Reginald Rankin.

In Morocco with General d'Amade online

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squadron to reconnoitre. A procession of grey-
beards files out of the village and advances as
though somewhat dubious of the reception they
will meet with, but when tiiey have arrived within
a few paces of the General, and find themselves
still alive, one old gentleman takes heart of grace,
and makes up in violence of gesture what he lacks
in veracity.

A tame Moor, one of Huot's intelligence people.


dashes by in wild pursuit of an animal that looks
in the long grass like a hare, but turns out to be
a lamb ; he has a long gallop, and the lamb beats
him. But now the enemy are advancing in some
force ; the artillery teams, feeding within their
square of rope attached to four limbers, are in-
spanned again ; the Tirailleurs rush to their piled
arms ; staif-officers bustle about ; correspondents
reluctantly abandon their lunch.

The enemy were firing a mountain-gun, and
several of the shells fell close to the walls of the
enclosure whose southern face Legionaries were
busied in knocking down to within five feet of the
ground, in order to gain a better field of fire. On
a slope to the east two batteries of field-guns
opened on the Moors, and three sections of mitrail-
leuses kept a continuous stream of bullets whizzing
in the direction of the shifting groups. Out on
the stony, asphodel-dotted plateau wounded horses
struggled to their feet, and hobbled painfully out
of the danger-zone.

At length the word came to advance. Divided
in two, with a wide interval between its eastern
and western portions, the infantry went south-
wards, nine companies on the east, six companies
on the west, the two batteries of field-guns massed
on the eastern flank. Extended in line, the six
companies of the eastern firing line advanced alter-
nately, three of them covering with their fire the
advance of the others — a formation which the


French had not hitherto ado})ted, and whicli I do
not think they made use of again. As usual, the
guns kept close up to the three companies in sup-
port, and, as usual, their fire was the chief factor
in determinino: the retreat of the Moors. About
two miles from Mekki the line was halted, the
enemy was disappearing into the hills. We had
hap})ened on a village of nuallahs, and everybody
was poking about for loot. I found a lot of millet,
and pounced upon it as provender for Maroc, but to
my surprise he would not touch it.

Most of the tiny round skep-like huts had
the primitive loom stretched across their whole
diameter ; how to get into a hut without knocking
the loom down, and how to work it without lifting
the roof off when you had set it up again, are
problems which, one would think, must daily tax
the ingenuity of Moorish spinsters. Nothing of
any value, except wood for fuel, was discovered.
One Legionary got hold of a clumsy wooden batten,
and, crying, " O mon cventail ! " fanned himself
affectedly. The best-made tools were the wooden
pitch-forks, their three prongs beautifully smooth
and pointed ; several acres, as it seemed, of thorn
hedging got impaled on these and were carried off
in triumph, the Legionaries beneath resembling
haymakers in search of a wagon rather than
soldiers returning from a foray. Then fire was
set to everything ; the relics of the thorn zaribas
and the beehive huts flared up crackling noisily ;


a huge pall of yellow, stinking smoke came down
and blotted out the distant hills. That night the
force was subjected to the most irritating and try-
ing of all the operations of war — a night-attack ;
but, quite apart from the night-attack, the hours
of darkness were the most uncomfortable some of
us ever spent in our lives.

The column camped as usual in a square, with
guns and horses within it, to the north-west of,
and about a quarter of a mile from, the village of

About 9 o'clock orders came that at 12.30 a.m.
the force would march. Kann and I decided that
it was absurd to go to bed ; packing and loading in
the dark would take a good two hours ; for there
was a strict order that not a match was to be
struck, or light shown. So we were sitting
smoking a final pipe under cover of canvas,
before turning out to work in the bitter night,
when a heavy burst of firing broke out on the
left, towards Mekki.

" Messieurs les M'Dakra ! " grunted Kann, and
we went outside. There was absolutely nothing to
be seen, so dark was it, and the restfulness and
order of the camp seemed undisturbed. We were
immediately behind the line of Tirailleurs forming
the northern face, and had exceptional opportunities
for judging of their behaviour under what is un-
doubtedly a very trying ordeal. Not a whisper
came from the line ; not a man stirred. You might


have fancied them asleep. But no, every man was
at his post in front of liis tent, grasping his rifle,
and waiting for orders.

