of the Boer encampment and back again in a successful attack.
The relief of Mafeking was a morale boost for the struggling British.
Foxhole will soon uncover the identity of ‘bob‘ and follow the events that unfolded before and after ‘bob’s‘ presence in Mafeking.