First edition of this important eye-witness account of the British campaigns in Somaliland. Angus Hamilton (1874-1913), the son of an officer who served with the 2nd West India Regiment, and of the line of the Hamilton baronets of Silvertonhill, Lanarkshire, was a special correspondent, attached to the 6th King’s African Rifles.
He had visited Korea in 1903-4 for the New York Evening Sun; reported on the Boer War for The Times, bottled up in Mafeking with Baden-Powell; covered the Boxer Rebellion for the Pall Mall Gazette, and was at Russian headquarters for the Russo-Japanese War.
Following his coverage of the Abor Mission, he was assigned to the Balkans during the disturbances of 1912-13.
Tragically the present work was to be his last, as in May 1913, depressed by the failure of his American lecture tour and out of funds, he cut his own throat in a New York hotel room. Octavo.
By Angus Hamilton
Author of “Korfa,” “Problems of the Middle East,’ etc,
WITH 25 ILLUSTRATIONS AND A MAP
LONDON: HUTCHINSON AND CO. PATERNOSTER ROW
To The British Officers And Men Of The Somaliland Field Force
The British sphere
The French, Abyssinian, and Italian spheres
An account of the powers in Somaliland-Sketch of Mullah and events which led up to the First Expedition
The First Expedition under Colonel Swayne
The First Expedition under Colonel Swayne—Co-operation of the Abyssinians—Captain McNeil’s fight at Somali— Colonel Swayne action at Ferdiddin—Conclusion of the operations
The Second [Expedition under Colonel Swayne—The engagement at Lego.
The prospects and preparations of the Third Expedition—Preliminary negotiations with Italy—Recall of Colonel Swayne —Berbera in war guise
The advent of Brigadier-General W. H. Manning, Inspector-General, King’s African Rifles
Attentions from the Mullah— Colonel Cobbe—En route for Garrero—From Berbera to Sheikh
From Sheikh to Garrero
The Flying Column—The relief of Bohotle and the return to Berbera
Further negotiations with Italy—General Manning’s instructions from the War Office-—The start for Obbia
Disembarkation at Obbia—Obbia and the Benadir—-An audience of the Face of Allah
Brigadier-General W. H. Manning arrives at Obbia—*The work of the Navy—A Red Sea engagement and a capture = H.M.S. “Kitty.”
Minor Operations—Lieut.-Colonel Cobbe’s reconnaissances to Enmara, Dibit, and Haradera
The advance to Galkayu and arrival at Galadi
Bush warfare—The disaster at Gumburu
Gough’s column—Fight at Daratoleh
The concluding phase—Operations of the Abyssinian’s return to Bohotle
The Fourth Expedition—The fight at Jidbali
The concluding movements —Naval operations before Illig
As these pages are going through the press, the Imperial Government has announced a change of policy in regard to the Somaliland Protectorate, by which the evacuation of the interior in favor of a coastal concentration at Berbera, Bulhar, and Zeila is announced. For rather more than twenty-five years, the British Government has maintained intimate relations with the inland tribes of Somaliland, while for ten years many solutions of the problem presented by the Mullah have been attempted. Tired of the expense incurred by four expeditions, or five if the fugitive operations which coincided with this announcement are included, it has been resolved apparently to leave the interior to the mercy of the Mullah, while we reflect upon our shattered prestige in the comfortable security of the coastal ports. As a matter of fact, however, so long as the operations against the Mullah are determined by considerations of cost, there is no alternative to the decision which the Government announced. A campaign in Somaliland is essentially one to which it is impossible to assign a fixed charge, and one deduction from the narrative presented in the following pages tends to show how operations in such a country as Somaliland cannot be conducted with success if they are to be confined within a limited expenditure.
The Mullah himself holds it in his power to prolong the operations indefinitely, and by so doing to pile up the burden of expenditure; and this contingency cannot be averted, nor is it satisfied by the apportionment of a quarter of a million sterling or so for the credit of expenses. On the other hand, aside from the principle of the economy which have become the guiding light of our little wars, any other system of procedure would have produced an expenditure out of all proportion to the return. As the Government has been influenced by this view, the abandonment of the operations rather than any further prosecution of the pursuit of the Mullah is as much in accordance with the requirements of the situation as anything that could be suggested. At the same time, it is permissible to urge that the policy of evacuation has been carried, perhaps, a little too far where it countenances the withdrawal of the posts from which it was possible to protect Wells belonging to tribes friendly to us. If measures could be taken to restore the line of the strategic frontier so that the tribes under our protection could still feel that they were safeguarded from attack by the Mullah, there would be nothing inherently objectionable in any policy of coastal concentration.
