Young Knights of the Empire

by Sir Robert Baden-Powell


One January morning my wife and I sailed from Southampton for Algeria, on the north coast of Africa.

As we came into the Bay of Biscay, after leaving the English Channel, our ship got into a big swell, the seas rolling us heavily, and occasionally rushing over our bows in frothing green and clouds of spray.

After about twenty-four hours of rough weather we sighted Cape Finisterre--the first headland on the coast of Portugal, and not far from that we passed Corunna, where, during the Peninsular War in 1810, the British force under Sir John Moore successfully got away from a superior force of French, though losing their gallant commander in doing so.

The next important town on the coast is Vigo, and it was in Vigo Bay that Drake "singed the Spanish King's beard" by capturing and burning his fleet.

Also later, during the war of the Spanish Succession in 1702, an Anglo-Dutch fleet under Admirals Rooke and Stanhope attacked the Spanish "silver fleet" in Vigo Harbour, captured much treasure, and sank many vessels.

Past the Torres Vedras. where Wellington successfully held off Napoleon's army till his own was fit to take the field.

And near that is Oporto, where the port wine comes from, and which is well known to Britons as being the place where the Duke of Wellington defeated the French troops under Marshal Ney in the Peninsular War by crossing the River Douro unexpectedly--the French thinking it quite impassable by British troops,

We got into calmer water near the mouth, of the River Tagus, and here we saw the palace of our national guest, the young ex-King of Portugal, standing high up on a mountain peak above Cintra.

* * * * *


Continuing our voyage, we passed Trafalgar Bay and Gibraltar, where we reviewed some Scouts.

On arrival at Algiers, the chief seaport and capital of Algeria, the first thing that struck us was the strange mixture of people we met in the streets.

There were Arabs, in their flowing white garments, brushing shoulders with smartly dressed French officers and ladies, and picturesque native soldiers and Turks and Italian peasants all busy at their different pursuits.

Algiers is now a modern French town, though formerly it was the headquarters of the Algerian pirates. The native quarter of the city is still a network of narrow streets and alleys, made quite dark by the houses that almost meet overhead.

Above the town stands the old fortress, called the Casbah. This was the stronghold of the Turkish Corsairs and it was here that they kept the prisoners which they captured from various vessels at sea.

Those of the captives who were Christians they treated with unusual severity, and a large number of British sailors suffered torture at their hands.

We saw here a massive doorway with chains hanging festooned upon the upper part. This was called "the Gate of Pardon," because here the prisoner was given a chance of release.

He was made to run between two lines of soldiers armed with swords, all of whom cut at him as he ran by, and if he were able at the end of the course to spring up and catch hold of the chain he was allowed to go free. If he failed he had to run the gauntlet back again, and very few survived it.


Another reminder of the Christian prisoners is to be seen in the chief mosque of the city. This was designed and built by these captives under the orders of their heathen masters. They naturally constructed it like one of our churches in the form of a cross. This was afterwards recognised by the Moors, and the church was used, but the builders were put to death for their temerity.

We can admire the bravery of these men, who, in spite of the danger of being killed for it, did their best to maintain their religion to the end.

* * * * *


A day's journey by train from Algiers, through country closely cultivated with vines and crops by the French colonists, and then through a mountainous district inhabited by the Kabyle tribes, brought us into Constantine.

This is a wonderful city perched on a high rock, and surrounded on three sides by a narrow gorge some 400 feet deep. It has been a fortress since ancient times; and holds the record for being besieged, having stood no fewer than eighty investments in its time.

On the last occasion it was held by the Arabs against the French, whose first attempt to take the place was defeated by the natives after a desperate fight. It looks practically impossible to capture the place, but for two years the French did not give up hope, continuing their efforts until in the end they were successful.

Like the Scouts they were not put off by very big difficulties, but pluckily stuck to it, and gained their end.

We visited here the French cavalry regiment, the 3rd Chasseurs d'Afrique. This regiment distinguished itself in the Crimea by supporting the charge of the British Light Brigade at Balaclava.

It dashed bravely into the batteries of Russian artillery, who were firing into the flanks of our force, and captured a number of their guns, and thus enabled the survivors of the charge to make their way back from the field.

The records of this exploit are still preserved in the regimental museum, or _salle d'Honneur_, as are also the trophies and memorials of other fine deeds performed by the regiment on active service.

