The Rebel Surprise Near Tamai

TWAS on the 22nd of March, in the year 1885,
That the Arabs rushed like a mountain torrent in full drive,
And quickly attacked General McNeill’s transport-zereba,
But in a short time they were forced to withdraw.

And in the suddenness of surprise the men were carried away,
Also camels, mules, and horses were thrown into wild disarray,
By thousands of the Arabs that in ambush lay,
But our brave British heroes held the enemy at bay.

There was a multitude of camels heaped upon one another,
Kicking and screaming, while many of them did smother,
Owing to the heavy pressure of the entangled mass,
That were tramping o’er one another as they lay on the grass.

The scene was indescribable, and sickening to behold,
To see the mass of innocent brutes lying stiff and cold,
And the moaning cries of them were pitiful to hear,
Likewise the cries of the dying men that lay wounded in the rear.

Then General McNeill ordered his men to form in solid square,
Whilst deafening shouts and shrieks of animals did tend the air,
And the rush of stampeded camels made a fearful din,
While the Arabs they did yell, and fiendishly did grin.

Then the gallant Marines formed the east side of the square,
While clouds of dust and smoke did darken the air,
And on the west side the Berkshire were engaged in the fight,
Firing steadily and cooly with all their might.

Still camp followers were carried along by the huge animal mass,
And along the face of the zereba ’twas difficult to pass,
Because the mass of brutes swept on in wild dismay,
Which caused the troops to be thrown into disorderly array.

Then Indians and Bluejackets were all mixed together back to back,
And for half-an-hour the fire and din didn’t slack;
And none but steady troops could have stood that fearful shock,
Because against overwhelming numbers they stood as firm as a rock.

The Arabs crept among the legs of the animals without any dread,
But by the British bullets many were killed dead,
And left dead on the field and weltering in their gore,
Whilst the dying moans of the camels made a hideous roar.

Then General McNeill to his men did say,
Forward! my lads, and keep them at bay!
Come, make ready, my men, and stand to your arms,
And don’t be afraid of war’s alarms

So forward! and charge them in front and rear,
And remember you are fighting for your Queen and country dear,
Therefore, charge them with your bayonets, left and right,
And we’ll soon put this rebel horde to flight.

Then forward at the bayonet-charge they did rush,
And the rebel horde they soon did crush;
And by the charge of the bayonet they kept them at bay,
And in confusion and terror they all fled away.

The Marines held their own while engaged hand-to-hand,
And the courage they displayed was really very grand;
But it would be unfair to praise one corps more than another,
Because each man fought as if he’d been avenging the death of a brother.

The Berkshire men and the Naval Brigade fought with might and main,
And, thank God! the British have defeated the Arabs again,
And have added fresh laurels to their name,
Which will be enrolled in the book of fame.

’Tis lamentable to think of the horrors of war,
That men must leave their homes and go abroad afar,
To fight for their Queen and country in a foreign land,
Beneath the whirlwind’s drifting scorching sand.

But whatsoever God wills must come to pass,
The fall of a sparrow, or a tiny blade of grass;
Also, man must fall at home by His command,
Just equally the same as in a foreign land.

The War in the Soudan

Severe Fighting

(By Eastern Company’s Cables.)

(From our Correspondent.)


The Berkshire Regiment, the Marines, and a part of the Indian Contingent moved out of camp this morning, in two squares, and marched five miles out towards Tamai. The squares advanced slowly across the desert, which is thickly covered with prickly bush. The Berkshire Regiment and the Marines formed the leading square, with four Gardner guns, the Naval Brigade, and a detachment of Engineers. The other square was composed of the Indian Contingent and the camel trains.

The advance was undisturbed, and the intention of constructing two zaribas with sandbag redoubts was partially carried out. The Berkshire Regiment had commenced moving into their zariba; the Marines were commencing to dig their trench and had piled arms; dinner and water had been served out to the men, and the whole force was preparing to intrench for the night, the camels being outside the zaribas, and all seeming perfectly quiet, when suddenly some men of the Indian Contingent came rushing in with shouts that the enemy was upon us.

Suddenly, and without more than that hurried warning, the enemy burst from the thick bush, and dashed headlong without firing a shot at the water transport under the charge of Captain De Cosson, who had just time to jump his horse into the Marines’ zariba when it was shot through the head. Captain De Cosson, however, escaped. I was myself watering my own horse at the same place and also jumped into the zariba.

A scene of indescribable confusion ensued.

The enemy actually penetrated the zariba, but were checked by the splendid, steady fire of two companies of Marines. All the troops rallied in small parties at the corners of the zariba. Men of the Berkshire Regiment, Marines, Indians, and bluejackets were all mingled together, back to back, and fighting with desperate tenacity; and, indeed, the moment was so critical that, had there been the least flinching, a great disaster must have been the consequence.

For half-an-hour the fire, the din, and the confusion were terrific, and none but steady troops could have stood the fearful tension of the moment. Looking from the back of my horse, I could see small, isolated parties outside the zaribas fighting desperately back to back.

The enemy came on behind our camels, many of which were killed by our own fire.

As I write the fire is growing desultory and the enemy seems checked, but bullets at long range are still flying over our heads.

Close where I write, in the centre of the Marines’ zariba, lie the bodies of six dead Arabs.

Parties have gone out to bring in our remaining camels, and the wounded are being attended to; but it is as yet quite impossible to state our losses, as the attack may be renewed at any moment.

The bodies of the enemy killed lie thick outside the zaribas.

Sir John Mac Neill, who is in command of the force, narrowly escaped. The cavalry had already warned him of the advance of the enemy, and he had ordered the men to stand to arms.

The Times, 23rd March 1885

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Comments (2) »

  1. Anji
    In the year 2017, on the 28th day of October at 12:11 am

    Well, this is a horrible one. It might be written in McG’s usual style, but I guess it is so nasty mainly because of the descriptions of the dying animals. But fortunately McG has been very sympathetic to them, although that does make their plight even more tragic. For me anyway, this is a typical McG poem that nevertheless overrides the style and becomes a really moving piece.

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