The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine
Chapter VIII. — Down by Jericho
Down by Jericho.
Watch how the young exultant sun climbs high
O'er Moab's drear and desolate waste.
On lonely Nebo's rugged peaks descry
His first red beams, thence onward chased
To sacred Pisgah's craggy precipice;
And ere the depths of dead Bahr Lut
Have coldly answered his fierce ardent kiss
The weird fantastic figures cut
Across the plain on Quarantana's crest,
Till e'en Mar Saba's dismal towers
Seem less foreboding while by him caressed;
Though soon the whole wide valley cowers
And trembles 'neath his keen relentless gaze,
Each narrow wadi shadeless as
Its steep hillsides all shimmering in the haze;
Rejoicing in his strength he says
"This is my day, I'll have my way
Mark how the Khamsin casts his baneful spell
o'er all life, and the very dust.
Foul breathing of the Desert, hot as hell,
More deadly than the dragon's thrust.
He chokes and smothers with his noxious stench
Like some foul reptile, men, whose throats
Too dry to curse find naught their thirst to quench
Whose rattle death's approach denotes.
See how his fiery tongue licks up the dust
And spues it at the tight closed eyes,
Blasting the sight and with each scorching gust
Stifling the birds and e'en the flies.
How his hot fury slacks not day nor night
But dries the marrow in the bones,
Bleeds energy and stunts life with its blight;
He says in no uncertain tones
"This is my day, all own my sway
On April 2nd the Division moved back across the Jordan by the Ghoraniyeh bridge and bivouacked "down by Jericho" and began the long sojourn there which was to last right through the sweltering summer.
The New Zealand Brigade bivouacked on the plain between Jericho and the Jordan river, almost upon the site of Gilgal of the Israelites.
The warmth after the cold mountain top was very pleasant for a few days, but the warmth rapidly increased to a heat as the Khamsin season came on. The first of these hot winds page 217of the season, bringing from the deserts of Arabia a stifling air from which all ozone is excluded, began to blow on the 17th and lasted for 48 hours. There is a great deal of lime and a great deal of sulphur in the soil, and the combination formed the greatest dust plague yet experienced. It was a dust of a most penetrating and irritating quality.
With the lessons of Salonica before them, our medical officers immediately began an anti-malarial campaign. Swamps were drained, all running water canalised and water that could not be made to run or otherwise drained off was treated with crude oil, which, floating upon the surface, prevents the Anopheles mosquito (the malaria-carrier) from breeding. This work was a great one and it entailed much labour, and to reinforce the efforts of the mounted troops who were holding the line a number of Sikh pioneers were brought down to the valley.
Owing to the foresight in taking in hand the latest anti-malarial methods, and to these efforts being kept up throughout the whole of the summer, the malarial casualties to the mounted troops in the valley were astonishingly small. And a clear proof that these efforts were on right lines and most efficacious was given towards the end of the campaign when our men left their own areas and advanced into the ground page 218which had been occupied all the summer by the Turks? Malaria immediately attacked all ranks, and the casualties from this disease were exceptionally heavy.
Another proof that these anti-malarial measures were good was given by the fact that the few malarial casualties that the Division did suffer occurred invariably among the troops holding the front line on the west side of the Jordan north of Jericho. Here there was a large area of swampy ground, which on our side of No Man's Land was thoroughly drained and canalised, while on the other side of No Man's Land the Turk did nothing. The prevailing wind at night blew from the Turkish lines to ours, and it was here that the only malarial cases occurred.
Following their precedent of cleaning up the towns which we had occupied, our medical officers turned their attention to Jericho, and very nearly met their Waterloo. The officer in command of the Divisional Sanitary Section was an Australian Rhodes' Scholar and a most enthusiastic worker, and a man who had the knack of working the native races. The head man of the town was ordered to turn out every able-bodied man he had to clean up the town under the supervision of the O.C. Sanitary Section and his men. The work began with much enthusiasm, but the working party rapidly dwindled away. The head man was again lined up and told to muster the inhabitants, and a fresh start was made, with the same result, and the Sanitary Officer was in despair. Eventually a guard was put over the workers, and after much trouble and many days the village was cleared of its worst rubbish heaps and its most evil smells.
