Reginald Rankin.

In Morocco with General d'Amade online

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" hopital de campagne," or field hospital, I was
permitted to examine every detail of the working
of tlie excellent French system.

Near the southern or Marakesh gate of the
town, just within the walls, stands the large white
building formerly the town-house of the Kaid of
Mediouna, now the nucleus of the hospital. Right


up to the wall of the city the rabbit-warren of
his late retainers' dwellings has been cleared away,
and in their place large tents stand in two separate
courts, each surrounded by its trench, which drains
the rain away under the city wall.

In one court are the infectious cases, here
practically limited to typhoid ; in the larger are
the non- infectious fever cases ; in the house are
the officers and the wounded. The French divide
their cases into three classes: (1) Blesses; (2)
Fievreux ; (3) Contagieux. Fievreux are sub-
divided into bronchitic, gastric, malarial, and
jaundice cases ; Contagieux into typhoid, measles,
scarlatina, and smalljDox.

From the beginning of September 1907 up to
the middle of January 1908 there were 120 cases
of typhoid, none of measles or scarlatina, and one
of smallpox. Of the 120 tyjihoid cases, 14 have
terminated fatally, or 12 per cent, of those
attacked by the disease — a mortality below that
of many garrisons in France, where a percentage
of from 14 to 25 per cent, is not unknown.

The proportion of deaths from typhoid to the
number of troops engaged in the operations can
be represented by the figure "0023 ; that of those
attacked as 2 per cent. ; the field force previous
to General d'Amade's arrival being about 6000
men. Typhoid is treated by the Brandt or cold
bath system. When the patient's temperature
exceeds 102° F. a cold bath is given; an interval


of three hours is then allowed to elapse ; If at the
end of that time his tenn)erature still exceeds
10:2 , he is given another cold bath, and so on
initil his temperature falls. Malaria is treated
with su])Cutaneous injections of quinine, from J
gramme to 2 grammes daily. Three sorts of tents
are used. The one preferred by M. Zumbiehl is
the Herbet — a double canvas gable-roofed tent
about 15 yards long by 5 wide, with top ventila-
tion throughout its length, and four sun-blinded
windows on each side. It holds 18 beds, and is
floored with wood covered with linoleum.

In this tent the temperature can be kept down
to from GO to 70' F. even in the hot weather.
The Toilet tent, also holding 18 beds, differs from
the Herbet in having a domed roof and only two
windows on each side ; it is somewhat more difficult
to keep cool.

The Decker tent is a structure of "carton"
or })apier-mache panels held in place by a wooden
skeleton. The chief objection to it is the difficulty
of keeping it cool.

The Raid's house lends itself admirably to its
new functions. In the centre of its court or patio
is a well, used only for cleansing purposes ; the
white colonnade of Moorish arches that surround
it, covered with green creepers, give a grateful
shade to the rooms wherein the wounded lie look-
ing out into the sunshine. The maze of small
offices near the patio have all been turned to


account. In one is the operating-table ; in the
next the dressing-table ; here is a great store of
sulphate of iron and phenic acid — the disinfectants
chiefly used ; there the kitchen turns out most
savoury food for 200 men daily. Macaroni,
ragout of chicken, vegetable soup, legs of mutton
and beef were cooking ; in another room were the
tisanes or drinks for the fever patients. Fresh
beef- tea is the staple diet of the sick ; 63 kilos
of beef are daily bought by the non-commissioned
officier d'Administration responsible for the victual-
ling of the hospital. Fresh milk and tea are given
to the more seriously ill ; and chicken, fish, and
cutlets to the convalescents. One small room was
piled high with tins bearing the legend " Swiss
Milk," but the " Triumph " brand is the one in
general use. Another cell was piled to the ceiling
with mineral water — Vichy and others, which are
sold to sick officers at a nominal price. All the
water used for drinking and cooking purposes
comes from the distilling plant on the seashore
to the north of the town, which turns out between
50,000 and 60,000 Htres daily. This distilled
water is reserved entirely to the use of the troops.

The hospital ship ViiMong leaves Casablanca
fortnightly for Oran, taking away the men in-
valided, and bringing drafts on the return voyage.
The staff at the hospital consists of 4 doctors,
10 nurses, and 51 mjifmiers or medical corps staff.
On the day of my visit there were 152 cases under


treatmeiit, out of a total force of over 9000 men.
Of these 50 were suff'erino- from injmMes, of whom
20 were wounded in battle, and 102 were fever

The French are debarred by the joint control of
the Powers from putting in force a Contagious
Diseases Act. If a man comes to hospital suffering
from venereal he is questioned as to the locality
where he contracted the disease ; a sentry is then
posted at the door, and no French troops are
allowed to enter. A ver}^ small number of this
class of patient has, however, been under the hands
of tlie French surgeons.

