Reginald Rankin.

In Morocco with General d'Amade online

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a little above the ankle. The only troops as yet
not provided with brodeqidns are the Tirailleurs of
the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd regiments, the Colonial
natives (Senegalese, Tonkinese, &c.), and the

The l*st, 2nd, and 3rd Tirailleurs Algeriens use
the Soulier, familiarly known as the godillot, after
the name of the contractor, which was in general
use in the army up to about twenty years ago ; it
is a brogue attached by spats. Many Tirailleurs
prefer the soldier to the hrodequin on account of
its lightness.

The sole of the hrodequin is composed of three
thicknesses of leather, the two outer ones being
much thicker than the middle piece. The dis-
tinguishing features of the boot are (1) its light-



ness, (2) the softness and flexibility of its upper
leather, due to its comparative thinness. Probably
the main secret of the complete immunity of the
troops from sore feet is to be found here. Galls
and Ijlisters are caused by wearing boots with
thick upper leathers that have stiffened after a
day's rain into the consistency of cast-iron. Privates
are not the owners of trees, and the contraction
of the leather wliich follows on a wetting can only
be avoided by using boots which a man would
declare to be two sizes too large for him. The
French authorities recognise this, and the soldier
is given boots 2 centimetres longer than his foot
and proportionately wide.

Pay System. — Some account of the French pay
system may possibly interest those soldiers who
still remain in our Army Pay Department.

Each " rdgiment de marche " (two battalions)
has a paymaster — a cajjtain, called the " capitaine
tresorier," who has a subaltern, called the '* lieu-
tenant adjoint au trdsorier," to help him. In a
detached battalion one subaltern takes charge
of all administrative work, includhig pay ; he is
called " I'officier charge des details."

No men's accounts are kept. Every ten days
the sergeant-major multiplies the number of men
in his company present during that period by
5 centimes per diem, which gives the total pay
of the company ; he does the same for the " prime
d'alimentation " (2G centimes per diem), and puts


the figures on a paper called the " feuille de pret,"
which the captain signs and the sergeant-major
gives to the tresorier, who pays out the money
to him. The captain keeps the money for the
" prime d'alimentation," and the rest is distributed
to the men as stated above.

These "feuilles de prets" (three per month ; on the
1st, 11th, and 21st) are audited by the Intendance.

The money for the regiment is drawn by the
tresorier on the Exchequer, no War Office Finance
Department existing.

The system works as follows. Every year
Parliament appropriates the money to be spent
by the War Office ; and this money is kept in the
Treasury in Paris, and in branch offices scattered
over the French possessions abroad. In every
regiment or other unit the tresorier works out
monthly the approximate sums he has to provide
for the financial wants of the regiment. This " quit-
tance " is signed by the Board of Administration
of the regiment and audited by the Intendance, and
the money is then paid to the tresorier by the civilian
treasurer of the district. In a word the tresorier
acts towards the Treasury as the company captain
I acts towards the tresorier ; but as the sums drawn
[by the tresorier are drawn in advance, every three
months there is a settlement of the difference be-
tween the sum drawn and the sum to which the
regiment is entitled.


Spanish Huts

As has been mentioned, a battalion (about 650
strong) of the 69th reghnent of the Spanish army,
under the command of Colonel Bernal, is stationed
outside the walls of Casablanca, and is responsible
for the defence of the town on the south.

This battalion takes no part in the field opera-
tions conducted by the French.

The men, though of small physique, are smart
and well-turned out, and have done much useful
work in road-making and clearing sites.

Their huts are particularly well made and
adapted to the climate, and are roofed with a
corrugated papier-mache (carton) which has great
advantages over the corrugated iron used by the
French and our own authorities under similar con-
ditions, and which, therefore, might usefully be
adopted in our army.

The patentees are Messrs. Vidal & Company,
Llado No. 1, Barcelona, Spain.


At 6 A.M. on Sunday, 12th January, General
d'Amade left Casablanca for the south with a
force of approximately 2500 men, composed of
three squadrons Chasseurs dAfrique, two squadrons
Spahis, 120 Goumiers (volunteer Algerian cavalry),
one battery (four guns) 75 millimetre field artillery,
two companies of Zouaves, four companies of the
Foreign Legion, and eight companies of Tirailleurs.

