Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Jidballi in 1904. This campaign was part of the Somaliland offensive, which had started in 1901 when the Mullah Mohammed Abdullah proclaimed himself the Mahdi and started raiding British Somaliland. Repulsed twice in 1901 and 1902, it became clear that more substantial operations were necessary in the interior of the country. British Mounted Infantry, Indian and African regular soldiers, together with local volunteers were used to launch simultaneous attacks to try and drive the Mullah from his stronghold and into the desert.
There were some successes and some failures amongst these operations; a lack of water, food and transport had severely hindered the British forces’ advances in 1903, and by the autumn they were forced to wait and regroup, and resupply via a coastal road they had built themselves. Operations started again at the end of October 1903, although there was little action, despite the allied forces trying to tempt the Somalis into attacking their column in December.
By January 1904, General Egerton, now commanding in Somaliland, decided to advance on Jidballi, which was 40 miles east of Eil Dab where the Mullah’s men were gathering. The ensuing battle for the Hampshire Regiment lasted only 40 minutes from the opening fire, as the trained soldiers were more accurate shooters than the Somali troops, who retreated with British mounted troops in pursuit.
Today’s museum treasure is this fabulous shield made from Hippo hide. It was brought back after the Battle of Jidballi, and donated to the museum by Major SCF Jackson DSO, who later went on to command the 1st Battalion. The shield is decorated on both sides – the reverse has a painted design. It is smaller than may be expected however, measuring only 35cm in diameter.