Winston Churchill: The River War X

    An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan (1902 edition)



Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
The town of Berber stands at a little distance from the Nile, on the right bank of a channel which is full only when the river is in flood. Between this occasional stream and the regular waterway there runs a long strip of rich alluvial soil, covered during the greater part of the year with the abundant crops which result from its annual submersion and the thick coating of Nile mud which it then receives. The situation of Berber is fixed by this fertile tract, and the houses stretch for more than seven miles along it and the channel by which it is caused. The town, as is usual on the Nile, is comparatively narrow, and in all its length it is only at one point broader than three-quarters of a mile. Two wide streets run longitudinally north and south from end to end, and from these many narrow twisting alleys lead to the desert or the river. The Berber of Egyptian days lies in ruins at the southern end of the main roads. The new town built by the Dervishes stands at the north. Both are foul and unhealthy; and if Old Berber is the more dilapidated, New Berber seemed to the British officers who visited it to be in a more active state of decay. The architectural style of both was similar. The houses were constructed by a simple method. A hole was dug in the ground. The excavated mud formed the walls of the building. The roof consisted of palm-leaves and thorn bushes. The hole became a convenient cesspool. Such was Berber, and this 'emporium of Soudan trade,' as it has been called by enthusiasts, contained at the time of its recapture by the Egyptian forces a miserable population of 5,000 males and 7,000 females, as destitute of property as their dwellings were of elegance.

The Egyptian garrison of Berber at first consisted only of the 350 men of the IXth Soudanese, and two companies of the Camel Corps, who arrived on the 16th of September, having marched across the desert from Merawi. But the proximity of Osman Digna at Adarama made it necessary speedily to strengthen the force.

During the latter part of September MacDonald's brigade, with the exception of half the 3rd Egyptians, was moved south from Abu Hamed, and by the end of the month the infantry in Berber were swollen to three and a half battalions. This was further increased on the 11th of October by the arrival of the XIIIth Soudanese and the remaining half of the 3rd Egyptians, and thereafter the place was held by five battalions (3rd, IXth, Xth, XIth, XIIIth), No. 2 Field Battery, and two companies of the Camel Corps. As all the Dervishes on the right bank of the Nile had fled to the south of the Atbara, it was found possible to establish a small advanced post of Camel Corps and friendly Arabs in the village of Dakhila, at the confluence of the rivers. From this humble beginning the Atbara fort with its great entrenchment was soon to develop.

The effect of the occupation of Berber upon the tribes around Suakin was decisive, and the whole country between these towns became at once tranquil and loyal. Osman Digna's influence was destroyed. The friendly villages were no longer raided. The Governor of the town became in reality, as well as in name, the Governor of the Red Sea Littoral. The route from Suakin to Berber was opened; and a Camel Corps patrol, several small caravans of traders, and a party of war correspondents—who might boast that they were the first Europeans to make the journey for thirteen years—passed safely along it.

It is now necessary to look to the enemy. Had the Khalifa allowed the Emir Mahmud to march north immediately after the destruction of the Dervish outpost in Abu Hamed, the course of the operations would have been very different. Mahmud would certainly have defended Berber with his whole army. The advance of the Expeditionary Force must have been delayed until the Desert Railway reached the river, and probably for another year. But, as the last chapter has described, the sudden seizure of Abu Hamed, the defection of the riverain tribes, and the appearance of the gunboats above the Fourth Cataract persuaded Abdullah that the climax of the war approached, and that he was about to be attacked in his capital. He accordingly devoted himself to his preparations for defence, and forbade his lieutenant to advance north of Metemma or attempt any offensive operations. In consequence Berber fell, and its fall convinced the Khalifa that his belief was well founded. He worked with redoubled energy. An elaborate system of forts armed with artillery was constructed outside the great wall of Omdurman along the river-bank. The concentration of Arab and black soldiery from Gedaref, Kordofan, and Darfur continued. Large quantities of grain, of camels and other supplies, were requisitioned from the people of the Ghezira (the country lying between the Blue and White Niles) and stored or stabled in the city. The discontent to which this arbitrary taxation gave rise was cured by a more arbitrary remedy. As many of the doubtful and embittered tribesmen as could be caught were collected in Omdurman, where they were compelled to drill regularly, and found it prudent to protest their loyalty. The strength and tenacity of the ruler were surprisingly displayed. The Khalifa Sherif, who had been suspected of sympathising with the Jaalin, was made a prisoner at large. The direst penalties attended the appearance of sedition. A close cordon around the city, and especially towards the north, prevented much information from reaching the Egyptian troops; and though small revolts broke out in Kordofan in consequence of the withdrawal of Mahmud's army, the Dervish Empire as a whole remained submissive, and the Khalifa was able to muster all its remaining force to meet the expected onslaught of his enemies.

