Reginald Rankin.

In Morocco with General d'Amade online

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the Biff Coast was especially reserved as open
to Spanish penetration by the eyiteiite of 1904.

Spain has every right to have a sphere of
influence reserved to her in Morocco, for not
only are there very large Spanish interests in
the north of the country, but she is admirably
fitted for the task of bringing those regions
under the control of European civilisation. The
peasantry of Andalusia even to-day are Moors
in all but name ; they are far better fitted than
any other race in Europe to work the Moroccan
soil, and on the whole, the Spanish troops get
on excellently with the natives, chiefly because
they are so closely akin to them. Jews also, as
a rule, get on well with Spaniards,

It will be a great mistake to try and force
the pace in opening up Morocco. Property is
much split up and held tenaciously by owners
without much capital, who may be able to use
improved ploughs if they can be drawn by their
own draught animals, but who would not be in
a position to work with steam machinery. The
produce of the country does not necessitate the
use of railways, and roads and bridges, as less
costly, would therefore be much more suitable
as means of communication. Wireless telegraphy
and telephony might well serve the purpose of
the usual telegraph lines, and if the ports could
be improved by the construction of moles and


wharves, the streets of the towns properly paved,
and roads constructed on whicli auto]nol)ile omni-
buses and wagons could travel, Morocco could
well wait awhile before more expensive methods
of communication were provided, at least in the
interior, for a coast railway is indispensable. The
money saved might be usefully emi)loyed in the
promotion of education, possibly on the lines of
the Gordon College at Khartoum,

Such methods as these would suit the Spanish
temperament, although they might be laughed
out of court by an official from Paris or Algiers.
They would be above all adapted for opening up
the north of Morocco, which might justly be
reserved as a sphere of Spanish influence, and
des2)ite the objections which as a rule apply to
buffer states, England at least should have no
ol)jection to see a Spanish sphere of influence in
the hinterland of Tangier, as it might seem to
obviate the risks of friction to which the entente
cordiale with France might otherwise, in time,
become exposed.

By doing anything which may enhance the
prestige of the reigning dynasty in Spain we
shall be doing good work not only for England
but for France, and there is no j^ower so well
fitted as England to act as a bridge between
France and her neighbour beyond the Pyrenees.
All three countries have equal interests in the
Mediterranean regions, and in these Morocco


alone would appear to be the spot where a
breach might be made in their present close

Let Spanish sentiment and Spanish interests
be respected in Morocco and another buttress will
be added to the entente cordiale. A contented
Spain is a necessity to the world's peace.


On March Dtli the force marched to Sidi Abd-el-
Kerim, the centre of the fight of February 7th — a
white koichha and a single palm beside a little
stream between low hills. The cavalry on the left
fired a few shots, but there was no organised resist-
ance. The chief event of the day was the arrival
of the French journalist, M. Houel, from the
enemy's camp, dressed in his Muslim garb, and
riding his scarlet-caparisoned mule. The dawn
had shown some of us what we had not known in
the murk of the previous night — that our camp lay
in a depression between two steepish escarpments.
From the rearmost the Moors kept up a desultory
fire, to reply to which the cavalry moved out into
the plain, and behind them a battalion of Tirailleurs
was deployed in line. The guns with difficulty
got up the hill in front, and pointed their muzzles
menacingly at the distant Arabs. I was watching
the retirement beside a little cemetery on the
height when a white fiag hove in view below in
the green plain. It was M. Houel, attended by a
negro. He rode up to the General, and a few
words passed between them, and then down the
hill again went the French intermediary and
disappeared slowly into the shimmering distance.



His embassy was not fruitless. Later in the
day, as we wended our way over tlie undulating,
marigold-strewn uplands, M. Houel appeared again,
this time attended by twenty-one Arab chiefs, all
carrying rifles, as though bent rather on a desperate
venture than on unconditional surrender.

