The first skirmishes
Aden had been captured and occupied by the British in
1839, and the opening of the Suez Canal 30 years later turned the port into an
important coaling station. Meanwhile
during the 19th Century Turkish armies had been moving down the Red
Sea side of the Arabian peninsula until, in 1872, Turkey occupied the Yemen
(the area also known as North Yemen before the present unification with former
In 1900 trouble occurred between local Humar tribesmen on
the Turkish side of the undefined border and Haushabi tribesmen on the British
side. The leading Humar agitator,
Muhammad Nasir Mukbil, erected a tower on Haushabi territory, levying customs
dues from the local camel caravan traffic.
This tower was 2.5 kilometers west of Dareja. Representations to the Turks fell on deaf
ears as they favoured Mukbil, who was one of their spokesmen in the region,
whilst Haushabi attempts to evict the Humar failed. The importance of this event to the British
was that the tower lay in the territory of the independent Arab tribes who were
in political relations with Great Britain; the Amir of Dhala had requested
support and therefore a British response was needed.
In July 1901 a British force was organised to eject the
Humar from Haushabi territory. The
troops used were:
200 men from the Royal West Kent
200 men from the 5th Bombay
Light Infantry (soon to be re-titled the 105th Mahratta Light
A camel-drawn battery of 7-pounder guns (British
Royal Garrison Artillery gunners and Indian camel drivers).
· the 4th Company, Bombay
Sappers and Miners.
the Aden Troop of cavalry (Indian mounted
Above: Aden Hinterland tribesman with Le Gras rifle
Major W.E. Rowe of the Royal West Kents was appointed as
Force Commander and his orders were to advance through Lahej into the
Hinterland to deal with the situation.
(Interestingly it appears that the Royal West Kents were
serving a punishment posting in Aden. In
his book The Indian Army, Lieutenant
General S.L. Menezes records that in Burma in 1899 a European jury acquitted
some men of the regiment of the gang rape of a Burmese woman, after regimental
officers had withheld evidence likely to lead to the conviction of the accused. Lord Curzon, the new Viceroy of India,
discharged the men from the army, removed the commanding officer, reduced the
Sergeant Major to the ranks, censured the officers, cancelled all leave of the
battalion and moved it to Aden, then the most unpleasant station available to
the Government of India.)
Meanwhile a contingent of regular Turkish troops from Taiz
joined Mukbil to defend the tower; this intervention appears to have been a
result of mis-information supplied by Mukhbil suggesting that the British
intended to invade Turkish territory.
Major Rowe marched his men the 110 kilometres to Dareja, leaving Aden in
a blinding sand-storm on 14th July, the hottest time of the
year. Rowe attacked on 26th
July in very different weather – a downpour of rain. Under covering fire provided by the 7-pounder
guns the Royal West Kents attacked high ground near the tower, whilst the
Bombay Light Infantry attacked and cleared Dareja village. Both attacks succeeded.
The 4th Company, Bombay Sappers & Miners,
under the command of Lieutenant F.P.
Rundle, Royal Engineers, were in support during the attack and then moved
forward to join the British infantry.
However their location was still being swept by fire from nearby high
ground, so the Sappers joined some of the Royal West Kents in occupying another
hill from where enfilade fire drove off the enemy. Again this move was made under the covering
fire of the 7-pounder guns, to which the enemy had no effective reply. Meanwhile the Turks in the tower continued to
By dawn on 27th July the enemy, believed to
number 800 Turks and 1,200 Humaris, had withdrawn into Turkish territory having
lost around 40 men; the British casualties were four men killed and five
wounded. The garrison of the tower had
silently withdrawn during the night so Rundle’s Sappers demolished the
structure, and Rowe’s force returned victoriously to Aden.
Right: The Aden Camel Battery on the march over rough ground
The Boundary Commission and Turkish intransigence
The action at Dareja induced Turkey to request that a
proper frontier be demarcated between the Aden Hinterland and Yemen. A British Commissioner was sent to meet the
Turks at Dhala (Ad Dthala on the map), a disputed area100 kilometres north of
Aden; both sides brought surveyors and escorts that were limited to no more
than 200 men. The British team was led
by Colonel R.A. Wahab CIE, Royal Engineers, an experienced and energetic
boundary delineator, and the leader of the Turkish Commission was Colonel
Mustafa Rienzi. On arrival the British
were surprised to find that the Turks were hostile and had seized the disputed
area, and that Turkish soldiers fired at anybody approaching the proposed
border. Delineation was not
possible. This impasse continued until
in August the British government protested to the Porte (the central government
of the Ottoman Empire); when this protest was ignored a British military show
of force was sanctioned.