During the first week in October the Sirdar decided to send the gunboats—which now plied, though with some difficulty, up and down the Fifth Cataract—to reconnoitre Metemma and discover the actual strength and position of Mahmud's army. On the 14th the Zafir, Fateh, and Naser steamed south from Berber, under Commander Keppel, each carrying, besides its ordinary native crew, fifty men of the IXth Soudanese and two British sergeants of Marine Artillery. Shortly after daybreak on the 16th the flotilla approached the enemy's position. So silently had they moved that a small Dervish outpost a few miles to the north of Shendi was surprised still sleeping, and the negligent guards, aroused by a splutter of firing from the Maxim guns, awoke to find three terrible machines close upon them. The gunboats pursued their way, and, disdaining a few shots which were fired from the ruins of Shendi, arrived, at about seven o'clock, within range of Metemma. The town itself stood more than a thousand yards from the Nile, but six substantial mud forts, armed with artillery, lined and defended the riverside. Creeping leisurely forward along the east bank, remote from the Dervish works, the flotilla came into action at a range of 4,000 yards. The fire was at first concentrated on the two northern forts, and the shells, striking the mud walls in rapid succession or bursting in the interior, soon enveloped them in dust and smoke. The Dervishes immediately replied, but the inferiority of their skill and weapons was marked, and, although their projectiles reached the flotilla, very few took effect. One shell, however, crashed through the deck of the Zafir, mortally wounding a Soudanese soldier, and two struck the Fateh. After the long-range bombardment had continued for about an hour the gunboats moved forward opposite to the enemy's position, and poured a heavy and continuous fire of shrapnel and double shell into all the forts, gradually subduing their resistance. The fugitives from the batteries, and small parties of Baggara horse who galloped about on the open plain between the works and the town, afforded good targets to the Maxims, and many were licked up even at extreme ranges.

No sooner had the gunboats passed the forts than the Dervish fire ceased entirely, and it was discovered that their embrasures only commanded the northern approach. As the guns could not be pointed to the southward, the flotilla need fear nothing from any fort that had been left behind. The officers were congratulating themselves on the folly of their foes, when danger threatened from another quarter. The boats had hugged the eastern bank as closely as possible during their duel with the forts. They were scarcely a hundred yards from the shore, when suddenly a sharp fire of musketry was opened from twenty or thirty Dervish rifle-men concealed in the mimosa scrub. The bullets pattered all over the decks, but while many recorded narrow escapes no one was actually hit, and the Maxim guns, revolving quickly on their pivots, took a bloody vengeance for the surprise. The flotilla then steamed slowly past the town, and, having thoroughly reconnoitred it, turned about and ran down stream, again exchanging shells with the Dervish artillery. All firing ceased at half-past two; but six sailing-boats containing grain were captured on the return voyage, and with these the gunboats retired in triumph to a small island six miles north of Metemma, where they remained for the night.

It being now known that bombarding the Dervishes was no less enjoyable than exciting, it was determined to spend another day with them; and at four o'clock the next morning the flotilla again steamed southward, so as to be in position opposite Metemma before daylight. Fire was opened on both sides with the dawn, and it was at once evident that the Dervishes had not been idle during the night. It appeared that on the previous day Mahmud had expected a land attack from the direction of Gakdul, and had placed part of his artillery and nearly all his army in position to resist it. But as soon as he was convinced that the gunboats were unsupported he moved several of the landward guns into the river forts, and even built two new works, so that on the 17th the Dervishes brought into action eleven guns, firing from eight small round forts. The gunboats, however, contented themselves with keeping at a range at which their superior weapons enabled them to strike without being struck, and so, while inflicting heavy loss on their enemies, sustained no injury themselves. After four hours' methodical and remorseless bombardment Commander Keppel considered the reconnaissance complete, and gave the order to retire down stream. The Dervish gunners, elated in spite of their losses by the spectacle of the retreating vessels, redoubled their fire, and continued hurling shell after shell in defiance down the river until their adversaries were far beyond their range. As the gunboats floated northward their officers, looking back towards Metemma, saw an even stranger scene than the impotent but exulting forts. During the morning a few flags and figures had been distinguished moving about the low range of sandhills near the town; and as soon as the retirement of the flotilla began, the whole of the Dervish army, at least 10,000 men, both horse and foot, and formed in an array more than a mile in length, marched triumphantly into view, singing, shouting, and waving their banners amid a great cloud of dust. It was their only victory.