I learned from M. Houel that on the day of the
battle at R'Fakha he had made an attempt to pass
through the French lines in order to interview
General d'Amade. Several Moors were with him,
and their advance was not unperceived by the
ever vigilant French gunners, who sent a shrapnel
over them with such beautiful precision that a
Moor riding on Houel's right was instantly killed,
and the same shot so frightened his own mule that
it reared and fell backM^ards, throwing him to the
ground. The mule then galloped away in the high
green corn, and Houel came under the fire of the
advanced battalion of Legionaries. He was fortu-
nately not hit, and managed, by creeping stealthily
on all fours, to recapture his mule and get into safety.
The Arabs he brought in were all M'Zamzas.
Through their chief Kaid, a venerable, white-headed
old man in immaculate white, they had a colloquy
witli the Staff Interpreter, and then they rode
away with M. Houel. This enterprising French-
man, who has been awarded the medaille cVkonneur
for his conduct as a civilian in Casablanca at the
time of the massacres, is playing a very useful and
for him a very risky part in thus acting as an


envoy between the French and the Moors. But, of
course, his conduct is hable to misconstruction by
the narrow and bigoted of his own race. A certain
French correspondent once openly assailed him in
abusive language as a traitor, but his philippic
was speedily cut short by the Intelligence Officer,
who informed liim that his ignorance was only
equalled by his want of manners, and forbade him
to discuss political matters which did not concern

The baggage train was despatched across the
plain in a westerly direction, and the orders
for the day were that the force would march due
south to the Kasbah ben Ahmed, and then turn
north-west and rejoin the transport at Sidi Haidi
on the Oued Mils.

The villagers in the doudr.s that we passed
during the first few miles of the march were
extremely friendly ; they brought out butter and
eggs and fowls ; they even condescended to badinage.
I was with the Tirailleurs, and heard a woman with
butter for sale make some stinging remark to the
troops. A native officer told me she was asking
whether they were all Jews, as she'd heard that
most of the French soldiers belonged to that
accursed race. A few yards further on an old
native sprawled on the ground with a bit of sacking
near him, begging for alms. The Tirailleur, even
when his pay is doubled on active service, receives
the magnificent stipend of a penny a day, yet of


their poverty dozens of these generous fellows
threw down coppers on to the sack in front of the

Just after this little episode, the road ran
through a large garden of figs ; a dondr stood on the
summit of a little hill beyond ; in front lay a plain,
leading up to a white house set in a grove of trees,
and beyond it a range of low hills swept round to
the right in a northerly direction.

As the cavalry scouts reached the middle of the
plain the hills in front were suddenly covered with
careering Arabs, who crossed the ridge and came
boldly down the slopes to meet us. Little puffs of
smoke and the heavy report of their large-bore
rifles came thicker and thicker ; the Zouaves were
sent on to support the advanced guard, and the
guns threw shells on to the summit of the ridge.
The pennon of the General always has a great
attraction for the adventurous Arab. One of these
gentry had wormed his way up in the grass to
within a couple of hundred yards of where the
Staff were watching the fight, and managed to get
in half-a-dozen shots before the cavalry drove him
out of his lair.

The population of the doudrs behind us took
full advantage of the spectacle afforded them.
Men, women, and children, huddled in their long
wrappers, were crouching like brooding birds in
crescents near their tents and huts, and doubtless
watched their friends and relations on the hills


ahead with many a prayer to Allah that their
bullets might speed true.

The Zouaves were firing volleys at the enemy,
a singularly ineffective way of meeting the attack
of isolated horsemen ; and from the constant crash
of the guns and the persistent dull boom of the
Arabs' large-bore muskets it might have been
expected that the losses on both sides would be
considerable. But the lie of the ground — the
steep slopes of the position held by the Arabs —
made accurate shooting very difficult, and the
French losses were absolutely nil. I met a Goum
on the top of the ridge, after the enemy had been
driven back, who was very proud of a native gun,
about six feet long, which he had on his saddle.
" I cut off his head with one sweep of my sword,"
said he, ])lucking at his fierce black w^hiskers.

The skirmish which took place for the posses-
sion of the ridge proved the end of the battle.
Down in a little hollow of the rolling plateau
beyond it lay the Kasbali ben Ahmed — the place
we had come to take. The brown walls which
encircled the central white building were broken
and decayed ; the l^astions were crumbling into
ruins; grass and mallows made the courts a sea
of green. Not a soul appeared to defend the
citadel ; but across a dip, on high ground towards
the east, were two large doiidrs, all round which,
in little knots, our enemies were riding.

