The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine
Chapter IX. — How the Brigade Crossed the Jordan for the Last Time
How the Brigade Crossed the Jordan for the Last Time.
On the early morning of September 19th Allenby's blow fell upon the enemy's extreme right and broke clean through his defences with scarcely a pause. The advance continued all day with hardly any opposition after the first barrier had been broken down; and by daylight on the 20th the leading mounted troops had reached Nazareth on the far side of the plain of Esdraelon. Here Liman von Sanders' Staff was captured with all his records and papers and the General himself only just got away.
On the 20th the XX Corps began its attack; and captured Nablus (the ancient Shechem) on the 21st, driving immense numbers of the broken VII Army eastwards towards the Jordan. These were pursued by the 5th L.H. Brigade with whom was the New Zealand 2nd Machine Gun Squadron.
The experiences of this squadron in the great drive north to Damascus are told in the "Kai Courier," the journal of the transport "Kaikoura," by Sergeant M. Kirkpatrick. He says:—"Had General von Sanders known prior to September 19th what was going on in that quiet sector on the plain of Sharon, he might have been able to prevent a defeat becoming one of the most complete and terrible disasters in history.
"Our powerful raids towards Amman and what appeared to the enemy to be tremendous activity in the Jordan valley, had led him to believe that beyond the Jordan, and not on the coastal plain, our main attack would be directed, and, accordingly, his great energies were consumed in making extensive preparations to meet us in that quarter. While he was busy shifting his best troops towards the threatened area in the east, General Allenby, secretly and mainly by night, was collecting a powerful striking force in the west, and hiding it away among the trees round Jaffa and Ludd. In this area everything during the day appeared to be quite normal, but at night all the roads leading northward were crammed full of organised military traffic, to be planted during the daylight hours in the grateful shade of many groves. The sword had been added to the equipment of the Australian Light Horse page 239Division, and, although the training in the use of this new weapon was in some cases not long, yet the men were wonderfully keen and confident, and great was the satisfaction at the prospect of charging down on the old enemy and cutting him to pieces.
"Our airmen had not been idle, for the enemy's aerial eye had been knocked out on this side, while in the Jordan valley he was allowed to see just what was thought good for him.
"The night of September 18th witnessed the final marshalling of our forces close up to the enemy line for the supreme manoeuvre. Our many guns were ready in a half hour's bombardment to overwhelm and smash the enemy's artillery and confuse his infantry. Our own infantry were eagerly awaiting the signal to go over the top and breach the battered line, while beyond the cavalry, conscious of a great impending event, were impatient to pour like a torrent through the gap, sweep up the coastal plain and then down Esdraelon (the ancient plain of Armageddon) and the valley of Jezreel to the Jordan, thus encircling on two sides the enemy's position on the central range, cutting all his communications and closing every avenue of escape from the Mediterranean to the Jordan valley. This Napoleonic plan, grand and bold, was worked out beautifully in every detail, and, as we saw it unfold in its successive stages, every man felt that proud confidence and exhilaration of spirits that it felt only when fighting under a great commander. We, of the 2nd New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron attached to the 5th A.L.H. Brigade, were the only New Zealanders on this spectacular stunt, which ultimately reached Damascus and far beyond. The New Zealand Brigade was in the Jordan valley in readiness to assist, as soon as the enemy right and centre began to retreat, in the race up the Jordan valley to close the fords, thus completing the net round the VII and VIII Turkish Armies. Completing the 5th A.L.H. Brigade was a Regiment of French Colonial Cavalry regulars. These wiry men, dressed in attractive and almost fantastic uniforms, were mounted on hardy, clean-legged stallions, as diverse in colour as their masters were in blood. The combination produced a most picturesque sight, especially in a charge. Before we reached Damascus, the Turks were fully confirmed in this opinion.page 240
"Our waiting guns awoke the morn in thunder, hailing Victory. The infantry broke the dazed enemy's battered line, and through the gap we poured, while the hot-throated horse artillery limbered up to press the pursuit, with the magnificent transport following quickly behind. No one engaged in that wild ride will ever forget it. The pace was terrific. Our horses were very fit. They had need to be. We rode light, but still each horse carried three days' rations and bore about twenty stone in weight.