When the force which had raided Amman returned across the Jordan a "bridgehead" was formed covering the Ghoraniyeh bridge. Trenches were dug, wire put out, and the position was well covered by guns from the western bank. The line was held by the 1st L.H. Brigade, and on April 11th was heavily attacked by a large force of Turks. The attack began at 4 o'clock in the morning, and at the same time the enemy heavily shelled our lines on the Wadi Aujah, north of Jericho, which were held by the Camel Brigade. The attack at Ghoraniyeh was a most determined one, and parties of the enemy pushed forward to within 100 yards of the line. They page 219were heavily shelled by our artillery, and at half-past 12 a regiment of Light Horse rode out and attacked them in the flank.
The attacks on the Aujah were also beaten off. After nightfall patrols found that the enemy had retired in front of the Ghoraniyeh bridge to his old line at the foot of the hills. In these attacks he lost very heavily, a rough estimate giving his casualties at 2500; the only casualties to the Division being 26 killed and 65 wounded, and horses, 28 killed and 62 wounded.
On April 18th the Brigade moved across the river to the Ghoraniyeh bridgehead, and on the 19th took part in an attack upon the Turks in the foothills.
On the 23rd the Brigade moved to a new bivouac near the foothills, close to old Roman Jericho. This was the city which, with its district, Anthony had given to Cleopatra. She sold it to King Herod, who embellished it with palaces and made it his winter residence. And here it was that he died. Close to the camp also was the Birket Musa, or Pool of Moses. It was a great pool built by Herod to conserve water from the Wadi Kelt to irrigate the gardens which were the beauty of Jericho, and in which grew the balsam which made Jericho noted.
The city was also famous for its palms, and history states that for many generations there existed a vast grove of majestic palms nearly three miles broad and eight miles long. Scarcely a solitary palm now remains as a remembrance of "Jericho the City of Palms." Close by the Brigade bivouac the Wadi Kelt, a small stream of running water, debouches on to the plain from out of a mighty gorge. In this great cleft, many hundreds of feet deep, the Monastery of St. George is built into a series of caves high up on the face of one of its cliffs. Along the face of this cliff are many other caves which are rented by the monks to pious Pilgrims who have come to bathe in the Jordan and who include in their Pilgrimage a period of hermitage.
On April 29th began the second raid into the Land of Moab. This was the raid upon Es Salt, the object of which was to cut off and destroy the enemy forces at Shunet Nimrin; to take Es Salt and if possible to hold it until the Arab forces could take it over; and finally generally to help the Arab forces. The Beni Sakr tribe who had helped the Amman raid stated that they had 7,000 men concentrated at Madeba.
The Desert Mounted Corps were given this operation to carry out and the troops at General Chauvel's disposal were the Anzac Mounted Division, the Australian Mounted Division, the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade and some Yeomanry and Indian Cavalry together with the 60th Division and an Indian Brigade of infantry.
The plan provided that the attack upon the enemy's strongly entrenched position was to be made by the 60th Division while the cavalry scaled the mountains at night and took Es Salt and then threw their weight upon the rear of the Turks in front of the 60th Division.page 221
For this latter purpose the Australian Division with the assistance of two brigades from the Anzacs crossed the Ghoraniyeh bridge before daylight on the morning of April 30th and galloped up the plain on the east of the river through the line of enemy posts. Then leaving the 4th L.H. Brigade to watch the bridge over the Jordan at Ed Damieh, rapidly climbed the mountain track and late in the afternoon had taken Es Salt.
