WITH the exception of
movements of minor importance, the regiment remained in Edinburgh without
incident until the 21st July 1882, when the battalion received orders to be
held in immediate readiness for active service in the field, the destination
For long, affairs in that
country had been in a most unsatisfactory state. The authority of the
Khedive was being virtually set aside by the military party, led by Arabi
Pasha, who, under pretence of patriotic motives, was trying to gratify his
own ambition, and threatening to throw the country into a state of complete
anarchy. The continuance of good government being of the utmost importance
to England in view of monetary and other highly important considerations,
interference was deemed necessary. It would be out of place here to enter
into the details of political action at this time—suffice it to say that,
after various diplomatic proceedings which have now become matter of
history, a British fleet was despatched to Alexandria to enforce the Khedive’s
authority, and that, on the continued defiance of Arabi and his army,
aggravated by a relentless massacre of Europeans, the campaign known as the
Egyptian War was opened on July 11th, 1882, with the bombardment of the city
by the fleet. Among the troops subsequently despatched to follow up this
action was the 42nd, whose part in the campaign will now be traced.
The strength of the regiment
was as follows Officers 31, warrant officers 1, sergeants 48, drummers 21,
rank and file 701; total of all ranks, 802, which was made up partly by the
reserves of 1881 and 1882, who contributed 188 men—the remainder of the
battalion and reserves going to the 2nd battalion with Captains Moubray and
Munroe. The regiment marched out of Edinburgh on the evening of the 7th of
August, and proceeded by train to the Albert Docks, Woolwich, where it
embarked on the s.s. "Nepaul" on the morning of the 8th of August,
after having been inspected by His Royal Highness the Field-Marshal
Commanding-in-Chief. The officers were as follows, viz. :—Colonel Duncan
Macpherson, C.B., commanding; Lieut.-Col. W. Green, Major R. K. Bayly, Major
A. F. Kidston, Major Walker Aitken, Major J. S. Walker, Captain R. C. Coveny,
Captain G. M. Fox, Captain C. J. Eden, Captain A. G. Wauchope, C. M. G.,
Captain N. W. P. Brophy, Lieut. Edward Lee, Adjutant; Lieut. H. F. Elliot,
Lieut. Lord A. Kennedy, Lieut. E. P. Campbell, Lieut. A. G. Duff,
Lieut. Norman M’Leod, Lieut. T. F. A. Kennedy (regimental transport
officer), Lieut. F. L. Speid, Lieut. J. A. Park, Lieut. G. S. A. Harvey,
Lieut. J. N. E. F. Livingston, 2d battalion; Lieut. J. G. Maxwell, Lieut. T.
J. Graham Stirling, Lieut. James Home, Lieut. C. P. Livingstone, Lieut. K.
M. N. Cox, Lient. J. G. M’Neill, Quartermaster John Forbes, Surgeon-Major
C. T. Pollock, AMP.; Paymaster W. R. Thornhull (Captain), A. P. D.
The regiment sailed from
Gravesend on the morning of the 9th inst., and on the 20th of August 1882
arrived in Alexandria harbour, where it disembarked, proceeding by train to
Ramleh, and there joining the Highland Brigade under Major-General Sir
Archibald Alison, K.C.B. This now consisted of the 1st battalion Black
Watch, 2d battalion Highland Light Infantry, 1st Gordon Highlanders, and
Cameron Highlanders—Lieut. -General Hamley commanding the whole division.
At Ramleh it remained under canvas until the 30th August, when the Highland
Brigade was re-embarked—the 1st battalion Black Watch on board the s.s.
"Nepaul,"—and proceeded to Port Said and through the Canal to
Ismailia, which was reached on the evening of the 1st September. This
movement was rendered necessary by the operations for the captuer of Cairo,
for the success of which it was important to obtain possession of Zagazig—
some 45 miles west of Ismailia—which is the key of the railway system in
Egypt, and also commands the great fresh water canal supplying all the
stations along the railway from Suez to Zagazig and along the southern
portion of the Suez Canal. Arabi Pasha, recognising the importance of the
position, and having adopted Todleben’s principle of advancing his works
against the attacking forces, had pushed forward from Zagazig to Tel-el-Kebir
(the great mound), 15 miles to the east, and there formed a strong,
fortified camp, consisting of a line of solid intrenchments bound together
with wattles, extending about 3½ miles from flank to flank, with, at
intervals, bastions mounting guns. The parapet was 4 feet high, and in front
was a ditch 6 feet wide and 4 deep, while some of the interior defences had
ditches 10 feet deep. Behind this, on the south, another line of works
turned off almost at right angles, extending backwards towards Arabi’s
The capture of this
formidable position was the first important step in the campaign, and the
part taken therein by the 42nd and the other regiments forming the Highland
Brigade is now our immediate concern. Lieut.-General Sir Garnet Wolseley,
the Commander-in-Chief of the expedition, having disguised his real plans by
a concentration of his forces at Alexandria for a pretended attack on the
forts at Aboukir, which were held in Arabi’s interest, suddenly and
rapidly changed his base of operations to Ismailia, near the middle of the
Suez Canal; and by the time the Highland Brigade—after waiting eight days
at Ismailia for the arrival of stores, &c.— landed on the evening of
the 9th September, part of the British forces were firmly established—though
not without some stubborn fighting, both at El Magfa and at Kassassin itself—at
Kassassin lock on the fresh water canal, about 21 miles west of Ismailia;
and here the forces were concentrated for the advance on the lines of
The Black Watch charging the Intrenchments at Tel-el-Kebir
But little rest was granted to the
Highlanders, as time was of the utmost importance. On the night of their
landing they pushed across the desert to El Magfa, and, hard work as it was,
"but very few fell out, and a little tea on arriving at the camping
ground made the men comfortable, as they felt so done up that none cared to
touch the biscuit, of which every one carried two days’ supply, but gladly
lying down, with their haversacks for pillows, they turned their faces to
the stars, and slept the sleep of the weary. After a short early march on
the 10th (to Tel-Mahuta), they rested through the heat of the day,
improvising shelter from the sun by hanging blankets across their rifles and
bayonets, setting out again in the evening, and reaching Kassassin the
On the evening of the 12th September, the
tents of the Kassassin camp were struck at nightfall, and the attacking
forces moved forward into the desert, to bivouac for a short time, and then
to start at such an hour as would bring them to the enemy’s lines at the
proper time for attack—namely about daybreak. The Highland Brigade, 3000
strong, formed the left hand front portion of the attacking force, and was
so placed as to be about 1000 yards in advance of the right hand portion.
The formation was in column of half-battalions in double companies, with the
Black Watch on the right; and the march began with distances of 40 to 50
yards between half-battalions, and of 150 to 200 yards between regiments;
"but," says Lieut.General Sir E. B. Hamley, "as it was most
desirable that the men should march at ease, these intervals almost
disappeared, and the brigade presented practically the appearance of two
almost continuous lines, one about 50 yards behind the other, and occupying
a front of about half a mile." At half-past one A.M. the bivouac was
broken up, and, almost immediately after, the advance began—all that was
known of the enemy’s works being that they were about five miles distant,
and that they would be reached just at dawn. The Highland Brigade moved
parallel to the railway and fresh water canal, and at a distance from them
of about 2000 yards, and was guided in its westward march by Lieutenant
Wyatt Rawson, RN., who rode opposite the centre of the brigade, and kept his
course by the stars. Only one brief incident marked the march, when, on a
short halt being called, the right and left wings advanced after the centre
stopped, and, swinging round, "absolutely faced each other at a
distance of some fifty yards." Had either mistaken the other for a body
of Egyptians, the result might have been serious; but the error was at once
discovered and rectified. About a quarter before five on the morning of the
13th, just as signs of daybreak began to appear, a few scattered shots, the
sound of a bugle in front, and a dark line looming above the sandhills,
showed that the time had come. The order was at once given, "Fix
bayonets !" and just as this was done the whole line of intrenchment in
front was lit up by a blaze of rifle-fire. The order was to attack with the
bayonet without firing, and "at the magic word ‘Charge!’ the whole
brigade sprang to its feet and rushed straight at the blazing line."
