I stumbled across this story when researching Henry Grey Faber. An article in the Yorkshire Evening post dated 29 June 1950 reports on regimental badges in the Sudan, in the hills near Atbara. The article states these badges reminded the writer of the Kilburn white horse and displays an image of the West Yorkshire Regiment badge on a hillside in the Sudan.
The article explains how the badges are made and goes on to quote Henry Faber of Leeds who spent nine months in the Sudan with the Green Howards as saying ‘the patch of hillside is first cleared and then the badge is carefully mapped out. The rocks are manhandled by the troops and gradually the badge takes shape. Most of the Green Howards’ badge was built on free afternoons and it was mighty hot work.’ I do not believe the Henry Faber quoted in the article is the one I have researched on this website but the story fascinated me, so I wanted to include it here.
Further investigation found a blog post on the Love Adventures website by David Love, a British adventurer, mountaineer and expedition leader. In the post, David describes going in search of a British Army Memorial, built by the last serving unit in Sudan before the country gained independence in 1956.
Turning to satellite imagery to study the area around Gebeit did not reveal any possible locations of the lost memorial but did find some very odd looking images on a nearby rocky hillside, blurry effigies which seemed to resemble old military insignia. If David wanted to find the memorial, he would need to go to Gebeit.
Leaving Khartoum and heading north along the River Nile, David reached the rocky foothills at the edge of the remote village of Gebeit in Northern Sudan, at the fringes of the Sahara desert, where he had previously identified the blurry effigies on satellite imagery and saw, towering some 200ft above him what he describes as 130 year old Squaddie graffiti but on a totally epic scale.
David writes ‘As I edged backwards to take in more of the landscape, I began to make out even more of what was instantly recognisable as military insignia. In total there were 18 massive images covering an area roughly two kilometres in length across the face of the hillsides. On closer inspection, the incredibly detailed images were made from piles of different coloured rocks from the surrounding foothills.’
Memories from Sudan
Other recollections in the Yorkshire Evening post article included Mr Butterill who described how white stone from the surrounding hills was built up gradually in a pattern of a badge. The work was done after sundown and in the early morning he recalled.
And Mr P Addison who spent 24 years in the Sudan said the badges in the hills at Gebeit are some 200 miles from Atbara, on the railway line to Port Sudan. They are not cut out of the hillside he explained but are made of white stones set close together. Most of them date immediately to a period immediately after world war one. Gebeit is nearly 3,000 feet above sea level and in the summer has a more agreeable climate than Khartoum or Atbata. It was the custom to send all detachments of British garrison troops to camp at Gebeit to have a few weeks change from the summer heat and sandstorms of the Sudan. It became the fashion for these detached units to occupy their leisure in constructing their regimental badges on the hillside. Each is carefully set out and contains many hundreds of stones.
Other examples of badges
The badges in the Sudan are not the only examples of regimental badges.
The Fovant Badges
The Fovant badges are a set of regimental badges on the Downs of Wiltshire at Fovant. During World War I there was a need to establish training camps for troops engaged in the battlefields of France and one of the areas chosen was at the village of Fovant.
The church of St George in the village of Fovant has rows of war graves of British and Australian soldiers and in memory of those who had died, regimental badges were carved by their comrades. Many of the original carvings failed to survive the elements and at the end of world war I there were 20 identifiable badges.
During World War II, the badges were allowed to overgrow in order that they could not be used as landmarks by enemy aircraft. Following the end of the war the local Home Guard formed themselves into an Old Comrades Association and took on the arduous task of restoration. In the years 1948 – 1951 two Wilshire badges were cut and in 1970 a Royal Signals Badge was added.
Cherat, located in the Peshawar District of India, was a hill a military garrison and sanatorium for British troops stationed in the Peshawar Valley. Many of the troops sent there, carved and painted their regimental insignia on to nearby rock faces to mark their service on the frontier.
Further information and sources
- British Newspaper Archive:
Diary of a Yorkshireman (Yorkshire Evening Post: 29 June 1950)
- Cotswold Info: The Fovant Badges
- King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum
- Love Adventures: The Lost memorials of Sudan
- National Army Museum: Regimental badges carved into the hillside at Cherat, 1932 (c)
- Tales from the Supply Depot: Crest Rock, Cherat Postcard