"The blow was so sudden and swift that resistance was slight. Those who opposed were galloped down, machine guns were blanketed, there was neither halt nor check. Most of the fleeing enemy made for the hills, or the Tul Keram road, leading to Nablus. For a time the Indian Lancers and Yeomanry Cavalry, who had broken through nearer the coast, were galloping on our left. With swords and lances flashing in the sunlight, this great host thundered over the rolling ridges. It was a wonderful and inspiring spectacle.
"As our Brigade swerved to the right in order to deal with Tul Keram, we lost sight of them, they had a "through ticket." Crossing the railway above the village, which is set on a hill, we captured a number of guns, much transport, and about two thousand prisoners. The fleeing foe, heading up the narrow gorge that leads from Tul Keram by Anebta to Nablus, were caught by our airmen, who flying very low, raked the unfortunate column with machine guns and bombs. The destruction was frightful. Those who escaped death and wounds soon abandoned their wagons, guns, and lorries, and took to the hills, only to be captured a little later on. In their impetuosity, the leading French and Australians, who were pursuing the enemy, came under fire from our own 'planes, and many narrow escapes were recorded. Seeing that all was lost, Tul Keram surrendered. Halting only to water, reform, and feed, under cover of darkness, we struck across country to cut another life line behind Nablus and Samaria. This stroke was as successful as it was bold. The country was very rough and broken, but the long thin column clambering along goat tracks and up boulder-strewn torrent beds, reached the line, destroyed a portion, captured some prisoners and machine guns, and, as the evening shadows page break page 241darkened into night, camped before Tul Keram. But the halt was not for long. Rations and horse feed, a few hours' precious sleep, daylight, and we were off again, this time to assist in the capture of Nablus. We threaded our way through the wreckage that was strewn nearly all the way. Dead men and animals, torn about with ruthless bombs, swollen and distorted, stank fearfully. Many of the animals still lived in speechless agony, and some of the wretched wounded were in many cases pinned down by carrion, but there was no time to stop and help them. That was for others who came behind. War is hell, and looks well only in a picture show.
"As we approached Nablus, the road was nearly a foot deep in limestone dust, that blinded our eyes and parched our throats. Any kind of water was drained up greedily by horse and man. The enemy, stubbornly resisting, were pushed back from about Mounts Gerizim and Ebal, and soon, to the accompaniment of thundering guns and circling 'planes, we rode in triumph through the streets of ancient Shechem, and encamped on the little plain beyond. The interior of Shechem, is very like Jerusalem, but it is far better supplied with water, to which it mainly owes its existence. It has been the scene of many battles, perhaps the most awful being in 67 a.d., when Vespasian slew 11,000 of its inhabitants. The batteries sang us to sleep with "hymns of hate." Next morning we doubled back, and turned up the Samaria road leading to Jenin. Among the many scenes of death and devastation one remains firmly rooted in my mind. Near old tumbled down Samaria, reclining against a bank on the roadside, was a young German lad, aged about 16. Tall, fair-headed, blue eyed, and a complexion fresh as a girl's, he struggled hard twixt pain and pride. Poor beggar! he was badly wounded, and had just put up a fight worthy of a better cause. There was no time to turn "Good Samaritan"; there was but one order, "ride on." We reached Jenin and its fertile fields, and, as darkness came down, we camped a little beyond the village. Here our 'planes had smashed the railway station, and here the Third Brigade, swooping in from the Haifa side, had secured a great haul of prisoners, who had intended to escape across the Esdraelon Plain. The Turks surrendered readily, and indeed, after the first few days, it was the page 242Germans who did nearly all the fighting. Across the hills, hidden from our view, the Anzac Division, in the difficult but familiar ground of Gilead and Moab, were closing round the IV Turkish Army. At Jenin we rested most of the following day (September 25th), and in the evening pushed on to the valley Jezreel, and bivouacked by the railway near Zerin, having Mount Gilboa on our right. Here a beautiful fountain of extraordinary volume bursts from the foot of a great rock, and the next day we bathed our horses there, and drank deeply of its living waters. Saul would have wondered, Jehu would have glowed had he seen our cavalry sweep down this grand old battlefield.
"Cleaned and refreshed, we sped away as eve closed down on the grey hills and brown valleys. Passing through the big railway junction of El Fuleh, where thousands of infantry (British and Indian) had already gathered, we struck along the Nazareth road.
"On the second 'night out,' the Yeomanry had captured Nazareth and its garrison of three thousand men, most of whom were asleep. This job was performed at the expense of only 18 casualties.
