'The sand of the desert is sodden red
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead'
This is a fascinating memoir of the early career of a prominent British soldier of the late 19th and early 20th century. It is made the more interesting because it concerns the actions of one of those odd types of unit that special and peculiar conditions occasionally create in armed forces—in this case the Guard's Camel Regiment. The author guides the reader through the fascinating and unique business of combining Guardsmen and camels before they together embark on the ill-fated campaign to rescue the beleaguered Gordon in Khartoum. This is a unique book which describes the desert march in vivid detail. What makes it essential is the description of the battle of Abu Klea from the perspective of one who fought within the famous 'broken square.’ This, together with riveting battle action at Abu Kru and other engagements makes for a classic account of the 'gentlemen in khaki' at war in the name of the Queen Empress. The text is liberally illustrated by the author. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.
The moment the skirmishers were in, a terrific fire began from the left and rear faces upon the Arabs, volleys rapidly merging into independent firing. I was with my company on the right front, and anxiously my men looked for something beyond a stray skirmishing nigger to shoot at. The camels inside the square obstructed all vision to the fighting flank, and we had already concluded that the fire of the Heavies and Mounted Infantry had swept back the Arabs, when suddenly a terrific shock was felt, accompanied by redoubled yells and firing. I found myself lifted off my legs amongst a surging mass of Heavies and Sussex, who had been carried back against the camels by the impetuous rush of the enemy. Telling the men to stand fast, I forced my way through the jam to see what had happened. Heavies, Sussex, and camels of all sorts were pressing with terrific force on our thin double rank, and it seemed every moment as if it must give; but it didn’t. <br>
On getting through to the other side of the press, a gruesome sight was seen. Immediately in front were swarms of Arabs, in desperate hand-to hand fight with our men, hacking, hewing, hamstringing, and yelling like a crowd of black devils on a ground literally piled up with dead and dying. On the right the Mounted Infantry were pouring in their fire with deadly effect, the niggers falling in hundreds. At my side Dr. Briggs, minus his helmet, his patients all killed or scattered, had drawn his sword, and was frantically endeavouring to rally the men near him. I shouted myself hoarse trying to get the men to aim carefully, but my voice was lost in the din. A rain of bullets whizzed dangerously close past my head from the rifles behind into the fighting mass in front. Numbers of the Arabs went down in that hail, and I fear several Englishmen too. <br>Everything depended on the front and right faces standing fast. And well did they stick to it. With the rear rank faced about, the men stubbornly withstood the pressure, and, do what they would, the Arabs could not break in the solid mass of men and camels.<br>
It was too hot to last. At length the enemy, almost annihilated, wavered, turned, and retreated sullenly, our men shooting them down in scores till they disappeared out of range over the hill-tops. Many of these brave fanatics turned and charged the square singly, being of course shot down long before they reached it. When we saw the Arabs in full retreat the General gave the word, and we raised cheer after cheer—a little attention evidently not appreciated by the enemy, many of whom turned and shook their fists at us. Oh, that we could have wheeled the front face up on the right of the Mounted Infantry and slated them a bit more! Hardly one of the enemy would have escaped.<br>
This, however, was not to be thought of; for we expected another immediate charge from the right, since certainly not all the enemy we had seen had taken part in the unsuccessful attack. Very soon there was a cry of “Close up! close up! they’re coming again!”