|Queen's Sudal and Khedive's Sudan pair to 21st Lancers.
Percy Harrison was born in Southwark, Middlesex early in 1871. His parents were John Harrison and Mary Ann Perkins.
They had married in the summer of 1865 at Lambeth. Percy was christened as James Percy Harrison and was the third son in
a family of 6 children. His father was employed as a Clerk.
Percy was employed as a signalman after leaving school, as well as serving in the Militia Medical Staff Corps. He lived at
home with his parents at 34, Redan Street, Hammersmith.
He enlisted in London on the 15th November 1893 aged 23 for 12 years service, 7 with the colours and 5 in the reserve.
Joined the 21st Hussars with the service number of 3701.
Described as being 5’ 8 1/8” tall, weight 139 lb (9st 13lb) chest measurement 34” expanded to 36”, Complexion medium, eyes
grey, hair dark brown, with scars on his head and upper lip. Religion - Church of England.
Joined his regiment at Canterbury on the 18th November 1893.
Served in India from the 12th September 1894 until 22nd October 1896 (2 years and 41 days)
Posted to Egypt on the 23rd October 1896
Regiment renamed as the 21st lancers on the 1st April 1897.
Based in Cairo when the regiment was selected for the forthcoming campaign in the Sudan.
On the 2nd August, there was a parade at the Abbasiya barracks in Cairo. Joining the regiment was Winston Churchill. As a
Lieutenant he was attached to “A” troop, the troop in which Percy Harrison was serving.
The regiment, commanded by Colonel Martin, started leaving Cairo on the 4th August 1898, being one of the last
reinforcements sent for the Sudan campaign. They were the only Imperial cavalry regiment present. The men and their
horses travelled down the Nile by lighters and unloaded at the Atbara. The regiment left the Atbara camp at dawn on the
16th August. After two weeks of being confined on the lighters, the horses were out of condition and found it difficult to
complete a day’s march. They followed the Nile southwards, heading for Metemma, and bringing with them the remnants of
the Egyptian cavalry, the camel corps and a battery of horse artillery. On the 21st August, the regiment were reported as
passing Metemma and only two marches from Wad Habeshi. There were a few cases of sunstroke, but the sick were placed on
passing steamers. Otherwise, the men were noted as being fit, in spite of their long marches in the severe heat.
By the 23rd August, the advanced portion of the 21st lancers had reached Wad Hamed, with the rest of the cavalry convoy
following. The correspondent from “The Times” noted that “the eight days which have elapsed since the force left the
Atbara, have been somewhat trying to the men and the horses. The marches have often been longer than was expected owing
to floods. The men, however, are in excellent spirits and unwilling to report themselves sick, lest they should be put on a
steamer happening to be going back. The casualties among the horses have occurred chiefly in the second squadron”. By the
25th August, the rest of the regiment arrived and were reported as being fit and well. After resting for a day, the lancers
continued their advance, having to complete a double march in order to catch up with the rest of the army.
A day of rest was taken on the 29th August at Wadi el Abid and on the 30th an advance of 6 miles to Sayol. From there, on
the 31st August, the army marched as a fighting formation on a two brigade front. The lancers ranged far ahead, nearly 15
miles in front of the infantry, reaching the Kerreri hills and looked down on the plains in front of Omdurman. Lieutenant
Smyth of “A” squadron was up at 3 a.m. and on patrol two hours later. At six that evening he was still patrolling, two miles
ahead of the main body of lancers. A Dervish camp was discovered and shots were exchanged. Colonel Martin withdrew to
report to Kitchener.
On the 1st September, the lancers left the camp early in the morning and patrolled on the left, close to the river Nile. At
about 12 noon they observed the plain in front of Omdurman and noticed 8 miles to the south, what appeared to be a wall of
black in front of them. It was a massive force of over 30,000 dervishes, positioned outside of the walls of Omdurman. The
dervishes advanced and their cavalry tried to break through and find out where the British infantry was positioned. The
lancers open fire and stopped this advance. The whole Dervish army finally stopped advancing about 3 p.m. and the lancers
watched them until dark, when they returned to camp. An officer from “B” squadron remarked that “they let us alone,
however, all night, and we all slept well, but dirty”.
2nd September saw the army awakened at 3.30 a.m. The lancers left the camp at 5.30 a.m. sending a detachment to patrol
along the river, while the main force was positioned near the Kerreri hills. Here they observed that the Dervish army was
advancing rapidly, in a line over 3miles long. It was estimated that it contained over 50, 000 men. The lancers sent patrols to
within 500 yards of them before steadily falling back to the camp on the banks of the Nile.
At About 8.45 a.m. Colonel Martin was instructed to advance over the ridge between the Jebel Surgham and the Nile and
reconnoitre the ground beyond. His orders read “Annoy them as far as possible on their flank and head them off if possible
from Omdurman”. The regiment moved off:-
“ A great square block of ungainly brown figures and little horses, hung all over with water bottles, Saddle-bags,
picketing gear, tins of bully beef, all jolting and jangling together; the polish of peace gone : soldiers without glitter;
horsemen without grace; but still a regiment of light cavalry in active operations against the enemy”.
Two patrols pushed ahead to give advanced warning, which included 17 year old Trumpeter Steele, the youngest member of
the regiment and the adjutant Lieutenant Pirie. The patrol was fired upon by between 700 -1,000 Dervishes and withdrew.
