British Empire Article


On 4 February a few tribal horsemen reported to Captain Gibb that the Mullah was in Taleh.  He had been followed by some 60 horsemen.  By now Captain Gibb had made contact with the Camel Corps and he went to join them with every available tribal rifleman.  Further information confused the situation and cast doubt as to whether the Mullah was in Taleh.  Akil tribesmen reported that more Dervishes were arriving at Taleh while others reported that the tribal leaders were convinced that the Mullah was in the fort and the whole Dervish force was moving to Taleh.  On 5 February, the Tribal Levy fought with a large force of Dervishes escorting the Mullah’s main caravan.  Amongst the Dervishes killed were Haji Sudi (an ex-naval interpreter), Ibrahim Boghol and other leaders and the captures included 1,400 camels, 450 cows, 50 ponies, 51 rifles and 2,000 rounds of ammunition and 300 camel loads of supplies.  Amongst the personal belongings of the Mullah that were captured were his correspondence, clothing and silver jewellery.  Only a few escaped to the fort.

Then on 8 February it was discovered from informers that the Mullah was indeed at Taleh where he was besieged by 200 levies and also that he intended to break out that very night.  On the next morning the Mullah’s second son, Abdul Rahman Jahid, and his uncle Haji Osman were brought in to the Camel Corps zeriba.  They said that the Mullah had intended to leave the previous night but the presence of the 200 Levies had deterred him but that he was going to leave that night.  Immediately after a conference with Ismay, and without waiting for the Camel Corps, Gibb set off at a cracking pace with his 800 men.  The Camel Corps had only 2 days rations left and a supply column had to be organised to follow them.  Gibb arrived the next afternoon just too late to prevent the escape of the Mullah.  As he arrived at 1730 he heard heavy firing and as he came in sight of the fortifications he could see the Dervishes running back inside while a party of mounted men rode north.  The Mullah had launched a sortie with the garrison to drive back the Levy screen allowing him to break out with an escort of 80 mounted men.  Word was sent to the mounted column, the dust of which was already visible.  Gibb had no mounted men and could not pursue on foot and so he approached the forts and found them lightly held.  He attacked at once and a general panic ensued with men women and children rushing out of the forts.  The remaining 150 or so Dervishes in Taleh put up little resistance and in an hour the Levies captured 40 Dervishes, 4 Arab stonemasons, 600 rifles, 450 camels, 40 ponies and the Mullah’s Turkish advisor, Mohammed Ali as well as hundreds of Dervish women and children.  A few Dervish riflemen fought on alone or in little groups and were either killed or escaped during the night.  One party held on in the immensely strong Taleh fort throwing back two assaults in the night. 

Captain (acting Lieutenant Colonel) H. L Ismay and the Camel Corps caught up with Gibb at Taleh just after dark that same evening.  Right away he sent out a strong patrol to try to find the Mullah’s trail.  However, they failed to do so in the dark and on the hard ground.  Nevertheless he pressed on at dawn on 10 February.  The trail split and rejoined several times.  Well before dawn on 11 February he sent back all but the fittest animals reducing his force to 150 rifles, 3 machine guns and 2 Stokes mortars.  At 1545 he captured a Dervish picket who gave out the information that the Mullah and his escorting horsemen were now only a mile ahead watering at Bihen Nullah.  They caught up with them and in a short action killed 44 including some of the Mullah’s relatives and taking 5 of the Mullah’s wives and 9 of his children.  The following morning, near Gerrowei, Ismay caught up with a party of Dervishes. Leaving 20 men to guard the prisoners, Ismay gave chase and caught them in the broken ground northwest of the Gerrowei stream.  C Company (pony mounted) galloped straight through the Dervish foot warriors holding a narrow neck and joining up with another patrol at Gerrowei continuing in pursuit of the Dervish horsemen.  The horsemen were soon run down and only a few escaped on foot while the footmen at the neck were overrun and most were killed. 

Reports on the exact location of the Mullah were conflicting and when a trail of horse, foot and camels was found to the south heading into the Haud, Ismay gave chase in the hope that it was the Mullah.  This time he took only 20 men on ponies and a camel troop.  These were the only ponies that could raise a speed better than a walk!  The Dervishes turned out to be a group under the Abyssinian Fitaurari (Commander of the Vanguard – a military title) Bayenna who had been a Dervish supporter for some years.  A short action took place and 8 Dervishes were killed and 2 captured.   What Ismay did not know was how close he was to the Mullah who was watching from a nearby hill.  With their mounts spent, Ismay’s troops regrouped at Gerrowei.    Again the Mullah had narrowly escaped his pursuers but at some personal cost.  Some 60 of his personal following had been killed including seven of his sons and seven other close relatives; also four of his kasoosi (immediate advisers and leaders).  Six more of his sons, his five remaining wives, four daughters and two sisters had been captured and only his eldest son, Mahdi, a brother and three or four well known Dervishes had escaped.  His entire party was now reduced to a group of ten hunted men.  The Mullah avoided waterholes, sending the ponies in to be watered under escort and changing location while they were away in case the escort was captured and gave away his position.  In this way he escaped across the Haud into Abyssinian territory.    In the morning they were granted terms and they opened the door and surrendered. Picture and account courtesy of Morval Earth

Captain Allan Gibb Article

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