Tiie proximity of the sea helps the sanitation of
the camps. Tubs, disinfected with sulj)hate of iron,
are used in the latrines, and are emptied daily on
the sliore.

The French have done much to effect a change
for the Ijetter in the superficial cleanliness of the
town, but to suppress the foul emanations of its
reeking soil is beyond them. Perhaps it is just as
well that here again the joint control of the Powers
renders radical drainage operations out of the ques-
tion, for any tampering with the subsoil would
inevitably induce epidemics of diphtheria and
typhoid. The perfect cleanliness of the French
liospital-camp rejoices the soul of the visitor emerg-
ing from the dirty kennels and malodorous slums of
the town : tlie neat walks ; the gleaming linoleums ;
the white stone flags; the trim garden; the laundry


where the Jewesses are scrubbhig ; these breathe a
spirit quite alien to their surroundings.

The order, smoothness, and method of the work-
ing of the hospital arrangements strike the most
casual observer as implying long experience and
complete grasp on the part of those responsible for
their organisation ; mistakes were made in Mada-
gascar, in Tongking, and in China ; but here so far
not a hitch has occurred.

In another respect the sick French soldier on
foreign service is better oif than his predecessors ;
he is now looked after and devotedly nursed by
ladies. For the first time the Red Cross Society of
France has been authorised by the Minister of War
to send nurses to the front.

Mme. la Gendrale Hervc arrived at Casablanca
in September last with fourteen nurses, all of whom
have gone through regular courses in the hospitals
and medical schools, and who have gained practical
experience by working among the Parisian poor.
These ladies all live together in a small Moorish
house in the centre of the town ; that is to say,
they eat and sleep there ; but from morning to
night they are hard at work in the hospitals, ten in
the base hospital I have tried to describe, and four
in that known as " Ambulance No. 2 " — an overflow
hospital for non-infectious fever patients, situated
within sound of the swish of the great banana trees
in the Belgian Consul's garden. These ladies work
anonymously ; they will not divulge their identity ;


they adore their work, and the soldiers adore t'hem.
So keen is the coin petition among the ladies of
France to come out to the front as nurses that the
present batch are reluctantly forced to retire at the
end of six months' service, in order to give place to
others. They love to talk to you about the boys
tliey work for ; what unselfish, ungrumbling, merry
fellows they are ; tlieir faces light up when you
speak of their countrymen's magnificent qualities
as soldiers — of their pluck, their endurance, their
never-failing cheeriness.

Tlie white-robed ladies are there, and so all
that matters of religion comes to the bedside of the
dying man.

By a singular clause of the Madrid Convention
of 1864 no French priest is allowed in Morocco. If
the patient asks for an aumonier, one of the half-
dozen Sjmnish Franciscans in the town is sent for ;
and every day you may see the brown-clad rope-
girdled figures gliding about the camp on their
errands of comfort and of peace. At the grave-
side it is usual for a comrade of the dead to read
a passage of the burial service.

At Ber Rechid in January took place the fune-
rals of a Legionary and of a Zouave who had died
of the wounds they had received the previous day.
The still figures, wrapped in canvas shrouds,
with wreaths of orange marigold and purple
linaria lying on their breasts, were carried by their
friends along the great ditch without tlie wall, into


a quiet corner by the angle of a bastion. The
General and his staff headed the procession of
mourners ; then came the other officers ; then
hundreds of the rank and file. At the graves
General d'Amade stepped forward and spoke of the
glory of a soldier's death ; of the valour of the dead
lying there ; of the gratitude of France. Then, in
turn, the captains of the companies in which the
dead men served came out from the throng and
pronounced their elegy. They briefly told their
history ; they spoke of their good qualities as sol-
diers and comrades. And then, last of all, a little,
red-faced, spectacled Legionary took his place
before the crowd, and in a loud, clear voice pro-
nounced the Lord's Prayer. The soldiers had stood
seemingly unmoved till now; but when the "Amen"
of the blue-coated priest was said the tears were
trickling down the bearded cheeks of a hundred


On February 2 Col. Boutegourd, commanding the
Tirs (Black Earth) column at Ber llechid, fought
the most determined and critical action of the
campaign. Never did the Moors attack with
greater confidence ; never did the French troops
display to greater advantage their qualities of
coolness, of courage, and of discipline.