The distance to be traversed was only some 150 yards, but in that short
space nearly 200 men fell. The point attacked by the Highlanders was almost
in the centre of the enemy’s line, and, occupying the highest ground, was,
with the bastions on either side, the key to the whole position. Bearing the
entire brunt of the earlier portion of the assault—for it attacked just
before daybreak, while the right-hand portion of the attacking force was
still over 1200 yards distant—and exposed to a heavy fire from almost
overwhelming masses of Arabi’s troops, the brigade suffered a momentary
check; but General Hamley met this by pushing forward some small bodies he
had kept in reserve at the ditch, and on the arrival of the 60th and 46th
regiments—which formed the reserve behind the Highland Brigade—he
advanced with the whole body against the lines of intrenchment already
mentioned as leading back towards Arabi’s camp. "Up the bank,"
says one of the Black Watch, "we went, and it was full of men, and they
turned on us like rats in a trap; but the infantry did not stand long.
However, honour to whom honour is due— the artillerymen stood to their
guns like men, and we had to bayonet them. .As soon as that job was done, I
saw two regiments of cavalry forming up on the right. ‘Prepare for cavalry’
was given, and in less time than it takes to write this we formed in a
square, and were waiting for them; but when they saw this they wheeled to
the right-about and off; they would not face a square of Scottish
steel." The fighting was indeed over, and all that remained for the
Highlanders to do was to occupy Arabi’s camp and capture the railway
station. They "had done their work; they had secured a number of
trains, the engines only escaping; had captured the immense commissariat
stores and thousands of camels; and by seven o’clock had sat down
comfortably to breakfast on the scene of the victory." The assault
began at five minutes to five, the station was captured at half-past six,
and at seven the whole brigade was again in order. "Thus," says
General Hamley, "in that interval of time, the Highland Brigade had
broken, under a tremendous fire, into the middle of the enemy’s
intrenchments; had maintained itself there in an arduous and dubious
conflict for twenty minutes; had then captured two miles of works and
batteries, piercing the enemy’s centre, and loosening their whole system
of defence; and had finished by taking the camp and the railway trains, and
again assembling ready for any further enterprise. No doubt these troops
were somewhat elated—perhaps even fancied that they had done something
worthy of particular note and remembrance. And, in fact, the Scottish people
may be satisfied with the bearing of those who represented them in the land
of the Pharaohs."
The total loss of the second
division was 258 killed and wounded—a large number as compared with the
casualties among the other troops engaged. The losses of the Black Watch
Killed—Lieut. T. J. Graham
Stirling, Lieut. J. G. M’Neill, Sergeant-Major J. M’Neil. Died of wounds—Lieut.
J. A. Park; 5 privates killed. Wounded—3 captains, S lieutenants, 4
sergeants, 33 sank and file. Lieut. Park survived his wound souse three
On the afternoon of the same
day the regiment proceeded by train to within a few miles of Zagazig,
reaching that place on the morning of the 14th September, and Belbeis, an
important junction on the edge of the Desert, that same evening. There the
regiment remained without tents until the 23d September, when it proceeded
by train to Camp Ghezireh near Cairo, and was again quartered with the
A gracious message was sent
by the Queen congratulating the army on its victory, and at the same time
the Commander-in-Chief in Egypt published a General Order congratulating the
army on its success against the enemy all through the campaign;....
"and finally on the 13th
September at Tel-el-Kebir, when after an arduous night-march it inflicted
upon him an overwhelming defeat, taking his strongly entrenched, position at
the point of the bayonet, and capturing all his guns, about 60 in number. In
recapitulating the events which marked this short and decisive campaign, the
General Commanding-in-Chief feels proud to place upon record the fact that
these brilliant achievements are to be ascribed to the high military courage
and noble devotion to duty which have animated all ranks under his command,
called upon to show discipline under exceptional privations, to give proof
of fortitude in extreme toil, and to show contempt of danger in battle.
"The general officers,
officers, non-commissioned officers, and soldiers of the army have responded
with zealous alacrity, adding another chapter to the long roll of British
"This order to be read
at the head of every regiment on three successive parades."
On the 30th of September the
regiment took part in a great review of the British army quartered in Cairo,
when the army corps marched past before H. H. the Khedive of Egypt, and the
Black Watch had the honour of receiving the second cheer of the day, the
first having been given to the Naval Brigade.
On the 6th of October,
Lieut.-General Sir E. Hamley bade farewell to the Highland Brigade in the
following words, which were, by his order, read at a parade of each regiment
—" Lieut.-General Sir E. Hamley wishes to assure the Highland Brigade
that there is no point in his military life to which he will look back with
so much satisfaction and pride, as to the day when he had the good fortune
to be the leader of the 2d division at the battle of Tel-el-Kebir."
Except the sending of a
company for three days to Tel-el-Kebir to bury the dead, and the reception
of a draft from Cyprus, consisting of 4 sergeants, 5 corporals, 2 drummers,
and 140 privates—under Captain Moubray, with Lieuts. Silver and
Moulton-Barrett of the 2d battalion—nothing of importance occurred till
the 21st October, when Sir Archibald Alison paraded the Highland Brigade,
and after addressing them on parade, issued the following Brigade Morning
"Major-General Sir A.
Alison cannot quit the Highland Brigade without expressing his sincere
thanks to the officers commanding regiments for the assistance and support
which he has uniformly received from them, and to the officers,
non-commissioned officers, and men for the admirable conduct in quarters,
and their brilliant gallantry in the field, during the brief but stirring
period of his command. The campaign which has just closed is one which will
not soon be forgotten in the annals of European war, and the Highland
Brigade was fortunate enough to be permitted to take a distinguished part in
it. He does not think he will be accused of partiality when he says that the
steadiness of the Brigade throughout the night march, and the determined
courage shown in the storming of the works of Telel-Kebir, is not unworthy
as a deed of arms of the descendants of that historical brigade which Sir
Colin Campbell led up the slopes of Alma."
On the same day Major-General
Graham assumed command of the Brigade.
For the campaign the
following officers, non-commissioned officers, and privates were recommended
for distinguished conduct in the field :—Colonel D. Macpherson, C.B.,
Lieut.-Colonel W. Green, Major R. Coveny, Captain G. Fox, Colour-Sergeant J.
Young, Colour-Sergt. T. Watt, Private W. M’Donald; and the following
officers received their promotion: Major R. Coveny to be Brevet
Lieut.Colonel, and Lieut. and Quartermaster Forbes to be Captain; and the
following decorations were bestowed by H.H. the Khedive: Colonel Duncan
Macpherson, C.B., the 3d class of the Medjidieh; Lieut.-Colonel W. Green,
4th class of Osmanlie; Lieut.-Col. R. K. Bayly, 4th class of Osmanlie; and
Major A. F. Kidston, 4th class of Osmanlie.
On 21st November 1882, the
regiment broke up camp at Ghezireh and proceeded to take up its quarters at
On 1st December, by Her
Majesty’s special command, the following General Order was published:-
Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief has received the Queen’s command to
convey to General Sir Garnet J. Wolseley, G. C. B., K.C.M.G., &c., and
the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of all the branches of the
Expeditionary Forces, Her Majesty’s admiration of their conduct during the
recent campaign, in which she has great satisfaction in feeling that her
son, Major-General H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, took an
"The troops of all
ranks, in the face of obstacles of no ordinary character, have shown a
marked devotion to duty. For a time without shelter, in the desert under a
burning sun, in a climate proverbially adverse to Europeans, their courage
and discipline were nobly maintained throughout; and to this, under brave
and experienced leaders, may be attributed the success which has
distinguished this campaign.
‘‘The defeat of the enemy
in every engagement, including the brilliant cavalry charge of Kassassin,
culminated in the action of Tel-el-Kebir, in which, after an arduous
night-march, his position was carried at the point of the bayonet, his guns
were captured, and his whole army, notwithstanding his great numerical
superiority, was completely dispersed."
