RE-CONQUEST OF THE SOUDAN
AUTHOR OF "SIRDAR AND KHALIFA."
WITH MAPS, PLANS OF BATTLE, AND NUMEROUS ILLUSTRATIONS
LONDON: CHAPMAN & HALL, LIMITED 1899
By the overthrow of Mahdism, the great region of Central Africa has been opened to civilisation. From the date of the splendid victory of Omdurman, 2nd September 1898, may be reckoned the creation of a vast Soudan empire. At so early a stage, it is idle to speculate whether the country will be held as a British possession, or as a province of Egypt. "The land of the blacks," and their truculent Arab despoilers, has the intrinsic qualities that secure distinction. Given peace, it may be expected that the mixed negroid races of the Upper Nile will prove themselves as orderly and industrious as they are conspicuously brave. Whoever rules them wisely, will have the control of the best native tribes of the Dark Continent, the raw material of a mighty state. This, too, is foreshadowed; the dominant power in Central Northern Africa, if no farther afield, will have its capital in Khartoum, "Ethiopia will soon stretch out her hands unto God."
The recent events which have so altered the condition of affairs upon the Upper Nile, deserve more than ephemeral record. A campaign so full of inspiriting incident, a victory which has brought presage of a great and prosperous Soudan, merits re-telling. Through half a score of battles or more, from the beginning to the death of Mahdism, I have followed British and Egyptian troops into action against the dervishes. I knew General Hicks, and had the luck to miss accompanying his ill-fated expedition. In the present volume, "Khartoum Campaign," the narrative of the reconquest is completed, the history being carried to the occupation of Fashoda and Sobat, including the withdrawal of Major Marchand's French mission. I have made use of my telegrams and letters to the Daily Telegraph, London, and the full notes I made from day to day during the campaign. Besides, I have quoted in certain cases from official sources, and given extracts from verbal and written communications made to me by distinguished officers engaged in the operations.
For use of maps, sketches, and photographs, I am indebted to the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph, to Mr Ross of Black and White, Surgeon-General William Taylor, Colonel Frank Rhodes, Lieutenant E. D. Loch, Grenadier Guards, Mr Francis Gregson, Mr Munro of Dingwall, N.B., and others.
LONDON, December 1898.
INTRODUCTORY—REVIEW OF THE FIELD, 1
DAYS OF WAITING AND PREPARATION, 14
MUSTERING FOR THE OVERTHROW OF MAHDISM, 35
BY THE WAY—FROM CAIRO TO DAKHALA, 45
DAKHALA CAMP: GOSSIP AND DUTY, 63
MARCHING IN THE SOUDAN—FROM DAKHALA TO WAD HABESHI, 75
WITH THE ARMY IN THE FIELD—WAD HAMID TO EL HEJIR, 92
EL HEJIR TO UM TERIF—INCIDENTS AND ACCIDENTS, 105
ADVANCE TO KERRERI—SKIRMISHING WITH THE ENEMY, 119
THE BATTLE OF OMDURMAN—FIRST PHASE OF THE FIGHT, 135
BATTLE OF OMDURMAN—continued.—THE CAVALRY FIGHTS—MACDONALD'S SAVING ACTION, 167
STORIES OF THE BATTLE—OMDURMAN, 199
CLOSE OF CAMPAIGN—GORDON MEMORIAL SERVICE, KHARTOUM, 228
KHARTOUM MEMORIAL COLLEGE—THE OFFICIAL DESPATCHES, 263
THE FASHODA AFFAIR—A RED BRITISH LINE THROUGH AFRICA, 295
Brigadier-General H. A. Macdonald, C.B., D.S.O., Frontispiece
Bennet Burleigh, To face page 1
Headquarters, Wady Halfa, 9
Darmali (British Brigade Summer Quarters), 23
Group of Staff Officers—Colonel Wingate in Centre, 34
Street in Dakhala, 53
Troops going to Wad Habeshi, 58
Wood Station (en route to Omdurman), 69
Loading Up—Breaking Camp, 77
21st Lancers—Advance Guard, 81
Halt by the Way, 87
Slatin Pasha (on Foot), 89
Artillery going towards Omdurman, 125
Battle of Omdurman—Zereba Action, 151
Macdonald's Brigade advancing, 182
Sirdar directing Advance on Omdurman, 183
Khalifa's Captured Standard (Sirdar extreme left), 195
Chief Thoroughfare, Omdurman (Mulazim Wall, left; Osman Digna's House, right), 196
Effect of Shell Fire upon Wall (Mulazim Enclosure), 197
Khalifa's House, 217
Mahdi's Tomb—Effect of Lyddite Shells, 219
Interior Mahdi's Tomb (Grille around Sarcophagus), 221
Khalifa's Gallows (cutting down his Last Victim), 223
Neufeld on Gunboat "Sheik"—Cutting off his Ankle-Irons, 225
Khalifa's Chief Eunuch (surrenders in British Camp), 229
Fresh Batch Wounded and Unwounded Dervish Prisoners, Omdurman, 4th September 1898, 231
Neufeld, with Abyssinian Wife and Children; also Fellow Prisoner, 241
Distant View, Khartoum (from Blue Nile), 255
Hoisting Flags, Khartoum, 259
Col. H. Macdonald at Omdurman, with Officer and Non-Commissioned Officer of 1st Brigade, 291
MAPS AND PLANS.
General View Plan, "A," page 173
Zereba Plan, "B," " 179
First Attack on Macdonald's Brigade, "C," Plate 1, " 187
Second Attack on Macdonald's Brigade, "D," Plate 2, " 191
INTRODUCTORY.—REVIEW OF FIELD.
It is an easier and kindlier duty to set forth facts than to proclaim opinions and pronounce judgments. Before Tel-el-Kebir was fought in September 1882 and the Egyptian army beaten and disbanded, the insurrection headed by the Mahdi or False Prophet had begun. In the disrupted condition of affairs which succeeded Arabi Pasha's defeat by British arms the dervish movement made further rapid progress. To Sir Evelyn Wood, V.C., at the close of 1882, was assigned the task, as Sirdar or Commander-in-Chief of the Khedivial troops, of forming a real native army. It was that distinguished soldier, aided by an exceptionally able staff, who first took in hand the re-organisation and proper training of the fellaheen recruits. By dint of drill, discipline and stiffening with British commissioned and non-commissioned officers he soon made passable soldiers of the "Gippies." The new army was at first restricted to eight battalions of Egyptian infantry, one regiment of cavalry, and four batteries of artillery. Although there were Soudanese amongst Arabi's troops, they were mostly gunners. It was not until May 1884 that the first "black" regiment was raised. Yet it had been notorious that the Soudanese were the only Khedivial soldiers who made anything of a stubborn stand against us in the 1882 campaign. The blacks who came down with the Salahieh garrison on the 9th of August 1882, and joined in the surprise attack upon General Graham's brigade then in camp at Kassassin, were not easily driven off. The large body of Egyptian infantry and cavalry, although supported by several Krupp batteries which, issuing from the Tel-el-Kebir lines, assailed us in front, were readily checked and pushed back. It was our right rear that the "blacks" and others forming the Salahieh column menaced, and it required some tough fighting before Sir Baker-Russell with his cavalry and horse artillery was able to drive them off. In truth, the "blacks" held on long after the main body of Arabi's force had abandoned their intention of driving the British into the Suez Canal or the sea.
The first Soudanese battalion was recruited and mustered-in at Suakim. It got the next numeral in regimental order, and so became known as the "Ninth." Many of the blacks who enlisted in the Ninth—Dinkas, Shilluks, Gallas, and what not—were deserters from the Mahdi's banner, or dervishes who had been taken prisoners at El Teb and Tamai. It has never yet been deemed advisable to enrol any of the Arab tribesmen in the Khedivial regular army. Hadendowa, Kababish, Jaalin, Baggara, and many other clans, lack no physical qualifications for a military career. Their desperate courage in support of a cause they have at heart is an inspiration of self-immolation. But they are as uncertain and difficult to regulate by ordinary methods of discipline as the American Red Indian, and so are only fitted for irregular service. In March 1885 General Sir Francis Grenfell succeeded to the Sirdarship. With tact and energy he carried still further forward the excellent work of his predecessor. Four additional Soudanese battalions were created during his term, and the army was strengthened and better equipped for its duties in many other respects. Sir Francis had the satisfaction of leading his untried soldiers against the dervishes, and winning brilliant victories and, in at least one instance, over superior numbers. He it was, who, at Toski in August 1889, routed an invading army of dervishes, whereat was killed their famous leader Wad en Nejumi. That battle put an end to the dream of the Mahdists to overrun and conquer Egypt and the world. The Khalifa thereafter found his safest policy, unless attacked, was to let the regular Egyptian forces severely alone.
