Reginald Rankin.

In Morocco with General d'Amade online

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which we had crossed it the previous day. The
low rocky hills on our left looked like the chin of
an unshaven man, so mean and puny are the
stunted cork trees which sparsely dot their crests.


The column marched about ten miles to the river
bank, and then we heard shots fired by the cavalry
on the ric^ht.

The Tirailleurs formed line ; but no enemy ap-
peared above the high bank that hid the Mellah.
The Goumiers came in ; they had seen three Arabs,
who had fired on them. They killed two and took
the third prisoner. That was the end of the affair ;
we marched back to Sidi-ben-Sliman.

On March 3rd we marched through the cork
forest of Sehoul to Bou Znika. I had hoped to
see the cistus, which forms an undergrowth thou-
sands of acres in extent, in the perfection of its
bloom ; but I was disap})ointed. A few flowers
here and there were out ; but the harvest of beauty
was still to come. The yellow broom was at the
zenith of its glory ; it flashed like fire in the shafts
of sunshine that lit up the forest glades.

The place teemed with game — partridges, quail,
and hares. There was a noise as of ten thousand
fiends let loose from Hades ; and I saw a company
of Tirailleurs swarming like bees in May. Then a
huge fellow hurled himself on his face on the hare,
and at once the ranks closed in, and a fight for tlie
prize became imminent. But an officer intervened,
and the hare-killer swaggered off with his booty to
find a friend with a knife, so that '^ hallal" might
be properly accomplished. The hare's throat w^as
duly cut, but the hare still lived. Then the friend
raised his mighty hand and smote the hare behind


A Halt at 8idi Aissa

Pancakes on Shkovk Tuesday at lioi; Znika


the ear, at the junction of the neck, even as game-
keepers in Britain are wont to smite rabbits, and
so great was the force of the blow that the head of
the hare fell from its body, and rolled away under
the shade of the ground-orchids beneath the cork tree.

It was one of those delicious mornings when the
heat of the sun is tempered by a little breeze, and
the larks are singing in the blue for joy. Every
one I passed was singing too — Tirailleurs and
Legionaries and even officers of severe deportment.
We emerged on the dell beyond the forest where
formerly the paper-white narcissi made a carpet of
snow ; but, alas, their day was past. The ground
hereabouts is strewn with huge boulders, and tufts
of lentisk are dotted about between myrtle-bushes,
which vary extraordinarily in the season of their
flowering, some being covered with bloom, while on
others the buds were still small. Suddenly a dis-
tant blue line appeared beyond the shimmering,
lichen-covered stones beside the jmth. " La mer,
la mer ! " cried the Zouaves ; thinking, like Xeno-
phon's men before them, of the road that leads to

In this flat and sandy plain are to be found
more ground-orchids than in any other part of the
Chaouiya. Here I found two very large species —
one of a dark Turkey red with hairy lip, a curious
and not altogether pleasing flower ; and another of
a light crimson, one of the handsomest plants I
have found in the country.


The column was Ijoiuid for Sidi Hajaj, a place
lyin^i^ to the south of Fedallah, and on March
4th orders were issued that the force should
march strai^^ht thither. But the difficulties of the
country soon brought us back to the flat track
behind the dunes on the shore. Inland hereabouts
deep scrub-covered nullahs wind unseen amid the
levels of the plain, and several of these were crossed
with the utmost difficulty by the guns and mule
carts. The unfortunate sappers were forced to ply
their spades and picks under a grilling sun ; many
were the carts upset and many the delays by reason
of the blocking of the road. Thus we came on the
Neffifikh, two hundred yards above its confluence
with the sea ; and since the tide was coming in
there was some difficulty in getting the baggage
carts across the flooded ford.

We passed the ruined kasbah of Mansouriya
with its mosque and tower, on the summit of which
storks had built their nest — a prodigious structure
four feet in diameter, which gave the slender
minaret the appearance of having donned a straw
hat. That night we camped north of Fedallah, on
the slope of the sandy grass-grown dune, close to a
little fig-orchard all red with marigolds, in which
was a well of good water.

Never have I heard a sound so impressive, so
terrifying, as the thunder of the surge that night.
For a time there would be a lull ; and then the
long rolling roar would swell into a crescendo


culminatii\i^ in a furious bellowing that seemed to
threaten the existence of the narrow barrier that
lay between us and its rage.