"It was 'lights out' when we passed through Nazareth, but the old place looked well in the moonlight. At Kefr Kenna, which is, according to tradition, the ancient Cana, we halted for water and forty winks, but were quickly on the move again on our way to Tiberias. As we approached that place, the soil became more fertile, and the rank grass grew more thickly among the numberless boulders. The shadows were lengthening as we wended our way down the steep road leading to the quiet old city that reposes by the beautiful waters of Galilee, where our thirsty horses drank their fill. The inhabitants of the town, seven-eighths of whom are Jews, gave us a right royal welcome. They knew that deliverance came with the British. It may be of interest to note that they were, also, the cleanest people we had met with in the East.
"That night we bivouacked on the hillside beside the grand old ruined walls, and, throwing ourselves on the rich warm volcanic soil, we took no thought of the morrow. Astir before the earliest lark, we passed quickly through the town and up the west side of the lake. The 4th Brigade of page 243Australians, swinging round by Beisan, had encountered very stiff opposition at Semak, where the Germans, drunk, desperate, and under orders to fight to a finish, obeyed as be-cometh good soldiers. The 3rd Brigade had come down from Nazareth and occupied Tiberias before us, and now, with our Brigade leading, the Division set out for Damascus.
"At the Jordan crossing a little before Lake Hulch (Waters of Moram), German Machine gunners put up a fine resistance, delaying the Division for several hours. Curving to the right, part of our Brigade forded the turbulent and treacherous torrent, and, clambering up the steep banks to the tune of a brisk machine gun fire, began to envelop the enemy's position. Darkness fell and left us among the endless boulders, where, with the reins over our arms, we reclined against these substantial pillars and slept the sleep of the just. A direct attack, delivered during the night, took the position, and the engineers worked so quickly and well that soon the damaged bridge was repaired sufficiently to allow transport to pass.
"This treeless region, that now supports only a few sheep and goats with their wild and woolly owners, had once a teeming population and many strong cities. We reached El Kuneitra in the evening (September 29th), where a big concentration of British and Indian Cavalry began, and an advanced aeroplane base was established for operations against Damascus. Here we secured some hay for our horses, and here many a cock, that in the pride and vanity of youth crowed lustily that morn, was heard to crow no more. In the evening of the following day we left the main Circassian village, heading for the city beautiful. Belts and girths were getting slack with the long hard ride, but the spirit of victory animated all. Toward the morning sharp opposition was encountered from a battery and some machine guns well posted in difficult ground, all strewn with Mount Hermon's apples. Deploying in the dark and over such ground was no easy matter, but finally the tenacious enemy was driven out and captured.
"The sun rose that morning in a blaze of glory. Few pens could well describe it. It was the sun of Austerlitz witnessing the 'Pearl of the East' passing from the hand of the Turk. Halting only for water and a hasty meal, we passed on at page 244quickened pace on the last lap for Damascus. As we came in sight of the beautiful verdure that envelops the city, we thought that here, at last, was something worth fighting for. German machine gunners, defending the suburbs, were quickly rooted out by our active horse artillery, while we galloped between the cultivation and the arid hills. Suddenly encountering a sharp and well-directed fire, we swerved abruptly into these hills, where the enemy, picketing the heights, were as quickly dispersed. From these hills we obtained a magnificent view of the city which 'The Prophet' thought 'A Paradise,' fortunately for his belief, he went not down, neither did the wind blow his way. Away to the southeast we could see a great converging column of the enemy struggling on to reach the city. They were the 20,000 Turks from the Deraa Base. Most of the fugitives were bagged by our Division ere they reached what they had fondly hoped was their haven of refuge.
"And now occurred one of the most frightful tragedies of the campaign. On the west side of the city the Adana River ('the reason why' of Damascus) tumbles through a deep, narrow and particularly beautiful gorge. The road and railway leading to Beirout are also crowded into the ravine Through this narrow pass a great enemy column was seeking to make its escape. Part of our squadron, racing ahead of the screen and reaching the brink of the precipice, quickly took up positions almost invisible to the dense mass of enemy below. The head of the column was felled, and, as the unfortunates behind kept pressing forward, they were mown down as by some invisible scythe. Horses and men went down together in hundreds and died in one tangled bleeding mass. Many fell into the river and were drowned. The Germans fought desperately from the tops of lorries and from a train with their machine guns, but, seeing not where to fire, their shots were wild, and they too went down in the slaughter. The water in the M.G. jackets hissed, and bubbled, and steamed. The barrel in one of the guns was so hot that it bent like a crooked stick. Australian Hotchkiss guns and rifles joined in the work of destruction. Above the rattle of the machine guns and the roar of the river, the cries of anguish and despair swept up from this valley of death. page 245With every avenue of escape cut off, the stricken survivors surrendered to their unseen foes.