On 12th December, Colonel
Duncan Macpherson, C.B., whose term of command had expired, handed over the
charge of the regiment to Lieut.-Col. W. Green. Colonel Macpherson, on
leaving the regiment, stated in Regimental Orders:-
"that he could not leave
the regiment without expressing his deep sorrow at relinquishing his
position as commanding officer of a regiment any officer would be as proud
as he is of having command. His greatest wish as a subaltern was that one
day he might succeed to the command of the regiment with which he has been
connected for years ; and he is proud to say that his wish has been
accomplished, having had the honour to command the regiment in two
campaigns, the last of which has added another page to the glorious history
of the Black Watch. To Lieut.-Col. Green, Lieut.-Col. Bayly, and the
officers of the regiment generally, he begs to tender his best thanks for
the cordial support he has received from them in maintaining discipline and
the high character the regiment has always borne. To Lieut. Lee his special
thanks are due for his unwearied zeal displayed in performing the arduous
duties of adjutant. He also begs to tender his best thanks to Captain
Forbes, quartermaster, whose excellent services deserve his highest
"To the late Sergt.-Major
M’Neil, who fell at Tel-el-Kebir nobly doing his duty, his thanks would
have been conveyed had he survived ; to the present Sergt.-major and
non-commissioned officers he, in bidding them farewell, thanks them one and
all for their uniform good behaviour and gallantry.
"To the rank and file he
begs to say that he hopes they will continue to have the same exprit de
corps which has earned the approbation of H. R. H. the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, and of the various
generals under whom they have served and carried the colours of the Black
Watch to victory."
The Egyptian medals for the campaign of 1882 were
presented to the men by the Lieut.Colonel Commanding on 26th February;
Lieut.-General Sir Archibald Alison, who had been requested to present them,
being unable to undertake the duty. The following is an extract taken from
his reply to Lieut.-Colonel Green:-
"There is no regiment in the army to which I would
present medals with such sincere pleasure as the Black Watch. In two
campaigns they have been in my brigade, and I have been with them in three
actions. I am
sorry to say, however, that my doctor gives me no hope of being able to name
any time when I could do so."
The gratuity for the Egyptian campaign of 1882 was issued
to the men on 22cl March, sergeants receiving from £8 to £4, corporals
from £3, privates from £2.
On 13th April, grey serge frocks became the marching and
walking out dress of the battalion in Egypt; and on the 16th, F company,
under Major Aitken, was sent on detachment duty to Ismailia, which place it
left for Port Said on 15th May.
Except for a brief period, the Black Watch continued till
the 14th February 1884 to form part of the Army of Occupation at Cairo, and
shared in the praises bestowed on it by both H.E. the Earl of Dufferin and
Lieut.-General Sir A. Alison. The former, in a letter addressed to the
Lieut.-General Commanding at Cairo, said:-
"Before quitting Egypt, there is one more duty
I feel it incumbent upon me to perform,
namely, to acquaint you with the pride and satisfaction with which I
have observed the bearing of the officers and men of the British Army of
Occupation in Cairo during the last six months. Their sobriety and
unobtrusive and orderly behaviour, and the good humoured and friendly manner
in which they treat the natives, has done more than anything else to
convince the Egyptian people of the amicable feelings with which we were
actuated towards them. If it were not too presumptuous a request, I should
be very much obliged if you would make known to the officers and men under
your distinguished command the deep sense of obligation which I feel toward
Lieut.-General Sir A. Alison, K.C.B., relinquished the
command of the troops in Egypt on 13th May, and published the following
"The Lieut.-General Commanding cannot quit Egypt
without tendering his best thanks to the Generals commanding brigades, to
the officers of the staff and departments, to the officers commanding
regiments and corps, and to all the officers serving under their orders, for
the ready support he has uniformly received from them; to the
non-commissioned officers and men for their admirable conduct during this,
the first period of the occupation, a conduct which has called forth from
Lord Dufferin those graceful and generous words of commendation which have
appeared in a recent General Order.
"The Lieut. -General feels proud at having had under him
such a body of officers and men, and he will ever look upon his command in
Egypt as one of the happiest periods of his life.
"In handing over the command to his successor the
Lieut. -General hopes that the same good conduct and kindly feeling towards
the natives which have distinguished our Army of Occupation will continue
undiminished. He wishes all health and happiness to the troops to whom he now bids farewell.’
But few incidents of importance marked the period of the
stay at Cairo. On the 18th May the regiment had to mourn the loss of Captain
and Adjutant E. Lee, who died of typhoid fever. On the 24th of May, on the
occasion of the review in Mehemet Ali Square in honour of Her Majesty’s
birthday, the Royal Highlanders trooped the Queen’s colour, and in the
following terms the Major-General Commanding, Sir Gerald Graham, V.C., K.C.B.,
expressed by letter to the commanding officer his satisfaction at the way in
which the ceremony had been performed by the Battalion.
"The steadiness of the Battalion throughout was all
that could be desired, and reflects great credit on all ranks."
On the 29th May Lieut.-General Stephenson, C.B.,—who
had assumed command of the troops in Egypt on his arrival at Cairo on the
26th,—inspected the Battalion on its private parade, and on the following
day expressed to the commanding officer his approval of the smart and clean
appearance of the regiment on parade, and the cleanliness and order of the
Cholera having broken out at Cairo on the 15th
July, the whole regiment was moved to Suez on the 20th, except G
company under Captain Eden, which went to a cholera camp at Heluan
on the 23d, leaving at Cairo one sergeant and eight rank and file.
At Suez the regiment formed a cholera camp, in which it remained
till the 16th August, when it proceeded to Geneffe by half
Battalions, and remained in camp there until 3d September, thereafter
returning to its quarters in Kasr-el-Nil, Cairo, where it was rejoined by F
and G companies under Major Aitken and Captain Eden from Port Said and
On the 7th January the Annual
Inspection of the regiment by Major-General Sir Gerald Graham, V.C., K.C.B.,
commanding the Brigade, took place; and on the 13th February, by Local
General Orders of that date, the regiment was ordered to hold itself in
immediate readiness to proceed to Suakim as part of a field force under
Major-General Sir Gerald Graham, V.C., K.C.B., which was to operate in the
Eastern Soudan, such an expedition being deemed necessary for the relief of
a number of Egyptian garrisons beset by Soudanese tribes who had rebelled
against the Egyptian Government.
On 14th February the regiment
paraded at 6 A.M. in marching order, all present, and proceeded to Suez,
where it embarked on board H.M.S. "Orontes" for Suakim. On
arriving off that port, orders were given to proceed on shipboard to
Trinkitat, which was reached on the 19th, the disembarkation taking place on
the 21st, late in the evening. The regimental transport, under Lieut. T. F.
Kennedy, which had been sent from Suez in the s.s. "Neiera," was
delayed by that vessel running aground 20 miles off Suakim, but, after
transference to H.M.S. "Hecla," reached Trinkitat in safety on the
On the 29th February, at
about 8.30 AM., the Force proceeded to the relief of Tokar in the following
order of march, which was also to be that of battle:-
Order of March.—lst Brigade,
under Major-General Sir R. Buller, V.C., C.B., K.C.M.G.
The 1st Gordon Highlanders,
when halted, in line; when advancing, in column of companies.
The 2d Battalion Royal Irish
Fusileers, forming the right face of the square at a distance of twenty-five
yards from the right of the Gordon Highlanders, in open column of companies.
The 3d Battalion King’s
Royal Rifles, in open column of companies, in rear of the right of the
Gordon Highlanders, twenty-five paces to the left of the Royal Irish
2d Brigade, under
Major-General J. Davis.
