Camel Corps Forming Square to Receive Enemy’s Attack

Camel Corps Forming Square to Receive Enemy’s Attack. “Sketch by our special artist, Mr. Melton Price.” Source: The Illustrated London News 86 (7 February 1885): 163. Click on image to enlarge it.

Using the Square Formation in Combat — From the Battle of Abou Klea, 17 January 1885

It was bravely decided to go out and engage the enemy at close quarters. At two p.m. the force was to march out in square, carrying nothing except ammunition and stretchers. Each man was to take a hundred rounds and to have his water-bottle full. Every thing was put into thorough readiness for this enterprise. Lord Charles Beresford, with Major Barrow, remained in command of the inclosure, or zereba, containing the animals and stores. They had under them the Naval Contingent, the 19th Hussars, a party of Royal Engineers, and Captain Norton's detachment of Royal Artillery, with three screw-guns, and details from regiments and men of the Commissariat and Transport Corps.

“It was nearly three o'clock before the square started, Sir Charles Wilson in command, and Colonel Boscawen acting as Executive Officer. Lord Airlie, who had been slightly wounded at Abou Klea, and again on the 19th, together with Major Wardroper, served upon Sir Charles's staff, as they had done upon General Stewart's. The square was formed to the east of our inclosed defence, the troops lying down as they were assigned their stations. The Guards formed the front, with the Marines on the right front corner, the Heavies on the right and right rear, the Sussex in the rear, and the Mounted Infantry on the left rear and left flank. Colonel Talbot led the Heavies; Major Barrow, the Hussars; Colonel Rowley, the Guards ; Major Poé, the Marines; and Major Sunder land, the Sussex Regiment. Captain Werner, of the Rifle Brigade, was told off to direct the square in its march towards the river. When the order was given for the square to rise and advance, it moved off to the west to clear the outlying work.

“The instant the Arabs detected the forward movement on our part, they opened a terrific rifle-fire upon the square from the scrub on all sides. In the first few minutes many of our men were hit and fell. The wounded were with difficulty picked up and carried. When the square slowly marched, as if upon parade, down into the grass and scrub-covered hollow, intervening between the works we had constructed and the line of bare rising desert that bounded our view towards the south and east—shutting out of sight the river and the fertile border slopes—all felt the critical movement had come.

“Steadily the square descended into the valley. Gaps were made in our force by the enemy's fire. As man after man starvered and fell, these gaps were doggedly closed; and, without quickening the pace by one beat, onward our soldiers went. All were resolved to sell their lives dearly. Every now and again the square would halt, and the men would lie down, firing at their foes hidden in the valley. Those sheltered behind the desert crest were too safely screened to waste ammunition upon at that stage. Wheeling to the right and swinging to the left our men fought like gladiators, without unnecessarily wasting strength or dealing a blow too many. A more glorious spectacle was never seem than this little band in broad daylight, on an open plain, seeking hand-to-hand conflict with the courageous, savage, and fanatical foe, who out numbered us by twelve to one.

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Illustrated London News 86 (3 January 1885): 1. Hathi Trust Digital Library online version of a copy in the University of Chicago Library. Web. 21 August 2020.

Last modified 22 August 2020