Eileen K. Wade,
The Piper of Pax:
The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell


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.

—R. Kipling

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 coronets.

His promotion to Major-General was the immediate recognition which his services received, and in this connection Lord Wolseley wrote:

"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, WOLSELEY."

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 another decision.

"Dear Colonel 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 flags."

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 elsewhere:

"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 Birmingham:

"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:

"Two little 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 liked 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 Scotsman newspaper."

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 police."

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 October, 1901.

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:

"Since I’ve 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. again."

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 insatiable.

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 district.

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 casket."

Again in October he writes:

"I am just back in Johannesburg from a four days’ rush to Durban and back on remount work. To-morrow I am off to Swaziland."

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 Rhodes’ grave.

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 hours.

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 Africa.

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 wrote:

"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.

  Eileen K. Wade, The Piper of Pax: The Life Story of Sir Robert Baden-Powell, 1924
Foreward and Contents
    Chapter 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.
    Chapter 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.
    Chapter 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.
    Chapter 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 war.
    Chapter 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.
    Chapter 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 of Cavalry.

  The Baden-Powell Library. A Selection of excerpts from the works of Sir Robert Baden-Powell and works relating to his life and career
  Return to the Baden-Powell Home Page

Return to the Pine Tree Web Home Page

Your feedback, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Please write to:
Lewis P. Orans

Copyright © Lewis P. Orans, 1997
Last Modified: 6:12 AM on August 9, 1997