The Piper of Pax:
The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell,
THE SOUTH AFRICAN CONSTABULARY
Here where my
fresh-turned furrows run,
And the deep soil glistens red,
I will repair the wrong that was done
To the living and the dead.
AFTER seven months of
hard work by day and night, of daily bombardment, the
most meagre of rations, ceaseless anxiety, an empire load
of responsibility and complete isolation from the outside
world, B.P. awoke, as from a dream, to find himself a
hero in the eyes of the world, with a record which, as
Lord Strathcona described it, was worth more than a dozen
His promotion to
Major-General was the immediate recognition which his
services received, and in this connection Lord Wolseley
"I hope you got
the announcement of your promotion as early as I sent
it to you. You did splendidly, and it was indeed one
of the pleasantest things I had to do in the war when
I recommended, within a few hours of the news being
received of Mafeking being relieved, that the Queen
should promote you.
You have now the
ball at your feet, and barring accidents greatness is
in front of you. That you may win the goal is
earnestly wished for by yours very sincerely,
In the meantime the news
of the relief of Mafeking had, of course, reached
England, and you can imagine the joy that it brought to
B.P.’s mother and family. And not only to those who knew
him, but to hundreds and thousands of his fellow-subjects
who had been watching and waiting for seven long months
for the news of Mafeking’s relief.
The best way to give you
an idea of how the news was received at home is to quote
a few short extracts from some of the hundreds of letters
which B.P. and his family received about that time. They
came from people of every kind—men, women and
children; old servants, schoolboys and girls, cooks’ sons
and dukes’ sons, the Duke of Connaught and the
"Boots" at the Turf Club, Cairo; gipsies and
generals, publicans and railway porters all united in
their wish to be first to congratulate their hero.
"I have named my
son after yourself, Baden-Powell, as the time for
registration is limited I could not ask your permission
first," wrote one enthusiast.
"We are going to
call our foal after you as we have no baby," was
Baden-Powell," from another small boy, "I
think you are the hero of the Army. You ought to be
plasted [sic] all over with medals and made
Governor-General of Australia."
"We have two
rabbits," wrote another nine-year-old
admirer,"and one of them stays awake while the
other sleeps so we have named him after you as people
say you are the man who never sleeps."
"I thought you
would like to hear about a little mouse that I have.
he is black and white and I have named him after you.
I used to have a khaki one who I called General
Buller but soon after the reverse on the Modder he
sickened with mange and shortly afterwards died. On
the day that Mafeking was relieved we gave B.P.
double rations and ornamented his cage with
And so one might go on
quoting, but space forbids it. I will add, however, one
or two descriptions of Mafeking night in London and
"I can’t tell
you how pleased I am at Cousin Stevie’s relief.
Father and I were running about the streets on Friday
at half-past twelve simply mad with delight. At the
Mansion House the crowd was something terrific, hats
flying about all over the place. The illuminations
were lovely. The Athenaeum was simply a blaze of gas.
We have got three days more at the end of the
holidays for Mafeking."
From a village outside
"I am writing
to you because I thought I should like to write to
the Queen’s most appreciated soldier. There was such
a rush in Birmingham when the news reached us of the
relief of Mafeking. People were knocking one another
down, they were making such a noise with tins and
kettles. In the village the folks bought an old cab
for fifteen shillings and set fire to it. First of
all they had two drivers and two men for horses to
give a man a ride round the green, but they upset
him. Then they had a sailor to run it round the green
several times and they sold the old iron for seven
and six by auction."
From another village:
girls are writing to tell you how glad they are that
you are free and have got something to eat again. We
only knew last night, and all the bells began to ring
and all the people went mad. We have got a big Union
Jack out and nearly every shop has one. A pony had
drawers on made of union jacks but I don’t think it
That there was in some
cases method in the madness of the rejoicing crowds will
be seen by this letter:
"On behalf of
the students of the University of Edinburgh I forward
you the account of a torchlight procession held in
honour of your brave son. It may interest you to know
that we raised £260 on the occasion, which sum we
forwarded to the Widows’ and Orphans’ Funds of the
I will finish these
quotations with the telegram which Queen Victoria sent to
B.P., written out in her own hand at the dinner table so
soon as the news reached her:
"I and my whole
Empire greatly rejoice at the relief of Mafeking
after the splendid defence made by you through all
these months. I heartily congratulate you and all
under you, military and civil, British and native for
the heroism and devotion you have shown.