Nowhere was there the slightest sign of dis-
quiet or alarm ; the French troops behaved as
though night-attacks were tlie commonplaces of

The Moors had crept up by way of Mekki, but
the Frencli piquet on that Hank detected them,
retired on the main body and gave the alarm.
The south-eastern angle of the camp came in for
the brunt of the fire, but very little damage was

Passard, as always, was in the thick of it, and
got a bullet through his tent. A couple of his men
were wounded, and after three-quarters of an hour
the Moors retired.

It was now time for us to pack for our mid-
night march, and my experience is that few opera-
tions take more years off a man's life than that of
breaking camp and loading mules on a pitch dark
night. Tents cannot be properly folded ; it is
impossible to find the next indispensable rope ;
the half-loaded mule moves five yards and is lost ;
the soul is racked by the knowledge that the ground
is littered with small irreplaceable valuables that
almost certainly will be left behind. At 12.15 a.m.
we had finished the terrible task, and stood waiting
for the men to move. Up comes a groping orderly :
"On account of the disturbance of the men's rest


by the night-attack the force will not march
till 3.30."

This was the culmination of our woes. Were
we, on a freezing night, without tents, without
beds or blankets, condemned to stand for three
mortal hours in the mud, denied even the last
solace of tobacco ? The idea was uiithinkable ;
we must unpack, partially, at any rate. So off
came the blankets and the folding beds, and for a
couple of hours we dozed, half-frozen, beneath the
moonless sky.

The French troops in the Chaouiya are admir-
able under all the various difficulties of war, but to
my mind no one operation more conclusively tests
the efficiency of all ranks than the marshalling of
a force of 5000 men, without confusion or noise, in
its proper order in column of route on a pitch-dark
night. There was something almost magical in the
confidence with which the long silent files marched
out into the blackness, in the certainty with which
the drivers got their guns up to the appointed
starting-place. It is true that, to the relief of
smokers, several officers condescended to the use
of lanterns, but they only served to accentuate the

The ground was very wet and slippery, and
the headlands of the plough were invisible and

There was a warren of lurking silos in the
neighbourhood of Mekki ; and the sensible horses


went on gnintiufr and snorting their displeasure at
human recklessness.

Kann and I, after handing over the mules and
servants to the baggage train, managed to strike
a battery, and by sticking like leeches to the tail
of a limber we finally triumphed.

At six the dawn came, and the force, marching
due south towards Settat, saw the mist hanging
over the plain and banking out the lower flanks of
the dark M'Zab hills. Above them the sky was
violet and gold with stormy clouds, and the French,
deploying into their fighting square, moved like
spectres through the foggy twilight.

Almost before the formation was complete the
boom of a mountain-gun came from the hills, and
the little shell fell not far from the General and his
staff. Then, as the sun broke through the mists,
the serried lines of the enemy loomed ghostly in our
front — an enormous shadowy host, 10,000 horsemen
at the very least.

That day the Moors looked as though they had
European drill instructors in their ranks ; their
squadrons kept a line and wheeled and retired with
astonishing precision. For three hours the fight
was very hot, and the French, in order to deceive
the Moors as to their objective, which was really
Settat, and in the hope of cutting them in two,
pushed on towards the east, and then suddenly
changed direction and went due south again. It is
no easy matter, even on a parade ground, simul-


taneously to change the direction of a square whose
faces are between a thousand yards and a mile in
length ; and when the evolution is carried out with
absolute precision in the middle of a battle it is a
very pretty sight.

At the beginning of the fight the cavalry were
fully employed in defeating an enveloping move-
ment of the Moors on the northern flank ; but
when the direction of the square was changed they
came over to the west, and thundered down upon
a group of Arabs firing from behind some houses.
I happened to be not far off'; a heavy bullet sang
so close past my horse's nose that he stopped and
nodded his head ; the Chasseurs galloped on ; the
Moors fired a last volley ; with a loud cry Bouchard
fell dead, shot through the heart ; the next moment
the Frenchmen were among them.