The 1st Battalion York and
Lancaster Regiment forming left face of the square on the left flank of the
Gordon Highlanders, at twenty-five yards interval, in open column of
The Royal Marines, in open
column of companies, twenty-five yards to the right of the York and
The 1st Battalion The Black
Watch in line, when halted forming rear face, and twenty-five yards to the
rear of the right and left faces of the square; on the march advancing in
The Naval Brigade in two
detachments of three guns each; the right detachment on the right of the
Gordon Highlanders, the left detachment on the left of the Gordon
The Royal Artillery, in two
half-batteries. Three guns in rear of the King’s Royal Rifles; four guns
in rear of the Royal Marines.
The Royal Engineers
detachment in rear of the Gordon Highlanders.
The Cavalry Brigade, under
Colonel H. Stewart, C.B., in rear, and placed so as to avoid masking the
infantry fire, with the exception of two squadrons covering the advance of
At 11 A.M. the enemy were
observed drawn up in position, covering the wells of El Teb, and parallel to
the line of advance on Tokar, and about 11.15 A.M. their guns opened on the
British square, which was in the act of marching past the enemy’s left
flank at some six or seven hundred yards’ distance, with the object of
turning his position. Though this fire rapidly took effect, the march was
continued in silence until the square was opposite the enemy’s left flank,
on which the attack was to be delivered, the original left side of the
square being now the front. The British guns then opened, and about 11.45
A.M. the two-gun battery on which the enemy’s left rested was captured. A
further change of direction converted the original rear of the square into
its front, and thus the Black Watch and the York and Lancaster Regiment bore
the brunt of the Arab charges. To the former fell the main attack on the
right and centre of the enemy’s position, just where his chief strength
lay, for it was protected by skilfully-constructed rifle-pits, defended by
resolute men, ready to die rather than give way.
The struggle was a fierce
one, nor were the pits carried until all their gallant defenders had been
shot down. Many brave deeds were done, and for one such act of cool and
daring courage, Lieut. Norman M’Leod was recommended by the Commanding
Officer for the Victoria Cross. That night the regiment, with the rest of
the force, bivouacked on the field of battle.
The casualties were Killed or
died of wounds —4 privates. Wounded—4 sergeants, 1 corporal, 17
privates, Lieut. N. M’Leod, Lieut. Wolrige Gordon.
On the following day the
force proceeded to Tokar, six companies of the regiment remaining in
garrison at El Teb under Lieut. -Col. Green. The remainder, under Lieut.
-Col. Bayly, accompanied the force, and before they marched off the
Major-General Commanding addressed these two companies, speaking in the
highest terms of approbation of the gallant conduct of the regiment when in
action on the previous day.
On the 2d March the
detachment under Lieut.-Colonel Bayly returned to Headquarters, and on the
4th, the regiment returned to its camp at Trinkitat. On the 6th it embarked
on the s.s. "Teddington," and returned to Suakim, which was
reached on the 7th, and there the regiment remained till the 10th, when, new
operations having become necessary, it marched to Baker’s Zareba, and was
joined there by the rest of the expeditionary force on the 11th.
On 12th March, about 1 P.M.,
the whole force, with the exception of one company 1st Battalion Black
Watch, under Major Kidston, which remained to guard the post, marched some
six miles inland, encamping that evening at No. 2 Zareba, in close proximity
to the enemy, who, during the night, opened an irritating fire on the
square, and kept it up, with little intermission, until daylight. This fire,
though excessively annoying, was not replied to, and did very little harm.
The force to be engaged in
the coming battle of Tamaai was the same as that which fought at El Teb; but
on this occasion each brigade was to form a separate square, and these were
to advance in echelon, with an interval of 300 yards—the 2d Brigade
leading; and Major-General Sir Gerald Graham, Commanding the Forces,
accompanied the leading square. Part of the front and the left side of the
square was formed by the Black Watch; the rest of the front and the right
side by the York and Lancaster Regiment; and the rear by the Royal Marines.
The Naval Brigade, with their Gatling and Gardner guns, occupied the centre
of the front.
Immediately after the advance
commenced, the enemy opened a well-sustained fire from a ravine about 900
yards in front, and the mounted infantry, who had been covering the front,
retired. When about 150 yards from the ravine, Major-General Sir Gerald
Graham, who was in the 2d Brigade square, and riding alongside the officer
commanding the Black Watch, ordered him to charge, an order which was
promptly obeyed. The enemy at once disappeared from the front, and when
within a few paces of the ravine, Lieut.-Col. Green halted the battalion,
wheeled the companies on the left flank into line, and had the whole
regiment carefully dressed, there being no enemy before them to prevent
this. The officers were then ordered to the front to keep down unnecessary
When the order was given to
the officer commanding the Black Watch to charge, no such order was conveyed
to the other officers commanding corps forming the square, and the result
was, that when the Black Watch charged, the York and Lancaster Regiment of
their own accord, and without orders, hurried their pace to keep up, which,
as a matter of course, they were imperfectly able to do. The consequence
was, that when the square halted, there were gaps in front. The enemy, keen
to remark a blunder, saw their chance, and attacked where the gaps were to
be seen. So soon as the attack had been developed, D Company (Captain
Stephenson) of the Black Watch was brought up at right angles to the front
face, and thence opened a very effective fire on the enemy, until the Naval
Brigade were able to bring their Gatlings and Gardners into action, when the
company was brought back into its place in the square. The morning being
dull, the smoke of the machine guns hung about so heavily that it was
impossible to see across the square what was going on. Presently a shout was
heard, and it was observed that the enemy had broken into the square, and
were rushing in great numbers to attack the Black Watch in rear. The
commanding officer had hardly time to turn the battalion about, when a
desperate struggle commenced. Nothing could have exceeded the bravery and
cool discipline of all ranks, and although many were young soldiers, with
their rifles loaded, they obeyed orders, and fought only with the bayonet,
readily realising how dangerous it would be for their comrades, and the men
of the York and Lancaster Regiment, many of whom had been forced back
fighting, if they fired.
The four companies of the
regiment forming part of the original front face of the square were now
compelled to retire. Attacked on all sides, they got into clusters
contesting every inch of ground, and supported to some extent by the three
companies on the left side, who, in retiring to their left rear, were able
to show a better front; and thus gradually the regiment was able to reform.
The Gatlings, however, had for the moment to be left in the hands of the
enemy, but the sailors manning them had, before retiring, rendered them
useless. The 1st Brigade, however, moved up steadily, and as soon as
protected by its fire, Davis’s Brigade rallied, and, advancing again in
good order, the guns were in a very few minutes recaptured. The loss of
officers and noncommissioned officers was, however, heavy. "When a
square is pierced," says a military critic, "though only in one
place, the usual result is hopeless confusion and disaster. Not a man of the
square can fire a shot against the enemy rampaging within, without running
the risk of shooting a comrade; and it is in the highest degree creditable
to the troops composing the broken square [at Tamaai], as it would have been
to the hardiest of veterans in a like case, that they were able to rally so
soon from the helpless and confused mass to which for some doubtful minutes
they were reduced." The struggle was hard while it lasted, but "at
length the terrible fire of the breechloaders prevailed over valour as
brilliant and heroic as was ever witnessed," and the enemy were
compelled slowly and unwillingly to give way. The 1st Brigade advanced
across the ravine to the village of Tamaai, which was burnt, thereafter
returning to the wells; and about 4 P.M., the whole force retired to the
zareba which they had left in the morning, where the dead were buried in the
The casualties in the battle
were as follows: Killed Major Walker Aitken, 8 sergeants, 1 drummer, 50
privates. Wounded—Lieut. -Col. W. Green, Captain N. K. Brophy, Lieut. D.
A. M’Leod, 1 sergeant, 3 corporals, 22 privates.
The regiment returned to
Suakim on the 14th March, and remained there encamped in its old lines until
24th March. On 13th March the following telegram from Her Majesty to the
Major-General Commanding was published :—" Congratulate you on
success today, and express warm thanks to all engaged, as well as deep
sorrow at loss, and much anxiety for wounded;" while on the same date
the Adjutant-General, Lord Wolseley, telegraphed :—"Well done, old
comrades of the Black Watch."
