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The Voulet-Chanoine Mission To Lake Chad

By Leon Kriser

The Voulet-Chanoine mission to reach Lake Chad was one of the most brutal and bizarre in all colonial warfare. Their part in the in the destruction of the Wagadugu empire in 1897 set the tenor of this mission. Here Voulet and Chanoine burnt every village they came to and executed numerous natives, for which Voulet, whose Father happened to be War Minister, received the Legion d'Honneur for His part.

The mission to Lake Chad set out with 50 Senegalese and 20 spahis, with orders to raise 400 auxiliaries, a cannon and 800 conscripted bearers in Nov 98. They split into two columns Voulet heading for Timbuktu where Lt Col Klobb gave Him 70 tirailleurs and 20 saphis. He met up again with Chanoine and began moving east, the column now around 2,000 people. They stripped every village they came to of food, women and porters, having already lost 150 bearers to accidents, neglect and firing squads. Voulet and Chanoine began shooting their own tirailleurs for what they perceived as disobeying orders.

Paris learned of what is happening by a letter from Marine Lt Peteau, who was sent back to the coast by Voulet for indiscipline( can you imagine what he was doing?). The French government ordered Klobb to capture Voulet and Chanione, so with Lt Meynier and 36 tirailleurs he followed the trail of burnt villages and severed heads on stakes.

Having hanged their guides, Voulet and Chanoine wandered aimlessly searching for food and villages. Their atrocities continued to escalate, in one incident 150 women and children were murdered over the deaths of two tirailleurs in a raid. What was worse for the French government was that this was happening in the unconquered, but still British territory of Sokoto.

Klobb caught up to Voulet and Chanoine on July 10th. Camping a few miles away, Klobb sent one of His men to demand Their surrender. Voulet replied, saying he would not surrender and was prepared to fight if Klobb intervened. On the 14th Klobb caught up with the tail of the column, where Voulet was in command. As Klobb moved up to parlay, Voulet ordered his men to fire over Klobb's head. Undeterred, Klobb continues to advance and Voulet orders a second volley. With this volley Klobb dropped dead and Meynier, the second in command, was wounded.

Voulet retreated to the rest of the column where that night he informs the other white officers of his clash with Klobb. He tells them that he intends to set up his own bush kingdom, inviting them to join. Realizing the trouble they are now in the officers begin to hesitate and excuse themselves from the scene. Their apprehension transfers to their men who begin to desert.

Informed by a tirailleur that the men are about to mutiny, Voulet and Chanoine call the remaining tirailleurs together. Voulet shoots the informer in front of the others and they both harangue the men on their duty to follow their leaders. Either Chanoine or Voulet then began to fire at the men and the other followed. The Tirailleurs returned fire killing Chanoine and driving Voulet into the bush. A sergeant finds one of the other officers and tells him of Voulets' escape. He also pledges the loyalty of the men to this officer.

The next day Voulet, with His few remaining loyal soldiers tries to enter the camp. He is called upon to surrender, but after an exchange of fire falls dead. Lt Pallier now takes over command. He realizes the only way to salvage their careers, and possibly their lives is to try to reach Lake Chad and complete their mission.

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