15744 Corporal George Andrews
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis
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The Early Years, 1860-1878
George Andrews was born on 5 September 1860 in the town of Chartham, in the County of Kent. Chartham (not to be confused with Chatham) is a small town located approximately three miles southwest of Canterbury, near the eastern end of the County. George was the son of George and Mary Ann (formerly Tupper) Andrews. His father was a farm labourer at the time of George's birth, but later changed his occupation to that of coachman. Although George's parents' names are listed on his birth certificate it appears that he might not have been raised by them. His Military Service Sheet shows his next of kin to be a Mrs. A. Holness of Blean, a small town located approximately three miles to the northwest of Canterbury. The records are not clear on this point. One can only assume that either his parents both died when he was very young, or that his family was too poor to raise him and hence, placed him with a foster mother. At any rate, George Andrews grew to manhood in the area of Kent, near Canterbury, taking on work as a groom until his enlistment in the Royal Engineers. By today's standards George Andrews was a small man when he enlisted in the Royal Engineers at the age of 18 years and 10 months. Although his physical development was good, he stood only 5 feet 4-1/2 inches tall and weighed only 124 pounds. He had a fresh complexion, with hazel eyes and dark brown hair. His one distinctive mark was a birthmark on his left elbow.
George Andrews enlisted at Canterbury on 15 July 1878 for service with the Royal Engineers. He was recruited for military service by Sergeant Major S. Wiggs of the 45th Brigade Depot in Canterbury. He was administered the Oath of Attestation on 16 July at Canterbury by Sergeant Major W. Hyans, and on the following day his enlistment was certified by the approving Field Officer of the 45th Brigade Depot, Colonel H.W. Stewart. He was certified medically fit for enlistment by Surgeon Major H.D. Chapman.
With all the details of his enlistment out of the way, Andrews was assigned as a Driver (Regimental Number 15744) to the Royal Engineer Field Park and Depot at Aldershot. He joined his unit on the 18th of July. At this point Andrews began a period of training in the basic skills of the soldier, and in the specialized skills required of a Driver in the Engineer Field Park and Depot.
The Zulu War, 1878-1880
While Driver Andrews was serving at Aldershot a situation was developing in South Africa that was to cause his unit to be mobilized for active service. King Cetewayo, who had been crowned King of the Zulus on the 1st of September 1873, was causing trouble with the European colonists in nearby Natal. He was sent an ultimatum by the British authorities demanding the release of certain prisoners captured by the Zulus during a border raid. As no answer was received, Lord Chelmsford, the commander of British forces in Natal, crossed the Tugela River into Zululand on 11 January 1879. His force was composed of five columns, one of which remained near the border at Isandhlwana. This column was attacked by a force of approximately 20,000 Zulu warriors under the command of Dambulamanzi, King Cetewayo's half-brother, on 22 January 1879. Five companies of the 1/24th Foot (the South Wales Borderers), one company of the 2/24th Foot, together with 59 artillerymen, a detachment of Royal Engineers, and native levees were annihilated. The British force wiped out at Isandhlwana totaled 1,329 officers and men. On the same night, flushed with their success, the Zulus moved about ten miles down the Tugela River to Rorke's Drift. Here the small garrison of 139 men who were guarding the sick and wounded were attacked by 3,000 Zulus. During this epic defence, the garrison under Lieutenant John Rouse Merriott Chard, Royal Engineers, and Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, 24th Foot, won no fewer than eleven Victoria Crosses.
In the meanwhile, a second column under Colonel Pearson with the 2/3rd and 99th Foot, together with a Naval Brigade, was surrounded at Eshowe. A third column under Colonel Evelyn Wood, VC, had to fall back to Kambula. It was not until the defeat of Dambulamanzi at Ginghilovo, on 2 April, that Colonel Pearson was relieved. Colonel Wood defeated the Zulus, under the Zulu chieftain Umbelini, in the Zlobani Mountains on 28 March, but suffered heavy casualties. On the next day he again defeated them at Kambula.
The unsatisfactory nature of the fighting in Zululand up to this point was an item of great concern to the British government. The authorities in England decided that further reinforcements were needed in South Africa. As a result of this decision the Royal Engineer Field Park and Depot, along with other Royal Engineer units, was alerted for service in Zululand. On 29 May Driver Andrews left England bound for South Africa. From the War Office Records it would appear that the Field Park and Depot were attached to "C" Troop, Royal Engineers, under the command of Major A.C. Hamilton. The contingent making up the Field Park and Depot was extremely small, the muster roll showing only the following names:
10720 Corporal Frederick Woodeson
10608 2nd Corporal David M. Robb
15744 Driver GEORGE ANDREWS
15667 Driver Henry Bowyer
10700 Driver William Hall
15678 Driver John Judge
15085 Driver George Love
15683 Driver Edward Petherick
12120 Driver William Ramsey
15082 Driver Robert Stuckey
15452 Driver Henry Thorogood
15687 Driver Samuel Winfield
While "C" Troop was engaged in establishing telegraph and signal communications for the British forces in Zululand, the Field Park and Depot was attached to Lord Chelmsford's headquarters. Its mission was to convey the heavier engineer stores needed by the units of the Army which were in less constant requisition than those needed on a daily basis by the field companies operating forward with the Divisions or columns. The Field Park and Depot was provided with heavier wagons for artificers' tools, a spare forge, miners' and general defence stores. It was in fact a rear echelon engineer supply unit. The stores for the Field Park and Depot were arranged in nine wagons, including printing, lithographic, and photographic wagons. Obviously, the unit's mission was one of rear area support, hence Driver Andrews did not become engaged directly in the subsequent actions of the campaign. His service in Zululand did, however, entitle him to the campaign medal for South Africa, with clasp "1879". The medal was subsequently issued to him after his return to England.