It was shown that, when well handled, the fellaheen and the blacks could defeat the dervishes. Lord Kitchener of Khartoum became Sirdar in the spring of 1892. His career in the land of the Nile may be briefly summarised: first as a Lieutenant, then successively as Captain, Major, Colonel and General, that Royal Engineer Officer from 1882 has been actively employed either in Egypt proper or the Soudan. He has, during that interval, been entrusted with many perilous and delicate missions and independent commands. Whatever was given him to do was carried through with zeal and resolution. In his time also little by little the Khedivial forces have been increased. A sixth Soudanese battalion was raised in 1896, and in that and the following year four additional fellaheen battalions were added to the army. When the Khartoum campaign began, the total muster-roll of the regular troops was eighteen battalions of infantry, ten squadrons of cavalry, a camel corps of eight companies, five batteries of artillery, together with the customary quota of engineers, medical staff, transport, and other departmental troops. There was a railway construction battalion numbering at least 2000 men, but they were non-combatants. As the whole armed strength of Egypt was, for the occasion, practically called into the field, the peace of the Delta had to be secured by other means. A small armed body called the Coast Guard and the ordinary police, apart from the meagre British garrison, were responsible for public tranquillity. The re-organisation and increase of the Coast Guard, which was decided on, into an army of 8000 men, was a brilliant idea, and one of the recent master-strokes of Lord Cromer and the Sirdar. It is ostensibly a quasi-civil force, and it was formed and equipped without the worry of international queries and interference. The Coast Guard is mainly composed of picked men, including old soldiers and reservists. Their duties carry them into the interior as well as along the sea-coast, for, partly on account of the salt tax, there are revenue defaulters along the borders of the Nile as well as by the Mediterranean and Red Sea. They are dressed like soldiers and are armed with Remingtons.
Mohammed Achmed, who called himself the Mahdi, or the last of the prophets, whose mission was to convert the world to Islamism, was a native of Dongola. He was born near El Ordeh, or New Dongola, in 1848, and was the son of a carpenter. In person, he was above the medium height, robust, and with a rather handsome Arab cast of features. During 1884 I saw his brother and two of his nephews in a village south of El Ordeh. All of them were tall stalwart men, light of complexion for Dongolese, courteous and hospitable to strangers. Mohammed Achmed, from his youth, evinced a taste for religious studies coupled with the ascetic extravagances of a too emotional nature. From Khartoum to Fashoda he acquired a great reputation for sanctity. Religious devotees gathered around him and followed him to his retreat upon the island of Abba. There he, in May 1881, first announced his claims as the true Mahdi. His barefaced assertions of special divine command and guidance found credulous believers. With the wisdom of the serpent he had added to his influence and security as a prophet by marrying daughters of Baggara sheiks, i.e. chiefs. Mohammed Achmed was a vigorous and captivating preacher, learned in all the literature of the Koran, ever ready with apt and telling quotations. His early teaching was decidedly socialistic, including a command for the overthrow of the then existing civil state. His principles have been summed up officially as "an insistence upon universal law and religion—his own—with community of goods, and death to all who refused adherence to his tenets." Unfortunately, "opportunity" played into his hands. The misrule of the Pashas, the burden of over-taxation coupled with the legal suppression of the slave trade, and the demoralisation of the Egyptian forces enabled Mohammed Achmed to rebel successfully. Troops sent against him were defeated and annihilated. Towns capitulated to his arms and within a period of two years the inhabitants of the Soudan were hailing him as the true Mahdi, their invincible deliverer. With the capture of Khartoum, on the morning of the 26th of January 1885, and the abandonment of the Soudan and its population—the Egyptian frontier being fixed by British Government order at Wady Halfa—the over-lordship of that immense region from the Second Cataract to the Equatorial Lakes was yielded to the so-called Mahdi Mohammed Achmed did not long enjoy his conquests. Success killed him as it has done many a lesser man. For a season he gave himself up to a life of indolence and the grossest lust. On the 22nd of June 1885, less than six months after Gordon's head had been struck off and brought to him, the Mahdi suddenly died. It is said by some that his death was due to smallpox, by others that one of his women captives poisoned him in revenge for the murder of her relatives. His demise was kept secret for a time by his successor Abdullah, the chief Khalifa, and the other dervish leaders. It was given out that the Mahdi's spirit had been called to Heaven for a space but would soon return to lead his hosts to fresh triumphs and further fat spoils. A tomb was erected over the place where his body lay, and the legend of his mission was taken over by Abdullah, who also in due season had visions and communicated reputed divine ordinances to the dervishes. Abdullah, who was ignorant, illiterate and cruel, far beyond his dead master—"the cruellest man on earth," Slatin Pasha dubbed him,—by his exactions and treacheries soon overreached himself. Events were hastening to the overthrow of Mahdism. Sheiks and tribes fell away from the Khalifa and returned to the fold of orthodox Mohammedanism. By 1889, as an aggressive force seeking to enlarge its boundaries, Mahdism was spent. Thereafter, stage by stage, its power dwindled, although Omdurman, the dervish capital, remained the headquarters of the strongest native military power that North Africa has ever known.
Lord Cromer has been blamed for many things he did, and much that he left undone, during the earlier days of Mahdism. A fuller knowledge of the whole circumstances justifies my saying that, as custodian of British interests, he acted throughout with singular prudence and great forbearance. It was not with his wish or approval that several of the untoward expeditions against the dervishes were undertaken. It is permissible to regret that, from a variety of causes, the British Government engaged in more than one ill-considered and irresolute campaign for the destruction of Mahdism. Much treasure and countless thousands of lives were foolishly squandered and all without the least compensating advantage. The barren results of the Soudan campaigns directed from the War Office in Pall Mall form too painful a subject for discussion. It is only fair to say, that the military officials' hands may have been much hampered from Downing Street.
As I have stated elsewhere, it was not until 1896 that the serious reconquest of the Soudan was begun. Before then there had been, as Mr Gladstone after all appropriately termed them, "military operations," but not a state of war. He might have called them "blood-spilling enterprises," for they were only that and no more. The re-occupation of the province of Dongola in 1896, freed the Nile up to Merawi, and gave the disaffected Kababish, Jaalin and riverain tribesmen a chance of reverting to their allegiance to the Khedive. It also enabled the Sirdar to pass his gunboats farther up the river. Another gain issuing from the forward movement was that his right was secured from serious attack. Then followed the building of the wonderful Wady Halfa direct desert railway towards Abu Hamid, Berber, and Dakhala at the mouth of the Atbara. It was the 1897 campaign which put all these places into the Sirdar's hands. During that year's high Nile, he passed his gunboats over the long stretch of cataracts betwixt Merawi and Abu Hamid, and ran them up the river where they co-operated with the land forces, regulars and friendlies. Nay more, the steamers were set to do a double duty: convey stores to the advanced posts and assail and harass the dervishes, pushing as far south as Shendy and Shabluka, the Sixth Cataract. By prodigies of labour and enterprise the railroad was speedily constructed to Abu Hamid, then on to Berber, and thence to Dakhala. The whole situation became greatly simplified the moment the line reached Abu Hamid. From the first, the question of dealing a death-blow to Mahdism with British-led troops had turned upon the solution of the transport problem. The through rail and river connection once established from Cairo via Wady Halfa to Abu Hamid put an end forever to all serious difficulty of providing adequate supplies for the troops. From Abu Hamid the Nile is navigable far south for many months during the year. Then again, the occupation of Abu Hamid unlocked the Korosko desert caravan route and drew more wary and recanting dervishes away from the Khalifa. Following the capture of Abu Hamid, Berber was promptly taken for Egypt by the friendlies, and the Suakim-Berber trade route, which had been closed for many years, was re-opened.
The end was slowly drawing near, for the Sirdar was closing the lines and mustering his forces for a final blow. Railroad construction went forward apace. At the rate of from one to two miles a day track was laid so as to get the line up to Dakhala. Meanwhile, workshops were being erected at suitable points, and three additional screw gunboats, built in England, were re-fitted for launching. The flotilla was becoming formidable; it comprised 13 vessels, stern-wheelers and screw-steamers, all armed with cannon and machine guns and protected by bullet-proof shields.
Believing there was a chance to wreck the railroad and capture outposts and stores, Mahmoud, a nephew and favourite general of the Khalifa's, led a powerful dervish army from Shendy north to raid the country to and beyond Berber. In spite of the gunboats, after disposing of the recalcitrant Jaalins, Mahmoud crossed the Nile at Metemmeh to the opposite bank. Accompanied by the veteran rebel, Osman Digna, he quitted Aliab, marching to the north-east with 10,000 infantry, riflemen and spearmen, ten small rifled brass guns and 4000 cavalry. It was his intention to cross the Atbara about 30 miles up from the Nile, and fall upon the flank and rear of the Sirdar's detached and outlying troops, killing them in detail. He reckoned too confidently and without full knowledge. Using the steamers and the railways the Sirdar quickly concentrated his whole force, bringing men rapidly up from Wady Halfa and the province of Dongola. The entrenched Egyptian camp at the junction of the Atbara with the Nile was strengthened, and General Gatacre's brigade of British troops was moved on to Kunur, where Macdonald's and Maxwell's brigades also repaired. Mahmoud had ultimately to be attacked in his own chosen fortified camp. His army was destroyed and he himself was taken prisoner. So closed the unexpected Atbara campaign in March last. Thereafter, as the Khalifa showed no intention of inviting fresh disaster by sending down another army to attack, the Sirdar despatched his troops into summer rest-camps. Dry and shady spots were selected by the banks of the Nile between Berber and Dakhala. One or another of the numberless deserted mud villages was usually chosen for headquarters and offices. With these for a nucleus, the battalion or brigade encampment was pitched in front and the quarters were fenced about with cut mimosa thorn-bush, forming a zereba. All along the Upper Nile, wherever there is a strip of cultivable land, or where water can be easily lifted from the river or wells for irrigation, there the natives had villages of mud and straw huts. In many places, for miles following miles, these hamlets fringe the river's banks, sheltered amidst groves of mimosa and palms. The fiendish cruelty and wanton destructiveness of the dervishes, who, not satiated with slaughtering the villagers—men, women and children—further glutted their fury by firing the homesteads and cutting down the date palms, resulted in depopulating the country. Ignorant and fanatical in their religious frenzy to convert mankind to their new-found creed, the Mahdists held that the surest way to rid the world forthwith of all unbelievers lay in making earth too intolerable to be lived in.
