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Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-12-17 15:01:44
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Finally, under a last impulse from the straining population behind them, the border people (now almost wholly pastoral), were flung out of the furthest crazy oasis into the untrodden wilderness as nomads. This process, to be watched to-day with individual families and tribes to whose marches an exact name and date might be put, must have been going on since the first day of full settlement of Yemen. The Widian below Mecca and Taif are crowded with the memories and place-names of half a hundred tribes which have gone from there, and may be found to-day in Nejd, in Jebel Sham-mar, in the Hamad, even on the frontiers of Syria and Mesopotamia. There was the source of migration, the factory of nomads, the springing of the gulf-stream of desert wanderers.

The air here was very hot and heavy for natives of the hills, and I feared there might be consequences of Mohammed’s exhaustion: but after we had rested an hour and made him a cup of coffee he got going again and did the six remaining hours into Wejh as cheerfully as ever; continuing to play the little pranks which had brightened our long march from Abu Markha. If one man rode quietly behind another’s camel, poked his stick suddenly up its rump, and screeched, it mistook him for an excited male, and plunged off at a mad gallop, very disconcerting to the rider. A second good game was to cannon one galloping camel with another, and crash it into a near tree. Either the tree went down (valley trees in the light Hejaz soil were notably unstable things) or the rider was scratched and torn; or, best of all, he was swept quite out of his saddle, and left impaled on a thorny branch, if not dropped violently to the ground. This counted as a bull, and was very popular with everyone but him.

To reassure him, Wilson painted the Babegh force in warm colours. Feisal checked his sincerity by asking for his personal word that the Babegh garrison, with British naval help, would resist enemy attack till Wejh fell. Wilson looked for support round the silent deck of the Dufferin (on which we were conferring), and nobly gave the required assurance: a wise gamble, since without it Feisal would not move; and this diversion against Wejh, the only offensive in the Arabs’ power, was their last chance not so much of securing a convincing siege of Medina, as of preventing the Turkish capture of Mecca. A few days later he strengthened himself by sending Feisal direct orders from his father, the Sherif, to proceed to Wejh at once, with all his available troops.

While we were looking over the ruins four grey ragged elders of the village came up and asked leave to speak. They said that some months before a sudden two-funnelled ship had come up and destroyed their fort. They were now required to re-build it for the police of the Arab Government. Might they ask the generous captain of this peaceable one-funnelled ship for a little timber, or for other material help towards the restoration? Boyle was restless at their long speech, and snapped at me, What is it? What do they want?’ I said, ‘Nothing; they were describing the terrible effect of the Fox’s bombardment.’ Boyle looked round him for a moment and smiled grimly, ‘It’s a fair mess’.

The two hundred Turks in Wejh had no transport and no food, and if left alone a few days must have surrendered. Had they escaped, it would not have mattered the value of an Arab life. We wanted Wejh as a base against the railway and to extend our front; the smashing and killing in it had been wanton.

Things in Hejaz had changed a good deal in the elapsed month. Pursuing his former plan, Feisal had moved to Wadi Yenbo, and was trying to make safe his rear before going up to attack the railway in the grand manner. To relieve him of the burdensome Harb tribes, his young half-brother Zeid was on the way up from Rabegh to Wadi Safra, as a nominal subordinate of Sherif Ali. The advanced Harb clans were efficiently harrying the Turkish communications between Medina and Bir Abbas. They sent in to Feisal nearly every day a little convoy of captured camels, or rifles picked up after an engagement, or prisoners, or deserters.

Cleanliness made me stop outside Wejh and change my filthy clothes. Feisal, when I reported, led me into the inner tent to talk. It seemed that everything was well. More cars had arrived from Egypt: Yenbo was emptied of its last soldiers and stores: and Sharraf himself had come up, with an unexpected unit, a new machine-gun company of amusing origin. We had left thirty sick and wounded men in Yenbo when we marched away; also heaps of broken weapons, with two British armourer-sergeants repairing them. The sergeants, who found time hang heavily, had taken mended maxims and patients and combined them into a machine-gun company so thoroughly trained by dumb show that they were as good as the best we had.


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