At about 1 P.M. on 25th March
the whole force marched out of Suakim by the Sincat road to a zareba which
had been constructed 10 miles out by the 1st Gordon Highlanders. There it
encamped for the night, and on the following morning Major-General Sir R.
Buller proceeded to the front with the 1st Brigade, the Black Watch and 3rd
King’s Royal Rifles joining at dusk at a newly constructed zareba some
five miles off.
At daylight on 27th March the
force advanced—three companies of the 3rd King’s Royal Rifles being left
in the zareba—with the object of reaching the wells of Tamanieb, and also
of feeling for the enemy. The wells were occupied without any casualties,
and the village of Tamanieb, consisting of about 300 huts, was burned, the
whole force returning thereafter to the zareba, and on the morning of the
28th to Suakim, where the regiment remained until 1st April, when it
embarked on board H.M.S. "Orontes" for Suez. The regiment
disembarked on 7th April 1884, and arriving at Cairo on the same day,
returned to its old quarters at Kasr-el-Kil.
The names of the officers who
took part in the campaign in the Eastern Soudan, 1884, are :— Lieut.-Col.
W. Green, Commanding (wounded); Lieut.-Col. E. K. Bayly, Major A. F. Kidston, Major W.
Aitken (killed); Major H. C. Coveny, Bt.Lieut.-Colonel; Major C. J. Eden, Captain A.
G. Wauchope, C.M.G., served on staff
(wounded); Captain N. W. P. Brophy (wounded);
Captain A. Scott Stevenson (joined at
Suakim, 7th April 1884), Captain H. F. Elliot,
Lieut. Lord A. Kennedy, Lient. A. G. Duff
(Adjutant), Lieut. N. M’Leod, Lieut. T.
F. A. Kennedy, Lieut. F. L. Speid, Lieut. J.
Home, Lieut. C. P. Livingstone (with
mounted infantry), Lieut. A. C. Bald, Lieut. N. Cuthbertson, Lieut. D. A. M’Leod,
Lieut. A. G. FerrierKerr, Lieut. W. G. Wolrige-Gordon, Lieut. J. Macrae (joined at Suakim,
12th March 1884), Quartermaster C.
Those mentioned in despatches—Lieut.Col.
Green decorated with C.B., Major Kidston promoted Bt.-Lieut.-Col., Major
Eden promoted Bt.-Lieut.-Col., Major Wauchope promoted Bt.-Lieut.-Col.,
Major Aitken would have been promoted, Captain Brophy promoted to
Brevet-Major, Sergeant Sutherland, distinguished-conduct medal; Sergeant
Davidson, distinguished-conduct medal; Private Shires, distinguished-conduct
medal; Drummer Mumcord, distinguished-conduct medal; Private Edwards,
The following Order was
issued by Lieut. General Stephenson, C.B., on the return of the troops:-
"The operations of the
Expeditionary Force being now brought to a close, the Lieut. -General
Commanding, in welcoming the troops on their return to quarters,
congratulates officers and, men of all ranks upon the brilliant successes
which, under their brilliant commander, they have obtained during the late
campaign. He thanks them, not only for the good name which will attach to
the Army of Occupation in Egypt through their gallant conduct, but also for
the additional lustre which they have shed upon the whole British
On 26th May 1884 a telegram
from the Secretary of State for War was published, notifying that the
Egyptian medal, with a clasp bearing the word "Suakim," was to be
given to the troops who took part in the recent operations near that place.
Those who had the medal were to receive the clasp. A gratuity of £2 per man
was also to be given. Sergeants, £4; corporals, £3.
On 4th July, the following
extract from General Order 99 of 1884 was published for general information:-
"I. The Queen has been
graciously pleased to signify her pleasure that the Egyptian medal (pattern
of 1882) be granted to those of Her Majesty’s forces engaged in the recent
operations in the neighbourhood of Suakim, under the command of
Major-General Sir Gerald Graham, K. C. B., V. C., who have not previously
received it, and a clasp inscribed to those who have. II. Her Majesty has
further approved of a clasp being issued to all those who were actually
present at either or both of the actions on 29th February and 18th March.
This clasp will be inscribed ‘El Teb—Tamaai’ for those who were in
both actions, and ‘El Teb’ or ‘Taniaai’ for those who were in one or
other, but not in both."
The regiment was inspected by
Major-General Davis, C.B., on 26th August, and on 16th September by General
Lord Wolseley, G.C.B., who, after the inspectio4, addressed the battalion
"Black Watch,—I am
very glad of this chance of again meeting you. I have often been with you
before, in Ashantee, in Cyprus, and in the Egyptian campaign ; and, as I
say, I am proud and glad to be once more associated with you. During the
late campaign in the Eastern Soudan you were opposed to a most brave and
determined enemy. You will believe me when I tell you that the people at
home, and not only your own countrymen, were proud of the gallant way in
which you upheld the honour of your splendid and historic regiment ; and
there was no one in all England, I can assure you, thought more of you than
I did. Colonel Bayly, officers, and men, I am proud of the highly-efficient
state in which you have turned out this morning. It reflects the highest
credit on all of you.
"In the coming campaign
I do not think there will be much fighting, but there will be very hard
work, and I shall want you to show that you can work hard as well as fight.
If there is any fighting to be done, I know that I have only to call on the
Black Watch, and you will behave as you have always done."
campaign" referred to was the expedition up the Nile for the relief
of General Gordon and the garrison at Khartoum, and on the evening of
the 23d September the regiment proceeded by rail to Assiout, there to embark
for conveyance to Assouan in two steamers and four barges. The strength was
:—20 officers, 1 warrant officer, 39 sergeants, 14 drummers, 624 rank and
file. The officers were:- Col. and Lieut.-Col. W. Green, Lieut.-Col. R. K.
Bayly, Major and Brevet-Lieut.-Col. A. F. Kidston, Major and Brevet-Lieut.-Col.
P. O. Ooveny, Major and Brevet-Lieut.-Col. C. J. Eden, Major and Brevet-Lieut.-Col. A. G. Wauchope, C.M. G.; Captain and
Brevet-Major N. W. P. Brophy, Captain W. H. H. Moubray, Captain H. F. Elliot,
Lieut. Lord A. Kennedy, Lieut. A. G. Duff (Adjutant), Lieut. T. F. A. Kennedy,
Lieut. F. L. Speid, Lieut. G. Silver, 2d battalion Lieut. P. J. C. Livingstone, Lieut. St G.
E. W. Burton, 2d battalion; Lieut. T. M. M. Berkeley, 2d battalion; Lieut. J. H.
Home, Lieut. C. P. Livingstone (with Mounted Infantry), Lieut. A. C. Bald, Lieut.
P. A. M’Leod, Lient. T. Souter, Lieut. A. G. Ferrier-Kerr, Lieut. W. G.
Wolrige-Gordon, Lieut. J. Macrae, Lieut. G. H. Galbraith, Lieut. H. Rose, Lieut. D. L.
Wilson, Quartermaster C. Sinclair, Paymaster
W. H. Thornhill (Major), Chaplain Rev. J. M. Taggart.
On 5th October 1884 the regiment arrived at
Assouan, and disembarked on the following morning, but, owing to two cases
of smallpox among the men, had
to march two miles down the river, and to encamp in a palm grove on the
banks of the Nile, where it remained in quarantine until the 12th November,
when the real forward movement for the relief of General Gordon commenced as
far as the Black Watch were concerned.