One point of view not being taken into account at the time
was that of the Arab inhabitants of the border area in particular, and of Yemen
and British-controlled Aden in general; minor Arab voices were not considered
to be relevant to the negotiations between Britain and Turkey. Whilst important or influential local rulers
were recognised in various capacities and supported by both the Turks and the
British, the lower-level village leaders were just told what was happening, and
they often resented this treatment. Over
the next three years the British were to pay a military price for this policy
during confrontations with disgruntled local tribesmen.
In December 1902 the officer commanding the Aden District,
Lieutenant Colonel H.T. Hicks CB, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, ordered the formation
of a column to be held in readiness to proceed, on field-service scale, from
Aden into the interior of Arabia. On
January 3rd 1903 the Aden Column left its assembly point at Sheikh
Othman, 16 kilometres from Aden. The
Column Commander was Lieutenant Colonel F.P. English, Royal Dublin Fusiliers,
and his troops were:
-225 men including 12 signallers and two
Maxim machine guns from the 2nd Battalion the Royal Dublin
-200 men from the 102nd King
Edward’s Own Grenadiers.
-80 men from No. 45 Company, Royal
Garrison Artillery with two -7-pounder mountain guns and four 9-pounder guns.
-25 horsemen and 12 camelmen from the Aden
Troop of cavalry.
-A large detachment of No. 3 Company (soon
to be re-titled the 19th Company), Bombay Sappers and Miners with a
-one Section from No. 16 British Field
-one Section from No. 68 Native Field
The Column Standing Orders reflected the environmental
considerations in the theatre:
COLUMN STANDING ORDERS BY
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL F. P. ENGLISH, COMMANDING
1. Water. It is anticipated that in all
probability it will be difficult to obtain good drinking water in sufficient
quantities on some of the marches into the interior. All ranks are therefore
cautioned to husband their
drinking water as much as possible. Troops and followers should be forbidden to
draw water from the camel tanks (metal water tanks loaded onto camels) without
permission from the officer in charge, and be cautioned against drinking water
from any but authorised sources, as some of the water on the route is brackish
and liable to bring on diarrhoea.
Each unit will detail an
officer or selected Non Commissioned Officer to be in charge of the water
camels, who will see that their supply is only drawn on by order of the officer
commanding, and that great care is taken to prevent wastage. Whenever possible,
water tanks and bottles should be replenished; halts will be made for this
purpose. Water-bottles will be filled overnight. On arrival in camp, the sources
of water supply will be pointed out by the staff officer, and sentries posted
to see that the right people draw from the right source.
2. Country and Inhabitants. It should be
remembered that the country through which the column will march to Dthala is in
the British Protectorate, and that the inhabitants and their property must not
be interfered with. All supplies must be paid for, and foraging is strictly
3. Camps. On arrival at the camping-places, the
staff officer will point out the sites for the camps of the different units to
N.C.O.'s detailed for that purpose. Officers commanding units will see that their
respective camping-grounds are cleared up before departure.
4. Transport. On arrival in camp the (camel) transport
in charge of each unit will be picketed near its camp.
5. Order of March and Baggage. Each unit will be
complete in itself, being followed by first line transport:
All followers not required
with the above are to accompany the baggage of their corps. The transport
officer will act as baggage-master, and all baggage-followers and
baggage-guards will be under his orders. He will see that the baggage moves off
the ground in the following order;
hospital with its baggage in rear of fighting portion of column; -ammunition
second reserve and ordnance park; -staff
baggage, including supplies; -regimental
baggage with supplies in regimental charge in order of march of unit; -supply
animals in transport charge; -rearguard.
(By order) S. M. EDWARDS DSO, Major, 102nd
King Edward’s Own Grenadiers.
Staff Officer Aden Column.
The march to Dhala took seven days to complete. Water on the route was not always sufficient
to satisfy the needs of the entire column and its transport animals, so the
102nd Grenadiers and the Native Field Hospital marched a day behind the
European troops to allow natural replenishment of wells and pools.
The Aden Column spent the remainder of January building
defences around its camp at Dhala. Three
kilometres distant at Jaleli (Al Jalela on the map) was an entrenched Turkish
force of 400 infantry, 25 cavalry and four guns, and Colonel Wahab advised that
the political situation was very tense.
By early March the column had been strengthened by the arrival of :
-the 1st Battalion The
Hampshire Regiment. -the 123rd Outram’s Rifles. -the 30th (Abbottabad) Mountain
Battery of six 2.5-inch screw (jointed barrel) guns. -a section of two 7-pounder camel-packed
guns manned by men of the Royal Garrison Artillery. -Later No. 6 British Mountain Battery with six brand-new
jointed barrel 10-pounder guns also joined the column.
Right: Dhala Town
The first detachment of Hampshires to arrive relieved the
Fusiliers, but during February the situation appeared to be deteriorating and
the Fusiliers were turned around on their march back to Aden, and they returned
to Dhala. At sea two cruisers from the
British Mediterranean Squadron were despatched to Aden. On the more southern Wadi Tiban route to
Yemen, 400 British infantry, two 9-pounder field guns and two 7-pounder camel
guns were stationed at the commanding Dar Aqqan post.
