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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

The Army that Vanished — Cleaning up in Palestine

page 2

The Army that Vanished
Cleaning up in Palestine.


The Bedouin Harvest

It is almost a misuse of words to say that we captured this huge mass of material. We certainly overran it. But the bulk of it was destroyed. War is waste all the way. In a few days enemy property to the tune of millions sterling was absolutely destroyed. This destruction was not wanton: it was simply an inevitable part of war. Of all the enemy stuff we overran not ten per cent perhaps is to-day of any value to us. The rest? Much the enemy fired at the last moment. A few gallons of petrol and a match flung at a motor lorry as our horsemen swooped down upon it left little but the engine and iron for us to "capture." Sometimes the cavalry
captured turkish guns.

captured turkish guns.

secured great hauls of stuff intact. But their mission was not the protection or salvage of enemy property, however valuable. And they would not be out of sight before the thieving Bedouins, the camp followers of five thousand years, and the boldest and most brazenly honest looters in the world, wauld rise from the bare plains as mysteriously as vultures appear from a bright blue sky, and begin their gentle trafficking. One had to admire in this campaign the audacity and swift resource of the Bedouin. Looting is a passion with these picturesque folk of Western Palestine. War fulfils the harvest of their dreams. They must not be confused with our fighting Allies on the east of Jordan. Those are the true Arabs who are to-day very near to what they were a thousand years ago. These fellows along the Mediterranean suffer by comparison. Fighting is not in their line; they are sincere neutrals. They win, whoever wins. Like the true connoisseur, they collect for the joy of possession. But their one condition is cheapness. They will take anything that they can get for nothing, from empty jam tins to the flesh of a dead camel.

Indifferent to Danger

When our cavalry swarmed over the Esdraelon Plain and in a few hours captured great dumps at Nazareth, Jenin, and Afule, the Bedouin revelled in his conception of Armageddon. He came from every camp and village within twenty miles or more, and with him came his women and children and parents and grandparents, and camels and horses and asses. To his credit it should be said that he was not shy of risks. At Jenin I watched hundreds of these people cramb-ling around a huge burning dump fired by the Germans. They went boldly on to the edge of the flames, careless of the frequent explosions and showers of debris as the fire reached shells and bombs. The temptation there was a great supply of German tinned fresh beef, and they laughed and shouted as they ventured their lives for it. They are strangely indifferent to physical suffering. At Nablus they were looting a railway building when a bomb burst on contact and killed some of them and wounded many others. The multitude momentarily fled, but quickly returned to their happy task, quite unconcerned about their dead and wounded Every track for many miles round the Esdraelon Plain was for days congested by Bedouins with their heavy burdens: as a rule the men drove the overloaded animals, and their women paced alongside with incredible weights poised easily upon their heads. And of all they bore one article or fragment out of ten could never be of the least use to them.


The Bedouins were certainly a leading factor in the wonderful clean-up which followed our grand flood of conquest. But our own troops were a good second and were especially deadly on all the wood work.page 3For a fertile region the country which lies between Gaza and Damascus 240 miles away is perhaps the barest in the world. You could almost count the trees within sight as you went through in the train. On this campaign, as in all the earlier ones, the soldiers chief anxiety was firewood. Over hundreds, even thousands of square miles, the troopers sought in vain for sticks enough to boil their billies. The importance of tea increases during a long advance; give a man strong, sweet tea two or three times a day and he will care little about the quality of his hard biscuit and salt bully. But the tea he will have. Today you would notice a string of little Turkish wagons on the road-side Tomorrow you would discover there only the heavy timber of the undercarriages and perhaps the wheels. The rest of those wagons would have gone up in smoke while the Light Horse or the Indians or Yeomanry boiled their quarts. The destructive power of the bayonet upon woodwork is amazing. What was not burned at the moment you would see attached in small bundles to the saddles of each horseman. Then in places hundreds of these vehicles were of necessity used for fires to burn up the dead horses and cattle which had drawn them and had fallen in the fight. This happened in the Adana Gorge near Damascus, where the Light Horse, in destroying an enemy column, which persisted in its endeavour to escape, shot 370 of the enemy dead and also many hundreds of transport animals. The dead horses and cattle and camels were an immediate menace to the water supply of Damascus. After the fight the road was impassable with vehicles. A couple of days later little heaps of twisted fire iron were all that remained. No other fuel offered, nor could the carcases be buried. So the hundreds of wagons and carts were used to burn the fallen animals. At such a time values are relative.


