The Allan and Janet Woodliffe Collection of Medals Relating to the Reconquest and Pacification of the Sudan (18 May 2011)

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Date of Auction: 18th May 2011

Sold for £12,500

Estimate: £8,000 - £10,000

The important Boer War K.C.M.G., Sudan D.S.O. group of ten awarded to Major-General Sir Percy Girouard, a Canadian who won his D.S.O. as architect and builder of Kitchener’s famous desert railway to which the success of the reconquest owed so much: he later took up a number of important railway appointments before becoming Governor of Northern Nigeria and afterwards the East Africa Protectorate
The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, K.C.M.G. Knight Commander’s set of insignia, comprising neck badge, silver-gilt and enamels, and breast star in silver with appliqué centre in gold and enamels, the badge with minor chips to blue enamel circlet; Distinguished Service Order, V.R., silver-gilt and enamels, chips to green enamel wreaths; Queen’s Sudan 1896-98 (Lieut. E. P. C. Girouard, R.E.); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 3 clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal (Col: Sir E. P. C. Girouard, K.C.M.G., D.S.O., R.E.) initials and surname officially engraved, other details officially re-impressed; King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Major Sir E. P. C. Girouard, K.C.M.G., D.S.O., R.E.) officially engraved naming; Coronation 1911; Khedive’s Sudan 1896-1908, 3 clasps, Hafir, Sudan 1897, The Atbara (Lieut. E. P. Girouard, R.E.) light contact marks, unless otherwise described, good very fine (10) £8000-10000


D.S.O. London Gazette 17 November 1896: ‘In recognition of services during the recent operations in the Sudan.’

K.C.M.G. London Gazette 19 April 1901: ‘For services in connection with operations in South Africa during the war.’

Order of the Medjidie, 2nd Class London Gazette 19 August 1902: ‘In recognition of his services as the President of the Council of Administration of the Egyptian Railways, Telegraphs and the Port of Alexandria.’

M.I.D. 3 November 1896: Reconquest of Dongola Province. ‘The railway and telegraph services were very efficiently performed under the respective direction of Lt. Girouard, Director of Railways (Royal Engineers), and Lt. Manifold, Staff Officer of Telegraphs (Royal Engineers). The construction of 110 miles of railway, and 250 miles of telegraph during the very trying summer, and in difficult country, involved much labour and constant supervision on the part of these officers and their assistants.’

M.I.D. 25 January 1898: Capture of Abu Hamed. ‘On 31st October the desert railway from Wadi Halfa was opened to Abu Hamed, and the extension towards Berber was at once begun. The rapid completion of this line, which has greatly facilitated communications, reflects much credit on Lt. Col. J. G. Maxwell, D.S.O. (Commanding Nubia District), Lt. E. P. C. Girouard, D.S.O. (Royal Engineers), and his staff and on all the officers and men employed on this undertaking, which has been successfully completed in almost record time, under great vicissitudes, and during exceptionally hot weather.’

M.I.D. 31 March 1900: Lord Roberts’ Despatch. (South Africa) ‘Capt. E. P. C. Girouard, D.S.O., R.E., Director of Railways, has carried out his duties in a highly creditable manner; the concentration of troops prior to my advance was carried out by him without a hitch, and he has recently performed valuable services in restoring through railway communication between the Orange Free State and Cape Colony.’

M.I.D. 2 April 1901: Lord Roberts’ Despatch. (South Africa) Director of Railways Department. ‘The difficult and arduous work carried out by this department reflects the greatest credit upon all concerned. Brevet Major E. P. C. Girouard, D.S.O., held the important position of Director, and to his able administration, power of organisation, and unflagging energy, the success of his department is mainly due. I am much indebted to him for his valuable services.’

M.I.D. 2 April 1902: Lord Roberts’ Despatch. (South Africa) Director of Railways.