The loss on the gunboats was limited to the single Soudanese soldier, who died of his wounds, and a few trifling damages. The Arab slaughter is variously estimated, one account rating it at 1,000 men; but half that number would probably be no exaggeration. The gunboats fired in the two days' bombardment 650 shells and several thousand rounds of Maxim-gun ammunition. They then returned to Berber, reporting fully on the enemy's position and army.

As soon as Berber had been strongly occupied by the Egyptian troops, Osman Digna realised that his position at Adarama was not only useless but very dangerous. Mahmud had long been imperiously summoning him to join the forces at Metemma; and although he hated the Kordofan general, and resented his superior authority, the wary and cunning Osman decided that in this case it would be convenient to obey and make a virtue of necessity. Accordingly about the same time that the gunboats were making their first reconnaissance and bombardment of Metemma, he withdrew with his two thousand Hadendoa from Adarama, moved along the left bank of the Atbara until the tongue of desert between the rivers became sufficiently narrow for it to be crossed in a day, and so made his way by easy stages to Shendi.

When the Sirdar heard of the evacuation of Adarama he immediately determined to assure himself of the fact, to reconnoitre the unmapped country in that region, and to destroy any property that Osman might have left behind him. On the 23rd of October, therefore, a flying column started from Berber under the command of General Hunter, and formed as follows: XIth Soudanese (Major Jackson), two guns, one company of the Camel Corps, and Abdel-Azim and 150 irregulars. Lightly equipped, and carrying the supplies on a train of 500 camels, the small force moved rapidly along the Nile and reached the post at the confluence on the 24th, and arrived at Adarama on the 29th, after a journey of eighty-four miles. The report that Osman Digna had returned to the Nile proved to be correct. His former headquarters were deserted, and although a patrol of sixty of the Camel Corps and the Arab irregulars scouted for forty miles further up the river, not a single Dervish was to be seen. Having thus collected a great deal of negative information, and delaying only to burn Adarama to the ground, the column returned to Berber.

It was now November. The Nile was falling fast, and an impassable rapid began to appear at Um Tiur, four miles north of the confluence. The Sirdar had a few days in which to make up his mind whether he would keep his gunboats on the upper or lower reach. As in the latter case their patrolling limits would have been restricted, and they would no longer have been able to watch the army at Metemma, he determined to leave them on the enemy's side of the obstruction. This involved the formation of a depot at Dakhila ['Atbara Fort'], where simple repairs could be executed and wood and other necessities stored. To guard this little dockyard half the 3rd Egyptian battalion was moved from Berber and posted in a small entrenchment. The other half-battalion followed in a few weeks. The post at the confluence was gradually growing into the great camp of a few months later.

A regular system of gunboat patrolling was established on the upper reach, and on the 1st of November the Zafir, Naser, and Metemma, under Commander Keppel, again steamed south to reconnoitre Mahmud's position. The next day they were joined by the Fateh, and on the 3rd the three larger boats ran the gauntlet of the forts. A brisk artillery duel ensued, but the Dervish aim was, as usual, erratic, and the vessels received no injury. It was observed that the position of the Dervish force was unchanged, but that three new forts had been constructed to the south of the town. The gunboats continued on their way and proceeded as far as Wad Habeshi. The Arab cavalry kept pace with them along the bank, ready to prevent any landing. Having seen all there was to be seen, the flotilla returned and again passed the batteries at Metemma. But this time they were not unscathed, and a shell struck the Fateh, slightly wounding three men.

No other incident enlivened the monotony of November. The Khalifa continued his defensive preparations. Mahmud remained motionless at Metemma; and although he repeatedly begged to be allowed to advance against the force near Berber he was steadily refused, and had to content himself with sending raiding parties along the left bank of the Nile, and collecting large stores of grain from all the villages within his reach. Meanwhile the railway was stretching further and further to the south, and the great strain which the sudden occupation of Berber had thrown upon the transport was to some extent relieved. The tranquillity which had followed the advance to Berber was as opportune as it was unexpected. The Sirdar, delighted that no evil consequences had followed his daring move, and finding that he was neither attacked nor harassed in any way, journeyed to Kassala to arrange the details of its retrocession.