Andrews' stay in Zululand was not a very long one. Lord Chelmsford decisively defeated Cetewayo at the Battle of Ulundi on 4 July 1879. Sir Garnet Wolseley, who subsequently arrived in Zululand, met with the Zulu chiefs on the 1st of September, and the war was officially proclaimed to be at an end. Despite the proclamation, Sekukini, a Basuto chief and friend of Cetewayo, continued to cause trouble in the area. On 2 December, a force under Colonel Russell was sent after Sekukini and secured his surrender.
Driver Andrews and his unit remained in South Africa until just after the beginning of the new year, and then departed for England on 28 January. Upon its arrival at home, the Field Park and Depot was once again assigned to Aldershot. Having completed two years of service with the Colours, Driver Andrews is authorized Good Conduct Pay on 16 July, at the rate of l.d. On 26 August he was authorized the campaign medal for his service in Zululand.
The Campaign in Egypt, 1881-1882
During the remainder of 1880 and during the year 1881, George Andrews enjoyed the duties of home service at Aldershot. However, in the fall of 1881 events were taking shape in Egypt that would soon see him on active service once again. On 9 September 1881 Colonel Ahmed Arabi, an Egyptian Army Officer, instigated a military mutiny against Prince Tewfik, the son of the Khedive of Egypt. A widespread feeling of discontent pervaded not only the Egyptian Army, but also the country as a whole. The people desired to limit the power of the Khedive and abolish the Anglo-French control of their government. The better-educated classes in Egypt noted the increasing number of European officials, and suspected that Egypt would soon be under foreign domination. The British and French governments noted that the Egyptians were improving their coast defences and strengthening their Army, and realized that if the Khedive were to be maintained in power they would soon be called upon to take active measures in his support. On 8 January 1882 the British and French pledged themselves in a joint note to assist the Khedive against all his enemies. Unfortunately this declaration was not backed by a display of force, a fact which Colonel Arabi was quick to note. He declared point blank that any foreign intervention would not be tolerated. Bitter opposition occurred between Prince Tewfik and his ministers, among whom was Arabi, who had become Minister of War in May of 1882. A few British and French warships were sent to Alexandria, where the European population had become seriously alarmed. A Turkish envoy arrived in Cairo on 7 June, nominally in support of the Khedive, but actually to counter-act Anglo-French influence in Egypt.
On 11 June, convinced of the impotence of the European powers, and inflamed by the truculence of Arabi and the army, the people of Alexandria rioted, and rushed through the streets of the city with shouts of "Death to the Christians". The Egyptian troops and police looked on unmoved occasionally joining the rioters. Arabi was powerless to control the evil forces which he had let loose. Admiral Sir Beauchamp Seymour, the British Naval commander, hesitated to land his men. British subjects were butchered in the streets under the very guns of the fleet. Hundreds of Europeans perished in Alexandria and elsewhere, while others took refuge on ships or in the European consulates. Guns of the British naval squadron finally opened fire on the insurgents on 11 July and, by the following evening, silenced the artillery in the numerous Egyptian forts on the coast. Alexandria was turned into a smoking ruin. Arabi withdrew his forces to a strong position at Kafr el Dauwar, 15 miles away on the neck of land forming the approach to the city, and Alexandria was garrisoned by British sailors and soldiers. Such were the events that preceded George Andrews' movement to Egypt in 1882.
On 16 July George Andrews was awarded Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 2.d., having completed four years of honourable service. Shortly thereafter, on the 8th of August, the Royal Engineer Field Park left Aldershot for London, in preparation for embarkation for Egypt. The following day Andrews and his unit sailed from the South-West India Docks in London aboard HMS Oxenholme. The Field Park, commanded by Captain C.A. Rochfort-Boyd, Royal Engineers, was assigned as part of the expeditionary corps engineer troops (non-divisional). The Field Park was organized and equipped as follows:
|Non-commissioned officers and men|
After a sea voyage of 17 days Driver Andrews arrived at Port Said, Egypt, where his unit is assigned to Sir Edward Hamley's force on 26 August. On the 28th, the Field Park departed Port Said for Ismailia, arriving there on 1 September. General Hamley quickly took to the field to confront the insurgent Egyptian Army, concentrating his entire force at Kassassin by the 7th of September. It would not be long before Driver Andrews would be a witness to a large battle.
