And nearer still and
IN spite of being fully occupied on service during 1896 Baden-Powell had still found time to carry on a good deal of writing and sketching work. In 1896 he published The Downfall of Prempeh, being his account of the Ashanti expedition, and on his return from Matabeleland, in 1897 he revised his diaries, which he had kept throughout the Matabele campaign, and published them in book form. Both these books are illustrated by the author, and should be read by those interested in the Chief Scout’s adventures. It was marvellous how he managed to find the time for so much writing and drawing, but as the Chief once said when asked whether he could find time to do a good turn to some Scout Troop, "No, I can’t find the time, but when I can’t find time I make it by getting up a bit earlier than usual."
By the 1st of March, 1897, B.P. had rejoined his old regiment, the 13th Hussars, at Marlborough Barracks, Dublin, as a squadron commander. But he had not been there many days before he had been offered and accepted the command of the 5th Dragoon Guards in India, in succession to Lieut.-Colonel M. Bowers.
Much as he disliked the idea of leaving the 13th which had been his home for twenty years, the parting had to come, as he was senior to both the officers above him in the regiment, and he could not have got command of the 13th for seven years.
The news of his appointment, at so early an age, to command one of the crack cavalry regiments was received with delight by his many friends, and letters of congratulation poured in on all sides both from those under whom he had served and from those who had served under him.
He joined the 5th Dragoon Guards at Meerut in April, 1897.
"Behold me," he wrote, "arrived all well and comfortably settled down into my new billet in my old station. It almost feels as if I had been away from it for twelve months instead of twelve years. I am delighted with the Regiment; it is certainly a very fine one, and in good condition all round. When I have set things en train I shall run up for a few days to see the Baker Russells at Naina Tal in the hills."
One of B.P.’s first duties as a new C.O. was to report to the Inspector-General of Cavalry, who was then at Simla, and he did not let any grass grow under his feet in doing so.
B.P. found plenty to occupy him during the first few months of his command. An officer who served under him at Meerut writes:
In addition to the dairy he built a bakery, a soda-water factory, a temperance club, new kitchen on sanitary principles for the officers’ mess, and a country week-end regimental camp—all with great success. Even on the march the soda water factory, bakery and dairy accompanied the regiment. He continued to play in theatricals with great energy, and took a leading part in a grand performance of the "Geisha" at Simla. At this time he also exhibited five pictures in the Simla Academy which he afterwards sold for seven guineas each.
In spite of hard work and responsibilities he still kept up also his prowess in the pigsticking field.
(In the following year the regiment won the Kadir Cup, B.P. competing in the semi-final.)
1898 opened with plenty of work in view.
In April he went on a tiger-shooting expedition to Nepal at the invitation of his old C.O., Sir Baker Russell, who now held a high command in India. The bag was one tiger, one bear and two panthers.
In August he had two months’ leave in Kashmir, and came back with material for many articles, as well as with numbers of sketches—many of which illustrate his book, Indian Memories.
The cold weather season brought a renewal of sporting activities.
On arrival at Sialkote, B.P. turned his attention once more to matters of the comfort, health and happiness of his men, carrying out the same reforms that he had done at Meerut. The regiment was reported on as the best unit of any arm in India at that time, which brought great credit on its youthful Commanding Officer. So it was in the best of spirits that he left in May for leave to England.
In writing of this second tour of duty in India I have left a great deal unsaid, because, in one short volume, it is impossible to deal fully with so full a life, whose every day seems to have been packed with episode. I have, therefore, gone rapidly over ground which has already been partially covered by B.P. in his own writings. For his many adventures in India in Scouting, tracking, amusement and sport, I would refer you once more to his own book on the subject, Indian Memories.
Trouble was brewing in South Africa. Negotiations between the British and Transvaal Governments had reached an impasse when Baden-Powell arrived in England in that summer of 1899.
At a few days’ notice from Lord Wolseley, B.P. proceeded to the Cape with instructions to raise locally a force for employment on the Bechuanaland and Rhodesian frontier. From which it will be seen that the British Government were taking no risks; and that they realised what a war between the Transvaal and Great Britain might mean.