"Next morning the West Australians (Third Brigade), who were the first to enter the city, had to pile up the bodies of men and horses in order to get a bridle path through which to pass. As the night of this wild day (October 1st) closed round, the fine wireless station and huge ammunition dump were blown up by the enemy, and roaring explosions flung high in the air thousands of projectiles of all sizes. It was a magnificent spectacle, a fitting end for the great pile of artillery 'iron rations.'
"The most ancient of cities, fed and purified by the rushing Adana through which only its noblest features are seen by the distant spectator, waited that night with its twelve thousand soldiers for surrender on the morrow. Watching by the guns that night, I thought, what many others must have been thinking, that the blighting rule of the Turk was broken forever, that soon the soft flesh of verdure would cover the skeleton lands through which we had passed, restoring them to their former loveliness and glory, and that a smiling future would look back in admiration of this turbulent present when it recalled the Tenth Crusaders and their last great ride."
Meantime down by Jericho the N.Z.M.R. Brigade began to push north on the morning of the 20th. The Auckland Regiment worked along the old Roman road for some miles; and after dark the remainder of the Brigade with the B.W.I. battalions and the 29th Indian Mountain Battery and with the Ayrshire R.H.A., joined the Aucklanders at Kh. Fusail, about half-way to the Ed Damieh bridge and the main road from Nablus to Amman.
At Kh. Fusail one battalion of the B.W.I. were left to guard the rear and the column pressed on. The work entrusted to it was of the utmost importance. The road to the east was vitally necessary at this stage to the VII Army. The XX Corps had dealt it a staggering blow; and our cavalry had reached the plain of Esdraelon in its rear and its only way of escape was by access to the Jordan and so to the Hedjaz railway.
The responsibility of denying this advantage to the enemy therefore devolved upon General Meldrum's force.page 246
The position was strongly held and presented many obstacles to an attacking force. In addition large bodies of the enemy were converging on the crossing. Swift and bold measures were essential to effect the capture of the objectives ordered or to gain close contact with the enemy before daylight appeared.
The general line of advance lay along the Roman road along a narrow plain shut in between the western hills and the Jordan and exposed to the enemy's artillery which was posted on the other side of the river. When within striking distance the Auckland Regiment was sent forward north-east to attack the bridge, and the Wellington Regiment straight ahead to cut the Nablus road and to seize El Makhruk the Headquarters of the 53rd Turkish Division.
These operations were carried out to the letter in spite of the darkness. The Auckland Regiment fought its way close up to the bridge and occupied a position astride the road and overlooking the bridge. The Wellingtons, by most skillful leading, at daylight had completely encircled El Makhruk, capturing some 400 Turks, a great mass of war material and the Divisional General and his complete Staff.
Soon after daylight the systematic attack on the bridge began.
At 7 o'clock an enemy force of about 500 with two mountain guns appeared advancing down the Wadi Farah facing the left of the Wellington line. This was the advanced guard of the broken VII. Army endeavouring to escape to the Hedjaz. The position of the Brigade at this time was precarious. In addition to the 500 Turks advancing against the left an enemy counter-attack of about 1200 men was developing on the right flank at Ed Damieh. On the right rear a body of Turks having crossed the river from the eastern bank had attacked the B.W.I. battalion (left at Talaat Amrah) in an endeavour to cut off the column; and one of the captured Staff Officers of the 53rd Division had divulged the fact that a force of two battalions of infantry was only three to four miles distant on the left rear.
General Meldrum reinforced the Wellingtons with the 10th Squadron of the Canterbury Regiment, and the 500 Turks were soon forced back into the hills, from which they inter-page 247mittently shelled the Wellington Regiment for the rest of the day. The enemy's counter-attack from the bridgehead upon the Aucklanders was strongly pressed, and the 1st Squadron Canterbury Regiment and one company B.W.I. were sent to reinforce Colonel McCarroll. A general advance was made at 11 o'clock and by a splendid bayonet charge the enemy position was carried, our machine guns causing great casualties to the fleeing enemy. The bridge was soon taken and the 11th Squadron, crossing mounted, pursued the enemy for some distance and captured many prisoners.