As the British force approached Kassassin on 7 September the cattle with the column had been accumulated at the front. The drivers who had charge of them had allowed stray animals to wander some distance from the camp, where in a wadi green forage could be obtained. Some of these cattle had strayed far, and Bedouins prowling around the camp had picked up and driven off a few of them. In order to gain credit with Arabi for their activities they told him that Kassassin was only held by a very weak British force, and that they, the Bedouins, had cut off all communication between Kassassin and Ismailia. Accordingly, an order was issued that on the morning of the 9th of September a combined attack should be made from Tel el-Kebir and Es-Salihiyeh in order to capture the camp at Kassassin. The Egyptian leader looked upon the British force at Kassassin as quite an easy prey, though at this time, in fact, George Andrews was in the center of a force of nearly 8,000 men of all arms in the camp at Kassassin. This number did not include the Guards and the remainder of the force at Tel el-Maskhuta (which included the 4th Dragoon Guards and a battery of Royal Horse Artillery).
During the night of the 8th/9th of September, George Andrews heard the rattle of equipment as the Indian Cavalry Brigade moved out of the camp to furnish the outposts. He slept a fitful sleep as he thought about the impending battle that was sure to be fought over the barren ground around Kassassin. At 4 a.m. Andrews was awakened by the sounds of more cavalry moving about in the camp. Colonel Pennington of the 13th Bengal Lancers, the Field Officer of the day, was pushing forward with patrols to observe the enemy in the direction of Tel el-Kebir. The reconnoitering party soon observed the enemy advancing in considerable numbers. Reports were sent back to Major General Graham. These reached him by about 6.15 a.m. He sent General Drury Lowe a message asking him to send a cavalry regiment to the front. Somewhat later a report reached Lieutenant General Willis. He immediately sent orders to Major General Graham to turn out the infantry brigade.
Major General Graham, at about the same time that he received these orders (6.45 a.m.) had had reports sent to him from the cavalry of the enemy's advance in force. Dispositions for troops, in the event of an attack on the camp, had been drawn out by General Willis' orders, and written instructions in conformity with these were now dispatched by Major General Graham to each of the commanding officers. One can only imagine the thoughts that raced through George Andrews' mind during these early morning hours. With the Field Park so close to the headquarters of the column in the center of the camp Andrews could not help hearing the beat of horse's hooves as the dispatch riders entered and left the camp. Something was about to happen. Andrews could sense it. It was not necessary for his sergeant or officer to tell him. A battle was about to begin and he would be right in the middle of it. What was the enemy's strength? Would the camp be overrun? Would he actually become engaged in the fighting? These must have been some of the thoughts that raced through his mind as he recalled the horrible stories about Isandhlwana during the Zulu campaign.
He did not have much time to dwell on these thoughts as the "fall-in" was sounded at 6.45 a.m. By 7.10 a.m. Andrews was standing to his equipment in the center of the camp. The troops were formed in the following order of battles On the south bank of the canal adjacent to the camp were the Royal Marine Artillery and five companies of the West Kent Regiment, with two 25-pounder guns in position, manned by the 5th Battery, Scottish Division, Royal Artillery. Andrews also saw the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry formed up on this bank, but as he watched the movements around him he saw this battalion cross over to a position on the north bank. Immediately on the north bank Andrews could see the King's Royal Rifle Corps form up with their left flank resting on the canal. To their right Andrews could see the Royal Marines drawn up in line, and as he moved his eyes further to the right he saw the York and Lancaster Regiment move into position next to the marines, with their right somewhat thrown back. The tension in his body eased considerably as he watched this array of some of Britain's finest infantry forming a line between him and the enemy to his front. Two field batteries, 16-pounders (A and D, 1st Brigade, Royal Artillery), under Lieutenant Colonel Schreiber, were at first placed by Lieutenant Colonel Nairne, who commanded the artillery, in gun-pits which had been previously made to the north of the camp, facing the advance of the enemy from the west. These batteries moved into position at 7 a.m. The Royal Irish were placed by General Willis on the right of the guns, with their right thrown back to show an infantry front against the Salihiyeh force. Immediately after the beginning of the action they were reinforced by the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry from the south bank.
At 6.45 a.m. General Drury Lowe ordered the whole of the Indian Cavalry Brigade, of which two troops had been already dispatched to the front, to turn out and delay the enemy. At 7.10 a.m., in consequence of orders from General Willis, the 1st Cavalry Brigade, under Sir Baker Russell, also moved out of camp. With the Indian Brigade moved G/B Battery, R.H.A. With the 1st Brigade was B/A Battery, R.H.A. What a splendid sight, and how reassuring it must have been to Andrews and all. the other troops, to see two brigades of cavalry with their accompanying horse artillery moving forward to engage the advancing enemy. As the cavalry advanced it became clear that the enemy were moving from two different directions in fact, from Tel el-Kebir eastwards and from Es-Salihiyeh southwards. The two brigades of cavalry therefore maneuvered so as to separate these two bodies, and to support one another. Major General Wilkinson, with the Indian Brigade, was employed in threatening the left of the enemy's force that advanced from Tel el-Kebir. Sir Baker Russell similarly threatened the right flank of the force advancing from Es-Salihiyeh.
