In the next of my novels to be published, Now the Darkness Gathers, the opening chapter describes some of the events that took place at the Battle of Omdurman on 2 September 1898. Omdurman is now a suburb of Khartoum in Sudan. Here, Sir Herbert Kitchener’s forces won an overwhelming victory over the Mahdist army. Churchill took part in the battle whilst serving with the 21st Lancers. However, it is not widely recognised that the Royal Navy was also present.
Kitchener’s forces were transported down the Nile and the flotilla of craft employed included a number of gunboats, largely commanded by Royal Navy officers, including a young Lieutenant David Beatty of Jutland fame. The gunboats were heavily armed and the guns manned by Royal Marines. In addition to the heavy weaponry, they were equipped with powerful searchlights and, as my readers will discover, these were to have an important effect on the battle.
In my book, I feature one of the gunboats, the Melik. I have recently been surprised to discover that this gunboat still survives the battle and, until 1989, was the clubhouse of the Blue Nile Sailing Club at Khartoum. A group of enthusiasts, The Melik Society, has been formed to improve awareness of British and Sudanese history and it hopes, too, to raise sufficient funds to preserve and restore the Melik. Should you wish to know more of the society, see their website at www.melik.org.uk.