The history of jubbaland,short story about the cawlyahan(ogadeen) and their war of freedom against the british empire.
Mentioned in despatches for Jubaland 1917-18.
By Keith Steward FRGS
Army Order 95 of 1919 states that His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to
approve the award of the Africa General Service Medal for operations in Jubaland 1917-18.
The award is granted to all officers and men who served under the command of Lieut.
Colonel WEH Barrett, King’s African Rifles; Major EGM Porcelli, Duke of Cornwall’s
Light Infantry; Captain JF Wolseley-Bourne or Captain O Martin, King’s African Rifles. The
operations were against the Northern Aulihan tribe in the area west of the Juba River and
north east of a line Waregta-Lak Abaleni-Lorian Swamp-Eil Wak-Dolo, between the 23rd
July, 1917 and the 24th March 1918.
Many military historians will respond in the ‘Who, Where? Why? What When?’ Manner to
this statement; the Juba River is in East Africa, Kismayu, a coastal town some 400 miles
north east of Mombasa is the best local reference. It is in what was then called Italian
Somaliland. ‘On the withdrawal of most of the regular troops from Jubaland in 1914, an
Armed Constabulary was formed, mainly mounted on camels. Considering the recent
history of the tribes in the northern part of Jubaland1 it was hardly to be expected that the
situation created by the war (the withdrawal of regular troops) would not result in further
A British officer, Lieutenant Elliott commanding the local Constabulary at Serenli was
brutally attacked and killed along with 35 African police, 7 others were wounded, 3 deserted
and some 50 villagers were also murdered. The local warlord Abdurraham Mursaal, had
tricked Lieutenant Elloitt into disarming his constables when they were ‘off duty.’ On night of
2nd/3rd February 1916, an unexpected and carefully planned attack caught the small Police
force unawares. The unarmed off duty askaris were not able retrieve their rifles which were
locked in the guardroom. Finally, to make matters worse, ‘a great quantity of loot, including a
machine gun, 50 rifles and 300 hundred boxes of ammunition’. 3As no troops were available
the raids and reprisals continued throughout the year. ‘It was in these circumstances that the
decision taken, as part of the general policy for expansion of the KAR to include a new
battalion for the defence of Jubaland and the NFD (Northern Frontier District). 5. KAR
therefore came into being under the command of Lieut. Colonel WEH Barrett (Reserve of
The interesting aspect of this incident to military historians is the awarding of the Africa
General Service Medal as a separate medal issue while the First World War was still in
progress. Only six clasps to the medal were awarded during the period 1914-19, (Shimber-
Berris 1914-15, East Africa 1915, Nyasaland 1915, Jubaland 1917-18, East Africa 1918 and
Nigeria 1918). The reason for the separate medal issue was that the campaign fell within the
remit for the award of the Africa General Service Medal and was not concerned in any way
with the war against the Germans. It was on each occasion given to African troops under the
command of British Officers & a few civilians who responded to the violence and civil
disturbance of a number disaffected Africans. The grievances were concerned with the
uninvited occupation of tribal land by the foreign colonising power. It was felt that the time
was right for opposition to British rule while the armed forces (Kings African Rifles in East
Africa & the West Africa Frontier Force in West Africa) available were diverted fighting
against the Germans.
The prime source for the details of the part of the campaign, on which this paper is based, is a
ten-page report written by Major Porcelli (DCLI) OC Troops, Jubaland to the Assistant
Commandant, the King’s African Rifles, and dated March 19185. For an overall coverage of
the Jubaland 1917-18 campaign, the reader is referred to Lieut.Colonel Moyse-Bartlett’s
book. As his book does not include much detail that follows, it is probable that Colonel
Moyse-Bartlett did not have access to Major Porcellis report. The copy in the Public Record
Office was only made available in xxxx. However, the Colonel was clearly able to use other
material not yet discovered by the present author.
This paper is principally concerned with three things; the details of a patrol commanded by
Captain O Martin (Special List) between 20th December 1917 and 20th February 1918.
Second the process that subsequently led to awarding a mention in despatches to four of the
officers involved in the patrol and third listing the names of those Europeans who received
the clasp to the AGS Jubaland 1917-18. Three African NCOs from the KAR received the
Distinguished Conduct Medal for this campaign. 1 These were very well deserved as
outstanding soldering was a characteristic of this patrol. In several cases this was while under
the command of a senior African NCO, without a British Officer being present.
As a result of the affirmative action taken by Lieut. Colonel WEH Barrett to re-occupy
Serenli in September 1917, the rebel leader Geydu Aulihan had been defeated. Spies
however reported that the Auhilan were divided about whether to submit to British authority
or continue with their rebellion. The difficulty arose from the fact that submission involved a
heavy fine of cattle that had to be paid. A large party of the disaffected Aulihan led by Rer
Afgab and Rer Wafatu decided to break out of Serenli via Damassa. This they did in
November 1917 and headed in the direction the Juba River, camping in the area around Jabir
and Sereneli. Captain O Martin was ordered to obtain scouts, reliable guides, baggage camels
and local Marehan Levies in readiness for pursuit of the rebels.