This British demonstration of strength succeeded as in
mid-March the Turks received orders from the Porte to withdraw from Jaleli to
Kataba. On 22nd March Major
W.S. Delamain and his 123rd Rifles occupied Jaleli and hoisted the
British Ensign under a salute from the troops; spectators included the Resident
and military commander in Aden, Brigadier General P.J. Maitland CB, and a large
gathering of local tribesmen.
Above: The Camel Battery in Action.
On 27th April 100 Fusiliers, 100 of the 123rd
Rifles and two guns of No. 6 Mountain Battery advanced under the command of
Colonel English to occupy Sanah, three kilometres from Qatabah, where they
stayed until 11th July whilst Colonel Wahab continued his
delineation work. Small punitive
expeditions were now mounted out of Dhala against tribesmen who sniped at
British troops, ambushed small convoys and camelmen carrying mail to and from
Aden, and stole British mules or camels.
The tribesmen had efficient rifles as French arms traders in Djibouti
just across the Gulf of Aden were extremely active. These expeditions targeted recalcitrant
villagers by blowing up towers, demolishing villages and destroying
coffee-gardens. On one of these forays
against the village of Dabra the new 10-pounder mountain guns were brought into
action for the first time anywhere in the world, destroying a tower. Meanwhile the main military effort around
Dhala went into road-making and securing the border delineation team.
Military operations intensify
By August 1903 feelings were running high on both sides
and Arab attacks on British positions intensified. On 13th September a large attack
was made on 100 of the Hampshires who were escorting a working party at Awabil;
for a time the British struggled but eventually the attackers were driven
off. The British had lost one man killed
and 5 wounded, whilst the attackers under Saleh bin Umr suffered 20 killed and
more wounded; Saleh bin Umr had previously received a stipend from the Turkish
authorities, but the new border delineation placed him on the British side of
the line and without the stipend.
Right: Sulaiq Fort
On 5th October Colonel English set out with a
200-man column with guns to punish the village of Naklain in the Danbari region
of the Radfan country, south-east of Dhala. (This was a prelude to the Radfan campaign
fought over 60 years later by the British Army against similar opponents.) After a 32 kilometre approach march from As
Suk that included fighting through a gorge where the British artillery was
decisive in removing snipers, Naklain was reached and the buildings destroyed
by gun-cotton. The crops were destroyed
using bayonets and swords whilst the gunners shelled isolated houses; during
this time the tribesmen, who had not expected that a reprisal could be delivered
on their remote village, continued sniping from a distance. Then a fighting withdrawal commenced back
through the gorge to As Suk, during which the British lost three men killed,
eight wounded and six who needed carrying back because they suffered from
sun-stroke. Colonel English then marched
his column back to Aden as the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was departing for
Left: Cultivators with fortified towers on the skyline.
At the end of October the Kotaibi tribe attacked the
Sulaiq post, south-east of Dhala; this was garrisoned by Captain F.L.
Lloyd-Jones, 113th Infantry attached to 102nd Grenadiers,
and 70 of the 102nd Grenadiers.
Colonel R.I. Scallon, 123rd Outram’s Rifles, marched 300
British and Indian infantry with two guns to the relief of the post, where
Captain Lloyd-Jones was severely wounded; the Kotaibis were pushed back into
Fighting continued around Sulaiq for several days and on 1st
November 550 British and Indian infantry advanced to capture Kariati. Two hundred men of the Hampshires marched up
in support and they became involved in heavy fighting in the Bujer Valley. During a confrontation enemy horsemen were
mistaken for friendly levies and allowed to ride near to the Hampshires before
firing into the British ranks; two awards were later made for gallantry
displayed during the serious fighting that followed as the Hampshires withdrew.
After destroying many towers and occupying several villages the Sulaiq garrison
was strengthened and this column marched back to Dhala on 15th
November. It was estimated that during
these operations the tribes had lost 200 men killed whilst the British had lost
10 killed and 21 wounded, including another officer.
above: questioning a deserter
Meanwhile the Boundary Commission proceeded with its work,
marking the new boundary with stone cairns as it advanced, and in early
February 1904 it entered the Subaihi country.
As this tribe was considered to be very hot-tempered a strong British
supporting column was stationed at Musaimir whilst the Subaihi Column of 600
infantry, including men of the Buffs (the East Kent Regiment), and two guns was
formed in Aden under the command of Major E.E. Ravenhill of the Buffs. This column marched to garrison Khatabia and
the show of force prevented further serious fighting. A delineation hold up occurred over a tower
near Mufalis but a mutually satisfactory solution saw the sappers demolishing
the tower and the owner receiving British compensation.
