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The Battle of Atbara
by William Topaz McGonagall
circa 1897

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.

Editor's Notes: From a collection of McGonagall's unpublished works, "Last Poetic Gems."  This poet and "tragedian" of Dundee has been widely hailed as the writer of the worst poetry in the English language.  A self-educated handloom weaver from Dundee, he seemingly went through a phase of self-discovery in 1877, at about the age of forty-five, when the realization hit him that he was in fact a poet.  McGonagall then embarked upon a 25 year career as a working poet who had the skills of, in the words of one modern day wordsmith, "delighting and appalling audiences across Scotland and beyond."  One has to feel for this gentleman, who was regularly engaged to give entertainments in small halls just so his audience could make a goat of him.  Regardless, his belief in himself could not be shaken, despite society's reaction.

His reputation of the being the best "bad poet in the English language" extends even to the present time (a McGonagall Society endures) where some fans flock to McGonagall's works in much the same way moths are attracted to flame.  Scottish literary critic James Cameron went so far as to state that McGonagall's oeuvre was "of a magical dreadfulness that reached the sublime" and that this self-proclaimed poet/actor was "one of God's clumsy innocents, who found his way among the angels."

After the release of "Poetic Gems" McGonagall continued to write for twelve years, publishing and selling his work on the streets in broadsheet form.  Two additional publications, "More Poetic Gems," (1962) and "Last Poetic Gems," (1968) were released with his remaining broadsheet and other previously unpublished material.  They were well received, which in itself is a testimony to McGonagall's staying power.