In the meantime the 60th Division with the aid of the New Zealand Brigade attacked the Shunet Nimrin position. This was of great strength and no headway was made that day during which the Canterbury Regiment had been attached to the 60th Division and were in action on its right against a very strong position well backed up by guns.
After dusk the Brigade withdrew into reserve by the bridge leaving the Wellington Regiment with the 180th Brigade of the 60th Division.
The next day May 1st the attack was continued and the Canterbury Regiment was sent to reinforce the 179th Infantry Brigade.
Meanwhile the 4th L.H. Brigade watching the bridge at Ed Damieh had been heavily attacked and were driven back some miles, losing their guns. At about noon General Chaytor received orders to take all the troops he could and to go to their assistance for there was a great danger, if the 4th L.H. Brigade were forced to retire any further, that the communications with the force at Es Salt would be broken.
The New Zealand Brigade, therefore, less two regiments, and with a Yeomanry Regiment and some machine guns were hurriedly sent up the east bank. Soon afterwards the Canterbury Regiment rejoined and a line was established by General Chaytor covering the foot of the only track remaining open to the Australian Division on the mountains at Es Salt.
This Division finding opposition stiffen after the capture of the town, had been unable to attack the Turks holding up the 60th Division, for they were occupied in keeping what they had gained.
During the next two days the attack on the Turkish position continued and though the 60th Division had been reinforced no progress was made.page 222
Though their main road through Es Salt was in the occupation of our cavalry, the Turks had a road open through Es Sir and were being steadily reinforced. The Commander-in-Chief therefore ordered a withdrawal which was successfully carried out during the night of the 3rd.
The bringing of five Mounted Brigades down a single mountain track was a very difficult operation and to assist in this the Canterbury Regiment occupied (dismounted) the lower slopes of the hills down which the track from Es Salt came.
As soon as all the troops were down from the mountains and the 60th Division had withdrawn within the Ghoraniyeh bridgehead the New Zealand Brigade withdrew and recrossed the river, reaching their bivouac by 4 o'clock on the morning of May 5th, leaving the Wellington and Auckland Regiments temporarily at the bridgehead.
Though this raid had been unsuccessful and the Amman raid had not resulted in the capture of that town, yet the two raids were invaluable to General Allenby in that the Turkish High Command were now fully convinced that he would not advance on the coastal plain until he had secured his right flank by the capture of Amman. This induced them to keep a whole army facing our troops in the Jordan valley leaving the extreme right of their line comparatively weakly held, thus giving General Allenby an opportunity of which he was not slow to avail himself, when the time was ripe.
The question of the occupation of the Jordan valley throughout the summer was now considered. Local authorities stated that it was impossible for Europeans to live there after May 1st, on account of malaria; and that even the Arabs evacuated Jericho during the summer months, the only inhabitants who remained being a hybrid race descended from African slaves which had been imported by the Arabs in the days of their prosperity. There were three reasons why the valley should be held. The first reason was that the road from the Turkish railway at Amman, crossing the Jordan at Ghoraniyeh, was always a serious menace to our right flank; the second because it would be necessary to re-take the valley before the advance in the spring and this was considered more costly in lives than holding it; and the third and perhaps most page 223important reason was that it was desired to hoodwink the enemy by the display of a large mounted force and constant activity upon that flank. The Turkish High Command had already paid our mounted troops the compliment in several "appreciations" which had come into our hands, of assuming that in whatever part of our line they were in evidence, it was from there we might be expected to strike. In the wilderness overlooking the Jericho plain, which was the only alternative position to hold, there was neither space nor water for a large body of cavalry. It therefore was decided to hold the Jordan valley and do the best that could he done to combat disease.
Though our losses from malaria were considerable, the heat intense, and the dust worse than our troops had hitherto experienced, the ultimate results more than justified this decision.