Among these was an interesting letter written by an officer after he had been mortally wounded by a shot which shattered his jaw. It was his last message to the men of his squadron urging them to do their duty before all else, and saying he was proud to die in the cause of his Country.

* * * * *


This portion of the Globe was once an important part of the Roman Empire.

As every Scout knows this great nation penetrated as far north as the borders of Scotland, and ruled over England for nearly 400 years. They also held Germany, France, and Spain, and the larger portion of North Africa.

In the course of our travels in Algeria, we came across remains of the Roman occupation, the finest of these being the ruins of the city of Timgad.

These have been dug out of the sand, and preserved, so that it is now possible to walk through the paved streets and visit what were once the market place, theatre, bathing establishments, temples, public libraries, and private houses of people who lived there over 1800 years ago.

The usual Roman house consisted of a front hall leading into a central open-air courtyard, which was surrounded by a colonnade, and had a fountain or tank full of fish in the centre. Then leading out of this were the owner's study, sitting-room, bedrooms, dining-room, and a series of three bathrooms, one warm, the second hot, and the third cold.

The floors of the rooms were made of cement, upon which ornamental mosaic was inlaid, that is, a pattern made out of very small stones of different colours.

* * * * *


On arrival at Timgad my wife and I found the weekly Arab market in full swing.


It is not in the least like an English market with its tidy pens of sheep and cattle and orderly arrangement of stalls, for this is a dense crowd of white-robed Arabs, in the midst of which camels and donkeys for sale stand about amongst tents full of clothes and corn and seed, and strips of hide for making shoes.

And here and there in the dust are dark men cooking and selling unappetising bits of meat and making black coffee, which is their only drink.

Towards evening the fair breaks up. Those who have bought corn load up great sacks of it upon their camels' backs.

The camel, as you know, squats down on the ground whilst its master loads it, and during the process looks round and gives out heartrending groans as if complaining at the excessive weight being put upon its back, but when the load is adjusted, the animal gets up and walks away quite contentedly.

The camel can travel long distances for days together without drinking fresh water, because his throat is fitted by Nature with bladders, which he fills with water before starting. When he feels thirsty, he ejects one of these out of his throat, and then drinks the water from it.

Others of the Arabs who have been attending the fair mount their mules or donkeys--often two of them on one mule--carrying their purchases with them, in some cases even carrying live sheep across their saddles. Many of them crowd into coaches to go home. These are rickety-looking boxes on wheels with roofs to them, drawn by six horses, which travel three abreast.

When they were all comfortably settled in one of these coaches ready for their journey, my wife stepped forward with her kodak to photograph them. In a moment they were tumbling out of their places, hurrying to get out of the range of the "Evil Eye"--for that is what they think the camera must be; they fear it may bring sickness or bad luck upon them.

* * * * *


While we were at Timgad a gaily coloured little band of mounted men came trailing across the plain, and finally made their halt close to us. They were a troop of "Spahis," or native cavalry of the French army in Algeria.

The men dress in Arab costume, with the white turban on their heads, a short red jacket, and baggy blue Turkish breeches with boots of red morocco leather. They also wear a huge red cloak in cold weather.


They are mounted on small grey Arab horses, and sit in a very high-peaked saddle, and the horses all wear blinkers. Altogether they make very picturesque soldiers, and at the same time are good riders and brave fighters.

* * * * *


Prom Biskra on the Sahara we started' on a walking tour among the mountains of the desert.

We got a couple of tents, bedding, camp furniture, and food, and two mules to carry it all. We also got two Arabs to guide us and be generally useful. Their names were Rahmoun and Ibrahim.

Our preparations did not take us long, and we were soon camped out on the desert, far from other human habitations, in the glorious sunshine of North Africa.

At night, although the air was keen and cold, we had our beds put outside the tent in the open, and we slept under the stars.

The drawback to camping was the difficulty in getting fresh water and firewood. We generally carried bottles of fresh water with us, as even when we were able to find a trickle of water in a river-bed, it was frequently brackish or half salt.

[Illustration: "We were soon camped out on the desert, far from other human habitations, in the glorious sunshine of North Africa."]

Then there were no trees or bushes with which to light our fire, so we had to collect the smallest sticks and straws to act as "punk" and loaded up any parched plants that we could find, and these, together with twigs and branches of little thorn tufts, enabled us to make a fire. It was not a big one, but then a Scout does not need a bonfire to cook his food.

* * * * *


We left the railway to face the open stony desert and arid rocky mountains with the greatest keenness, in the bright sun and clear air of Southern Algeria.

