Relief of Mafeking
The 17th of May 1900 AD
After a siege of some seven months, beginning in October 1899 and ending with the arrival of a relief column on May 17 1900, the Northern Transvaal town of Mafeking was finally relieved, a major victory for Britain in the Second Boer War .
Mafeking had in effect been invaded by the British, using it as a means of engaging Boer forces to keep them occupied and to avoid encountering them in their preferred open country. The British numbered fewer than 2,000, the Boers around 7,500.
Colonel Robert Baden-Powell (who went on to found the Scout Movement based on the force of boys he created to act as messengers in the town) was in charge of the defence of the town, and he showed great ingenuity and skill in his leadership. His forces had no artillery, but he arranged for the manufacture of an improvised howitzer in the railway workshop, and used dummy guns to fool the enemy. To avoid morale weakening he continually arranged sorties against the Boers, including one with a force on a train which penetrated to the heart of the Boer camp before returning in triumph. Communications in the town were improved, trenches dug, and even pretend land-mines laid.
Mafeking became a cause celebre in Britain, and there was great rejoicing when it was relieved by a mobile column of Light Horse and Royal Artillery lead by Colonel Mahon. A previous relief effort in late March by a detachment sent beyond the town by Baden-Powell before the siege began had failed, and the Boers with better support for a raiding party that reached the town centre on May 12 might have captured it, but their then commander General Snyman proved lacking.
Baden-Powell became a great celebrity at home, helped in part by Lady Sarah Wilson, who is thought of as the first female war reporter for her writings on the events in Mafeking where she was trapped.
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