Journal Volume 1 1992

Colonel Burnaby (continued/2)

A little later, however, he felt convinced that the enemy would make an attack, and having quitted his companions, he joined General Stewart, with whom he visited the various corps in the zereba, as well as the small posts which had been made with the aid of biscuit boxes. Addressing Corporal J.R. Payne as a senior non-commissioned officer, he said, ‘Are your men awake? Is their ammunition ready?’ And on receiving a satisfactory reply, he passed to another company, to whom he said ‘Don't fire, men, until you see the whites of their eyes.’

A little later Mr. Burleigh learnt that Burnaby had been appointed by General Wolseley second in command - that is next to General Stewart - and that on reaching Metamneh, he was to be named governor of the town. Early in the morning Burnaby rode up to Lord Cochrane (now Lord Dundonald), whose men - a squadron of the heavy camel corps, made up of the 1st and 2nd Life Guards - occupied a slight hollow, and asked whether he might put his mount among them. While Lord Cochrane and Burnaby were sitting together on some rising ground, and looking in the direction of the enemy, a bullet whistled between them and towards some men who were lying behind, one of whom was named Murray. After remarking that it was a close shave, Lord Cochrane asked the men for the bullet, but Murray replied, ‘I think, sir, I have the best right to it, as it has gone through my pocket’; so he kept it. Shortly afterwards someone said, ‘They seem to be hitting a good many of our men’; on which Colonel Burnaby observed, ‘You can't make omelettes without breaking eggs.’

A few minutes later while he was chatting with another officer and Mr. Melton Prior, the bullets of the enemy again came unpleasantly near. 'The rascals are firing at us from those hills on the right,’ said the officer as a bullet whistled between him and Burnaby. ‘We may as well be killed here now, as elsewhere later on.’

About 7 in the morning General Stewart ordered an advance, and gave instructions to drive the enemy from the wells. The column left the zereba at 7.30, and about 9 the bugle sounded the halt. A square was formed with the Guards in front, the Mounted Infantry on the left, the Sussex Regiment on the right, and the Naval Brigade and the Heavy Cavalry in the rear, while in the centre were the camels carrying ammunition and litters for the wounded, and the Gardner guns. A movement forward was then made, amid a fusillade from the hills, but although the enemy had excellent weapons, namely, Remingtons, taken from Hicks Pasha's slaughtered army, they were bad marksmen, most of the bullets going too high.

Reports then came in that the enemy's scouts were seen coming round the hills above the left flank; and the 19th Hussars were sent forward to drive them back.

‘Where's your double-barrelled shot gun?’ inquired Mr. Burleigh of Burnaby.

‘Oh,’ was the reply. ‘As the sentimentalists and their friends at home made such an outcry on account of my using it at El Teb, I have handed it over to my servant.’

That was a mistake,’ said Mr. Burleigh, ‘I should have seen them did first. These cruel devils of dervishes give no quarter. It is not even the sword of Mahomet, but defilement and butchery in the name of the Mahdi. So it's their lives or ours.’

‘It is too late now,’ said Burnaby. ‘I must take my chance.’


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