General Allenby was a strong forceful man and as such was beloved by our men. He was impulsive but just and was known far and wide as the "Bull." He was a frequent visitor to the valley and much interested himself in the fight that the cavalry were making against the climate. Naturally everyone tried to appear at his best when the Commander-in-Chief came round, and the news of his appearance in the valley was always promptly passed round. One day during a Turkish attack upon our outposts he appeared and went forward with the Divisional Commander to see what was going on. Immediately in front of him was one of a series of posts of Light Horsemen. While the C.-in-C. was standing there he noticed a man at the post waving his arms frantically and persistently. After a while he asked what this man was doing and was told that he was only signalling to the next post. But the man kept on and at length the C.-in-C. sent an officer across to enquire what the urgent message was. The answer was given after much hedging, "B.B.L.," and the embarrased officer had to explain to the C.-in-C. that "B.R.L." meant "Bull broken loose."
In order to shorten as much as possible the tour of duty of each brigade in the valley and hold it with as few troops as was compatible with safety the line was divided into two sectors in each of which there was the equivalent of three page 224brigades. After the necessary reserves were provided for, three brigades were available for a rest out of the valley.
In accordance with this scheme the New Zealanders left the valley "down by Jericho" and reached Talaat ed Dumm (by the Good Samaritan's Inn) half way to Jerusalem, on the evening of May 16th, and remained there for some days. Situated in the heart of the wilderness, among rocky hills composed of a limestone that produced perpetual clouds of dust, this was a very uncomfortable place in which to be camped. The water for men and horses was pumped up some 600 feet from the gorge of the Wadi Kelt, and when the pumps failed the horses were led down rocky goat tracks to be watered.
However on the 29th after an all night march, the Brigade, passing through Jerusalem and Bethlehem, reached a fine ground some five miles south of King Solomon's Pools and about half-way from Jerusalem to Hebron. Here ample water was obtained in the Wadi Arrub (the valley of Beracah of the Old Testament) and the men and horses enjoyed a well earned rest in the cool mountain air of Judea.
There is much of historical interest in this old Judean plateau and not the least were the pools of King Solomon with their huge ramifications of contributory conduits.
The occupation of the country by Rome was in evidence everywhere in the land, and curiously enough was shown always by her industry in the conserving and the distributing of water, or by her love of games, i.e., by aqueducts or amphitheatres.
Here in the Wadi Arrub our army engineers, old friends who had brought the Nile to Palestine, were busily re-creating the water supply of Jerusalem.
Herod had re-built the system of King Solomon, and Pontius Pilate had greatly extended it, by tapping the numerous springs of the Wadi Arrub, and had conveyed the water thus collected in the great masonry reservoir (now called the Birket el Arrub) by an aqueduct of some 25 miles 'to King Solomon's Pools and from there it reached the city, by the upper and lower aqueducts which still exist. Now Pontius Pilate's scheme was a very ambitious one and cost a huge sum of money; and the story is told that the people of Jerusalem page 225refused to pay and complained to Rome. The consequence of this was that ultimately Pontius Pilate was recalled.
On June 3rd, the King's Birthday, was held a parade in Bethlehem.page 226
The Commander-in-Chief had expressed a wish that on this occasion, His Majesty's first birthday anniversary since the capture of the Holy Land, the ceremony should be made a public one and that the inhabitants of Bethlehem be invited to attend.
The townspeople, in their happy and cheerful way, took up the idea with enthusiasm, and erected at the entrance to the square, in front of the Church of the Nativity, a triumphal arch decorated with flowers and flags and with this inscription: "Bethlehem Municipality Greeting on the Occasion of the Birthday of His Majesty King George V."
The square is an awkward shape for a mounted parade, so half the men paraded on foot. They were chosen from the two Brigades in the vicinity—the N.Z.M.R. Brigade and the 1st L.H. Brigade.
After the Royal salute had been given the townspeople presented the General with a loyal address, and a little girl, the representative of a large orphan school that was present, gave him a bouquet.page 227
The General was accompanied by his Staff and by General Cox, commanding the 1st L.H. Brigade, and by Colonel Findlay, commanding the N.Z.M.R. Brigade; and there were present the Governor of Bethlehem (an English officer) and two French Army officers, representing France.