The capture of El Makhruk and Ed Damieh was the result of a daring plan quickly and boldly carried out. Hesitation or delay during the night would have entailed heavy casualties. It was essential to penetrate the enemy's positions silently under cover of darkness. This was accomplished and when daylight came success was assured. The day's captures included 786 prisoners, six guns, nine machine guns and 200 tons of ammunition and quantities of stores, and among the guns were two 18 pounders which had belonged to the H.A.C. page 248lost by the 4th L.H. Brigade in the attack upon Es Salt at the end of April.
At noon on September 23rd, the New Zealand Brigade began its dash upon Es Salt from Ed Damieh, leaving the West Indians to guard the bridge. After crossing the eastern plain for a distance of about eight miles in intense heat, opposition was encountered on the edge of the foothills of the mountains of Moab. This was soon brushed aside, and with the Canterbury Regiment in the lead the advance up the Es Salt track (a climb of some 3000 feet) continued—no enemy opposition, no difficulties of track could stop our men.
By half-past four in the afternoon Es Salt was enveloped and captured. After a thorough search of the town had been page 249made for Turks and records the Brigade bivouacked there for the night.
Early next morning patrols were pushed out east and north and the enemy's rearguard located a few miles on the Amman road. The day was spent in the concentration of Chaytor's Force in the vicinity of Es Salt, with the New Zealand Brigade just east of Suweileh and the two other Brigades between this village and Es Salt. One battalion of the Jewish force was left behind exhausted by their marching and fighting in the heat, and one battalion of the B.W.I. was at Ed Damieh holding the bridge over the Jordan.
During the night a successful raid upon the railway north of Amman was made by a party of four officers and 100 men chosen from the Auckland Regiment. To ease the horses, saddles were stripped and nothing was carried but the necessary tools. These were just such as could be scraped up in a hurry and consisted of two picks, two shovels and four spanners. No explosives were available. Every man was fully armed and carried the maximum of ammunition. The party penetrated 12 miles into unknown enemy territory at night, took a section out of the Hedjaz line under the noses of the Turkish patrols and returned next morning without the page 250loss of a man. By skilful leading in the darkness the little band reached the railway without mishap and found that the road that runs alongside the line was occupied by a great Turkish Transport Column, a part of the IV Army fleeing north. This caused delay and when the work of destruction began the party was several times interrupted, once by a train full of troops and several times by enemy patrols. But the work was completed without any alarm being raised and the party got away safely and rejoined their regiment next morning.
All eyes in the New Zealand Brigade were now turned towards Amman, and orders to attack the enemy there were eagerly awaited. It was felt that of all old scores yet to be wiped off against the Turks, this was the most important. The memory of those four days of bitter fighting in the rain and cold were yet fresh in everyone's memory.
General Chaytor's orders arrived in the evening. The advance was to commence at 6 o'clock in the morning of the 25th, the New Zealand Brigade attacking from the north-west with their right resting upon the Amman_Es Salt road; while the 2nd L.H. Brigade was to come in from the west following the road from Es Sir, by which they had come up from the plain. The 1st L.H. Brigade had orders to keep watch to the north and to be ready to support the attacks of the other brigades. The artillery which were coming up from the plains by the Jericho-Es Salt road were blocked by a broken bridge some miles down and could not be expected to assist, and the B.W.I. could not be expected until late in the day.
Strong opposition was expected, as the possession of Amman to the enemy was of vital importance to allow of the retirement of the Maan garrison and Turkish force operating to the south.
With the Wellington Regiment in the lead the New Zealand Brigade was soon within a few miles of the town. At a quarter to eight the first opposition was met with as the Wellington Regiment came under machine gun and artillery fire.
The regiment with one section of machine guns, one section 29th Indian Mountain Battery attached, was soon fully engaged and at 9 o'clock gained touch with the 2nd L.H. Brigade on the right.page 251
At half-past 10 the Aucklanders were sent in on the right of Wellington and between the Wellington Regiment and the 2nd L.H. Brigade. The enemy's advanced posts were soon driven back upon his main line of defence which consisted of a series of machine gun nests.
In the meantime the Auckland Regiment was steadily working forward and at 2.30 the Canterbury Regiment advanced its line.
