from ‘The Graphic’, March 20, 1915'
'How France Found Her Black Legions'
by S. L. Bensusan

The French Colonial Army

left : from a French children's magazine
right : from a popular magazine cover


I once asked a German merchant why Germany was prepared to risk a war about Morocco while peace would still leave her the open door for commerce. He replied that the French colonial and commercial record showed that treaties were not observed, and went on to say that, quite apart from the business aspect, there was a political side that could not be overlooked. "France has a stationary or falling birth- rate, and cannot maintain an army equal to ours. But if she gains Morocco she can in time muster a million first-class fighting men. Algeria and Senegal have produced some good material. Morocco, as you know, will vield even better soldiers, for the Moors are born fighters, whose guns are always ready, while in Senegal, as in Algeria, you find no fighting to-day."

I do not think this side of the question was before the public in 1911, but it played no small part in shaping German policy. The Moor is the fruit of the union of the Berbers, fighting men who claim descent from the tribes driven out by Joshua, and the equally warlike Arabs who swarmed westward after the advent of Mohammedanism. They have something of the quality of both stocks, and in no corner of the African continent has the struggle between ruler and ruled been more persistent. Moorish Sultans have spent years of their lives leading armies against tribes that have defied their authority, the most vigorous being found along the At las range and on the hills overlooking the Mediterranean. Some of these unconquered tribes still defy the ruling power. With them strife is the breath of life; they are never so happy as when "the powder is speaking," and though in the day of the gas-pipe-barrel guns they could not do much harm, they have of late years acquired a few modern rifles and some skill in their use.

Before the Algeciras Conference, or even the Anglo-French agreement of 1904, France was "summering the country" and taking full advantage of the Madrid Convention (of July, 1880) that allowed the European Powers to give protection to certain of the Sultan's subjects. Of all boons under heaven, the Moor coveted protection most. Armed with his certificate of adoption he could defy the Sultan's tax- collectors. He could claim the assistance of the Vice-Consul in the civil courts, and his liberty was safe. Great Britain, on the other hand, gave very little protection, and even certificates of partnership between Moor and Briton were hard to obtain.

More than once while I travelled in the interior farmers have offered me half their stock and half their profits in return for a protection certificate, for they knew well enough that their Kaid might elect to eat them up, or the Governor of the Province might raise a sudden income tax of twenty shillings in the pound, or the Sultan's army might pass through their district and strip it bare. The French authorities gave protection—on terms. If a fine type of fighting man wanted freedom from Kaid or Sultan alike he could join the Saharan army of France for a few years and come back a French-protected subject. Needless to say that thousands availed themselves of the chance. The discipline was a little irksome at first, but they were fed regularly — and this in itself was a new experience—the trifle they earned was paid to them in hard cash, and they were taught to use a modern rifle and to take aim. Naturally brave, finely trained by some of the keenest and best officers in the French service, the Moors were bound to make good soldiers.

The few fighting in France and Belgium today do not represent more than a very small fraction of the force that will be available when Morocco is settled, and then the supply will increase, for the population is naturally prolific, and even the unending civil strife has left six or seven million people. The success of the Turcos has been acknowledged everywhere. Their faith in their leaders and their devotion are remarkable, and it was a subtle stroke of diplomacy that led the French Government to send some of its German prisoners to Morocco.

By now, from the coast towns to the remote Arab douars in a country scarcely known to Europeans, the story will have spread that the Germans cannot stand before the might of France, and when the tangled skein of the Moroccan development is taken in hand again it will be unravelled much more quickly than before. The war with Turkey will not rouse Islam in Morocco, where the head of the Filali dynasty, and not the chief of the house of Othman, is regarded as the true Khalifa of Mohammed.

S. L. Bensusan

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