The people were greatly impressed by the little ceremony, and especially so by the magnificent physique of our men. A 6-foot man on a 16-hand horse was to them a vision of the giants of old. And the French officers present were enthusiastic in their praise of the physique and bearing and quiet steadfast purpose shown by our men.
Bethlehem is a Christian city and the people are open, frank and vivacious, very different from the Moslem Arabs. It was a pleasure to ride through the streets. The people were always pleased to see our men, and took no pains to disguise their feelings, as the gloomy Mahomedans do. And it was a clean city, free from that appalling "Eastern smell" one had found everywhere.
Early in the 19th century Kinglake travelled through Palestine and found Bethlehem an oasis in the Mahomedan desert—just as now. He says: "You know what a sad and sombre decorum it is that outwardly reigns through the lands oppressed by Moslem sway. The Mahometans make beauty their prisoner, and enforce such a stern and gloomy morality, or at all events such a frightfully close semblance of it, that far and long the wearied traveller may go without catching one glimpse of outward happiness. By a strange chance in these latter days, it happened that, alone of all the places in the land, this Bethlehem, the native village of our Lord, escaped the moral yoke of the Mussulmans and heard again, after ages of dull oppression, the cheering clatter of social freedom and the voices of laughing girls."
The people declare that they are not Arabs, but that they are descendants of the Crusaders. They certainly are not generally so dark and swarthy as the Arabs. All the women have colour in their cheeks and many have blue eyes, and their dress is interesting and picturesque. Apart from its attractive colouring—a sky-blue robe with red girdle and embroidered jacket—they wear a head-dress extraordinarily like that of the ladies of the Crusaders of old.page 228
The Crusader's lady wore a head-dress not unlike a giant extinguisher, from which flowed white drapery. The women of Bethlehem wear a snowy white cloth covering the head and borne aloft upon an erection closely resembling that of the Crusader's lady, and from which it flows down the back.
Certain indeed it is that Bethlehem is to-day as it was then, the one place in all that Mahomedan world where one hears the "cheering clatter of social freedom and the voices of laughing girls."
About this time a letter was received from the Mayor of Richon le Zion asking when the Division was to come back again as the billets they had occupied were being kept for them. And when the time came for leaving Bethlehem a general cry of regret went up from the whole town, a regret not only at losing our men, but at the knowledge that as soon as our men moved off, their places would be taken by other troops; and other troops were never welcomed a second time as were our men no matter wherever they went.
On June 13th the Brigade moved out to return to its work "down by Jericho" reaching bivouac areas in the vicinity of the Ain es Duk on the 16th. This remarkable spring gushes from out a mass of stones in an arid valley, and in a few yards is a full flowing stream of delightfully cool and clear water, giving a flow of some 200,000 gallons per day. A page 229portion of this stream is still conveyed across a small valley by a beautiful arched aqueduct of three tiers of Roman arches in a perfect state of preservation.
The weather was now at its full summer heat, and the thermometer in the ambulance tents registered a daily shade temperature of 109 to 110 degrees and often as high as 120 degrees. Naked iron was so hot that one literally dared not handle it. The manner in which the horses stood this great heat was remarkable and impressed upon the mind the fact that a hot country must have been the original habitat of the horse. To put one's hand upon his back at midday was positively painful. Yet on the whole they throve amazingly in spite of the dust the heat and the many diseases in which the Jordan Valley abounded. The chief among these, Surra fever, was an illness communicated by the Surra fly, and it simply decimated the Turkish transport in 1917; as many as 42,000 camels are said to have died in the Jordan Valley. Judging from the acres of bones lying about, this enormous number cannot have been far from correct.
The water was plentiful and good and the forage all that could be desired and above all they were attended to by past masters in the art of horse mastership.