A battery and a battalion of the Legion were


sent forward into the dip below the kasbah ; the
rest of the troops stayed on the nearer ridge. The
Arabs were holding a palaver ; should they fight
or should they submit ? With the French, riding
always with the Staff, is an old grey-faced Moor,
in a purple djellaba, by name L'Arbi ben Sharki,
whose long-maned, long-tailed stallion is neither
chestnut nor brown, but an extraordinary com-
pound of those colours. This worthy, not long
ago, was lord paramount of Kasbah ben Ahmed ;
but his subjects rose when he was on a journey,
seized his children as hostages, and took possession
of his lands and flocks and herds.

No one, probably, in the host felt happier than
he when the Council on the hill declared in favour
of submission. At least forty chiefs came riding
down the hill into the dip, and up the slope to
do obeisance to their conqueror ; and for each of
them, as they stood in a row, Ben Sharki of the
grey face had a grim jest. Some of them laughed ;
a Moor sets little value on his life ; but Ben Sharki
was enjoying one of the most exquisite moments of
his existence.

While the interpreter and the Kaids were talk-
ing- to the General there was a sudden clatter of
hoofs, and a squadron of Chasseurs with swords
drawn dashed up and formed a square round the
group. It was a pretty scene ; one that will long
remain in the minds of those who saw it. The
sky was overcast with clouds, and the colours of


the landscape blended with a softness unusual in
this land of brilliant sunshine. The dark green
of the corn was flecked with patches of old rose,
where the bare earth stood out on tracks and
ledges ; for thousands of yards the gilded mari-
golds turned the mountain slope to orange ; the
ochre and brown walls of the derelict kasbah were
topped by snow-white towers ; the red and blue
uniforms of the Chasseurs were set off by their
grey horses ; they hedged about a group of men
in whom a sense of colour seems innate. There
was a white horse whose bridle, reins, and blinkers
were the palest blue ; his high-peaked, chair-backed
saddle was covered with lemon-yellow leather. A
black with flashing eye and enormous mane was
decked out in vermilion ; his breastplate fastened
to the saddle by large silver brooches ; it would
be impossible to improve upon the contrasts which
the Moors devise to enhance the effect of their
caparisons. Most of the men wore the dark blue
burnous with its white hood thrown back behind.
Some few were all in white ; on their feet were
either red or yellow slippers, and beneath their
robes you caught glimpses of orange, blue, and
violet skirts.

At last the conclave broke up ; fifteen of the
Moors were kept as hostages ; they rode off in
line, surrounded by their guarding square of Chas-
seurs. The long column of the force wound like
a black snake down the track between the walls


of marigold ; the men were singing ; it had been
a good day's work ; I could hear them afar as I
rode on the tops of the hills.

There I found the rock -roses in bloom — pink
and white and yellow ; and, best of all, an apple
tree a mass of delicate green and flashing blossom,
standing lonely in a fig orchard in a protected dell.
That night we camped at Sidi Haidi.

On the morrow the four months of the Goums'
voluntary service came to an end ; and a review
was held in their honour before they rode away
to Casablanca, to take ship for their country of


The whole force, with the exception of the bag-
gage 'train, took up position in the shape of the
letter "E" without the central bar, the cavalry
forming one flank, the guns the other ; down the
long side were ranged the seven battalions of in-
fantry — four of Tirailleurs, one of Zouaves, and
two of the Legion — in a line of company columns.
A French battalion consists of four companies, each
divided into four sections. I counted several of
the sections, and found they averaged forty men,
bringing the total of a battalion up to about six
hundred and fifty men. With three squadrons of
Chasseurs, one of Spahis, and three batteries of
seventy-five mm. field-guns, two mountain batteries,
and a section of naval small-bore guns, the total
force on the ground was about five thousand five


First the General made his inspection, and then,
standing in the centre of the ground, with buglers
and drummers on either side of him, he distributed
rewards. A white-robed, black -bearded Goum,
witli red handkerchief wound tightly round his
head, was the first recipient of the Cross of the
Legion of Honour, The buglers blew a fanfare, the
drummers rattled their drums, and the grave-faced
Oriental came forward.