These native dwellings, when cleaned, were not uncomfortable abodes. As the flat roofs were thickly covered with mats and grass whilst, except the doorway, the openings in the mud-walls were small, they were even in the glare of noontide heat, pleasantly cool and shady. The troops found that straw huts or tukals afforded far better protection than the tents from the sun and from dust-storms. So it came about that, copying the example set by the fellaheen and black soldiers, "Tommy Atkins" also built himself shelters, and "lean-to's" of reeds, palm leaves and straw. Drills and field exercises were relaxed, and the troops had time to rig up alfresco stages and theatres and to enjoy variety entertainments provided by comrades with talent for minstrelsy and the histrionic arts. Meanwhile the preparations for the final campaign against Mahdism were not slackened. Vast quantities of supplies and material of war were stored at Dakhala. Outposts were pushed forward and Shendy was occupied, whilst Metemmeh was held by friendly Jaalin tribesmen, who had suffered much at the Khalifa's hands. The Bayuda desert route also had been cleared of dervishes by these and by neighbouring tribesmen. On the direct track from Korti to Omdurman, outlying wells and oases were in possession of the Kababish and their allies who had broken away from Abdullah's tyranny. The whirligig of time had transformed the equality preachings, and "unity in the faith" of Mahdism into the unbridled supremacy of the Baggara and especially the Taaisha branch of that sept over all the people of the Soudan. They alone were licensed to rob, ravish and murder with impunity. It was the natural sequence of lawless society. Once the foe they leagued to plunder and kill had been disposed of, they turned and rent each other. Abdullah being a Taaisha, he, as a prop to his own pretensions, set them in authority over all the races of the Soudan. One by one, however, Arab clansmen and blacks repented and deserted Mahdism.
The time was ripe for ending the mad mutiny against government and civilisation. July is the period of high Nile in the upper reaches, and the Sirdar planned that his army should be ready to move forward by then. At that date all was in readiness. The Egyptian army which was to take the field consisted of one division of four brigades, each of four battalions with artillery, cavalry and camelry. Besides these there were two brigades of British infantry—Gatacre's division—a regiment of British cavalry, the 21st Lancers, and two and a half English batteries, with many Maxims. It was known that Abdullah had called into Omdurman all his best men and meant giving battle.
DAYS OF WAITING AND PREPARATION.
"Everything comes to him who waits," but the weariness of it is sometimes terrible. Oftentimes waiting is vain, without accompaniment of hard work. The Sirdar made deliberate choice to carve out a career in Egypt. He did so in the dark days when the outlook was the reverse of promising, in nearly every aspect, to a man of action. Abdication of our task of reconstruction was in the air, the withdrawal of the British army of occupation a much-talked-of calamity. Through every phase of the situation, Kitchener stuck to his guns, keeping to himself his plans for the reconquest of the Soudan. He wrought and watched while he waited, selecting and surrounding himself with able officers, and exacting from each diligence and obedience in the discharge of their duties. The Dongola campaign and the fortuitous one of the Atbara against Mahmoud greatly strengthened his position. There might be further delay, but his triumphal entry into Omdurman and the downfall of the Khalifa were certain. The Sirdar had but to ask, to receive all the material and men he wished for. He adhered to his early decision to employ only as many British troops as were actually necessary to stiffen the Khedivial army, and no more.
After the battle and victory of the Atbara in the spring, the British troops, or Gatacre's brigade, marched back from Omdabiya by easy stages to the Nile. The wounded and sick were conveyed into the base hospital at Dakhala, whence they were afterwards sent down to Ginenetta or, as it then was, Rail-head. From that point they were, as each case required, forwarded by train and steamboat to Wady Halfa and Cairo. It was at Darmali, 12 miles or more north of Dakhala, that the British soldiers went into summer-quarters. On the 14th of April the brigade mustered 3818 strong, made up as follows:—833 Camerons, 826 Seaforths, 969 Lincolns, and 665 Warwicks. Two companies of Warwicks had been left in the Dongola province when the advance was made. Besides the muster of battalions enumerated, the brigade included a Maxim battery, detachments of the Army Service Corps, and other details. The "Tommies" settled down in camp, living under peace conditions, for with the rout of Mahmoud's men, the nearest dervish force worth considering was as far off as Shabluka Cataract. Everybody was bidden to make himself as snug as possible. Outlying houses and walls were thrown down to secure a free circulation of air. As for sunlight, that was shut out wherever practicable. The first home drafts to make up for losses arrived at Darmali on the 23rd of April. About 130 men then joined. It was thought desirable to maintain the British battalions at their full strength, and some of them mustered nearly one thousand strong. As the percentage of sick was continuous, and the rate increased as the campaign progressed, the actual roll of men "fit for duty" grew less as we neared Omdurman. Of course, "youths," and all the "weedy ones," were in the first instance rejected by the army doctors, and were never permitted to go to the front. Men over 25 years of age were preferred, and it so happened that both the Grenadier Guards and the Northumberland Fusiliers had a high average of relatively old soldiers, and consequently few sick. From the end of April until the end of May, dull hot days in the Soudan, leave was granted to officers to run down to Alexandria and have a "blow" at San Stefano, by the sea-side. There were quite a number of deaths in the brigade shortly after the men got into camp, the customary reaction having set in on account of the exposure and strain precedent to the victory of the Atbara. To reduce the numbers quartered at Darmali, the Lincolns and Warwicks, on the 19th of April, were marched a mile farther north along the Nile, to Es Selim, where they formed a separate encampment, the Camerons and Seaforths remaining at the first-named place. The average daily number of sick in the brigade at that period was 100 to 150. On one occasion there were 190 men reported unfit for duty. Most of the cases were not of a serious nature, and the patients speedily recovered and returned to their places in the ranks. There was no lack of stores and even dainties at the camps, for supplies were carried up by caravan, escorted by Jaalin friendlies, from Berber and elsewhere. Much of the sickness in the army was probably due to the men recklessly drinking unboiled and unfiltered Nile water. At that season the river had sunk into its narrowest bed, and there were backwashes and sluggish channels full of light-green tinted water. More filters were procured, and extra care was taken with all the water used for domestic purposes.
In May there were route marches twice a week, the brigade going off at 5.30 a.m. and returning about 7.30 a.m., all in the cool of the morning or such bearable temperature as there was in the 24 hours' daily round in that month. During these exercises the troops had plenty of firing practice, being taught to blaze away at bushes, and occasionally at targets representing dervishes. In that way the remainder of the million of tip-filed Lee-Metford bullets were disposed of, for it had been arranged that there was to be a new cartridge case for the Omdurman campaign. The latest pattern "man-stopper" was a bullet fashioned with a hollow or crater at the point, the nickel casing being perforated.
So the days droned past for the British soldiers, with little to do beyond essaying the impossible of trying to keep cool. It was often otherwise with the Egyptians, for they had to assist in getting the railroad through to Dakhala from Ginenetta, in forwarding boats and stores, and later on in establishing wood stations and cutting fuel for the steamers. The first of the tropical summer rain showers fell at Darmali on the 27th of May. On the 18th of June Major-General Gatacre went off on a shooting excursion up the Atbara, taking with him a party of ten officers and a few orderlies. They found relatively little big game but plenty of gazelle and birds. The bodies of the slain in Mahmoud's zereba at Omdabiya still lay where they fell, unburied, but dried up and mummified by the sun. Natives had stripped the place and carried off everything left behind by us. A number of dervishes were seen lurking about, part of the defeated army of the enemy, who were afraid to return to Omdurman, anticipating that the Khalifa would have them killed. Indeed, it appeared that numbers of the runaways had settled down at New Hilgi, and were attempting to cultivate. As for the four or five thousand dervish cavalry that Mahmoud had with him, they also never returned to Omdurman. Quite probably they made their way back to their original homes in small bands, rightly believing that Mahdism was doomed. Assured of pardon and good treatment at our hands, fourteen of the Mahdists and a number of women came in with General Gatacre's people. No attempt was made by the dervishes in the neighbourhood to "snipe" the party. They returned to Darmali on the 27th of June. With the sun gone north came the rising of the Nile and fresh breezes. The gunboats kept diligently patrolling the river, watching for any signs of movement on the part of the Khalifa and his forces. The enemy were reported to be gathering in large numbers at Omdurman for the coming conflict. As Shendy was held by a small force of Egyptians, and Metemmeh nominally by the Jaalin for us, frequent visits were made to those posts. Later on, other shooting parties went up to Omdabiya and found that there was an increase in the numbers of natives about, and that flocks and herds were to be seen grazing in the vicinity. The tribesmen showed that they had abandoned the Khalifa by tearing the dervish patches off their clothing. All being quiet, and peace assured in the Dongola province, the two detached companies of the Warwickshire left Korti and joined their comrades in Es Selim camp.