He sailed from Southampton on the S. S. Dunottar Castle ("hoping fervently that we shan’t be recalled at Madeira").
Before he sailed, B.P. received definite instructions as to what he was to do.
His instructions were "to raise two regiments of mounted rifles and organise local police and volunteers in such manner as to be available in case of war. The duty of the force was to be:
These definite instructions guided B.P.’s actions throughout. The disposition of his force was left to him to determine according to local circumstances.
The frontier assigned to him to guard was nearly five hundred miles long. It was evident that to do any good the force must not be concentrated in one place, so two independent columns were organised, one in Rhodesia near Tuli, and the other near Mafeking.
The importance of Mafeking from the strategical point of view has not always been realised.
Although a small place with a small population, Mafeking had long been the centre of trade and commerce between Cape Colony, Rhodesia and the North-West Transvaal. It was the great market of those parts, and to the more home-keeping Boers, as well as to the numerous native tribes of the Northern Protectorates, it was the only known town. It had on that account a very exaggerated value in their eyes.
Mafeking had been in the old days a long-standing bone of contention between Boers and natives till the British finally took it from both.
Known formerly as Rooigrond, its possession by the British had been disputed by the Boers, and in 1884 they took possession of it. Hence Sir Charles Warren’s expedition which, while threatening them, cleared them out peacefully and without fighting. B.P.’s brother George was political adviser to Sir Charles Warren, and was thus instrumental in first getting for us the place which B.P. had to hold for us fifteen years later.
To the natives of those parts Mafeking was the hub of their little universe, and among them the phrase was common that "Who holds Mafeking holds the reins of Africa."
And the question of which side they were going to take in the war depended on which nation held Mafeking. In the long run the natives generally looked on the Boers as superior to the English—since Majuba— and expected them to win the war.
Had these tribes gone against us it is probable that the Matabele would have seized the occasion also to rise and wipe out Buluwayo and Salisbury with all their wealth of mines and farms. Rhodesia would also have fallen.
It was known that the natives were talking the matter over some months before the war began, and when Baden-Powell first began moving troops from Buluwayo to Tuli, the natives there took it to be a move against themselves. When B.P. heard this he called a meeting of the Chiefs and had the situation explained to them.
To the Boers themselves, who had been defeated in the old days in their attempts to gain the place, Mafeking was a longed-for prize, doubly so with its further attraction of shops and stores such as would afford valuable "loot," useful supplies and much needed railway plant.
In addition to its position as the seat of government of the native districts of the Protectorate, Mafeking was, and still is, a connecting link between Cape Colony and Rhodesia, Kimberley and Buluwayo.
It forms the outpost to either country, and an enemy attacking either of them from the Transvaal would first have to crush or to hold the force garrisoning Mafeking, as it would otherwise threaten his communications and rear, and—what was actually most felt by the Boers, including Kruger himself—it would be liable to sweep down at any moment on to Pretoria itself and strike at the heart of the-Transvaal.
The Jameson Raid had, as may be remembered, started from a point near Mafeking in 1896 and got as far as Krugersdorp, close to Johannesburg, before it was stopped: and thus any force at Mafeking would be a thorn in the side of the Transvaal in fear of a repetition of such a raid on its capital, Pretoria.
Therefore, the Boers would, in the event of war, almost certainly send a force to capture Mafeking, and if the town held out against them they would hardly dare to leave it behind them. In the same way, if any other British columns threatened them from other points up north, they would be bound to send forces against them, and this would weaken their strength when attacking Natal and Cape Colony in the south.
Such was the situation in regard to Mafeking when, in July, 1899, Baden-Powell was ordered to South Africa in anticipation of war with the Boers.
To assist him to raise and organise his force a batch of specially selected officers was sent out to him. Among them were Colonel Plumer, who had already made his reputation in the Matabele campaign of 1896 and 1897, and Colonel Hore, who had commanded mounted infantry with great success in Egypt. To these two born leaders of men B.P. entrusted the organisation of the Rhodesian and Protectorate regiments respectively. As chief of staff he had Lord Edward Cecil. Among other officers who joined him at this time were Major Godley (now General Sir Alexander Godley, lately Commanding the British Forces on the Rhine), Major Vyvyan and Major Bird, old campaigners in that country. Also Captain McLaren, who had served in the Tirah, and FitzClarence with a great reputation from Egypt (and who was killed saving the situation at Mons) and many others, all with good service records.
