Battle Camp (Boy Scouts and the Siege of Mafeking)

The goal of Battle Camp is to recreate the Siege of Mafeking, a small town in South Africa where Baden-Powell earned international fame by holding off a vastly superior Boer army and its African allies for 217 days until help arrived. Baden-Powell returned to England as a national hero and went on to found the International Boy Scout Movement.

The boys had been looking forward to Battle Camp for a long time. Partly it was the name, which inspired thoughts of danger and excitement – or maybe the glory of beating their friends. Mostly it was the stories told by older Scouts who conducted their own Battle Camp a few years ago and had been bragging about their heroism ever since.

Lord Baden-Powell, Hero of Mafeking

For our recreation of the battle, two armies were assembled by the Senior Patrol Leader. One group is assigned to the British army under Lord Baden-Powell and the rest are put under the command of Piet Cronjé, General of the attacking Boer army. In addition Scouts are asked to play other leaders, like Horace Ramsden, Chares FitzClarence, Paul Kruger, and Christiaan de Wet who also played significant roles in the outcome of the siege. Meetings were scheduled by each General to discuss menus, duty rosters, strategies and weapons. All the “players” researched their characters before camp.

On the day of the outing, excitement is at a fever pitch, especially among the younger boys. Most brought some sort of squirt gun or super soaker for protection. Many are also armed with nerf swords or axes. These were the only weapons allowed from home. Naturally the “armies” had to be separated in the parking lot and transported in different vehicles least their trash talk escalate into a battle before the stage was set. It’s a two hour drive to the camp, located in a wooded area of the Santa Cruz mountains. The Rangers in charge were blissfully unaware of the mayhem we had planned.

After arriving, the transports get unpacked and generals lead their armies to campsites on opposite sides of the designated battle area: an open field with puddles and covered in mud. Their job is to set up a defensible camp and wait for further orders, which would arrive in the form of dispatches from the Queen. The older Scouts help the new boys pitch tents and hang tarps as protection from the gentle rain that falls most of the afternoon. They talk about battles and heroes and the best ways to take out an enemy soldier. “Soldiers” began to wonder what actual combat would be like, and how it might feel to be slammed by a barrage of water – or worse. Some are afraid.

The first dispatch orders the generals to send spies to secretly draw a map of the enemy campsite, including their armory. The second instructs them to build and test catapults, using supplies scrounged by their quartermaster. Successfully completing the assignment in each dispatch earns the army an advantage, like 25 lbs of flour and paper bags to make bombs or 100 water balloons to be launched by the catapults. By the end of the long afternoon, both Baden-Powell and Cronje have their armies ready for the actual battle, which was scheduled to begin exactly at 10:00 on Sunday morning.

Constructing Catapults Before The Battle

Nightfall brings dinner and partisan stories around the fires in both camps. At regular intervals, each army tries to sabotage the weapons and supplies of the other, until the generals get smart and post guards. When enemy soldiers are captured during these sorties, they are interrogated and ransomed back to their army, ransom being they have to recite the five signs of a heart attack and take a five minute break from any hostile actions.

As we approach the mandatory cease fire at 10:00 pm, both armies are feeling confident. But then, there is pandemonium in the British camp when they discover that all their squirt guns are missing from the arsenal tent. Above the yelling in the British campsite, Baden-Powell can hear the sound of derisive laughter coming from the Boers as they run back to the safety of their base.

Much later, a new Scout is still awake when the Scoutmaster walks through the camps, making sure there are no missing soldiers. The young boy calls out anxiously when he hears footsteps outside his tent, thinking perhaps that the enemy is attacking in the middle of the night. After identifying himself, the Scoutmaster asks why the boy isn’t asleep. He says that he is too nervous about the battle in the morning. He adds melodramatically, “I just hope I’m worthy.” “Don’t worry, you’ll be great and its going to be fun.” The Scoutmaster walks away smiling.
End of Part One

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