Young Knights of the Empire

by Sir Robert Baden-Powell


The Souks.

Perhaps you do not know what a "souk" is?

Imagine yourself in a long, narrow tunnel lit with skylights here and there, with small open shops along either side. That is what one of the "souks" or bazaars in Tunis is like.

There are miles of them, and they are generally crowded from end to end with the white-cloaked Arabs and shrouded figures of women with black masks over their faces, all busy shopping, buying or selling.

Each trade has a souk to itself. Thus, in one souk you will find nothing but shoemakers' shops one after another, in the next will be all coppersmiths, in another the cloth merchants, and so on.

There still stand the "Bardo" or Palace of the "Bey" or King of Tunis, and the "kasbah" or castle in which the Tunisian pirates of old days used to imprison the Christians whom they captured at sea; and there is still the old slave market where they used to sell them.

Many an English sailor has been lost for ever to his home and friends in that dismal place.

But on one occasion the prisoners got the better of their captors. As many as ten thousand of them had been collected, and they made a plan to escape, and, rising against their captors, they overwhelmed them by force of numbers and got away.

"Home, Sweet Home,"

An interesting spot in the city is the old Christian cemetery, in which lies buried the man who wrote the well-known song, "Home, Sweet Home." Most people think that it is an English song, but the composer was in reality an American--a clerk in the Consulate--named John Howard Payne.

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Close to Tunis is the site of Carthage, the capital of the great country of that name in North Africa.

There is very little to be seen of it to-day, for the city was destroyed by its enemies, and the stones were taken to build the present town of Tunis.

It was founded nearly 900 years before the time of Christ, and was for hundreds of years a powerful and prosperous country till 146 years before Christ, when it was conquered by the Romans, and the city was given over to the flames.

The city was at that time twelve miles round, and was defended by huge walls sixty feet high and thirty-three feet thick with rooms inside them. In the lower storey were stables for horses and elephants (of which there were 300), and the upper storey served as barracks for over 20,000 soldiers, who formed the garrison for defence of the city.

But very few of these soldiers were Carthaginians. The Carthaginian young men did not care about soldiering: they preferred to loaf about and do nothing but watch public games, and foreigners or poor men were hired to do the soldiering for the country.

The country was large and rich, and had many colonies oversea and plenty of ships.

It looked as though no enemy could ever arise to come and attack her. But what seemed so unlikely actually happened in the end.

The Romans had no great fleet to speak of, but they had a fine army, and they meant business. They put their soldiers into crowded transports, and sailed across the short distance of ocean that lay between the two countries--not much farther than Hamburg in Germany is from Hull in Yorkshire.

Thus the country which, like Germany, had a fine, well-trained army, landed a force in Carthaginia, the country which, like Britain, had a great fleet and great colonies, but only a small army, and it smashed up the Carthaginians through their not Being Prepared for it.


From Tunis one sees to the southward a mountain called Zaghouan. Though forty miles away it was from here that the Carthaginians got their water supply, and they conveyed it by a small canal, which they built all the way to Carthage.

[Illustration: You can imagine the fun of having a lot of wildly excited Arabs firing from the opposite side of the circle straight in your direction, with the animal in between you.]

That canal still serves to bring the water into Tunis, though it is now a good deal over two thousand years old!

I went to Zaghouan once to hunt wild boars. We got on that occasion a hyena. It was an exciting time when our Arab beaters, working in a big circle, gradually closed in on him from all sides.

It was exciting because every beater carried a gun, and every man meant having a shot at that hyena.

You can imagine the fun of having a lot of wildly excited Arabs firing from the opposite side of the circle straight in your direction at the animal in between you!

Fortunately on this occasion the first few shots killed him, and there were no other deaths to record.

The Arabs themselves see no special danger in it, because, they say, the guns are all pointing downwards at the animal, and if the bullet misses him it will only bury itself in the ground.

That is all very well, but it might as likely as not hit a stone and glance up again and catch one in the eye or elsewhere that might be unpleasant.

Personally, I did not hold with that kind of shooting, but the Arabs seemed to enjoy it so much and were so cheery and jolly over it that I, too, had to smile and look as if I liked it.

There is plenty of game near Tunis, and this day we saw two dead wild boars being brought in.

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In the old days, as I told you, Carthage was the London of that time, being a city of 700,000 inhabitants, and the capital of a great empire, which had overseas colonies in Spain, Corsica, and Sicily.

For a very long time it was at war with the Romans, who were the great military nation then, and at first the Carthaginians got the better of their adversaries.