Édouard Percy Cranwill Girouard was born on 26 January 1867, in Montreal, the son of Désiré Girouard and his second wife, Essie (d. 1879), daughter of Dr Joseph Cranwill, of Ballynamona, Ireland. The Girouard family had been prominent in Quebec administration and politics from the early 1700s, and his father was a Conservative member of the Canadian parliament from 1878 to 1895, and thereafter judge of the supreme court of Canada until his death in 1911. Girouard grew up fluent in both French and English. He was educated at the seminary at Trois Rivières, and at Montreal College before entering, aged fifteen, the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario, from which he graduated in 1886 with a diploma in engineering. He then worked for two years on the engineering staff of the Canadian Pacific Railway. This proved to be important training for his future. In a sense Girouard's career can be seen as a conduit whereby Canadian railway technology and experience was transferred to British Africa, where low costs and speed of construction were equally important to imperial expansion. In 1888 Girouard accepted, much against his father's wishes, a commission in the Royal Engineers, and from 1890 to 1895 served as railway traffic manager at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich.

Girouard's African career began with his secondment to the Egyptian army in 1896, as part of the preparations for Kitchener's invasion of the Sudan to forestall the French expedition to Fashoda. As director of the Sudan railways from 1896 to 1898, his construction of the railway bypassing the Nile cataracts made possible Kitchener's victory over the Mahdists at Omdurman. Girouard's reward was appointment as president of the Egyptian railway and telegraph board in 1898.

Ralph Moore-Morris takes up the story in his article The Sudan Military Railway:

‘The story of Kitchener's 1896-98 reconquest of the Sudan is of course well documented. Herbert Horatio Kitchener the giant driving force, the newly trained Egyptian/Sudanese Infantry and the great British Tommy. The decisive weapon that was used was the Sudan Military Railway; Victorian writers had described it as the greatest weapon ever forged against Mahdism. It is a long, detailed and fascinating story and too important to be omitted from this Sudan Special, so I have attempted to give a concise and readable account of it.

The opportunity for the reconquest came during March 1896 when an Italian army was routed by the Abyssinians at Adowa in Eritrea. The British Government saw that this might encourage the Khalifa to re-start attacks on Suakin and the Egyptian frontier. If Italy was crushed in Africa, her European partners would be weakened, thus creating an imbalance with France and Russia. France did seize the opportunity which culminated in the Fashoda incident. Italy asked for Britain's help to relieve Kassala, with a diversion up the Nile. Britain saw this as an opportunity to forestall Dervish aggression and to extend her influence south.

Kitchener, who had been appointed Sirdar of the Egyptian Army in 1892, was ordered to advance up the Nile and recapture the province of Dongola. To do this, Kitchener needed the existing Wadi Haifa to Kerma railway line. After the Sudan was abandoned in 1886 the Dervishes had bent, twisted and torn up much of the line and burnt the sleepers for firewood, and the line was now in need of replacement and repair as far north as Sarras. Kitchener had found the answer to the problem in the growing reputation of a Royal Engineer - Edouard Percy Cranwell Girouard.

Girouard was born in Canada and was fluent in English and French from an early age. He was a good student, receiving a sound education at the Royal Military College. In the small class that he had led, it had won prizes in military history, strategy, tactics, reconnaissance, administration and law. During summer vacations he had worked on Canadian railroads. After four years at R.M.C, he was offered a commission in the British Infantry in 1886, which he declined due to a disagreement with his father who wanted him to follow a career in law. He compromised by accepting employment with the Canadian Pacific Railway until they could agree on his future. After two years as a junior civil engineer, and only twenty years old, he learned of a limited number of commissions in the Royal Engineers being offered in Britain. He applied, was accepted and in 1888 took passage to England. He trained at Chatham, ran the Royal Arsenal railway, continued to study, and gained himself the reputation as an imaginative railroader.

