Monday, September 08, 2008

“The blunders of British cavalry are the fertile seed of British glory.."

Lest you all think it's a little quiet on Steve-the-Wargamers little space on the interweb, be assured that all is a total *hive* of activity in the crows nest that is my wargame space in the attic - in no particular order:

~ I have spent the weekend creating earthworks for the American War of Independence campaign game that DG and I will be playing soon - I've saved some pictures of the work in progress with the intent of sharing it here..

~ I'm also preparing the table and ground for the aforesaid game - I'll share that as well as I have something more concrete to show you...

~ Next weekend is Colours at Newbury - looking forward to it immensely and am already preparing my shopping list with a view to getting in touch with the manufacturers so that I can guarantee picking up what I want from them on the day..

~ I have a regiment of American Continentals under coated and awaiting a brush at some time in the near future - these are destined to become the Rhode Island Regiment. I still need to do a little cutting and filing as I need to turn one of them into a standard bearer, and I need an officer....

In addition to the above I've also just finished reading Steevens's "With Kitchener to Khartoum"; a quote from which forms the title of this post....

Steevens was an interesting man - a journalist, he was born in 1869, and went to university at Balliol College, Oxford (where he first started writing for university magazines). In 1893 he was elected a fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, but in the same year spent some time at Cambridge, editing a weekly periodical, the Cambridge Observer, and becoming a contributor to the National Observer. After he married he went to London, and joined the staff of the Pall Mall Gazette, contributing also to the New Review and Blackwood's Magazine. In 1896 he joined the staff of the London Daily Mail, (which had only just started), and went on various special missions for that paper.On the back of these journalism jobs he wrote a number of books - of specific interest to us being "With the Conquering Turk" (1897), "Egypt" in 1898, and this book in 1899.

In September 1899 he went to South Africa and joined Sir George White's force in Natal as war-correspondent, being subsequently besieged in Ladysmith. He died during the siege, of enteric fever (January 1900 - only 31!).

I'm reading the book of course because of my interest in the Sudan campaigns, and whilst the period is a little late for me (to my eyes the war had become a little mechanical and industrial by the time Kitchener got involved...I much prefer the earlier period - Suakin, Gordon relief expedition, etc.) the account of Kitchener's campaign to reconquer the Sudan and revenge the death of Gordon is a real boys own paper kind of a read.

The book begins with the background to the Sudan campaign - the rise of the Mahdi, Gordon, the state of the Egyptian Army, and the construction of the Sudan Military Railway. He then describes the main events of the campaign from from the start of the advance in February (1898), through the battle of the Atbara (with one exception the best part of the book*), the move on Khartoum culminating in the battle of Omdurman which brought the campaign to an end. Lots and lots of description of conditions in the Sudan (Omdurman sounds lovely..... not), as you would expect from a journalist.

Remember that he is writing at the turn of the century, and that the phraseology is "empire", so some of his turns of phrase may raise an eyebrow (he's quite jingoistic, and has a very paternal view of the Egyptian and Sudanese troops) but if you have an interest in the Colonial period, and the Sudan wars in particular, Steve-the-Wargamer says without equivocation, "get it if you can" - 7 or 8 out of 10.

* As a taster for his descriptive style of writing I offer the following description of the charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman - I sat there reading it, and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I challenge any wargamer not to want to go out and start putting a field force together after reading this!

“Knee to knee they swept on till they were but 200 yards from the enemy. Then suddenly — then in a flash—they saw the trap. Between them and the 300 there yawned suddenly a deep ravine; out of the ravine there sprang instantly a cloud of dark heads and a brandished lightning of swords, and a thunder of savage voices. Mahmud smiled when he heard the tale in prison at Haifa, and said it was their favourite stratagem. It had succeeded. Three thousand, if there was one, to a short four hundred; but it was too late to check now. Must go through with it now! The blunders of British cavalry are the fertile seed of British glory: knee to knee the Lancers whirled on. One hundred yards—fifty—knee to knee

“Slap!" It was just like that," said a captain, bringing his fist hard into his open palm. Through the swordsmen they shore without checking — and then came the khor. The colonel at their head, riding straight through everything without sword or revolver drawn, found his horse on its head, and the swords swooping about his own. He got the charger up again, and rode on straight, unarmed, through everything. The squadrons followed him down the fall. Horses plunged, blundered, recovered, fell; dervishes on the ground lay for the hamstringing cut; officers pistolled them in passing over, as one drops a stone into a bucket; troopers thrust till lances broke, then cut; everybody went on straight, through everything. And through everything clean out the other side they came — those that kept up or got up in time. The others were on the ground—in pieces by now, for the cruel swords shore through shoulder and thigh, and carved the dead into fillets. Twenty-four of these, and of those that came out over fifty had felt sword or bullet or spear. Few horses stayed behind among the swords, but nearly 130 were wounded. Lieutenant Robert Grenfell's troop came on a place with a jump out as well as a jump in; it lost officer, centre guide, and both flank guides, ten killed, and eleven wounded. Yet, when they burst straggling out, their only thought was to rally and go in again. "Rally, No. 2!" yelled a sergeant, so mangled across the face that his body was a cascade of blood, and nose and cheeks flapped hideously as he yelled. "Fall out, sergeant, you're wounded," said the subaltern of his troop. "No, no, sir; fall in!" came the hoarse answer; and the man reeled in his saddle. "Fall in, No. 2 ; fall in. Where are the devils? Show me the devils!" And No. 2 fell in—four whole men out of twenty.

They chafed and stamped and blasphemed to go through them again, though the colonel wisely forbade them to face the pit anew. There were gnashing of teeth and howls of speechless rage— things half theatrical, half brutal to tell of when blood has cooled, yet things to rejoice over, in that they show the fighting devil has not, after all, been civilised out of Britons. Also there are many and many deeds of self-abandoning heroism; of which tale the half will never be told. Take only one. Lieutenant de Montmorency missed his troop-sergeant, and rode back among the slashes to look for him. There he found the hacked body of Lieutenant Grenfell. He dismounted, and put it up on his horse, not seeing, in his heat, that life had drained out long since by a dozen channels. The horse bolted under the slackened muscles, and De Montmorency was left alone with his revolver and 3000 screaming fiends. Captain Kenna and Corporal Swarbrick rode out, caught his horse, and brought it back; the three answered the fire of the 3000 at fifty yards, and got quietly back to their own line untouched.”



  1. Cracking stuff! Mrs. Kinch's great uncle knew am Omdurman man who lived down the road.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Great Post! I'd love the Perries to do Sudan 1898!

  3. Sounds a good book, must get around to it one day.

    Can't wait to see the results of the campaign/battle.


  4. Steve,

    Yes, it is a cracking good read . . . but what strikes me is how few rules that I've read have cavalry "breaking through" their opponents.

    They might break (and pursue) the unit they're fighting . . . or bounce back . . . but not break through.

    Food for thought.

    -- Jeff