Hajaj, like many another place in Morocco, has
a name which may recall departed glories, but is
difficult to associate with any existing local habita-
tion. A wide stretch of cornland ; a little valley ; a
walled, ditch -surrounded fig-orchard — such is Sidi-
Hajaj, where the column rested for a day.

On March 7th we marched again. We were
bound for the M'Dakra, and so due south we
steered towards the low line of blue hills wherein
those redoubtable ruffians have their strongholds.

Still it is a fact that the M'Dakra are the best
agriculturists of all the tribes of the Chaouiya, and
the most given to solid masonry. As we neared
the end of our twenty-mile march the flat plain
was one immense green cornfield studded with tlie
ugly white square enclosures and flat-topped houses
of the cultivators.

The force, as is its wont nowadays, marched
in column of route, and directly the boundary line
which marks the entry into M'Dakra territory was
passed our course was beaconed by the blaze of
straw stacks and abandoned huts.

In Morocco we always know when there is
going to be a fight ; surprises and chance rencontres
are very unusual. The French march into a hostile
country ; not a soul is to be seen ; there is no un-
profitable sniping, no progressive retirements from



crest to crest. The next day dawns peacefully ;
the lazy Arabs will not rise before their usual hour,
even for the pleasure of fighting the Nazarenes ;
about ten they sally forth, as to a day's partridge-
shooting ; about five they go home to tea. So on
the morning of 8th March one saw the lines of
white-clad, red and blue-sashed men pointing their
rifles all in the same direction, while a continuous
rattle betokened the charging of the magazines.

About nine o'clock the first shots came from the
front, and the force deployed into battle array.
The long, thin line covered a front of about a mile,
and moved across the immense corn-plain towards
a ridge, on the summit of which stood a large
wall-enclosed homestead, strongly held by the
Moors. I rode forward with the General to a
farm which commanded a good view of the attack,
and it was with difficulty that we threaded our
way between a deep ditch and a mass of burning
huts and stacks, which threw huge jets of fire into
the sky, and roared and crackled in a manner very
alarming to the horses.

On the right the cavalry were making a turning
movement ; the guns, as usual, were close on the
heels of the infantry supports. Along the crest-
line a mile away groups of Moors were riding
defiantly, occasionally firing at the dots which
moved on steadily towards them. Then the guns
opened on the farm, and wreaths of reddish dust
whirled up and hid the crest.




The infantry gained the ridge and took the
farm, not without trifling loss, and then the flanks
of the line were turned outwards, thus extending
the front to about two miles. To right and left
lay deep valleys, into which, and up the lillls
beyond, the Moors from the ftirm were making
their way. Against them the field and mountain
guns were turned ; and for half-an-hour we watched
the cannonade, and admired the contemptuous in-
difference to shell fire of the slowly retreating foe.

From this height an enormous tract of country
was to be seen. Behind us the plain stretched
brown and green to a misty horizon covered with
white fortified farms ; in front a plateau of downs
melted into a fringe of stony, sharp-peaked hills ;
on the right rose the flat top of the tafel-kop
by Abd-el-Kerim.

Then the line advanced again, and fought its
way slowly on towards the hills. Presently a
Goumier of my acquaintance came riding up with
a saddle and bridle in front of him. " They have
killed my good little mare," cried he disconsolately,
showing two holes in his white burnous, through
which the bullet had passed quite close to his
knee. "All of a sudden I heard a 'phit' as we
were going at full gallop, and the mare gave a cry
and stopped, and rolled unsteadily, and then fell
dead. I'm glad it didn't hit my knee as well ;
five of my comrades in the Goum have had their
legs amputated since this war began, and that


might have been my ikte. Tliis makes tlie thir-
teenth horse we have lost."

As we marched on, not meeting with much
resistance, the look of the country in front showed
that we had almost reached the limit of our for-
ward movement. Peaks, two and three thousand
feet high, rose steeply above the plateau, their
lower flanks dotted with green scrub ; the rocky
deliles that here and there broke their line were
clearly impassable by guns.