The Mounted Infantry under Captain Lawrence was, at 6.45 a.m., pushed up to the support of the Indian Cavalry Brigade, and checked the advance of the enemys artillery by an effective infantry fire until the arrival of the main body of the infantry relieved them; when the little detachment was then sent over by General Drury Lowe to Sir Baker Russell's force. The mountain battery was employed with the infantry.
In order more effectively to break up the Es-Salihiyeh force if it should attempt to advance between Mahsamah and Kassassin, General Willis at once telegraphed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, at Tel el-Maskhuta, to move from that station with the Foot Guards and to endeavor to fall upon the left flank of the Es-Salihiyeh troops. Major Hildyard was sent to guide the Duke along the slope of the high ground between Maskhuta and Kassassin, and to turn north on reaching Mahsama, so as to take the left of the enemy in flank.
With the exception of a cavalry skirmish in the early morning, in which a troop of the Bengal Lancers charged an Egyptian squadron and drove them back, the first shot of the action which George Andrews heard fired from the British side was from a captured Krupp gun, at 7.15 a.m. This gun was on the railway in the center of the British formation and was manned by the Royal Marine Artillery under Captain Tucker. This shot was directed upon a train bringing up some of the Egyptian troops. The enemy's artillery which had already in the early morning fired some distant shots, a few of which fell in the camp, replied at about 7.30 a.m.
At 7.45 a.m. General Willis ordered a general advance of the whole force. Looking to his right Andrews saw a body of the Egyptians endeavoring at first to overlap the right of the advancing brigade, but he saw the fire from G/B Battery R.H.A. on the extreme right, and from the two field batteries which were withdrawn from the gun-pits, and conforming to the advance of the infantry brigade, drive them back in disorder, with heavy losses, before the advancing infantry could close with them. As the advance progressed, Andrews noted that the York and Lancaster Regiment were kept back from the front in order to watch any attempt to turn the right flank of the movement. He watched the advance continue with the King's Royal Rifle Corps and Royal Marines in the front line, the Royal Irish echeloned on their right rear, and the Duke of Cornwall's and York and Lancaster in support.
The general advance was continued until 10.30 a.m. The marines had one opportunity of coming to close quarters with the enemy, which they seized so effectively, by taking a very clever advantage of some under features of the ground in order to cut off a portion of the enemy, that they captured two of the enemy's guns. The King's Royal Rifle Corps, at about the same time, captured another gun on the left, and the cavalry on the right a gun with limber and horses complete.
By 10.30 a.m. the enemy had fallen back towards Tel el-Kebir, and the troops had arrived within about 5,000 yards of the fortifications, when the enemy poured an effective fire from the guns in the position there. The advance was halted and at 1.30 p.m. the whole force returned to the camp at Kassassin. The Es-Salihiyeh portion of the Egyptians had fallen back in retreat, yielding to the fire of N/A Battery R.H.A., and to the successive turning movements of the 1st Cavalry Brigade.
Andrews watched the Foot Guards march into camp at about 4 p.m. after a trying and wearisome march; the rapid retreat of the Egyptians to Es-Salihiyeh having deprives them of the chance of falling with destructive effect upon that body of the enemy. During the entire day the British losses amounted to only 11 killed and 68 wounded.
For three days after the battle at Kassassin the British force rested and planned for the assault on the major Egyptian position at Tel el-Kebir. This famous battle took place on 13 September, resulting in a sound defeat for the Egyptians. The Royal Engineer Field Park remained in the camp at Kassassin and did not take any active part in this action.
On the 14th of September the British Corps, with all its elements from Tel el-Kebir and Kassassin, resumed its advance on Cairo. The leaders of the rebellious Egyptian troops surrendered on this date, but it was not until the 24th of September that the last rebel unit surrendered to the British forces. On the 25th the Khedive made his triumphant entry into Cairo.
To honour the Khedive, and to celebrate his return to power as the head of the Egyptian government, a grand parade was held in Cairo on 30 September. Andrews and the other members of the Royal Engineer Field Park had the grand opportunity to participate in this parade.
After the restoration of order to Egypt some of the British troops remained in the country to insure that there was no recurrence of the insurgency. George Andrews and his unit remained on garrison duties for a short period before returning home. Andrews sailed for England on 26 October.
The Mahdist Revolt, 1884-1885
The contributions of the Royal Engineer Field Park during 1882 the Egyptian campaign were of great value to the overall efforts of the British Corps. While enroute home to England the London Gazette of 2 November carried the notice of a mention in despatches for the Field Park's commander, Captain C.A. Rochfort-Boyd for his actions during the campaign. He was also granted a brevet promotion to Major. All the men of the Field Park were authorized the campaign medal for Egypt.
