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Somaliland Police Is Between Rock And Hard Place
British Childhood Memories Of Somaliland – Part I
On December 31, 2006, Awdalnews received an email from Mr. Hugh Milne, a British/Australian gentleman who while watching a news program of Ethiopian forces making their way to Mogadishu in their quest to topple the short-lived rule of the Islamic Courts had his childhood memories of Mogadishu and Hargeisa rekindled. The email went as follows:
“… I am now 73 years of age, but when I was 12, I spent a year in Hargeisa as the son of a British Army Officer, who was the Director of Agriculture in the Army Administration. I do not know how History views our occupation of your country but it would seem your part of " Somalia " is getting on with the business of Government and being a help to your people.
The same cannot be said of the 'Italian" part. I have been watching the news of the Ethiopian push into Mogadishu and hope they are there to help establish a stable Government, and then retire to their own country.
I have fond memories of my time in Hargeysa and if you are interested in a view of your country through the eyes of a 12 year old boy in 1945 I would be happy to put something together.”
Our reply to Mr. Milne was a quick and enthusiastic welcome and a wish of Happy New Year to him as we exchanged the mails on the last day of 2006.
After a few days, Milne sent us his childhood reminiscences. We admit that Milne's piece has caught us off guard. In a picturesque description of the people, landscape, architecture, culture and colonial administration, Milne gives us a full picture of the lifestyle in Mogadishu and Hargeysa. His photographic child's eye sheds light on the difference between the British and Italian colonial administrations.
With hindsight, he tries to make sense of what he saw as a 12 year old boy, he saw Mogadishu as “a glorious place… clean, neat and tidy…the pride of Italy's overseas possessions…The Mussolini government had spent millions turning it into a showpiece.” It was there at the Hotel Crochet Del Sud where they were accommodated that he and his younger brother Anthony had tasted their first dish of spaghetti. As stunned as they were by the beauty of the Lido Beach , Milne describes it aptly as something they had never seen the likes of before. He tells us how he and his brother enjoyed the Italian cuisine at the Officer Club, describing its luxury and beauty as “to be seen to be believed.” He recalls Mogadishu 's buildings were mixture of Arab architecture and heroic Italian buildings.
In contrast to this splendid picture, Milne shows us something quite different about the lifestyle of Hargeysa under Her Majesty's colonial administration. Instead of the Officers' Club in Mogadishu , in Hargeysa Milne and his family's kitchen, a corrugated iron hut where their cook Ali had to make chapattis in a stove of three stones where he balanced his saucepans. Their toilet was a pit latrine located behind the only tree in the compound which itself comprised army tents and a mud-brick house surrounded by thorn bush fence. Instead of the plenty in Mogadishu, here Milne talks of “very little fresh food, only a few scrawny chickens and the smallest of eggs” as well as severe shortage of water; a place where due to the lack of toilets people of Hargeysa used the southern side of the Tug (valley) as a huge open air toilet.
But, Milne remembers how much fun they had watching Somali men watering their animals from deep wells. He describes how men scooped water in a cone shaped tightly woven basket and tossed it to men above him, who in turn tossed it to the next man and so on up to the surface where it was poured to the trough for camels.
At Berbera, Milne explains how they enjoyed the beautiful beach, Arab dhows and the experimental farm near Berbera, probably Batalaale. He notices how the governor's two story building Residency was the only ‘proper' house in town at the time, describing it as “like fort out of the Arabian Nights” amid the squalid neighborhood. Reading Milne's richly descriptive reminiscence, the reader can see that even through a child's eye, the difference of attitude between the British and Italian colonial rulers to their subjects. This was not lost on Milne if you read his first email carefully when he says: “… I do not know how History views our occupation of your country but it would seem your part of " Somalia " is getting on with the business of Government and being a help to your people.” Also in another email he expresses his amazement about Hargeysa's present development and bewails the destruction that beset Mogadishu :
“...Every now and then I Google Earth Hargeysa to see if they have added the HiRes photo. At last it has happened. I was stunned at the development…The beautiful city of Mogadishu is now in ruins, but you are doing well, more strength to your elbow and good luck.”
We hope to include in the last part a short note regarding the history of Milne's family and where each of them continued living after they had left Hargeisa as well as some pictures of where Milne lives now. It is our interest to share the story with as many Somali speaking websites as we can, especially as Awdalnews cannot handle images and we would like those sites with good image capability to publish the pictures accompanying this piece and others we shall send with the last piece of the four part series. I wish you good reading --- Bashir Goth , Awdalnews.
Below is the first part of Milne's story:
In 1939, my father was an agricultural officer in Uganda . My mother, and I and my younger brother were in England , on leave, when world war two broke out. We immediately boarded a ship and sailed to Mombasa , Kenya .
