Omdurman by Philip Ziegler (Collins £3) Fourteen years passed after the death of General Gordon before Kitchener led the combined British and British-led Egyptian forces with naval gunboats at the Battle of Omdurman.
Philip Ziegler, in this excellent and exciting book, contends that it was a battle of revenge for Gordon's death above all else, the people of Britain, Queen Victoria and the Army had demanded it, and the Government agreed.
The battle itself is so well described as to allow the reader to become a close onlooker. The fanatical bravery and acceptance of death by the Khalifa's forces and the happy, sporting outlook and sheer endurance of the British soldiers are revealed by the use of contemporary letters and accounts.
Of course the battle did not go to plan, and mistakes were made as in every battle ever fought. Basically it was the hard slog dominated by the artillery against illequipped, determined men of the Khalifa.
The small forces of Kitchener were heavily outnumbered, but for all their modern equipment there were some near-disasters. The famous charge of the 17th Lancers was an instance, and this is well described, including all aspects of the young Churchill who as a 4th Hussar was attached to the 17th in time to take part.
Among the young officers in Kitchener's force who are mentioned with praise are Captain Douglas Haig; Lt. David Beatty, R.N., and Captain Rawlinson, who became Field Marshal Earl Haig; Admiral of the Fleet Earl Beatty, and General Lord Rawlinson.
Alter the battle Kitchener organised a memorial service for Gordon. He wanted the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic chaplains to take part, but the Anglican padre refused.
Kitchener sent for Gordon's nephew and asked: "What religion was your uncle'?" Young Gordon replied that he was Church of England, "but that he was a man who would say his prayers equally well in a Roman Catholic church".
This satisfied Kitchener, and he ordered the padre to return to Cairo. This act caused the padre to become ecumenical at a stroke and all four chaplains conducted the service.
The Catholic chaplains with the British Services have always been the envy of all non-Catholics and the priest at Gordon's memorial were obviously outstanding. The author writes: "Fr. Brindle, the Roman Catholic padre whose gentleness, generosity and joy in life had made him the best-loved man in the Army, stepped forward to give the Benediction.
"I have never, except in family trouble, felt so like bursting into tears", recorded the normally unimpressionable Rawlinson.
New books on war, battles and regiments seem to be increasing both in number and popularity. This one is worth buying, but it is far too exciting to last long. Your reviewer finished it in 24 hours.
Monckton of Brenchley