From seven till ten the Arabs fought well ; but
by that time they had had enough of it. The scene
was a weird one. The district we had passed
through is one of the most populous of the Chaouiya,
or indeed of agricultural Morocco, and well-built
farms of whitewashed mud, with their satellite
doudrs of thatch, are thickly dotted over the great
ploughlands. Whatever would take fire the French
burnt. And so in every direction geysers of yellow
smoke rose high into the air, and the roar of flames
sounded above the rattle of firearms. It was some-
times a difficult matter, in passing through a
homestead, to avoid the Scylla of a colony of silos


ou the one hand, and to get one's horse to face the
Charybdis of a scorching blast on the other.

At last we reached the hills ; the enemy was
streaming aAvay to his strongholds further east ;
we climbed the steeps and marched on unopposed
over the high plateau to Settat. For the second
time some of us looked down upon the town ; but
now there was no defence ; the place seemed abso-
lutely deserted. Prettily it lay in its hollow in
the hills, its white houses clear cut against the
ochre earth, and its soft, pale setting of olives, figs,
and aloes relieving a flashing bank of orange mari-
golds. Then the force was treated to a spectacular
display — a most unnecessary performance. A
battery of field-guns and a battery of mountain-
guTis were drawn up on the crest, and proceeded,
first alternately and then simultaneously, to throw
melinite shells into the town. They made a great
noise, and fortunately did very little damage. Very
little damage materially, but much mentally to many
poor Jewesses and their children.

When the bombardment (which only lasted a
quarter of an hour) was complete, and we were at
liberty to take our half-dead horses down to water
in the stream that flows through the town, certain
of us on whom tlie bonds of discipline sat lighter
than on others wandered into the city, some to
plunder, others to see what had been done by the
melinite, all to get a new sensation. For a few
minutes I watched three Goumiers attacking: the


huge wooden door of one of the largest houses in
the place ; they had let their horses go where fancy
led them, and with a heavy piece of timber were
ramming in the gate. After stupendous efforts the
loud cracking of the wooden bolt nerved them to
still more frantic exertions ; at last the gate flew
back, and with yells of exultation the Algerians
rushed in. As I turned away, wondering whether
the Goum and their horses would ever meet again,
the door of a large building close by opened, and
the most pitiable collection of human beings it has
ever been my misfortune to see poured out into
the roadway. Thirty or forty women, with their
children, half- naked, half- starved, their teeth
chattering with fear, their eyes drawn with sight
of recent horrors, crowded round, kissing my boots,
holding up supplicating hands, and imploring in
tearful voices, thin and husky with weakness. The
older children were crying out for bread ; the in-
fants wailed upon their mothers' milkless breasts.
With the help of a Goumier I managed to gather
the main facts of their story.

When the French entered the town a fortnight
previously the Jews were the only section of the
population who remained to greet the conquerors.
This had greatly angered the Moors, who in revenge
had put twenty-five of them to death — the hus-
bands and fathers of these poor women and children.
The latter were then treated as pariahs and out-
casts ; they were brutally handled, and brought to



the very verge of starvation. Finally their miseries
culminated in the terror of the bombardment. They
said that when the French went away again the
Moors would return and kill them ; they begged
to be allowed to go with the force to Casablanca.

General d'Amade was the last man to be deaf
to sucli an appeal. The little cortege climbed the
hill, and liuddled together betM^een the columns of
wondering soldiers.

The long black hair of the women fell matted
on their shoulders ; some of them Avore patched
rags which left half their bodies naked ; others
made shift with bits of sacking ; the feet of all
were bare ; the babies on their backs, unclothed
for the most part, were cr)'ing with the cold. And
the sun was now setting ; it was five o'clock, and
there were more than twenty miles between Settat
and the camp at Mekki, which must be reached
that night. The kindness of the French to the
outcasts they had taken under their protection
was unbounded. Everything that could be done
to mitigate the rigours of that bitter march they
did. The women were jDcrched on limbers and
ammunition carts and cacolets, but when every
possible means of conveyance had been utilised
there were still many wht) had to walk. Officers
and men alike gave their little provision for supper
to the starving children ; but when all that could
be done for them was done it was horrible to think
of the sufferings of those poor creatures.


