The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Confessions of a Camelier
Why did I join the Camel Corps? Don't know Perhaps, like many another Billjim who took a hand in the scrapping at Anzac, my b ain was affected. Anyhow, after a spell in hospital, I rejoined my battalion at Tel-el-Kebir, in January, '16. Two days afterwards, word glided around the camp that men were wanted for a Camel Corps, then in course of formation.
Visions of a long spell in Cairo while training to ride the "hooshters" loomed before me; and I wore the soles off two pairs of boots parading between my tent and the orderly room, in an endeavour to be selected. The GO. didn't like losing his old hands, and for a time, it looked as if I would continue to foot-slog over the soft sands of the one-time battlefield. However, perseverance won the day, and one sunny Saturday morning saw a train-load of us en route, to Abbassia—the first men for the now far-famed Imperial Camel Corps.
I shall not dwell on those weeks of trying to tame and ride camels; the subject is too painful. Sufficient to say, that during every hour's riding exercise, we felt as if we stood between Abbassia and the Australian Hospital; in fact, owing to the lovely tempers many of the "hooshters" were gifted with, several of us did strike the latter institution; and long jagged scars on the hands and arms of many of our men are the results of those first days of learning to ride the "Ships of the Desert."
There are all kinds of camels. Some never cause the slightest trouble,' others, again, are mad from the day of their birth, and their one ambition in life seems to be to chew an arm or leg off some unfortunate individual. They have a special liking for the flesh of an Australian. I know something about mad camels —my word, I do. There was one fine, upstanding brute that we received in exchange for a lazy Senussi camel. Never saw a worse tempered animal in my life. He was generally tied to the lines day and night; and when he started the "dilly" act, there was something doing.
I was detailed one morning to take this camel, with others, to graze about three miles from our camp. Well, I managed to get all the animals to their destination—a wide field of young barley—and was taking things easy under a bush when I noticed that the "queer" camel was trying to lead the others towards the distant horizon. I started after the Old chap on foot, leaving my rifle under the bush. When I got near enough, I started throwing stones at him hoping that this would persuade him to rejoin the other camels, which were grazing peace fully amongst the barley. He took the bombardment in good part at first, then suddenly threw himself on the ground, rolled, rose again and came at me with a rush. Now, when a camel comes this stunt, any sensible man will go for his life in the direction of his rifle; I didn't. You see, I had a lot to learn about their giddy ways in those days.
Well I ran to the right and the left, and then made a bee line for the camels, which were grazing some distance away. This manœuvre on my part probably saved my life; for I dodged in amongst the animals, and the camel who was pursuing me received a cold reception from the rest of the "hooshters". Strange that camels have no time for a "magnune" comrade, and unitedly oppose his overtures. Dodging in amongst the other animals. the 'magnune" lost sight of me, and I returned to the bush where I had left my rifle. Half an-hour later, the camel again approached towards the vicinity of the bush, but although he saw me did not attempt to raise any trouble. Prior to the outbreak of war, I was often told that once a camel took a "set" on a man, it Would eventually get home on him. This is quite true, as the following story will prove.
Next morning, I was again detailed to take the camels for grazing. This time I sought new pasture ground—a barley field fringed by two long sand dunes. With memories of the previous
day, I kept a wary eye on the "crazy" camel. This morning he was quite docile—so I thought —and munched the young grain without apparently noticing my presence. About mid-day, I sat down to rest in the middle of the barley field. I had scarcely made myself comfy before I heard the tramp, tramp of a camel; and, to my surprise, I saw my enemy of the previous day racing towards me. No matter which way I ran there was no shelter, so, as a last resort, I pressed a clip into the magazine of my rifle, and taking careful aim, fired. The bullet caught the camel fairly in the centre of the forehead, and he fell heavily amongst the green crops. That afternoon, on my return to camp, I informed my CO. of the "magnune" camel's fate. He looked serious for a time, and talked about holding an inquiry; but as I never heard anything further about the affair I have a hazy idea that he was more delighted than I at the death of an animal which had put "the wind" up him as well as the rest of the company.
A Sheik Nuran I was allotted a camel that nobody else would fide. He was half transport, half riding camel, and fearfully slow on the line of march. I reckon that animal had been badly used previous to coming' my way, for he was afraid of my slightest move. Well, I never yet carried a rhino whip, and there and then set out to serve an extra special brand of kindness to this animal. He appreciated it, and a though slow, showed his gratitude in many ways.