D.S.O. London Gazette 15.11.1898 'In recognition of services in Egypt and the Sudan, including the Battles of Atbara and Khartoum.'
Colonel Lord Edward Cecil, K.C.M.G., D.S.O., was the fourth son of the Marquess of Salisbury, Prime Minister during the Boer War, and Baden-Powell's Chief Staff Officer during the Defence of Mafeking. Owing to his purchase of 500,000 worth of supplies before the siege, Lord Edward Cecil has been credited as the man who saved Mafeking from the Boers and thus prepared the ground for the legend of the siege and of Baden-Powell. He was also invoked by the latter as the man whose creation of the Mafeking Cadet Corps gave rise to the Boy Scout movement.
When the raising of two Irregular Regiments was proposed in July 1899, Lord Wolseley appointed Lord Edward Cecil, his former A.D.C. in Ireland, as Baden-Powell's Second-in-Command. Lord Edward had recently been decorated with the D.S.O. for his services as Lord Kitchener's A.D.C. in the Sudan but does not seem to have appealed to Baden-Powell as a soldier but certainly impressed him with his connections. His time as Baden-Powell's Chief Staff Officer during the siege was not wholly successful but he has achieved a just prominence in histories of Mafeking.
Described by Pakenham as 'a tall, drooping, rather melancholy young Officer' he was introverted and literary and married to the vivacious Violet: 'His marriage was, to tell the truth, a most unhappy one. Lord Edward had volunteered to go on this dangerous mission - had sent himself, almost as the biblical Uriah was sent to the front of the host. Death and Glory. The Last Stand. It would make a fine ending for poor Lord Edward, who had long wished, as he later told Violet, that he were dead ... His natural diffidence had been intensified by the unfortunate marriage with Violet and - since the siege had begun - by the news of the death of his mother, Lady Salisbury, the woman who dominated his life. Now his mood amounted to a kind of moral surrender. Fortunately, B-P was able to give him a task in which he could do no great harm - looking after an improvised cadet corps (ironically, the most famous product of the siege; it was the prototype of the Boy Scout movement). Cecil never got over Mafeking. "I dread anything that reminds me of that ghastly time, I really dread it," he said years afterwards when he heard B-P might be coming to live near his house in Sussex' (The Boer War refers). His ill-health and the state of his marriage undoubtedly added a strain to his Staff duties in Mafeking. At one stage during the siege the former was not helped by a narrow escape during a period of Boer shelling. Sitting at a desk in his office in Dixon's Hotel he cheated death when a shell fell down the chimney and exploded behind the mantlepiece, killing a waiter outside his door. As to the latter, Lady Violet, who had accompanied him to South Africa at the suggestion of his father, stayed in Cape Town throughout the siege and forged a close friendship with Lord Milner. She provided an important bedrock of support for the somewhat aloof administrator and was to marry him after Cecil's death in 1918.
Cecil was not merely the Commander of the Mafeking Cadet Corps and evidence of his important role during the siege can be found in the Staff Diaries, General Orders and the Mafeking Mail. Above all, the episode with the supplies in the months before the siege has the most bearing on the history of Mafeking. When the raising of the two Regiments had been mooted it was arranged that logistic support should be forthcoming from General Butler, then commanding at the Cape. In the event, Cecil found that the promises of assistance were empty and turned to Ben Weil, then one of South Africa's largest traders. Violet described the unusual transaction that occurred: 'After several frustrating days, and after consulting Sir Alfred Milner, Lord Edward gave Messrs. Weil, the Mafeking contractors, his note of hand for half a million pounds' worth of stores. It was very sporting and very shrewd of the Weils to take this risk; they must have known that he himself had not a tenth of this money. But they banked on Lord Edward's personality and on his father's position, and the deal saved Mafeking' (My Picture Gallery refers). Baden-Powell's biographer is no less forthright about the effects of the deal: 'His [Weil's] decision to give credit on this scale was the single most important reason why Mafeking was able to face a prolonged siege.' Mafeking never endured the dietary privations of Ladysmith and Kimberley and, when the siege was raised some two months after the other two had been relieved, there was still enough food for a further month. The Boers, who tied up thousands of men in besieging Mafeking, were astounded that the town could hold out for six and a half months and had no inkling of the stockpiling that had taken place. In the House of Commons, Arthur Balfour attributed part of Mafeking's success to Cecil's foresight.