July was a very busy month. The river flotilla and transport service had all to be thoroughly organised for the impending advance. Gunboats received the final touches and completed their armament. The steamers, barges and giassas, native sailing craft, underwent thorough repair. More and still more munitions of war and provisions were sent forward and stored at Dakhala. That post grew into a formidable camp. The three new twin-screw gunboats built on the Thames, besides other ship-work reconstruction, were put together near Abadia, a village above the Fifth Cataract and north of Berber. The railroad had been hastily laid and completed to Abadia after the battle of Atbara. Thither the sections of the barges and steamers needed for the campaign had been sent by rail from Wady Halfa. Before that date, engineering and other workshops had been erected at Abadia, which, because of its favourable position, was chosen for a permanent camp and industrial centre. Base-hospitals, too, were built there, in order that the wounded and sick might travel as far as possible by water. Astonishing as had been the rapidity with which the Wady Halfa Abu Hamid portion of the desert railroad was laid, smarter work still was done carrying the line through to the Atbara. The utmost energy was put forth, after the defeat of Mahmoud, by the Director of Railways, Major Girouard, R.E., to get the track completed to Dakhala, the junction of the Atbara with the Nile. Not only the railroad battalion, which was nearly 3000 strong, but every available Khedivial soldier, laboured in some way or other at the task. They put their hearts and thews to the toil, for it was recognised that its completion not only solved the transport problem, but was a swift and sure means of return to Egypt. The railroad battalion worked wonders in grading and laying. Fellaheen and negro, they showed a vim and intelligence in track-making that Europeans could not surpass. Native lads, some in their early teens, clothed with little beyond a sense of their own importance and "army ammunition boots," many sizes too big for their feet, adjusted the fish-plates and put on the screw nuts. Then, for those who bore the heavy burden of rails and sleepers and carried material for the road bed, there were licensed fools, mummers, and droll mimics, who by their antics revived the lagging spirits of the gangs. There is an unsuspected capacity for mimicry in what are called savage men. I have seen Red Indians give excellent pantomimic entertainments, and aborigines in other lands exhibit high mumming talent. In the railroad battalion there was an eccentric negro who was a very king of jesters. From the Sirdar and the Khalifa downwards—for he was an ex-dervish and had played pranks in Omdurman—none escaped a parodying portrayal of their mannerisms. He imitated the tones of their voice and twisted and contorted his face and body to resemble the originals. Nothing was sacred from that mimic any more than from a sapper. He showed us Osman Digna's little ways, and gave ghastly imitations of trials, mutilations and executions by hanging in the Mahdist camps. And these things were for relaxation, though maybe they served as a reminder of the dervishes' brutal rule. There were vexations and jokes of another sort for Major Girouard and those held tightly responsible for the rapid construction and regular running of the material trains, as indeed all trains were. When the line had been laid beyond Abu Dis, for a time known as Rail-head, the camp and quarters were moved on to the next station. Abu Dis sank in dignity and population until only a corporal and two men were left to guard the place and work the sidings. The desert railway being a single track, frequent sidings are indispensable for the better running of trains. All the control for working the system was vested in the Wady Halfa officials. One night there came to them over the wires an alarmist message to send no more trains to Abu Dis. It was the corporal who urgently rang up his chiefs. What could it mean? Had they deserted, or, more likely, were the dervishes raiding the district? A demand was made from Wady Halfa for the corporal to explain what had happened. His answer was naive, if not satisfactory: "The wild beasts have come down from the hills, and we really cannot accept any trains from any direction." "What do you mean?" was again queried back. So the corporal and his two men responded: "Sir, there are wild beasts all around the hut and tent; what can we do? We dare not stir out." "Light fires, you magnoons," (fools), was the final rejoinder, and the train service went forward as usual. It appeared that the hyenas and wolves, wont to snap up a living around the men's camp, bereft of their pickings were in a state of howling starvation, and had turned up and made an appeal, by no means mute, to the station guard, which the latter failed to understand or appreciate. In a remarkably short space of time the hyenas and pariah dogs had adopted the habit of scavengering around all the camps and snifting along the track, after the trains, for stray scraps.
I returned to Cairo early in July, where, having paid into the Financial Military Secretary's hands the L50 security required of war correspondents, intended to cover cost of railway fares south of Wady Halfa, and for any forage drawn from the stores, I received the official permit to proceed to the front. All the restrictions as to the number of correspondents allowed up, which were imposed during the Atbara campaign, were singularly enough removed, and the "very open door" policy substituted. In consequence, there was a large number, over sixteen in all, of so-called representatives of the press at the front. As an old correspondent aptly observed, some of them represented anything but journals or journalism, the name of a newspaper being used merely as a cover for notoriety and medal hunting. Having secured my warrant to join the Sirdar's army, I started from Cairo for Assouan and Wady Halfa. The headquarters at that date were still in Wady Halfa. On the 21st of July the first detachments of the reinforcements that were to make up the British force to a division, which Major-General Gatacre was to command, left Cairo for the south. Thereafter, nearly day by day up to the 9th of August inclusive, troops were sent forward. These consisted of artillery, cavalry, the 21st Lancers, baggage animals, Royal Engineers, Army Service Corps, Medical Corps, and the four battalions of infantry which were to form the second British brigade. The brigade in question comprised 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers, and the 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade, together with a battery of Maxims manned by a detachment of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. Brigadier-General the Honourable N. G. Lyttelton, C.B., commanded the second brigade, whilst Major-General Gatacre's former command, the 1st British Brigade, was taken over by Brigadier-General J. Wauchope. The first brigade was made up of the Lincolns, Warwicks, Seaforths, and Camerons, with six Maxims. To prepare for eventualities, and clench the special training he had bestowed upon his men, Major-General Gatacre issued a printed slip of notes, or hints, to his men. I give the salient points of that production:—
"1. As the strength of a European force lies in the occupation of and in movement over open ground, which gives it advantage of fire, so the strength of a dervish force lies in fighting in depressions of the ground, or in a jungle country out of which they can pour suddenly and quickly their thousands of spear-armed warriors, who, unless checked by a murderous fire, constitute a grave danger, even to a perfectly disciplined force.
"It follows, then, that a force halted for the night must always be protected where possible by a zereba, which will check under fire the attacking dervishes.
"2. That a cleared zone be prepared along outer edge of the zereba.
"3. That a force, when moving, should march at a respectful distance from jungle cover.
"4. It should have the ground in its front and on its flanks searched out by cavalry, mounted infantry, or native levies.
"5. That when mounted troops have found the enemy, they must invariably clear the front of the infantry to enable the latter to use their rifles.
"6. That brigades must be so trained that each battalion and individual soldier must know how to get into the best formation with the least possible delay for meeting the attack of the spearmen, who, it must be remembered, can move at least three times as quickly as a British soldier can double.
"To carry out the above, a high standard of training and steadiness is required, and battalions must be provided with a liberal supply of cutting tools, felling axes, hand axes and bill hooks to enable them, the instant the battalion marches into bivouac, to cut down small trees or strong branches of prickly trees with which to construct a thorn fence.
"Piquets must be withdrawn at dusk, otherwise they might get surrounded and cut off, or, in falling back, would possibly suffer from the defenders of the zereba.
"The protection of the zereba against surprise must depend on the vigilance of its sentries and piquets which line the fence, and whose strength will naturally depend on the proximity of the dervishes to the force. With reliable information, and the ground properly reconnoitred, a patrol of ten men per company, patrolling constantly and noiselessly along the inner edge of the zereba, is adequate, so long as the enemy's dem is say 15 miles distant (a day's march); when nearer than this, the strength of the piquets to remain awake and under arms will depend upon the circumstances of the moment.
"All night duties of this nature should be found by companies, so that portions of the line along its whole length shall be on duty. Words of command and orders must be given in a low tone; there must be no shouting and no fires burning till the hour arrives for making the morning tea. Men should always be allowed to smoke, but should be warned of the danger of fire in zereba by a cigarette or match-end thrown into dry grass.
"Officers must sleep immediately behind their men; a certain number will always be on duty.
"All, officers and men, must sleep in their clothes, boots and accoutrements, and each man must have his rifle with him. None but sentries' should be loaded, and bayonets should not be fixed, even by the patrols, except when there is expectancy of attack. Under no circumstances should men sleep with their bayonets fixed, or serious accidents will occur.
"And here, one word about 'alarms.' I do not refer to the assembly by bugle sound, but what is ordinarily called a panic, in other words a disgraceful absence of discipline and self-control, which, while ruining the reputation of the corps concerned as a reliable battalion, may be the cause of serious mischief, and must be disastrous to the confidence the General Officer places in its officers and men.
"One of the great advantages accruing to an army on service is the close association of the officer with the man; each learns something from the other, and the officer will, in after years, appreciate the value of the habit he gets into of talking to his men and of storing up in his mind all sorts of dodges and hints, which assist troops in the field to make themselves comfortable; more than this, it is in the field only that the officer can get the opportunity of instilling into the men's minds the necessity for deliberation under fire, the high standard of the regiment, its past history, its superiority in everything to all other regiments in the division, and his confidence in his men to maintain such a standard of excellence. In many expeditions it has happened that shots have been fired at nothing, night after night, thus disturbing the whole force; such bad habits must be firmly checked."