For the rest of the month the Brigade was kept busy holding the left sector of the defences in the Jordan Valley, trench digging and patrolling taking up the time, varied by encounters with enemy patrols.
The men talked a little and the officers grumbled and higher authority tried to find out why all these fine men and horses, the greatest cavalry command united under one man since the days of Darius, should be kept cooped up in this stifling valley. English speaking people in Jerusalem and any local inhabitants spoken to, had most emphatically declared that no white man could live through the summer there, and that no white man had attempted to live at Jericho in the summer time since the days of the Romans.
Mounted patrols were constantly on the move leading to skirmishes and minor actions. In the bridge heads there was always some fighting going on and a small fleet of armed launches had to be maintained and guarded on the Dead Sea, for patrolling the eastern shore and for keeping up a precarious communication with the Arab forces of the Sherif Feisal.
No engagement of any importance took place after the Es Salt raid until July 14th, when the enemy made an attempt to cut off the mounted troops on the Jordan by penetrating between them and the right of the infantry away up on the highlands of Judea.page 231
The attack commenced before dawn upon the 1st L.H. Brigade who were astride the old Roman road which ran from Jericho up the western side of the Jordan Valley close against the foot of the hills. The line held by the 1st L.H. consisted of a series of strong posts in two lines. By daylight the attack had become general along the whole line in the valley, and a German Battalion had penetrated the first line under cover of a heavy artillery barrage, and were held up against the second line, where they established themselves for some time.
The 1st Light Horse, with a magnificent counter-attack, assisted by the Wellington Regiment, soon drove off the enemy, capturing 448 prisoners, of which 377 were Germans. The remainder of the New Zealand Brigade then cleared the country for a distance of 1000 yards in front of the line held by the 1st L.H. Brigade.
It was interesting to note the great use made of machine guns and automatic rifles made by the Germans in this action. One party of 100 was captured, and they were in possession of no less than 42 automatic rifles. No doubt some of the party had been killed, but even so the proportion is most striking compared to our own one Hotchkiss gun to 35 men.
On the evening of July 19th the Brigade moved up into the Wilderness and bivouacked at Talaat ed Dumm for its second spell out of the valley, and reached King Solomon's Pools at daylight on the 27th, where a well-earned rest was enjoyed.
The return to the valley took place in two stages, beginning on August 16th, and the Brigade came into Divisional reserve just north of Jericho, in the vicinity of its old bivouac. The rest of the month of August was spent in regimental training, and on the 28th the Commander-in-Chief presented a number of decorations to members of the Brigade.
On September 5th the New Zealand Brigade went into the left sector of the Jordan valley defences and active patrolling became the order of the day, and on the same day General Chaytor took over the command of the whole Jordan valley defences, and the last great phase of the campaign began.
Early in April, 1918, the urgent call for reinforcements, owing to the general break through in France, had led to the page 232despatch of large numbers of British troops from Palestine, their places being taken by Indian troops. The Desert Mounted Corps lost eight Yeomanry Regiments, which were dismounted and turned into machine gun battalions. In place of these the 5th Cavalry Division (less its British regiments and Royal Horse Artillery) was sent from France with five extra Regular Indian cavalry regiments. The Indian Imperial Service Brigade, consisting of two regiments which had been throughout the war in the E.E.F., was added, so that in exchange for the eight regiments of Yeomanry the Corps Commander had acquired 13 Indian cavalry regiments. It therefore was decided to expand the Corps into four Divisions. The Anzac Mounted Division was not altered, but the Yeomanry Brigade in the Australian Division was withdrawn and its place taken by a new Australian Brigade—the 5th Light Horse Brigade. This new Brigade was to have been composed of the I.C.C. Brigade reorganised, and to consist of two Light Horse regiments and one New Zealand, the Yeomanry companies being kept intact as camel men for service in the desert. However, the New Zealand Government did not see its way to consent to a new mounted rifles regiment being formed or of the Otago Mounted Rifles being reorganised. So in the end the third regiment was composed of French Spahis and Chasseurs d'Afrique, and New Zealand found the machine gun squadron to the new Brigade. The Cavalry Corps therefore now consisted of four Divisions, of which the Anzac was the only one unchanged and the only purely white Cavalry Division in the Force. The Australian Mounted Division was Australian all but one regiment and the New Zealand machine gun squadron (known as the 2nd N.Z. Machine Gun Squadron), while the remaining Divisions were three-fourths Indian troops.