The convenient situation of Kassala—almost equally distant from Omdurman, Berber, Suakin, Massowa, and Rosaires—and the fertility of the surrounding region raise it to the dignity of the most important place in the Eastern Soudan. The soil is rich; the climate, except in the rainy season, not unhealthy. A cool night breeze relieves the heat of the day, and the presence of abundant water at the depth of a few feet below the surface supplies the deficiency of a river. In the year 1883 the population is said to have numbered more than 60,000. The Egyptians considered the town of sufficient value to require a garrison of 3,900 soldiers. A cotton mill adequately fitted with machinery and a factory chimney gave promise of the future development of manufacture. A regular revenue attested the existence of trade. But disasters fell in heavy succession on the Eastern Soudan and blighted the prosperity of its mud metropolis. In 1885, after a long siege and a stubborn resistance, Kassala was taken by the Dervishes. The garrison were massacred, enslaved, or incorporated in the Mahdi's army. The town was plundered and the trade destroyed. For nearly ten years an Arab force occupied the ruins and a camp outside them. Kassala became a frontier post of the Dervish Empire. Its population perished or fled to the Italian territory. This situation might have remained unaltered until after the battle of Omdurman if the Dervishes had been content with the possession of Kassala. But in 1893 the Emir in command of the garrison, being anxious to distinguish himself, disobeyed the Khalifa's instructions to remain on the defensive and attacked the Europeans at Agordat. The Arab force of about 8,000 men were confronted by 2,300 Italian troops, protected by strong entrenchments, under Colonel Arimondi. After a fierce but hopeless attack the Dervishes were repulsed with a loss of 3,000 men, among whom was their rash leader. The engagement was, however, as disastrous to Italy as to the Khalifa. The fatal African policy of Signor Crispi received a decided impetus, and in the next year, agreeably to their aspirations in Abyssinia, the Italians under General Baratieri advanced from Agordat and captured Kassala. The occupation was provisionally recognised by Egypt without prejudice to her sovereign rights, and 900 Italian regulars and irregulars established themselves in a well-built fort. The severe defeat at Adowa in 1896, the disgrace of Baratieri, the destruction of his army, and the fall of the Crispi Cabinet rudely dispelled the African ambitions of Italy. Kassala became an encumbrance. Nor was that all. The Dervishes, encouraged by the victory of the Abyssinians, invested the fort, and the garrison were compelled to fight hard to hold what their countrymen were anxious to abandon. In these circumstances the Italian Government offered, at a convenient opportunity, to retrocede Kassala to Egypt. The offer was accepted, and an arrangement made. The advance of the Khedivial forces into the Dongola province relieved, as has been described, the pressure of the Dervish attacks. The Arabs occupied various small posts along the Atbara and in the neighbourhood of the town, and contented themselves with raiding. The Italians remained entirely on the defensive, waiting patiently for the moment when the fort could be handed over to the Egyptian troops.

The Sirdar had no difficulty in coming to a satisfactory arrangement with General Caneva, the Italian commander. The fort was to be occupied by an Egyptian force, the stores and armament to be purchased at a valuation, and a force of Italian Arab irregulars to be transferred to the Egyptian service. Sir H. Kitchener then returned to the Nile, where the situation had suddenly become acute. During November Colonel Parsons, the 16th Egyptian Battalion, and a few native gunners marched from Suakin, and on the 20th of December arrived at Kassala. The Italian irregulars—henceforth to be known as the Arab battalion—were at once despatched to the attack of the small Dervish posts at El Fasher and Asubri, and on the next day these places were surprised and taken with scarcely any loss. The Italian officers, although a little disgusted at the turn of events, treated the Egyptian representatives with the most perfect courtesy, and the formal transference of Kassala fort was arranged to take place on Christmas Day.