General d'Amade pinned the decoration on his
breast, and then shook him warmly by the hand.
Next it was the turn of an officer of Tirailleurs, a

Him the General kissed rapidly on l)oth cheeks.
Next a Legionary got his " mddaille militaire," for
meritorious war service, and he received a hearty

Meanwhile instructions had been issued to the
commanders of units, and the long line rapidly
formed square. When all w^ere in their places
the General took off his cap and cried, " Pour la
France ! " whereon the bugles blared and the drums
beat, and every man in the force cried " En avant ! "
"Pour le President de la Ptdpublique ! " cried the
General. " En avant ! " cried his troops. " Pour
les morts pour la pa trie ! " " En avant ! "

A march past ended the ceremony. Immediately
behind the General, in the post of honour, rode the
newly-decorated officers. In the line of march, just
in front of the leading section of the Legion, was a


heap of stones, in which were stuck a couple of
dirty little white flags. Three or four industrious
Legionaries, seeing how prejudicial this monument
would prove to their dressing, began throwing the
stones and flags to the four winds of Heaven.
Presently a Staff Officer, who prided himself on his
knowledge of native customs and his respect for
native prejudices, perceived what was happening.
" Mon Gdndral, c'est une place de priere ! " shouted
he, and spurred ahead to repair the desecration.
So the monument was painfully reconstructed, to
the amusement of old Ben Sharki (whose face
twitched, and who must be, I fancy, a Dissenter),
and the flags drooped at melancholy angles and
entwined themselves in the legs of the cursing

The latter marched past in columns of sections,
and very well they did it, to the music of tootling
bugles. The gait of the Tirailleurs is not graceful ;
they shuffle along with bent knees, but they keep
a good alignment, and not a single man was out of
step. However, it is not on the parade ground
that they shine ; but rather in carrying fifty or
sixty pounds on their backs at four miles an hour
for any number of hours you please. Of the Euro-
pean troops the Legion seemed to be rather smarter
than the Zouaves, and both have a swing and elan
in their marching: which the Tirailleurs lack.

After the infantry came the guns in battery
column, beautifully dressed — as useful and smart


a lot of men as you could find in any army. The
horses are gaunt and bad in their coats. They
suffer from lack of water, and many of them die
in consequence from nephritis. Last of all came
the cavalry — Goums, Spahis, and Chasseurs — at a
gallop, preceded by trumpeters trumpeting gallantly
and in excellent time too, considering that the
ground was very rough, and that half their horses
were running away. The Goums' line was exe-
crable, but what they lacked in precision they
made up in picturesqueness. The further to the
rear the greater the number of stampeding
chargers ; these barbs are awkward beasts to hold,
especially when there is a squadron of mares flying
away in front of them.

With the cavalry charge the review ended ;
the column got into the track and skirted the low
hills that dip to the Cued Tamazer, where a single
palm grows by the bank of the clearest stream we
encountered in this land of muddy waters.



2 !H


The "Father of the Straw Hut"

The French camped on March 14th at the derelict
kasbah of Sidi bou Chaib el Aiachi, the stronghold
of the Oulad Said, and the southernmost pomt yet
touched by them in the course of their wanderings
through the Chaouiya. Thence, at seven in the
morning of the 15th, they betook themselves north-
wards, over rolling downs yellow with spurge and
intersected by narrow hidden brooks, until at noon
they reached the battered ruins of Dar ould Fatima.

Along the line of march were frequent doudrs,
and crescents of brooding, white-robed figures sat
watching the passing of the long cavalcade.

Nothing escapes Captain Huot of the Intelli-
gence Department. It appeared to his observant
eye that pacificated villages ought to provide their
due quota of men spectators ; and he put his native
spies to work. These came back, after a few
minutes' talk with unsuspecting greybeards, with
the news that all the fighting men for miles around
had gone to join the notorious Bou Nuallah at his
camp near Zaouia Sidi el Ourimi. So when the
troops reached Dar ould Fatima at noon an order
came that the column would march at two, with-