V.R. and I."
Queen Victoria died less
than a year later.
Lord Roberts’ despatch,
dated 21st June, 1900, contained these words:
"I feel sure
that Her Majesty’s Government will agree with me in
thinking that the utmost credit is due to
Major-General Baden-Powell for his promptness in
raising two regiments of Mounted Infantry in
Rhodesia, and for the resolution, judgment, and
resource which he displayed, through the long and
trying investment of Mafeking by the Boer forces. The
distinction which Major-General Baden-Powell has
earned must be shared by his gallant soldiers. No
episode in the present war seems more praiseworthy
than the prolonged defence of this town by a British
Garrison, consisting almost entirely of Her Majesty’s
Colonial forces, inferior in numbers and greatly
inferior in artillery to the enemy, cut off from
communication with Cape Colony and with the hope of
relief repeatedly deferred until the supplies of food
were almost exhausted.
Inspired by their
Commander’s example the defenders of Mafeking
maintained a never failing confidence and
cheerfulness which conduced most materially to the
successful issue: they made light of the hardships to
which they were exposed, and they withstood the
enemy’s attacks with an audacity which so
disheartened their opponents that, except on one
occasion, namely 12th May, no serious attempt was
made to capture the place by assault. This attempt
was repulsed in a manner which showed that the
determination and fighting qualities of the garrison
remained unimpaired to the last."
In war there is no time
for peace. Life is "just one damned thing after
another," and while England was preparing to receive
the hero of Mafeking with cheers and flag-waving, with
processions and Freedoms, B.P. himself was quietly going
on with his next job in the war, which consisted in
getting together what forces he could to clear the
surrounding country. In these operations he took some
nine hundred Boer prisoners and the towns of Zeerust,
Ottoshoop, Lichtenburg, and finally Rustenburg, which he
entered on the 14th June, after having cleared a tract of
country about 250 by IOO miles.
He appointed magistrates
over the districts and made Lord Edward Cecil, his staff
officer, Commissioner over them. Small police posts were
established over the country, linked up by telephones.
Then he proceeded to Pretoria, but, as the Boers were
across Lord Roberts’ communications to the south, he
could only get through with an escort of police.
Lord Roberts himself
came out to meet him, and ordered a brigade to help him
in. At Pretoria, B.P. had an embarrassingly warm welcome,
the townspeople turning out in the market square to cheer
him. Of Pretoria he wrote:
"This is a fine
huge modern town, with splendid buildings, beautiful
gardens, and nice English houses, electric light,
etc., etc., no sign of the little Dutch town it used
t be when I knew it in ’87."
At Pretoria, B.P. and
his staff were entertained by men whose names are
household words to-day—Lord Roberts himself,
Kitchener, French and Genera] Maxwell, the Governor, with
whom he stayed.
In August, B.P. was
ordered by Lord Roberts to Cape Town to give to Sir A.
Milner, the High Commissioner, his views on policing the
country. He arrived at the Cape on the 7th September,
after nine days and nights of railway travelling. The
journey was in the nature of a triumphal march, for at
every station along the line people collected to cheer
him and shake hands, soldiers presented him with their
pet pipes and other trophies; and on arrival at Cape Town
he was received by the Mayor and Corporation, and the
crowd carried him bodily right through the town and
deposited him inside Government House.
A little of this sort of
kindness goes a long way with a modest man, and, though
he was now due for some leave in England, B.P. saw no
chance of getting much peace and quiet in London at that
time, so he welcomed the suggestion of the High
Commissioner that he should at once raise a police force
for South Africa in accordance with the scheme which he
had already drawn up.