Kitchener, after meeting Girouard in London, arranged for his transfer to the Egyptian Army and railway. Girouard now known as ‘Gerry’ was high spirited, handsome and cheerful, and spoke his mind - a man after the Sirdar's own heart. On one occasion Kitchener had taken command of a slow heavily laden train, ordered the latter half detached and the driver to “Go like hell”. After a hair-raising journey and arriving in record time Kitchener exclaimed, "What a terrible terrible, dreadful journey we have had Girouard". Gerry adjusted his monocle before replying with his lazy smile, "You'll break the record and your own ruddy neck one day". Kitchener, flushing with rage quickly cooled, he could not be angry with Girouard for long, who was his favourite, privileged and indispensable Director of Railways.

In March 1896, Girouard got stuck into repairs and relaying the tracks, and by June the army which had advanced with the line defeated the Dervishes at Firket. Kitchener's first phase of the Reconquest was a success. Girouard had had his problems, there were delays at first, as the labour force of largely Egyptian and Sudanese navvies, also included convicts and prisoners. Laziness, dishonesty, stupidity and intelligence were all intermixed. The intelligent learned quickly and Girouard formed a school to educate them at Wadi Haifa. They were supervised by technicians from many nations and guarded by an Egyptian infantry battalion.

Girouard suffered sunstroke, and the Egyptian army and railway engineers suffered a cholera outbreak. They worked in heat of 109° - 116° in the shade, and a massive storm washed away twelve miles of track. This was replaced by Girouard and Kitchener with five thousand men working day and night for a week. Now that Dongola was reached by the railway, Kitchener went to London for further orders, and in November 1896 the advance to Khartoum was sanctioned.

Kitchener faced strong opposition from all the ‘experts’, to the idea of a desert military railway from Wadi Haifa towards Khartoum. The land was hostile, there was no water, nothing like it had ever been attempted through an ocean of sand - it was madness. Kitchener over-ruled all this and made a start. Girouard had begun with his lists and plans ever bearing in mind the cost, and had gone to England for essential equipment. There he met Cecil-Rhodes who was buying for the Cape Railways, and borrowed several heavy engines from him. Rhodes was happy to lend them. Kitchener had forced the decision of using the 3' 6" broader gauge, and it would seem that he had a hidden agenda. This gauge matched with Rhodes' imperial dream of a Cape to Cairo railway!

Kitchener's ‘Band of Boys’ under Girouard drove the first spike on New Years Day 1897, and construction began. The experience of the former work was now beginning to pay off, and the workmen were progressing faster. The workshops at Wadi Haifa were the industrial heart of the whole enterprise working day and night. Water was discovered at two points along the route, and wells were sunk at 77 and 126 miles from Wadi Haifa, a tremendous advantage. Gerry in his small rail-car converted to an office, was up and down the line giving advice, praising, criticizing and encouraging.

Delays were mainly due to faulty machinery and inexperienced drivers who played havoc with elderly engines in desert conditions. A major problem occurred when a leading train had a broken axle and blocked the line, causing a rail-gang to be marooned without water. Lieutenant Newcombe, R.E., who had a reputation as a remover of wreckage, completed a diversion within 24 hours bringing the much needed water. Canvas towns housed the men, and the small wayside stations, where trains drew coal and water, were stored under an Egyptian corporal's guard.

The gangs in the desert would see each morning the small shimmering dot of the material train on the horizon, gradually coming ever nearer tooting its whistle, arriving with its own water, water for the men, two thousand yards of rails, sleepers and accessories. At noon the next supply train would arrive with water, food, letters, newspapers, sausages and jam, whisky, soda-water and the "cigaretter", which, as Churchill noted "enabled the Briton to conquer the world without discomfort."

Up to three miles of track a day was now being laid and on 7 August 1897, when Abu Hamed was captured, 100 miles of line had been completed. Kitchener, the man in a hurry, put the pressure on to complete the 120 miles to Abu Hamed quickly, and this was done by the end of October. Established at Abu Hamed, the force learned of the unexpected evacuation of Berber by the Dervishes. Kitchener was now temporarily halted, having only enough material to go another seventeen miles and the force now remained stationary until January 1898. Kitchener, in the meantime, obtained the final sanction to advance on Khartoum, and Girouard ordered more material to be rushed from Britain.