When it was reported that the rebel Aulihan were in a position to cross the Juba River south
of Sereneli, Captain Martin was ordered to intercept them. Leaving a small garrison at Garba
Harre under the command of Lieutenant Gutsell, he proceeded to make contact. A further
two British officers, a BNCO and 100 rank and file from 1/6th KAR were sent to Jabir to
cover the southern approach of the Aulihan. A further detachment of 1/6th KAR had left their
station on December 20th, but high floodwater prevented their crossing the River Juba and
they were forced to return to Yonti.
In order to cut-off the Aulihan from escaping north-eastwards, Major Porcelli contacted the
Italian authorities across the border in Somaliland. Italian co-operation was requested and
immediately forthcoming. Three hundred troops under Major Chiampo and Lieutenants
Speggioni, Piazza, Gotti and Costa were detached. The Italians were asked to prevent the
Aulihan from seeking refuge in their territory. The Italian troops were posted on the opposite
bank of the Juba at Awaila, Anola and near Salugli, with patrols covering the area from Afia
to Dujima from December 15th 1917. Captain Osborn and Lieutenant Erskine then crossed
the Juba to Bardera and devised a scheme for co-ordinating the two forces.
Major Porcelli then gave Captain Martin the following broad instructions.
1. Captain Martin was instructed not to delay his attack of the Auhilan as their means of
escape was now blocked with the disposition of the Italian forces.
2. Captain Martin was also advised that secrecy, surprise and rapidity of movement were
important, as the Auhilan was a highly mobile force.
3. Once defeated in battle, the enemy was to be continually harassed and their stock
prevented from watering.
4. A two-column approach was to be adopted one operating inland patrolling the area
Hafanli, Fafadun, Bosha and Merjissa. The other was patrol close to the riverbank.
5. Karao, Afia and the Garba Harre road were to be kept under surveillance to prevent
escape by the dissidents’ northwards.
6. The El Wak garrison was to be kept informed of the Auhilans movements in case they
were required to blockade them.
7. Every endeavour was to be made to capture the ringleaders, Abdurhaman Mursal and
Gabodi Abdi in particular.
8. Only unconditional surrender was to be accepted, and this only after the capture of most
of the enemy cattle and the killing of the rebel fighting troops.
9. At least 14 days rations were to taken to the advanced base at qqqq …and arrangements
made to obtain fresh supplies from Sereneli.6
The inland column under Colour Sergeant Farah Rageh of G Company was sent out on the
night of December 20th/21st for Karap. There were 30 rank & file (15 from G Company & 15
mounted infantry), with 230 Marehan riflemen and 45 spearmen. Their instructions were to
move parallel with the river Juba. No 2 column left the following morning. The following
officers were in the group under Captain Martin, Captain J Osborn, Lieutenants EN Erskine,
EM Ritchie, CF Henry, Captain Welch (Medical Officer) and Native Officer Abdi Sheriff
Ahmed. There were 60 Somali rank & file from G and the mounted infantry company, 120
Swahili’s from C & E companies, 24 Government Somali Scouts (Illaloes), 18 rank and file
from F company, 300 Marehan Levies and two Lewis guns.
Number 2 column proceeded down the Juba River as far as Malkaadi, halting on the 22nd to
await the arrival of the inland party. Later news reached the camp that No 1 column had
captured a large quantity of enemy camels, but was being attacked by Auhilan in force. The
Marehan Levies had bolted, but the KAR troops were holding firm. Immediately, Captain
Martin despatched 30 Somali Riflemen under Colour Sergeant Mohamed Amiashi and a
further 150 Marehan Levies to Hafalani, six hours march away. The inland column (Colour
Sergeant Fareh Rageh) having driven off the tribesmen succeeded in reaching Hafalani the
following morning. Shortly afterwards some 2000 camels were captured as they came to
water. Colour Sergeant Farah Rageh decided to drive them on to Serenli, but was waylaid by
a strong force (estimated at several hundred) of Aulihan. A running fight lasting several hours
ensued. Once again the Marehan Levies proved to be absolutely useless and bolted. Heavily
outnumbered (Colour Sergeant Mohamed Ainashi’s force had not yet caught up), the small
KAR force adopted the tactic of laying prone on the sand & volley firing as the tribesmen
approached. Over fifty of the Aulihan were killed and many wounded. Again the levies did
not perform at all well, and almost without exception ran away. They lost 17 killed and many
wounded. In many cases they had been stabbed in the back as they fled. It was of course
quite impossible to keep hold of 2000 camels in those circumstances and only 160 actually
reached Serenli. No 1 column after handing over the camels re-joined No2 column at
On December 24th 1917, scouts working for the KAR discovered the main body of the
enemy force at Hagagabli. Enemy snipers also became something of a nuisance, seriously
wounding KAR picquets on several occasions. To counter this and prevent the Aulihan
collecting camels straying in the direction of the river, an ambush was laid on the 25th
December. It was successful, four tribesmen were killed and several wounded. No 4534
Corporal Jama Mohamed of G Company had a narrow escape, severely wounded he was
stabbed by an Aulihan with his own bayonet. A Government scout Samanter Aden bravely
rushed forward and wounded the tribesman before he could kill the corporal.