It was a cool, grey, English morning ; and as
the column wound its way over the green endless
prairie Casablanca still glittered behind us like a
great white shell beside the surf of its deep blue
sea. The order of the march was a square ; the
Tirailleurs led in a line often sections in fours at
a hundred paces interval, covering a front of nearly
a mile ; the flanks were formed of the Lemon
Etrang^re marching in column of route ; the staff,
the guns, and the baggage marched within ; the
rear was brought up by the Zouaves. In front, at
a distance of about two miles, the cavalry screen
protected our advance.

The immense plain that lies between the foot-
hills of the Atlas and the sea, known as the
Chaouiya — a huge alluvial tract sixty miles square


stretclied away on every side into the distance,

waving with a lush growth of extraordinary luxu-
riance. Over the horses' knees it always was;
helts of Lavatera (mallow) six feet high occa-
sionally completely obscured the struggling files of
infantry. Wild mustard gave the plain a prevailing
yellow ; here clover not yet in flower made an
emerald setting to an acre of white rape flashing
like a snow-drift in the sun, and there to a great
bank of purple Linaria glowing like the seas in-
carnadine. Bright rosy thrift on two-feet stalks
contrasted with the pale blues of chicory and flax ;
the garlic waved over a delicate Chionodoxa ; pink
valerian struggled amid the palmetto scrub ; and
clumps of giant fennel, the plant in whose stems
Prometheus brought down the heavenly fire, sent
up their incense at the bidding of our march.

The French marigold was everywhere, a blaze
of dazzling colour in the stonier soils ; a tall Reseda^
white and unreminding, even in its scent, of our
mignonette, overtopped deep crimson poppy colonies ;
a few yellow-striped purple iris were dotted here
and there ; and far and wide the tall graceful
heads of lilac-flowered asphodel rose above their
clumps of daffodil-like leaves.

So the drifts and belts of colour rose and fell,
and flashed and darkened, over the billowy folds
of the colossal plain, without a tree to break the
unending line ; save where a rare grove of untended
fig-trees languished within their broken cactus


hedge, or where the dying aloe lifted its pine-like
head above the tall grey sword-leaves guarding
deserted farms.

An abandoned and forsaken country ; the infre-
quent square, white, flat-topped house within its
loopholed court in every case bore traces of assault.
The fertile black earth, richest of all soils, except,
perhaps, the Chernazorn round Odessa, lay every-
where untilled ; for twelve miles inland from Casa-
blanca man has fled, and the wild-flower reigns in
perfect beauty.

So we marched on towards the south-west,
as picturesque a host as you can imagine. The
cavalry were permutations of the tri-colour ; the
Chasseurs, with their white kepis, blue tunics, and
red breeches ; the Spahis, with their white veils,
red zouave jackets, and baggy Turkish blue breeches ;
the Goumiers, with their red tightly-drawn headgear
and blue and white burnouses.

The Foreign Legion have a linen sun-guard over
their red kepis ; their long blue coats are buttoned
back at both sides, so that they look like elongated
swallow tails ; their loose trousers were once white.
The Tirailleur wears a jaunty red tarbiish ; his
clothing is white, with baggy breeches, and round
his waist is wound a long kummerbund of scarlet
cloth, which he puts on by holding one end himself,
with a friend at the other end several yards away,
and then he gracefully waltzes into its coils. The
artillery are clad throughout in sombre blue ; the


tunic of the French Spahi officer is bright ca3rulean ;
the leader of the Goumiers is resplendent in scarlet.
So we marched in bright array over the untenanted
plain, with hardly a living creature to distract our
attention from the glory of the flowers.

The force camped that night at Am Djemma, a
magnesium-tainted spring, beside which stood the
long, black, keel-like tents of an Arab doudr} The
scowling, huddled villagers regarded us unpleas-
antly ; their big yellow and white dogs dashed out
upon us ; but commerce is the truest friend of
peace. The troops wanted eggs and fowls and
barley and straw ; the villagers coveted the little
silver Moroccan grich ; at length some of us were
invited by the headman into his tent and regaled
with sugar flavoured with tea, neutralised by the
strong aroma of mint, the leaves of which were
flung into a teapot already crammed to the lid with
sugar broken off a miniature loaf

That night it rained heavily, but no one cared.
The force had no transport in the ordinary sense ;
they carried five days' rations, and they carried
their tents. One might almost say that what a
French soldier does not carry is not worth carrying.
The light tente (Vahri holds comfortably six men
lying at right angles to its length. Every man
carries a change of boots and clothes ; every fourth
man has a marmite or tall cooking-pot for coffee ;

* " Aedificia Numidarum, quae mapalia illi vocant, oblonga incurvis
lateribus tecta, quasi naviuin carinse essont." Sullust, Bell. Jugarih.


garnelles, or eating- tins, crown every pack ; odds
and ends of wood, shovels, even wine give the
French soldier an independence and a resultant
comfort which is a marvel to those who know the
long miseries of tired men waiting in cold and wet
for transport which never comes.