Somaliland hitherto has paid its own way, accomplishing a feat which our other African, Protectorates have failed to achieve. The Somali is a born trader; and, if we could content ourselves with establishing our authority within our own sphere and define our economic policy by the development of the ports of Bulhar, Zeila, and Berbera, and the provision of a light railway between the coastal centers and the interior, the trade, and production of the country must continue to develop. It is improbable that the dislocation of the interior caused by the expeditions will leave any permanent effect upon the resources of the tribes. Indeed, many continued to trade during the period when the activities of the Mullah were most threatening, and they will begin again to dispatch their caravans to the coast as soon as some adjustment of affairs has been obtained. At present no little distress is prevalent, for the general welfare of the people has fallen to the ground in the conflict of interests between the Mullah and ourselves.
Trade in Somaliland follows the line of least resistance, and in the case of the existing situation, that line leads to the coast. Therefore, so far as the wisdom of embarking upon the costly, arduous, and relatively impossible task of breaking the Mullah’s power with an inadequate financial grant is concerned, I do venture to think that, with equal profit to ourselves, he might now be permitted “to stew in his own juice.” Moreover, as the Mullah himself draws his wealth from the inland tribes, the advantage of allowing the country a period of recuperation will appeal very sensibly to him, after which, in the natural process of evolution, time should bring opportunity for the arrangement of a compromise in the affairs of the Protectorate upon a basis which will make for the resumption of friendly relations with our erstwhile foe.
Acknowledgments are due, first to Baron H. De Reuter for his kindness in permitting me to make use of the correspondence which was sent from the seat of war, and secondly to the following authors of important works dealing in one way or another with the country:—
Abyssinia of To-Day, by Robert Skinner.
With the Abyssinians in Somaliland, by Major J. W. Jennings and Christopher Addison.
In Pursuit of the Mad Mullah, by Captain McNeil.
Official History of the Operations in Somaliland; Military Report on Somaliland; and the constant reports and various Parliamentary reports published in connection with the subject.
The author is also indebted to Lord Alexander Thynne for his excellent account of the engagement at Jidbali.
IMPRESSIONS EN ROUTE
The last traces of an illness which had been contracted in China during the Boxer crisis, had brought me to town for a consultation with my doctor as the news of the engagement at Erego was being carried through the streets by London newsboys, It was obvious that the desert areas of Somaliland had witnessed a disaster to British arms, and, half unconsciously, one stopped a boy, glanced hastily at the contents of the paper he sold, and hailed a passing cab. War correspondents must be up and doing on the clash of arms; so, with the possibility of an immediate departure before me, I preferred an interview with Baron H. de Reuter to that with my medical man. The Managing Director of that wonderful news service received me without delay, and before many minutes passed arrangements were completed for my journey to the scene of hostilities.
The interests of Italy, France, and Great Britain in Somaliland already made the “Horn of Africa” the subject of a Triple Agreement, and in view of the forthcoming operations there, prudence dictated a hasty visit to the Quai d’Orsay, if not a call in Rome. Paris, most agnostic of capitals, was in a tumult through the presence of a crowned head who was the honored guest of the Republic. The gay thoroughfares of the capital were thronged with people, and the noise was everywhere. London had been dull and dreary; yet in Paris, if the weather were no better, the incisive vitality of the people offered at once an immediate realization of its delights. ‘True, such pleasures were mine only for a few hours; but a feeling of infinite happiness was to be derived from the animated spectacle, and for the nonce, one was lost in the rush and roar of the city.
Railway traveling is at all times disagreeable, but the degree of comfort on the French system is lower than anywhere else in Europe. One lives in an atmosphere of dust and Keatings, and of wrangling passengers. But the time passes; and to look forward to déjeuner and an afternoon nap, to anticipate dinner and then digest it, makes the day run with pleasant monotony into the night. And the night is worth the experience! The beds of the wagons-lits are comfortable enough, but the night is vested with misty beauty, and its fascination keeps the traveler from his rest. There is the roar of the engine, the rumble of the carriages, and the faint rustle of the night wind where the infinite silence of the countryside is disturbed only by the passing of the train.
