South African Military History Society



Colonel Duxbury briefly advised the Meeting of the difficulties that were experienced with the proposed battlefield visit in November, 1984. After a show of hands he agreed to attempt to organise a trip to Colenso, Spion Kop and Elandslaagte in February. He also advised the Meeting of the Second World War trip to Europe in August 1985 for approximately three weeks. This tour would follow the 6th Division route through Italy, and also the Normandy battlefields.

The MGH short this month dealt with Hitler's mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. Despite the producers absence in Durban this prerecorded production maintained the exceptionally high standards we have come to look forward to.

Ian Uys presented the main speaker, Dr Stanley Monick, and his subject "The Rush to Relieve Gordon, 1884/85."

Dr Monick provided a brief explanation of how the British Government had become more involved in Egypt and hence the Sudan, following their suppression of the Arabi Pasha revolt in Egypt in 1882. In 1881 a revolt broke out in Kordofan ( a province of the Sudan) led by the Mahdi. His intention was to lead the people of the Sudan in a Holy War to spread the power of Islam across the whole of North Africa. The Mahdist revolt spread rapidly and in January 1883 El Obeid, the capital of Kordofan, fell. The British controlled Egyptian Government requested British military assistance. The Prime Minister, Gladstone, declined. The Egyptian Government then organised its own expedition to attempt to regain the lost territory under the command of a retired Indian Army officer, Colonel William Hicks. In November, 1883 Hicks' force was massacred. The British eventually decided, after much public debate, that the Sudan should be evacuated and appointed General Charles George "Chinese" Gordon to carry out this task.

General Gordon R.E. appeared the ideal choice. He had a distinguished record from his service in China and his periods in the Sudan during which time he had served as Governor. He arrived as Governor at Khartown, the capital of the Sudan, in February, 1884, accompanied by only one British officer.

The garrison of Khartoum consisted of Egyptian troops, some of very dubious quality. Initially, it should have been feasible to evacuate the Sudan. Events, however, moved quickly and already in March Khartoum was under siege. The Mahdist force rose to approximately 30 000. At first there was little actual fighting, but Gordon had two serious potential problems - food and the level of the Nile.

In Britain public opinion eventually forced Gladstone's Government to send aid to Gordon and in August 1884 a relief expedition was organised under General Sir Garnet Wolseley. The Relief Expedition consisted of elements of some of Britain's crack regiments, many being incorporated in the Camel Corps. The expedition was split into two columns, one to follow the course of the Nile to Khartoum, and the other, consisting of the Camel Corps, to cross the desert, thus eliminating the bend in the Nile. The Desert Column was under the command of Brig. Gen. Sir Herbert Stewart, who had been captured at Majuba. In January, 1885 two fierce actions were fought by the Desert Column at Abu Klea and Abu Kru. At Abu Klea the Dervishes succeeded in entering the British square, but were eventually driven off. However, on 26th January, 1885, with starvation rife, Khartoum fell and Gordon was killed. Two days later a flying column sent up the Nile in two steamers arrived at Khartoum to find the city lost. Major General Buller was prominent in extricating the forward British forces. A major action was also fought by the River Column at Kerbekan in February.

Following the loss of Khartoum the British evacuated the Sudan until 1898 when Kitchener defeated the Dervishes at Omdurman. The loss of Khartoum and Gordon's death also resulted in the fall of Gladstone's Government.

Mr Bill Garr thanked the Speaker for an extremely interesting and well presented lecture. Dr Felix Machanik briefly discussed the campaign medals of the expedition and showed examples from his fine collection.


Johannesburg - February 14th - Mr Ken G Gillings - "A Helpmekaar Duel"

Johannesburg - March 14th Cmdt. O.E.F. Baker - "Some Unusual Experiences of South African P.O.W.'s in World War II"

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Col Duxbury has announced that the proposed tour scheduled for 22nd Feb. has been cancelled due to prohibitive costs. - M Marsh

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