Reginald Rankin.

In Morocco with General d'Amade online

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Brulard started from Ber Rechid at ten o'clock
on the night of the 17th, and from dawn on the
18th till five in the evening when he effected his
junction with General d'Amade, he was continu-
ously engaged. The terrain was flat, and emi-
nently adapted to the enveloping cavalry tactics
dear to the Moor — " locus aptus equis, ut planis
porrectus spatiis et multae prodigus herbae," the
converse of Ithaca as described by Telemachus
when he refused Menelaus' gift of horses.

Brulard was about four miles from Abd-el-Kerim
when the combined column from the south got
there ; the General sent on two batteries of field-


guns and four companies of infantry to help him
through, and he brought into camp a very tired
lot of men.

The doino^s of the Littoral and of the Tirs
are very easily summed up. Their march from
Ber Rechid to Settat on the 16th was entirely
uneventful. There lay the pretty town, bowered
in its groves of olives and of figs ; the Moors were
gone, the Jews were gone ; only a few diseased
and crippled wretches sat in the sun in the wide
market-place. One of these, on all fours like a
beast, writhed across the square, as though he
held his right foot with his right hand. I went
nearer and examined him ; the right hand and
foot were in one piece.

The place had now all the appearance of an
abandoned home ; it had fallen to the level of the
rest of the cities of the plain. Every scrap of
woodwork had been torn down and carried off —
doors, shutters, lintels, posts, and beams.

On the 17th we marched, still without firing a
shot, to the Oued Tamazer — a little stream issuing
from the green M'Zab hills, near which some
Arabs had pitched their tents. Going to this
village to ])uy eggs I saw a hen of very peculiar
appearance. On either side of her head, just
Ijoiiind the eyes, protruded wing-like feathery
growths, in shape like the wings of a dragon-fly,
and about the same size. I tried to make the
Arab who had conducted my extensive egg-pur-


chases understand that I wished to add that hen
to my collections ; but he was so invincibly obtuse
to the clearest sign -language that I was forced to
go without her, realising, not without a certain
pleasure, that her unique attractions had made her
sacrosanct in the eyes of a grich-loYiiig generation.

The next day we made for Abd-el-Kerim. The
Littoral in square, was in the plain on the west ;
the Tirs, on the east, entered the hills, and soon
got in touch with a few hundred Moors, who played
their delaying game with great skill.

The country in which the Tirs found itself is
very like the Cots wolds, except that old red sand-
stone and not oolite appears to be the geological
formation. There are the same abrupt, isolated,
flat-topped hills, reminiscent too of the tafel kops
of South Africa ; the same contrasts of verdure
against outcropping rock ; the same sheltered
basins between the long escarpment and its out-
liers ; the same sudden valleys and sudden, chang-
ing views. Indeed, not far from Abd-el-Kerim
there are two hills which have their exact counter-
parts twice over in England — the long flat hog's-
back flanked by a treeless cone which occur near
Dursley in Gloucestershire and again near War-
minster in Wiltshire,

On the frequent points of vantage conferred by
such country the Moors posted themselves, in front
and on the flanks and in rear of the French, For
the greater part of the time the square marched


on without troubling to reply to the snipers, but
occasionally a battery would unlimber, and while
two guns cleared the hills in front the other two
warned the Moors in rear to keep at a respectful
distance. During the whole day heavy firing was
heard on the left in the plain ; we of the Tirs
thought it was Littoral ; in reality it was Brulard
hammering his way from Ber Lechid,

Only once did the attack get to anything like
close quarters. There was a narrow cutting be-
tween large groves of cactus, commanded by a hill
a quarter of a mile away, and the thick column of
men pouring through the defile made a mark which
even Arab marksmen could hardly miss. Two
Legionaries were killed there, and three more were
wounded before the hill was cleared. About one
o'clock the column reached Abd-el-Kerim, where
the Littoral and the transport had already arrived.
For hour after hour tired men and animals stood
waiting in the plain, while guns and a few com-
panies of the Legion were sent to the west to
reinforce Brulard, now faintly distinguishable on
the far horizon. At five he got in with his four
dead and twenty-six wounded ; and it became
fairly obvious that something unpleasant must
liave happened to Taupin. The " drive " had not
been a success. That night at Casablanca there
was a scare, due chiefly to the needless precautions
taken by the colonel commanding the garrison.
Marines were landed from the warship in the bay ;


the Mohammedan troo})s were sent on outpost
duty ; the Spaniards patrolled the road to Azem-
mour ; the Jews shut up their shops, and got
upon their roofs ; refugees, with flocks and herds,
rendered the streets impassable ; the balloon
made agitated ascents ; it was rumoured that the
European head of the Customs had sent his wife
off to the man-o'-war.