In a trice the Frenchmen heap up their wind-
breaks of stones stuffed with fennel ; a little trench
is dug to leeward, the wood placed in it and lit, the
marmites set upon the blaze ; his tent is the work
of a moment ; and cold and wind and rain are no
longer within his purview.

The little grey stallions of the Algerian cavalry
squeal and stamp and fight throughout the night ;
the rain turns the camp into a morass ; but when
reveille sounds at half-past five, the men groping
their way in the dark to wrestle with sodden fuel
in a bog are as merry as grigs. We started at
dawn on Monday, 13th, heading south-east, and
marched still over endless prairie more and more
cultivated as we got further away from Casa-
blanca. The soil was less fertile, perhaps, the
vegetation less rank ; but miles and miles of black
plough faintly tinged with the green of the young
blades stretched between the conical straw huts
and long low tents, fenced in with thorns, which
form the Arabs' temporary homes. It is mighty
dangerous to gallop over the marigold-strewn
I headlands of these unfenced fields. In the most
'i surprising places, after the manner of the Indians'


caches, are graiu chambers hollowed out of the
earth, with a circular funnel open to the sky ; the
funnel is often 3 feet in diameter, the chamber 10
feet deep ; and woe to man or horse who blunders
into them. One officer broke his leg, and another
fractured his skull and died by falling into these
" silos," as the French call them ; where the mari-
golds grow best, beware, for there it is that they
spread an orange carpet over vacancy. At last,
60 kilometres from Casablanca, Ber Rechid and
the violet foothills of the Atlas came in sight
through a haze of rain. The hills are known as
M'Zab — a plateau stretching from the alluvial plain
of the Chaouiya for 70 miles to the feet of the
Snow Mountains.

Ber Rechid is a rectangular city, 400 yards long
and about 300 yards wide, enclosed within a crenel-
lated, bastioned, loop-holed wall 20 feet high, and
protected towards the east by a ditch and rampart.
Very imposing looked the well-built yellow walls,
and capable of a stout defence ; but for years the
place has been derelict, and not a shot was fired at
us as we topped the ridge whereon three gleaming
koubhas with snow-white cupolas looked down on the
abandoned city. Within the walls extends in every
direction a labyrinth of tortuous, narrow streets;
nearly every house is a ruin, roofless and battered ;
the courtyards of the ancient palaces are ablaze with
charlock. The rounded lines of the Moorish arch
and a few feet of delicate tracery still marked the


site of the baths ; but in all the place I found but
one room with a roof. Windowless and dark, it
yet served well enough as a stable and bedroom
combined ; for I left Casablanca in too great a
hurry to be able to provide myself with anything
but a horse, and on these occasions a good one is
apt to get lost unless he is under his master's eye.

That same evening Colonel Brulard, marching
in from Mediouna with a battalion and half of
the Foreign Legion and a few cavalry, raised the
strength of the force to nearly four thousand
men ; and the voluntary presence of about twenty
submissive kaids convinced the more pessimistic
among the fire-eaters that a fight would again
elude them. The Arab chiefs who assembled to
do homage to the conqueror were all of the same
type : hawk-faced, hard, savage-eyed men, with
their beards shaved towards the jaw, and mous-
taches clipped to vanishing point.