From Cecil Rhodes’ house
in Rondebosch he wrote:
"I am staying
here for the moment, it is the most beautiful place I
have ever been in. Dr. ‘ Jim ‘ (Jameson) my A.D.C.,
and I are the only men here. The Duchess of Teck,
Lady Edward Cecil, Lady Charles Bentinck, and Lady
Chesham are the ladies of the party, and a very
cheery party it is. I have a beautiful study all to
myself where I am preparing schemes for the new
It was a great
disappointment to the Baden-Powell family at home that
the much-hoped-for leave had not materialised, and in the
end it was a case of the Mountain going to Mahomet, as
his mother and sister came out to the Cape at the end of
1900 for a family reunion.
Though in the same
country, they did not see as much of B.P. as they would
have liked, for he was now head over ears in work with
his police force, applications to join which were rolling
in from every part of the Empire.
On 6th June he wrote:
"I have got
8000 of my men in the field now, and doing good work.
Everything running splendidly, but it does demand a
lot of work."
The same month, B.P. was
ordered home on sick leave, and the extract which I am
now going to quote from the doctor’s letter is of special
interest to those of us who are working with him to-day,
because it shows that his passion for overworking himself
is no new trait:
"I venture to
write and tell you," wrote Dr. Beevor to his
mother, "that I have long hoped that he would
not work so hard. He would get fever of a severe
enough type to lay most men up in hospital but he
would go on working. What our General went through at
Mafeking was again enough to lay most men up for a
considerable time: and all this on the top of the
organisation of such a corps as this, 10,000 strong,
was more than human endurance could stand. About a
month ago an undoubted attack of influenza came on.
It was followed by bronchitis: so I would not take
the responsibility, and was only too glad to have a
medical board and recommend the General for six
months’ leave. Of course he didn’t think he required
so long, but though his brain power is phenomenal,
his body cannot go on at full tension for ever….
Please don’t allow any demonstrations or newspapaer
interviewers near him as, though he may feel strong
at the time, the threads of strength can only just be
binding together for some months to come, and any
excitement merely unwinds a portion of them—to
be built up again, and thus valuable time is lost. I
hope you will find him much improved on arrival, and
that he will enjoy a vacation in a busy life that
this country owes as the least sign of gratitude to
one who has done so much for it."
While enjoying his
well-earned holiday in England and Scotland, B.P.
received a summons to Balmoral, where King Edward was in
residence, and he spent there the week-end of 12th
On that day he wrote:
"I have just
had my interview with the King. Went to his study and
had a long sit down talk alone with him. Then he rang
and sent for the Queen, who came in with the little
Duke of York, and we had a long chat, chiefly about
my Police, Lady Sarah, Alexander of Teck, Moncrieff,
Duke of York’s tour, present state of the war,
colonials as troops, etc., as well as about Mafeking.
The King handed me C.B. and South African Medal. It
was a very cheery interview, and the King asked me to
stay till Monday."
At the end of 1901 he
returned to the Cape and restarted work with his S.A.C.
This involved an enormous amount of travelling to inspect
his men, as the force was now established in every part
of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. In March,
1902, he reported:
been back I have done 2000 miles by train and 600 on
horseback, on inspection work, and I’m off again
to-morrow for more of it in the Eastern Transvaal. .
. . I am going to launch out into one expense and
that is to give a dinner party to my old Regiment,
the 5th D.G., who are ordered back to India at the
end of this month."
Parting with his
regiment had been his one regret in his new successes,
and that the regret was shared by the regiment is shown
in the letter of a young officer of the 5th D.G.’s, who,
writing to Mrs. Baden-Powell during the war, said:
"I can see for
myself what our Colonel has done for this Regiment.
Alas, we shall not see him here again I fear, and I
only came to the Regiment to serve under him, so it
hits me hard, for we shall never get such a C.O.
1902 saw the death,
after a long illness, of Cecil Rhodes. He was buried in
the Matoppo Hills.
In June, I902, the war
came to an end, and the country was handed over entirely
to B.P.’s South African Constabulary. Naturally this
meant increased work for him, but for work he was
From June to September
most of his time was still taken up in visiting the new
police posts which were being formed all over South
Africa. On September 17th he started on a trip with Lord
Milner, visiting the Western Transvaal from Krugersdorp
to Zeerust, then south via Ottershoop and on to
Klerksdorp, Potchestroom and Johannesburg.
