On 19 January 1899, following the Anglo-Egyptian victory over the Sudanese at Omdurman on 2 September 1898 (FO 925/438), Egyptian rule was restored in the Sudan, under an Anglo-Egyptian condominium (FO 9/32/27). When Britain declared a Protectorate over Egypt in December 1914, it was extended to the Sudan under the leadership of Sir Reginald Wingate, Governor General and Sirdar (Commander-in-Chief) of the Egyptian Army. Wingate was replaced by Major-General Lee Stack in 1917, when he was appointed High Commissioner to Egypt.

The war did not have much of an impact on the country, as it has been under martial law since 1899. Apart from a few, limited Senussi incursions from the Libyan desert, the country was never directly threatened during the war, and played no direct role in it.

Outbreak of war

FO 141/509 (2)

Provisional sketch map of Red Sea Coast, Egypt and Sudan FO 141/509 (2)

According to 1914 intelligence reports, the beginning of the war triggered little interest amongst the Sudanese. The reports stated ‘no indication of anti-government feeling, no indication of pan-Islamic propaganda, no indication of Teutophile sentiment’ (WO 106/6225).

The war between Britain and the Ottoman Empire was officially announced by the Government Gazette on 7 November 1914 (CO 675/2). Wingate, who had expressed doubts about the reliability of the Egyptian Army should the Ottoman Empire enter the war (FO 141/587/1), delivered a speech to the Senior Officers, acknowledging that ‘officers of pure Turkish race’ may ‘have conscientious scruples’.

If officers did have conflicting loyalties, they could take non-combatant status. Those willing to serve could do so if they provided ‘an assurance on their word of honour in writing that they [would] do so’. On 8 November, Wingate talked to the principal Sheikhs and Ulemas at Khartoum, recalling the suffering the Sudanese had endured under Ottoman rule, and urged them to ‘give honourable and wise counsels to the people.’ The general feeling was one of loyalty to Britain with regret that Constantinople should have joined Germany and the situation remained entirely normal (WO 106/6225).

The announcement that a protectorate had been declared over Egypt, and therefore over the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, was ‘received with equal apathy both in Khartoum and in the provinces’ (WO 106/6225). 

Home Front

FO 141/742

Nyima Jebels, Numa Mountain Province, Sudan FO 141/742

The Sudan played no direct role in the war. In September 1914, Wingate offered to send eight companies to Nimule, in the south of the country, for service in Uganda. However, reinforcements eventually came from India (WO 106/574). In November 1916, it was suggested Sudanese units might replace British troops in Egypt, but Wingate argued that conscription would not be met well.

Despite a series of bad harvests, the economy was starting to pick up when the war broke out. Even though the trade of luxury goods such as gum Arabic, ostrich feathers and ivory was affected by the war, the Sudan largely benefitted from the use of Egypt as a rear base for so many troops. In 1915, for the very first time, the value of the exports exceeded that of the imports, and these record values were exceeded in 1916 (CO 675/2).

Camels were in high demand, and on several occasions the British government called on the Sudanese government for help in finding camels for the use of the British forces. In 1916, as many as 25,000 were sent (WO 106/6225).

Like everywhere else in the Empire, the government fixed maximum prices for foodstuffs, in particular flour and bread, but food was hardly scarce (WO 106/6225).

The only potential threat to the country came from within, when trouble erupted in the Sultanate of Darfur, in the west of the country. In April 1915, the Sultan of Darfur, Ali Dinar, publicly renounced his allegiance to the Sudanese government. Wingate described him as ‘a petty despot’ characterised by ‘1) personal pride, 2) innate suspicion, 3) fanaticism’. Wingate repeatedly used the fanaticism argument to justify the subsequent British invasion of the sultanate (FO 141/426/9).

It is more likely, however, that the British were concerned with Ali Dinar’s alleged involvement with Germany and the Ottoman Empire, and decided to invade to prevent the opening up of another front in Africa. British prestige and power in Central Africa was genuinely at stake. In May 1916, about 2,000 men, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Kelly (WO 372/11/121182) advanced onto Darfur. On 23 May, after 40 minutes of fighting, Kelly’s troops seized El Fasher, the capital of Darfur, and Ali Dinar and his followers fled to the south-west. Ali Dinar was finally shot dead on 6 November (FO 141/426/9). 

Key figures

Major General Sir Lee Stack

Governor General and Sirdar (1917-1924)

Ali Dinar

Sultan of Darfur

Key documents

FO 141/509 (1)

Patrol car, Red Sea Coast, 1919. FO 141/509 (1)

  • Government Gazettes (1913-1917) CO 675/2
  • Government Gazettes (1918-1922) FO 867/40
  • Sudan Monthly Intelligence Reports Nos 222-281 (January 1913 - December 1917) WO 106/6225
  • Political relations between the Egyptian Government and the Sultan of Darfur, Ali Dinar and the latter's invasion of the Sudan (1915-1924) FO 141/426/9
  • Measures taken in the Sudan in connection with the Great War: regulations affecting Austrians and Germans resident in the Sudan, censorship, business, property and trading restrictions, arrangements in case of outbreak of hostilities with Turkey (1914-1915) FO 141/587/1

Preview images