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Mafeking

This is the name that has gone down in history.  It is a small town now called "Mahikeng", located roughly equidistant from Capetown, from the Atlantic Ocean and from the Indian Ocean, so "in the middle of nowhere".  It is 1,400 km (870 miles) northeast of Cape Town and 260 km (160 miles) west of Johannesburg.  In 1900, although situated in South Africa, it was the administrative capital of Bechuanaland, the neighbouring British Protectorate, now Botswana, which has its own capital, Gaberone.

But during what became known as the Second Boer War (or simply "The Boer War", or sometimes "The South African War") the town was occupied by British troops and besieged by the enemy Boer forces.  B-P was the British Commanding Officer.

The Boers also managed to entrap and beseige British troops in the towns of Ladysmith and Kimberley, but the Siege of Mafeking became famous for several reasons -

  • it was a distant outpost, very small, and poorly provisioned;
  • the defenders were greatly outnumbered by a large force of Boers - and the holding-out of Mafeking kept those Boers from reinforcing their forces elswhere; and prevented them from invading Bechuanaland or Rhodesia, for the main railway line passed through Mafeking, which had good railway workshops;
  • the reports that B-P managed to get out were very upbeat and often humerous (e.g."Shelled all day, one dog killed"),  which captured the British Public's attention, whereas the reports from the other beseiged towns were always pessimistic.

The town was besieged on13 October 1899, and the relief force lifted the siege 217 days later, on 17 May 1900.

In all, 212 people were killed during the siege, with over 600 wounded with further losses among the local Baralong tribe. Boer losses were significantly higher.

The town was besieged.  That meant that it was isolated from the rest of the world.  Nothing could come in, and nothing could get out. Except that B-P, as Commander, did manage to get some messages out, and occasonally some messages back, by means of local natives who were prepared to sneak out (and in) through the enemy lines at nght - but these incoming messages were few and far beween.

The siege, and the up-beat messages from B-P,  established B-P as a celebrity in Britain and across the British Empire - although he was totally unaware of it.

Except in the Powell family, "Baden" is an unusual first name, yet in the years 1899, 1900 and 1901, there were 1400 children in England and Wales who were given the first name "Baden".

During the Seige, teen-aged boys had been used as messengers, releasing soldiers to active duty on the Front Line - this was an idea put to B-P as Commander, and he had approved it.  The scheme had worked well.

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