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The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars is now available!

The original publication of Canal Priests Of Mars cut slightly over a third of author Marcus L. Rowland's manuscript to fit GDW's adventure format. The Complete Canal Priests Of Mars restores the cut material, features all new artwork by Paul Daly, and adds many useful player handouts. Enjoy the "author's cut" of a classic Space 1889 adventure, or experience it for the first time!

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A Eyewitness Report of the Battle of Gideon Wells

by R. H. Cartwright as told to Brian Kendall


It was the typical Martian morning, the sun beating down upon the market square like the hammer of god. I had just arrived at the small town of Utalickyia to cover the movements of Col. Baxter Cambell's desert column in their attempts to put down the native unrest north of Syrtis Major. Things were looking rather dull (the highlight of the morning officers meeting was the discussion about the fact that Utalickyia wasn't on any maps), when a cloud of dust was spied coming towards the town from the north. Since this news was slightly more interesting then watching the Martian women in the marketplace weave yarn, I went to investigate.

The cloud turned out to be a single rider on a blown gashant. He had been sent from the small settlement of Gideon Wells where the rebels of such and such (the reader must forgive me; there are so many rebel princes on Mars that one needs a score card to keep track) had seized the town and come the next morning would kill all Red Men therein (that means humans, dear reader). It would inspire you brave readers to have seen the speed in which the camp went from quietly trying to stay cool to marching full tilt towards the bastion.

The column constituted of 2 companies of the Queens Own Martian Rifles, B Co. of the Kings Royal Rifles, a Troop of the Parhoon Guides and two small Mountain Howitzers manned by the brave lads of the Royal Navy. The Parhoon Guides upon leaving town supplied security for the column as it wound its way across the Martian terrain.

One thing I will always remember about the march is the silence. Not a word was uttered by the rankers (in Martian or English); the only sound was the tread of feet and the clank of equipment, each man's face a grim reminder of what lay ahead. The only words spoken were at one point during the march when Col. Cambell had to ask Captain Smith (DSO) of the KRRC to shorten their famous stride since they were rapidly outdistancing the rest of the column.

Around 11:00 am Ensign Killian of the Guides came riding back with news from the town. It seemed that the settlement was atop a hill, to the south of which was a ridge that the column would soon reach. The bad news was the ridge was the last bit of cover, the slope up the hill being as bare as could be. Even worse, the rebels had actually shown unusual sense and had barricaded the town, a precaution probably due to the fact that Europeans had been seen in their ranks!

As we approached the ridge the column was halted. An officers meeting was held during which Col. Cambell laid down his plans for the attack. From Martians among the Guides he had learned that these rebels took their bloody Voodoo seriously and would not kill the hostages until morning. Free from worry about their safety, he ordered the guns to be placed upon the ridge to support the infantry attack which was to be carried out by the Martian Rifles. The KRRC were held in reserve and the Guides secured the flanks. With a "Good luck, gentlemen," Col. Cambell dismissed the officers, who then returned to their commands.

The guns were dismounted from the pack mules, assembled, and then manhandled to the ridge. Although the little howitzers immediately came under long-range rifle fire, no casualty's befell the crews, except for the dog Salty, the battery's mascot, whose ear was nicked. Behind the guns the chaps from the Martian Rifles started to form, skirmishers to the front. Major Thomas, the commander of the Martian Rifles, gave the command to advance. With rifles sloped, the first lined surged forward like race horses eager for the go; it was only the cool handling of the officers that kept the first line from breaking into a run. The advance was heralded by the fire of the naval guns, one gun at a time, the other waiting for the one that had just fired to be loaded before it sent forth its gift from the Queen to the rebels. It was at this time that I joined the Battery and it was from that spot that I viewed the rest of the battle.

As the reserve lines of the Martian Rifles crested the ridge I watched with awe the scene that was unfolding before me. The skirmishers inched closer to the settlement, leaving behind them a score of wounded. Additional troops were sent forward to reinforce them. With cool determination these khaki clad figures moved ever closer, rushing forward each time the naval battery's hits sent up plumes of debris. The wounded made their way back over the ridge. Some of these brave martians, despite their wounds, aided their more seriously wounded brothers back. The two doctors (Lt. James Owen R.N. and Dr. William Mercer) along with there orderlies began to administer to them.

The battle had now been raging for 45 minutes, and the sulphurous fumes hung heavy in my nostrils. The Martian Rifles still stood at the bottom of the hill, casualties were mounting, several of the officers were wounded and Lt. Rory McConnell had been killed while bravely leading his men. It was at this moment I watched (through my field glasses) Major Thomas raise his sword and dash forward, 200 hundred screaming Martians of the Rifles following. Upward they climbed, their full-throated yells sounding like the trumpets of doom for the cursed defenders.

Martians fell by the score but onward they went, following their brave Maj. right into the teeth of the largest barricade. As they crested the hill on which the town sat, the men of the King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) (the Colonel had brought them forward to the top of the ridge) let out a cheer. Could this be it? Had the Brave Martians freed the town? I watched as Major Thomas and his command surged forth like a tide set free, covering the final ten yards to victory.

Just then, as though the gods had not seen enough carnage that day, there arose from the battlefield a sound that stopped all cheers, a sound that dashed all hopes of victory, a sound that spelled out death with crisp clean report. The staccato whine of two maxim guns struck home like the Hammer of Thor, beating again and again. I watched helplessly as the Martian Rifles stacked up like cordwood in front of the rebel barricade, the body of their brave Major Thomas marking the furthest point of the advance.

I do not think I took a single breath as I watched those poor troops retreat down the hill, their dead and wounded marking the avenue of their advance and now their retreat. Those poor brave Martians, who in some ways remind me a lot of our own lads, retreated over the ridge and began to regroup, the cheers of the butchers mocking them as they went. I am not ashamed to admit to you, dear reader, that more then a few tears creased my check.