I rode on with the Chasseurs on the right
flank, who were in support of the firing-line of
Tirailleurs, and we ^valked on across acre after acre
of barley, until we rose a ridge, and came suddenly
into the very heart of the savage wildness of the
hills. Immediately in front of us was an immense
plantation of prickly pear, fenced by a low wall,
beyond which towered spires and buttresses of
jagged rock, outlined against the steep mountains

On the left appeared the entrance to a narrow
gorge, towards which the ground where we stood
fell almost perpendicularly two hundred yards aAvay.
On the right the land sloped gradually to the hills.
Hidden by the cactus grove lay the camp of the
Mehallah. When the Moors had seen that they
were powerless to arrest the French advance, and
that the General evidently knew the whereabouts
of their lair, they had hurried back and tried to
remove their belongings.


But the French were too quick for them. The
guns were brought up with admirable despatch,
and two batteries opened on the long stream of
white-clad fugitives that poured from the rocky
heights into the ravine.


The din was awful ; the carnage was gruesome.
The eight guns fired as fast as the gunners could
ram in the shells, and through the narrow valley
rolled their thunder, and struck the great wall of
mountain beyond, and came volleying back to meet
a fresh discharge, so that the air was a very vortex
of sound.

M. Reginald Kann, the correspondent of the
Temps, who was all through the Russo-Japanese
war, told me that even at Liao-yang he never
heard anything to equal the noise of this salvo.

The main body of the fugitives were penned in
the valley beneath the fire of the guns, but a few
dashed out through the tall cactus plantation, just
as the leading battalion of Tirailleurs came up.
The fugitives had a start, the corn was high ; the
Tirailleurs were excited, and most of the Arabs
got away into the gorge. Then the troops turned
to the steep hill across the gorge, now covered
with white figures riding among the boulders,
clambering up the narrow paths — all in the most
dignified unhasting way. The cannonade had now
lasted about half-an-hour, and those of the Arabs
who were not dead had turned up a little side
valley where they became, if anything, more ex-


posed to gun-fire from the right than they pre-
viously had been from the rear. But now the
cease-fire sounded ; the echoes of the guns died
away in the recesses of the violet hills ; the long
stream of flying Arabs escaped the annihilation
which only General d'Amade's humanity averted.
He is reported to have said : " Enough are killed ;
there are women and children amongst them ;
sound the cease-fire." So the bloodthirsty Tirail-
leurs reluctantly obeyed their shouting, storming
subalterns, and turned their minds to the not
unprofitable subject of looting.

Behind the tall cactuses, and entirely sheltered
by them, perched on the very edge of the steep
escarpment, was the dismantled camp of the
Meliallah commanded by Mahmoud, Mulai Hafid's

The tiny paths which led through the forests
of fleshy leaves opened suddenly on a ledge almost
enclosed by huge lichen-covered crags. All about
lay tlie scattered debris of the camp. Circular
trenches showed where the bell-tents of the Kaids
had stood ; camel's-hair tents were lying on and
under the thorny stems of the cactus ; the ground
was a litter of boxes, jars, rugs, and mats ; among
which hundreds of fowls and dozens of dogs were
enjoying a new-found and somewhat embarrassed
liberty. The Tirailleurs are good shots with stones,
and can shy a stick with wonderful precision, so
that in a very short time the chickens of mature


age were no more. As I wandered through tlie
tangled wreck on the ledge of rock, I came on a
huddled bundle of rags, which at first sight looked
like a corpse. A closer inspection revealed an aged
woman on all fours, calmly picking up barley from
tlie ground, and putting the corns one by one into
lier mouth, between times muttering to herself in a
low voice.

Her friends had deserted her ; she was too old
and feeble to be of any use. There she would stay
in the cold and the rain until the scanty store of
barley was exhausted, and release came. Thus
the Arabs towards their grandmothers. A pair of
beautiful little black kids, tied together by a string,
came bleating up to me ; I wished I could have
taken the pretty creatures away. Puppies were
to be had for the picking up ; but I had had too
much experience of the ungrateful fangs of Arab

As I retraced my steps towards the opening of
the valley, and towards the guns, the ground grew
flatter, and cavalrymen were riding about in search
of loot. One of them had got a fine collection of
the conical, woven grass dish-covers used to keep
hot the daily Kesksoo, things inevitably recalling
the hat of a Chinaman.