During the siege Lord Edward usually sat as the President of the Court of Summary Jurisdiction along with Charles Bell, the Resident Magistrate. This Court has become controversial in recent years owing to the death sentences and punishments handed out to natives. More controversial at the time was Baden-Powell's folie de grandeur in producing a stamp with his head on it. Running strictly against Royal protocol, it was an episode about which Baden-Powell remained coy for the rest of his life. The official explanation issued was that Cecil and Herbert Greener designed the stamp as a surprise for Baden-Powell but it would seem that whether or not Cecil was involved, it was a scheme that Baden-Powell happily went along with. Also in the trend of B-P's historical revisionism was his statement that the idea for the Boy Scouts was fermented by the training and conduct of Cecil's Mafeking Cadet Corps. In 1918 he wrote: 'During the South Africa War, 1899-1900, Major Lord Edward Cecil, my Chief Staff Officer, organised the boys of Mafeking as a corps for general utility on scout lines rather than those of cadets and the experiment was a complete success' (quoted in Baden-Powell). This statement runs contrary to the established history of the Cadet Corps but, whatever the circumstances, it entered Boy Scout movement legend.
Though Baden-Powell might have found Cecil less than strong during the siege, 'not much use' at one stage (Mafeking - A Victorian Legend quotes), he referred to him in gracious terms in his Mafeking Despatch after the relief (dated 18.5.1900):
'Major Lord Edward Cecil, D.S.O., as Chief Staff Officer, was of the greatest assistance to me. He stuck pluckily to his work, although much hampered by sickness during the first part of the siege. He did a great amount of hard work in the first organisation of the frontier force, and at Mafeking, his tact and unruffled temperament enabled our staff dealings with the Colonial civilians to be carried on with the least possible friction' (London Gazette 8.2.1901 refers).
Following the relief of Mafeking, Cecil was appointed Civil Commissioner for the north-western Transvaal by Lord Roberts. Of this post Jan Smuts remarked, in his Memoirs of the Boer War, 'Lord Edward Cecil was ruling the tiny village of Zeerust with a power far more real than that which his father was ruling the British Empire.'
Lord Edward Cecil was the most junior Officer to be featured in the popular Celebrities of The Army, a 1900 publication which recorded the military notables of the day. Cecil's appearance in it gives an indication of his prominence in the public eye:
'Lord Salisbury may well be proud of his soldier son, for there are few officers of the Brigade of Guards of his age and service who have had a wider experience, and none who are more universally popular. Lord Edward Herbert Cecil was born on July 12th, 1867, and obtained his Second Lieutenancy in the Grenadier Guards on April 30th 1887. After doing regimental duty for four years, during which time there was no young officer more painstaking than himself, Lord Edward joined the Staff of Field Marshal Lord Wolseley, Commanding the Forces in Ireland, as Aide-de-Camp, on April 30th 1891. On March 16th 1892 he obtained his Lieutenancy, and on November 16th following left his Lordship's Staff. Shortly afterwards he was selected to accompany a diplomatic mission to Abyssinia, where he was decorated by King Menelik with the Third Class of the Star of Ethiopia.
