4 APRIL 1914, Page 20


Ma. BATTERSBY in this admirably written biography has given us a picture of a young irregular soldier which would abide in the memory of all readers even if that young soldier's name had not become universally associated with the difficult political problem of Somaliland. Richard Corfield might be taken as a visible embodiment of what we often mean when we talk about the qualities and character of public-school boys. He was not clever according to any academic standard; his letters are just a series of fairly vivid colloquialisms without much care for grammar or punctuation; and they never, so far as we are allowed to have glimpses of them, attempt a broad or considered discussion of the questions on which he undoubtedly spent anxious thought. He had, never- theless, a power of quick and shrewd judgment, and he could make his influence felt among any class of men. How he had arrived at these powers he probably could not have told you. Primarily the secret, no doubt, was somewhere in his training ; and this, we think, remains true even though his training at Marlborough did not justify itself very early. He was one of those boys who develop rather late. He was a real leader of men, in that he revelled in a sense of responsibility borne alone. Again, he was exceptionally successful in winning the trust and respect of the Somali tribesmen. The secret here seems to have been that he liked them. He took a kindly, indulgent, and humorous view of their peculiarities, and by some short cut of penetration arrived at such an under- standing of their mental habits as would have been denied to a man capable of philosophically dissecting them. He was amused by their vanity and their inconvenient trick of being offended at unintended affronts. But a man who can inspire awe among men whom he likes is almost certain to be an efficient leader of uncivilized people. Above all, Corfield was a man of his word. When he held himself or his country morally committed to a particular course, he was impatient of all the excuses that might be made for stopping on the way to reckon the cost. This practice of seeing only the immediate task or duty ahead of him was in a sense the cause of his disobedience to orders which he thought ignoble. It was also the cause of his death, which was undeniably heroic, whatever view we may take of the wisdom of his conduct at the end.

We find ourselves wishing that Mr. Battersby's vigorous portrait of this attractive personality could have been separated from the controversy about British policy in Somaliland. Mr. Battersby, however, has made his biography also a passionate denunciation of British policy. It is no business of ours to defend the Government's management of Somaliland, but when Mr. Battersby exposes the contradictions of which the Government have been guilty, it would be unfair of a reviewer who has noticed contradictions in Mr. Battersby's own case for the prosecution not to draw attention to them. To begin with, it might be argued that the promises of pro- tection made by Great Britain in 1884 were conditional promises. The tribesmen (except the Warsangli) were offered protection provided that they did not help the enemies of Britain in the Sudan. The foundation of those treaties ceased to exist when the Sudan was conquered by British troops. At least, we suppose that is the view of the Colonial Office. But, quite apart from the question whether it is fair to charge the Government with a deliberate breach of faith, there is some- thing to be said for the contention tl at the friendlies are protected as efficiently by being suppli, d with arms as they were by the series of ineffectual expeditions which Great Britain sent against the Mad Mullah. Mr. Battersby believes that the British policy of trying to conciliate the Mullah—the policy entrusted to the Wingate Mission—simply had the effect of restoring the prestige of a discredited impostor (p. 113). But, on Mr. Battersby's own showing, the power of the Mullah subsequently decayed, even after the plan of withdrawing all British troops from the interior bad been put into effect. Thus Mr. Battersby says (p. 229):— "Meanwhile deserters from the Mullah had arrived at Berbera, reporting his military weakness and urgent need of men. That only 200 of his veterans of ten years ago remained to him, and that his following consisted chiefly of youths, taken from cattle-herding to bear arms. That the Dervish stock had suffered severely from the drought of the early spring, a large number of • Etc/Lard Corfiald of Somaliland. By H. F. Prevost Batteralw. With trations sad a Map. London: Edward Arnold. [lee. 6cL net.] ponies, so essential to raiding, having died of starvation. That the Dervishes would not attempt to oppose the advance of even a small British force, but that the Mullah would not voluntarily retire from the Begat. It was plain, indeed, that the Mullah's affairs had entered upon a new phase, and that his letter was intended to avert the danger of a hasty descent by the Camel Corps at a moment when he was unable to move, and to give time for the recovery of the ponies after the April rains should provide fresh grazing.' Thus once again there was evidence to show that had Mr. Byatt been permitted to send the Camel Corps to the Ain, the Mullah would have been forced to retire in disastrous circum- stances, and possibly an end been made once for all to his pretensions."

It is not altogether unreasonable to expect of the friendlies that they should rely on themselves sufficiently to resist bands of raiding Dervishes who are without serious organization. In a general way, we may say frankly that we would rather not govern a savage country at all than govern it with notorious inadequacy. Mr. Battersby suggests that we have persevered with a country like Nigeria because it has " paid," and have virtually abandoned Somaliland because it did not pay. But it is surely obvious that we were always able to show much more solid benefits from our administration in other parts of Africa than in Somaliland.

In spite of the withdrawal to the coast, the Government later consented to the formation of the Camel Corps, which was (to borrow a naval phrase) to " show the flag," but not to engage the marauding Dervishes. Mr. Corfield, who had been placed in command of the Camel Corps (the official title " Constabulary" implied the functions which the Government conceived it ought to discharge), could not and would not resist the appeals for help from the friendlies when they believed that the Dervishes were descending upon them.. Finally, he was killed in a fight of his own seeking against overwhelming odds. But, in spite of the terrible losses of the Camel Corps, the gallant Corfield taught the Dervishes such a lesson that day that they could not bring themselves after- wards to march on places, like Burao, that actually lay at their mercy.

Once more the Government have changed their plans, and the Camel Corps which Corfield created, and which will always be connected with his name, is to be increased from one hundred and fifty to five hundred. Moreover, the Indian contingent is to be increased, and garrisons are to be main- tained at Sheikh and Burao.

We wish we had space to quote the extraordinary story of Corfield's encounter with a wounded lion, in which he " banded-off " the lion in the manner of the Rugby foot- baller. Corfield was as nearly fearless as a man can be, and no one will read this biography without experiencing a deep regret that his pluck, great-heartedness, and simple sincerity were not employed in happier circumstances into which mis- understandings and reprimands did not enter.