This was the only direct effect of Taupin's
reverse ; the Moors were much better employed
that day with Brulard ; and never did they display
any desire to knock their heads against forts Ihler
and Provot.

But there can be no doubt that the panic in
Casablanca transmitted something of its fears to
France, where to-day a casualty list of sixty is
regarded by many people as a quite adequate
reason for a change of General.

The Regnault-Lyautey Mission was the sop
thrown to this section of opinion ; but before those
eminent persons met General dAmade had practi-
cally conquered the Chaouiya.


The coinages in use in Morocco are the English,
French, Spanish, and Moorish or Hassani, the latter
being so called because it was issued by Mulai
Hassan, the predecessor of the present Sultan.

Few or no Moorish gold coins are in circula-
tion, the native coinage consisting of silver and
copper, and in nomenclature being modelled on
the Spanish.

Thus 1 douro (called at Casablanca a " dollar ")
= 5 pesetas; 1 peseta =100 centimos de peseta,
divided into 4 grich (called reaux at Tangier) of
25 cts. each.

The exchange between English, Spanish, and
French coins is regulated by the rates of Paris
and Madrid.

In comparison with all these coinages the
Moorish is greatly depreciated. Its ratio to the
French and English coinages is fairly constant ;
but the value of the Spanish currency in Hassani
has steadily fallen since the French occupied Casa-
blanca, for the reason that the Banque d'Etat and
the Compagnie Algcrienne, which regulate the
local rates, are doing all in their power to intro-
duce the French currency.


The Table of the Rates of Exchange current at
Tangier on January 20, 1908, as published in the
Dej^eche Mai^ocaiue, showed that the Spanish peseta
stood to the franc as 114 per cent, to 100, and to
the £1 as 114^^ to 100; whilst Hassani money
stood to Spanish as 138|- to 100, to French as
157i to 100, and to English 158;^ to 100.

Thus the Moorish douro on that day was equi-
valent to pesetas 3.G1 Spanish, francs 3.17.5 French,
2s. 5.99d, English. The Moorish peseta would
equal centimes 72.2 Spanish, centimes 0.63,7 French,
5.99d, English. The grich would have been cen-
times 18,04 Spanish, centimes 0.15.924 French,
1.498d. English.

The Spanish dollar or douro = douro Hassani 1, pes. 1, cts. 9
French Napoleon (20 francs) = „ „ 6, „ 1, „ 50

English £1 sterling . . = „ „ 7, „ 4, „ 65f

In ordinary life £1 is usually taken as equal
to 8 douros or 40 pesetas Hassani, making the
douro = 2s. Gd. and the peseta Gd.


On Friday, February 28, General D'Amade marched
towards the east with a larger force than he had
hitherto led against the Moors ; Bou Znika and
Ber Bechid were practically denuded of their
garrisons, and every available man was taken
from Casablanca. With seven battalions of in-
fantry, three batteries of 7 5 -millimetre field-guns,
five squadrons of cavalry, a battery of mountain
guns, and a section of quick-firing 37-millimetre
naval guns, the total amounted to about 5500
men. The country between Mediouna and Sidi
Ahmed el Medjdoub abounds in sudden rifts and
hollows ; cultivation is frequent, and the popula-
tion ofiered no resistance. Towards evening we
came on the deep gorge wherein the Oued Mellah,
a much attenuated stream, flows between distant
green-dotted red cliffs. A couple of doudrs on
the heights made a pretence of friendliness ; one
flew an extemporised Frencli flag, probably com-
posed of the uniforms of French soldiers stripped
on the battlefield of Ain Kebbah, where Colonel
Taupin met with his reverse on the 17th. About
9 P.M., when all was dark and quiet, sniping began
from these doudrs, and lasted for an hour or two.



