The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Camels have always played an important part in the invasions of Egypt and Palestine. In the shadowy past, Shishak advanced into the land with an immense army, which included many swift riding camels. Pharoah Necho, King of Egypt, gave much of the credit for his victory against the Assyrians to his camel-mounted troops. At El Auja, near Beersheeba, there are drawings of camels on the walls of an old Roman fortress, so it is quite probable that the legions of Alexander used dromedaries for fighting purposes. During his campaign in Egypt in 1801 Napoleon used thousands of camels; and a British Camel corps performed valuable work in the advance towards Khartoum to relieve General Gordon.
Towards the end of 1915, a Camel Corps was formed from the first two divisions of Australian Infantry. Major C. L. Smith V.C., M.C. (now Brigadier-General Smith), took command, and Captain J. Barber, O.N., was appointed Adjutant. Later, Imperial and New Zealand troops were added to this unit, and it was renamed the Imperial Camel Corps. The Australian Camel Field Ambulance was formed up in Victoria, A.A.M.C. men from several states being included. It joined the I.C.C. at Sheikh Nuran in 1917, and has been in stunts from Beersheeba to the Jordan.
Just about the time that the British were clearing the north-western frontier of Egypt of the hordes of Senussi, the Imperial Camel Corps appeared on the scene and took a minor part in the fight at Solium, on March 12th., 1916. After the departure of the South African in- fantry, the Camel Corps took charge of that vast area of territory, stretching from El Debba to the Tripoli border, and also patrolld "BARRAK!" the desert wastes between the coast and Siwa. It was mainly owing to their careful patrol work, assisted by the Duke of Westminster's armoured cars, that the Senussi were unable to make another attack upon the northern coast of Egypt.
The pen cannot describe the hardships endured by Cameliers in the Libyan Desert.
For days together they rode over that weird waste of sand, often through blinding dust-storms. They patrolled under a scorching sun and often suffered the agonies of thirst; but the men took what came along, good or bad, with stoical indifference. While a portion of the unit watched every movement of the Senussi, another section engaged the Turks near Romani. Prior to this engagement, the Turkish camel patrols used to ride close to our outposts, and, although often pursued by our horsemen, always managed to retire to their base, owing to the swiftness of their animals. Upon the appearance of the I.C.C, they soon discovered that our camels covered the ground as speedily as their own animals; and when several of their patrols had been captured, they decided that it was a force to be respected.
It was not until preparations were being made for the advance on El Arish that the Camel Corps showed that it was going to take a leading part in the fighting ahead. Day alter day these Cameliers pushed forward over the ancient caravan route leading to Bir-el-Mazar. Arriving at this deserted Turkish base, they rested for a time, and then pushed on again until they came within a few miles of the Turkish position. Here they carried out much valuable patrolling work until the main body of troops arrived.
Camel patrol work is often very wearisome as the animals travel very slowly, They keep up their two and three-quarter miles an hour pace with monotonous regularity.
When the Cameliers came under the fire of the enemy gunners at Rafa, they expected their animals to career wildly over the wheat-sown land, but strange to say, the camels never moved an eyelid although a hail of shrapnel burst over them. The charge of the Camel Corps at Gaza on April 19th., 1917, against superior numbers, will live in history. During the ''big push" from Beersheeba the Camel Corps played an important part and upheld the reputation it made in Sinai days.
The camel is Nature's gift to Desert folk, and doubtless it will always be used in Desert warfare; because it can live without a drink for a longer period than any other animal, and carries a week's supply of water and food for its rider, as well as its own food. For transport work camels are invaluable; despite their slender legs, they carry great burdens with ease. For a military dromedary, the average load is 350lbs.; transport camels, of course, carry much greater weights. Natives don't spare their beasts of burden, and loads of up to 900 lbs. are heaped on camels in the cotton plantations of Egypt.
From a near view there is nothing beautiful about them; but few Eastern scenes are more wonderful than a string of camels in the Desert, etched against a sunset sky.