The Naval Brigade in Egypt and the Soudan
20 & 22 March, 1885

22 March, 1885

{Taken from The Globe & Laurel – Royal
Marines magazine : Apl –Jun 1909 issues}
This article is from the diary of the
engagements kept by one of the RM
Officers in the Marine brigade……

On March 19, the RM Batt’n & the troops
designated for the expedition to Hasheen
formed up on the West Redoubt (in Suakin).
After being inspected by Gen’l Graham he
told us the Marines looked well on parade.
Cavalry went out towards Hasheen followed
by the Indian Infantry.  Remainder of troops
in rear to support as  necessary. At 12.30
we march off to our new bivouac.  The
advanced troops came on the enemy at
Hasheen but did not do very much. A few
killed & wounded. Orders came for the
march on Hasheen  tomorrow.

Mar 20 Friday –  Reveille at 4.30(am) At
5.15 we paraded & marched to West
redoubt. The General (McNeill) told us that
Marines were to be in the front.  At 6.30 a
move was made. Cavalry threw out their
scouts, and the two infantry brigades
advanced in fours over very difficult ground
thickly covered with mimosa bush. After
going some long distance we deployed into
line.  The cavalry having thoroughly
searched the country also halted.  On arrival
at entrance to a valley the staff took up
their position on a small hill. The Berkshires
advanced in a line of skirmishes, the right
half RM batt’n in their rear.  We advanced
rapidly up a hill, over the brow of which was
our enemy, who opened a heavy fire all
round, slightly wounding three men of the
Berkshires. The Guards brigade had formed
square at entrance of valley.  The Indian
infantry and the other RM half Batt’n and
the 70th Reg’t advanced up this valley. From
the hill we were able to get a splendid bird’s
eye view.  The enemy, who had been driven
off the hill by the Berkshires, went for the
cavalry in gallant fashion, in many cases
lying hidden and then hamstringing the
horses , bringing them to a standstill and
then dealing with the riders. Many on both
sides were killed. The enemy in large
numbers attacked but were beaten off.
Some of the enemy not seeing the square
behind a knoll rushed onto it, and were
pretty badly mauled by the right face firing
volleys into them.  Our casualties were
about 65 killed & wounded, the enemy
about 500.  Only one Marine casualty on
this day.
The first shot was fired approx. 9.15 am, &
we marched back to camp at 4.15 pm,
reaching it thoroughly done up about 7.0 pm
but happy in having been in action and
having a thoroughly exciting day, if
somewhat hot.  We occupied this position
and fortified two hills, and the 70th Reg’t
remained there.  Gen’l Graham’s object was
attained for he established a post at
Hasheen Wells, an important fact in this hot
& waterless tract of country.
Award of medals to the RN & RM for Tofrek actions:

The Tofrek clasp was always accompanied by the Suakin ’85 clasp – 536 awarded.

The majority of the Suakin/Tofrek clasps were awarded to RMA & RMLI.
The four RN Gardner guns crew rec’d 58 Suakin/Tofrek clasps: 5 to officers & 53 to ratings..

Three clasp combinations:

The four clasp combos are very rare, being awarded 4 of four different clasp combos containing Suakin/Tofrek.
Mar 21, Saturday – We received orders to strike camp and march at daybreak tomorrow to construct a zariba near

Mar 22, Sunday – Battle of ToFrek(McNeill’s zariba) Sunday today. I wonder how many people know that several
very important hard fought battles have ben fought on a Sunday. Waterloo is a case in point & so if Tofrek at
which our Corps played no inconsiderable part. On this day reveille was sounded at 3.30 am & after a good deal of
hard work left our bivouac at 5.30 & took up our position near the water fort.  Two squares were formed, one of
Berkshires and Royal Marines, the other of Indians. The squares were frightfully crowded with animals, transport &
supplies. We moved off in the direction of Tamaai over very difficult ground for marching, with very thick prickly
bush. On arriving at a tolerably open space about 5 miles from Suakim  Gen’l McNeill decided to form a zariba as
the enemy was reported by scouts to be in front in large numbers. Soon after halting we began the zariba.  
Apparently some carelessness was shown in the matter of precautions fro safety. Men were sent out to cut mimosa
bush without arms and no covering parties.  At about 2.30 pm when the zariba was almost finished & the squares
were full of animals & supplies, the enemy made a bold skillful and determined attack. Several men were killed
outside whilst cutting down bushes. The Indian drivers were panic stricken and rushed thru the zariba with their
animals, followed by the enemy chasing them, thus the enemy got into the squares causing havoc. The Berkshires
& Royal Marines behaved splendidly. Some of our officers and men were taken clean out and were attacked, but
formed rallying square and drove off the enemy with great loss. Indian casualties were very high. Our loss was
heavy including 6 officers & 33 men killed. Lieut Seymour RN was killed at his Gardner gun at a corner of the zariba
where the enemy had broken through, and 5 sailors were killed and four wounded.  It is estimated that over 2,000
of the enemy were killed, and as the hot fire lasted for only about 15 to 20 minutes things were looking serious at
one time. Approx 700 camels were killed altogether. After the first startling surprise the Berkshires and Marines,
behaving splendidly, soon got into fighting trim, and did good execution.
Total casualties for RM: 8 killed, 12 wounded. For RN:  1 Officer 6 ratings killed, 4 wounded.

Mar 23,Monday – At dawn our work began again, my company was at work all morning digging graves and burying
our killed. It was a very solemn day. The dead of the enemy were taken away some distance from the zariba and
cremated. The camels were also burnt.  In the afternoon we strengthened the zariba by making a parapet of
biscuit boxes.  Nothing unusual occurred during the night but we did not get much sleep, there were a few rounds
fired at us.

Mar 24, Tuesday – A horrible smell from the dead men and animals now enveloped the zariba , the sun is fearfully
hot and we have no cover to get under.  All morning we were busy cutting down bushes and burning them and the
dead animals. As the enemy were about we had strong armed parties out  & several times formed square ready for
an attack.  At noon we marched back to the zariba and had dinner, after which a battalion of Guards and the
Marines  formed two  squares and marched towards Suakin to meet and escort a convoy to the zariba.  Several of
the enemy on camels showed themselves, and opened a long range fairly hot fire on us. We halted several times
and fired volleys. When the convoy from Suakin was met, we formed a four deep square to be ready for them.
However we were left alone. On the way back to the zariba the convoy was attacked by a large force. Their fire
was good and several men were hit, two men were killed & several wounded. The enemy rushed upon the square
but were beaten off with heavy loss.

The diary continues to Apl 1, however the RM Officer who wrote it was wounded in the attack of the  24th & was
subsequently hospitalized & evacuated to UK.  
He also included a listing of Officers & Men with their subsequent dispositions – for Lieut Holman he writes:
“Lieut Holman went to Port Hamilton from Suakin; now Hon Lieut Col and Paymaster at Forton Barracks (1909)”
Alexandria 11th July
with Suakin ‘85, & Tofrek
Tel El Kebir
"           "
Suakin ’84  
"           "
"           "
"           "
"           "
"           "