A Canterbury troop got into a position from which they enfiladed the Turks in the Citadel, and a few minutes later the 10th Squadron and a troop of the 8th Squadron stormed the stone tower with the bayonet. By 3 o'clock the Canterburys held the town and in conjunction with the 5th L.H. Regiment were busily engaged in hunting out snipers and capturing prisoners.
In the stone tower were captured the Commander and Staff of the 146th Battalion and a total of 19 officers and 100 other ranks principally Germans. The advance of the rest of the New Zealand line was continued and the enemy in front of the Auckland and Wellington Regiments were driven into page 252the wadi where they were attacked by the Canterburys coming in from the right through the town. 1700 prisoners here surrendered to the Auckland and Wellington Regiments. Amman railway station was captured at 4.30 with many prisoners, a complete wireless plant and much stores and war material.
So fell Amman, on September 25th, 1918, the Rabbath Ammon whose stont resistance made its seige and fall the crowning act of David's conquests.
Since the attack made by the Division in March the enemy had greatly strengthened his defences. He had built a series of redoubts in which were numerous machine guns. And the natural difficulties of the broken country made Amman a very hard nut to crack. But the systematic method of our men combined with quick outflanking of the machine gun nests overcame every obstacle. The ground was hard and favoured rapid movement on horseback whereas in the previous attack in March all work had to be done on foot.page 253
There remained now the remnants of the IV Army to be dealt with. These consisted of some 10,000 men including the garrison of Maan and some Arabs and Circassians. The movements of this force were doubtful. There was the probability that it would try to get down to the Jordan valley. But the difficulties in the way made this improbable; and there remained the Darb el Haj, the great route running north to Damascus and passing east of Amman. General Chaytor, therefore, sent the 2nd L.H. Brigade south to destroy the railway, as it was to our advantage to make the march of the enemy as long as possible and to increase his water difficulties.
The 1st L.H. Brigade were sent early on the 26th to the Wadi el Hammam and captured there 105 prisoners and on the following day another 300.page 254
On the 27th the 2nd L.H. Brigade captured prisoners at Leban station 12 miles south of Amman, who confirmed the intelligence as to the enemy's position, and at daybreak on the 28th the Turks were located near Kastal with three trains in the station.
No answer was received to this and arrangements for the attack were made; but at 11.45 the Turkish Commander opened negotiations with the Commander of the 5th L.H. Regiment, sending to him a Staff Officer.
The situation was very difficult owing to large numbers of Arabs who surrounded the Turkish position intent upon looting. Any sign of a white flag was likely to precipitate matters, and the 2nd L.H. Brigade were despatched to Kastal. While they were coming up the Turkish Staff Officer formally agreed to a surrender of the whole force to General Chaytor; and Captain A. E. T. Rhodes, M.C., the Divisional Com-page 255mander's A.D.C. pluckily penetrated the Turkish lines in a motor car and brought out the Turkish General, Kaimakam Ali Bey Whahaby, as a hostage.
Upon its arrival the 2nd L.H. Brigade put a cordon round the Turks; and the Arabs were told that any attempt to rush in on the Turks would be met by force. Even after our troops were in position the Arabs attempted to get at the hospital and had to be driven off.
This little episode presented an extraordinary spectacle, a British force guarding the enemy with whom it had been fighting for years, from the depredations of one of Britain's Allies. Next day the New Zealand Brigade arrived to relieve the 2nd L.H. and found the Turkish trenches manned by Light Horsemen and Turks with their guns jointly trained upon the Arabs.
A squadron from the Auckland Regiment was sent to Madeba, the ancient Medba mentioned in the Book of Joshua. Here is the famous mosaic map, the oldest map existing of page 256Palestine. It originally showed the whole of the then known world, and formed the floor of a Christian Chapel. In the town were captured a number of prisoners and a very large store of grain.
On October the 1st and 2nd the Brigade bivouaced at Amman on the old battlefield of March. On the 3rd began the march back to the valley. The night was spent at Es Sir and on the 4th the Brigade rode down the mountains to the Jordan valley, where the Canterbury Regiment rejoined and all vehicles which had gone by the Es Salt road.
