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Last Charge of the Dervishes Churchill Reflects on the Battle of Omdurman

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. Editor James W. Muller has carefully restored all of the previously 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.

In one of the restored passages, Churchill reflects upon the character shown by 400 remaining Dervish cavalrymen at the end of the battle who mounted a final and futile attack on the lines of the British army. The last sentence cannot be read today without thinking of the stance adopted by Prime Minister Churchill in 1940.

Now when these horsemen believed that there was no more hope of victory, they arranged themselves in a solid mass and charged….it was evident that they could not possibly succeed. Nevertheless, many carrying no weapon in their hands, and all urging their horses to their utmost speed, they rode unflinchingly to certain death. All were killed and fell as they rode into the zone of fire….A few riderless horses alone broke through the ranks of the infantry.

The valour of their deed has been discounted by those who have told the tale. “Mad fanaticism” is the depreciating comment of their conquerors. I hold this to be a cruel injustice. Nor can he be a very brave man who will not credit them with a nobler motive, and believe that they died to clear their honour from the stain of defeat.

Why should we regard as madness in the savage what would be sublime in civilised men? For I hope that if evil days should come upon our own country, and the last army which a collapsing Empire could interpose between London and the invader were dissolving in rout and ruin, that there would be some—even in these modern days—who would not care to accustom themselves to a new order of things and tamely survive the disaster.

The new edition of The River War is available direct from the publisher, St. Augustine’s Press. To order, please CLICK HERE.

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