In the morning there comes a change. The plain of France is streaming past the dusty windows of the wagons-lits, presenting an endless spectacle of flat-looking country, with here a house, and there a herd of browsing animals. The land at first looks like a wilderness, reflecting on its surface the story of its own resistance to the shock of gales—a sunburnt, waterless solitude, wherein is scarcely man or beast. Everywhere is sunshine; but from far, far across the vista comes a quivering diaphanous heat mist, which merges and spreads, until time and space are enveloped in the dove-colored mysteries of a mirage. All day the train slowly thrusts itself through the haze, while, with much panting and puffing and infinite labor, it approaches the Italian border. Slowly, in a lullaby of emotion, and with our faces fanned by the insidious gushes of scented air, we leave the southern plains, emerging into Italy. There, with the exception of the train at Genoa, and the completion of the first section of a journey which is to lead to Somaliland and the command of General Manning, the picture fades. The delights of the countryside give place to an expanse of shipping impressed with the vigor of a nation’s trade; while presently Italy lies as a blue line upon the horizon.
In a little, we feel the play of the currents as they race through the Straits of Messina; while, as night approaches, the flashing lights of Crete arouse the passengers to memories of an earlier war. With the peace of the ocean enveloping the vessel in a feeling of security, it is difficult to realize that, for our part, we are drawing every day a little nearer to another scene of mortal combat. There is much rumor aboard. The stewards hint that the hold is filled with a cargo of munitions; while the complement of passengers is made up, in the main, of special service officers.
Egypt is ahead of us, remote, but clearly defined, and before long we take coal at Said, where all the plagues of the Land of the Pharaohs just now are lurking, and passengers are not allowed to land. It is a pity, for we are anxious to take the wily native at his own price and to experience for ourselves the potent fascination of dancing Dervishes and tumultuous women. The laws of quarantine impose the penance of a strict morality; and while we are willing to buy, and they, the native traders, are ready to be tempted, the opportunity profits no man anything, though we are as men to whom forbidden sweets are as the staff of life, and yet compelled to practice self-denial. We are, however, but ungrateful saints!
For the moment the scents of Egypt filled the air. Arab merchants in their shore boats scattered before our eyes an array of silks, of delicate embroideries, of delicious nougat, and piles of indifferent cigarettes. Boats hedged us around zealous for traffic, and for a fleeting interval, the sights of Said were as tempting as may have been the aromas of great Cleopatra’s Court.
Arab boys with evil-smiling faces cried to us, clapping their hands upon their wet and glistening thighs in the frantic desire to attract attention. They called upon Allah, as upon the morality of their mothers and of their entire domestic circle, to bear witness that they were genuine diving boys of Said. They dived beneath the keel for silver, but they blasphemed in English— such is the preposterous courtesy of the East—if there were no silver thrown, or if, when thrown, they; were outdone by their comrades. Coins were dropped oft-times into the shining waters, and a flotilla of copper-colored bodies sank, the action of many feet churning, the waters to a dirty white. Then one shot to the surface, becoming at once the prey of all, though the coin, rammed home between his gums and cheeks, usually defied displacement.
From numerous boats, pretty women smiled at us, looked askance, and smiled again when the diving boys and their ceaseless importunities began to tire. Presently, the echo of merry laughter and the strains of wild music floated through the still, hot air, heralding the approach of a party of fair singers in some passing boat. We called to them, after the easy morality of the port; and they had already hitched to our steps, and, hanging on with freedom equal to our own, had begun to sing. Songs of many lands, women of many countries, swam by one in the gentle intoxication and slightly sensuous languor of the reminiscences which permeated our senses. They filled the air with fragrant essences and kissed their fingers when we threw them coins. So for an hour officers and men—stopping at this port of call in a journey to the field of war— listened to songs of love, of golden intrigue, and of tempestuous passion. In vain regret, we wished the plagues of Egypt to the devil and some perpetuation of this plague of women in their places. We could well have endured such fair torments.
In time we shifted farther along, in readiness for immediate clearance, sandwicheBritish d for our passage of the Canal between a tramp and an Austrian man-of-war. At noon the signal ran up at the observation station that our turn had arrived. As we dropped into the center of the stream the crews of British shipping streamed to their tops to give a “view holloa” to, the details of the contingent their country was sending to Somaliland. In this manner we gradually passed into the Canal, gently drifting with the current, so little did the blades of the propellers seem to urge the vessel forward.
Beneath the light of coming dawn, we drew near Aden. At first, the walls of the fort, the shipping, and the scarred and crinkled facings of the mountains were silhouetted in black against the grey of early morning, but as the day broke there was much beauty in the scene.
It was doubtful whether we might land, owing to the prevalence of plague aboard ship. ‘They fear plague, but nothing else in Aden, and we rode upon our cables until the question was settled, engaging in calm but distant scrutiny of the desert-looking rock. By the time the formalities had been observed dusk again had fallen, and as we moved up the harbor, from the outer roadstead, all around us there were signs of the confused activity that distinguishes the business of the sea.