On 8 April 1898, the Battle of Atbara was fought and by then the line was only 25 miles from Berber and 48 miles from the Atbara battlefield itself. Girouard completed the line to the railhead at Atbara by 3 July having laid 385 miles from Wadi Haifa.

Apart from supplying itself, the railway had brought the army, supplies, horses and three new gunboats in sections - the Melik, Sultan and Sheikh. Those who travelled in comparative comfort by rail must have reflected on the suffering of the Gordon Relief Expedition that had toiled across the Bayuda desert in 1885. Girouard's rapid construction across the impossible was an engineering record of modern times and had confounded the critics. The railway had brought Kitchener to the heart of the Sudan and the inevitable was about to begin.’

Girouard’s railway skills were so highly regarded that with the outbreak of the South African War in 1899 he became director of South African Railways, charged with making maximum use of the railways in waging war against the Boers. He wrote an account of this in his History of the Railways during the War in South Africa, 1899–1902 published in 1903. He was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1900, and at the end of the war took charge of reconstructing the railways of Transvaal and Orange River Colony, a position he resigned in 1904 after prompting from Lord Milner, who was responding to Afrikaner hostility against Girouard.

In 1903 Girouard married Mary Gwendolen, only daughter of Sir Richard Solomon, agent-general in London for the Transvaal Colony. They had one son. The marriage was dissolved in 1915. Returning to England to serve in regular army posts, first as a staff officer at Chatham, and then in 1906 as assistant quartermaster-general, western command, in Chester, Girouard soon found his railway skills again placed him in demand in Africa. In 1907 he accepted an offer from the Colonial Office to become the high commissioner (governor from 1908) of Northern Nigeria, succeeding Sir Frederick Lugard. His task was to carry construction of the railway, already built from Lagos to the Niger, into the north and up to Kano. This he planned and began, though the line reached Kano only in 1911 under his successor.

In 1909 Girouard accepted the governorship of the British East Africa Protectorate. The Colonial Office was much concerned at the military costs and violence of ‘pacification’, an inevitable consequence of policies favouring white settlers in the protectorate. Girouard's Nigerian experience was thought to be a reassuring check on such activities. But even more it was his reputation as a railway administrator that once again won him the job, for east Africa was burdened by the large capital costs of the railway from the coast at Mombasa, completed in 1901. This was constructed largely for military motives to bind landlocked Uganda to the British empire. The railway's costs far exceeded receipts, however, and the search to solve this problem had already led to the somewhat desperate remedy of settling white men with capital in the Kenya highlands in the hope that they would develop agricultural crops for export and import goods from Europe, which might make the railway solvent. Girouard, whatever his ideas in Nigeria, became convinced that in east Africa increased white settlement was the only solution to make the railway pay, and the protectorate's finances viable. At the same time he wanted to develop African traditional institutions towards some kind of ‘indirect rule’, and to prune those officials whom he regarded as dead wood. He thus won considerable settler support, unlike most of his predecessors. When Girouard initiated a mass removal of Maasai herdsmen there was missionary opposition, and opposition in Britain from humanitarian lobbies fed with information by disgruntled local officials. Girouard proved stubborn when the Colonial Office attempted to rein in his pro-settler actions. Finally, in 1912, the Colonial Office, convinced that Girouard had misled them about promises of Maasai land to white settlers, forced his resignation.

This was the end of Girouard's career as an imperial pro-consul. He joined the board of directors of the armaments firm Armstrong-Vickers. In 1915 he took a government post as director-general of munitions supply, with a brief period in Belgium on munitions procurement and railway organization, but he resigned in 1917 to return to Armstrong-Vickers, resigning from that, too, into retirement from public life in 1919. Girouard died at 2 Beaumont Street, Marylebone, London, on 26 September 1932.

Sold with a large quantity of research material including Railways in Egypt, Sudan and S. Africa 1895-99, an unpublished 91pp autobiography; The Girouard Story, by Major G. G. M. Carr-Harris, an 11pp biography; and several other books and articles relating to Girouard.