Battle Honour 'TEL-EL-KEBIR'

Event
Wednesday, 13 September, 1882

BH TelelKebirThe Battle Honour TEL-EL-KEBIR is emblazoned on the Regimental Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.

Britain and France's national interest in Egypt, during the late 19th Century, was their major financial investment in the Suez Canal. It was also a time when European powers were expanding their empires, which included the 'Scramble for Africa'. The Suez Canal provided the shortest route to East Africa, the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, the Far East and the Pacific Ocean. But poor governance and corruption in Egypt had resulted in financial and political instability. This posed a threat to the allies's strategic interests and through diplomacy they persuaded the Ottoman Empire to appoint Tewfik Pasha as the new Khedive (Viceroy) in 1879 - and permit an Anglo-French commission to supervise his government.

In 1881, Ahmad 'Urabi Pasha Al-Misri, a passionate, popular and charismatic nationalist Egyptian Army officer (better known as Arabi Pasha), led a nationalist revolt by the Egyptian Army against the Khedive's (Ottoman) administration. When an Allied fleet arrived off Alexandria it triggered deployments by the Egyptian Army and major civil disorder, particularly in Alexandria. Admiral Seymour bombarded the defences of Alexandria on 11 July 1882 and put ashore landing parties to restore law and order. The British government also sent an expeditionary force under the Dublin born Lieutenant General Sir Garnet Wolseley to invade Egypt, capture Cairo, restore the Khedive's power as ruler, impose Anglo-French control of Egypt, and thereby secure Britain's national interest in the Suez Canal.

Wolseley had identified Cairo as the political 'centre of gravity' for the nationalists and conducted a feint against Aboukir to make them believe that he would advance from Alexandria. Instead he moved his main force through the Suez Canal to Ismailia which was connected to Cairo by rail. Running parallel to the line was an essential water supply - the Sweet Water Canal. The line and canal led directly to the fortified garrison town of Tel el Kebir where he believed Arabi Pasha would make his stand. By 9 September, after a series of minor actions at Kassassin and Tel-el-Mahuta, Sir Garnet advanced on Tel-el-Kebir where his main body halted 3 miles short of Arabi Pasha's position. The enemy position was a long line of trenches sited at right angles to the railway and the canal. It was flanked with powerful redoubts and was held by some 30,000 Egyptian and Sudanese troops supported by 60 guns. Wolseley's 15,000 strong force could not attack such a formidable position in daylight without severe loss. He therefore undertook a long, silent night march and his two divisions advanced to an assault position where they would attack the enemy at dawn.

Map of Tel-el-KebirThe 1st Battalion Princess Victoria's (Royal Irish Fusiliers)* had baked in the Egyptian sun before forming up in 2 Brigade under Major General Graham and moving off at 2000 hours on 12 September. At 0400 hours on 13 September, Wolsey's force halted in darkness and deployed for a silent approach to their assault positions. The 1st Faughs would have the Royal Marine Light Infantry to their left and the 84th York and Lancasters to their right. Further right, on the right of the line, was the most senior line infantry regiment present at the battle - the 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (18th Regiment of Foot). The Guards Brigade to the rear was commanded by the Duke of Connaught. At around 0600 hours, the enemy spotted the Highland Brigade some 150 yards to their front and opened fire. The 2nd Division was still some 100 yards to the right and rear, some half a mile short of their objective, and in open ground with no cover. The British surged forward. Lieutenant Wilbraham of B company describes the attack:

'I saw men dropping here and there, and I never expected to get 50 yards farther, but I did not show it, and although the pebbles were flying about one's ears, every 50 yards gave one greater confidence. So we advanced towards the long continuous blaze on the parapets without firing a shot; indeed, we saw no one to shoot at, the day getting gradually lighter, and at about 500 yards from the works I began to make out some heads with my glasses ... . We went on slowly to within 200 yards or less, when I could see the heads on the parapets plainly, and choosing my spot I took a rifle from a man and stood still while I took about eight steady shots at the crest ... . I jumped the ditch and dropping off the parapet went clean over the heads of two men who were cowering behind it ... . I went straight on. I shot two fellows with my revolver and knocked another's rifle out of his hand with my sword ... and was in pursuit of another, when about six yards off he turned and proceeded to stuff a cartridge into his rifle. I knew my only chance was to go for him straight, and I just managed to hit his muzzle with my sword. I think I must have knocked the cartridge out of his hand for he clubbed his rifle and hit at me. At the same moment I tripped over my scabbard, and he just caught me on the tip of the shoulder as I fell right at his feet. I was too pumped to save myself and thought I was done for, but just as he was going to hit me again, a man named Kelly, the right hand man of my company, drove his bayonet clean through him, much to my relief.'

Ahmad Pasha's force was routed and suffered some 2,000 casualties. An immediate pursuit followed, and on the evening of 14 September, Cairo was in British hands. The casualties for the Faughs amounted to two killed, 34 wounded and three missing.

*
Otherwise called 'Faughs' (applies to a Battalion - such as 1st Faughs - or, to an individual - 'he's a Faugh' - meaning 'he is a Royal Irish Fusilier').

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