Journal Volume 1 1992
Colonel Burnaby (continued/3)
In the meantime, owing to the fact that many of the camels had been wounded, the rear of the square was unable to keep pace with the front, consequently a gap was left - a condition of affairs which the officers tried in vain to remedy, and while the British were in this predicament, the Arab forces poured over the mountains like swarms of bees. Nearer and nearer they approached, and with banners waving, tom-toms beating, and the tremendous shout of ‘Allah Akhbah’, they poured towards the gap in the square, sweeping over the undulating ground that lay in their path life a vast wave of black surf. There must have been fifteen thousand of them: enormous Sheiks in patched jibbehs, Dervishes, ferocious thick-necked Baggara from the Nuba plains, tremendous black woolly-haired warriors, with iron rings on wrist and neck, two edged swords and shields of crocodile hide, emirs on horseback; in short, representatives apparently of every tribe and nation in the Sudan.
The British tried their utmost to close the gap, the skirmishers fell back, while the rifles in the square kept up a continuous fire, and the shrapnel guns belched forth their deadly streams. General Stewart moved about the left flank, Colonel Burnaby was near the gap, and Lord Cochrane and Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Binning, were distant from him only a few yards. The rifles of the Guards and the Mounted Infantry mowed down the black masses of the enemy like corn, but those in the rear leaped over the piles of dead, many of them reaching the square, so there was much hand to hand fighting. To add to the terrible confusion, in the midst of the struggle part of the British ammunition caught fire, so there was at once a crackling of boxes and continuous explosion of cartridges behind our soldiers, and a furious enemy in front; but even this was not all, for the Gardner guns jammed, and the soldiers' bayonets, being too long, became softened by the continuous firing, and consequently lost their effectiveness.
Colonel Burnaby, who still rode the pony, Moses, had restrained his own command as long as possible. ‘Don't fire yet,’ he shouted, ‘you'll hit our men’ meaning the skirmishers, who were still pouring in ; and the foe was within 150 yards when the first volley was fired from those near the gap. The left flank of the square then fell back a few feet, and there was some confusion. Colonel Burnaby, instead of falling back with the others, stood his ground, and then seeing some skirmishers being struck down by the Arabs he dashed to their rescue, doing deadly execution with his revolver and a huge sword. As he rode forward a Sheik charged him on horseback, only, however, to fall by an English bullet. But behind the Sheik were spearmen, and one of them, suddenly dashing at Burnaby, thrust a spear blade into his throat. Checking his pony, and pulling it backward, Burnaby leant forward in his saddle and parried the rapid and ferocious thrusts, but the length of the Moslem's weapon - eight feet - put it out of his power to retaliate effectually. Still he fenced smartly, and there was a smile on his features as he drove off the man's awkward points. At this moment another Arab ran his spear into the Colonel's right shoulder, but he had scarcely done so before he was bayonetted by a young soldier named Laport. In the confusion Burnaby received another throat wound from the first Arab, causing him to fall from his saddle, and half a dozen Arabs closed on him. In spite of the wounds he leapt to his feet, sword in hand, and slashed at his foes, while Sir William Gordon Gumming, and young Corporal Mackintosh, of the Blues, who was instantly cut down by an Arab, rushed courageously to his assistance. Half a dozen Arabs were now about Burnaby; he struck at them ‘with the wild strokes of a proud brave man dying hard, but he was quickly overborne,’ and he fell bleeding, helpless and dying into the arms of his servant Buchanan, who had just reached the spot. Private Wood, of the Grenadier Guards, ran out, raised his head, and offered him some water.