One great help to them was their corps of elephants. These elephants had scythes fixed on to their tusks, so that when they charged they not only cut down the serried ranks of their enemies, but they also trampled them underfoot.

In their great fight outside Carthage, the army belonging to the Carthaginians under a Greek officer, Xanthippus, carried the day with a grand charge of elephants, and thus defeated and routed the Romans under Regulus.

Of the 20,000 men who formed the Roman force only 2000 escaped. Regulus and a number of his best officers were captured and held as prisoners of war for several years.

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As time went on, the Carthaginians tried to make peace, and they sent their prisoner, Regulus, over to Rome to persuade the Roman Government to come to terms. They made him promise on his word of honour that if he failed to bring about peace he would return again to Carthage, and become a prisoner once more.

When he got to Rome, instead of urging them to make peace, he told his countrymen to go on with the war.

The Roman Government were inclined to do this, but at the same time they saw that if they did, Regulus would probably be put to death by the Carthaginians for not having procured peace, so they did not know what to do.

Regulus, seeing their difficulty, told them that he was an old man and his life did not matter, and he pretended that he had already taken slow poison. So the Romans resolved to continue the war, and Regulus went back to Carthage, according to his promise, and gave himself up to the Carthaginians.

[Illustration: AN ARAB BOY AND HIS "MOKE."]

You might think that they would have admired him for his courage and sense of honour, but the Carthaginians, as I told you, were a cowardly lot; they hired soldiers to do their fighting for them, and, like all cowards, they were cruel, too; so instead of respecting this plucky old Roman, they punished him by shutting him into a box lined with sharp spikes, so that he could get no rest nor sleep.

Then they cut off his eyelids, and took him out of his dark cell into the blazing sunlight, so that he was blinded, and finally they killed him by crucifying him.

Supposing that we were invaded by an enemy who had a strong army, and we had nothing but paid soldiers to defend ourselves with because our men were too cowardly or too unpatriotic to learn how to defend their homes. If such an enemy were to defeat our weak army, and then order us to destroy every house in London, how should we like it?

Should not we feel, like the Carthaginians, enraged with our Government who had not made the country strong, and also enraged with ourselves because we had not trained ourselves to defend our homes before it was too late?

The Carthaginians in despair sent more messengers to the Roman general at their gates, begging for thirty days' grace in which to make their arrangements, but the conquerors sent these men back with the order that the destruction of the city was to begin at once.

Then a change came over the Carthaginians. From a mob of despairing, panic-stricken wretches they organised themselves into a defence force. They barred the city gates, and started to make weapons to replace those which they had surrendered to their enemies.

Night and day they worked--men, women, and children. They manufactured daily 100 shields, 300 swords, 500 spears, and 1000 balls for their catapults, and the women cut off their hair and plaited it into ropes for the catapults.

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The catapult which the Carthaginians used was not the little implement that a boy uses nowadays; it was a big kind of windlass, by which a number of ropes were twisted up tightly till they acted as a spring to a strong wooden arm at the end of which was a leather cup. This held a stone about the size of a man's head.

When the spring was let go, this arm was flung violently forward, and the stone was thereby hurled into the air, and flew with great force for 400 or 500 yards.

The catapults served the purpose of artillery in those days when gunpowder had not been invented.

The Carthaginians, when a favourable wind blew, sent a lot of fire boats filled with faggots and tar to drift among the Roman fleet and burn their ships.

They also got together the wrecks of their own ships which had been smashed up by the enemy, and from them they built up others and sallied out of port in order to astonish the Romans.

But they did not make any bold attacks, consequently the Romans only sat tight and got reinforcements over, and in the end they attacked and forced their way into the city. There the fighting in the streets was very close and bitter.

For six days it went on, but the stern discipline and valour of the Romans gradually told, and very soon the whole city was in their hands. Fifty thousand inhabitants were allowed to escape, and the city was given over to the flames.

One lot of defenders the Romans refused to spare. Some 900 of them took refuge, and made a last stand, in the Temple of AEsculapius, and among them was the wife of Hasdrubal, the commander of the Carthaginians, and her two sons.

Hasdrubal himself saved his skin by surrendering to Scipio, the Roman commander, but his wife stood up on the temple, which was now on fire, and reviled him as a coward. Then she killed her two boys, and threw herself into the fire rather than give in to the Latin enemy.

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A Home of Scouting.

Malta was a home of Scouting, since the Knights of St. John, who settled there after the Crusades, were typical Scouts.