At his back he had the solid support of the local police forces. In Rhodesia were the British South African Police with Colonel Nicholson at their head, while at Mafeking itself was another division of the B.S.A. Police under Colonel Walford.
The period of preparation was an extremely hard one for all: clothing, equipment, supply and transport, ammunition, hospitals, ambulances and veterinary services all had to be improvised out of the very scanty material available in Mafeking and Buluwayo.
From early in August till the middle of September these preparations went on for a war which then seemed to be inevitable, and B.P. was working day and night to be ready. Everybody, from highest to lowest, worked with him with such a will that by the end of September everything was ready.
Two regiments had been raised, organised and trained, together with their horses, transport, food supplies, armoured trains. hospitals. etc.
With B.P. to the Cape went one companion who had never before been employed on active service—this was our now familiar friend the typewriter.
His first letter typed by himself is dated, "In the Train, Matabeleland, 11th August, 1899."
From Buluwayo on the 2gth August he wrote:
September was spent in elaborating plans for the defence of the Border. On 22nd September he sent his second typewritten letter to his mother—showing a marked improvement in his manipulation of the machine.
Up to the end of September, B.P. had been organising his forces under the authority of Sir A. Milner, the High Commissioner of South Africa, and the Colonial Office. He then held the appointment of Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces in Rhodesia and the Bechuanaland Protectorate. At the end of the month he and his force were transferred to the army which was assembling under the orders of Sir George White, the General Officer Commanding, who had just arrived in Natal from India.
Matters were now reaching a climax. On the 2nd of October the mule coach with its mails left Mafeking for Johannesburg not to return. On the 4th October, B.P. called out by proclamation the Bechuanaland Rifles and the local volunteer company under Captain Cowan for service, and gave notice that he assumed command of all armed forces and defences of Mafeking.
During this time he was receiving good information as to the moves and numbers of the Boers against him. They were assembling at Zeerust and Lichtenburg in large numbers with several guns, with the avowed intention of breaking up the railways and making a dash for Mafeking, after which they would proceed to take Rhodesia and Kimberley. They were under the command of the old fighting general Piet Cronje.
The officers of the Protectorate Regiment now concentrated in Mafeking were: Colonel Hore of the South Staffordshire Regiment, Commanding; Major C. B. Vyvyan of the Buffs, who became Town Commandant; Major A. J. Godley, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who commanded the Western Defences during the siege, with Captains Marsh, Vernon, FitzClarence and Sandford, and Lieutenants Lord C. Cavendish Bentinck and Singleton.
In addition to these there were Colonel Walford, commanding the B.S.A. Police, and who afterwards commanded the outposts, including Cannon Koppie; Colonel Goold-Adams (now Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams), who commanded the Northern Defences, Lord Edward Cecil, chief of staff; Captain Wilson, staff officer; Lieutenant Hon. Hanbury Tracy, intelligence officer; Major Panzera, commanding the artillery; and other officers of the Colonial forces and police.
Baden-Powell now realised that he was in for an attack and bombardment. He therefore issued a notice for as many as could to leave the town, and he arranged with the Government for their free passage to Cape Town. (For which he was afterwards asked to pay!).
His next letter home is dated from Mafeking on the 8th October:
On the 9th October, B.P. received a telegram from one of his intelligence officers in the Transvaal.
"Heavy rain expected look out for your hay." which being decoded meant, "War is close at hand." Kruger had issued his ultimatum.
On the 11th October, Plumer with the northern column reached Tuli from Buluwayo, and was securely established there. B.P. now saw that he was likely to be cut off from the outside world, and telegraphed to Plumer that in the event of communications being cut he was to assume command of all forces in Rhodesia with the object of threatening the Northern Transvaal, while he, B.P., would do the same from Mafeking, the essential aim being to join hands and work together again when the opportunity arose.
From: Eileen K. Wade, The
Piper of Pax: The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1924. Chapter X: Old Places with
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Copyright © Lewis P. Orans, 1997