Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Churchill Series – Jun, 19, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

The Encylopedia Britannica’s entry for the Battle of Omdurman begins:

(Sept. 2, 1898), decisive military engagement in which Anglo-Egyptian forces, under Major General Sir Herbert Kitchener (later Lord Kitchener), defeated the forces of the Mahdist leader 'Abd Allah and thereby won Sudanese territory that the Mahdists had dominated since 1881.
As many of you know, Churchill was part of the British military force that journeyed up the Nile and met the Mahdi’s army at Omdurman.

Churchill, a combat-experienced cavalry officer, volunteered to join Kitchener’s force which was short of officers who’d led men in battle. But Kitchener initially objected to the War Office’s assigning Churchill to his command, in part because in newspaper articles Churchill had been critical of his superior officers.

When Churchill finally succeeded overcoming Kitchener’s objections, he left London immediately for Egypt, but arrived after most of Kitchener’s force had already started up the Nile.

Churchill continues the story in My Early Life:
All was excitement and hustle at Abassiyeh Barracks. Two squadrons of the 21st Lancers had already started up the Nile. The other two were to leave the next morning.

Altogether seven additional officers from other cavalry regiments had been attached to the 21st to bring them up to full war-strength. These officers were distributed in command of troops about the various squadrons.

A troop had been reserved for me in one of the leading squadrons. But the delay and uncertainty about my coming had given this to another. Second-Lieutenant Robert Grenfell had succeeded in obtaining this vacancy. He had gone off in the highest spirits.

At the base everyone believed that we should be too late for the battle. Perhaps the first two squadrons might get up in time, but no one could tell. “Fancy how lucky I am,” wrote Grenfell to his family. “Here I have got the troop that would have been Winston’s, and we are to be the first to start.”

Chance is unceasingly at work in our lives, but we cannot always see its working sharply and clearly defined. As it turned out, this troop was practically cut to pieces in the charge . . . and its brave young leader was killed. (pg. 167-168)
Churchill caught up with Kitchener’s main force in time to take part in the battle at Omdurman. I’ll say more tomorrow about Churchill’s involvement in it, including how his life was spared because of an accident – that happened in India.