When Lord Wolseley determined
to advance to the relief of Khartoum and General Gordon in whale-boats along
the Nile, the British soldier—" capable of going anywhere and doing
anything "—had for the nonce to convert himself into a boatman; and
that he had much to learn in this capacity may be gathered from one of the
jokes familiar to the expeditionary force, to the effect that the man at the
helm, on receiving the order "Put your helm down," immediately
proceeded to place the tiller in the bottom of the boat, and to await
further orders! The boats provided were about 30 feet long, 7 feet beam, and with a
draught of 2½ feet. As the boats were destined each to be self supporting,
they had, when finally loaded, provisions, ammunition, and ordnance and
cornmissariat stores for 14 men for one hundred days, these not to be
touched until the river column should concentrate at Hamdab. Extra rations
for immediate consumption were also carried, these being replenished from
the different commissariat stations then in course of formation along the
line of the river to Hamdab. Consequently, it was not unusual for the
whale-boats to be carrying practically 120 days’ rations and other stores,
with reserve ammunition, for 14 men, with a crew of about eight men in each
boat; and this obtained as far as Korti, about 600 miles away, where the
last redistribution of crews and lading of the boats was destined to take
place. Each boat was also accompanied by a Canadian voyageur as pilot.
From Cairo to Wady Halfa
there was but little difficulty, the journey being made partly by rail and
partly by sailing diabehas, the last company leaving Assouan on the 22d
November. At Wady Halfa, or rather at Sarras —17 miles to the southward—the
real difficulties were, however, to commence, and here the regiment embarked
in the 84 whale-boats provided for them.
As the Nile between Sarras
and Sarkamotto rushes through the gates of Semneh, the cataracts of Wady
Attireh, Ambigol, Tanjour, Ockma, Akasheh, and Dal, it had always been
reported by travellers, as well as by natives, as in most parts
impracticable for boats even at high Nile. It may be imagined that with a
falling river the dangers and difficulties were increased, for boats were
continually striking sunk rocks and springing leaks, which necessitated
their being hauled up on the river bank, unloaded of their tons of stores,
and then repaired by the soldiers themselves, for there was no one else to
do it. In this section, too, the boats generally had to be tracked over the
swift water, which was very painful for the men, the constant hauling
causing bad sores on their hands; and yet this difficult and very trying
time saw the regiment in splendid health and spirits, a circumstance greatly
due to the quantity and excellent quality of the rations served out then, as
indeed all through the expedition. As for clothes the trews were worn out in
a fortnight, and there was no possibility of their being replaced. The men
therefore rowed in grey suits, reserving the kilts and red serges.
The reach of the river
between Sarkametto and Abu-Fatmeh was easier, but yet the difficulties at
the cataracts of Amara, Shaban, and Hannek will not soon be forgotten by
those who had to encounter them. From Abu-Fatmeh to New Dongola sailing and
rowing combined was more or less the order of the day, comparatively little
tracking being required; and the progress made was rapid, several companies
having completed in this stretch over thirty miles a day, and this against a
swift and constant current, which, with the squally nature of the wind, made
the navigation difficult and dangerous; and yet it was not until Dongola had
been passed, on the reach from that place to Korti, that the first fatal
accident took place, when Major Brophy was drowned through the swamping of
his boat when under sail.
In the first week of January
1885 the leading companies of the regiment arrived at Korti, and on 13th
January the headquarters rowed into Hamdab with 54 boats. By the 20th the
whole regiment was once more together at the latter place, forming—with
the South Staffordshire, the 2d Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light
Infantry, the 1st Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, one squadron of the
19th Hussars, an Egyptian Battery of six 7-pounders, an Egyptian Camel
Corps, and a section of Engineers and Bluejackets—the Nile River Column,
under Major-General Earle, and intended to advance on Khartoum by Berber.
On the 24th January the
column advanced from Hamdab, and on the 25th the right half battalion was on
the further side of the Edermih Cataract, the left getting through on the
following day. This cataract appeared to the force as difficult a one as any
On the 27th the Kab-el-Abd
Cataract was passed, but the river seemed to be getting worse and worse, and
it was only by the daring skill of the Canadian voyageurs and the constant
toil of the whole force, that the boats were got over this cataract, as well
as those of Rahami and Gamra, which latter place is about seven miles
distant from Birti. At Gamra the regiment bivouacked on 3d February.
It was at first believed that
the enemy would make a stand at Birti, but on that place being reached on
the 4th February it was found to be deserted. The advance continued on the
5th, and on that evening the 1st South Staflordshire and the Black Watch
bivouacked at Castle Camp, some seven miles further on, where the men were
employed in destroying the wells of the country, as a punishment to the
Arabs of the Monassir district, who were known to have been concerned in the
murder of Colonel Stewart. At Castle Camp the two advanced regiments, the
South Staffordshire and the Black Watch, remained for three days, no forward
movement taking place until 10 A.M. on the 8th February, when this
force advanced to Dulka Island, which it reached on the evening of 9th
February, with the exception of G company of the regiment, left at Castle
Camp with the Duke of Cornwall’s Regiment, the Gordon Highlanders being
still at Birti.
It was evident on the evening
of the 9th that the enemy was in force some 2000 yards in front, occupying a
high rocky ridge near the river, but at right angles to it, and completely
commanding the entrance of the Shokook Pass, through which defile the boats
had to go. There was nothing for it, therefore, but to drive the Arabs from
their strong position, and, if possible, give them a lesson which would at
least rid the army of their presence during its advance through the Shokook
Pass. The necessary preparations were soon made, and the kilts and red
serges taken out of the boats, for it had been decided before that red was
to be the fighting dress of the River Column.
The night passed without any
unusual incident, and at 6.45 A.M. on the 10th the force, consisting of six
companies of the South Staffordshire, six companies of the 1st Black Watch,
the squadron of the 19th Hussars, and the native Camel Corps, marched out of
camp, which was left in charge of Lieut.Colonel Eden, and one company of the
Highlanders, with the section of Royal Engineers and Bluejackets, who
guarded the boats and baggage.
Two companies of the South
Staffordshire, with two guns, under Lieut.-Colonel Alleyne, R.A., with
orders to hold the enemy in front if possible, had preceded the main body
under the Major-General Commanding, which was to turn the enemy’s
position, and get into his rear.
About 8.45 A.M. the outer
flank of the enemy was reached without a shot being fired, and the column
then changed direction, so that soon it was marching back towards the river,
the force being thus placed between the Arabs and their line of retreat,
their only chance of flight being now across the river to their left.
On Colonel Alleyne’s guns
opening fire at 9.15 the Arabs immediately began to reply hotly and with
good aim, but happily, a rocky ledge, to which the column advanced, screened
and protected it from the fire.
The enemy were seen at this
time in large numbers escaping across the river, but the standards flying
defiantly on the rocky ridge and koppies, or hillocks, overhanging the Nile
itself, where the broken ground had been strengthened by loop-holed walls,
told that there the Dervishes were determined to stand out to the bitter
The British line, which was
by this time completely in the rear of the enemy, with the flank resting on
the Nile, now advanced, and Major-General Earle, finding that it was
impossible to dislodge the Arabs by musketry fire alone, gave orders for the
Black Watch to carry the position with the bayonet. The regiment responded
gallantly to the order. The pipers struck up, and with a cheer the Black
Watch moved forward, with a steadiness and valour which the enemy was unable
to resist, and which called forth the admiration of the General. From the
loop-holed walls the rifle puffs shot out continuously; but without a check
the Black Watch advanced, scaled the rocks, and at the point of the bayonet
drove the enemy from their shelter. Meanwhile the cavalry had captured the
enemy’s camp, and the South Staffordshire Regiment having gallantly
stormed the last remaining portion of the ridge, the battle of Kirbekan was
won. General Earle was unfortunately killed on the very summit, just at the
close of the general assault, and the Black Watch lost Lieut. -Colonel
Coveny and 5 men killed, Lieut.-Colonel Wauchope and 21 non-commissioned
officers and men wounded. At sunset the bodies of General Earle, Colonel
Eyre, and Colonel Coveny were buried side by side in deep graves, the men by
the river bank where they had fallen.
The command now devolved on
Major-General H. Brackenbury, C.B.; and on the morning of 11th February the
advance was resumed, the troops beginning to pass through the troublesome
rapid close to the Island of Dulka, and then for seven miles through the
Shokook Pass, with its great black rocks frowning on the river. At the end
of the pass the two very difficult cataracts of Uss and Sherrari were
encountered; but in spite of all difficulties, the boats with sick and
wounded arrived on 18th February at Salamat, the headquarters of Sulieman
Wad Gamir, the chief of the Monassirs, and the individual responsible for
the cruel murder of Colonel Stewart while descending the Nile from Khartoum.