I was examining these particularly well-made
utensils when I heard a voice say, " II n'est pas
encore mort, le salaud, le charogne ! " And then
there came the report of a carbine fired just behind


jne. I turned and saw a miserable wretch of an
Arab lying on his side, with blood spouting from a
wound on his forehead, his thin black legs stretched
out stark, his body covered by a mass of filthy rags.
The Chasseur fancied he had done the job ; but it
takes a good deal to kill a Moor. The blood poured
into his eyes and into his mouth ; he breathed ster-
torously, and moaned in a low voice ; once or twice
he raised his skinny hand, and shifted the red
turban a little higher off his face.

In the main valley the ground was a mass of
dead horses and littered household goods, with here
and there a corpse which the survivors had not had
time to remove. But for the most part the dead
had been carried off; the struggling line of white
figures in the little valley to the north moved slowly
and painfully ; they were hampered by the numbers
of their dead.

While these events were taking place in front
the Moors were attempting to pass round the flanks
of the French and to take them in the rear. Owing
to the excellence of General d'Amade's dispositions
the manttiuvre was completely foiled. Colonel Pas-
sard, in command of liis composite battalion of
Legionaries and Tirailleurs, liad l)een kept in re-
serve to defeat any similar movement ; and he
concealed his men with such skill that the usually
wary Moors walked straight into his arms. The
French lay liidden on the far side of a ridge at
the head of a little nullah ; the Moors crept up


the near side, knowing that the French were not
far off, but Httle reckini^ that they were within
fifty yards.

Suddenly the French hne rose uj) and charged
with the bayonet, and eight Moors died. The rest
fled the way they had come, and the Frenchmen
fired at them with the rifles of the men they had
just bayoneted ; " to make bigger holes " as they said.
Thirteen more Moors were shot as they dashed
down the stony bed of the nullah ; and Colonel
Passard — the Wild Boar, as his men affectionately
call him — added another success to the list which
entitles him to be considered • the ablest infantry
leader in the force.

The moral effect of this battle of M'Karto on
the minds of the Moors was very great. They
seemed to have looked on the arrival of heavy guns
within a stone's-throw of their mountain camp as a
sheer impossibility, and when it became evident
that the guns were coming the extraordinary
rapidity of the march of the infantry gave them
no time to get away.

The Tirailleurs must receive their due meed of
praise for their work that day ; the pace they set
was wonderful. I was ridino- beside them on a


horse who is by no means a slow walker, but he
cannot walk as fast as a mule, and yet the ammu-
nition mules were continually being urged into a
trot to keep them up with the firing-line. Great
credit is due, too, to the artillery under Major


Massenet, who had his guns ahnost level with the
infantry supports, and brought them into position
at the decisive moment with magnificent effect.

It is difficult to decide so soon after the event
whether the order to cease fire when the enemy
was in his grasp was a politic move on General
d'Amade's part or not. Those who know the
Moors best agree that a complete and overwhelm-
ing defeat is the only way to bring home to them
the superiority of their foe.

It may be that the signal humanity displayed
by General d'Amade may have no other effect than
to prolong the tribe's resistance.

The sun sank behind the pinnacled hills, and
the long and weary task of collecting the scattered
units of the force was still unfinished.

The staff were examining a mountain -gun
carriage which Mahmoud had left behind him in
his hurry ; four hundred yards away the prickly
pears formed their impenetrable hedge.

Suddenly a bullet sang close over our heads,
and a report came from the thicket ; then another
bullet closer than before. The Tirailleurs formed
line, and poured a volley into the fleshy-leaved
forest. But the sniper had set a bad example,
and dozens of Moors riding on the sky-line to the
north harassed the tired troops as they marched
back in the dark to their bivouac on the little
Oued Aceila.

Thus ended the battle of M'Karto.


