NWORA Remembrance Vol.4 - NE99


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Forget-me-not Remembrance Vol.4 91 HEROES By Terence Cottrell BA(Hons), MA, JD. "Consecration of valour is not a bad thing!" Thomas Carlyle wrote in The Hero as Divinity (1840). Preaching a doctrine of doing what is in oneself to do Carlyle cultivated a natural appreciation of genius and of the hero who contributes greatly to human history. He had a "great man" theory of history. The hope of man lies in the heroic act, which sets the parameters within which the rest of us must find salvation. A consequence of this doctrine is that for Carlyle biography became the soul of history. "I was always embarrassed by the words 'sacred,' 'glorious' and 'sacrifice' and the expression, 'in vain.' (Ernest Hemingway wrote in A farewell to Arms 1929)."We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that had been slapped up by billposters over other procla- mations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards of Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity…. Abstract words such as glory, honour, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates." On 2 September 1898 at Omdurman, on the Nile just north of Khartoum in the Sudan, after several small victories, General Horatio Herbert Kitchener's force of 26,000 Anglo-Egyptian soldiers, bent on the re- occupation of the Sudan after the abortive rescue attempts to save the besieged General Gordon, martyred with his small garrison in Khartoum on 26 January 1885, had failed, was savagely attacked by 40,000 Dervishes of the Khalifa Abdulla's army. The Dervishes, of course, had no machineguns or field guns and lacked trained riflemen like the British infantry whose use of volley-firing from hollow squares produced such devastating results. As the Dervish hosts advanced upon McDonald's Brigade they were shot to pieces until only one man remained standing. The British officers were struck with admiration for this old man, the Khalifa's standard- bearer, who stood facing his enemies for all the world like a grizzled Old Testament prophet with thunder in his face, surrounded by the bodies of hundreds of his fallen comrades while showers of .303-calibre Lee-Metford bullets zapped around him like the diabolical products of one of the local simoon windstorms, defiantly holding his master's sacred standard high in his left hand with his sword ready for a fight to the death in his right. Now Here was a man. The order to cease fire was given and the storm of shot abated…. But of course it couldn't go on; Mahdist troops were still fighting nearby until they were swept from the field by the famous cavalry charge in which the young Winston Churchill took part. The order to fire was given at last and the standard-bearer received the noble death he sought. The black and white drawing of the "Khalifa's standard-bearer's last stand" appeared on page 16 of The Deseret Evening News of Salt Lake City, Utah, on Saturday 29 October 1898 and was widely-reproduced around the world. When it caught my eye I must admit that that eye didn't stay dry for long. But up to that time I was inclined to agree with Hemingway about the overuse of laudatory superlatives to describe carnage and mayhem on the battlefield and what the First World War soldier-poet Wilfred Owen referred to as "these who die like cattle." Since then I've found reason to reconsider the matter. Was the Khalifa's standard bearer a "hero?" Let Remembrance know what you think about this or any other subject. Send your comments to: The Editor at info@worassociation.ca THE LAST STAND OF THE KHALIFA'S STANDARD BEARER A thrilling incident in the late Soudan war. "That one man, alone, was standing alive, holding the flag straight a storm of lead sweeping past him–his comrades dead around him."

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