The Gordon Highlanders having
again joined the force, it was now once more complete; and opposite to
Hebbeh the whole column crossed from the left to the right bank of the Nile—an
operation which was completed by the 21st, with the loss of only three
camels and one donkey.
Everywhere about Hebbeh,
which was the scene of Colonel Stewart’s murder—his wrecked steamer
still lying here—the wells and all the property that could be got at were
destroyed by order of the General Commanding.
Thence to the next station,
El Kab, the current was very swift; but so well did the men row that no
tracking was required, and the distance, some seven miles, was done by the
215 boats of the force in wonderfully quick time, and so was the journey of
the following day—some ten miles over swift water—to Huella, which was
reached by an early hour in the afternoon of 23d February.
This was destined to be the
furthest point to which the expedition was to penetrate. On 25th January
1885 Khartoum had fallen; on 13th February Sir Redvers Buller, with the
Desert Column, had evacuated Gubat, and therefore the reason for the
occupation of Berber by the River Column had practically ceased, and in
consequence of this the Commander-in-Chief had sent a message to the Nile
Column ordering it to return. This messenger arrived at Huella on the
morning of 24th February, when the message of Lord Wolseley was read to the
"Please express to the
troops Lord Wolseley’s high appreciation of their gallant conduct in
action, and of the military spirit they have displayed in overcoming the
great difficulties presented by the river. Having punished the Monassir
people for Colonel Stewart’s murder, it is not intended to undertake any
further military operations until after the approaching hot season."
All was over, and by noon the
River Column had commenced its backward journey. That evening and the
following day the army rested at Hebbeh.
The men had become
experienced hands in taking the heavily-laden boats up the cataracts, but
the taking of them down the swift and broken waters was altogether a new
experience. It was evident the dangers had increased tenfold. The force had,
however, some 85 Canadians, and in the next few days they proved to be worth
their weight in gold; indeed at all the most difficult cataracts the boats
were taken in charge by the Canadians - as
a rule, one steering, another in the bow paddling. By this means the boats’
crews rowing felt that they were being guided at the most dangerous places
by tried and skilled men in whom they placed the utmost reliance. So through
the several cataracts they rowed with all their might and main, and thus
averted the great danger of losing steerage way in rushing water.
The rapid of Uss was passed
on the 27th, and the Shokook Pass on the 28th February, every preparation
having been made in case of an attack, but the enemy in no way molested the
army. Evidently the lesson of Kirbekan was still fresh in their minds. A
determined resistance by a few men against the retreating boats as they
moved through the Shokook might have had serious results.
On 2d March Birti was
reached, and there the column rested all night before resuming the return
journey through the Rahami Cataract—a triumph of skill over a difficulty
that to any one unaccustomed to such work would have seemed insuperable.
General Brackenbury, in his book, thus describes it:
" Boat after boat came
down at lightning speed, the men giving way with all their power so as to
give steeling power, the bowman standing cool and collected watching the
water, and only using the oar should the steersman seem to need help, the
steersman bringing round the boat with marvellous judgment at the right
moment. Now and then an error of half a second brought a boat on to the edge
of the left hand rock, and. she rose and fell like a horse jumping a fence.
But in the day’s work only one boat of the Gordons and one of the
Staffords were wrecked."
At Kab-el-Abd there was also
"It was a long straight
run of a mile and a half or more (distances are hard to measure when flying
like an express train) of water broken and rough, studded with rocks, both
seen and unseen, a dangerous rapid to the unskilled or careless, yet safe to
the trained eye and skilled hand. As my boat shot down we passed the
Adjutant of the Gordons with his boat stuck fast in the very centre of the
boiling rapid, a useful beacon to the following boats. His was not the only
boat that struck, four others of the same Battalion were on the rocks. Three
were repaired, but two of the five sank and were abandoned. The
Quartermaster was thrown into the water and lost all his kit. The Adjutant
had a narrow escape for his life. Thrown into the water, as his boat sank,
his head had struck a sharp rock, and he was severely cut. The Black Watch
had also to abandon a boat that struck on a rock near Kaboor."
On the 4th of March, to quote
again from General Brackenbury:-
"The remaining boats
passed through the fourth cataract with a loss of three boats wrecked, and,
alas with the first fatal accident in all our downward journey.
"The course to be
steered through the cataract was a very tortuous one. The boats had to go
from midstream over close to the right bank, and there pass between a rock
and the shore, turning again to the let into midstream.
"Officers and a voyageur
were stationed with their boats on the rocky islands to show the direction
to be taken, but unfortunately a boat stuck across the stream in the narrow
channel near the right bank, blocking it.
"Instead of the
remaining boats being turned into the bank to wait till the channel was
clear, they were by some error directed off into midstream, and the greater
part of the boats of three Battalions shot over a fall of about three feet
like a Thames weir in flood. That only one accident occurred is marvellous.
"One boat of the South
Staffordshire having safely shot the weir, struck a rock and upset.
Unfortunately she had in her two wounded men, both of whom with a sergeant
Half of the Black Watch,
which regiment had from Salamat downwards formed the rear guard, still
performed the same duty on this night at the bottom of the cataract, while
the remainder of the force encamped opposite Hamdab, having thus descended
in nine days what it had taken thirty-one days to ascend. On the morning of
the 5th the force moved to Abu-Dom, and that night the whole column, with
the exception of a few of the Mounted Corps, was on the left bank of the
Nile, and on the following day, for the first and last time, was viewed and
inspected on parade by Major-General H. Brackenbury, who afterwards spoke of
them as "two thousand of the finest fighting men that it was ever man’s
lot to command."
During the ascent of the
river from Hamdab to Huella six boats had been wrecked and one man drowned;
on the return journey two boats were wrecked and one man drowned. Seven men
were killed or died of wounds.
On 7th February Major-General
Brackenbury, with the other regiments that had formed the River Column, left
Abu-Dom, leaving those in garrison under Colonel Butler, C.B, the 1st
Battalion of the Black Watch, one troop of Hussars, the Egyptian Camel Corps
with six 7-pounder guns, a section of Engineers, the Naval Brigade with one
Gatling gun, and one hundred transport camels.
The following River Column
After-order was published in Regimental Orders on 7th March 1885.
Commanding has received General Wolseley’s instructions to publish the
following Special General Order to the soldiers and sailors of the Nile
"The Queen, who has
watched with deepest interest the doings of her sailors and soldiers, has
desired me to express to you her admiration for your courage and your
"To have commanded such
men is to me a source of the highest pride; no greater honour can be in
store than that to which I looked forward of leading you, please God, into
Khartoum, before the year is out. Your noble efforts to save General Gordon
have been unsuccessful, but through no fault of yours; both on the river and
in the desert you have borne hardship and privation without a murmur.
"In action you have been
uniformly victorious, all that men could do to save a comrade you have done,
but Khartoum fell through treachery two days before the advanced troops
reached it. A period of comparative inaction may now be expected this army
was not constituted with a view to undertaking the siege of Khartoum, and
for the moment we must content ourselves with preparations for the autumn
advance. You will, I know, face the heat of the summer, and the necessary
though less exciting work which has now to be done with the same courage and
endurance you have shown hitherto. I thank you heartily for all you have
done in the past. I can wish nothing better, I can ask nothing more of you
in the future than the same uncomplaining devotion to duty which has
characterised your conduct during the recent operation.
Merawi was by far the most
advanced position now occupied by the British Army, —the next held by our
troops being Tanni, some 45 miles down the river—and commanded the road to
Berber, the telegraph, and the fertile track of country along both banks of
the Nile to Korti, a district where the people had all along been friendly
to us, and therefore particularly obnoxious to the enemy. It was therefore
also the post of danger, for at any moment an army of dervishes marching
from Mettameh to Korti —at which latter place there was nothing to stop
them but a small force of Bashi Bazouks under Captain Baker, Royal Navy,—had
it in their power to completely sever the Brigade under Colonel Butler, from
the remainder of the army.
