Napoleon’s Mameluke

Napoleon’s Mameluke: The Memoirs of Roustam Raza, Imperial Bodyguard21535548

In this extract from Roustam’s memoirs, the young mameluke describes how Napoleon quits Egypt, taking Roustam with him. General Bonaparte and his entourage make for the coast, and then board a small flotilla bound for France:

We were not at first told that we were going to France, I really only found that out some time later.  It was a few days after I had entered the general’s service when the valet came at midnight to dress the general and told me “we are to leave for Alexandria, because a Turkish and English army has arrived”. We left in a hurry and I did not even have the time to go an fetch my belongings that I had left in the house of Sheikh El Bekri. But that which troubled me the most was that I was not able to take my poor servant with me. We left Cairo on the xxx [22 August 1799]  and reached Menouf that evening. The general dined there  and we left for Alexandria the following morning, as the man said we would. On the way we encountered a large band of Arabs who were preventing our progress. I asked the general permission to charge the Arabs with the Guides who were escorting the general. He said “Yes, go on. But be sure the Arabs do not seize you, because we cannot spare you”. I had a good horse, I feared nothing and I was well armed for I had two pairs of pistols, a sabre, a blunderbuss and, on my saddle, a mace. After the charge the general asked Monsieur Barbanègre,  who had led the charge, how I had behaved. He told him that “Yes, he is a brave soldier, he wounded two Arabs”. After that, in fact on the same day, the general presented me with a ceremonial dagger which really delighted me. From that time until now I have always had it in my possession.

We camped in the desert that night, lying on the sand.  That evening Monsieur Elias arrived from Cairo via Boulak with a despatch for the general. He also brought with him two watermelons and these did me much good because it was truly very hot. He told me “There isn’t a Turkish army, nor an English one, as they said to you, you are going on a different sort of journey”. He did not say anything else and returned to Cairo.Raza Roustam

The following day, at some point in the morning, we lost our way a little in the great clouds of sand. We spied some Arab women who were working the land and the general sent me to ask these women the way. I galloped over in order to make enquiry but when the women caught sight of me they hoisted up their shirts (this was all that they were wearing) to reveal their backsides and then showed their naked bodies. We reached a point  on the Mediterranean coast between Alexandria and Aboukir at 10 o’clock that evening. The tents were put up and instructions were issued to prepare dinner. I saw two frigates at anchor  and I asked Monsieur Eugene, who was the general’s aide-de-camp,  what these two vessels were and who they belonged to. He said that they belonged to the Turks. He was still keeping the truth from me, for these were two French frigates   which were there awaiting the general and his escort. I found this out later that evening.

It was so hot then that I went down to the coast to bathe in the sea. I was there when Monsieur Fischer,  who managed the general’s household, came to fetch me. I returned to the tent, and ate some dinner. After the meal, everyone was really happy and very lively. The soldiers were throwing their knapsacks in the air, the cavalry were handing their horses over to those soldiers who were to remain in the country. I turned to ask Monsieur Jaubert  the French  interpreter who interpreted for the general “what does all this mean, I see everyone is so happy”. He replied that “We are leaving for Paris, it is good there and it is a large city. Those two frigates that we can see there before us are to carry us to France”. They told me that I should also leave my horse (a man had been selected to take the horses to Alexandria ), and that I should only take my small portmanteau with two shirts and a cashmere cloak.

I set off, accompanied by a number of officers to a place about half a mile from the camp. There we climbed aboard some boats that were to take us out to the frigates.  The sea was quite rough, with some of the waves breaking over our heads and filling the boats with water. Everyone was sick on the way out apart from me, in fact I was hungry and asking for something to eat. The mameluke called Ali  was also very sick. It was late when we climbed onboard the frigate but we set sail right away , everyone very happy to be underway. I did not see the general for the entire day, he had come aboard using another boat and I had been worried (I was only 17 and a half). In order to tease me the men said that when we reached France my head would be cut off because whenever the mamelukes seized French troops they would behead them like that. This terrified me.

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