The Field Park returned to Aldershot where George Andrews was once again employed in peacetime duties through all of 1883 and the first half of the year 1884. On the 8th of August 1884 George Andrews was posted to the 24th Company, Royal Engineers, at Shincliffe, Durham. During this period of home service for Andrews trouble had again been brewing in the Middle East. The year 1884 opened under great difficulties for the British Army of occupation in Egypt. Egypt included the Sudan, where the Egyptian government had been notorious for misrule, slave trading, and remorseless exploitation. Coincidentally, at this very period, a self-styled "Messiah" or "Mahdi" had arisen to lead a "jehad" or holy war against the Egyptians. This man, Mohamed Ahmed by name, proved the holiness of his mission with great effect, by the total massacre of over 10,000 Egyptians under the command of Colonel Hicks. The Mahdi's chief henchman, Osman Digna, successfully initiated a campaign to imitate his master by carrying out another massacre near Suakin, of more than half of a force of about 4,000 men, under Valentine Baker. With such established prestige, every brigand in the Sudan joined the Mahdi and produced a formidable army of savage raiders, with which they established a reign of terror worse than that of the Egyptians.
The British government now felt responsible for withdrawing the Egyptian garrisons spread out around the Sudan. The most suitable man they could think of for this unenviable task was Major General Charles Gordon, Royal Engineers - a man of strong character and with a fine reputation. He had previously served Egypt as Governor-General of the Sudan. Gordon was sent out in January 1884, and a month later General Graham left Egypt with about 5,000 men to seize and hold the port of Suakin, on the Red Sea, and restore order in the area. Before the arrival of Andrews and his unit in Egypt, actions were fought against the Mahdi's armies at El-Teb (29 February 1884), Tamaai (13 March 1884), Abu Klea (17 January 1885), and Kirbekan (10 February 1885).
On 18 February 1885 the 24th Company, commanded by Colonel E.P. Leach, VC, Royal Engineers, sailed from England bound for Suakin. Andrews and his company arrived at Suakin on the 12th of March and joined the expeditionary force under Sir Gerald Graham, to participate in the operations on The Red Sea Littoral. Within seven days after the arrival of the 24th Company, Sir Gerald's force took to the field.
As the enemy's detachment at Hashin threatened the right flank of any column moving south-westwards against Tamaai, Graham decided to begin operations by dispersing it and occupying both Hashin and Handub. After a reconnaissance on 19 March, he advanced against Hashin on the 20th with 10,000 men. The infantry reached some foothills near Hashin at 8.25 a.m., and the 17th and 24th Companies, R.E., and "F" Company, Madras Sappers and Miners, built four strong posts and afterwards a "zariba". Meanwhile, the enemy retired to a steep hill in the rear, from which they were driven after a stiff fight. Leaving a garrison of infantry to guard Hashin, and a part of the 17th Field Company to improve its defences, Graham then returned to Suakin.
Having dealt with the force at Hashin, Graham turned his attention to Osman Digna's stronghold at Tamaai. For reasons of supply it was necessary to establish intermediate posts in that direction. On March 22nd he dispatched a force under Major General Sir John McNeill, VC, KCB, towards Tamaai with orders to make and garrison two zaribas, one at five miles' and the other at eight miles' distance from Suakin. McNeill marched accordingly with two squadrons of cavalry, two battalions of British infantry (Berkshires and Royal Marines), three battalions of Indian infantry (15th Sikhs, 17th Bengal Native Infantry, and 28th Bombay Native Infantry), four Gardner machine-guns manned by the Royal Navy, and the 24th Field Company, R.E. under Colonel Leach. Other officers in the 24th Company included Captain E. Dickinson, and Lieutenants F.D.F. MacCarthy, C. Godby, and R.U.H. Buckland. Other units in the force included "F" Company, Madras Sappers and Miners, and the 2nd Telegraph Section, R.E. - in all, about 4,000 men. The whole force was to march to the more distant site and construct a zariba. This enclosure was then to be garrisoned by the Berkshires, Royal Marines and the 24th Field Company, while the Indian units retraced their steps to the five-mile point, where they were to build another zariba, and after leaving the 15th Sikhs to garrison it, return to Suakin.
To George Andrews the march was slow and tiresome. Open country soon gave place to mimosa bush, and the weight of his heavy pack and equipment became burdensome. Progress was necessarily slow as the troops marched in square formation for protection against any surprise attack. McNeill was aware that he might be attacked at any time. By noon, having traveled no farther than Tofrek, six miles from Suakin, he realized that he could not reach the eight-mile zariba before dusk, so he telegraphed to General Graham and received permission to make a zariba instead at Tofrek. The plan adopted for the Tofrek zariba was to form three separate squares of mimosa thorn fence, placed diagonally like squares on a chessboard - a large central square to contain transport animals, followers and stores, and two flanking squares, of smaller size, to hold the fighting troops and machineguns. Attention was devoted first to building the flanking squares under the protection of a screen of infantry pickets and cavalry vedettes in the surrounding bush. Infantry working parties proceeded to clear the bush near the zariba while the engineer units assisted them and also laid out and built the defences. To expedite the work, George Andrews and all the troops so engaged with the construction piled arms.
