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The Clinton boys’ school, Cheltenham College, had and still has a fine reputation for rugby football.


Public schools like Cheltenham were divided into a number of boarding houses – ten at Cheltenham. Some schools gave the houses names evocative of the school’s history – famous men who once attended the school, national heroes, local place names, etc – here, the house is named after its current housemaster, in this case Mr River-Smith.


Boys at public schools, in keeping with Victorian middle and upper class custom, rarely used first names in referring to each other. The move to using another boy’s first name involved some ceremony, and was in any case frowned on by the authorities. The tradition survives in the armed forces. Here the switch from surname to first-name terms is a feature of the story.



The entire red-thread which runs through this story has, of course, been made redundant (spoiled?) thanks to DNA technology. Today, a quick test would prove the paternity of both babies. In 1866 no such tests existed or were even dreamt of, and mix-ups like this may well have been frequent, especially since it was common for the ‘upper’ classes to farm out their newborns to wet nurses to avoid the distaste felt by Victorian ladies for breast-feeding.



‘Telegraph’, ‘telegram’. Modes of communication which have been made extinct by email and cell phones. The sender wrote out a message in almost the form used today for ‘texting’ on a cell phone. This was sent from a telegraph office, or later the post office, in a similar way to the old fax machines. The message, unscrambled at the recipient’s nearest telegraph office was printed in long strips in the form shown in the book, pasted onto a paper, handed to a 'telegram boy' who walked, ran, or rode or (later) bicycled to the addressee.



Edgar’s finances in London: it doesn’t sound like much today – the five pound note he took and the six pounds for pawning his watch and chain, but at the time of writing, that would have given him about £1,200 (US$1,800).


London recruiting: the principal places of recruitment for the armed forces in Victorian England were at the regimental centres, such as Aldershot-Pirbright for the south of England regiments. However, it was common for regiments to have recruiting centres in London, since it was the most populous city in the country. They were, however, more careful in London as to who they

recruited, whereas the local offices just wanted the ranks filled by any means and so were less bothered with adhering to the rules of recruitment.



The attitude of the officers towards mere rankers not only playing cricket but playing it well is typical of Victorian England. Cricket, like rugby, was a ‘gentlemen’s game’, not played by the lower middle and labouring classes, which – although he clearly fails – is how Edgar is trying to portray himself.



The 12-day sailing time between Southampton and Alexandria, was fast at a time when mail ships of the P&O (Pacific & Orient) line were expected to do the same in no less the 15 days. Today, a cruise ship would make it in less than five days.



Before the 20th century and the two dams at Aswan, the Nile flooded once every year, although to what extent depended on the amount of seasonal rainfall coming from the Great Lakes (Lakes Victoria, Albert and Edward, which empty into the White Nile) and the Abyssinian (Ehtiopian) highlands, its inundation covering most of the valley and depositing the silt which made the land so fertile once the flood had receded. By the same token, just before the flood, the level of water in the river fell dramatically. It was when it reached its lowest ebb on the night of the 25th and 26th of January 1885 that the Mahdi’s army crossed both arms of the river (Blue and White Niles) easily to assault Khartoum.


In Storm Over Khartoum, the River Column only gets a few brief mentions, since the story concentrates on the overland trek of the Camel Corps. They were expected to make a 'lightning dash' from Korti to Metemma since it was known that getting the boats up the many rapids on the Nile would slow the River Column down. Here, troops are seen hauling the boats up one of the rapids by brute force.

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CataractHaul HighlandersZareba JustusLiebig LiebigAd liebig_U_r

Justus von Liebig and two adverts for his product.

The Highlanders making a stand from behind the partial protections of  a thorn-hedge zareba.

Key Facts 1: Fact versus fiction




Cans of Liebig make an appearance in Chapters 14, 15, 18 and 19 of Dash For Khartoum. Forgotten today – at least by its original name – Liebig was considered an essential ingredient in military rations at the time Rupert and Edgar Clinton were serving in Egypt and the Sudan.


The meat concentrate was developed by Justus von Liebig (1803 –73), a German chemist who is regarded as the father of modern laboratory-oriented chemistry and research. His principal field was in agriculture where he made an important contribution to plant nutrients and fertilisers.

In colaboration with the Belgian engineer George Giebert, Liebig devised an efficient method of producing beef extract from carcasses. In 1865, they founded the Liebig Extract of Meat Company, marketing the extract as a cheap, nutritious alternative to real meat. The advantages of a long-life canned concentrated extract to the military operating in the difficult conditions encountered in theatres such as India and Egypt are obvious – fresh meat was hard to come by and spoiled too quickly in the heat to be safe food for the troops in the field. Today, Liebig is better known under the brand name that the Liebig Extract of Meat Company trademarked in 1899 as the Oxo beef bouillon cube.



All places mentioned in Storm Over Khartoum are real locations except for the western desert wadi oases, which are fictitious but authentic. Decades of drought and civil war have devastated the areas of western Kordofan and Darfur, which could no longer sustain such douar (nomadic tented encampments) communities, let alone the cattle herds of the Baqqara horsemen.


The Hadendoa earned the nickname ‘Fuzzy Wuzzies’ because of their exuberantly wild hair; the Ja’alin lived on both sides of the Nile in the Sudan and related nomadic sub-tribes also lived in the deserts of Kordofan and Dafur. Sudanese are made up of a mixed population ranging from lighter-skinned Arabs to black tribes, many of which had migrated from West Africa long ago.


All the battles mentioned actually happened as described, down to the detail of Edgar’s nomination for a Victoria Cross after El Teb for rescuing a dismounted fellow cavalryman

(although the soldier was not an Edgar Clinton… nor an Edward Smith).


The military personnel running the various campaigns are all real characters; those of the ranks below major (excepting Major, later Colonel and then General Herbert Kitchener) are fictional.


The Martini rifle, or more correctly the Martini-Henry, first came into service with the British army in 1871. Its breech-loading of the cartridge made it the fastest-firing weapon on the battlefields of its time, and with a range of 1,400 yards (1,300m) – accurate to within two feet at 1,200 yards (1,100m) – it was devastating in skilled hands, but would be regarded as old hat within a decade.

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