Camel Corps

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by BratMedic, Feb 6, 2013.

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  1. img007.jpg
    This photo's caption is: 'The march past of the British Camel Corps in Cairo 1912 (my underlining) to celebrate the King's birthday. It consisted of men from the 1st Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, trained in the Sudan.' Mrs BM's grandfather is one of the riders, Cpl Walter Henry Thorpe 7291. Now I've been asked what engagements they would have fought in. As far as my research goes there was the Somaliland Camel Corps (Constabulary) raised in 1912 who fought at the battle of Dul Madoba and 4 expeditions to find the 'Mad Mullah' or the Imperial Camel Corps raised in 1916. Can any of you experts out there enlighten me on the Camel Corps, be it Somaliland, Imperial or British?
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  2. I'm not an expert, but a few years ago I interviewed a couple (nearly) demented Somali's about their time in the Somaliland Camel Corps and even found a former British officer who was attached to them between 1941-1942. He went on to fight in Burma and received the Burma star. Unfortunuately just before I left Somalia part of the archives from Hargeisa turned up, but I couldn't have a look into them. Will dig out some stuff tonight and see if it's interesting enough to post.
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  3. Bouillabaisse

    Bouillabaisse LE Book Reviewer

    Lawrence of Arabia makes reference to being sent some Indian Army infantrymen who had been trained to camels. Ghurkas, IIRC. So that would Sanai in the run up to Damascus.
  4. My Child, you've asnwered most of your own questions... The Imperial Camel Corps has its own hostory, available from Amazon etc.
  5. A lot of regts had camel mounted infantryman in the campaigns to relieve Khartoum, the battle of Omdurman etc.
  6. Cheers for that Stanley.
  7. Don't thank me yet! I'm very, very sorry but at the moment I can't find a lot of information on the Corps itself. I talked to former members and a former captain of the British army attached to them. Below are a lot of words with little information, but it might give some other info that people wouldn't know otherwise.

    I was there for a completely different project and this came along, rather by accident. It's story in itself I guess, but because it never was my main focus (and I lack a lot of contextual information). Also note: as this was not what my research was about, I haven't checked whether he was indeed commissioned and all that. I was more interested about his time in Mogadishu during the 1990s.

    When I heard of John Drysdale's existence in Hargeisa it took me around two weeks to find him. Though everybody seemed to know he was still alive, no one knew exactly where. Like many things in Somalia it takes days or weeks sometimes to locate: the remains of a Church of England, a still functioning Roman Catholic church hidden behind some grey walls, a small Jewish community, the Common War Graves Cemetery or the location of a former Hindu temple. Locating Drysdale took quite some effort from my local network and I owe them many thanks for their persistence and inquiries.

    Muhammad (one of his carers) told me John Drysdale was old and he wouldn’t see me for more than half an hour due to his deteriorating health. So much to my surprise Drysdale answers the door himself when I arrive at his apartment. On old, frail and very white man. He’s evasive when I ask his age and answers he’s just too old at the moment. During the interview he takes long pauses to dig deep in his memories. Some come easier than others and I realise that I occasionally ask him questions about events that happened nearly 70 years ago.


    In 1942, then British army officer, John Dysdale (1st Battalion Royal Scottish Borderers) was send to Somalia to prepare and train the Somaliland Camel Corps for modern warfare. He arrived in Mombasa by ship and soon a fleet of vehicles took them overland to Hargeisa, the capital of British Somaliland (now the Republic of Somaliland, not recognised as an independent state). It was Drysdale’s first travel outside Europe and he says he was quite overwhelmed by what he encountered especially in Somalia. “They were and still are camel milk drinking people”, he laughs, “Animal husbandry is in their blood. It is strange to see how this country developed in the last few decades. They [Somali’s] may live in cities, but they are still nomads. I’ve told them many times to give it up. Give up the nomadic way of life, build an industry, develop.”

    He was surprised to learn, on his arrival in 1942, that many new recruits of the Somaliland Camel Corps had never held a rifle, let alone fired one. “I first thought it to be a very difficult task to train them how to use a rifle and in what situation. But they were very keen on learning new skills and it turned out it was easy to work with them”. Drysdale remembers the then Somali’s as friendly, hard working and very proud. Many new recruits were put through training though Drysdale doesn’t remember what the exact size of the Corps was at that time.

    In 1943 Drysdale and several other British officers stationed in British Somaliland were send/transferred to Burma. It’s not clear whether the Somaliland Camel Corps or part of it went as well to fight as well. Drysdale says part of it was attached and Somaliland soldiers fought for the British in Burma, but I couldn’t find it in the records. From here it’s a bit confusing for me and several names of Battalions, etc. are mentioned by Drysdale amongst them the 1st Somali Battalion and 11th East Africa Division. I don’t know which one was sent to Burma (through India).

    John Drysdale2.jpg

    Drysdale left the army after the war and worked for/in the Colonial Service in Singapore until 1967. He returned to Somalia soon afterwards and never left. He set up an ordnance survey study group and is probably the First and only one to map Somaliland in that manner. During the 1990s he was an advisor for the Americans in Mogadishu. “The Americans never understood how this country Works and they weren’t interested. They believed the conflict [several conflicts] could be solved by siding with the most influencial clan. Or rather, what they believed to be the most important one.”

    I’ve spoken to Drysdale in 2011 and instead of the half hour I was promised, I spend 3 hours talking with him. Mind you, this guy is/was very, very, very old, spoke very softly and often had to apologise for not remembering certain events. He currently lives in Somaliland and receives a pension from the Somaliland president, has been given an appartment and round the clock carers. He still has family in the UK and he keeps in touch with them. Mainly via skype and email. =-D

    Again, sorry to use so many words and hope you find out more about the different Camel Corps.
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  8. hotel_california

    hotel_california LE Book Reviewer

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  9. Thanks for all the gen lads. Stanley, that interview must have been amazing.
  10. Surely King's Own Scottish Borderers?

    I think some of the former Somaliland Camel Corps may have served in Burma in one of the battalions of the King's African Rifles in 11th East African Div.
  11. Thank you! As I said, I'm not well versed in it and struggled decyphering some of my handwriting.

    Another thanks, I'll have a look into it when I'm back!
  12. 71st Battalion King's African Rifles, which served in Burma with 28 (East African) Infantry Brigade, was recruited in Somaliland.
  13. Pre-war the KAR recruited a lot of Somalis, thye must have been a better lot than the basterds who live in Cardiff.
  14. There weren't any specifically Somali KAR battalions from 1910 (when the original 6th Bn was disbanded) until 1942 (when the 71st and 72nd Bns were raised).

    King's African Rifles Papers

    Somalia - The Warrior Tradition and Development of a Modern Army