It was a day when danger assayed men's
mettle ; and the heroism of Ricard, of Kergorlay,
and of Bosquet was the outcome of the test.

Boutegourd left Ber Rechid soon after mid-
night on the 2nd with a small force composed of
a squadron of Chasseurs, a battery of field-guns,
four companies of the Foreign Legion, and two
companies of Tirailleurs. His objective was a large
herd of cattle assembled in the neighbourhood of
Sidi el Mekki, some twelve miles to the south-west.
It appears (for no correspondents were with the
force, and consequently this brief outline of the
fight has been patched together from the narra-
tives of officers and men) that the French, by
seven o'clock in the morning, had achieved their
purpose, and that the five thousand head of cattle,



abandoned by their few score of guards, were at
their mercy. But Col. Boutegourd, who is nothing
if not a fighting man, was not satisfied. He had
got cattle, but he wanted Moors. So, leaving
the plunder very inadequately protected, he moved
off with the bulk of his column further south,
apparently in the hope of coming upon the
enemy. He was not disappointed. The mounted
cattle-guards had galloped straight away to the
hills about Settat and warned the tribesmen of
the coming of the French. Five or six thousand
Moors jumped on their ponies and swarmed across
the plain to recover their commissariat bullocks ;
and no one fights better than the carnal man
who sees his next three months' ration of beef
being shepherded towards his enemy's camp.

The Moors were not slow to grasp the situa-
tion ; they seized the advantage of the interior
lines, and swooped in between the main body of
the French and their comrades with the beasts.
They realised their numerical superiority of at
least five to one, and fought with the dogged-
ness which they reserve for encounters in which
victory seems assured.

Boutegourd saw the danger to which his
Chasseurs guarding the cattle were exposed, and
retired his square, fighting as he went, towards
them. The cavalry, on the other hand, saw the
futility of trying to retain possession of the
herds, and leaving them charged galjg.ntly down


on the advancing Arabs, Eye-witnesses agree
that in all the campaign there was never a fight
like this.

The Kaids had brought with them every in-
centive to the valour of their followers. The
long white lines were flecked with the ensigns
of the tribes — green, yellow, red, and blue ; the
exhortations of holy men sounded above the
fanatical yells of the Faithful ; foot soldiers,
armed only with bludgeons, were there to drag
the screaming barbs still nearer to the bayonets.
At one time it looked as though a troop of
Chasseurs must be annihilated, but the devotion
of Ricard, of Kergorlay, and of Rousseau saved
them ; at another it seemed hopeless to think of
checking the rush of Arabs on the eastern face
of the square, Ijut Bosquet, working his mitrail-
leuse alone, his men all killed or wounded,
succeeded in doing so ; of the coolness of the
Leerionaries when the Moors were within a
hundred yards of them, stopping to fondle pet
kids and dogs between two deadly shots, their
officers spoke afterwards with natural pride.
Bosquet's fight was Homeric. He was on the
most exposed face of the square, in command of
a machine-gun, and in a very short time all his
men were either killed or wounded. Bosquet,
now separated from a surging mob of Arabs by
only a few dozen yards, continued to pour a
stream of bullets into the dense masses of the


enemy, until the ground in front of him rose up
in a wall of dead and dying men and horses.
How lie himself escaped is a miracle. Asked
what his sensations at the time were, he said :
"Curiously enough, I felt no fear; I kept think-
ing to myself, ' What wouldn't I give for a
camera ! '" At last his ammunition ran out, and
Bosquet, now apparently an object of super-
natural awe to the Moors, hoisted his gun on
his back and retired unmolested. The other
heroes of the day are dead ; General d'Amade
himself has written their panegyric ; their names
are already inscribed on France's roll of fame.
But Bosquet, the quiet, blue-eyed, yellow-bearded
Bosquet, no less a hero, still lives, and life must
not be allowed to obscure the greatness of his
valour. Bicard's charge was a desperate venture
against overwhelming odds — " une chevauchee
audacieuse," as General d'Amade styles it, where
half-a-dozen brave men rode to certain death
in order to extricate their comrades. Lieutenant
Ricard, close upon the Arabs, had his horse shot
under him, and got on to his feet to be the
taro;et of a hundred rifles.