An imposing ceremonial was observed, and the scene itself was strange. The fort was oblong in plan, with mud ramparts and parapets pierced for musketry. Tents and stores filled the enclosure. In the middle stood the cotton factory. Its machinery had long since been destroyed, but the substantial building formed the central keep of the fort. The tall chimney had become a convenient look-out post. The lightning-conductor acted as a flagstaff. The ruins of the old town of Kassala lay brown and confused on the plain to the southward, and behind all rose the dark rugged spurs of the Abyssinian mountains. The flags of Egypt and of Italy were hoisted. The troops of both countries, drawn up in line, exchanged military compliments. Then the Egyptian guard marched across the drawbridge into the fort and relieved the Italian soldiers. The brass band of the 16th Battalion played appropriate airs. The Italian flag was lowered, and with a salute of twenty-one guns the retrocession of Kassala was complete.

Here, then, for a year we leave Colonel Parsons and his small force to swelter in the mud fort, to carry on a partisan warfare with the Dervish raiders, to look longingly towards Gedaref, and to nurse the hope that when Omdurman has fallen their opportunity will come. The reader, like the Sirdar, must return in a hurry to the Upper Nile.

Towards the end of November the Khalifa had begun to realise that the Turks did not mean to advance any further till the next flood of the river. He perceived that the troops remained near Berber, and that the railway was only a little way south of Abu Hamed. The blow still impended, but it was delayed. As soon as he had come to this conclusion, he no longer turned a deaf ear to Mahmud's solicitations. He knew that the falling Nile would restrict the movements of the gunboats. He knew that there were only 2,000 men in Berber—a mere handful. He did not realise the tremendous power of rapid concentration which the railway had given his enemies; and he began to think of offensive operations. But Mahmud should not go alone. The whole strength of the Dervish army should be exerted to drive back the invaders. All the troops in Omdurman were ordered north. A great camp was again formed near Kerreri. Thousands of camels were collected, and once more every preparation was made for a general advance. At the beginning of December he sent his own secretary to Mahmud to explain the plan, and to assure him of early reinforcements and supplies. Lastly, Abdullah preached a new Jehad, and it is remarkable that, while all former exhortations had been directed against 'the infidel'—i.e., those who did not believe in the Mahdi—his letters and sermons on this occasion summoned the tribes to destroy not the Egyptians but the Christians. The Khalifa had no doubts as to who inspired the movement which threatened him. There were at this time scarcely 150 Europeans in the Soudan; but they had made their presence felt.

The Sirdar was returning from Kassala when the rumours of an intended Dervish advance began to grow. Every scrap of information was assiduously collected by the Intelligence Department, but it was not until the 18th of December, just as he reached Wady Halfa, that the General received apparently certain news that the Khalifa, Mahmud, all the Emirs, and the whole army were about to march north. There can be no doubt that even this tardy movement of the enemy seriously threatened the success of the operations. If the Dervishes moved swiftly, it looked as if a very critical engagement would have to be fought to avoid a damaging retreat. Sir H. Kitchener's reply to the Khalifa's open intent was to order a general concentration of the available Egyptian army towards Berber, to telegraph to Lord Cromer asking for a British brigade, and to close the Suakin-Berber route.

The gunboat depot at the confluence, with only a half-battalion escort, was now in an extremely exposed position. The gunboats could not steam north, for the cataract four miles below the confluence was already impassable. Since they must remain on the enemy's side, so must their depot; and the depot must be held by a much stronger force. Although the Sirdar felt too weak to maintain himself even on the defensive without reinforcements, he was now compelled to push still further south. On the 22nd of December Lewis's brigade of four battalions and a battery were hurried along the Nile to its junction with the Atbara, and began busily entrenching themselves in a angle formed by the rivers. The Atbara fort sprang into existence.

Meanwhile the concentration was proceeding. All the troops in Dongola, with the exception of scanty garrisons in Merawi, Korti, and Debba, were massed at Berber. The infantry and guns, dropping down the river in boats, entrained at Kerma, were carried back to Halfa, then hustled across the invaluable Desert Railway, past Abu Hamed, and finally deposited at Railhead, which then (January 1) stood at Dakhesh. The whole journey by rail from Merawi to Dakhesh occupied four days, whereas General Hunter with his flying column had taken eight—a fact which proves that, in certain circumstances which Euclid could not have foreseen, two sides of a triangle are together shorter than the third side. The Egyptian cavalry at Merawi received their orders on the 25th of December, and the British officers hurried from their Christmas dinners to prepare for their long march across the bend of the Nile to Berber. Of the eight squadrons, three were pushed on to join Lewis's force at the position which will hereinafter be called 'the Atbara encampment,' or more familiarly 'the Atbara'; three swelled the gathering forces at Berber; and two remained for the present in the Dongola province, looking anxiously out towards Gakdul Wells and Metemma.