The last bit of civilisation that we saw was a French. colonist's farm, fortified with a strong loopholed tower, in which the farmer and his family could take refuge and stand a siege if the Arabs should rise in rebellion.

These fortified farms are to be seen in many parts of Algeria, and are a sign, of the farmers _Being Prepared_ for what is _possible_, though it may not be _probable_.

If our own people in South Africa had prepared their homesteads for defence in the same way against the Kaffirs, the Zulus, the Basutos, and the Matabele tribes, they would have saved themselves in very many cases from death at the hands of these savage warriors when they rose at different times in rebellion against the white men.

Any Boy Scout who goes later on to farm in an Oversea Dominion where there are fighting natives will do well to remember this, and to make one of his farm buildings defensible, so that it cannot be attacked or burnt by the enemy, and where he and his family can stand a siege of some weeks, having food, water, and ammunition always ready inside it.

This is _Being Prepared_, and not leaving things to chance.

* * * * *


Our way next led us through a mighty gorge between the mountains. There were high, rocky cliffs on either side, and a stream running among the stones at the bottom of it.

This ravine we clambered through for five or six miles, passing on the way an Arab village of flat-roofed mud huts perched on the side of the cliffs like swallows' nests.

And not far from them were holes and caves in the cliffs in which some of the Arab tribes lived. Many of them were so difficult to get at that the inhabitants got to them by means of ropes lowered down over the edge of the cliff.

* * * * *


The Romans in the old days had marched, fought, and colonised all over Algeria, and their doings have been recorded by their history writers.

One of these, Herodotus, has described how in one part of Algeria there were many wonders, such as springs of water in which the water came out boiling, donkeys which had horns like rams' horns on their heads, and lastly that there was a great mountain made of solid salt.

Of course, he got a good deal laughed at, and was entirely disbelieved by the Romans who stayed at home, but all the same his yarns were not far off the truth.

We ourselves were camped near one of the numerous hot springs in Algeria, Hammam Mousketine, it was called; clouds of steam used to rise from it always.

Also, we met many English sportsmen tramping and camping among the mountains in search of the "moufflon," a kind of mountain wild sheep, which, at a short distance, looks very like a donkey with big ram's horns on its head.

In the course of our tramp we paid a visit to the Salt Mountain, and found that Herodotus had told nothing more than the truth.

The mountain is about 900 feet high, and about three miles long, and consists of a jumble of crags and fissures, chiefly of yellow sandstone, in which are imbedded great blocks and sheets of salt.

The natives for miles round come with picks and mattocks, and cut as much of it as their donkeys can carry to market.

* * * * *


Our next march took us across endless dry water-courses with steep sides, which had to be clambered up and down under a hot sun.

There was no regular road, because every downfall of rain alters the course of the ravines. So we had to make the best of our way in the general direction of the place we were making for.

It is wonderful how easily you lose your direction when you get into a mass of ravines unless you notice carefully your bearings beforehand, and either make for some good landmark, such as a distant mountain peak, or else keep your direction by noticing the position of the sun.

In doing this, you must, of course, allow for the sun also changing his position in the sky as the hours pass by.

We used the sun to some extent this day, but after a time a cold breeze sprang up, and clouds began to gather, so that in a very little while the sky was overcast and the sun was no longer any guide.

Then came on a cold, cold wind, which got more bitter as we struggled against it.

But, cold as it was, I did not find that Scouts' kit was so cool as people try to make out; the wind certainly whistled about my knees, but I did not feel so very cold then.

We searched for some sort of sheltered place to pitch our tent, and found plenty of such in the dry bed of the river under the cliffs, which formed its banks, but we dared not use it, as rain clouds were banking up, and if heavy rain were to come the dry river bed would in a very short time be a raging torrent.

So we struggled on, and at last found a ledge among some rocks above the river bed, which just afforded room for our tent, and here we pitched it.

And only just in time, for before we had got it well up the rain began to come down, and continued to rattle on our canvas roof for the rest of the night.

But the storm had come with so little warning, and the wind had come before the rain, so we comforted ourselves with the Scouts' weather mottoes:--

"Long foretold, long last;
Short notice, soon past."


"When the wind's before the rain,
Soon you may make sail again;
When the rain's before the wind,
Then your sheets and halyards mind."

Sure enough, next morning the sky cleared, and a beautiful sunny day enabled us to carry out our next march in comfort.

* * * * *

Valid HTML 4.01!