Far out in the Bayuda desert, seven hours’ drive north of Khartoum, lies an almost forgotten memorial to a very famous battle, Abu Klea.
On the 17th of January, 1885, a British column of approximately 1,400 men on its way to relieve the besieged General Gordon in Khartoum was attacked by 13,000 Mahdist forces. Even though the action didn’t last that long (about 15 minutes), Abu Klea has become infamous as one of the hardest battles ever fought by the British Army.
In that brief period, extreme violence occurred that turned “the sand of the desert sodden red” with the blood of over 1,000 Dervish and 81 British troops killed. It was also one of the few occasions a British square had been broken by “native” troops, as immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Fuzzy Wuzzy.”
A memorial stone erected shortly after the battle names the British dead and marks the spot where the front left of the square was approximately positioned. The battle site is in a remote area not easily reached and therefore rarely visited, but for those who make the journey little has changed in 132 years. A lunar landscape added to the ferocious heat and stinging wind make for a hostile environment, walking on the ironstone surface makes matters even jollier as electric shocks are created with virtually anything subsequently touched. It really doesn’t take much imagination to picture the fierce fighting which took place there under such harsh conditions.
Graves of British soldiers dot the surrounding area; they are marked with stones and their bones are, according to local tribesmen, occasionally uncovered due to the relentless wind. Those same locals appear to treat the site with a wary respect and claim the place is visited by spirits of the dead. If there was one truly haunted place on Earth then surely there could not be many better contenders than this.
Know Before You Go
The only practical way to reach Abu Klea is with the help of local people, it is mostly off-road driving across the Bayuda desert and involves at least a one night stay in a local village, there is no village close to the site itself. Travel Agents in Khartoum are willing to arrange the trip for a reasonable sum, including an overnight village stay. Be prepared for most of the village residents deciding to come along for the ride as “advisors”!