Over the next five hours Col. Cambell did his best to save the situation. He threw the KRRC out as skirmishers to keep the rebels busy while he pulled the Martian Rifles back into shape. Fewer then 100 were fit to fight, and only one officer remained, Subaltern Steven Peters, who though young showed the coolness and professionalism of a True English officer. The Colonel gave him a field promotion to Lieutenant and set him to rallying his men.

At about 5:00 PM a meeting was held at the Battery, where it was announced that only 10 rounds for each gun remained and that rifle ammo was running low. It was as if each officer there had just realized they had lost; they stared at the ground in shame. Col. Cambell, his face red with anger, spoke: "Is there no bloody way up that hill?," he asked, choking back the tears as he thought of the women and children huddled in some dark basement waiting for the butcher's knife. No one answered. The officers stood watching the town through their field glasses as the Martian sun sank from the sky.

It is at times like those that I would not trade my spot in history for anything that the genie could offer, for when all seem hopeless and dark, in walked a bearer of light, and that bearer wore sergeant stripes.

"Excuse me Sah!" we heard from behind. All heads turned to see the huge form of sergeant Collingswood of the KRRC. His dirt-smeared face did not take away one pence from his soldierly appearance it would suffice to say that Sergeant Collingswood was every artist's model of the perfect NCO. Col. Cambell stepped forward "What is it, sergeant?" Collingswood answered as if it was quite normal for a NCO to report to a colonel "Well you see sah, it's like this, a couple of the Welsh lads from 1st section, that be Jones 4783 and Lance Christy, was out working their trade, scuse me sah! Schrimishing I mean, when the horrible little wretches discovered some dead ground right over by that wadi, sah!" He raised his hand to point and as if controlled by the sergeants secret power every officer turned and raised his fieldglass. What they saw, indeed what I saw, was a group of 10 riflemen laying Indian style in a gully. That was not the shocking part; it was the fact that they were only 10 yards from the top and under no fire that hit everyone like a lighting bolt. "My God!" the Colonel said, and then he turned and rattled off a plan.

The plan was very simple. The KRRC would handle the assault, shifting to the left into the gully as the M.R's replaced them on the line. When assembled, the Riflemen would spring up and make for the town, bayonets fixed and not uttering a word until the last minute, and the cannons would fire their last rounds as support. The Guides would form a extended line around the rear in a attempt to contain those who tried to flee. Finally, when the KRRC was positively within the settlement, the M.R. would once more charge up the ground they had covered that afternoon.

As the last rays of the distant sun sank below the hilly horizon I watched the gallant riflemen, their blackened equipment seeming to be custom made for just this kind of show. There they lay, rifles in hand, waiting for the officers to bid them forward. My heart raced it was all or nothing this time. As I stood by the sailors and their guns watching this horrific sight, I became aware of growling by my feet. I glanced down to see Salty, his ear bandaged, his little sailor's cap firmly on his head, and his feet planted in a truly defiant pose, growling towards the town as if to say "take this, you...." and I freely admit that at this moment, when all was to be won or lost, I laughed.

6:45pm: As the twilight orange sky was going black, in front of the riflemen a figure arose and (I swear upon the allmighty), after he brushed himself off, raised a cane above his head and pointed forward. Over 100 riflemen leaped to their feet and charged forward, without a single word.

6:46pm: The Battery commenced firing as rapidly as the guns could be loaded. At the same time the Brave Martian Rifles started a brisk firing towards the front.

6:48pm: A lone Martian guard fired into the mass of the riflemen, only to be bayoneted as England's sons leap over the wall. A riflemen who had affixed a small Union Jack to his bayonet began to wave it the fading light, which illuminated the flag like a beacon. The cheers could be contained no more. A roar arose that must have been heard on Earth. Into the settlement they poured, the flashes of gunfire adding to the apocalyptic effect.

6:50pm: The staccato whine of the Maxims thundered out as if to say "Not today, Britain," and the KRRC appeared to waver. Seizing upon this as an inspiration, the newly promoted Lt. Peters drew his sword and cried "FOR THE QUEEN AND MAJOR THOMAS... CHARGE!" The Martian Rifles, although half their number had been killed or wounded, did not hesitate a moment. Upwards they ran until Lt. Peters was seen atop the battlement, his helmet upon his sword as his Martians poured into the mayhem of the settlement.

7:00pm: All is dark except for the settlement of Gidion Wells, where the flashes of the battle cast their eerie shadows. The guns have long since run dry, and the gun crews, the wounded and their Colonel stand transfixed by the sight. What was happening inside? Had we won or had we lost? I would have sold my soul to find out, but before I could sign it over, two figures appeared atop the settlement's highest buildings. Ours or theirs, we wondered, but then, in the light of a burning structure, it could be clearly seen that they were planting the Union Jack apon the settlement. One figure put something to his lips, and a British army bugle call drifted across the valley. It sounded as sweet as the songs of the angels. We had won, we had won!

8:00am: A tattered flag flies high above the town. Only one of the hostages died, a man who gave his life to save the others when the rebels tried to kill them at the last minute. All is not joyful, however, for now the army buries its dead, Thomas Atkins alongside Johnnie Three-Fingers, all soldiers of the Queen now, all defenders of the realm.

I am not at liberty to give the precise numbers that fought and died, nor can I say what happened to the European mercenaries, but I can say that, as the last post plays over these brave men's graves that it was their courage and fortitude that made it possible for seven families to continue to live as they wished, it was these gallant khaki knight's blood that here on Mars and on Earth that keeps the sun from setting apon our most glorious empire.... God save the Queen!

Posted Monday, 04-May-2009 19:50:32 EDT

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