Mass slaughter of the Egyptian wounded

A typically heroic depiction of the battle from the London Illustrated News – via Wikimedia Commons.

13 September 1882

Today in 1882, a British army advancing on Cairo, under the command of General Sir Garnet Wolseley, butchered hundreds of Egyptians, who were either fleeing for their lives or lying wounded and helpless on the battlefield of Tel el-Kebir.  A reporter who watched the battle, informed his readers that British cavalry committed ‘fearful execution among the rebels’ and another recounted how ‘the slaughter was simply horrible…. (the Egyptians) being literally mown down in hundreds as they fled,’ and he estimated the number of Egyptians killed at between three and four thousand.1  About a thousand of whom, according to the correspondent of The Times, had been ‘cut down by the cavalry and shot as they retreated.’2

Nor were the wounded spared. The correspondent of the Stockholm Dagblad  saw with his ‘own eyes how the Egyptian wounded in the trenches of Tel el-Kebir, half an hour after the attack, were killed by English soldiers,’ even though they were ‘incapable of offering any resistance.’ An Austrian officer attached to the British headquarters, also ‘witnessed the slaughter of the wounded in a helpless condition,’ adding his own opinion that ‘fewer were killed in the heat of battle than were murdered long afterwards by plundering English soldiers.’3 Some British officers admitted that their troops had committed mass slaughter, telling a reporter with the Cologne Gazette that they ‘could do nothing to prevent it,’ although a colonel ‘frowned when I spoke of murder,’ explaining that the soldiers had ‘spared nobody’ because ‘they could not ask every wounded man  whether he would perhaps fire at a better opportunity,’ adding that the men were merely ‘carried away by the heat of the fight.’4

Occasionally there were hints of the slaughter even in the propaganda art – 19th Bengal Lancers pursuing Egyptian troops – the London Evening News ( c 1882 ) via Wikimedia Commons.

FOOTNOTES

  1. “The British Victory at Tel el-Kebir,” The Nottingham Evening Post, 14 September 1882, p. 4 and “The Victory at Tel el-Kebir,” The Sheffield Independent, 15 September 1882, p. 2.
  2. The Times quoted in St. James’s Gazette, 15 September 1882 p10. See also Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997, Jonathan Cape, London 2007, p. 168.
  3. The Belfast Evening Telegraph, 9 October 1882, p. 4 and “Foreign Opinion on Egyptian Events: Grave Charges Against British Soldiers,” The Derby Mercury, 11 October 1882, p. 3.
  4. Ibid.

Please feel welcome to post comments below.  If you have any questions please email alisdare@gmail.com

© 2020 Alisdare Hickson All rights reserved

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