Their naked feet were cut by the sharp stones ;
the quick pace of the infantry forced them almost
to a run ; inost of the women wore carrying babies
on their backs ; the strength of the children was
utterly inadequate to such a march, and the
piercing wind scourged those who did not walk.

There was one old woman who was blind ;
another led her by the hand ; it was terrible to see
her stumbling among the rocks on the hills ; at last
she was given a seat by a bombardier.

Then the darkness fell, and the interminable
march went on over the bogged and slippery fields.
Far away in the .distance burned two immense
fires ; they were signals at the camp at Mekki,
The men blessed them when they saw them first,
but their blessings changed to cursings as the
hours wore on and those will-o'-the-wisps seemed
further away than ever. One little boy was
dragged along by his mother at a jog-trot ; he
could not stand or walk ; and when the ten
minutes' halt came at the end of every hour he
fell to the ground and lay there. But the whistles
blew and the troops moved on ; his mother pulled
him up, and again for another long hour the child
trotted, dazed and speechless, by her side. A gallant
Major of Artillery saw this ; he got off his horse
and set the woman and her boy in the saddle, and as
he trudged beside them tears ran down his cheeks.

The column got in at midnight, after twenty-
one hours' continuous work.


Education has more importance in Morocco than
might ordinarily be supposed. Go where you will
amongst the new huts of the native quarters of
Casablanca, the low, monotonous tones of boys
chanting the Koran, as they sway their bodies in
unison, mingled, it may be, with the sharp whack
of the tawse — an implement as dear to the Moorish
hedge-schoolmaster as it was to the Scottish
Dominie — strike upon the ear. Moorish learning
is confined to the Koran and its commentators,
but the beautiful caligraphy in which extracts
from those works are written in a rich brown ink
on whitened boards would make an Eton Master's
mouth water with envy. Arithmetic, too, is taught
for commercial purposes, but any foreign learning
is, as a rule, eschewed. Moors who wish to learn
modern languages, and few races can be better
linguists when they get the opportunity, must
resort to Christian or to Jewish schools.

The former are directed by the Franciscan
Monks, who are under the protection of Spain,
and who by the Madrid Convention of 1864
have the exclusive right of directing the Catholic
Missions in Morocco. The buildings lie behind
their Monastery, and are small but tidy.


Spanish is the language used in instruction,
the younger children being taught by a certifi-
cated Mistress, the elder, ranging from seven to
thirteen years of age, by two of the Fathers. A
few Jews and French are amongst the number, but
the l)ulk are Spaniards and Gibraltarians.

The languages taught are Spanish and French.
In History the pupils first study that of Morocco,
whence they proceed to general and Biblical History ;
Geography, Commercial Arithmetic, Sewing and
Embroidery, the latter both in the Moorish and in
the European style, are also taught. Unfortu-
nately, the scholars look dull and heavy, and their
teachers say it is most difficult to get them to
take any interest in their studies, more especially
in French. The books used are those employed
in Spain, and as their methods are much criticised
by Spanish experts possibly some of the failures
may be due to this cause. The material, such
as maps, seems somewhat antiquated, but it was
pleasing and perhaps surprising to see on the
walls placards inculcating kindness to birds.

It was a great contrast to enter the schools
of the Alliance Israelite presided over by M. Pisa,
a gentleman descended from a Smyrniote family,
and by Mme. Benzakan, a native of Casablanca,
who has taken the highest certificates open to
Schoolmistresses in France.

The Boys' School is in a large and somewhat
gloomy building near the Banque d'Etat, and was


founded in 1897 as an establishment where boys
could be fitted to take the Certificat des Etudes
Priniaires, which is, perhaps, most nearly equiva-
lent to that of the Junior Oxford and Cambridge
Local Examination.

But, as M. Pisa, who might well be taken
for the Rector of a flourishing French Lycde,
pointed out, his one object is to make men of his
boys ; and, so far as a casual visitor could judge,
he has most fully succeeded.