During the next two months,
therefore, the regiment was for ever on the alert both by night and by day,
in the most trying part of the Soudan, at a place where a year before it
would have been held by all authorities as out of the question for European
troops to remain in the hot season, especially with a meagre supply of
tentage, and none of the comforts generally considered to be essential for
the preservation of the health of British troops in a climate such as this.
The devotion to duty and the discipline of all ranks remained nevertheless
The men were as soon as
possible employed in erecting huts, those in hospital being soon
accommodated in that respect, and the work was rapidly carried on, as was
testified to by General Wolseley himself after his inspection of the
station, when he expressed his satisfaction with the work which had already
been done, and addressed the regiment in most complimentary terms. By the
20th of May following, the whole regiment was hutted, with the exception of
the officers and staff sergeants. During this period the health of the
officers and men was excellent, though the heat in the day in the shade
ranged from 115° to 119°, falling in the night and early morning often to
The strength of the station
had been materially added to by the construction early in April of a small
fort some 900 yards inland, and to the front of the old fort which had been
erected by the Mudir’s troops. This new work was by order of Colonel
Butler christened Fort St Andrew in honour of the regiment, and during its
excavation the remains of an ancient temple were discovered.
On 25th May orders were
issued for the evacuation of the station, and on the following morning the
forts were blown up, and the regiment once more took to its boats,— now
reduced to 51 in number. That night the flotilla reached to within six miles
of Korti, and on the 1st June camped at Abu Fatmeh at 10 A.M., the right
half-battalion starting the same afternoon, under Colonel Green, to shoot
the Hannek Cataract (third cataract), reaching the bottom that evening. The
left half-battalion under Lieut. -Col. Bayly did the same on the following
morning. At the Shaban Cataract, on the 2d, whilst the right half-battalion
was passing through that most dangerous water, one of the boats was upset
exactly in midstream, having struck a rock on the brink of the rapid.
Three men were saved for the
moment by jumping on to the rock. Of the ten men who clung to the boat, nine
were rescued by Captain Ivloubray, who, with presence of mind, launched his
boat most opportunely just as the struggling men were drowning one, Private
Williams, was drowned.
The men who were left in a
most dangerous position on the rock were saved, after eight hours of
ineffectual efforts, by Lieutenant Macrae and six men, who, in a boat, were
lowered gradually down the rushing waters to within a few yards of their
comrades, whom they succeeded in bringing into the boat by means of a
life-belt and rope. That night the battalion encamped some nine miles from
Kyber; and by the 7th inst. arrived at Sarkametto. Here the regiment
disembarked, and on the 8th marched across to the foot of the Great Pal
Cataract, where they embarked in fresh whalers, proceeding to Akasheh that
night. After an intensely hot march of 24 miles, the regiment took train for
Wady Halfa, and reached Shellal on the afternoon of the 16th June. There the
regiment disembarked, and proceeded by train to Assouan, whence they were
conveyed by steamers and diabehas to Assiout, and thereafter by train to
Cairo, where they arrived on the morning of the 27th June. General Lord
Wolseley, who met the regiment here, telegraphed home to the
Commander-in-Chief:— "Black Watch has arrived in splendid condition,
and looking the picture of military efficiency." On the same morning
Colonel Green received a letter from Lord Wolseley offering him the command
of a Brigade at Assouan; and on his acceptance he was on the 4th July
appointed a Brigadier-General on the Staff, and was succeeded in the command
of the regiment by Lieut.-Colonel R. K. Bayly.
General Green’s appointment
was confirmed in the London Gazette on 10th July.
On 10th July the
Lieut.-General Commanding in Egypt, Sir Frederick Stephenson, K.C.B.,
inspected the Battalion, and desired the following to be communicated to the
regiment in Regimental Orders:-
"The Lieut. -General
Commanding desires that the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men
should know that he was much pleased at the smart, clean, and soldier like
appearance of the regiment at his inspection this morning. The Lieut.
-General remarked on the steadiness of the men during inspection of the
Major Barrow in command of
the Mounted Infantry communicated with the Commanding Officer in regard to
the conduct of the men of the regiment under his command during the late
campaign, and in consequence there appeared in Regimental Orders on 18th
July the following:-
"The Commanding Officer
has much pleasure in placing on record the very excellent report received by
him from Major Barlow as to the conduct and discipline of the Mounted
Infantry during the late operations, a report that reflects credit on the
detachment and on the regiment."
In the London Gazette of
26th August 1886, which published the despatch of General Lord Wolseley
commanding Her Majesty’s Forces in Egypt, reviewing the 1884 and 1885
campaign, the names of the following officers and non.-com. officers of the
regiment were given as deserving of special mention, viz. :—Colonel W.
Green, C.B., Lieut.-Colonel Bayly, Captain A. S. Stevenson, Captain Lord A.
Kennedy, Lieut. Maxwell, Colour-Sergeant Tweedie, and Colour-Sergeant Connon.
The same Gazette also announced the appointment of Lieut.Col. Bayly
to a Companionship of the Bath; and the promotion of Captain Lord A. Kennedy
to a Majority. Subsequently Lieut.-Col. Bayly received also the Royal
licence to accept and wear the 3d Class of the Medjidieh, and Major A. S.
Stevenson was promoted to a Brevet Lieut.-Colonelcy, while Colour-Sergeants
D. Morrison, J. Tweedie, and Connon, Sergeant T. Watt, Private J. Henderson,
and Private F. West received distinguished-conduct medals.
In consequence of the absence
of crime in the regiment the Soudan gratuity for 1884 and 1885—Sergeants,
£10; Corporals, £7, 10s.; Privates, £5—was paid direct to the men
instead of being credited to their monthly accounts.
Major-General J. Davis, C.B.,
inspected the regiment at Kasr-el-Nil on 14th January 1886; and the medals
for the late campaign, with clasps inscribed Nile and Kirbekan, were issued
on 13th March.
On 1st May 1886 the Black
Watch left Cairo, in the s.s. "Poonah," for Malta, where it
disembarked on 5th May, headquarters and three companies going to Fort
Ricasoli; one and a half companies to Salvatore, one to Vittoriosa, and two
and a half to Fort Jsola.
In 1887 it was proposed by
the inhabitants of Perthshire to commemorate the connection of the regiment
with the county by the erection, by public subscription, of a memorial near
the spot where the regiment was embodied. Meetings were held in the
different districts, the co-operation of natives of the county resident
elsewhere was invited, and the appeal of the influential committee appointed
to collect funds met with a ready and generous response, notwithstanding the
considerable amount of warm feeling displayed over the choice of a site.
That the embodiment took place near the bridge across the Tay, within a
quarter of a mile of Aberfeldy, is not disputed, but regimental and local
tradition agree in fixing the exact spot on the north side of the river at
Boltachan—a view taken also by Stewart of Garth in his Sketches, published
early in the present century —while other accounts, and particularly a
manuscript history of the regiment belonging to the War Office, and written
in 1831, many years after General Stewart’s work, assert that the ceremony
took place on the south side of the Tay, between the village and the bridge.
So far as the memorial is concerned, the committee have decided in favour of
the latter theory, the site selected being a triangular piece of ground
between Aberfeldy and the Tay, immediately to the west of the bridge road.
The monument itself, designed by Mr W. B. Rhind, Edinburgh, will consist of
a large rough cairn, surmounted by a statue 10 feet high, representing a
Highlander in the original costume of the 42nd. Below, on the principal
front, is a life-sized figure of a Highlander in the present dress of the
regiment, inscribing on a tablet the distinctions borne on the colours. The
estimated cost is £400, and the structure will attain a height of about 40
feet. The ground is the gift of the Marquis of Breadalbane, and the space
not occupied by the cairn is to be laid out as a public pleasure-garden.