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Patriotic display at relief of Mafeking.

Byline: By Dan O'Neill

'IN the memory of young men and women nothing like it has ever happened in Britain before. So long as life lasts they are not likely to forget the relief of Mafeking and its hero.' That's how the Echo reported the most explosively exuberant night this old town had ever seen. But we were wrong. For who remembers Mafeking today as anything but a minor footnote to the Boer War? And its hero? He's known to us now only as the founder of - the Boy Scouts.

But on that night in May 1900 when news of its relief arrived, Cardiff erupted into an orgy of cele- bration so unprecedented that a new word entered the language - 'Maffick, to celebrate with riotous rejoicings.'

Bringing a new music hall song: 'Mother, may I go and maffick, run about and hinder traffic?'

Seven months earlier, on October 11, 1889, the Echo announced WAR DECLARED over a story claiming that the beastly Boers were already 'ravishing native girls and flogging refugees.' As always, truth was the first casualty.

What an outburst of patriotism we witnessed. As in the case of two young criminals caught ringing doorbells. A fine, said the magistrates's clerk, or jail. 'But I know where two young fellows like you should be - in South Africa, fighting for your country.'

'Send us there, sir,' pleaded the pair. 'Send us out.'

This, said the Echo, was 'an excellent illustration of the enthusiastic desire of Young England to fight and die for the Queen.'

Didn't we know sunny South Africa was preferable to dismal Dartmoor? Out of touch? Never!

But we were alarmed when, although a young Echo seller tramped the streets yelling 'War news . . .two thousand Boers shot dead,' not a door opened. Hope, though, when Our Reporter heard from some far-off piano the strains of Soldiers Of The Queen.

The war lasted until 1902 and some place names were immortalised. Like Spion Kop, its echo still rumbling around Liverpool's celebrated stand this month. But most emotive of all, Mafeking.

This was the town besieged by the Boers, its commander Robert Baden-Powell on his way to immortality. Mafeking became a symbol of the Empire's implacable will and all through that winter the Echo carried constant reports on its defence - no siege till Stalingrad was ever more celebrated.

But no one has ever explained the spontaneous outburst of joy when news of the relief came, as people stampeded on to the streets to cheer their new hero, Baden-Powell.

He'd already received a congratulatory telegram from the mayor, Alderman S A Brain (Yes, that S A), told of the Relief by the Echo - we'd got the news by 'telephone communication' ahead of the official release.

Echo reporters were instantly in the town, reporting huge rockets sent up from Cardiff Arms Park, crowds jamming St Mary Street, pubs packed.

'From farthest Splott and the Grange, Roath and Canton, people poured into town. Suburban cycle dealers loaned their stocks to those anxious to join the celebrations.'

They were firing cannons in Custom House Street and singing Soldiers of the Queen around St John's Church. They rang church bells and carried torches through the streets as the blare of steamship hooters echoed from the docks, colliery sirens sounding in the Valleys. Bridgend was 'deliriously happy' as a thousand children marched through the town, Merthyr was 'awash with jubilation, Penarth and Newport a-flutter with flags while the street (not streets) of Brynmawr was thronged as well.

Yet 70 years later one historian would write: 'Neither the wretched little town nor the somewhat vain and ridiculous little colonel who defended it seemed worthy of such ardour.'

But on that memorable night nothing could dampen the joy. For no one could have guessed that the Boer War truly marked the beginning of the end of the Empire.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 27, 2005
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