Before leaving Cairo I had the opportunity of witnessing a trial of the new siege guns that were to be used in levelling the walls and defences of Omdurman. To the eastward of Abbassieh barracks, near the rifle ranges, 150 feet of stone wall had been erected. It was a replica of part of the structure which the Khalifa had built around the tomb of the Mahdi, his own grounds, that of his body-guard, and the more important buildings situated in the centre of the dervish capital.
The stout rectangular wall at Omdurman stood with its narrowest side facing the Nile, and its longest sides ran inland from the river for about a mile. It was twelve feet in height, and even more in places, ten feet in thickness at the base, tapering to six feet at the top. It was a well-made structure, laid in mortar and faced on either side with dressed limestone blocks.
Shortly after six a.m. on the morning of 22nd July, a large number of officers assembled at the Abbassieh ranges to watch the result of the experiments of the sham bombardment. Lieutenant-General Sir Francis Grenfell and staff, Major-General Lyttelton, and many others were present. It was arranged that the new 5-inch howitzer battery, with the "Lyddite" or high explosive shells, was to make the first attempt to breach or throw down the wall. There were six of these new howitzers, and they were worked by the 37th Field Battery, commanded by Major Elmslie. Except that the bore was larger, there was little to distinguish the pieces from the 15-lb. Maxim-Nordenfeldt automatic recoil guns used at the battle of the Atbara. The latter cannon, however, only used cordite, whereas the 5-inch howitzer shells are filled with a picric compound resembling M. Turpin's melinite. For over ten years Russia has had 100-lb. howitzer batteries in the field, firing high explosives. It was the Sirdar who insisted upon the necessity of being supplied with these light and handy cannon. Neither the velocity nor the range of their shell-fire is great, but it is enough—4000 yards or thereby—for all practical purposes, and is fairly accurate. The explosion of the picric shells was very violent, and the danger area about 300 yards from where they burst. It has been found that, with about six or eight mules to draw the guns, the battery was quite mobile. Egyptian drivers were employed, though the men serving the guns were all British artillerymen. Even the drivers of the 32nd Field Battery, commanded by Major Williams, had "gippy" teamsters. Both batteries were drawn by smart Cyprus mules. The howitzers opened fire at 750 yards from the wall. With few exceptions, the Lyddite shells hit the mark. Range is given more by increase or diminution of the charge than elevation or depression of the howitzers. The guns kicked viciously and ran back at each discharge. Bursting violently, the shells threw out big sheets of tawny flame, followed by showers of stones and a cloud of dust and brownish smoke. It was possible to see the missiles in their flight and note where they struck. As each shell rushed through the air it made a noise not unlike an express train passing under a bridge. There were salvoes of two or three guns, and huge chunks were knocked out of the wall. Pieces of flying debris frequently dropped at no great distance from the gunners. It was plain that the shells were bursting upon impact, and only blowing away the face of the wall to the depth of but a foot or two. Had there been thick shells with retarding fuses the structure might have been breached in two or three rounds.
After a preliminary ten rounds had been fired, the wall was closely inspected. It was seen that infantry might have clambered over the debris to the top of the structure and jumped down upon the other side. A strange feature was that wherever the "Lyddite" explosive failed to detonate the stones and ground around had been transformed to a deep chrome colour. The battery was moved closer, to about 350 yards from the wall, and the firing was recommenced at that range. Much better results were obtained, and the upper part of the wall was knocked away, and easy, practicable breaches made. One of the other advantages of these new guns is that with reduced firing charges they become reliable mortars, and the high explosive shells can be dropped over a wall or building, so as to drive the defenders from their works. Not a man would have escaped injury had there been an enemy behind the wall, for blocks of stone were scattered in all directions. When the howitzers had finished their practice, six rounds were fired from two 40-lb. Armstrong guns, which were also ordered to assist in breaching Omdurman's walls. Next to the 7-lb. screw guns the 40-lb. Armstrong is reputed to be the most accurate shooting cannon in the British service. Mounted on lofty carriages, these siege guns were laid to fire at 800 yards range. Oddly enough, one of the 40-lbs. scored as high a percentage of misses as the howitzers. The great velocity of the 40-lb. shells, filled with the slower-bursting gunpowder, carried them well into the part of the wall aimed at, with the result that, in a few seconds, they made a good breach. The morning's experiments were concluded by a detachment of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, under Captain Churches, firing their Maxims against targets representing bands of dervishes, the dummy enemy being, as usual, riddled with bullets.
From Cairo to Dakhala, evidence was not lacking that the form and movement of preparations for the general advance were growing apace. Every train and boat going south was overloaded with officers, men, and transport animals, together with munitions of war galore for the campaign. The gunboats and deserters brought in reports that the dervishes were concentrating at Omdurman. The strongly defensible positions of Shabluka, together with the mud forts, had been evacuated by the dervishes. Very quickly the Sirdar sent small bodies of troops up stream to occupy suitable positions for wood-cutting and forming advance camps. In that way the river pass at the Sixth Cataract was seized without the long anticipated fight for that difficult bit of country. The Nile highway was at length in the Sirdar's undisputed possession up to within thirty miles of Omdurman.
There is no dustier journey by rail, or one of an altogether more uncomfortable nature, than from Cairo to Shellal. It is bad enough in the so-called winter season, for you have to breathe an atmosphere of dust the whole way, and are powdered and almost suffocated before you reach Luxor. The same trip taken in midsummer, in the stuffy, crowded carriages of the Egyptian lines, is real martyrdom, or something akin thereto. High speed or over twenty-five miles an hour is not attempted. Although the journey ordinarily occupies thirty-two hours, I was forty hours en route. There are no refreshment-bars or restaurants for the supply of palatable food or drink for the fierce needs of the passengers. I made some provision for the trip, and managed to survive it, as I have done before, but I cannot forget its tortures any more than the newest of new-comers. Not until we reached Assouan could we secure a fair supply of water and get a bath and an enjoyable meal. That same afternoon, I, with three other correspondents, was allowed to take passage on barge No. 9, which, with two giassas, was taken in tow up to Wady Halfa by a sternwheeler. Among others proceeding on the craft to join the army were Major-General Wauchope and Surgeon-General Taylor, and a number of other army medicoes, fresh in their new dignity as officers of the "Royal Army Medical Corps." Under the instruction of Surgeon-General Taylor, Surgeon-Major Wilson was good enough to present each of us with a packet of first field dressings, a kindness which I appreciated, but of which I hoped not to have need.
MUSTERING FOR THE OVERTHROW OF MAHDISM.
A hackneyism lacks the picturesqueness of originality, but is as useful in its way as a public road to a desired destination. The quotation which I am at the moment anxious to make use of is, "The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small." Time the avenger had all but fulfilled the meed of punishment for the evil day of 26th January 1885, when the streets of Khartoum ran with blood, and the headless body of General Gordon was left to be hacked and hewn by ferocious hordes of dervishes. Major-General Sir Herbert H. Kitchener had so managed that the decisive blow should be delivered in the most effective manner. Stage by stage he had moved forward and improved his lines of communication. The advanced base, or point of departure for the campaign, was no longer Wady Halfa, or Korti in the province of Dongola, as in 1884, but Dakhala. Nay, with the unassailable power and command of the Nile his flotilla gave him, it might be said the real base of the Sirdar's army was where he chose to fix it, even hard by Omdurman. As for the Khalifa, ruined to some extent by years of successes and easy victories, he was committing the fatal military error of over-confidence. He had drawn around him from all parts of the Soudan the best of his trusty warriors, the pick of the fighting tribes of Africa. The leaders were mostly sheiks who were too far committed to hope for pardon and restoration, in the event of defeat, from the Khedivial Government. Besides, there were still plenty of ignorant fanatics amongst the chosen "Ansar," or servants of God, to fire the naturally truculent mass of armed men.
To ensure the smashing of the Mahdists, the Sirdar was leading the largest and best equipped expedition ever seen south of Wady Halfa. The river flotilla comprised eleven well-armed steam gunboats. For the transport of troops and stores beyond Dakhala he had numberless native craft, giassas, nuggars, several steamers, and specially constructed iron barges. What with their crews and detachments of British gunners, engineers, and infantry, each gunboat had a fighting force of about 100 men aboard. These vessels could easily have carried many more hands; indeed, the newest type of Nile men-o'-war, the twin-screw steamers, were built to convey a thousand soldiers. The land forces included over 8000 British troops and fully 15,000 Egyptian and Soudanese soldiery. In artillery the army was exceptionally strong. Lieut.-Colonel C. J. Long, R.A., commanding that arm, had practically eight batteries and ten Maxims at his disposal, not counting the machine guns, Maxims, attached to the British division. The artillery included the 32nd Field Battery R.A. of six 15-pounders under Major Williams; the 37th Field Battery R.A. of six 5-inch howitzers under Major Elmslie, and two 40-pounders R.A. Armstrong guns under Lieut. Weymouth. There were also, No. 1 Egyptian Horse Artillery Battery (Krupps) under Major Young, R.A., of six guns; No. 2 Egyptian Field (mule) Battery under Major Peake, consisting of six 12 1/2-pounder Maxim-Nordenfeldt automatic recoil guns, firing when necessary a double shell, and Egyptian Field Batteries Nos. 3, 4, and 5, each of six of the same type of guns, under Captain C. G. Stewart, R.A., Major Lawrie, R.A., and Major de Rougemont, R.A., and two 6-centimetres Krupps on mules. The ten Maxims, or at least six of them, were mounted upon galloping carriages drawn by horses. On these vehicles or limbers the gunners could remain in position and bring the weapons into action at any moment. Captain Franks had the control of these machine guns, two of which were, nominally, attached to each Egyptian battery. Besides the four brigades of Khedivial infantry, together with artillery, cavalry, and camelry, and minor details, the Egyptian army also included a large transport column of some 2800 camels and about as many men.