The general situation early in September was as follows:— The Turkish IV Army was facing our troops in the Jordan valley with the great bulk of its strength east of the Jordan. The remainder of the Turkish line running westwards, was held by the VII Army on the Judean hills, and by the VIII Army on the plain of Sharon. General Liman von Sanders with the Yilderim Headquarters was at Nazareth. The IV Army was based on Damascus via Amman and the Hedjaz railway. page 232The lines of communications for the VII and VIII Army crossed the plain of Esdraelon (or Armageddon), the great battlefield of the ancient world. The only lateral road between the IV Army and the two Armies west of the Jordan crossed the river at Jisr ed Damieh.
The plain of Esdraelon with the plain of Jezreel, intersects northern Palestine, forming an easy communication from the sea to the river Jordan at Beisan. There were no defensive works of any kind on the plain of Esdraelon or covering the approaches to it, though there were some German troops at Nazareth which lies in the mountains to the north.
It is obvious that, with a large force of cavalry let loose on the plain of Armageddon, with the IV. Turkish Army pinned down to its position east of the Jordan, and with the front of the VII and VIII Armies attacked by the two Infantry Corps, the fate of the VII and VIII Armies would be sealed. The IV Army would then have to retire on Damascus with a possibility of being cut off before it reached that refuge, either by our cavalry or by the Arabs who were assembling in the Hauran. The way up the coast through the Plain of Sharon north of the Turkish right was good going for cavalry, and there were two passes from it through the mountains of Samaria on to the plain of Esdraelon. It remained only to get the cavalry through the enemy's line.
General Allenby's plan was to break the Turkish line on our extreme left on the Plain of Sharon, where a gap was to be made for the cavalry to pass through. While this was being done it was necessary to leave sufficient forces in the Jordan Valley, to pin down the Turkish IV Army; to seize the bridge at Ed Damieh breaking the communications between the forces east and west of the Jordan; and to attack the IV Army, should the main operations be successful. This difficult and important task was allotted to Sir Edward Chaytor, who was given a composite force with which to carry out the operation. The remainder of the Desert Mounted Corps (three cavalry Divisions), were moved at night during the fortnight before the great blow was to be struck; and marching across the Judean hills, they were hidden in the orange groves near Jaffa. In front of them and immediately page 234behind the line, were concentrated the five Infantry Divisions and the necessary artillery, selected to make the gap.
The way in which this preliminary concentration was carried out and concealed from the enemy was one of the most remarkable achievements of the whole operation. A hostile air reconnaissance on September 15th after our concentration was complete reported as follows:—"Some regrouping of cavalry units apparently in progress behind the enemy's flank; otherwise nothing unusual to report"; and this at a time when three cavalry Divisions, five Infantry Divisions, and the majority of the heavy artillery of the force were concentrated between Ramleh and the front line of the coastal sector, there being no less than 301 guns in place of the normal number of 70. On the same date enemy intelligence reports showed an increase of cavalry in the Jordan valley.
Such briefly was the situation and the plan. The preliminary movements and preparations for the execution of the plan began an intensely interesting period "down by Jericho." Movement was in the air, and the stimulus of coming operations once again upon their horses encouraged the fit and braced up those who were tired and worn, and the sick rate went down. This was always a remarkable proof of the thoroughness and steadfastness of purpose of our men. With "nothing doing" the regimental doctor had a long queue of men waiting at his tent door every morning— cuts, abrasions, colds, debility and fevers; but as soon as a whisper of operations got abroad the queue dwindled until the last two or three days before the "move" it was with the greatest difficulty that even a seriously sick man could be persuaded to parade sick for fear of missing the "stunt."
