THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND ITS MANY REGIMENTS

By Len A.Hynds

In 1948, we had an empire which encompassed a quarter of the worlds population, and to look at an atlas, the colour red seemed to be predominant on most continents, There were some countries marked in silver and red stripes, which were euphemistically called protectorates, but we had such control over them, that they were really part of our empire. Palestine, Egypt and Sudan were such places, although Sudan's official name was The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, and the Kingdom of Egypt under King Farouk, regarded the Sudan as one of their colonies.

In all the countries of the empire as well as the protectorates, the British army over centuries had trained auxiliary troops, and I met several regiments from the African continent whilst in Egypt, but the one regiment that I want to tell you about is the Sudanese Frontier Force.

You will notice that people of my generation refer to Sudan not as a country, but as a vast hinterland of cruel desert, over a thousand miles from the Egyptian capital of Cairo, southerly towards the equator in that we always say 'The Sudan'. The population of Egypt varied from the town Egyptians of Cairo and Alexandria,to the poorer Egyptians living in mud hut dwellings surrounding those towns, to the farmer Egyptians lining the majority of the River Nile, including the fishermen, to the nomadic Arabs roaming the desert. Then we come to more inhospitable desert before we reach the capital of the Sudan, Khartoum, where the majority of the population were Egyptian Arabs, who used to use it as a base for controlling this vast southern country, in my time running the police force who were all Egyptians, the courts and prisons, and in the days of slavery going further to the south, past the Sudanese Arab villages to the savannah and then the Jungle of Africa to enslave the black Negroid Sudanese.

So it is no wonder that the Negroid Sudanese have always hated the Arabs to the north, even their own Arab countrymen who worked for the Egyptians. The Mahdi uprising in the 19th century when General Gordon was killed at Khartoum, was aimed specifically at the Egyptian race and not the British, and consisted of some of the many Sudanese Arab tribes, the most famous being 'The whirling dervishes.'

I got to know men of this frontier force, when I was posted to a tiny unit in the desert, a crossing point on a track between the Canal Zone and Egypt proper, known as Kilo 99. Our nearest place of civilisation was Suez Town far away to the East. There were three military policemen at the post, a Corporal being in charge, with thirteen Sudanese Askaris of the Frontier Force, one of them being a Lance Corporal. They had there own officers, of what nationality I never found out, as no one appeared at that isolated spot in the four months I was there.

They were all Negroid Sudanese from the African jungle two thousand miles to the south, and were all very tall men. Each had a different tribal scar on their cheeks, cut when they were small babies. I once worked out the permutations of those scars on right or left cheeks, either horizontal or vertical cuts, and gave up when I was in excess of 50 tribes, but you must remember that the Sudan is about the same size as Europe.

Each one, in their turn told me that they had fallen foul of their local Egyptian police, and had been arrested on some trumped up charge, appeared before an Egyptian Magistrate, and given the option of prison or joining the Frontier Force for an indefinite period. One whose name I could never pronounce so called him John (To his delight), told me that he had been saving a bride price and she had been promised by her parents, when the Egyptian police sergeant took a fancy to her, and arrested him on a false charge of theft. He had already been at Kilo 99 for nearly two years. Their hatred for all Egyptians was natural to them.

These Askaris looked very smart in their uniform, which consisted of what I can only describe as a khaki dress, with two rows of brass buttons from the waist upwards towards the shoulders, one side for show only. The front of the dress being flat, but the rear below the waist, having pleats like a kilt. A wide green sash around the middle, folded to the left side with yellow tassels, and on top of that a 5 inch wide black shiny leather belt from which hung a water bottle and bayonet both encased in antelope skin and black leather straps. The belt itself had the most beautiful regimental badge as a clip fitting at the front khaki puttees were wound around each leg from below the knee to the ankle, with the white blancoed strap around the bottom, but instead of regulation army boots, they all wore sandals.

This was strictly against regulations, but their officers never putting in an appearance, and only having dealings with us British, these country boys who had never worn shoes in their life were allowed the sandals, and we turned a blind eye to it. Those army boots were always displayed highly polished at kit inspections however resting on their cots.

They had a black leather bandolier, carrying several pouches for their 303 rifle ammunition across their right shoulder and fixed to their belt. It was all surmounted by a pale khaki turban with paler pleats at the side, one of those pleats being green, and their regimental badge gleaming at the front. Each carried a Lee Enfield Rifle.

In the evenings I would join them round the camp fire listening to their folk tales of home, with each sitting on their home made stools, with wide enough room at the front for their feet as well, to get them off the ground because of the scorpions, with them all looking like praying mantis with their arms around their legs. It was a great event when they made a stool for me, but I couldn't sit in that hunched up position for too long and relied on my stout army boots to resist the scorpionís fatal sting. I always declined their kind offer of a puff of the hookah pipe passed around the group which I know contained hashish, or known in the army as Hubbly - Bubbly.

Only the Lance Corporal could read and write, and on hearing that their families had never heard from them since their deportation to god knows where, I got him to be the camp scribe, writing letters for each of them, and took pictures of them, which gave them the incentive to contact home. He complained later that they were clamouring for him to teach them to read and write.

I learnt a lot from those very simple uneducated and downtrodden men, which were to be the basis of many of my stories about the desert lands.

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