Snowy turbans they wore, and dark blue
burnouses with white hoods ; white folds fluttered
from their knees, and their bare feet were thrust
into yellow slippers. Their saddles were like those
of their enemies, the Goumiers, red-leathered,
chair-backed, high-pommelled ; their mean-looking
ponies, with muzzles always in the air, had yet
more bone and substance than the Algerine barbs.
And now the chilly night fell again ; the tri-
colour fluttered in front of the General's little
tent without the great wall of the kasbah ; flocks


of dark sheep crowded into the camp ; unladen
camels gurgled ; the itinerant fournisseur plied
a roaring trade, lamenting to each customer the
terrible loss of 15 quintals of potatoes through
absconding camel - drivers ; horses kicked and
fought ; and everywhere under the light of the
moon the groups of colour formed and changed.
Next morning a reconnaissance was made towards
the south. We passed through the camp of the
Tirailleurs across the dark plough-lands ; gave a
grich to a native to draw water for our horses
from a well beside a puddle where lusty men
were stamping soapy bournouses into cleanliness ;
and rode on across the flats towards a fort of
the type of Ber Rechid, but smaller, and bright-
ened by tall olive trees within its purlieus. The
cavalry were a good mile in front of the infantry ;
they seemed to be about to pass the fort that
lay a quarter of a mile to their left. But as
the leading squadron came in line with the dis-
tant wall of the kasbah a sudden order rang out ;
every sword flashed from its scabbard ; the squad-
rons wheeled left as one man ; the leading one
taking the outer flank of the fort, the next the
near wall, and the rear squadron the inner one ;
and at a gallop they made for the kasbah. But
not a shot was fired at the French ; they encircled
the place ; the gate was opened ; the enemy capi-
tulated. A few officers entered the gate ; a short
colloquy was held ; the surrender was absolute.


" Bieri coiffe," said a cavalry officer. Then a huge,
blue-cloaked, grey-bearded Arab came out ; two
Chasseurs with drawn swords walked behind him ;
across the holding plough he went, his skirts,
white and yellow, held high out of the mud ; on
he laboured, but he did not get far before he fell
exhausted. The kindly French provided an am-
bulance chair and a mule, and so the prisoner
went back to Ber Rechid. Thus was taken the
notorious Mohammed ould el Hadj Hamou, Kaid
of the Oulad Hariz, and chief instigator of the
Casablanca massacres. He was lodged in a deep
" silo " close to the southern rampart of the fort ;
two Zouaves appeared to be guarding mustard ;
one came nearer, a hole appeared ; at the bottom
of it lay a crouching Arab.

About seven o'clock that same evening (Tues-
day, 14th January) I was proceeding by the light
of a solitary candle, in the gloom of the smoke-
blackened, wagon-roofed cellar in the ruined kasbah
which I had made my dwelling, to eat the tough
bread and hard-boiled eggs which constituted
dinner, when an excited brother journalist rushed
in and asked me if I had heard the news. It was
great news ; the force was to start that evening
at eleven for Settat.

My friend thought hard eggs unworthy of the
occasion ; he carried me off from my dusty lair
to his comfortable tent ; there were beefsteaks
cooked to a turn, and plenty of red wine ; excellent


brown commissariat bread and ^^d^e de foie gras
and coffee. At eleven we got on our horses and
wound our way through the narrow debris-laden
streets of the City of the Plain.

The column was already in motion : three
squadrons of cavalry, one battery (four guns) of
field artillery, and four battalions of infantry.

Southwards towards the long low line of the
M'Zab hills we set our faces. It was a misty
night ; the moon, nearly at her full, was set in
a deep halo ; the stars twinkled in the upper
sky, and fog hung low upon the ground.

A tremendous pace was set ; the infantry kept
up with the quick walk of the native horses,
getting over the wet and heavy ground as only
French troops can. There was no check, no oppo-
sition ; but it was evident that the enemy was
not ignorant of our doings. The shrouded hills
were bright with signal fires, now flickering, now
obscured ; after the ingenious code in vogue here-
abouts since the very beginning of things. At
the end of every hour the column halted for ten
minutes ; but the soil was saturated with rain,
the track was a puddled bog, and the men could
rest only by leaning on their rifles.

All packs had been left behind ; rations for
one day were in the men's haversacks ; so when
the low whistle sounded again the men stepped
out at a slashing pace.