When the small enclosures were sufficiently advanced the Royal Marines occupied the northern flanking square with two Gardner guns, and some of the Berkshires the southern flanking square with the other two Gardners. As the bush was thickest on the north and west, the defences on these sides were finished first; but at 2 p.m., when many of the troops were at dinner, the central square was still open to the east and south and partly also to the west and north. The camels and mules, having been unloaded in the central square, were collected to the east of it, and near them were two companies of Berkshires. The 17th Bengal Native Infantry were mostly to the south of the unfinished central square, and the other two Indian battalions to the west and north of it. The heat was oppressive, the men were tired, and there was yet no proper field of fire around the incomplete defences. Hot and tired, George Andrews longed for a rest. Yet he knew, from the nature of the previous fighting against the Mahdi's forces, that if the zariba were not properly completed on time, the dangers of a surprise attack would be great indeed. This thought spurred him on to renewed efforts to complete the defences.
At 2.30 p.m. a cavalry soldier rode into the camp. Although Andrews did not know what information he brought with him, he knew by the way that he was riding that he had an important message to deliver to General McNeill. The rider reported that the enemy were advancing upon the zaribas, and orders were given for the working and covering parties to come in. Andrews looked to where his rifle was piled but before he could move any distance towards it the cavalry outposts came galloping in towards the zariba with the Sudanese swarming at their heels. Andrews knew then that without the means to defend himself, he chances of survival were slim to none.
The attack was delivered mainly on the southern and eastern sides and into the midst of the transport animals and noncombatants. Enveloped in clouds of dust, and filling the air with savage cries, the Sudanese surged onwards in a vast impetuous mass. His mouth dry from the heat, dust, and fear, George Andrews rushed for his rifle. He and some others of his working party found their weapons in time; others did not.
Thrown into disorder by the cavalry riding through them, the 17th Bengal Native Infantry fired a volley, broke their ranks, and rushed towards the central square. Two companies of the Berkshires, forming square to the north of the transport animals, stood firm, but the enemy were soon among the camels and mules, and an avalanche of Sudanese, Bengal Infantry, followers and animals burst through the central square in a stabbing and hacking mob and carried many of the Royal Engineers and Madras Sappers with them. A party of the 24th Field Company, under Lieutenant F.D.F. MacCarthy, R.E., swept away like straws in a wind, managed to fight their way back and rejoined their comrades. Another party, under Lieutenant C. Godby, R.E. joined the rallying square of the Berkshires outside the zariba and helped to repel the assault. George Andrews stood his ground. With his Martini-Henry rifle in hand, bayonet fixed, he fought for his life. For the next few minutes he was an infantryman, pure and simple. Targets were plentiful; range three to five yards. His marksmanship at this point was not as important as his ability to load his single action rifle as fast as he could and fire it point blank into the body of a closing Sudanese. At that range, the large .45 caliber bullet of the Martini tore large, gaping holes in the bodies of his opponents. The force of the impact of the bullets was enough to bodily lift his target off his feet and carry him backwards. Between rounds Andrews used his bayonet to dispose of any nearby opponent. Loading, firing, thrusting, parrying, reloading and firing again; George Andrews fought for his life. Covered with blood and dust, he had very little time to observe the other members of his unit fighting beside him. He saw Sapper J. Fletcher of his company die under the hacking swords and stabbing spears of the Sudanese. He saw 15498 Driver Thomas Redwood of the Telegraph Section, R.E. dispatch a number of Sudanese with his rifle and bayonet. He had served with Redwood in South Africa and in Egypt three years before. Tom seemed to be doing well for himself, and Andrews hoped he would make it through the fight. He had his own problems to deal with however, so the thoughts of his friend quickly passed from his mind.
When the attack began, Captain F.J. Romilly, R.E., was superintending the Madras Sappers who were loading their equipment on mules. The retreating Bengal Infantry carried these Sappers with them across the unfinished angle of the central square. Andrews caught a glimpse of Captain Romilly, mounted on his horse, riding through the mob of Indian troops and Sudanese. As he watched, a Sudanese ran alongside Romilly's horse and speared the Captain in the side piercing his heart. The Sudanese was immediately shot. Romilly had been attempting to save the life of a brother officer. Andrews also saw Captain C.B. Wilkieson, R.E. go down with a severe wound in the leg, and watched Lieutenant E.M.B. Newman, R.E. killed by a swordsman. Newman was attacked by a Sudanese carrying a murderous sword, five feet in length, with razor sharp edges. With two strokes the Sudanese severed Newman's left arm and sliced the top of his head clean off. His killer was soon among the dead himself.
The situation at Tofrek that day was saved chiefly by the Royal Marines and those of the Berkshires who were securely entrenched with their Gardner guns in the flanking squares, although their fire killed hundreds of their own stampeding camels. Both the 24th Field Company, R.E. and "F" Company, Madras Sappers and Miners, suffered severely. George Andrews was one of the fortunate ones.