The next morning the bivouac was broken up
at 3 A.M., and, as usual, there was a long tiring
halt after the column had got under weigh, in
order to wait for a gleam of liglit to enable the
drivers to avoid accidents on the hilly track above
the river. ^

Our direction was south-east, parallel to the
Meilah on our left, along a well-defined track
passing through miles of young wheat and barley
thickly studded with asphodel.

About eight o'clock the first shots were fired.
The cavalry had reached the deep, narrow red
sandstone valley through which the Oued M'Koun
flows north into the Meilah. All the cavalry, a
battery of field-guns, a battalion of Zouaves and
a battalion of the Legion, the mountain battery
and the naval quick-firers were at once pushed
across the stream, at this point a shallow ford
five-and-twenty feet broad.

The country hereabouts was a pleasing contrast
to the flat sameness of the plain of Chaouiya.
Dotted clumps of date-palms grew beside the
stream ; plantations of figs lay beneath the shelter
of the high banks ; a little square white building
at the top of the far incline was alive with blue
and brown pigeons.

To the north the ground rose for a quarter
of a mile in a gentle slope, which ended abruptly
in the steep southern flank of the gorge of the
Oued Meilah.


In front, towards the east, the green plain
undulated for miles ; the broken, serrated outlines
of distant blue hills stood out boldly against the
sky. To the south the ground fell away towards
a dry watercourse and tlien rose gradually ; a
douch' stood on the slopes ; it was here that the
charges of the Chasseurs were made.

That the fight of R'Fakha was mismanaged
there can be little doubt. A convoy was expected ;
the authorities were anxious to get it unloaded
and sent back again. To effect this an un-
necessarily large portion of the force was ke})t
behind on the heights to the west of the M'Koun
unloading and guarding ; a totally inadequate
number were sent across tlie stream to hold the
enemy in check.

The action, in fact, was intended to be a
defensive one, with the usual results. Where
vigour and dash were imperatively needed to eftect
this object, halts were called and reinforcements
were refused. The cavalry, unsupported by either
guns or infantry, were told to hold the right of
the line : that they speedily found themselves in
a very awkward position is not surprising. The
object of the French would have been better
secured, with vastly enhanced moral effect on the
minds of the Moors, if the western and nearer
bank of the M'Koun had Ijeen made the line of

As it was, the Moors realised that the French


were halting between two opinions. With a large
force at their command they seemed willing to
wound and yet afraid to strike. If ever these
hillmen are to be crushed, it will be as much by
the resolute attitude of their foes as by the amount
of the losses which they may inflict.

This fight showed very clearly that the Moors,
however undisciplined in the European sense the
rank and file may be, are led by men who have
a fine eye for the tactical possibilities of the situa-
tion. On the right of the French line the un-
supported cavalry were at once singled out for
attack ; and when the tardy arrival of two com-
panies of Tirailleurs enabled the French to hold
their ground, the Moors at once changed their
objective, and by galloping across the whole length
of the French front under cover of a ridge they
arrived unnoticed in the bed of the Mellah, and
thence made a determined attempt to turn the
French left, which hitherto had hardly fired a shot.

There was an order, too, in their dispositions,
which had been absent from the previous fights.
Foot soldiers played a much more important part ;
between each horseman and his neighbour walked
two infantrymen ; when the cavalry trotted the
footmen trotted, when the cavalry cantered the
infantry still kept their places in the ranks. The
fight, then, resolved itself into two parts : the
first, the determined attack on the three squadrons
of Chasseurs on the French right early in the day ;


the second, the attack from the valley of the
Mellah beaten ofi* by the Zouaves on the left.
The cavalry soon found that they were in a very
tight place. If they had retired the French flank
would have been turned, and retirement was
therefore out of the question. The Moors were
posted in and near the doudr on the slope, and
found the massed horses, for which there was no
cover, an easy target. Then the Chasseurs charged,
but when they wheeled and retired the line of
Arabs had filled up its gaps, and still held on to
the ground with desperate courage. Three times
did the gallant Chasseurs spur their grey chargers
against the yelling foe, and only the arrival of the
Tirailleurs simultaneously with the last charge
saved the situation. Twelve of them were dead ;
twenty -five were wounded ; more than thirty
horses were killed. The Tirailleurs had two men
killed and four wounded, all by French gunfire,
which in itself shows how utterly unsupported the
cavalry had been left.