A " caisson " of the long black guns loomed


large beside me ; the leading horses of its team
faded spectral in the fog ; the neighing of the
vanished barbs ahead came muffled down the line.
At three o'clock the column was ordered to halt
till dawn. In these latitudes the enormous radia-
tion makes the early morning always very cold.
The men would have been happy enough if they
could have lain down and slept, but the oozy
black slime kept most of them afoot for three
weary hours. With the guns officers stamped up
and down at racing pace trying to keep warm ;
men dozed on the limbers ; and the night took
an unconscionable time to die. What a relief it
was to see the dark blue pall slowly lighten in
the east to gold, and to watch the blurred masses
of the square harden into line and colour ! It
was a glorious day. Not a cloud ruffled the
sapphire of the sky, and the mustard yellowing
the black plain shone against the pale green of
the low hills in front of us. Whereas our first
day's march from Casablanca led through nothing
but a natural garden, here almost every acre of
the soil was cultivated ; and the sprouting blades
gave a faint tinge of colour to the darkness of
the earth.

Our march led us almost due south up the
course of the Oued Mousa. On the east rose the
low mimosa and asphodel-tufted range ; to the
west the plain stretched away illimitable. Suddenly
there appeared an opening in the hills ; the little


stream issued from a narrow winding valley
bounded on the west by a chain of narrow massifs
trending steeply away into the plain. At the
other end of this valley, three miles from where
it debouches on the flats, in a little hollow in the
plateau, stands Settat. Settat was our objective.

The mention of the Oued Mousa reminds one
that in this country of the south rivers behave
very differently from their cold brethren of the
north. There a stream gathers importance as it
goes ; here length of days brings paralytic nonage.

The bed of the Oued Mousa would hold the
Isis at Oxford ; but a few miles through the thirsty
alluvial soil are too much for him, and he dies ere
he reaches the sea. About two miles from the
point where the Mousa leaves the hills we came to
a white fort set beneath the green upland — an
outer curtain, a kasbah, or keep, and a few houses,
all flat roofed, and dazzling in the sun.

Thence issued a procession, consisting of a
portly white-clad gentleman carrying a white flag,
followed by another leading a tributary bullock,
and succeeded by a third who evidently preferred
following to preceding tliese evidences of his friend-
liness. The little cortege passed within the square ;
at the same instant there sounded a thunder of
hoofs, and all the artillery officers galloped at full
speed to a knoll beyond the kasbah. At once the
guns were sent for, and in a trice their muzzles
pointed down the little valley ahead. And now


the fray began. The cavalry had got • contact
with the enemy, and were speedily driven by
superior numbers to retire. All over the plain and
upon the hills the Arabs were swarming — isolated,
incoherent entities, riding hither and thither as the
spirit moved them, totally without direction, and
supremely bold. On them the guns opened, but
what can the best of guns and gunners effect
against a foe so mobile as these horsemen ? When
they fired on the groups on the hills the tribesmen
scattered in the plain, and when they threw their
shells over the French infantry advancing up the
valley, the little Arab ponies generally managed to
gallop out of their way.

For now four companies were attacking in a
long single rank, without intervals — the Legion-
aries on the left, the Tirailleurs on the right, their
supports about a quarter of a mile behind them.

The line advanced as one man, then halted,
knelt, fired by sections, usually in volleys, and
then again advanced. It was admirably done.
The line stretched straight as a dart across the
valley, and the fire-discipline showed the trained
excellence of seasoned troops. There was a dark
doudr of camel-hair tents in front of the Tirailleurs
from which a hot fire was kept up, and if the
tribesmen had shot better the casualties here would
have been very heavy. But though the air was
humming with bullets they hit nobody, and the
shells fired by the only field-piece the Arabs



brought into action buried themselves in the plough
without troubling to burst. A good deal of their
ammunition seemed to be home-made ; many spent
bullets ricochetted harmlessly amongst us ; one of
them hit my good little black horse on the quarter,
and startled much more than it hurt him. Mean-
while the General, with four hundred men, re-
mained at the kasbah with the guns ; the rest of
the force, with the cavalry, were echeloned over
the plains towards the west. The enemy had now
practically surrounded us. The M'Dakra, the in-
habitants of the region we had just passed through,
attacked us from the rear, and so the circle was
completed. But the main Moorish attack was in
defence of the valley leading to Settat. General
d'Amade, realising the difficulties of an advance
up the narrow hemmed-in corrie of the Mousa,
ordered the firing-line to change direction half-
right, and to take the steep hill which separates
the valley from the plain of the Chaouiya on the

With beautiful precision the manoeuvre was
effected ; the troops marched gaily towards the
dotted green slopes from whence they knew they
would look down on the city of Settat. At the
foot of the hill was a doudr, glinting with white

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Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 4 of 18)