out knapsacks, and that every sixteenth man would
remain in camp to guard the baggage. Zaouia
Sidi el Ourimi lies about seven miles north-west
of Dar ould Fatima, but the marabout's camp was
at least ten miles further on. The force had
hardly gone a mile outside the camp, the Spahis
scouting on the left, the Chasseurs on the right,
before shots came from the front, where fig-
orchards hedged with aloes gave cover to the
lurking Arab marksmen. The cavalry pressed on,
driving the enemy in front of them ; the French
infantry, fast as they ordinarily march, excelled
themselves that day. At the end of an hour a
low line of gigantic rocks broke the skyline, and
the bullets of the enemy concealed behind them
came whistling over the Spahis' heads. They put
their horses into a gallop ; a troop wheeled to
the left as though to outflank the foe ; when we
reached the rocks the Arabs had gone. Below us,
in a little dell, lay the Zaouia of Sidi el Ourimi —
a white-domed kouhha, or shrine, nestling against
a thicket of aloes. On every side the plain
stretched in great levels, uncultivated, save where
a fig-garden made a grey-brown patch in the sea
of yellow flowers. Across the plain rode thousands
of Moors — separate, undisciplined, disunited ; stop-
ping to fire, then riding on, some towards us, some
away fi:"om us, some across the two-mile line of
our front. Here for the first time the French guns
opened fire, and then the rout began. Often, as


at R'Fakha, the tribesmen have stood bravely
against the shrapnel of the French guns ; but on
this occasion they made not the slightest pretence
at any organised resistance. They often stopped
to fire, but those were but momentary pauses in
a continuous retreat.

" Ce n'est pas une bataille ; c'est une course,"
said a French officer. So terrific was the pace
of the infantry that the guns had the utmost
difficulty in keeping up with them ; they fired
until the infantry were half a mile ahead, and then
the sweating horses had to gallop to get into a
position which was not masked by the swiftly
advancing foot soldiers. " Let me get a chance
at these ' Bou Chaibs,' " said a Legionary, refer-
ring to the Arabs under a name whose common-
ness has made it a generic term, " and I'll pay
them out for this infernal foot race."

A company of Zouaves in open order passed
through a plantation of figs ; suddenly a Moor
rose up out of the further ditch ; a single shot
rang out and the Moor fell in a heap. An officer
walks up to him and then pulls out his revolver ;
he waves me to one side, for I am in the line of
fire. That was one of the few Arabs who that
day died bravely at their posts. The Frencli line
was noAv at least two miles in extent ; the Foreign
Legion in the centre, the Tirailleurs on either
flank, supported by the Spahis and the Chasseurs.
Presently, beyond the dark dots of the flying


horsemen, rose a low serrated line, like a ridge of
little conical hills. I put up my glasses ; could
it be a village ? At first it seemed impossible ;
no village could stretch across the horizon for
thousands of yards. But a village it must be, for
white bell tents are ranged orderly on the right
of the great encampment — the homes of the Kaids
who lead the enormous host gathered under the
black waves of that camel-hair sea. The men saw
their goal ; they fixed bayonets and dashed on,
cheering. The din was terrific ; the guns were
pouring shrapnel over the heads of the infantry,
who paused here and there to fire a volley, and
then pressed on. From the great town of tents,
red-streaked with the fires lit by French shells,
came the loud exhortations of the Arab leaders,
and the shrill cries of frenzied women. Red-
saddled horses, bleeding and foaming, dashed out
towards the line, which now advanced its flanks
and surged round both sides of the doudr.

Through my glasses I saw a crowd of Arabs
standing beneath the hail of shrapnel that was
filling on the northern corner of the camp. In
their midst a wild figure raised his arms and
swung them downwards again and again, as though
in passionate entreaty : the crowd was thinned,
but not by flight ; I lost sight of the speaker.
Forward the French infantry were racing up the
slight incline that separated them from the enemy,
some of whom galloped away, firing as they went.


whilo others got beneath the shelter of the tents,
and discharged their rifles as the French passed
them. I got on my horse and galloped on to
catch up the firing-line 150 yards or so ahead,
in the midst of the main doudr.

The bullets were flying in all directions from
beneath the tents ; in quick succession two shots
were fired at me from behind, and both bullets
whizzed close past my head. I jumped off my
horse, cocked my revolver and hurried on. Just
in front of me was a Spahi ; another shot rang
out close by, he fell dead from his horse. The
firing-line was here composed of the Legion, who

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Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 12 of 18)