Camel Corps

#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?
 
#2
Can any of you experts out there enlighten me on the Camel Corps, be it Somaliland, Imperial or British?
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.
 

Bouillabaisse

LE
Book Reviewer
#3
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
#7
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.
Cheers for that Stanley.
 
#8
Cheers for that Stanley.
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.

Drysdale.jpg

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.
 
#10
Thanks for all the gen lads. Stanley, that interview must have been amazing.
 
#11
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.
Surely King's Own Scottish Borderers?



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).
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.
 
#12
Surely King's Own Scottish Borderers?
Thank you! As I said, I'm not well versed in it and struggled decyphering some of my handwriting.





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.
Another thanks, I'll have a look into it when I'm back!
 
#14
Pre-war the KAR recruited a lot of Somalis, thye must have been a better lot than the basterds who live in Cardiff.
 
#15
Pre-war the KAR recruited a lot of Somalis, thye must have been a better lot than the basterds who live in Cardiff.
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

The King's African Rifles was formed in 1902 by the union of other regular colonial regiments in British East Africa. The 1st and 2nd (Nyasaland) Battalions were established from the Central African Regiment, 3rd (Kenya) Battalion from the East Africa Rifles, 4th and 5th (Uganda) Battalions from the Uganda Rifles, and 6th (Somaliland) Battalion from local Somaliland forces. In 1910 this was disbanded, though a 6th (Tanganyika) Battalion emerged in 1917. A further Tanganyika Battalion, the 26th, was founded in 1939. There were three Kenya battalions, the 5th formed in 1916, the 7th in 1952 and the 11th in 1941. The independence of various colonies spelt the end of the regiment as a whole. The 6th and 26th Battalions were redesignated the Tanganyika Rifles in 1961, 4th Battalion the Uganda Rifles in 1962, 3rd, 5th and 11th Battalions the Kenya Rifles in 1963, and 1st Battalion the Malawi Rifles in 1964.

There were approximately a further thirty temporary battalions raised during hostilities, and a territorial unit, the 7th (Uganda Territorial Force) Battalion, 1939-1946.
The Somaliland Camel Corps was formed in 1912 as a response to the rising of Maxamad Cabdulle Xasan (1864-1920), the 'Mad Mullah', but was disbanded in 1940 when the Italians overran British Somaliland. After the British reoccupation, the Corps was reformed with the intention of developing into an armoured car unit. In 1943 a new unit, the Somaliland Scouts, was created from existing companies of Somalis previously assembled for guard and patrol duties. The Somaliland Gendarmerie was also formed, to patrol occupied ex-Italian territory. The Camel Corps mutinied in June 1944 and was disbanded. The Somaliland Scouts continued in service until Somalia's indepence in 1960, when they were handed over to the new government.
Somalia - The Warrior Tradition and Development of a Modern Army

After the battalion left Somalia in December 1900, Captain E.J.E. Swayne raised the Somali Levy, a force that included 1,000 infantry and 500 mounted men commanded by 20 British officers and 50 Punjabi havildars (drill instructors). Armed with Enfield rifles, swords, bayonets, and Maxim guns, the Somali Levy was one of the region's best trained military units. In 1901 the British redesignated the Somali Levy as the 6th King's African Rifles (KAR). They disbanded the unit in 1902, reactivated it in 1903, reorganized it in 1904, and converted it to an all-Indian unit in 1905, when the colonial administration started drafting Somalis into a new standing militia.

Between 1900 and 1904, the British launched four unsuccessful campaigns against Hasan. After 1904 Hasan moved to Italian Somaliland. When he returned to the British sphere in 1909, the colonial administration reinforced the 6th KAR with an Indian battalion; the standing militia and 300 police also supported military operations against Hasan. In 1910, after failing to defeat Hasan, the British relinquished control of the interior, withdrew to the coast, and disbanded the 6th KAR and the standing militia.

For the next two years, British administrators in Somaliland argued for a more assertive policy. Finally, in June 1912 the British government approved the formation of the 150-man Camel Corps, which operated within an eighty-kilometer radius of Berbera to counter Hasan's hit-and-run tactics. There also were 320 Aden troops and 200 Indians from a disbanded contingent of the 6th KAR to support the Camel Corps.

Just before the outbreak of World War I, the British reorganized the protectorate's military establishment. The Camel Corps became the Somaliland Camel Corps. The British also increased the unit's size by enlisting 450 Somalis, with a 150- man Somaliland Indian Contingent in reserve. The authorities organized this force into two camel companies and one cavalry company; eighteen British officers seconded from the Indian and regular armies commanded the force. A 400-man Somaliland Indian Contingent (less 150 assigned to the Somaliland Camel Corps) and a temporary garrison of 400 Indian infantrymen completed the protectorate's military.

In 1920 a combined British land and air offensive--which included the Somaliland Camel Corps, Somaliland Police, and elements from the 2d and 6th KAR and an Indian battalion--finally defeated Hasan's army. Despite this defeat, many Somalis continued to hail Hasan as a warrior hero and the source of modern Somali nationalism. In 1923 the colonial authorities attached the Somaliland Camel Corps to the KAR. The unit, whose nucleus remained non-Somali, relied on Yao askaris (East African native soldiers) from the 1st KAR to fill its ranks. In the early 1930s, the Somaliland Camel Corps consisted of one camel and one pony company, both staffed by Somalis, and one Yao mechanized infantry company.

In 1940 Italian forces overran British Somaliland, which had been defended by the Somaliland Camel Corps and five British, Indian, and African battalions. Before withdrawing from Somaliland, the British disbanded the Somaliland Camel Corps. After defeating the Italians in 1941, the British reformed the Somaliland Camel Corps and created two battalions, the 71st and 72d (Somali) KAR battalions, both of which eventually were disbanded after World War II. In 1943 the colonial authorities converted the Somaliland Camel Corps into an armored car regiment. The following year elements in this unit mutinied; as a result, the British permanently disbanded the Somaliland Camel Corps.
 

oldbaldy

LE
Moderator
#16
Originally Posted by Stanley1975 View Post
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.
Surely King's Own Scottish Borderers?
Thank you! As I said, I'm not well versed in it and struggled decyphering some of my handwriting.
That's a round in the bar in Longueval :)
 

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