We generally ride about
forty miles a day, visiting the farms and posts. Each
district constabulary officer accompanies us through his
Lord Milner could not
find time to go to Mafeking, but I rode over the night
before last, thirty-nine miles, arrived in time for
breakfast. The Mayor presented me with a magnificent gold
Again in October he
"I am just back
in Johannesburg from a four days’ rush to Durban and
back on remount work. To-morrow I am off to
On October 27th he was
at Delagoa Bay, having just completed a great dash
through the country. By the 1st November he was up in old
Buluwayo. There his brother Frank, with his wife, who had
arrived on a visit to South Africa, were highly
interested and pleased in all they saw. They were, of
course, packed off to see the Matoppo Hills and Cecil
In showing his brother
round the country, B.P. did one of his record rides.
Coming down from Buluwayo via Mafeking and Kimberley to
De Aar Junction to get to Johannesburg, the railway made
a big V. B.P. was in a hurry to get back to Johannesburg,
where work awaited him, so, leaving his brother to go
round by train, he got out at Mafeking—took to horse
and rode across from Mafeking to Krugersdorp in one day
(a distance of some II4 miles) and so saved about 48
On November 7th, B.P.
was in Kimberley, having ridden 64 miles from
Bloemfontein to McKenzie Drift, where he was met by a
motor-car from De Beer’s Company, and motored the rest of
the way with Lord Grey, who was on a visit to South
And so the work went on
all through the winter of 1902, work that was very much
after his own heart.
In January, 1903, the
S.A.C. numbers were reduced from 10,000 to 6000 men. The
first intention had been to have 6000 men only, but
during the war and for the reconstruction period Lord
Roberts had allowed 4000 extra men.
That same month the
offer was made to B.P. of the post of Inspector-General
of Cavalry at home. This appointment, of course, is the
blue ribbon of the Cavalry Service. He wrote to Lord
Milner to ask whether he could be spared from the S.A.C.,
and Lord Milner could not do otherwise than release him.
Mr. Joseph Chamberlain,
Secretary of State for the Colonies, was now in South
Africa to arrange for the future government of the
country, and B.P. conducted him through the country,
including a visit to Mafeking.
On 30th January he
"The S.A.C. are
giving me a farewell banquet on the 14th and on the
18th I sail for home. I couldn’t have wished for a
better wind-up for the last three years. To have seen
the whole thing from the very start to this last
final incident of Chamberlain’s visit and his
instructions for the future of the country is a grand
and satisfactory experience for me."
From: Eileen K. Wade, The Piper of Pax:
The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1924. Chapter
XII: The South African Constabulary.
VII. Swaziland, Malta and Home. A
shooting trip to Knysna—first encounter with
an elephant—a mission to Swaziland—an
interview with Oom Paul—life in
Malta—adventures in many
countries—maneuvers in Ireland.
VIII. Ashanti. The Ashanti
Expedition—experiences of a native
levy—the wages of a king the nigh] march to
Bekwai—hoisting the British flag— how
to avoid fever—Kantankye receives promotion.
IX. Matabeleland. Special service
again—troubles in Matabeleland—Sir
Frederic Carrington arrives—scouting in the
Matoppos—the Wolf that never sleeps—the
case of Uwini—home with Rhodes.
X. Old Places and New Faces. India
revisited—Officer Commanding 5th Dragoon
Guards—work and sport in plenty—a
shooting trip with Sir Baker Russell—on
special service to South Africa—ready for
XI. The South African War, 1899-1902. The
declaration of war—beseiged in
Mafeking—seven months beseiged—the
story of the stamps—food
shortage—arrival of the relief column.
XII. The South African Constabulary. The
hero of Mafeking—Lord Roberts’
despatch—a new job—the South African
Constabulary—home at last—an interview
with King Edward—appointed Inspector-General
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© Lewis P. Orans, 1997
Last Modified: 6:12 AM on August 9, 1997