Like all white kids in Kenya , we were sent to boarding school, where we stayed until 1945 when we started our adventure to join my parents in Hargeisa. My father was Director of agriculture, and in the British Army administration.
My father had come down from Hargeisa to collect us from school and have us join an Army convoy in Nairobi .
From Nairobi to Mogadishu
The convoy consisted of over 200 trucks and several hundred native troops. The first day from Nairobi , travelling north was very pleasant, with beautiful views of snow covered Mount Kenya , however, the land soon became drier and the trees became sparser until by the third day, we were in limitless plains of hot dry thorny scrub. . There were no villages as the people in this area were nomadic herders. We arrived at Isiolo, and camped outside the walls of the old Fort.
That night, and every other night we camped out under the stars. We arranged our camp beds within the camp perimeter, which was guarded by sentries, for safety. Not that there was much to worry about but we always went to sleep hearing the roaring of Lions and the laughing yap of Hyenas.
The convoy was an army operation, and we adhered to strict Army routine. At daybreak, a bugle sounded, and with no time for washing, we folded up our bedding and were ready for breakfast at 6 a.m. when a camp cook produced a pot of coffee, and some strange sausages called Soya links. There were no toilet facilities, so to relieve ourselves, it was a question of finding a suitable bush away from curious eyes . By 6:30 a.m. we were on the trucks and setting off down the hot dry, dusty and bumpy roads. My brother and I sat in the back of the trucks on the cargo high above the roof of the cabin. This gave us a great view of the countryside, and it was also the coolest spot. The downside was the dust churned up by the truck ahead, other even though and the trucks were spaced quite far apart . The hot sandy roads caused truck tyres to overheat so a stop was ordered for 15 minutes every two hours. This was known as a ‘Pee stop” and everyone made good use of it.
At five o'clock each evening, The Officer in Charge looked for a suitable campsite, everybody bundled out of the trucks and set up their beds for the night, and to have a quick wash before the evening meal. Lighting consisted of several petrol driven Coleman lamps, which made a thunderous roar but provided quite adequate lighting. The evening meal was usually bully beef, canned vegetables, and canned pears or peaches for sweets. This was washed down with either tea or coffee made with sweetened condensed milk. Lunch, by the way, was a can of bully beef and Army biscuits. So we got to eat a lot of bully beef during the trip!
Mogadishu : the pride of Italy 's overseas possessions
After a week of this we reached Mogadishu . The British Army had taken the town over from the Italians but very sensibly left the Italians to run it. It was a glorious place. The gleaming white buildings were set close to the blue Indian Ocean separated from it by golden sandy beaches. It was clean, neat and tidy. We were billeted at the Hotel Crochet Del Sud and then left to roam the town by ourselves. It was at this hotel that we were introduced to Spaghetti. What fun we had with that stuff!
Mogadishu was the pride of Italy 's overseas possessions. The Mussolini Government had spent millions turning it into a showpiece. The town was a mixture of Arab architecture and heroic Italian public buildings. There were wide paved streets lined with open air cafes and ice cream shops. Town squares were decorated with Rotundas, Columns and Statues. The Officers Club had to be seen to be believed, with every luxury, and ornate as only the Italians can do. The ceilings were painted with Heroic scenes of past Italian glories. The British locked the Italian Officers into a Concentration Camp on the edge of town, and took over the Club but very sensibly retained the Mess staff to run the place with the usual Italian flair, a flair not usually associated with the British.
We had two favourite places. One was the Museum. I think the building was converted from what must have been a very wealthy Arab businessman's mansion. It had a walled garden with a fountain in the middle of it. We loved it and spent many hours exploring it. The other place was the Lido . We had never seen anything like it before. It was a large long building with huge glass windows overlooking the Ocean and beach. There was a long Bar and tables and chairs everywhere, drinks and food was available. Downstairs was a gym, showers and changing rooms. We loved it.
Looking back, I am amazed at the freedom we were allowed. The Italians were in no way hostile. They were never keen on the War. I am sure they liked the pomp and ceremony of an Army, but hated the idea of actually fighting. I remember visiting the concentration camp and sifting through piles of medals and insignia confiscated by the British. The Somali people treated us well and we felt perfectly safe as we explored the alleyways of the Arab part of town.
At last it was time to leave the luxury of Mog and get into our dusty Chevrolet 30 hundred-weight 4x4 trucks. They were the Army workhorses and were almost indestructible. However the petrol used to power them was so dirty that pulling down the carburettor and blowing out its fine galleries was a not infrequent job. It usually gave a chance for an extra pee and walkabout.
The first hundred miles was brilliant, as the Italians had paved the road with bitumen. It suddenly came to a stop in the middle of nowhere and we were back on the bumpy dust and the old Army routine. After several days, I was quite convinced we were lost; we climbed up through the hills to Hargeisa and home.
...to be continued
Contact: Bashir Goth, EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org , we will provide Hugh Milne's email with the last part.