What a contrast the scholars in his class-rooms
present to the dirty ragamuffins in their black
caps and foul purple, brown, or yellowish gaber-
dines who hold horses, run errands, or keep open-
air gambling-hells where vagabonds of all religions
and nationalities lose their debased Hassani copper
at primitive roulette or rouge et noir in the neigh-
bouring Mellah ! And yet in many cases the
boys, seated in class-rooms by no means inferior
either in cleanliness or equipment to some of the
older ones at Eton, are the brothers and cousins
of the street loafers aforesaid. Unfortunately
only £400 a year is available for the support
of the school, but if the means could be pro-
vided, M. Pisa said lie could civilise the Ghetto
in ten years.

There are 250 scholars on his lists, nearly all
of them natives of Casablanca, who are divided
into nine classes, and range in age from seven to
fifteen years.

Not all of them are Jews. It is one main


object of the school to teach tolerance, and not
only do Jews of all classes and nationalities send
their boys there, but Catholics, Protestants, and
Mussulmin take advantage of it. All are treated
alike by the Professors, and the crusted 2:)rejudices
of centuries are worn away in the daily intercourse
of the schoolroom.

The schools are under the protection of France,
but receive no grant from the French Government.
The language used in instruction is French, except
in the two junior classes, where the two Pabbis,
who are Professors of Hebrew, use Spanish with
the younger children. Two other classes are
directed by monitors, one of whom was wholly
trained at the school. Later on he intends to
take the higher diplomas at Paris. The other
classes are taught by Professors, but unfortu-
nately for the moment no one can be procured
to teach English. An enterprising Board School
Master who had some knowledge of Frenoh might
tind an opening here, since, unless the French
occupation comes to an end, Casablanca is bound
to prove the most rising port in Morocco, and a
knowledge of English is in demand.

All children in the Casablanca Mellah speak
Spanish as well as Arabic from their earliest years,
and so have a great advantage over our English
schoolboys when they begin their linguistic studies.
Hebrew is the first language taught, and urchins
of ten translate Deuteronomy into Spanish with a
fluency which would awaken the wonder of Upper


Division. Portions of the Talmud, in an abbre-
viated form, are read with the text.

In the more advanced classes the pupils seem
to be excellent French scholars, and to be well
versed in geography and history. No attempt is
made to convert them to any special political
ideas, and to judge by a theme on the Holy War,
expressed in very correct and elegant diction, some
of them must be Moroccan patriots.

All are taught sufficient French and Spanish
for the purposes of business correspondence. The
course of arithmetic includes decimal fractions, the
Metric System, practical Exchange, problems in-
volving questions of Capital and Interest, the ele-
ments of surveying (a subject which is all-important
in a country where disputes as to land form the
staple of the legal business), and the theory and
practice of book-keeping, so as to enable them
to enter commercial houses as soon as they leave

The history of Morocco is taught in detail,
serving to introduce them both to Ancient and
General History, whilst in Geography also they
begin with the study of their own country.

From Biblical History they go on to Post
Biblical History and Modern Jewish History, in-
cluding some general no^tions as to the Talmudic
literature. All receive lessons in morals, but re-
ligious instruction is given to the Jews only by a
Rabbi. Literature as literature is not dealt with,
for the students only read the lives of great men


of all nations, such as Corneille, Molicre, Shake-
speare, and Dante.

Science is taught practically, beginning with
Nature lessons, which are given as far as possible
in the open air, and which are designed to awake
that habit of observation the want of which is one
of the greatest defects in the Moorish mentality.

Early marriage is not encouraged, and, in fact,
few of the pupils of the school marry in Moroccan

To the Jews of the interior, who in many ways
are far more akin to the Moors than they are to
their fellow-countrymen in the Coast Ports, such
schools are strange and wondrous portents.

Boys trained in them are the instruments by
which France hopes to secure the peaceful pene-
tration of Morocco, for they will act as the bridge
by which civilisation will pass from Europe to the
Jews and Moors. But for them, it would have
proved a very diiScult matter for French settlers
to establish themselves at Casablanca.

Before the bombardment there were, perhaps,
twenty French residents registered at the Con-
sulate. Now there are nearly six hundred, and
nearly every clerk, interpreter, or employe who
has been engaged by them come from M. Pisa's

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Online LibraryReginald RankinIn Morocco with General d'Amade → online text (page 8 of 18)