Up to him galloped Corporal de Kergorlay
and Trooper Rousseau, and seizing each a hand,
pulled him along with them as they cantered
back. Presently a bullet struck de Kergorlay
in the back, and he fell dead. A moment after-
wards Rousseau was hit in the wrist, and Ricard



ordered liim to gallo}) on into safety. The gallant
fellow refused to go, and was killed as lie spoke.

Then Ricard seized his carbine, and turned to
face his foes, and killed two of them before he,
too, died. The Frencli got back to Ber Rechid
tliat night at half-past seven, after nineteen hours'
fifi^htina and marching;, with a loss of eleven
killed and forty-one wounded. Amongst the
latter was Passard, Colonel of the mixed regiment
of Legionaries and Tirailleurs, hit by a spent
bullet on the right shoulder.

" The brutes wanted to stop me shooting,
curse them ! " cries Passard the indomitable from
his mattress. For when Passard cannot get bigger
game he condescends to feathered bipeds.

The death of the Clievalier de Kergorlay, a
scion of one of the oldest Breton families, and a
Corporal of Chasseurs, was a real grief to me, for
I had seen more of him than of any other man
in the force. A fortnight before, on the march
towards Settat, I heard myself addressed in per-
fect English by a handsome young Chasseur of the
General's escort ; and every day thenceforward I
rode with him for a couple of hours, rejoicing to
hear my native tongue in a strange land. One
of the last things he said to me was : " I'm fed
up with this job of holding officers' horses ; I
wish we could liave two or three good fights
and then go back to Paris!" Well, my brave
and kindly friend, you have your wish ; you have


fought the good fight, and your memory has gone
home to France, to be honoured there for ever.

His headless, naked trunk was recovered, and
over him and his mutikited conu'ades General
d'Amade pronounced the following oration : —

Ber Rechid, le 14 Fe'vrier 1908.

Corps de D^barquement de Casablanca.
Colonne du Littoral Etat Major.

" Je viens ddposer une couronne sur ces tertres
de pierre qui perpdtueront, en attendant un monu-
ment plus digne de leur bravoure, le souvenir de
trois vaillants cavaliers francais —
Le Lieutenant Ricard,
Le Brigadier de Kergorlay,
Le Chasseur Rousseau,
du 3 Chasseurs d'Afrique qui dans une che-
vauchee audacieuse ont voulu se sacrifier pour
degager leur peloton serre de pres par I'eimemi.

lis succomberent ici meme, le 2 Fevrier, nous
donnant a nous et aux generations qui nous suivront
I'exemple de leur h^roisme.

Autant que la puissance de nos armes cet ex-
ample frappera nos adversaires. II leur manque
sans doute la culture qui ne peut naitre qu'au
contact de la civilisation. Mais nous savons qu'il
est une vertu qui ne leur fait pas defaut et qui
deja les rapproche de nous, c'est le courage.

lis sauront comment les francais aussi bono-


rent le courage et rendeiit a ceux qui ont succombe
daus le combat rhommage qui leur est du.

Mon hommage s'^tend aux braves soldats qui
ont tentd au peril de leur vie de sauver leur Chef
et leurs camarades, S'ils ne rcussirent pas dans
leur gcnereuse temerite c'est que la tache depas-
sait les forces humaines. L'impossible a ete tente.

De tous temps la Cavalerie a eu h, payer son
glorieux privilege d'etre toujours le plus pr^s de
I'ennemi. A elle la gloire, a elle aussi le sacrifice.

Vaillants Camarades, reposez en paix. Vous
avez donne k la France ce que vous aviez de plus
clier : votre jeunesse, vos espoirs, votre vie. Sur
une terre arrosee d'un sang aussi genereux que
le votre, la moisson est certaine.

Grace ^ vous croitront un jour prochain, sur
le sol du Maroc les memes fleurs que celle de

The moment General d'Amade at Casablanca
with the Littoral column was informed of the auda-
cious behaviour of the tribesmen at Mekki he
determined to unite the Littoral and Tirs columns
and give the Moors a lesson.

Accordingly on Monday, February 3, the Littoral
marched out of Casablanca to Mediouna, en route
for Ber Rechid.

On the previous march I had gone (such was
the hurry of departure and so great the difficulty
of obtaining mules for transport) for a ten days'


campaign without a tent, witliout provisions, with-
out a bed or blanket, and without a servant. I
had my black horse Maroc and a fur coat, and
managed somehow. But on the present occasion
I was royally equipped. All the camp outfit I
was obliged to leave behind before was now packed
on two excellent mules — Zahara and Ayesha, the
Beauty and the Jasmine Flower ; and two men
had been engaged — Abd-el-Kader as cook and
Abdullah as horse-keeper.

