Feb. 27, 1881: Majuba Day - A Day of Shame! The Transvaal Boers, of course, commemorated Majuba Day every year, to celebrate the independence of their Republic, and the stunning victory when they - a bunch of ordinary farmers - had beaten the professional Victorian British Army, the best in the world.
To many in the British Army - like Hector Macdonald - Majuba was a festering sore that refused to heal. He had been a young Lieutenant at Majuba when he and his men were overrun.
|Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
|General Hector Macdonald - 1900
|Orig. ceramic creamer - Size - 4.25" x 4.5"w
Found - Seattle, WA
|The transfer of Macdonald, above, featuring a "fierce look of pride" judged suitable for a "Fighting Mac," also adorns other plates, plaques, mugs, and jugs.
Macdonald had won the respect of the Boers for refusing to give up even though his general was dead and most of his men had been killed, or had fled. He fiercely held his ground, and, even though out of ammunition, continued to fight with bare fists.
The incredulous Boers refused to shoot him and finally overpowered him physically. They handed him back his sword. Forever after he would become known as "Fighting Mac."
Macdonald had been unusual in the British officer corps, having worked his way up through the ranks, instead of following the usual route to a commission from the Queen - through good breeding in well-to-do families. Mac's parents were poor Scottish crofters.
Over the next twenty years Mac rose to become a General. In Afghanistan his bravery and leadership had gained him a commission, and rave notices. At Omdurman in the Sudan, in 1898, his cool handling of his brigade during the battle had probably saved Lord Kitchener's force from disaster and possible annihilation at the hands of tens of thousands of Dervish tribesmen.
Now at Paardeberg, some 4,000 Boers were surrounded, but not subdued.
Leading them was General Piet Cronje, (left) who had himself fought at Majuba Hill, and been one of the members of the "storming party" that had climbed the hill. Had he seen "Fighting Mac" being subdued?
Mac too, was now a general, and at Paardeberg, but was sick. After 10 days of seeming futile fighting, against an entrenched and determined foe, a British victory seemed distant.
As Feb. 27th approached, both Boer and Brit, warily awaited the anniversary date. Mac, from his sickbed, strongly urged Lord Roberts and Kitchener, to force the battle to an end on that day, to avenge and "wipe out" once and for all, the disgrace of Majuba Day, nineteen years before...
Roberts agreed and ordered the Canadians to make a night march on the Boer lines and dig advance trenches. When dawn rose on Majuba Day, general shooting broke out but the Boers knew now, that it was all over, and surrendered to the charging Canadians.
Everywhere in the British Army there was wild jubilation - the disgrace of Majuba had been avenged, by the capture of over 4,000 Boer men, women, and children. The tables had turned; henceforth Majuba would commemorate a Boer disgrace, and a mighty British victory.
And the Canadians, who had led the final charge, would become known as the "Heros of Majuba."