Things now quietened down, apart from the murder of a
British Political Officer by a local police corporal. In early April many British military units
returned to Aden, leaving a garrison at Dhala whilst the 94th
Russell’s Infantry supported the boundary delineation programme. As Colonel Wahab completed the south-western
stretch of the border that ran down to the sea his base was located on the
coast at Ras Ara, 110 kilometres west of Aden.
On 23rd May 1904 Colonel Wahab and his team returned to Aden
and proceeded to Perim Island to complete matters with the Turkish
Commissioners. The Boundary Commission
and its military escorts had completed a difficult task over very demanding
terrain and in sometimes violent circumstances.
Only ten years later British and Turkish troops would be confronting
each other outside Aden as the Great War developed.
Above: Boundary Commission camp on Dhala Plateau.
A campaign medal was not issued, much to the
disappointment of all of the troops involved, but the operations undertaken
counted as War Service.
Companion of the Most
Honourable Order of the Bath (CB)
Colonel and Brevet Colonel Robert Irvine
Scallon CIE, DSO, 123rd Outram’s Rifles.
Later Colonel Scallon published in Battalion Orders: ‘The distinction granted to the Commanding Officer is intended
less as a reward to him personally than an acknowledgement of His Majesty’s
appreciation of the good hard work done by the officers and men of the 123rd
Rifles. Colonel Scallon feels very
sensible that it is to the loyal way he has been supported by all ranks since
he took over command, and to the reputation the officers and men have made for
the 123rd Rifles, he owes this honour, and he much regrets that he
alone has been rewarded. Colonel Scallon thanks one and all for the coveted
honour they have obtained for him.’
of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG)
Lieutenant Colonel and Brevet Colonel Robert Alexander
Wahab, RE, CIE, for services in connection with the delimitation of the
Companions of the
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
Lieutenant George Stewart Symes, 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, displayed great coolness and gallantry on
the 7th November when a body of Khataibis suddenly opened fire on the Hampshire
detachment at short range, causing a momentary confusion. Lieutenant Symes
carried Private Treadwell back some 30 yards under a hot fire at close quarters
when the latter was wounded and unable to move, Lieutenant Symes being at the
time practically alone.
Major E. E. Ravenhill, 1st
Battalion, East Kent Regiment (The Buffs). He commanded the Subaihi Column to my entire satisfaction.
Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel F.
P. English, 2nd Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, who commanded the force which successfully
attacked and destroyed the village of Nakhlen.
Major W. S. Delamain, 123rd
commanded the escort of the Boundary
Commission for about eight months, during which time the Commission marched
from Kotaba to the coast, a distance of at least 160 miles. He has been highly
spoken of by Colonel Wahab in his letter to the Government of India dated 10th
June, 1904. Brevet
Major George Cecil Dowell,
Royal Artillery, to be Lieutenant
Colonel. Dated 19th January
1905. Commanded No. 6 Mountain Battery throughout. His battery was in excellent
order, and rendered most efficient service during the Kotaibi Expedition.
Conduct Medal (DCM)
4715 Lance Corporal C.E. Dicker, 1st Battalion the Hampshire
Regiment, in recognition of his gallant conduct
Below: Medals to C.E. Dicker - Photograph kindly supplied by the owner of the medals, The Royal
Hampshire Regiment Museum, Serles House, Southgate Street, Winchester,
Mentions in Despatches (MiD),
except those already listed above, made by Major General P.J. Maitland CB:
Captain E. A. F. Redl, 113th
Infantry, was Intelligence Officer with the
Boundary Commission, and his services in that capacity have been brought to
notice by Colonel Wahab. He was placed at my disposal for the Kotaibi
Expedition, and did excellent work in charge of the supply and transport
Captain A. F. Shewell, 123rd
Rifles, who was in command of the
post at Awabil when it was attacked by the Yaffais on the 13th September, 1903.
He afterwards did good work with his regiment in the Kotaibi Expedition.
Captain F. L. Lloyd-Jones,
113th Infantry, attached lO2nd Grenadiers, who
was in command of Sulek Post when it was attacked by the Kotaibis from 25th to
29th October, 1903, and who was severely wounded in the action of the 29th
Lieutenant J. Macpherson,
Indian Medical Service, was Medical
Officer with the advanced force during the expedition against the Kotaibis. He
is a hardworking and skilful medical officer, and his arrangements for the care
of the wounded and sick were very good.
Major J. R. B. Davidson, Royal
Garrison Artillery, was of great service to me as
Road Commandant, and deserves credit for rapidly refitting the camel battery
with the 7.5 gun.
Major A. F. Pullen, Royal
Garrison Artillery, who succeeded
Major Davidson as Road Commandant when the latter took command of the Royal
Garrison Artillery in Aden, and who acted as my staff officer during' the