17 December 2014

The tars react to Omdurman

From Rudyard Kipling's A Fleet in Being (1898, subtitled 'Notes of two trips with the Channel Squadron'), an account of Royal Navy sailors' reaction to fleet signals detailing General Kitchener's major victory in the Battle of Omdurman against Mahdist forces in the Sudan on 2 September 1898:

One peaceful morning the Yeoman of Signals came to the captain's cabin at the regulation pace, but with heightened colour and an eye something brighter than usual. 'Signal from the flagship, sir,' said he, reading off the slate. 'Omdurman fallen: killed so many, and wounded so many.' 'Thank you,' said the captain. 'Tell the men.' On this, I went forward to see how the news would be received. We were busy painting some deck-houses, and the work continued to an accompaniment of subdued voices--the hushed tones of men under the eye of authority. Word was passed to the lower deck and the stokehold: and the hum of talk rose, perhaps, half a note. I halted by the painters. Said one, dipping deep in the white lead: 'Um, ah! This ought to make the French sickish. Almost 'ear 'em coughin', can't you?' Said another, reaching out for the broadest and slabbiest brush: 'I say, Alf, lend us that Khartoum brush o' yours.' After a long pause, stepping back to catch the effect of a peculiarly juicy stroke--head a little aside and one eye shut: 'Well, we've waited about long enough, 'aven't we?' Bosun's mate with a fine mixture of official severity and human tolerance: 'What are you cacklin' for over there! Carry on quiet, can't you?' And that was how we took the news of the little skirmish called Omdurman.
- Rudyard Kipling, A Fleet in Being, 1898

Today Omdurman is a suburb of the Sudanese capital Khartoum.
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