Wlien the Tirailleurs were alongside the cavalry
an officious brigadier came riding by the guns on
the French left, and ordered the very capable
major in command to fire on them. The latter
denmrred, saying that he was by no means sure
they weren't Frencli troops. But the brigadier
insisted, and the only happy thing about the
incident was the accuracy of the French shooting
at 5400 yards — a distance at which some


critics had maintained that shrapnel would be

The behaviour of the cavalry in their difficult
position was beyond all praise ; fine material, well-
horsed and gallantly led, they show the same dash
and resource that has ever characterised the light
cavalry of France.

Two brothers in different squadrons were hit
that day : one died instantaneously ; the other got
two bullets from different directions at the same
moment in the lower part of his face, which carried
away the whole of the lower and part of the upper
jaw. As he lay thus on the ground the rear
squadron sw^ept over him, and the undaunted fellow
sat up and clapped his hands. A sergeant's horse
was killed under him, pinning him to the ground ;
he was found with all the chambers of his revolver
fired, and four dead Arabs round him. As the
Chasseurs swept over the ground for the third
time they indeed saw sights which made them
little inclined to grant the quarter prayed for by
the wretches on whom they were spurring. Naked
lay all their fallen comrades ; one poor fellow had
had his eyes gouged out ; the blood was streaming
from their sockets ; he was still alive. Another
had been disembowelled ; a third was found with
bound hands beside a fire, his head charred to a
cinder. As the cavalry came on, maddened with
rage, the Arabs saw that flight was useless ; they
fired their guns for the last time and then seized


their heavy-headed knobkerries. I saw one, picked
up from amid a group of mingled dead — French-
man, Arab, and negro — whose knob was crimson
with French blood. The ground was like a
shambles. Horses were dead there by the score,
and white man and dark lay close together as
they died from shot and sabre-thrust delivered
on the instant.

A Moor, a mass of wounds, still lived ; a corre-
spondent put two revolver bullets into him. But
that did not suffice ; a bullet through the head
from a carbine was needed before that tough
savage departed for his Paradise.

The Moors left forty of their dead here, and
no doubt they took by far the greater part away
with them.

Whatever they may think of the general con-
duct of the engagement of R'Fakha, they will in
future have a holy horror of the cold steel wielded
by the Chasseurs d'Afrique.

While these desperate encounters were taking
place on the right, the French centre and left were
firing in a desultory way at any of the enemy
who might appear on the ridge a tliousand yards
in front. No attempt to outflank the Moors
engaged with tlie cavalry by a turning movement
was made.

It was not until the Chasseurs and the Tirailleurs,
liampered by the shrapnel of their own guns, had
beaten off the Moors that the latter turned their


attention to the left flank. By this time the
French had begun to beheve that there was no
enemy within a mile of them. The Zouaves came
swinging along in column of sections ; suddenly a
dark line rose up fifty yards in front of them and
fired a volley into their ranks. Twelve of the
French fell wounded ; a sergeant was killed. The
Moors retired down the steep face of the gorge
of the Mellah, and wave after wave surged on
again to the attack against tlie Zouaves on the

I was at this time standing watching a moun-
tain gun at work two hundred yards behind the
Zouaves ; and below in the red-soiled valley red-
cloaked Kaids led on hordes of infantry, whose
loud shrill yells urged one another on to death
and its certain reward. The Zouaves were now
supported by a couple of companies of the Legion,
and the Arabs began to drop fast. But they were
not daunted. Across the ravine, hidden among
the huge brown boulders on the steep slope, marks-
men picked off exposed men on our crest, while in
front of them their comrades rushed shouting on to
death. Moors generally fire too high. If a quarter
of the bullets that sing over one's head came a yard
or two lower, fighting in the Chaouiya would be
more dangerous than it is. But occasionally one
comes at the right height. I was watching the
vagaries of the little mountain gun, which journeys
on tlie back of a mule, and behaves as though it


greatly reseuted being fired, for at each discharge
it runs back about ten or fifteen yards. On this
occasion it was at the top of the slope of a steep
hill, and the gunners had hard work to prevent
it charging down into the Ooumiers' horses and
the ammunition mules. The bullets were flying
pretty thick, and suddenly there was a " phit,"
which told me that one had found a billet close
by. I looked at my saddle ; I fancied it had
struck there. But the gunner next me, wearing
in front of him a leather bag containing some spare
parts of the gun, was fumbling in it, and presently
produced a twisted metal disc, and then a bullet,
with the impress of the thread it had struck on its
torn and battered head.

