[ 2 September 1892 ]

On this day in 1892, the army of the Mahdi, a Sudanese religious figure,  was massacred at the so called battle of Omdurman. About sixteen thousand Dervishes were killed for the loss of just 48 British soldiers  British soldiers were then ordered to shoot the prisoners and wounded, supposedly “in revenge” for the killing of General Gordon during the siege of Khartoum fourteen years earlier.  One NCO commented “well, if that is not murder, I do not know what is,” while another declared that it was “more like a butcher’s killing house than anything else.”[1]

A youthful Lieutenant Winston Churchill, who was at the battle, informed his mother by letter that the “victory at Omdurman was disgraced by the inhuman slaughter of the wounded and… Kitchener (the British commander in chief) was responsible for this.”[2] War correspondent Ernest Bennett was also appalled by “the slaughter at Omdurman of men who were unarmed and manifestly helpless” and by the indiscriminate use of the Maxim Machine Gun against fleeing Dervishes in the streets of Omdurman after the battle.

“One street especially which led down to the river,” he reported, “was swept by a frightful hail of Maxim bullets, which mowed the fugitives down in scores, non-combatants as well as combatants. If… Gordon could have foreseen some of the deeds sanctioned by the general who was sent to ‘avenge’ him, his dying request… would, I think, have been to put away all thoughts of vengeance !”[3]

General Kitchener, however, insisted that he had not given any orders to execute the wounded and was, in fact, annoyed by the killings because it was “a dreadful waste of ammunition.”[4]  The Army and Navy Gazette leaped to the general’s defence, explaining that “when the forces of a civilised power are employed against semi-barbarous enemies it is not possible to control excesses.” [5]

Other newspapers were equally unequivocal in their condemnation of any criticism. “You cannot be humane to such a foe,” asserted St. James’s Gazette, “and it is a simple fact that in wars of the more ferocious nature all concerned become hardened and barbarized.” The Gazette reasoned that Kitchener’s war in Sudan was “in essentials a just war, and one sure to beneficent in its general results” and it questioned “what purpose Mr. Bennett can reasonably have hoped to serve by dragging out all the ‘tacenda’ of the Omdurman campaign.”[6]


[ 2 September 1976 ]

On this day in 1976, an internal briefing document entitled “A Guide to Paramilitary and Associated Organisations (in Northern Ireland)” shows clearly that the British government, while refusing to proscribe the Loyalist Ulster Defence Association (UDA), realised that it was indeed responsible for sectarian killings and terrorism.

The paper described the UDA as “the largest and best-organised of the Loyalist paramilitary organisation (which)… tries to maintain a respectable front and, to this end, either denies responsibility for sectarian murders and terrorist bombings or claims them in the name of the Ulster Freedom Fighters (UFF), a proscribed and essentially fictitious organisation which is widely known to be a nom de guerre for the UDA.” Formed in 1971, the UDA was only finally outlawed as a terrorist organisation in August 1992 by which time it is believed to have been responsible for some five hundred murders. [7]


2nd September 1958 – Britain tests a nuclear bomb on Christmas Island.


  1. First officer cited in “The Omdurman Victory: Serious Charges Against Anglo-Egyptian Troops,” The Northampton Mercury, 6 January 1899 p5 and second in John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire, Bookmarks 2013 London, p106
  2. Steven J Corvi and Ian F W Beckett (Editors), Victoria’s Generals, Pen and Sword Military 2009 Barnsley, p199
  3. Ernest N Bennett cited in “The Omdurman Victory: Serious Charges Against Anglo-Egyptian Troops,” The Northampton Mercury, 6 January 1899 p5
  4. Philip Magnus, Kitchenere: Portrait of an Imperialist, John Murray 1958, London p128
  5. “Army Notes,” The Army and Navy Gazette, 7 January 1899 p4
  6. “These Things Must Be At Every Victory,” St. James’s Gazette 31 December 1898 p3
  7. Margaret Urwin (2016), “A State of Denial: British Collaboration with Loyalist Paramilitaries,” Mercier Press, Cork, p163 and p211.

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