Aristocracy on the Nile

Major General The Hon Edward Montagu-Stuart-Wortley (1857-1934)

In a few sentences it is difficult to do justice to the spectacular career and character of this flamboyant officer who served in no less seven wars and campaigns.

“Wortles”, as he was sometimes known, was one of the first British officers to join the Egyptian Army in 1882 having taken part in the suppression of Urabi’s rebellion earlier that year.

Seldom failing to be where the action was, he managed to get himself attached to the Gordon Relief Expedition and was one of the four British officers who, with a small contingent of the Royal Sussex and some Sudanese troops, attempted to relieve Khartoum and rescue General Gordon in the steamers Bordein and Talahawiya arriving only a few hours too late. On the return journey the Talahawiya was sunk and the Bordein grounded so Stuart-Wortley set out with a few men in a rowing boat travelling at night to get help from the main body of the expedition forty miles downstream.

In 1897, despite ill-health, he volunteered to return to the Egyptian Army to take command of the Friendlies or anti-Mahdist irregulars attached to it. Made up of contingents from various tribes “whose respective interests were somewhat conflicting”, warned Wingate, Wortles managed to control this unruly horde with a mixture of tact and firmness (he had to shoot one man who insisted on killing prisoners against orders) aided by only one other British officer and two Egyptian liaison officers from Wingate’s Intelligence Department.

Devoid of class prejudice, as Military Attache in Paris at the time of Hector MacDonald’s suicide, he tried to defend his dead friend and comrade’s good name from the speculations of the Press and to uphold his posthumous reputation.

In the First World War he commanded a division but fell out of favour with his superiors and was regarded as “hesitant” when he failed to commit his men to what appeared to him to be certain death.

There was combined in him all that was best in the late Victorian and Edwardian upper-class and few of its short-comings.

Colonel Lord Edward Cecil (1867-1918)

A son of the Prime Minister, the Marquess of Salisbury, Lord Edward’s appointment as junior ADC to Kitchener in 1896 was made for political reasons, at least as far as Kitchener was concerned. His campaign to reconquer the Sudan which opened in the March of that year was not popular in all quarters and he wanted a direct conduit to the Prime Minister. For his part, “Ned”, a subaltern in the Grenadier Guards, was eager for operational experience. At this stage of their careers there was no mutual affection between the two men and in his diary the ADC has little good to say about his chief.

Many years later, however, when in 1911 Kitchener was appointed British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt, Cecil was to become his right-hand man, holding one of the top jobs in the Anglo-Egyptian hierarchy as Adviser to the Ministry of Finance, in effect, Chancellor of the Exchequer.

That Cecil was to make his (rather short) career in Egypt is perhaps surprising as he seems not to have liked the country or its people, to both of which Kitchener on the other hand was devoted.

A scion of one of England’s greatest families, he looked down upon the rest of the world from a great height, literally (he was 6ft 5ins tall) and metaphorically and few escaped his acerbic wit.

His last years were marked by sadness, even tragedy. His only son George, a Grenadier like his father, was killed in action in 1914 and Kitchener’s death in 1916 was a severe blow both personally and to his future hopes. His wife Violet seldom joined him in Egypt and had fallen in love with Lord Milner, whom she married after Cecil’s death.

Stricken with TB he died in a Swiss sanatorium of flu during the great pandemic of 1918.

His book, The Leisure of an Egyptian Official, published posthumously is a master piece of satire but caused considerable offence in Egypt.

Major General Lord Edward (formerly Count) Gleichen (1863-1937)

This descendant of minor German royalty twice saw active service on the Nile, on the first occasion with the Guards Camel Regiment in the Gordon Relief Expedition in 1884-5 and again on Kitchener’s staff in the Dongola campaign of 1896.

With the Camel Regiment he was present at the Battle of Abu Klea and was lucky to escape with this life when the British square was broken by Mahdist warriors.

In 1897, with his brother officer of the Grenadiers, Lord Edward Cecil, he accompanied a mission to the Emperor Menelik of Abyssinia led by the diplomat Sir Rennell Rodd.

After the reconquest of the Sudan and service in the Boer War he briefly held the positions of Civil Secretary to the Sudan Government, Director of Intelligence in the Egyptian Army and Sudan Agent in Cairo.

He published a number of very readable books including A Guardsman’s Memories and With the Mission to Menelik.

When German titles became unfashionable during the First World War he adopted the style Lord Edward in place of Count.

On retirement from the army after the war he embarked upon a second career as an artist and art dealer and was a well-known figure in London society.