Colonel Martin was advised of the situation and decided to drive these few Dervishes from the battlefield. The regiment
moved at trot across the enemy front only 300 yards away, being fired upon and loosing several men and horses. The order
was given, “Right wheel into line” and the four squadrons formed up.
At the front of ”A” squadron were 2nd Lieutenant John Brinton of the 2nd Life Guards, and Lieutenants Churchill 4th
Hussars, Robert Smyth 21st Lancers and Frank Wormald 7th Hussars. Just ahead of them rode Major Henry Finn, an
Australian commanding the squadron and Lieutenant Charles Clerk 21st Lancers. The charge was never sounded – It was just
understood that gallop and charge would take place. As the regiment increased pace and the gap closed, a deep Khor was seen
ahead, filled with over 3,000 Dervishes. It was now too late for a halt to be called and the 21st Lancers plunged over the lip
of the Khor and into the mass of the enemy. “A” squadron was on the extreme right of the line and the ground ahead of them
was not so densely packed with Dervishes. They struck the enemy in a diagonal direction which meant that they could still
gallop and not have to jump the Khor. The men fought with lance and sword, in a desperate attempt to break through and
escape the frenzied attacks of Dervish swordsmen. Lieutenant Wormald found his sword bent double but fought his way out
and kept it as a trophy. Lieutenant Smyth recorded :-“Find myself at Khor. Met by swordsman on foot, cuts at my right
guard, I guard it with my sword. Next man having fired and missed, throws up both hands. I cut him across both hands, cuts
at me, think this time I must be done but pace tells and my guard carries it off. Duck my head to spear thrown, just misses
me, another cut at my horse, miss guard but luckily cut is too far away and only cuts my breastplate and gives my horse a
small flesh wound in the neck and shoulder. I remember no more till I find myself outside with 4 or 5 of my troop”.
Eventually, the regiment struggled free and began to form up again about 150 yards beyond the Khor.
Lieutenant McNeil of the Seaforth Highlanders saw the aftermath:-
“I noticed a great commotion going on about a mile away to the south of Surgham. Crackling rifle fire, unmistakable British
cheers and high clouds of dust. The Khor was full of dead and wounded Dervishes and cavalry troop horses, and we could
see the 21st Lancers reforming on the far side. We had to clear out pretty quick, as several troops dismounted and
opened fire into the Khor”
Churchill wanted to charge again “It was quite clear that we should have charged back at once. Never were soldiers more
willing. I told my troop they were the finest men in the world and I am sure they would have followed me as far as would
Colonel Martin decided against such action and galloped his men around the Dervish flank, dismounted them and open fire.
The Dervishes began to advance towards them and then, finding the carbine fire both fast and accurate, started to withdraw.
The 21st Lancers found themselves in possession of the battlefield but were finished as a fighting unit. They did manage to
patrol across the plain and many Dervishes at their approach threw down their weapons and pleaded for mercy. At 3 p.m.
they were ordered to find out if Omdurman was occupied. They were fired at from the houses but it was obvious that there
was no organised resistance. At 5 p.m. they went to the west of the town and observed the population streaming away across
the desert. Their horses were “done to a turn and could hardly walk from fatigue and want of food and water”. They went
into bivouac at 9.30 p.m. together with the infantry west of Omdurman. Still there was no water for the horses, which had
received only one drink during the day.
At 3 a.m. the following morning the lancers advanced again and by 7 a.m. had reached the Nile in preparation to meet a
steamer. A sight of a funnel in the distance made everyone anticipate a good meal, for many had not eaten since the night
before the battle. However deep water prevented the stores being unloaded and the march had to be resumed. 7 more miles
were covered but it was still impossible to obtain the supplies. The horses were rested and then began the homeward march.
It was not until 11 o/c on the 4th September that the famished cavalry finally reached their camp back at Omdurman.
34 Officers, 412 men and a civilian had charged at Omdurman. 1 Officer and 20 men were killed with 4 Officers and 46 men
wounded. 119 horses were killed or injured – 56 with bullet wounds and 53 speared. Percy Harrison came through the
Kitchener was indignant about what had happened. His opinion was that the lancers had not carried out heir role of harrying
the fugitives. Lieutenant Colonel A’Court wrote “It neither frightened nor hurt the Dervishes much, and it practically ruined
the lancers”. However, the public saw the men as popular heroes and Kitchener was forced to praise their exploit. He paid
the lancers a final compliment by seeing them off when they returned down the Nile, although there was little enthusiasm in
his farewell speech. Queen Victoria was also greatly impressed by the gallant charge and insisted that the regiment should be
renamed the 21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers.
Percy Harrison returned to Cairo and remained in Egypt until the 12th November 1899. He received the Queens Sudan medal
as well as the Khedives medal with the clasp “Khartoum”.
He then returned to England and remained there, being transferred to the Army reserve on the 11th December 1902. He was
discharged on the 14th November 1905, as it was the end of his period of engagement.
After leaving the army, he worked as a fitter and lived at 122, Blythe road, Hammersmith. On the 12th July 1908 he married
Lilian Mary Christine Lewis at St. Mathew’s church, Hammersmith.
|Officers of the |
|Left: 21st Lancer in campaign uniform
Below: 21st Lancers at Omdurman