No one who has conversed with the Spanish
officials at Casablanca can have failed to have
been struck by the quiet way in which they
emphasise the fact that Spain at the Conference
of Algeciras received a mandate from Eurojoe
equal to that given to France to restore order
in the Moroccan ports. By that Act the Staff
of Instructors of the Shereefian police (officers
and non-commissioned officers) were to be mixed
at Tangier and at Casablanca, Spanish at Tetuan
and Laraiche, and French at Rabat, Mazagan,
Saffi, and Mogador, whilst if France was given
the exclusive right of arranging with Morocco
to enforce the regulations respecting the illicit
traffic in arms on the Algerian frontier, which
may roughly be taken to mean Morocco as flir
as the river Mouliya, Spain was accorded similar
rights as to the Riff Country, that is to say
from the neighbourhood of Tetuan to the Mouliya,
and in the regions adjoining the frontiers of her
possessions generally.

Accordingly Spanish troops hold that section
of the defences of Casablanca which extends south


of the town from tlie Marakesii Koad to the sea.
A Spanish inspector has been appointed to co-
operate with the French in the organisation of
the Moroccan pohce, and until the force can he
raised, a body of 100 Riffians recruited near Ceuta
and trained there assists under Spanish officers
in preserving order inside the town.

It is true that certain regrettable incidents
marked the co-operation of the French and
Spaniards in the early days of the occupation,
but these are now at an end, and the dis-
tinguished Commander of the Spanish forces,
Colonel Bernal, whose regiment (the 69th) has
been sent to Casablanca from Ceuta, spares no
pains to ensure a good understanding with
General d'Amade. The force at his disposal
does not exceed (including the Riffians) some GOO
men; Init, though his instructions for the present
forbid him to take any part in the operations
in the field, these men are admirably officered,
armed, equi})ped, and housed, and if, owing to
the Spanish system of service, they are mostly
youths of from twenty-two to twenty-four years
of age, they look fit to go anywhere and do
anything, and should the chance arise, will most
certainly give a good account of themselves.
The Spanish Government have show^n their sense
of the imi)ortance of the mission confided to
them by Europe by sending a picked regiment
to Casablanca, and though they have been much


hampered by waut of* funds, yet thoy are doing
their full share in co-operating in the defence of
the town.

It will be a great pity if English and French
public opinion, as distinguished from those re-
sponsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, fails
to recognise that for good or for evil Spain is
now a third partner in the Anglo-French entente
cordiale so far as everything connected with the
Mediterranean is concerned.

Hecent events have shown but too clearly that
the old English Alliance with Portugal is exposed
to grave risks, for it is only too certain that a
Portuguese Ilepublic would not co-operate with
England as the Monarchy has done under the
Braganzas, with but slight interruption, since
Charles II. married Catherine in 16G2. To
France, as her wisest statesmen have always
seen, a friendly Portugal is almost as important
as it is to their English neighbours. Lisbon and
Lagos have almost the same significance in the
ears of a French Minister of Marine as they
have in those of a First Lord of the Admiralty,
and there is no need to emphasise what it might
mean to our Empire if the Azores, Madeira, the
Cape Verdes, and Delagoa Bay were in unfriendly
hands. But it cannot be denied that England
is not popular in Portugal, and it is, therefore,
well worth while for us to bethink ourselves that
we may yet have to find a substitute for that


country in the friendship of Spain. So long as
we have that friendship, Ferrol, Vigo, and Arosa
Bay may possi])ly replace Lagos as bases for our
navy ; we can use our harbour at Gibraltar
without fear of hindrance, and Las Palmas may,
in case of need, replace Santiago as a coaling
station on our road to South Africa.

But, unfortunately, it cannot be denied that
public opinion is slow to recognise this. It is,
of course, a misfortune that political considera-
tions have prevented Seiior Maura allowing Colonel
Bernal to take his share in the task of policing
the Chaouiya, for had the French and Spaniards
served together on active service there can be
no doubt but that they would have co-operated
admirably. However, as things are, it would be
well if both the French and English Press would
remember the fact that Spain has an equal man-
date from Europe with France in Morocco, and
that if any friction arose between the two forces,
that friction would aiford a very convenient loop-
hole for outside intervention.

It nmst not be forgotten, however, that Spain
through the mouth of her Prime Minister has
enunciated the policy which she intends to pursue
in Morocco when circumstances permit. She has
marked out tlie country from the Mouliya to
Tetuan, in other words the Mediterranean Coast
of Morocco, as her sphere of influence, and not
only have several of the most prominent Kaids


of the Riff already sought lier protectorate, but

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Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 11 of 18)