Churchill and the Mad Mullah of Somaliland
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In the late nineteenth century, the British Empire commanded the seas and possessed a vast Indian Empire, as well as other extensive dominions in South East Asia, Australasia, America and Africa. To secure the trade route to the glittering riches of the orient, the port of Berbera in Somaliland was taken from the feeble grasp of an Egyptian monarch, and to secure that port, treaties were concluded with the fierce and warlike nomad tribes who roamed the inhospitable wastes of the hinterland, unequivocally granting them 'the gracious favour and protection of the Queen'. But there arose in that wilderness a man of deep and unalterable convictions; the Sayyid, the 'Mad Mullah', who utilised his great poetic and oratorical gifts with merciless and unrelenting fury to convince his fellow nomads to follow him in an anti- Christian and anti-colonial crusade. At great expense, four Imperial expeditions were sent to crush him and to support his terrified opponents; four times the military genius of the Sayyid eluded them. It was at this point that the rising voice of Winston Churchill convinced his Liberal colleagues to abandon the expensive contest and retreat to the coast. By this betrayal, one third of the British 'protected' population perished. It wasn't until after the Great War that Churchill, now Minister for both War and Air, as well as a major influence in the rise of Air Power, was able to redeem this betrayal. The part he played in the destruction of the Sayyid's temporal power at this point was substantial, and the preservation of the Royal Air Force was also secured. By unleashing Sir Hugh Trenchard and giving his blessing to a lightning campaign, his original betrayal was considered to be redeemed in part and his honour belatedly and inexpensively restored. In this enthralling volume, Roy Irons brings to life this period of dynamic unrest, drawing together a number of historical accounts of the time as well as an evocative selection of illustrative materials, including maps and portraits of the main players at the forefront of the action. Personalities such as Carton de Wiart, Lord Ismay, and the much decorated Sir John 'Johnny' Gough, VC, KCB, CHG feature, as do the vaunted Camel Corps, in this eminently well-researched narrative account of this eventful and controversial episode of world history. As featured in Essence Magazine.
a very important man, appeared from Eastern Ogaden, from the direction of Mudug, and held a meeting of the tribesmen, at which he preached a Jihad, or holy war against Abyssinia. On this day, which was also the date of the arrival of my survey at this place, a great equestrian display was given by horsemen of the Rer Ali tribe to Sheikh Sufi; and he preached for hours to the crowd squatting in the sandy river bed. With my brother I stood at the Sheikh’s side for a time. He was polite to us, and
where the Abyssinians could co-operate with us. The latter was adopted on the grounds of the expense of keeping a line of posts equipped for a long period against possible raids by the Mullah. The result has been that after an expedition of 6 months duration, and an expenditure of 500,000l. [£], the Mullah has moved to the Nogal with some loss, and a fresh expedition is suggested. I would point out to you that your proposals involve a very heavy cost. The reinforcements of about 2,000 men and
again become self-supporting. His assertion of influence among tribes in the interior, if seriously pressed, could not and would not be resisted by us now. These wild people have always lived in anarchy and strife among themselves or with their neighbours, and the British taxpayer has already squandered millions in vain interference – often to their disadvantage. If the worst comes to the worst, and the Mullah advances and pushes back our political screen of observation, we should in my opinion
three drivers and eighteen camels, as well as large quantities of stores. The march to the coast was impeded by very heavy rainstorms all the way. Long dry river beds in the desert between the foot hills and the sea erupted into life and became raging torrents. On 18 March, at 11 am, the clouds burst over Berbera as troops were marching in, and five and a half inches of rain fell in three and a half hours.15 The camps were ‘knee deep’ in water, and the wall of the fort had to be breached to let
matter rested. But the Colonial Office now took up an idea to use aircraft. It may now, therefore, be useful to leave the sun burning upon the deeply divided and bitterly hostile Somali tribes and the pitiless enmities of the dervishes, and remind ourselves of the previous comment that the Europeans and their offshoots in America had not only left the rest of the world behind in their new sciences and their application of them to the world about them; they were widening the gap at an