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The Relief of Abu Kru, 1885


Queen Victoria’s Little Wars, Peter Gilder Colonial Rules, 28mm

Although I was down in Warwick for a Seven Years War weekend, other games were on offer, and this one looked so good that I couldn’t resit playing it. All the figures and the terrain were from Dave Docherty’s collection, and he umpired the thing too, using – I believe – an adapted version of Peter Gilder’s Colonial Rules. His figures were in the Peter Gilder mould too, and so the whole thing had a delightfully old school feel to it. The game was run no fewer than three times during the weekend, and each time three or four British players worked together to relieve an Egyptian garrison at the far end of a very long table, and rescue the General’s lady, who had sought refuge with the Abu Kru garrison. Dave not only umpired and ran the game, but he also commanded the Mahdists.  They weren’t on the table at the start, apart from a handful who were laying siege to Abu Kru. The rest were hidden. As we advanced we had to roll dice when we came close to any feature such as a low hill or sand dune, a small village or a patch of scrub, a pile of rocks or a grove of scrawny Mimosa trees. If we rolled the wrong thing then Dave would reveal a hidden bunch of Mahdists – anything from a small group of skirmishers to a whole brigade-sized group of crazed Fuzzy Wuzzies. It certainly kept us on our toes, and as we advanced we found ourselves giving a wide berth to suspicious looking bits of terrain.I commanded the mounted wing of the Desert Column, playing the part of Colonel Stewart. Our job was to probe ahead, sniff out the enemy, and to spring ambushes along the line of march, before the infantry blundered into them. That worked fairly well. It helped though,l that we were fairly lucky when it came to rolling for hidden Mahdist units. It turned out that when we rolled very low the terrain feature turned out to be empty. So, progress was helped along splendidly by a string of “1’s” and “2’s”… When the Mahdists did appear they were either in such small numbers that the cavalry managed to deal with them without help, either by charging them or dismounting and firing a few volleys. So, we were two thirds of the way down the table before we really we got into a situation that looked even remotely dangerous. That though, was about to change. Clearly Dave got bored with this and secretly changed the die-rolling formula – and upped the size of the Mahdist units. In the centre of the table was a village, which turned out automatically triggered Mahdists. I’d already passed it, having given it a wide berth. Now though, a bunch of Fuzzy Wuzzies stormed out of it, heading towards the flank of my camel Corps, and towards the nearest unit of British infantry. That wasn’t a problem either. the Camel Corps simply rode off, seeking shelter behind my hussars, who had dismounted and formed a firing line. A few well-placed volleys did the job and the Fuzzies broke and ran. The Sussex Regiment saw off the bulk of the Mahdist attack, with the help of a little screw gun. Together they stood and poured fire into the enemy, then stood their ground with bayonets when the last of the attackers reached their line. The British held, the Fuzzies died to a man, and the way now lay clear to Abu Kru. Now we were in the home stretch. Over on our left flank the Naval Brigade was doing its own thing, deliberately seeking out the enemy, and clearing one terrain feature after another. The sailors almost came unstuck though, when they triggered a whole bunch of Mahdists ansars. Even here though, the thin blue line held firm, largely thanks to the help of a Gatling gun and a detachment of Royal Marines. So, even here we couldn’t get a bloody nose even if we tried. Sensing the end the ansars surrounding Abu Kru launched a last all-out assault on the village. The Egyptians were driven back from the walls, but after some bloody hand-to-hand fighting they survived, and the attack dissipated. Now we were on the verge of victory… or we would be, if the Colonel’s lady could be whisked to safety. Actually, she did the job herself. Seeing the approach of the British cavalry she sallied out, escorted by a small escort of Bengal Lancers. A last-ditch Mahdist cavalry charge tried to stop her, but they were driven off by fire from the garrison, and from my Camel Corps. Soon she was safely amid the ranks of the 19th Hussars, and victory was ours. It was a superb little game, and I tip my hat to Dave, who was as patient and charming an umpire as you could have wanted. He really made the game work – with the help of his great collection of figures, his interesting scenario, and his pretty table. All in all it was a foray into the Sudan which I’ll remember for a long time to come.

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