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Meanwhile, the Mahdi was closing in. By May, Khartoum was surrounded and Gordon was in very serious trouble. Forgetting that in December 1883 they had clamoured for Gordon’s dispatch to Khartoum, the British press now demanded that an expedition immediately be sent to relieve him. Gladstone was loathe to send any such force. He prevaricated. Two months passed. Finally, on August 5, Parliament paris - 3 - index 16/09/2015 18:34 Page 32 32 | preparation voted £300,000 for the purpose. But it was not until January 1885 that the Gordon relief force actually arrived in northern Sudan.

Gordon’s sense of mission was accentuated by his deep Christian faith, a faith that apparently arose from a sort of epiphany experienced during an attack of small pox in China, an event, he said, which ‘brought me back to my Saviour’. But Gordon’s faith was not of any traditional variety; it was, rather, of a ‘mystical, fatalistic . . 17 Ultimately answerable only to the will of God, Gordon immersed himself in biblical studies and adopted a life-style of asceticism and self-abnegation. Whatever abilities he possessed as a commander or leader, it was his peculiar sense of religious mission – of apocalyptic destiny – and his consequent disregard for authority, that rendered Gordon unsuitable for a responsible imperial assignment.

A group of officers from the nearby British garrison even imported hounds from England and established a hunt in Ramleh. But the dogs found the climate uncongenial and when they died so too did the hunt. The British garrison was stationed at the Mustapha Barracks, situated about halfway between Ramleh and Alexandria. It was here that Clayton learned his trade as a ‘gunner’. Although he kept no diary for 1896–7, it appears from later diaries and correspondence that he and his fellow lieutenants regularly made the short tram ride into the city.

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