Camel Corps in 1921
At the end of
1920 His Excellency The Governor of Somalia, Sir Geoffrey Archer, embarked on
cost-cutting and revenue-raising activities.
He successfully argued that Dervishism had been overthrown and so the
Indian contingent in the Somaliland Camel Corps (SCC) was declared redundant
and warned-off for return to India. This left the SCC at a planned strength of
300 mounted Somalis with one base at Hargeisa.
It was maintained that as there was no external threat internal troubles
could be countered by mobilizing reservists and calling upon tribal
levies. His Excellency also wished to
raise revenue by the introduction of a poll tax. Neither of His Excellency’s policies were
properly thought out, but Whitehall
and its place-men wanted efficiency savings plus increased revenue, and that
was all that mattered.
quickly displayed towards the poll tax.
Inhabitants of the town of Adadleh
were prominent in their refusal to pay, and in early September 1921 the SCC
(which at that time still included some Indian Sepoys) encircled Adadleh,
issued a warning, fired Stokes mortar bombs into the town and then burned
property. Only around 40% of the bombs
detonated and one detonated prematurely killing three Sepoys. However morale and discipline within the SCC
was maintained throughout.
Above: Somali Camel Corps on parade
The shooting of Captain Allan Gibb DSO DCM
became a centre for dissent against the poll-tax. His Excellency was in the town on 24th
February 1922 discussing the question of the tax with leading local Somalis
when an affray took place between the Rer Segullah and Akils of other Burao
tribes. Captain Allan Gibb DSO DCM, an
officer in the Civil administration, was in Burao at the time. Allan Gibb had served throughout the Great
War firstly in the SCC and then as Commander of the Tribal levies. He went forward with his interpreter to the
Tug southwest of Burao Fort to halt the disturbances. A Corporal from the SCC, in civilian clothes
because he was on leave, ran forward to warn of the mood of the crowd and the
danger of approaching armed tribesmen.
Undeterred Allan Gibb went forward and was immediately shot dead.
As a security
measure all Europeans now entered Burao Fort which was occupied at the time by
“B” Company SCC. His Excellency wired
SCC Headquarters at Hargeisa instructing that all other available men move to
Burao. By this time all the Sepoys in the
SCC had been re-patriated to India.
“B” Company SCC was then ordered out of the fort to take action in aid of the
civil power against the killers of Captain Gibb. When ordered to open fire on hostile
inhabitants of Burao the “B” Company soldiers declined to do so.
This refusal to
obey orders caused consternation in Whitehall
and throughout the Protectorate. The 41st
Dogras (Indian Army) were immediately moved over from Aden
to garrison the forts and to protect the Europeans in Somaliland. The subsequent Court of Inquiry recorded its
opinion that Somali troops could be relied upon to enforce a government fine of
stock (as they later did in collection of a fine imposed as a result of Captain
Gibb’s death), but that without support from a foreign garrison Somali troops
could not be entirely relied upon for every kind of service required of them
within the Protectorate.
The selection of Yao Askari from Nyasaland
makers now decided to disband “B” Company SCC and replace it with a company of
Yao Askari from the 1st King’s African Rifles (1KAR). 1KAR, a Nyasaland-based regiment, was at that
time garrisoning Nyasaland and western Tanganyika
Territory and it had two companies
recruited from the Yao
tribe. From these a composite company
was formed of 3 British officers, 125 Askari, 1 African clerk and one African
hospital-dresser. The selection of Yaos was an interesting
one as the tribe did not herd stock apart from a few goats, and it did not have
a word for camel in its language.
Nevertheless the Yaos
made splendid soldiers and were physically strong, loyal, disciplined and
troops had previously served in the Protectorate with distinction during the
Dervish campaigns. Each Askari was
allowed to take one wife and one child-in-arms.
disbanded the old Somali “B” Company, discharging many men and posting the
remainder to “A” Company which remained purely Somali. When the Yao
company arrived it was titled “B” (Nyasaland)
Company, Somaliland Camel Corps, King’s African Rifles. Within three months, and with the help of
Somali experts, the Yaos
learned about camels and how to ride, manoeuvre, care for, water, feed and
generally look after them. The company’s
two Vickers machine guns and three Lewis Guns were all successfully carried and
brought into action on camels. “B”
Company quickly learned the rules and procedures of military support in aid of
the civil power and became adept at capturing livestock and burning tents and
shelters when ordered to do so.
The operation at Baran
in June 1925 involving “B” (Nyasaland) Company
was a little more serious. Sultan Isman
Mahmud ordered some of his Northern Mijjertein
tribesmen to repair and occupy an old fort at Baran on the as yet undemarcated
border with Italian-controlled territory.
There were sound political and commercial reasons behind this action of
the Sultan’s as the fort controlled the only waterhole for a considerable
distance. The fort itself was very
strongly constructed with stone walls to a depth of four and a half feet containing
cunningly-sited loopholes. A well was located
inside the fort. The powers-that-be in British Somaliland decided that the Sultan’s men had to
be evicted and the fort destroyed, and a force was raised comprised of:
Officers Somaliland Camel Corps with 150 Rank
and File of the Camel Corps
1 Medical Officer 1 Political Officer 50 Police and Illaloes (tribal
On the approach
of the SCC the fort’s defenders withdrew to occupy commanding ground
nearby. The 12-pounder, which was an old
naval gun hauled by six mules and manned by camel-mounted Somalis from “A”
Company SCC, came into action and deeply impressed the Mijjertein. The Camel Corps soldiers dismounted and
captured the commanding ground, killing one Mijjertein in the process. The fort was now demolished by using 120
pounds of gun cotton that had been brought for the purpose. The force then withdrew to a suitable
location about three miles south of the fort to build a defensive camp with a
stone breastwork, and awaited a response from the Mijjertein. No reponse came (except from the Italians who
were irate) and so after a month on the ground the SCC withdrew from Buran.
Above: The 12 Pounder Gun in Action
In 1931 “B” (Nyasaland) Company SCC was motorized. In 1940 when the British Forces withdrew from
Somaliland as a consequence of the Italian invasion 2nd King’s
African Rifles (2KAR), a Nyasaland regiment that had been fighting in the
Protectorate, took “B” Company SCC with it to Aden and incorporated the
Nyasaland SCC Askari into 2KAR. The Link
between Nyasaland and the Somaliland Camel
Corps was finally terminated.
Public Record Office file CO 1069/13 Part 1
(photographs and notes by the first officer commanding “B” (Nyasaland) Company SCC).
Public Record Office file WO 106/272 (Digest of History of Somaliland Camel
The King’s African Rifles by H. Moyse-Bartlett. Re-published by
Naval & Military Press in paperback.
(Edited versions of this article have appeared in
recent copies of the Journals of the Anglo-Somali Society and The King’s African
Rifles and East African Forces Association.)