By Winston S. Churchill
I. The Rebellion of the Mahdi
II. The Fate of the Envoy
III. The Dervish Empire
IV. The Years of Preparation
V. The Beginning of War
VII. The Recovery of the Dongola Province
VIII. The Desert Railway
IX. Abu Hamed
XII. The Battle of the Atbara
XIII. The Grand Advance
XIV. The Operations of the First of September
XV. The Battle of Omdurman
XVI. The Fall of the City
XVII. 'The Fashoda Incident'
XVIII On the Blue Nile
XIX. The End of the Khalifa
>>> to illustrate the military operations <<<
|* Wady Halfa
(The Nile) /
| __* Abu Hamed
| _/ \
Dongola *\ _/ \ Suakin *
\ Merawi / \
\ */ \
\_ _ / \ Berber
/\__ (The Atbara River)
Metemma */ \
| \_ (The Blue Nile)
(The White Nile)
CHAPTER I: THE REBELLION OF THE MAHDI
The north-eastern quarter of the continent of Africa is drained
and watered by the Nile. Among and about the headstreams and
tributaries of this mighty river lie the wide and fertile provinces of
the Egyptian Soudan. Situated in the very centre of the land, these
remote regions are on every side divided from the seas by five hundred
miles of mountain, swamp, or desert. The great river is their only
means of growth, their only channel of progress. It is by the Nile
alone that their commerce can reach the outer markets, or European
civilisation can penetrate the inner darkness. The Soudan is joined to
Egypt by the Nile, as a diver is connected with the surface by his
air-pipe. Without it there is only suffocation. Aut Nilus, aut nihil!
The town of Khartoum, at the confluence of the Blue and White Niles,
is the point on which the trade of the south must inevitably converge.
It is the great spout through which the merchandise collected from a
wide area streams northwards to the Mediterranean shore. It marks the
extreme northern limit of the fertile Soudan. Between Khartoum and Assuan
the river flows for twelve hundred miles through deserts of surpassing
desolation. At last the wilderness recedes and the living world broadens
out again into Egypt and the Delta. It is with events that have occurred
in the intervening waste that these pages are concerned.
The real Soudan, known to the statesman and the explorer, lies far
to the south - moist, undulating, and exuberant. But there is another
Soudan, which some mistake for the true, whose solitudes oppress the
Nile from the Egyptian frontier to Omdurman. This is the Soudan of the
soldier. Destitute of wealth or future, it is rich in history. The
names of its squalid villages are familiar to distant and enlightened
peoples. The barrenness of its scenery has been drawn by skilful pen
and pencil. Its ample deserts have tasted the blood of brave men.
Its hot, black rocks have witnessed famous tragedies. It is the scene
of the war.
This great tract, which may conveniently be called 'The Military Soudan,'
stretches with apparent indefiniteness over the face of the continent.
Level plains of smooth sand - a little rosier than buff, a little paler
than salmon - are interrupted only by occasional peaks of rock - black,
stark, and shapeless. Rainless storms dance tirelessly over the hot,
crisp surface of the ground. The fine sand, driven by the wind, gathers
into deep drifts, and silts among the dark rocks of the hills, exactly
as snow hangs about an Alpine summit; only it is a fiery snow, such as
might fall in hell. The earth burns with the quenchless thirst of ages,
and in the steel-blue sky scarcely a cloud obstructs the unrelenting
triumph of the sun.
Through the desert flows the river - a thread of blue silk drawn across
an enormous brown drugget; and even this thread is brown for half the
year. Where the water laps the sand and soaks into the banks there grows
an avenue of vegetation which seems very beautiful and luxuriant by
contrast with what lies beyond. The Nile, through all the three thousand
miles of its course vital to everything that lives beside it, is never
so precious as here. The traveller clings to the strong river as to an
old friend, staunch in the hour of need. All the world blazes, but here
is shade. The deserts are hot, but the Nile is cool. The land is parched,
but here is abundant water. The picture painted in burnt sienna is
relieved by a grateful flash of green.
Yet he who had not seen the desert or felt the sun heavily on his
shoulders would hardly admire the fertility of the riparian scrub.
Unnourishing reeds and grasses grow rank and coarse from the water's
edge. The dark, rotten soil between the tussocks is cracked and
granulated by the drying up of the annual flood. The character of the
vegetation is inhospitable. Thorn-bushes, bristling like hedgehogs and
thriving arrogantly, everywhere predominate and with their prickly
tangles obstruct or forbid the path. Only the palms by the brink are
kindly, and men journeying along the Nile must look often towards their
bushy tops, where among the spreading foliage the red and yellow glint
of date clusters proclaims the ripening of a generous crop, and protests
that Nature is not always mischievous and cruel.
The banks of the Nile, except by contrast with the desert, display an
abundance of barrenness. Their characteristic is monotony. Their
attraction is their sadness. Yet there is one hour when all is changed.
Just before the sun sets towards the western cliffs a delicious flush
brightens and enlivens the landscape. It is as though some Titanic
artist in an hour of inspiration were retouching the picture, painting
in dark purple shadows among the rocks, strengthening the lights on the
sands, gilding and beautifying everything, and making the whole scene
live. The river, whose windings make it look like a lake, turns from
muddy brown to silver-grey.