The battle at Tofrek on 22nd March 1885 was finished in 20 minutes, a brief period crowded with instances of cool bravery, wild bewilderment, and fanatical desperation. When the smoke cleared away the place was a shambles. As Andrews leaned on his rifle, utterly exhausted, he saw the dead bodies of men and animals laying in heaps on every side of him. The British losses amounted to about 100 men killed and 140 wounded, and no less than 900 camels lay dead on the field. At least 1,000 Sudanese lay motionless around and within the zariba. The Sudanese fought, as usual, with extraordinary courage. Braving the British rifle fire, charging on to the points of their bayonets, hurling themselves into or over the thorny defences, they showed an absolute disregard for death. The action at McNeill's zariba, as it is sometimes called, was a bloody affair, but it had good results for the British. The Sudanese began to lose confidence in Osman Digna, who had told them that the British bullets were made of water and could do them no harm. News of the battle was telegraphed to Suakin, and Graham rode out on the 23rd at the head of a strong force that safeguarded the position.
After a short rest the 24th Field Company began clearing the battlefield and rebuilding the zariba on a smaller scale to suit a garrison of one battalion. Water was scarce and the heat was terrific. Andrews and the other men of the company suffered considerably from the hot work. Men of the unit collapsed in dozens from sunstroke. On 2 April General Graham marched with a strong force from Suakin to attack Osman Digna at Tamaai, taking with him the 17th Field Company, and picking up the 24th Field Company and the other troops at Tofrek, so that he was able to continue with 8,000 fighting men and 4,000 animals. Before dusk he halted, and his engineer troops searched for water and assisted the infantry in making a second zariba. On the 3rd he advanced again towards the villages at Tamaai which had long been Osman Digna's headquarters. It soon became evident that there would be no resistance, and the force proceeded through the villages, which were found to be deserted. The wells in the villages were almost dry. This failure of the water supply may have been the cause for Osman Digna's departure, but it also precluded any further advance by Graham. He destroyed the enemy's huts and stores and retraced his steps to Suakin, arriving there on the 4th April. Offensive operations were now practically at an end. Most of the tribes had deserted Osman Digna, and the elusive Sudanese leader was believed to be well on his way to Sinkat. It was safe to devote particular attention to pushing construction of the Suakin-Berber railway, so the garrison of Tofrek was withdrawn, and Handub, ten miles west of Suakin, was occupied without opposition on 8th April. The 24th Field Company set about constructing a portion of the embankment for the Suakin-Berber railway line at Handub, along with a railway blockhouse.
On the 16th April General Graham's force advanced to occupy Otao. On the l9th the advance continued to occupy Tambuk. The 24th Field Company was given the task of developing the water supply for each post at Handub, Otao, and Tambuk. George Andrews was involved with this work until 17th May when General Graham withdrew his entire force to Suakin. Most of the units of Graham's force departed the Sudan shortly after their return to Suakin. Only a small garrison, including George Andrews and the rest of the 24th Field Company, remained in the city. Finally, on 17th of July Andrews was ordered to leave the 24th Field Company and returned to England.
Service at Home, 1885-1899
Upon his arrival in England, George Andrews was once again assigned to the Royal Engineer Field Depot at Aldershot in August of 1885. Having suffered the hardships of the campaign in the Sudan, Andrews was ready to enjoy the delights offered by service at home. He appears to have had a brief interlude, presumably with a lovely young thing in the vicinity of the camp. His paramour was able to accomplish what the Sudanese had failed to due, namely cause him to become a "casualty". He was admitted to the hospital at Aldershot on 19 September for treatment of gonorrhea. This was not at all an uncommon ailment among soldiers of this period, and it is curious to note how casually venereal disease was treated by the military authorities in Victorian England. Only a brief notation is to be found on his medical records concerning his treatment for this disease. After receiving the appropriate injections, Andrews was released from the hospital an 5 October.
From this point on there are few details contained in the service records of George Andrews to indicate clearly the activities that he was engaged in. He was hospitalized again on 21 September 1886 for rheumatism, and released after treatment on 4 October. One can only surmise that during this period he and his unit were engaged in training and with routine peacetime duties. On 12 December 1887 Andrews was awarded his 2nd Class Certificate of Education. He remained in good health until the middle of 1888 when on the 2nd July he was again hospitalized for an illness that is illegible on his service record. He was subsequently released from the hospital on 20 August.
On the 27th November Andrews received orders to proceed to Chatham, where he probably underwent a period of training. He was posted back to South Camp at Aldershot on the 10th January 1889. Again, he remained in good health for just over a year, when on 20 April 1890 he was hospitalized at Aldershot and treated for laryngitis. He remained in the hospital for quite some time with this illness and was not released until 24 June.
At the completion of 12 years of service George Andrews was a Corporal. On 14 July he was re-engaged to complete 21 years of military service. On the anniversary of his 12th year in the Army he was authorized Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 3.d. An unknown illness again struck him on 21 September 1891, but it was of such short duration that he was released from the hospital on the 24th of the same month.