The British Army of course took over at once all enemy arms and munitions. There was no destruction and practically no loss of guns or machine guns or rifles. There was, too, an instant appropriation for active use of every serviceable motor lorry and car. The trouble was not to find the car but to lay hands on a driver. It was forbidden, except under very special circumstances, to employ the captured German chaffeurs, and I saw more than one Hun camouflaged under a big Australian hat as he cheerfully did odd jobs, chiefly in the way of extra supplies, for a Light Horse Regiment or Brigade. But the majority of enemy motor lorries and ears continued to stand idle because of the mysterious removal of the magneto, and each British driver as he passed helped himself to titbits according to his needs or his fancy. Very early the captive would have its petrol tank emptied, then its tool box would be picked over, and it would be lucky if the tea makers did not get away with its woodwork. In passing, one might mention that nearly all of the enemy lorries ran on iron tyres and the motor cars on hard rubber. The lightning speed of the advance was shown by the almost negible amount of demolition wrought by the enemy himself. From Jaffa to Damascus the advanced troops along the direct main route were only once delayed by a broken bridge. Occasionally dumps and vehicles were fired, but the mental chaos of the Turkish side was shown by the failure to destjoy even his petrol dumps. The joy with which British drivers discovered that pink German petrol!

Captured Turkish Ponies.

Then there were the captured horses, or rather ponies, for very seldom has the Turk
palais de justice, damascus, occupied by arab army. (British Off. Photo.)

palais de justice, damascus, occupied by arab army.
(British Off. Photo.)

a horse which stands above 13 or 14. hands. We picked up these ponies in great numbers, skinny, long-haired little fellows, but like their masters extremely hardy campaigners. All captured horses have to be sent back to the base as soon as possible after they are taken. But a little grace is given, and for a week or two after an advance you see a fair sprinkling of the best of. them in our cavalry lines. The average Light Horseman is loth to part with a neat backsheesh pony and occasionally you find a beauty in the Turkish cavalry. Those sent back were sometimes used to carry the prisoners, and one evening at Lejjun this practice led to one of the most tumultuous incidents in the campaign. There were 4000 Turks and 500 ponies, and a sympathetic staff officer decided that the prisoners should take it in turn to ride. Already the men were exhausted and footsore. They still had far to go; the road was rough and dusty, the evening hot. They were under the escort of a handful of Light Horsemen The moment they learned the ponies were to be ridden, they made a wild mob dash. Turkish ponies are not easily alarmed, but this was too much for them, and they bolted. For half an-hour ponies galloped and Turks ran and fought. As each pony was caught he was stormed by twenty riders, and as each man mounted he was dragged down and trampled upon. The Light Horsemen had much hard riding and bluff rifle shooting before the column was restored.

A Bare, Neglected Land.

Since then most of the Turkish ponies have been sold at auction in a keen local market; the guns have been collected by ordnance; the Turkish trains are running on the restored railways; life is almost normal over the wide captured territory and in the villages and towns. Drive over the 20,000 or 30,000 square miles of territory acquired in the campaign, and you cannot believe that here less than a month ago was a great modern enemy army 100,000 strong. Scarcely a trace of the fighting Turk remains, and what is still more extraordinary, there is very little to tell that for many hundreds of years the Ottoman Government held and ruled the land. The evidence of the long -Turkish oppression is negative. One of the richest lands in the world lies relatively undeveloped. A region which once carried many millions of rich settlers, and was beautiful with its wide orchards and groves and priceless forests of timber, and its wide domains of intensive cultivation, to-day lies treeless and neglected and poor.

"Oreb": Talking of souvenirs, I don't go nap on any of the ordinary kind which lose their interest after they have been looked at once or twice. What I hope to take home to the girl I left behind me in Aussie, is a live chameleon —a dinkum souvenir. My girl maynot cotton to it at first, but after a while she'll imshi her pampered poodle or Persian cat in favour of the litre quick-colour-change artist that mops up flies with an elastic tongue. Since I lobbed over here, I've owned several chameleons; but I've had to part with each in turn owing to the exigency of active service. Still, it is pretty easy to get specimens; you. can even buy them sometimes. On Cairo railway station once, I saw a Gyppo with two chameleons in a palm-rib basket. One was a giant, normal colour bronze-gren with brick-red dots. Its price was only twenty ackers. I was going up the Line after a week's leave, and hadn't any filus to sling about; so the chameleon, though it changed its colour, didn't change ownership.