Relic of Khartoum

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic
After the apocalypse, what artifacts of human habitation might one find in the ruins?

Submitted: July 27, 2015

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Submitted: July 27, 2015

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Imagine, if you will, that you are a soldier in a distant and desolate land, at a place that was utterly destroyed by a mad man in a fit of rage. What indication of former human habitation might you expect to find in the wreckage, and what would you do with it? In the case of one soldier, long dead now, he brought it home as a souvenir and passed it on to his descendants as a family heirloom.

By a stroke of fortune, when I was a young man, I actually saw the souvenir, a relic of Khartoum, with my very own two eyes. I also got to hear the fabulous story of its history from the son of the soldier who brought it home from the war. I am glad that I paid attention at the time because it gives me something to write about today.

In 1961, I was on a ship that made a port of call at the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong. I took early liberty and wound up at a steak house on the outskirts of Victoria, the capital city. The restaurant wasn't open for business yet, but I was allowed to sit at the bar and have a beer while I waited.

There was a trophy cabinet behind the bar. It displayed a bunch of stuff -- photos of famous people who had eaten in the establishment, a Lee-Enfield jungle carbine, a tattered Australian flag and many things I have since forgotten.

One of the things that caught my eye was a little bottle of hot sauce at the center of attention. It had a brass tag underneath that read: Khartoum 1899. It seemed so unusual in that setting that I inquired about its significance. Thereupon, the bar tender asked the proprietor to come up front.

The restaurant owner was a very old, one-armed Australian veteran who had served in both WW-I and WW-II, at Gallipoli in the first war and in Burma during the second. He invited me to sit at a table and ordered me a fresh beer on the house. Apparently, the old dodger enjoyed telling the story, and I was keen to hear it.

In the 1880s, a Muslim leader, Muhammad Ahmad, came to power in East Africa. He claimed to be the Mahdi, the messiah of the Islamic faith. He recruited an army of fanatics bent upon freeing the Sudan from Egyptian rule and casting out their Turkish and British allies. He instituted a reign of Mahdist terror, imposing the harshest form of Sharia law.

The anti-Mahdist forces made a last stand at the Siege of Khartoum under the direction of British Major-General Charles Gordon. Their valiant effort was for naught. They were overrun and massacred.

Seeking to curry favor with their new ruler, the townspeople presented the head of General Gordon to the Mahdi. Muhammad Ahmad was furious. He had given specific orders that Gordon must not be killed. A soothsayer had foretold that if Gordon died, so too would Ahmad. In a fit of anger, he put the city to the sword. He had thousands killed, and he had the rest sold into slavery. He ordered the destruction of everything.

The prophesy was accurate. Six months later, the Mahdi took sick and died.

It was near the end of the century before the British reestablished Egyptian control over the Sudan. A punitive expedition, led by Horatio Kitchener, was sent to avenge Gordon's death. That time the British prevailed. They thoroughly defeated the Mahdist forces at the Battle of Omdurman.

In the aftermath of the victory, British soldiers searched every building in Khartoum from top to bottom. In his report to London, Lord Kitchener said that his men had found only two artifacts to indicate that civilization had ever penetrated that far into the Sudan -- a bar of Ivory soap and a bottle of Tabasco sauce.

Naturally, I cannot see Tabasco today without fondly remembering the story told to me by the son of a British soldier who found a bottle of the stuff, over a century ago, in the desolate ruins of far-away Khartoum.

Copyright © 2015 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.


© Copyright 2020 Whiskey Charlie. All rights reserved.

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