On the night of December 25th/26th, Captain Martin, Lieutenant EM Ritchie, Lieutenant
Erskine and 90 rank and file (G Company & Mounted Infantry Company) with one Lewis
gun left Malkaadi and set out for Hagagabli. The rest, a 120 Somalis (C and E Companies)
under Captain Osborn, Lieutenant Henry, Captain Welch (Medical Officer) and Native
Officer Abdi Sheriff Admed and the transport camels followed at dawn on the 26th. At 2-30
am the enemy picquet fired on Captain Martins column and shortly afterwards attacked on
both flanks. Unencumbered by baggage camels, the small force was able to deploy with
great flexibility. Lieutenant Erskine had devised a fitting, which when attached to a mule
saddle, meant that the Lewis gun could be brought into action in seconds rather than minutes.
A steady fire was maintained until dawn. Seeing that the Government Boma at Hagagabli
was in the hands of the enemy, Captain Martin ordered a bayonet charge. The tribesmen fled.
The small KAR force had been lucky, though heavily out numbered the Aulihan rifle fire had
been wild and high. It was another example that casualties can be avoided when troops lie
down and fire from the forward prone position. The second party under Captain Osborn
arrived a few hours later unmolested.
Scouts later reported that water was to be found at Fafadun, west of Hagagabli. Anticipating
that the Aulihan would want to take advantage of this, it was decided to leave Captain
Osborn with C and E companies at Hagagabli, while Captain Martin with the rest of the
force went to intercept the recalcitrant tribesmen. Two Lewis guns mounted on mules and
five days rations were taken. After a forced march of 11 hours, two Aulihan prisoners were
taken. They were persuaded to guide the Captain Martins force to the village of Sheik Hajji
Abdurhaman Mursal, the Aulihan leader. The village was approached unobserved, but fire
discipline was not maintained by the Marehan Levies and before the village could be
effectively surrounded, the enemy fled and there leader escaped into the bush. All
Abderhaman’s personal property including his flag, documents and ammunition was left
behind in the panic. Also, many of Lieutenant Elliott’s personal effects were recovered
including his field glasses, thermos flask and some clothing. The village was burnt, 3000
goats killed, (as it was impossible to herd them) and 1233 camels were taken away.
Anticipating that the enemy would not expect the troops to return to Hafanli, Captain Martin
with his Somalis did exactly that. The Aulihan were caught unprepared in the process of
watering the herds. A short action followed which culminated with the KAR charging the
enemy with fixed bayonets. A further 600 camels were taken. Lieutenant EM Ritchie was
then sent with 50 Mounted Infantry and the captured stock on to Sereneli. Captain Martin,
Lieutenants Erskine and Henry with the remaining 47 KAR and two Lewis guns continued
to track the main enemy force. Further small actions followed over the next few weeks,
which resulted in the capture of more camels and various minor chiefs. Colonel Barrett’s
orders to punish the Aulihan very severely and to take Abdurhaman Mursal prisoner before
accepting any surrender were strictly followed.
At this stage in the campaign, the weather became a factor, the heavy rains were expected in
March: once these started finding the Auhilan would become much more difficult (due to the
wider availability of water for the cattle). It was thought that their escape would be made
northwards. The Italian Resident, at Margarita sent word that Abdurhaman Mursal had
crossed the Juba River with a small group of followers proceeding towards Lugh.
Meanwhile Lieutenant Erskine after arresting a further 16 chiefs had also captured 3000
camels and returned to Sagugli with his patrol. Some Auhilan were however still hiding in
the bush. It was thought that others who were supposed to have surrendered were supplying
them with water and ammunition. A patrol lead by Captain Martin and Lieutenant Ritchie
with 40 men attacked the Rer Afgab (3 hours from Salugli) on the night of 24th/25th January.
During this action, twenty villages were burnt, water holes destroyed and some 1400 camels
The final statistics for the campaign were: Auhilan dead counted on the field 92 (although the
tribe estimated a figure of well over 300); largebore rifles taken 402; Government rifles
recaptured (from Lieutenant Elliott’s disaster) 32; ammunition taken 16, 000 rounds; Maxim
gun recaptured in good condition (Lieut. Elliott’s). In addition, over 5000 camels were taken
to Sereneli (this is excluding those claimed by the Government fine). Captain Martin had
achieved this result with only five British Officers and 96 Somali troops (G and the MI
Company) supported by just over 100 Swahali troops and the rather useless Marehan Levies.
The latter had continuously proven their unreliablability under fire.