A new solar-hat, a poke-bonnet sort of head-gear, was designed and tied on the pates of one thousand transport camels as an experiment to prevent sickness and sunstroke. Although the brutes have the smallest modicum of brains, they are very liable to attacks of illness from heat-exhaustion. That they are born in the tropics confers no immunity. Strange to say, on the march south from Assouan, of a thousand and odd only one animal succumbed to sunstroke, and that was a camel that had no sun-bonnet. If anything could have added to the naturally lugubrious expression of those lumbering freight carriers, it was the jaunty poke-bonnets with the attenuated "Oh, let us be joyful" visages grinning beneath. The transport department was managed by Colonel F. W. Kitchener, brother of the Sirdar. His care it was, when the army actually took the field, to see that the supplies of food, forage, and ammunition advanced with the columns. As a matter of fact, in that respect the campaign, as at the Atbara, was admirably ordered, and the troops lacked for nothing in reason. There were few mules and donkeys employed in the baggage trains, the bulk of the stores being camel-borne. It was the free and full use of water transport, by the Nile, that enabled supplies to be sent on rapidly and regularly with the army when the troops advanced beyond Rail-head. Besides the regular army which was to proceed up the left or west bank and attack Omdurman, there was a column of armed friendlies who were to operate against the dervishes quartered between Shendy and Khartoum, by the east or right bank of the Nile. Nor were the bands of tribesmen upon that shore the only auxiliaries who had volunteered to assist in overthrowing Mahdism. Jaalin scouts and runners put themselves under the Sirdar's orders to scour the front and flanks of the army, at least up to Kerreri. Colonel Parsons, R.A., was to lead a mixed force of fellaheen soldiers, Abyssinian levies, ex-Italian Ascari, and Arabs from Kassala to attack Gedarif and menace Khartoum from the east.
There was a degree of soreness in several British battalions at not being allowed to bear part in the campaign. The troops forming the Army of Occupation believed that they should have had the first call. Among these were the Royal Irish Fusiliers. It had been anticipated that as they were next on the army list for active foreign service, they would certainly not be passed over. Instead of receiving orders to march, they were left severely alone, another Fusilier battalion being sent in their place. The proceeding gave rise to much bickering and bitterness in certain quarters. An attempt, I believe, was made to send half of the Royal Irish Fusiliers to the front, but that fell through owing to various causes. According to the War Office requirements, the Royal Irish Fusiliers were not in a satisfactory condition. There were serious drawbacks which would have terribly militated against the effective employment of the battalion as a first-class fighting unit. Individually, the men were all right, but the battalion record in certain respects was held to be very faulty. I have no wish to cavil at the War Office authorities' honest desire to serve the public and yet temper their judgment with mercy to individuals. But the case was one where they should not have temporised in any way. As matters turned out, the Royal Irish Fusiliers were very angry at being passed over at the eleventh hour for another regiment. For several generations they have never had a chance of being in action. They were fairly spoiling for a fight, and it was hard, at the last moment, to have the road to glory closed in their faces for the deficiencies of the few.
He whom Arabs and blacks of the whole Soudan call the "Grand Master of the Art of Flight," our old friend Osman Digna, was with the Khalifa in Omdurman. Osman was wily and experienced, and his counsel, had it been listened to by his chief, would have added to the difficulties of carrying the Mahdist stronghold by assault. I have some knowledge of that astute ex-slavedealer and trader's ways in the Eastern Soudan and elsewhere. He, many years ago, even condescended to honour me with his correspondence and an invitation to join the true believers, i.e., the Mahdists. I have no doubt he meant well, but the land and the dervishes were alike abhorrent to me. Osman had quietly come to the wise conclusion that Mahdism was near its end. With his usual prescience he made his own arrangements without consulting the Khalifa. Early in the year he had all his women and children and such wealth as he could smuggle out of the country sent over to Jeddah. There his family are now living under the protection of some of his old friends and kinsmen. When Omdurman fell he had no intention, the Hadendowas said, of sharing the Khalifa's further fortunes in hiding among the wilds of Kordofan. He would instead try and escape across the Red Sea and rejoin his family. The Arab clansmen are like the Hielan' caterans; they may fight and quarrel with one another, but unless there is a blood feud it is unlikely they will help either the English or the Egyptians to bag old Osman Digna. If the Turk gets him for a subject, well, the Sublime Porte is likely to be deeply sorry for it later on. "Fresh troubles in Yemen," or elsewhere in the Arabian Peninsula, will be amongst the headlines of news from that quarter once Osman the plotter finds his feet again after his last flight. After the Atbara he just missed being taken by the skin of his teeth, so to speak. His camp letters and private correspondence were all secured. It was in this way: When the news of the Atbara victory reached Kassala, Captain Benson and a party of about 200 Abyssinian irregulars set out to see whether Osman Digna and his more immediate followers were not trying to make their way back to Omdurman, via Aderamat and Abu Delek. It may be recollected that the fugitive Shiekh had established a camp at the last-named place after he had been driven out of the Eastern Soudan. Sure enough, Captain Benson and the irregulars came up with Osman Digna and 400 of his people encamped near the Atbara. They called on them to surrender, but that they would not do. A running fight began, in the course of which Osman, his nephew Mousa and many more escaped. The Abyssinians, however, killed and captured over 200 of the dervish leader's followers, and returned in triumph with the captives and spoils. I am told that Mousa Digna, though he watched the fight in question, never fired a shot. The tale goes, that he has never drawn sword or trigger against us since we gave him his life at the battle of Gemaizeh, near Suakin. That morning I found Mousa, shot through the stomach, reclining upon the ground. He was still truculent, and brandishing his spear. The Soudanese were anxious to despatch him forthwith, and fired several shots at him, the aim of which I spoiled by direct interference. I had even then difficulty in getting Mousa to lie down quietly, having to show him my revolver. Finally, he partly realised the situation. He was taken up, carried into Suakin, carefully attended to, fed upon a milk diet, and, in the end, recovered and returned to his Uncle Osman and the dervishes. It has always been upon my mind that I was therein instrumental in furnishing a dervish recruit to the cause of furious anarchy, and I am relieved to think Mousa is not without compunction, if not a decent modicum of conscience. But your proper Hadendowa is not a Baggara.
"Three removals are worse than a fire," and it is much the same in campaigning. Constant trudging to and fro, making and breaking camps with the hardships of marches and raw ground for bivouacs, furnish a bigger mortality bill than an ordinary battle. One of the smart things done by the Sirdar, which served to show that he had closely knit all the ends of the new frontier lines together, was to bring troops up from the Dongola province and the Red Sea Littoral, to swell the strength of his army in the field. The 5th Egyptian battalion under Colonel Abd El Borham marched across from Suakin to Berber in eighteen days. It was not by any means sought to make it a forced march. The Fifth was accompanied by a company, 100 men and animals, of the Camel Corps and had 40 baggage camels for ordinary transport. Leisurely, day by day, they tramped along over the 250 odd miles of rock and sand that intervene betwixt the Nile and the sea. Hadendowa and Bishaim tribesmen were friendly, and scouts led them in the best tracks whether they tramped by night or by day. At one place they had to make a long forced march as the water in the wells had been exhausted by a previous caravan. In time to come, with a little outlay, new wells will be dug and an abundant supply of water provided along the whole route. Later on, the 5th Egyptian battalion marched up from Berber to Dakhala camp. The men were tall, muscular fellaheen. They were, as has become the custom in Egypt since the army has been officered by the Queen's soldiers, played into quarters on this occasion by a native Soudanese band to the swinging tune of "O, dem Golden Slippers."
It is warm enough in Lower Egypt in July to be uncomfortable, and to turn the most obdurate into a melting mood. Assouan has the deserved reputation of being hotter in that month than Aden, the Persian Gulf, or—well, any other hot place. So, as I have said before, the British troops were not required to do more than the minimum of duty at that period. Decidedly "circumstances alter cases," even in matters military. I hope I may be pardoned for these recurring quotations and saws. The intolerably fervent solar heat of the Soudan at that season did not admit of much originality in thought, expression, or act. One of my companions was a veritable modern Sancho Panza, and in one's limp, mental, noontide condition his sapient "instances" were catching. When he left Cairo, as he confided to me, though it was warm enough there, he decided not to buy too thin clothing lest he might catch cold. He therefore purchased articles that even in England would be called woolly and comfortable. Later on, as he reclined upon his couch in a thrice-raised Turkish bath temperature, he lamented that he "could not catch cold" even in a state of nature or next to it. He no longer wondered at Sydney Smith's wish to sit in his bones, and thought that expression would have acquired additional force if the witty divine had added "packed in ice."