The morning of the start dawned. Abdullah
and I loaded up the mules ; better tempered or
more tractable beasts I never wish to own. But
the wheels of Abd-el-Kader's chariot tarried, the
appointed hour arrived and passed, and still Abd-
el-Kader, with a month's pay in advance in his
pocket, was nowhere to be found. The truth was
that Abd-el-Kader, as I learnt afterwards, was
then inhiding on board a boat in the bay, having
listened to tales of bullets and discomforts which
convinced him that he was by temperament un-
fitted for a quasi-military career.

However, Morocco has its compensations. People
there do not take days to make up their minds
whether they are going to bolt or whether they
are going to war.

Packing and leave-taking likewise are cere-
monies which in that man-ruled land do not
necessarily consume the best part of a week. I
had lost one cook ; I had to find another. In


ten iiiiuutes after putting agents to work a grave-
faced, rather good-looking, green-turbaned Moor
appeared, talking a little French and declaring
himself ready to face anything for the remunera-
tion of eight francs a day. It was a huge price,
but I paid it and never regretted it. Hadj
Mohammed (he had been to Mecca) was, and I
hope still is, a first-rate cook, a quick packer, civil,
honest, and willing. We never had any troubles,
and my dinners were considered the most recherche
in the army. I remember when we came in tired
and wet to the skin at midnight after the long
day against Bou Nuallah, Mohammed had a most
excellent hot supper of liver and bacon, fried to
a turn, ready the moment we had changed.

So without further ado Hadj Mohammed spread
one of his beautifully clean garments on the fold-
ing table between the two provision-boxes balanced
on the back of the breedy Zahara, and, being
given a leg up by Abdullah, rode proudly out
of the town in command of my caravan. As for
me, I discovered that Abdullah had managed to
lose one of my stirrup-leathers, and presently found
it displayed for sale in the shop of a Hebrew
gentleman, who wanted quite a large sum for it,
aud seemed annoyed when I affixed it to my
saddle and rode off without offering shekels in
exchange. The ride to Mediouna over the rolling
downs was not a pleasant one. Every hundred
yards or so you came upon a dead horse in vary-


ing stages of putrefaction. The air was heavy
with the horrid stench, and my steed first jibbed
and then bolted as each new corpse was encoun-
tered. The saddest sight of all was a dying
camel, sitting in the road slowly waving an injured
foreleg from side to side.

Sleep that night at Mediouna was out of the
question. Packs of ravenous dogs barked inces-
santly ; a pertinacious donkey made four separate
determined attempts to enter my tent ; a couple
of amorous camels got their legs entangled in the
guy-ropes ; and the owners of these and other
errant beasts ran yelling and cursing through the

The next day the force marched to Ber Rechid,
which had responded to the labours of the troops,
and wore a much tidier and smarter air.

Kuins had been levelled on the exposed side
towards the east, and litter cleared away ; the
ditch and rampart had been improved ; neat gun-
embrasures had been made with sods in the para-
pet ; the gates of the town had been walled up ;
the camp was ranged orderly behind the eastern
ditch ; and already a little village of hucksters'
wooden shanties, contemptuously indifferent to
possible Arab raids, stood unprotected on the plain

On February 5 the united Littoral and Tirs
columns sallied out to find the Moors. Across the
flat, black, uninteresting ploughlands we marched


to Zaouia (Shrine) Sidi el Mekki, the centre of the
fight of the 2nd.

There was no need to be told the area of the
battle ; the air reeked with the sickening smell of
decaying horseflesh, and scores of the unfortunate
animals lay dotted about the springing barley-

Mekki is a considerable doudr of conical straw
huts, enclosed by a wall and protected by a hedge
of cactus, whose fantastic, reptilian habit silhouettes
against the pale blue of the distant M'Zab hills.
Without the cactus-grove stands its eponymous
shrine — the usual white, domed, square-walled
Koubba, and beyond it, towards the north, a
large enclosure, apparently in more prosperous
times a corral for flocks and herds, but now given
over to the plough.

As we neared the village, dots upon the far
horizon showed that we were at last coming up
with the enemy ; the intrepid Bertrand, most
dashing of cavalry leaders, is dispatched with a

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Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 7 of 18)