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The Battle of Atbara

William Topaz McGonagall 1825 – 1902 (Greyfriars Parish, Edinburgh)

Ye Sons of Great Britain, pray list to me,
And I'll tell ye of a great victory.
Where the British defeated the Dervishes, without delay,
At the Battle of Atbara, without dismay.

The attack took place, 'twas on the 8th of April, in the early morning dawn,
And the British behaved manfully to a man;
And Mahmud's front was raked fearfully, before the assault began,
By the disposition of the force under Colonel Long :
Because the cannonading of their guns was very strong.

The main attack was made by General Gatacre's British Brigade,
And a heroic display they really made;
And General Macdonald's and General Maxwell's Brigade looked very fine,
And the Cameron Highlanders were extended along the line.

And behind them came the Lincolnshire Regiment, on the right,
And the Seaforth Highlanders in the centre, 'twas a most gorgeous sight,
And the Warwickshire Regiment were on the left,
And many of the Dervishes' heads by them were cleft.

General Macdonald's Brigade was on the right centre in similar formation,
And the 9th Battalion also in line in front rotation;
Then the whole force arrived about four o'clock,
And each man's courage was as firm as the rock.

At first the march was over a ridge of gravel,
But it didn't impede the noble heroes' travel;
No, they were as steady as when marching in the valley below,
And each man was eager to attack the foe.

And as the sun shone out above the horizon,
The advancing army, with banners flying, came boldly marching on;
The spectacle was really imposing to see,
And a dead silence was observed throughout the whole army.

Then Colonel Murray addressed the Seaforth Highlanders, and said,
"Come now my lads, don't be afraid,
For the news of the victory must be in London to-night,
So ye must charge the enemy with your bayonets, left and right."

General Gatacre also delivered a stirring address,
Which gave courage to the troops, I must confess:
He told the troops to drive the Dervishes into the river,
And go right through the zereba, and do not shiver.

Then the artillery on the right opened fire with shrapnel and percussion shell,
Whereby many of the Dervishes were wounded and fell,
And the cannonading raked the whole of the Dervishes' camp, and did great execution,
Which to Mahmud and his followers has been a great retribution.

Then the artillery ceased fire, and the bugles sounded the advance,
And the Cameron Highlanders at the enemy were eager to get a chance;
So the pipers struck up the March of the Cameron Men,
Which reminded them of the ancient Camerons marching o'er mountain and glen.

The business of this regiment was to clear the front with a rifle fire,
Which to their honour, be it said, was their greatest desire;
Then there was a momentary pause until they reached the zereba,
Then the Dervishes opened fire on them, but it did not them awe.

And with their pipes loudly sounding, and one ringing cheer,
Then the Cameron Highlanders soon did the zereba clear.
And right through the Dervish camp they went without dismay,
And scattered the Dervishes across the desert, far, far away.

Then the victory was complete, and the British gave three cheers,
While adown their cheeks flowed burning tears
For the loss of their commanders and comrades who fell in the fray,
Which they will remember for many a day.

Captain Urquhart's last words were "never mind me my lads, fight on,"
While, no doubt, the Cameron Highlanders felt woebegone
For the loss of their brave captain, who was foremost in the field,
Death or glory was his motto, rather than yield.

There have been 4,000 prisoners taken, including Mahmud himself,
Who is very fond of dancing girls, likewise drink and pelf;
Besides 3,000 of his followers have been found dead,
And the living are scattered o'er the desert with their hearts full of dread.

Long life and prosperity to the British army,
May they always be able to conquer their enemies by land and by sea,
May God enable them to put their enemies to flight,
And to annihilate barbarity, and to establish what is right.

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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William Topaz McGonagall

William Topaz McGonagall (March 1825 – 29 September 1902) was an Irish weaver, poet and actor who lived in Scotland. He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers' opinions of his work. He wrote about 200 poems, including "The Tay Bridge Disaster" and "The Famous Tay Whale", which are widely regarded as some of the worst in English literature. Groups throughout Scotland engaged him to make recitations from his work, and contemporary descriptions of these performances indicate that many listeners were appreciating McGonagall's skill as a comic music hall character. Collections of his verse remain popular, with several volumes available today. McGonagall has been lampooned as the worst poet in British history. The chief criticisms are that he was deaf to poetic metaphor and unable to scan correctly. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme. McGonagall's fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language. His work is in a long tradition of narrative ballads and verse written and published about great events and tragedies, and widely circulated among the local population as handbills. In an age before radio and television, their voice was one way of communicating important news to an avid public. more…

All William Topaz McGonagall poems | William Topaz McGonagall Books

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    "The Battle of Atbara" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 14 Jun 2021. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/41855/the-battle-of-atbara>.

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