BY THE WAY—FROM CAIRO TO DAKHALA.
Ten days from London to the junction of the Atbara with the Nile: so far from England and yet so near. By-and-by, no doubt, the Brindisi mail, speeding in connection with the Khartoum express, will make the run in seven or eight days. From England to Port Said is now but a matter of four days by the new Peninsular and Oriental service. It took me six days from Cairo to reach Dakhala. The officials prefer to know the place as "Atbara Camp." There is no absolute rule for the bestowal of proper names, or at least no practice one need care about in the Soudan, so I prefer to dub the locality by its native title of Dakhala, or Dakhelha. It saves a word in telegraphing, and there is more fitness in calling that dusty, dirty enclosure by the less euphonious name.
One could not but note what a wondrous change in the military and political situation had been wrought in the land since 1884-85. Railways had solved every difficulty of dealing with the dervishes. Quite easily nowadays the remote provinces of the whilom great Egyptian equatorial empire can be reached and governed. With ordinary care under the altered conditions millions of Arabs and blacks can be transformed from chronic-rebellious into trusty loyal subjects. There has been bloodguiltiness and to spare in the Soudan since 1883-84, therefore the rehabilitation of the country through the setting up of just government will be in the nature of discharging a duty long incumbent upon Great Britain. From the Atbara southward, the Niles and their tributaries are open to steam navigation the year round. The possession of these noble waterways, which extend over thousands of miles, includes the fee-simple of sovereignty in the fertile lands of the two Nile basins and their commerce. By admirable foresight and indomitable Anglo-Saxon persistence the Sirdar had achieved a unique position in African conquest. He had got together an armed force "fit to go anywhere and to do anything." The heart of Africa was his, to loose or to bind. Of all the terrible railway rides in the world, for dirt and discomfort, none compares with the trip from Cairo to Luxor and Assouan. The carriages are stuffy and unclean, and during the whole journey one stifles in an opaque atmosphere of grit mixed with the sweepings of the ages. The calcined earths quickly cushion the seats, powder you from head to foot, and fill your pockets and every other receptacle with soil enough to make you feel like a landed proprietor—or, at any rate, rich enough in loam to lay out a suburban garden. With all the accessories at hand for the creation of an acrid and measureless thirst, neither the railway authorities nor private enterprise have had the wit as yet to provide travellers with the means of mitigating their sufferings. It is little short of a horror to think of that journey of over forty hours' duration, which had to be endured without the succour to be found in a refreshment-room where, for a consideration, could be got a sparkling cool drink or a mouthful of passable victuals. Were it to take me a month to travel the distance by river, if time permitted I had rather adventure next time upon the Nile than ever go by train over that line again. I confess I have made the journey by rail frequently but it becomes really more unendurable each trip. Of course I laid in stores of liquids and solids for the voyage. I ought to have known better, but one thinks nothing of the toothache when it is past. The mineral waters became too hot to drink, and not quite near enough the boiling-point to make good tea of, whilst, as for the provisions, such as got not too high, were so swathed in layers of questionable dust and grit as to be repulsive. Keeping even passably tidy was impossible, and in personal cleanliness a London scavenger could give a traveller by rail from Cairo to Assouan many points. It was at Wady Halfa that I got booked in the way-bill for Dakhala, or Atbara Camp, 390 miles away. The construction of the Halfa-Atbara line was, as I have said before, a masterpiece of military strategy, the credit for which is due to the Sirdar. By-and-by a railway bridge will span the Atbara at Dakhala, and the iron way will be laid into Khartoum. The 170 miles betwixt the Atbara and Khartoum offer no difficulties, and the line will be laid within a year from the time when the money is granted the Sirdar for its construction.
Since the foregoing was written, the requisite amount has been voted Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, and the contracts for material have been issued and signed. About a quarter of a million sleepers have to be delivered in Egypt before the end of June 1899. The Atbara and forty small khors will be bridged, and the work be completed in twelve months. It is intended that the terminus shall be on the east bank opposite Khartoum.
All the trains on the Halfa-Atbara line carried goods, ordinary passengers being incidental. Four of my colleagues, Major Sitwell, of the Egyptian army, and myself got places in a horse-box. In the next truck to us, likewise a horse-box, were five English officers, returning to duty with Gatacre's, or rather Wauchope's, brigade at Darmali. In that same horse-box truck we five contrived to cook, eat, sleep, and dress for two round days, for, as I have stated, there were no restaurants or buffets within 1000 miles of the desert railway. The wayside stations were but sidings or halting-places where the locomotives drew coal and water, of which small supplies were usually stored under an Egyptian corporal's guard. Ours was a long and heavy train, and more than once on the up grade to No. 6 or Summit station out from Halfa the engine came to a standstill, "to recover its breath," as the negroes said. In the horse-box we got along together for the most part very comfortably, accommodating ourselves to the situation. Such a picnic as we had then made it less of a puzzle to the common understanding how certain creatures are able to do with a tight-fitting shell for their house and home. If Major Girouard, R.E., had not left the direction of the Soudan military railways—which under the Sirdar he built—to join the Board of the Egyptian lines, we should, I believe, have had better provision made for passengers. Ziehs, or porous native clay-jars to hold cool drinking water, and various other little accessories to lighten the hardships of the trip would surely have been provided. Later on, the officials took care to have ziehs and plenty of cool drinking water in the carriages and trucks of all trains carrying troops, so that the men had at least plenty to drink.
On our way up we passed Wauchope's brigade encamped at Es Selim and Darmali. Colonel Macdonald's 1st and Colonel Maxwell's 2nd Khedivial Brigades started to march from Berber to Dakhala about that time, the end of July. Many of the British soldiers, so as not to sleep upon the ground, had built for themselves benches of mud or sun-dried bricks, whereon they spread their blankets. The plan secured some immunity from such crawling things as scorpions and snakes. Sun-baked mud in the Soudan is a hard and decently clean material for bench or bed. The Theatres Royal, Darmali and Es Selim, were in full swing, though it was very 'dog-days' weather. Officers liberally patronised the men's entertainments and occasionally held jollifications of their own. There were a good many who exercised the cheerful spirit of Mark Tapley under the trials of the Soudan. Lively and original skits and verses were given at these symposiums. Here are a few verses of a topical song on the refractory blacks and fellaheen fallen under the condemnation of either the civil or military law and forced to hard labour. It was written and frequently sung by a clever young engineer officer:—
We're convicts at work in the Noozle, We carry great loads on our backs, And often our warders bamboozle, And sleep 'neath mountains of sacks.
Chorus: Ri-tooral il looral, &c.
(The Noozle is the commissariat depot.)
We convicts start work at day dawning, Boilers we mount about noon, Sleepers we load in the morning, And rails by the light of the moon.
Our warders are blacks, who cry Masha! (march), And strike us if we don't obey, Or else he's a Hamla Ombashi, Who allows us to fuddle all day.
Hamla Ombashi is a corporal of the transport service, and "fuddle" is to sit down. It was the chorus with spoken words interlarded that caught on astonishingly, and showed that the men's lungs were in magnificent condition. Another howler, but by another author, was "Roll on to Khartoum." Here is a specimen verse and the chorus:—
Come, forward march, and do your duty, Though poor your grub, no rum, bad 'bacca, Step out, for fighting and no booty, To trace a free red line thro' Africa.
No barney, boys, give over mousing, True Britons are ye from hill and fen, Now rally lads, and drop all grousing, And pull together like soldier-men.
Then roll on, boys, roll on to Khartoum, March ye and fight by night or by day, Hasten the hour of the Dervishes' doom, Gordon avenge in old England's way.
"Grousing" is Tommy Atkins for grumbling, which is an Englishman's birthright. As for no rum, subsequently the men were allowed two tots a week; Wednesdays and Saturdays were, I think, the days of issue. Less than half a gill was each man's share. I am inclined to believe had there been a daily issue of the same quantity of rum it had been better, and the young soldiers might have escaped with less fever.
Dakhala had undergone many changes since March. It was bigger in every respect, but no better as a camping-ground. Truth to tell, it was so bad as to be well-nigh intolerable. The correspondents' quarters were exceptionally vile, the location being the worst possible within the lines. We had no option, and so had to pitch our tents behind the noozle in a ten-acre waste of dirtiest, lightest loam, which swished around in clouds by day and night, making us grimy as coal-heavers, powdering everything, even our food and drink, with gritty dust and covering us in our blankets inches deep. The river breeze was barred from us, and the green and fresher banks of the Atbara and the Nile, beyond the fort, were for other than correspondents' camps. Many rows of mud huts had been built in the interior. As for the sun-dried brick parapets and ramparts of the fortifications, these were already crumbling to ruin or being cast down for use in newer structures. The lofty wooden lookout staging, called the Eiffel Tower, had been removed, and its timbers converted to other purposes. On the completion of the railway to Dakhala, Abadia had become but a secondary workshop centre. Newer and larger shipbuilding yards and engine works were erected by the Atbara. Under Lieutenant Bond, R.N., and Mr Haig gunboats, steamers, barges and sailing craft were put in thorough order, native artisans toiling day and night. The clang of hammermen, riveters, carpenters and caulkers resounded along the river front. The Dakhala noozle was an immense depot, stuffed full of grain, provisions, ammunition boxes, ropes, wires, iron, medical stores and other material, like one of the great London docks. As usual the indefatigable Greek trader had adventured upon the scene. North of the fortified lines, with the help of the natives he had run up a mud town. It consisted of a double row of one-storeyed houses, between which ran a street of nearly 300 yards. The place, known as the bazaar, was a hive of stores, wretched cafes, and the like. As the Sirdar had had all the beer and liquor in the place seized and put under seal before the advent of Mr T. Atkins, there was little to be had in Dakhala bazaar besides a not too pure soda-water, coffee, sardines, beans, maccaroni, oil, tobacco and matches.