On 3 December 1891 Andrews was granted leave to marry Miss Annie Wilhelmina Elizabeth Brown. Miss Brown was the 27 year old daughter of James and Emily Brown of 18 Junction Road, Reading. The marriage took place at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church on London Road in Reading.
Corporal Andrews continued to serve at Aldershot for the remaining seven and a half years of his second period of limited engagement. He and his wife had four children during this period, all of them born at Aldershot. The names and dates of birth of their children are listed below:
Alec George - born 22 October 1892
Ena - born 29 March 1894
Elsie - born 12 June 1895
Edward James - born 5 May 1897
On 16 July 1894 Corporal George Andrews was authorized Good Conduct Pay at the rate of 4.d. This is the last entry to be found in his military service record until his discharge from the Army on 15 July 1899 at the termination of his second period of engagement. His total service was reckoned at 21 years exactly. He was only 39 years old when he left the service. Hopefully lie lived a long and happy life with his family, possibly turning some of the skills he had learned while serving with the Royal Engineers into a useful civilian trade. Shortly after his discharge, the Boer War broke out in South Africa. There is no indication in the War Office Records, however, that George Andrews ever returned to military service. There is a good possibility that both of his sons could have seen active service during the Great War of 1914-1918. If they did, the war service record of their father would have been a fine example to them of what it meant to be a soldier.
At the time of his discharge, Corporal George Andrews was authorized the following medals for his military service:
South Africa, with clasp "1879"
Egypt 1882, with clasps "Suakin 1885" and "Tofrek"
The Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (with gratuity, in accordance with the Army Order of I January 1897)
The Khedive's Bronze Star, dated 1882
George Andrews' medals have been saved for posterity. They are framed and attractively displayed along with an engraved nameplate, a sketch map of the Battle of Tofrek, and a picture of Sudanese warriors attacking a British square. His group of medals, however, were not always together. The author acquired Andrews' Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in May of 1979 from a Birmingham medal dealer. It was not until April of 1981 that his other three medals appeared in the catalog of a medal dealer in Cheshire. Due to my rather elaborate cross-referencing system I was able to quickly put in a call to the dealer to purchase and reunite Andrews' medals once again.
An examination of the medals shows that Andrews was proud of his military service, as the medals show traces of having been worn quite frequently. The South Africa and Egypt medals show some scratches, knocks, and contact marks. The Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, on the other hand, is practically in mint condition, indicating that Andrews hardly wore it, if ever, after his discharge.
But the condition of the medals matters very little. The fact that they belonged to George Andrews, and that they were earned by him for his participation in the campaigns described in this book, is where their true value lies. As I look at the medals on my wall I am transported back in time, seeing through the eyes of George Andrews, the same sights which he saw during
his military service. I can imagine that he might have stood close enough to touch the legendary Lieutenant John Chard, VC during his period of service in South Africa. He was there, close to Lord Chelmsford, and perhaps even saw the horrors of the battlefield at Isandhlwana with his own eyes. Maybe he was close enough to catch a first hand glimpse of Cetewayo after his capture by the British forces. Through Andrews' medals I can feel the heat and taste the dust of the battlefield at Kassassin and see the aftermath of the British victory at Tel el-Kebir. I can imagine myself present at the zaribas of Tofrek and relive that tremendously violent battle.
Perhaps these medals are all that remains of the British soldier named George Andrews who served his country so well as a member of the Corps of Royal Engineers. If this is so, then they shall be cherished even more, because they represent a man, and the part that he played in history.
1. The Certified Copy of the Birth Certificate of George
Andrews, issued at the General Register Office, London, on 24
2. Military History Sheet, 15744 Corporal George Andrews, Royal Engineers. War Office Reference WO 97/1314.
3. Proceedings on Attestation, 15744 Driver George Andrews, Royal Engineers. War Office Reference WO 97/1314.
4. Medal Roll WO 100/46 and Paylist WO 16 for "C" Troop and Royal Engineer Field Park and Depot, South Africa, 1879.5. The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Major General W. Porter, Chatham, Kent, Volume II, reprinted 1951.
6. The Royal Engineers. Derek Boyd. Leo Cooper, Ltd. London, 1975.
7. The Royal Engineers in Egypt and the Sudan. Lieutenant Colonel E.W.C. Sandes, DSO, MC, RE. The Institution of Royal Engineers, Chatham, Kent, 1937.
8. Report of the British Naval and Military Operations in Egypt, 1882. Lieutenant Commander Caspar F. Goodrich, U.S. Navy. Washington, D.C., 1885.
9. Military History of The Campaign of 1882 in Egypt. Colonel J.F. Maurice, Royal Artillery. J.B. Hayward & Son, London, reprinted 1973.
10. 'The Certified Copy of an Entry of Marriage Between George Andrews and Annie Wilhelmina Elizabeth Brown, Given at the General Register Office, London, 13th April 1981.