The War Office, who had been nervous about the situation in the Soudan since the hasty occupation of Berber, and who had a very lively recollection of the events of 1884 and 1885, lost no time in the despatch of British troops; and the speed with which a force, so suddenly called for, was concentrated shows the capacity for energy which may on occasion be developed even by our disjointed military organisation. The 1st Battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, of the Lincoln Regiment, and of the Cameron Highlanders were formed into a brigade and moved from Cairo into the Soudan. The 1st Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders was brought from Malta to Egypt, and held in immediate readiness to reinforce the troops at the front. Other battalions were sent to take the places of those moved south, so that the Army of Occupation was not diminished.

The officer selected for the command of the British brigade was a man of high character and ability. General Gatacre had already led a brigade in the Chitral expedition, and, serving under Sir Robert Low and Sir Bindon Blood had gained so good a reputation that after the storming of the Malakand Pass and the subsequent action in the plain of Khar it was thought desirable to transpose his brigade with that of General Kinloch, and send Gatacre forward to Chitral. From the mountains of the North-West Frontier the general was ordered to Bombay, and in a stubborn struggle with the bubonic plague, which was then at its height, he turned his attention from camps of war to camps of segregation. He left India, leaving behind him golden opinions, just before the outbreak of the great Frontier rising, and was appointed to a brigade at Aldershot. Thence we now find him hurried to the Soudan—a spare, middle-sized man, of great physical strength and energy, of marked capacity and unquestioned courage, but disturbed by a restless irritation, to which even the most inordinate activity afforded little relief, and which often left him the exhausted victim of his own vitality.

By the end of January a powerful force lay encamped along the river from Abu Hamed to the Atbara. Meanwhile the Dervishes made no forward movement. Their army was collected at Kerreri; supplies were plentiful; all preparations had been made. Yet they tarried. The burning question of the command had arisen. A dispute that was never settled ensued. When the whole army was regularly assembled, the Khalifa announced publicly that he would lead the faithful in person; but at the same time he arranged privately that many Emirs and notables should beg him not to expose his sacred person. After proper solicitation, therefore, he yielded to their appeals. Then he looked round for a subordinate. The Khalifa Ali-Wad-Helu presented himself. In the Soudan every advantage and honour accrues to the possessor of an army, and the rival chief saw a chance of regaining his lost power. This consideration was not, however, lost upon Abdullah. He accepted the offer with apparent delight, but he professed himself unable to spare any rifles for the army which Ali-Wad-Helu aspired to lead. 'Alas!' he cried, 'there are none. But that will make no difference to so famous a warrior.' Ali-Wad-Helu, however, considered that it would make a great deal of difference, and declined the command. Osman Sheikh-ed-Din offered to lead the army, if he might arm the riverain tribes and use them as auxiliaries to swell his force. This roused the disapproval of Yakub. Such a policy, he declared, was fatal. The riverain tribes were traitors—dogs—worthy only of being destroyed; and he enlarged upon the more refined methods by which his policy might be carried out. The squabble continued, until at last the Khalifa, despairing of any agreement, decided merely to reinforce Mahmud, and accordingly ordered the Emir Yunes to march to Metemma with about 5,000 men. But it was then discovered that Mahmud hated Yunes, and would have none of him. At this the Khalifa broke up his camp, and the Dervish army marched back for a second time, in vexation and disgust, to the city.

It seemed to those who were acquainted with the Dervish movements that all offensive operations on their part had been definitely abandoned. Even in the Intelligence Department it was believed that the break-up of the Kerreri camp was the end of the Khalifa's determination to move north. There would be a hot and uneventful summer, and with the flood Nile the expedition would begin its final advance. The news which was received on the 15th of February came as a great and pleasant surprise. Mahmud was crossing the Nile and proposed to advance on Berber without reinforcements of any kind. The Sirdar, highly satisfied at this astounding piece of good fortune, immediately began to mass his force nearer the confluence. On the 21st the British at Abu Dis were instructed to hold themselves in readiness. The Seaforths began their journey from Cairo, and the various battalions of the Egyptian army pressed forward towards Berber and Atbara fort. On the 25th, Mahmud being reported as having crossed to the right bank, the general concentration was ordered.

The River War by Winston Churchill | Project Scenewash | Project Gutenberg

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