In the glare of the ship’s lanterns, native boatmen sat churning the water with the restless beating of their paddles or idly chanting songs of their hills. Lights gleamed at points across the gently heaving waste; tugs puffed and hooted, their masthead lamps swaying under the influence of the swell; while smoke coiled itself fantastically in the hot night air. Downwind came the cries of the “rickshaw” boys from the landing-stage, echoes of eagerness seeking a busy traffic, the pints of beggars, and the noisy babble of children hungering for “backsheesh.”
As we made for the shore, skimming across the placid waters in buggalows, which left the more cumbrous row-boats far behind, black clouds were settling about the harbor. Moon and lighthouse vied in forming an all-enveloping cloak of silver mystery. Shadows became confused and colors deceptive; people took strange shapes, and buildings lost all evidence of outline. Here and there, voices cried into the night until there was much semblance of uproar as we stepped ashore. Of baggage we had none, and since there were no boxes over which to fight, the “rickshaw” boys, vociferous at first, left us at last in peace.
There had been no air upon the ship, but here, at the edge of the sea, which, like some sheet of steel, shimmered and glinted beneath the lights, we were no longer discontented, no longer slumberous. The air was tempered with a delicate coolness, while the wind was fresh with the salt of the ocean. For a time we sat in silence, a prey to the stealthy influence of the spot. From time to time people, like restless shadows, shuffled past with tired feet. Through the latticed screens of the windows of the houses there came faint lights which revealed the faces of women as they watched their sleeping children.
Occasionally they pressed back the lattices and leaned out into the night. As we pushed onwards through the empty streets the silence of the place was oppressive, but as we moved through the town sounds of revelry were wafted to us. Lights were gleaming from many windows in the Aden Club, and the music of stringed instruments broke upon the scented atmosphere. The harmonies grew louder as we drew nearer. The swinging rhythm of a dance floated lazily out to us through open windows. As we paused, the music was moving to the climax of some Hungarian waltz. We stood enraptured, and as we listened the memories of those scenes after which men hanker as the years slip by came to us.
The picture was gay, instinctive with a vitality infinitely human, infinitely absorbing. I sat and watched it, thinking of many capitals, of many places, each distant from the other, where women had danced and men had dallied with the last farewells.
At dawn, many of those dancing were sailing to Somaliland, and as the scene throbbed before me, I wondered how long their memories would last.
It was now midnight, and after supping at the hotel, with another visitor, I determined to compare this spectacle of the dancing women of the West with the dancing women of the East. And so we turned from the vision splendid of our own world to a vision desolate of a world wherein all was uncleanly in its setting, tawdry, and wholly unemotional. The house was near the center of the native quarter. Squalor and poverty distinguished the surroundings; naked children hung in groups about the doors; evil odors made heavy the dense atmosphere of the room. The aspect of the place was uninviting, but our drivers insisted upon the character of the house, and under their assurance, we pushed aside the crowd and passed within the outer palings of the courtyard. An aged, wrinkled hag greeted us, rubbing her thin, bony hands together as we made known our wishes. What her relations could have been to the dancers we could not understand; but after some argument and the surrender of certain coins, she drew aside, disclosing a long, ill-lighted passage, down which she pushed us.
We advanced in trepidation, bending lest our heads should sweep its roof of sugarcanes. There were alcoves upon either side of this passage, small in dimensions, with mud walls, and without windows. These natives were preparing food.
We passed along, emerging upon a square space in which there were three women. As we entered their eyes quizzed us, and their faces expressed the fullness of their desires. The air was thick with the smoke of two small lamps, scented with the odor of burning sandalwood.
As we settled upon our couch, the dancers, after momentarily disappearing, returned, their heads bedecked with ornaments; cheap beads and spangles sparkled upon their arms and legs, and the moonstones and pale opals graced their necks. They posed before us, their graceful bodies hidden by the deeper shadows of the chamber. Suddenly a low, not unmusical chanting filled the air, while the rustle of naked feet fell upon our ears. The dance was beginning. They took their time from one another, and made their own accompaniment by beating with their heels upon the sanded floor, by clapping their hands together, or gently patting on each other’s backs. They formed in half circles, and with a dreary monotony of motion balanced first upon one foot and then upon the other. In a little, we grew weary of the performance, and they, catching some knowledge of our disappointment, shyly withdrew.
The dance had terminated, and we fled. Perhaps also the strains of those other dances still lingered in our ears, slowly drawing us away.
Outside the scene was peaceful, and the club quiet. The ball was over; the dancers had gone to rest. Yet as we crept softly to our beds in the hotel, the building seemed to echo with strains of faint music, as though, indeed, the master spirits still held high carnival.
Chapter II will follow
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