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August Henault, a supply column soldier of the 15th Escadron du Train is one of the few private soldiers of his epoch who seems to have kept a diary. It is brief, maybe not historically interesting, but it does make interesting reading along with a brief history of the campaign and his award document for the Medaille Coloniale

Above: The Barbary coast, from left to right, green for Morocco, pink for Algeria and blue for Tunisia

The Barbary Coast, the coastline of North Africa got its name from the Berber tribesmen who ruled there until the sixteenth century. At that time Spain and Turkey, the leading powers in the Mediterranean, vied for control of the region, a contest that would go on until the Turks came up with an ingenious idea. Pirates!  

The Turks decided to send corsairs into the Mediterranean and establish them along the North African coast. Once they were established the Turks could give the land they had settled on the status of protectorates of the Ottoman Empire.  

The first corsair arrived in Algeria in 1512. Tunisia was claimed in 1534, and then lost to the Spanish in 1535. By 1560 Libya was under Ottoman protectorate. The Turks regained Tunisia in 1574.  

For three centuries the Barbary Pirates operated along the coast and when the French marched into Algeria in 1830 they used the need to stop the pirates as their excuse. 

As their interests lay in keeping the Barbary Coast quiet, the Europeans did their best to bring the region under their control. Tunisia was swallowed by the French in 1881 and Morocco, which had already started to lose ground to General Lyautey's conniving encroachments at the beginning on the twentieth century, became French in 1912, the same year that Italy took Libya from the Turks.  

The Beys that ruled Tunisia had done their best to modernize their country. They had spent a lot, all of it loans from Europe. To repay they were forced to raise local taxes, a move guaranteed to anger the local population. Due to the disastrous financial situation Britain, France and Italy took over the finances of Tunisia under an international agreement.  

The three powers were not the most neutral as each had a certain interest in advancing its own agendas. As far as citizens living and money invested in the region, Italy had the biggest interest but when they tried to dominate in 1871 the British and the French teamed up to keep them in their place on the diplomatic stage.  

Britain had by this time established herself in Cyprus and to buy France's agreement the British and French governments secretly agreed to give France a free hand to act in Tunisia, a move France made in 1881, planned and executed before the Italians could counter.

Above: A note with the details of Henault's service record.

As was to be the case with Morocco 25 years later the French began to complain about raiders coming across the Algerian border to rob and pillage. It was a series of raids by the Kroumir tribe that was the last straw.  The French foreign minister Jules Ferry sent an army of 36,000 men across the border to advance on Tunis. The Bey acted prudently and came to terms with the French avoiding a major conflict. There were of course skirmishes as the French advanced and settled, but these were small compared to what could have been.  

The treaty of Bardo was signed in 1881 in which the Bey surrendered most of his powers to the French. The French guaranteed the protection of his territories and dynasty but took over all external affairs and left the Bey with limited powers dealing with internal affairs.  

With Tunisia safely in their hands the French were able to do much for the development of the country but development and freedom are two different things. As with most colonial possessions the occupiers had bought themselves decades of unrest with a population that valued its sovereignty more.

After the treaty of Bardo there were still tribes who did not agree with the French occupation and from the French point of view needed to be "persuaded".  

The prize the French aimed for was the holy city of Kairouan held by Ali ben Amara Jelassi and his men. Pierre Giffard, reporter from the newspaper Figaro wrote the following...  

"Engagement to the south of Kairouan...  

"It was no longer about occupying Tunis. We needed to reconstitute the brigades we had in the area of the Kroumirs and move to the interior of Tunisia, keep the north, keep the valley of Medjerda, hold the east by the sword and from these points converge the columns towards Kairouan, striking at the heart of the area occupied by the Muslims. The taking of the holy city, where hairs of the beard of the prophet lay under the arches of the Mosque, is the new objective. In every major war there is a village to take, to pillage or to burn. To improve the morale or to wipe out a race. For Napoleon it was Moscow, for the Barbarians it was Rome. The Germans wanted Paris, the Romans Carthage. For the 50,000 men we have in this country, it is Kairouan.""

To take Kairouan the French employed three armies, more than they would need. One under General Etienne which debarked at Sousse, one commanded by Generals Logerot, Sabatier then St Jean coming from Manouba and a third coming from Tebessa commanded by General Forgemol.  