The Expedition to Dongola in 1896 gave the young Guardsman his first chance of seeing active service, for Major-General Sir Herbert Kitchener, who was selected to conduct the difficult enterprise, hearing that Lord Edward Cecil was desirous of wetting his spear, offered him the position of Aide-de-Camp on his Staff, which he readily accepted. Thus he served under most favourable auspices, took part in all the danger and privations of what seemed at first a perilous enterprise, and came out of it unscathed, though he was on two occasions - on June 7th and September 19th - in the thick of the fighting, and bore himself so well that his distinguished chief had occasion, when forwarding his Despatches, to call attention to the marked ability he had displayed. His reward was a Brevet-Majority, the Medal with two clasps, and the Fourth Class of the Medjidjie.
Returning to England, he rejoined his Battalion, with which he did duty during a great part of the following year. But the war fever had now attacked him, and when it was made known that an advance was to be made on Khartoum, he decided to obtain employment in Egypt so that he might not lose his chance of getting once more to the front. As a first step, he obtained employment with the Egyptian Army in January 1897 and as soon as the Staff of the Nile Expedition was formed, he rejoined Sir Herbert Kitchener's Head Quarters as Aide-de-Camp. In this capacity he was present at the battles of Atbara and Khartoum, being afterwards Mentioned in Despatches and decorated with the Distinguished Service Order [The insignia was presented by the Queen at Windsor on 1.12.1898].
He was in London when Colonel Baden-Powell was selected, in the summer of 1899, to proceed on special service to South Africa. This chance was too good to be lost, so Lord Edward offered himself for service and was accepted. He left England in July, remained with Colonel Baden-Powell all through the anxious period of the negotiations, eventually reached Mafeking and in due course found himself shut up there as Chief Staff Officer during the siege. What General Baden-Powell thinks of Lord Edward is well known, for he has already acknowledged how great were the services he rendered. The siege of Mafeking promises to be historic, and it is quite in the fitness of things that one of the principal actors in that brilliant achievement of arms should have been a son of the able Statesman to whose vigorous policy it is due that the Union Jack now flies as a symbol of Imperialism over the Capitals of the late Orange Free State and Transvaal Republic.'
Leaving South Africa behind him, Cecil returned to the country of his former successes and over the next 16 years repeated them in a metier more suited to his abilities. He was appointed Sudan Secretary in 1903, Under Secretary of War to the Egyptian Government in 1906 and Under Secretary of Finance in 1907. He became Financial Adviser to the Egyptian Government in 1912 and served in that capacity until his death in 1918 at the early age of 52. Appointed K.C.M.G. in 1918 and awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Medjidjie, his influence in Egypt can be gauged by the comments of General Godley, who arrived there with the A.N.Z.A.C. Forces in December 1914:
'When we first arrived, we found Egypt was practically being governed by a triumvirate, consisting of Milne Cheetham, who was our charge d'affaires, Ronald Graham, who was adviser, I think, to the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior, and Lord Edward Cecil, my old friend of Mafeking, who was Financial Adviser to the Egyptian Government' (Life of an Irish Soldier refers).
His obituary in The Times said that 'it fell to his lot, in a country where, perhaps more than in any other, all questions tend to resolve themselves into questions of finance, to take a prominent part in nearly every question of importance which arose in Egypt during a period of upwards of ten years. As Financial Adviser he had to deal with the new and unexpected situation created on the outbreak of the war and the consequent establishment of a protectorate in Egypt; and it is no small measure due to the tact and firmness with which the financial aspects were handled that the Egyptian masses have remained quiet and contented throughout the war. Lord Edward Cecil possessed in a high degree that aptitude for public affairs which is a tradition of his great family. Imbued with the highest ideals and always unsparing of himself, he was ever most considerate and loyal both to superiors and subordinates, regardless of possible prejudice to his own interest and advancement. To all with whom he came in contact his manner was always most cordial and utterly devoid of condescension. In him the British Empire loses a servant who worked for it with a single-minded devotion to duty and without a thought of self-advancement. To his friends in Egypt and elsewhere (there were many) Lord Edward's charm of manner, ability to talk well and interestingly on almost any subject, and readiness to help and advise when asked, will always be a grateful memory.'