They knew how to Be Prepared

I remember reading the diary of a traveller who visited Malta in their time--some three hundred years ago. He said that one morning a pirate ship was sighted off the island. The Grand Master at once ordered one of the fighting ships to get ready, and called upon the knights to man it. Any who desired to go were to parade in front of the Castile Palace (now the Mess house of the Royal Artillery). Some fifty or sixty would be sufficient, but instead of this over three hundred turned up on parade with their retainers and men-at-arms ready to start then and there.

In the Armoury can be seen among many others the suit of armour worn by the Grand Master Wignacourt.

One cannot but admire the beautiful fitting of the different folds of armour, made so that the arms and legs could be bent and yet thoroughly protected against wounds; also the whole is beautifully engraved with ornamental designs. Among these a quick-sighted Scout will at once notice the fleur-de-lys, or Scout's badge, on the breast.

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The badge also occurs on another badge of the knights, that is, on the Maltese Cross, which all of them wore. This cross was eight-pointed in shape, and was originally derived from the skull and crossbones; it came from the crossbones, and served to remind the knights that it was their duty to fight to the death and never to give in.

[Illustration: A notice on the walls of the fortifications of Malta, where caper-plants grow plentifully, says: "No one is allowed to cut capers here except the Commanding Royal Engineer." This is how I picture him.]

Their motto might well have been that which the Boy Scouts use to-day: _Never say die till you are dead_--struggle on against any difficulty or danger, don't give in to it, and you will probably come out successful in the end.

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Most of the Oversea Scouts wear, in addition to the Scout's badge of the fleur-de-lys, the badge belonging to their country. For instance, the Canadian Scouts wear the maple leaf, and the New Zealanders wear a leaf of the tree fern.

If the Maltese Scouts want a badge of their own they could not do better than adopt the Maltese Cross of the knights, and then stick to, and act up to the meaning of it.

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When Napoleon was trying to conquer the whole of Europe a hundred years ago, he proceeded to take Malta.

But the Maltese people rose, and held the rest of the island against him, and sent and asked the British under Lord Nelson to come to their assistance.

This was promptly done, and the British Fleet laid siege to the French in Valetta, so that no supplies of food could be brought to the French, and some British troops were landed to help the Maltese.

Thus the French were defeated, and the Maltese handed themselves and their island over to become a colony of the British Empire.

One celebrated officer who largely helped to defeat the French in Malta was Admiral Troubridge.

Someone was condoling with Nelson once on his losing his right arm in action. The gallant seaman replied cheerily:

"My good sir, I have got three right arms. Here is one (raising his left arm), and there are my other two (pointing to Capt. Ball and Capt. Troubridge)."

At the time of the British investment of the French in Malta, the Maltese themselves were suffering from famine, and their state was so deplorable, and the British authorities so slow to help them, that Commodore Troubridge could bear it no longer, and to ease their sufferings he caused some grain ships at Messina to be seized and brought to Malta and their contents to be given out to feed the starving people.

Commodore Troubridge began life as a ship's boy at fifteen, and rose from seaman to be an officer through his steady attention to his duty, so in all ways he was a good example for a Scout to follow.

Malta remains to-day a British colony, small in size--not much bigger than the Isle of Wight--but having a numerous population of people speaking their own language, and at the same time loyal to King George and the British Empire.

Malta is chiefly valuable as having a harbour, dockyard, and coal stores for our Mediterranean Fleet, and is therefore strongly fortified and garrisoned by British troops, both infantry and artillery.

The Maltese themselves supply some companies of Fortress Artillery and two battalions of Infantry Militia.

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Now, also, they have their Boy Scouts, whom I saw during my visit.

For Sea Scouts it is an ideal place, with its fine harbours, and its coasts with their numerous creeks and landing places.

The warm climate also induces much to bathing, and the Maltese are naturally good swimmers and handy men in boats. Their boats are very graceful in shape; they are called "daisas," which is spelt "dghaisa," but I never could see the use of the letters "gh" in the word; it sounds all right without them.

[Illustration: A MALTESE "DGHAISA."]

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Long ago I was quartered in Malta for three years, and I greatly enjoyed my life there, especially the boating and the bathing.

After the South African War the people of Malta very kindly sent me a beautiful present, and, I suppose on account of my known love of boating, it took the form of a silver model of a sailing dghaisa. It was so accurately and carefully made that not only did it include oars and boat-hooks, etc., but even the thole-pins and the scoop for bailing out water.

I was, of course, delighted to see the place again after twenty years' absence, and to see so many of my old friends. Nothing seemed very much changed in all that time, except that the Boy Scouts had come into existence there as in every other important part of the British Empire.

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