Every effort was made to deceive the enemy and to make him believe that the next blow would fall in the Jordan valley.
To confuse the enemy airmen, several dummy bridges were erected across the Jordan, with wide roads leading to them. New camps filled with empty tents were made, and as the cavalry were moved under the cover of darkness from the valley to the olive groves around Jaffa, their vacated lines were filled with empty tents and dummy horses, with real horse-rugs upon them and real nose-bags upon their dummy page 235heads. Fires were kept alight in these camps; and to convince the people of Jerusalem (through whom the Turks were bound to get some information), the Hotel Fast, the principal hotel in the European suburb, was cleared of all guests; and the information was given out that it was to be General Allenby's Headquarters. This was substantiated by the erection of notices at the hotel door with the legend "G.H.Q."
Another factor in the success of our secrecy was the activity of our air force, who made it almost impossible for an enemy aircraft to obtain reliable information.
These preliminary preparations and movements took up the fortnight immediately preceding the break through, and as the other mounted Divisions were removed from the valley, increased responsibility and work were thrown upon all units of the Anzac Mounted Division.
In the sector held by the New Zealand Brigade General Meldrum had under his command additional troops—two Battalions of the British West Indies Regiment and two Battalions of Jewish volunteers, under the command of Colonel Patterson, the writer of "The Man Eaters of Tsavo." There was also a field artillery battery and an Indian mountain battery.page 236
Although the valley force had been reduced to a minimum, every effort was made to indicate to the enemy the continued pressure of a large force. Patrols were kept always on the move and the Turk was constantly engaged and given no rest.
On September 16th the troops remaining in the valley were consolidated under the command of Major General Chaytor and designated "Chaytor's Force" consisting of the following units:—
- Anzac Mounted Division.
- A/263 Battery R.F.A.
- 195th Heavy Battery R.G.A.
- 29th and 32nd Indian Mountain Batteries.
- No. 6 (Medium) Trench Mortar Battery.
- 3 anti-aircraft sections R.A.
- Detachment No. 35 A.T. Company R.E.
- 38th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Jewish Volunteers).
- 39th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Jewish Volunteers).
- 20th Indian Brigade.
- 1st Battalion British West Indies Regiment.
- 2nd Battalion British West Indies Regiment.
This new force was immediately taken in hand by the Divisional Staff and arrangements made as far as possible to make it mobile, for its services would likely be required in the first place to capture the Ed Damieh bridge, cutting the VII Army's retreat to the Hedjaz railway; and secondly if the great break through on the plains was successful to pursue and capture the IV Army in the mountains east of the Jordan; and finally if the Turks right was not broken it would fall to Chaytor's Force to turn the enemy's left by advancing north along the Hedjaz railway, cutting off the troops in Palestine.
Though our men had lived all the summer almost immune from malaria it was well known that the Turks made little effort to check this dread disease; and so mosquito nets were issued to be worn by all, as soon as new country was reached.
The extremes of heat in the Jordan Valley are in direct contrast to the intense cold and heavy rain of the mountains of Moab, as experienced during the first operations against Amman. For this reason it was difficult to decide upon a kit suitable to both. A blanket or a great coat with a water-page 237proof sheet are however always useful; it was decided to carry the great coat and water-proof sheet for the pending operations. Supplies were to consist of two days' rations and one emergency ration for the man and two days for the horse.
On these last days the enemy shelled the Division with his long range gun at Shunet Nimrin, known to our troops as "Nimrin Nelly." This gun fired right across the Jordan valley bursting shrapnel at a range of 10 miles; and together with "Jericho Jane," who sat upon the mountains north of Jerusalem, was fond of putting their great shells into Jericho causing many casualties among the inhabitants there.