After about an hour's sharp fighting the attack
on the French left slackened ; the red-clad Kaids
led their diminished following into tlie sharp-
pinnacled hills towards the east.

The French now advanced the eight companies
of infantry and the battery wdiich alone had taken
part in the fight. A kasbah three miles ahead,
standing solitary in the green plain, was tlieir
objective, and the troops reached it without much

But directly they were within the walls tlie
enemy reappeared, and advancing witli loud yells
made a last desperate effort. Here it was that 1
noticed a non-commissioned officer carrying a rifle,
which is not customary for one of his rank. I


asked him why he did so. " Because I am a good
shot," was the modest rejoinder.

There was a man riding about six hundred
yards from the kasbah ; the sous-officer was invited
to bring him down. He took a long aim, and then,
almost before the report of the rifle was heard, the
four hoofs of the Arab's steed were sticking up into
the blue sky.

Then the sun went down, and everybody felt
that it was about time to camp. We had been
marching and fighting since 3 a.m., and the ground
had been broken and difficult. But there was much
marching and counter-marching to be done before
the troops lay down to sleep. The " Black Earth "
column (Tirs) was told to bivouac at the kasbali,
the " Littoral " column was to return to where the
baggage was assembled on the heights overlooking
the wide valley of the Mellah. When the latter
got there they were told that the camp would be
down in the valley by the stream ; so down again
went the troops, and the horses and the mules,
and when they were fully two miles down the
steep and slippery road another order came that
they were to bivouac on the heights. So back
again toiled the weary men, cursing the staff by
all their gods. At the same time a message was
sent to the "Tirs" column at the kasbah that
they were to return to the bulk of the troops
on the hill.

These unfortunate men toiled over ridges and


waded through streams till eleven o'clock at night,
and tlien they had to cook their food. They went
to sleep after twenty-two hours continuous work.
Such are the joys of campaigning. However, these
things do not happen every day, for February 29th
only comes once in four years.

On March 1st we woke to a drenching down-
pour. The hills M^ere blotted out ; a pall of mist
obscured the view. The silent rain crept stealthily
into men's clothes and animals' packs, made the
steep banks as slippery as ice. and quadrupled
the toils and difficulties of the march. From hour
to hour the start w^as delayed, and the men stood
moodily in the puddled plough, longing to see the
sun. At last the word was given, and down into
the broad green bed of the Mellah slithered the
long cavalcade, across the narrow stream, and up
a narrow defile leading to the north.

A party of Legionaries, in whose company I
found myself as we sank the slope, were in charge
of a small herd of cattle and a few sheep — beef and
mutton for the following day.

The sheep were troublesome ; they refused
to follow the track ; and the Legionaries found
running after them a course attended with many
a fall in the mud. So with their usual genius
they devised a labour-saving plan.

If the sheep strayed a little from the track,
" Bellez ! " cried the corporal; and a perfect tor-
nado of " baas " issued from the bearded throats


of the escort, so marvellously and unutterably
sheep-like that the errant muttons were momen-
tarily convinced of the presence on the road of
a large party of their species, and so thitlier, with
gregarious instinct, they at once returned.

In the narrow steep defile only a couple of pack
mules could go abreast ; the guns and carts passed
up in single file ; and the whole force took three
hours to reach the summit of the plateau. A
couple of batteries took up their position on either
side of the exit to the pass, while the rest of us
waited shivering in the huge barley-fields that
stretched away on three sides in unending mono-
tony of dulness.

After an uneventful day, except for the firing
of lialf-a-dozen shots by the rear-guard at a few
Moors who came down from the hills to watch our
departure, the column arrived at Sidi-ben-Sliman,
with its familiar palm and fringe of jagged rocks
on the outskirts of the cork forest.

There we camped in the bright grassy flower-
strewn plain presided over by the little snow-white

The next day (March 2nd) a reconnaissance in
force was made towards the south-west, to a point
on the Neftifikh a few miles to the north of that at

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Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 10 of 18)