For six weeks southerly winds blew almost daily. South of 17 degrees, the northerly breeze does not commence to blow before the end of August. It was warm, extremely warm, under the burning tropical sun. The heat bore down like a load upon head and shoulders and enveloped us like a blast from a roaring furnace. About noontide it was ordinarily 120 degrees Fahr. in my tent. Still, I am sure it was by no means so oppressive as at Korti in March 1885. The Atbara and the Nile helped to temper the fiery glow that radiated from the desert rocks and sands. At best, the heat is a sore trial, but to be borne with more patience than the "devils" and sand storms that bother by night as well as by day. Snow-drifts are mild visitations of Providence compared with a dust storm or whirlwind. These latter would smother you, if you would let them, quicker and less respectably than a shroud of snow. Jack Frost bites mildly, preferring to do his serious work by dulling the nerves; but the Dust Devil is a cruel tormentor from first to last. You may bury your head in folds of cloth and mosquito netting, and sweat and stifle in the attempt, but he snuffs you and powders you all the same. He puffs his finest clouds in your face, and round and round you till you find bedding and clothing are no more protection against him than they are against the Roentgen ray. One particular night he came in great strength to Dakhala, heaped waves of sand over us, dug great hollows around our quarters, and completed his diabolical games by completely overturning two of my colleagues' tents. I saw my friends emerge from the ruins of canvas, bedding, and boxes, wild, half-clad, terra-cotta figures, such as may have escaped from the destruction of Pompeii. But the human mind is a curious thing. It does not acknowledge defeat easily, and so a victim said to me he had pulled his tent down to keep it from falling. The Dust Devil had nothing to do with it.
Early in August the situation assumed a peculiar interest to us of the fourth estate. We were told that the troops were shortly going forward to rendezvous at Nasri Island, whereas it was a matter of notoriety that Wad Habeshi, which was further south, had been selected as the advanced camp for the army on leaving Dakhala. Of course, not one word of the true state of matters were we permitted to wire home. Detachments, true enough, had been sent ahead to "cut wood" and set up a camp upon Nasri Island. But that was merely to have a secure secondary depot and hospital station. It had been ascertained after the occupation of Shendy that the dervishes were in no great strength at Shabluka or the Sixth Cataract. They occasionally sent down about a thousand Baggara horsemen to that place, and their riders scouted around the bluff rocks and hills bordering the Nile on either side of the "bab," or water-gateway and rapids of Shabluka. As a rule, only about two hundred of them ever crossed to the east bank. The others hung around on the west bank, and built low walls for riflemen and dug a number of trenches and then returned to Omdurman. A few hundred only remained to guard the forts and the narrow fairway. Much labour had been expended and considerable rude skill shown by the enemy in building bastions and other defensive works at various places on the river,—particularly in the Shabluka gorge and before Omdurman. Why the Khalifa committed the blunder of making no adequate preparation for defending the pass at Shabluka it is difficult to understand. Only one conclusion suggests itself. He was probably afraid to trust his followers so far from his sight, lest the negroes should desert. We continually heard from our own blacks that most of Abdullah's jehadieh Soudani riflemen would come over to us the first chance they got. Major-Generals Hunter and Gatacre, having learned that the dervish infantry had been withdrawn from Shabluka, scouted south up to the cataract and selected Wad Habeshi as a suitable camp and rendezvous. That village, or rather district, is on the west bank, south of Nasri Island and but fifteen miles north of Shabluka.
A big zereba was made at Wad Habeshi and trenches were dug. The place, in short, long before the British troops stirred south beyond Dakhala, was turned into a fortified post and made the real rendezvous of the Sirdar's army.
On 2nd August, in the face of a strong south wind, the 1st and 2nd Khedivial brigades, respectively Colonel Macdonald's and Colonel Maxwell's, embarked in very close order on steamers and giassas for Wad Habeshi. The distance was about 140 miles by water from Dakhala, but it took the gunboats and their tows over three days to get there, for the craft were deeply ladened with men and stores. The soupy whirling Nile flood washed the decks of the steamers almost from stem to stern. It was little short of the rarest good fortune there was no accident by the way. Everybody turned out to see the brigades off. Merrily stepped the black battalions, their women-folk raising the usual shrill cry of jubilation, whilst the bands played the favourite air, "O, dem Golden Slippers." Regimental bands do droll things occasionally. I remember in the year of the Dongola Campaign and the cholera visitation, 1896, a grim blunder made by a native battalion's band. The serious surroundings of those days led me to say nothing of the matter at that time. Military interments, in cholera cases, were ordinarily made very early in the morning or late in the afternoon, just before sunset. A popular native Egyptian officer fell a victim to the epidemic one afternoon. The sun had but set when the funeral party, headed by the full regimental band, were seen hastening towards the cemetery, for there was no time to lose. The tune actually being played was not the "Dead March in Saul" but "Up I came with my little lot." When the gunboats started up the Nile for Wad Habeshi, towing alongside barges and giassas, all the crafts crammed with men and stores, more than one of the fellaheen battalions were regaled with the full strains of "'E dunno were 'e are."
By the end of July the Egyptian cavalry—nine squadrons—under Colonel Broadwood, with the camel corps under Major Tudway, the horse artillery and one or two batteries, had been ferried across from Dakhala to the west bank. On the 4th of August the whole of the mounted force named, about 2000 strong, started to march along the bank to Wad Habeshi. Going along the bank means, at high Nile, leading the troops upon a course half to a full mile from the river so as to avoid creeks and overflows and, at same time, secure the advantage of moving upon the more open ground beyond the zone of cultivation, out upon the edge of the bare desert. It was also early in August that the last of the fourteen double-decked iron barges, designed for the conveyance of troops, was finished at Dakhala. Except the surplus and reserve stores everything was put to instant service. As good a march in its way, if not better in some respects than that of the 5th Egyptian battalion from Suakin to Berber, was the tramp of the 17th Egyptian—also a fellaheen regiment—from Merawi to Dakhala. They made a record rapid tramp, following the Nile, up to Dakhala.
At Dakhala I frequently saw and conversed with the Sirdar, Generals Rundle and Gatacre, Colonels Wingate and Slatin Pasha. There seemed no reason to doubt but that the Khalifa would remain at Omdurman and give us a fight. Abdullah the Taaisha gave out as widely as he could that he meant actual business and dying if necessary at the Mahdi's tomb. His women-folk had not then been sent away, and that looked promising for battle. We heard that he was building more stout walls and digging numberless trenches for defence. Of ammunition for small arms and his ordinary brass rifled guns we were told he had no lack. For the three or four excellent batteries of Krupps he possessed he had but sixty rounds per cannon—enough, with good common and shrapnel shell, had he made right use of his means, to have made matters unpleasant for us until our gunners and Maxims found the range. It was regarded as doubtful whether he would be able to employ any of the machine guns in the dervish armoury. Of all Gordon's "penny steamers" only one, it was said, was serviceable, and she was kept under steam night and day at Omdurman.
Though he kept a bold front, blustered, and promised his adherents no end of good things, and told them that, as in 1884-85, it was God's will to turn the English back at the eleventh hour, Khalifa Abdullah was truly in a parlous state. With all the Sirdar's care, we could not keep from the dervish leader the extent of our preparations or forwardness for the advance. As usual, Sir Herbert Kitchener was well ahead of the time planned for moving on. We learned that, bar unforeseen accidents and delays, the whole of his army would be in front of Omdurman in a little over one month from the 1st of August. Two dates in September were given for the fall of that stronghold. It turned out to be neither. Kordofan had become openly rebellious against the Khalifa. A caravan of over 1140 people, with women, children and cattle marching overland, had arrived from that remote region at Korti in the Dongola province. The multitude, who were accompanied by many influential sheikhs flying from Mahdist misrule, sent a deputation to the Sirdar asking his assistance to take and hold El Obeid. As if that were not enough in the way of shutting the door behind the Khalifa, sheikhs came down from the Blue Nile provinces, seeking protection. Help was given to them, and bodies of friendlies were got together to seize Senaar and other important places. The Nile was running very swift and full in August, the current moving at fully six miles an hour past Dakhala. In July the Atbara, which had again begun slowly to flow, suddenly rose, the muddy water roaring along in a series of terraced wave-walls. Its 300-yards wide bed, where it joined the Nile, was within a few minutes choked with the tawny flood up to nearly the top of the 30-foot banks on either side. Bursting into the Nile the sea of soup seemed to push its way in a well-defined stream nearly across the 1200-yards broad bosom of the Father of Waters.