CHAPTER 24. THE SIEGE OF MAFEKING.
In the meantime Plumer's force upon the north had been strengthened by the addition of C battery of four 12-pounder guns of the Canadian Artillery under Major Eudon and a body of Queenslanders. These forces had been part of the small army which had come with General Carrington through Beira, and after a detour of thousands of miles, through their own wonderful energy they had arrived in time to form portion of the relieving column. Foreign military critics, whose experience of warfare is to move troops across a frontier, should think of what the Empire has to do before her men go into battle. These contingents had been assembled by long railway journeys, conveyed across thousands of miles of ocean to Cape Town, brought round another two thousand or so to Beira, transferred by a narrow-gauge railway to Bamboo Creek, changed to a broader gauge to Marandellas, sent on in coaches for hundreds of miles to Bulawayo, transferred to trains for another four or five hundred miles to Ootsi, and had finally a forced march of a hundred miles, which brought them up a few hours before their presence was urgently needed upon the field. Their advance, which averaged twenty-five miles a day on foot for four consecutive days over deplorable roads, was one of the finest performances of the war. With these high-spirited reinforcements and with his own hardy Rhodesians Plumer pushed on, and the two columns reached the hamlet of Masibi Stadt within an hour of each other. Their united strength was far superior to anything which Snyman's force could place against them.
But the gallant and tenacious Boers would not abandon their prey without a last effort. As the little army advanced upon Mafeking they found the enemy waiting in a strong position. For some hours the Boers gallantly held their ground, and their artillery fire was, as usual, most accurate. But our own guns were more numerous and equally well served, and the position was soon made untenable. The Boers retired past Mafeking and took refuge in the trenches upon the eastern side, but Baden-Powell with his war-hardened garrison sallied out, and, supported by the artillery fire of the relieving column, drove them from their shelter. With their usual admirable tactics their larger guns had been removed, but one small cannon was secured as a souvenir by the townsfolk, together with a number of wagons and a considerable quantity of supplies. A long rolling trail of dust upon the eastern horizon told that the famous siege of Mafeking had at last come to an end.
So ended a singular incident, the defence of an open town which contained no regular soldiers and a most inadequate artillery against a numerous and enterprising enemy with very heavy guns. All honour to the towns folk who bore their trial so long and so bravely - and to the indomitable men who lined the trenches for seven weary months. Their constancy was of enormous value to the empire. In the all-important early month at least four or five thousand Boers were detained by them when their presence elsewhere would have been fatal. During all the rest of the war, two thousand men and eight guns (including one of the four big Creusots) had been held there. It prevented the invasion of Rhodesia, and it gave a rallying-point for loyal whites and natives in the huge stretch of country from Kimberley to Bulawayo. All this had, at a cost of two hundred lives, been done by this one devoted band of men, who killed, wounded, or took no fewer than one thousand of their opponents. Critics may say that the enthusiasm in the empire was excessive, but at least it was expended over worthy men and a fine deed of arms.