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 £2,100

Estimate: £800 - £1,000

Sir Hector MacDonald, a remarkable and historically important manuscript letter to General Knowles, commanding in Egypt, in which MacDonald explains exactly how he saved his Brigade at Omdurman:


‘.....the enemy coming out from behind (1) [Kerari Hills - Green flags of Osman Sheikh el Din and Ali Wad Helu, with 15,000 men] and massing to the N. West of it. As I could not well ignore this force I warned Lewis that I was going to attack them and asked him to wheel round his right and seize the hill (2) [Jebel Surgham - Black flags of Yacoub and the Khalifa, with 17,000 men] and join on my left. I had in reply that the orders were to proceed to Omdurman. In the meantime I could see that the force in front of me was a very large one and I knew that the one on my right was a very large one and I determined to defeat if possible the nearer force before the other could join. At a range of 1100 yards I brought forward the artillery and opened fire on the infantry which were advancing in fours from the flanks of companies forming line. No sooner had we opened fire then up went innumerable standards, amongst them a prominent black one, the Khalifa’s and they opened a furious fusillade and at once bore down upon us. Their advance was very rapid and determined and though they appeared to be mowed down by the artillery and maxims they still pressed on in such numbers and so quickly that I brought up the infantry into line with the guns but in spite of the hail of lead now poured at effective ranges into their dense masses they still pressed forward in the most gallant manner until between 300 & 400 yards when they practically melted away leaving the Khalifas black flag flying alone within 250 yards of Jackson’s Bn - A fine performance truly for any race of men - you can well imagine how anxiously I watched during the progress of this attack the movements of the enemy on my right whom I now saw advancing in huge masses and I was just in time to bring a Battery onto the new front at X to open fire at 800 yards and I completed the movement shown in red pencil at the double in the following order each Bn getting on to the new front before I moved the next (the remnants of the 1st attack still hanging around). First I moved the XIth in prolongation of the 3 companies of the IXth thrown back, then the Xth. The 2 cos of the IXth formed forward into the new front - and the 2nd Bn came up on the left, and the Camel Corps prolonged to the right. During this movement the enemy Cavalry charged home to death not one got away as far as I am aware. They could not have been more than 100 in all. A heroic deed if ever there was any. The enemy pressed on in 2 Columns densely packed but were disposed of as the first attack was and slunk away to the West. A couple of companies of Maxwell’s Brigade returned and occupied hill (2) while this was going on and Lewis turned his Brigade about and came up on my left. The 1st British Brigade also arrived and I placed the Lincolns on the right the remainder went to the left but by now the action was over and the enemy in full flight. And I confess I was thankful to see them go. It was hard work especially for the Artillery. In the first attack 2nd phase they fired from 1100 yards to case and in the 2nd attack 2nd phase 800 yards to case and were engaged thus for over 2 hours without ceasing a tremendous physical strain on any set of men. The infantry fired on an average 71 rounds per man. The XIth fired 105 rounds per man. Lots of men had not a round left. The Casualties in my Brigade were very few considering the numbers against them. The enemy fired any way.

* 1 British officer wounded 1 Egyptian officer wounded 11 Men killed 118 Men wounded
* Vandaleur of the Guards.

The fire discipline of the Brigade under very trying circumstances was markedly good and I cannot but feel proud of the splendid discipline of the troops who enabled me to make a complete change of front by moving whole Battalions in strings of fours from one flank of the line to the other in the face of a persistently aggressive enemy.

You will have seen the newspaper reports of the engagement in other parts of the field and in Omdurman. Of these I cannot speak, I only know what happened to my own people and the vicinity. It is possible that you will have seen the Sirdar before now and have had the whole story from his own lips.

I am sorry to say that I am not very well, I had a kick from a horse on Sept 2nd which I am afraid has broken some bone or bones of my instep which has rather upset me, as I am not able to go about. This business of Gedaref is serious but we all hope for the best. The re-enforcements under General Rundle should arrive by the 15th and a further re-enforcement under Collinson left here on the 7th. Rundle was sent to relieve Parsons who was under siege at Gedaref after capturing the base of Ahmed Fadil, the Emir who was later killed at battle of Gedid.(Umm Debaykarat)

Please give my kind regards to Mrs Knowles and believe me,
yours sincerely,

H. A. Macdonald’

in good condition £800-1000

Note: MacDonald’s reference numbers in the above letter refer to a missing sketch which has been kindly reconstructed by Ralph Moore-Morris and is reproduced here.