Under the command of general St Jean was the 15eme Escadron des Trains des Equipages Militaires (A military supply column) in which Auguste Alfred Henault served.

The Short Diary of Auguste Henault

The company reorganized and left Orange on the 24th of August (1881). It left at 7:00am on a special train for Marseille and arrived the same day at 4:00pm where it embarked immediately on the ship "La Ville de Madrid".  

The ship stopped on the 26th at Philippeville and then Bone and left Bone at 11:00pm. It arrived at Bizerte on the 27th at 3:00am. The ship had been very full and the accommodation had been bad for the animals. The company lost two horses who were thrown into the sea.  

The debarkation was slow and difficult due to the heavy seas. It took the rest of the night. The company stayed at La Goulette from the 28th to 30th of August where a terrible desert storm made breathing almost impossible. We left here at about 5:00pm on the 30th to move to Bades, escorted by the 28th Chasseur a Pied. The march was difficult, the mules heavily laden and had to walk along the railway line still under construction.  

31st August Depart for Mohamedia where we stay until the 1st of September.  

2nd of September, to Bou Adjeba

Below: A French Train/Supply soldier in 1880

3rd Sept. Rejoin the brigade at camp Laghouan. Stay from 4th to 8th doing convoys on the (Illegible) and do reconnaissance patrols around the camp. We also evacuate the sick.  

10th Sept. The Column of the 7th Chasseur a Cheval under Commandant Delannoy enters the camp under torrential rains. They had been attacked by the Arabs and our side had suffered numerous losses, dead and wounded. A "Marabout" of 4-500 men is attacked by the 25th (Infantry Regiment) de Ligne.  

On the 11th and 12th we are attacked at night. (We) the train had the mission to defend the southwest border of the camp.  

The 9th of November, depart from camp Laghouan and arrive at Pont du Phas. Sejour until the 21st of November, then depart from Pont du Phas to arrive at el Oueanda (sp?) later the same day. We are near the Aquaduct of Jougar (sp?) where there is the office of the water administration building.  

22nd of November, at el Oueanda, attacked by the Arabs the moment we are being served breakfast. We are with the 6th Brigade who lets us leave first.  

23rd, Arrive at Djebilina at 4:00pm after having crossed the Foum el Krarouba. At least six km of difficult route with the Arabs greeting us with rifle fire.

24th, Sejour at Djebilino, numerous wells of which 2 are poisoned. The water is bad and we set all abodes alight before leaving.  

25th, Arrive at Oued Mehbena, good and running water.  

26th, Leave Oued Mehbena and arrive Bir el Bey. Two wells close to the Marabout, one has stairs/ladder. Large supply of rainwater.  

27th, Leave Bir el Bey for Preddin. We have a long halt at Bir el Madjen where there is another well with a ladder. We camp about five km from Kairouan (sp). A distribution of rain water to the men and animals . 28th, Camp wakes up at 7:00am and approaches Kairouan. Sejour in front of the town from the 29th until the 11th of November. During this time General de St. Jean goes on reconnaissance and leads a huge Razzia.

12th November. We leave Kairouan to camp at El Ojuiba on the night of the 12th. At 4:00am we are caught in a torrential rain and are up to our knees in mud.

14th November, Over Bir-Hounit to L'Ouid-Ment (sp?) water from wells for the men.

15th November, to Sidi-Amor Bou, Marabout had dirty salty water. We pillage the abandoned huts.

16th, Move to Oglet ben Adjebouth, a number of wells, some poisoned with parts of dead animals. (march of 26 km)

17th, to Oglet el Adjeba, number of wells in the same condition (27 km).  

18th, through the desert in a terrible heat to a camp without name. Water distributed, two liters per man and five per horse. Camp is baptized "Camp de la Soif" (Camp of Thirst).

19th, through the desert to Cheick, water distributed (26km).  

20th, more desert, arrive at El Fourie, about eight km from (Illegible)

21st and 22nd, A reconnaissance leaves to find the (illegible) whose tracks we have been following for three days. They are trapped between two mountains by the Goums and Chasseur a Cheval who bring in 800 men, women and children (minus the warriors) and 1500 cattle.  

Below: The Medaille Coloniale certificate with clasp "Tunisie" issued in September 1895.

To return to the Medialle Coloniale page click HERE