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There were London newspaper reporters inside Mafeking, searching for the quickest way to deal with debt consolidation for student loans and employing native runners to break through the Boer lines at night to get their copy to the nearest telegraph office, the rest of the world was kept informed as to the happenings inside the little town. ‘Gallant little Mafeking’ with its laconic and resourceful commander seemed to encapsulate all that was good in the British character.

 

It was clear, however, that the besieged could not hold out for ever. At the start of the siege 6,000 Boers outnumbered Mafeking’s defenders by an apparently overwhelming margin.

 

The Boers’ big gun was ‘Long Tom’, a 94-pounder with a range of over five miles. In reply, the best the British could muster were four obsolete seven-pounders. Later, an old naval cannon (`Lord Nelson’, which was being used as the post for a farm gate) and ‘The Wolf’, named in honour of ’13-P’ and made in the railway works, were added to the defenders’ artillery.

It could be predicted

The siege was beginning to bite hard in April. It was clearly going to be touch and go for the defenders. Would the British relief columns reach Mafeking before the garrison was overrun or, under the pressures of starvation and disease, forced to surrender? The Empire bit its nails and waited. Mafeking’s garrison was already eating its horses, and if it had not been for a Scotsman called Sims, who demonstrated how an edible porridge could be made from the oat husks that had previously been fed to the horses, many more people would have died than those few, mainly African natives, who did succumb.

 

With relief virtually in sight, the Boers ­who never risked any attack where it could be predicted that they might lose more than 25 men Рmounted their most daring offensive yet under Eloff, the son of the Boer commander. He and his men entered the town along a river valley and stormed a defensive strongpoint, capturing the men inside it. However, he was let down by other commandos [Boer fighting units] that failed to follow his daring lead. As a result, he and his men had no option but to surrender.

 

Five days later, on 17 May 1900, Major `Karri’ Davies and 10 men of the Imperial Light Horse entered the town. Within hours Mafeking was relieved and the siege was lifted. Celebrations, not even surpassed at the conclusion of two world wars, were held throughout the British Empire. A new word, to `maffick’, entered the English language.

January 31st, 2014

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