By WINSTON S. CHURCHILL
The long-awaited definitive edition of Winston Churchill’s second book The River War has now been published. This is the first version to contain the complete text in more than 120 years. Until now, all subsequent editions after the rare and expensive first edition contained only an abridgment. Editor James W. Muller has carefully restored all of the deleted passages, making it possible for modern readers to enjoy Churchill’s complete account of the military campaign, which culminated with his participation in the charge of the 21st Lancers during the Battle of Omdurman.
The march to Omdurman took place in the summer of 1898. British, Egyptian, and Sudanese soldiers under the command of Sir Herbert Kitchener, the “Sirdar” (Commander-in-Chief), made their way under extreme heat. At one point in the march along the banks of the Nile, there was a pause, during which Lt. Churchill and his fellow officers sought refuge in the shade of the few trees that grew by the river. This brief respite ended when work parties came along to cut down the trees in order to supply firewood to the steamships on the river that accompanied the ground forces. The officers reluctantly gave way, but, when an attempt was made to cut down a tree sheltering a group of Sudanese women, a different scenario unfolded that Churchill subsequently described—in one of the newly restored passages (II 60–61)—as an example of “Woman’s Rights.”
The army had been accompanied by a large number of black women, presumably the wives of the Soudanese soldiers. These the Sirdar had constantly endeavoured to banish, refusing to make any provisions for them and forbidding them to follow the line of march. But they treated his orders with profound disdain, and they were seen daily trudging along after the troops, carrying their goods and chattels on their heads, in spite of the dust, the sun, the danger, and the length of the road. I had often felt sorry for them and their fatigues. Yet I suppose theirs was a labour of love.
Four of these beauties were now encamped beneath a tree. A stalwart Egyptian soldier advanced to cut it down according to his orders. Forthwith they summoned him to desist, and on his paying no attention to their imprecations the whole four rose in a bunch and rushed upon him, knocking him down, beating him, and pulling his ears. The soldier, rising with a great effort, succeeded in freeing himself, and incontinently fled, pursued by the taunts of the damsels, who retired again to their tree—which was not cut down.
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