Topic: BatzB - Mafeking
South Africa, 17 May 1900
Mafeking, an action during the Second South African war, resulting in the lifting of the Boer siege of this town in north-western Cape Colony, opposite the western border of the Transvaal, on 17 May 1900. The town, defended by about 1,000 men under Lieut.-Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, had been invested by 5,000 Boers since 14 October 1899. The enemy's grip was finally broken when a flying column of cavalry and mounted infantry under Colonel Bryan Mahon covered the 380 kilometres north from the Vaal River in twelve days, riding past Boer forces to link up with another small force which had pushed south from Rhodesia to operate beyond the encircling Boer lines for the previous two months.
On 14 May the latter column, commanded by Colonel Henry Plumer, was reinforced at Sefetili by a battery of Canadian artillery which arrived after a forced march from Beira, escorted by 100 members of the 3rd Queensland Mounted Infantry (Bushmen) under Captain Charles Kellie. The next day Plumer's column was joined by Mahon at Jan Massibi's kraal (fenced enclosure), 32 kilometres west of Mafeking, and on 16 May this combined relief force met and defeated an opposing force of 2,000 Boers in a five-hour action near the Molopo River, north-west of the town. For most of this day's fighting the QMI men remained in the rear, having been assigned the unglamorous job of guarding the supply wagons. Late in the day, however, when the infantry was sent to clear the enemy from trenches near a farmhouse with the bayonet, they refused to be so constrained and-in defiance of their orders-joined in the assault.
As the British troops rose in extended order to make their final dash to the enemy lines 400 metres off', they heard fiendish yells like the sounds of a band of Red Indians from behind and bound the Queenslanders running alongside them as they completed the remaining distance. Although a stirring exhibition of brave spirit, the Australian Bushmen's wild rush had also been an act of folly. Whereas the British troops had been carefully advancing in bounds, making maximum use of cover, the Queenslanders had thrown caution to the winds and would have suffered accordingly if they had been attacking a more disciplined foe.
Losses in this action were minor on both sides (the British suffering seven killed and 24 wounded, the Boers reportedly one-third that total), but the victors were too exhausted to attempt a pursuit and bivouacked where they were. Later that night, after word arrived from the town that negligible enemy opposition remained to bar their progress, a party of volunteers was assembled and made a dash for Mafeking - only eight kilometres away - in advance of the main column. By 3.30 a.m. on 17 May the seven-month siege was broken, the task of relieving the town being completed at daybreak when the Boers were shelled out of their main camp with the loss of some wagons and a 9-pounder gun. News that Mafeking had been liberated prompted scenes of jubilation across the British empire.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, p. 78.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
James Green (1903) The Story of the Australian Bushmen, Sydney: William Brooks & Co.
L.S. Amery, (ed.) The Times History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902, Vol. 4 (1906), London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co.
R.L. Wallace (1976) The Australians at the Boer War, Canberra: Australian War Memorial & Australian Government Publishing Service.
Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920
Citation: Mafeking, South Africa, May 17, 1900