The total captures by Chaytor's force since leaving the valley were as follows:—
|Guns: 5.9 Gun 1; 5.9 How. 3; A.A. 1; 10 cm. 10; 77 mm. 32; 75 mm. 6; 3 Inch 2; 13 Pdr. (Bri). 2; Total||57|
|Machine Guns 132; Automatic Riffes 13; Hotchkiss Rifles 1; Lewis Guns 1; Total||147|
In addition there were two wireless sets, 11 railway engines, 106 railway trucks and carriages, 142 vehicles of all descriptions and an immense quantity of shell, S.A.A. and other material. A large number of motor lorries were abandoned by the enemy after being rendered useless.page break page 257
|Guns: 4.2 3; 77 mm. 4; 75 How. 2; 75 mm. 4; 13 Pdrs. 2; Total||15|
|Machine Guns 40; Automatic Rifles 8; Total||48|
Whilst the Anzac Mounted Division was smashing the remnants of the Turkish IV. Army east of the Jordan, culminating in the surrender of the II. Corps at Kastal on Septembr 29th, the remainder of the Desert Mounted Corps had been closing in on Damascus.
Upon this city there had been retreating large bodies of Turks from the IV., VII. and VIII. Armies.
Early on the morning of October 1st the city was entered by our old friends the 10th Light Horse and all further retreat of any formed bodies of the enemy was cut off.
The Turkish Armies had now ceased to exist and the Armistice was arranged and came into force at noon on October 31st.
Though the casualties throughout these operations were remarkably small, as soon as the fighting was over the dreaded page 259malaria broke out and in a few days the evacuations from this disease increased by leaps and bounds.
Our fight with malaria has been well described by Major C. Hercus, the Division's able D.A.D.M.S. He says:—
"During our progress across Sinai no indigenous malaria occurred in the Division. A few lapses amongst men previously infected were our only cases of malaria. It was not until at the end of April 1917 when we took up the line of the Wadi Ghuzzeh that the necessity for anti-mosquito operations along several miles of front on definite organised lines became apparent. It was early realised that in anti-malaria operations as in tactics, 'the best defence is a vigorous attack' and the direct limitation of mosquito activity by attacking them in their breeding places again proved itself to be the only practical method of controlling the incidence of malaria.
"Throughout the period, March 24th to October 31st, 1917, unceasing war was waged on the larvae of anopheles turkhudi which were found to be literally teeming in the pools and connecting streams of the wadi. Work was carried out by regimental parties working under the direction of the Sanitary Section. The work included weeding pools which were choked with green weeds in which the larvae swarmed, canalising connecting streams, oiling stagnant pools at five day intervals, and in filling in holes and shallow extensions of pools.
"This work was so successful that in September and October, Major Austen the British Museum Entomogolist to whose work and advice we owed so much, reported that he was unable to find a single larva in the Wadi Ghuzzeh. Our malarial incidence was correspondingly satisfactory. A few cases of benign tertian occurred in August and September, but the percentage was negligible. To prove that the enemy was only being held at arm's length Major Austen reports that a few days after we had moved forward to Beersheba active breeding was taking place from Tel el Jemmi to Shellal along the Wadi Ghuzzeh.
"After the capture of Beersheba we moved rapidly into Palestine, notorious as being a highly malarial zone. Fortunately it was the winter season and though infections occurred from mosquitoes hibernating in the wells around Jaffa, no page 260epidemic occurred. It was realised, however, that if we were to spend the following summer in Palestine all our resources would be tested to the full. Steps were taken at once to organise more extensively than was necessary in the Wadi Ghuzzeh. Each unit, however small, was ordered to make available and to train malarial squads who were to be responsible for the anti-mosquito work in their immediate environments. The Anzac Field Laboratory was increased in size and malarial diagnosis units were formed in anticipation of the oncoming of the malarial season. The arrival of the warmer weather in April found the Division in the Jordan valley, that unique scorching valley some 1200 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, notorious for subtertian or malignant malaria, and in which with brief respite we were to spend the summer. The portion of the valley within our lines was crossed by several streams issuing from the hills and making their way down to the Jordan (the Auja, the Mellahah, the Nueiameh, the Kelt) and also contained the Jordan with several extensive marshes in the jungle which fringed its banks. The problem was a difficult one, the area involved was large, and the climatic conditions were trying. The Wadi el Mellahah was a particularly dangerous stream commencing in marshes in No Man's Land and running in a swampy valley choked with reeds across our line down to the Wadi Auja just before the latter entered the Jordan. Its whole valley was swarming with anopheles larvae. A working party of 1000 men was put on to the work and within a week the marshes in No Man's Land were drained as far as the enemy would permit; and the stream within our lines was canalised and cleared and the reeds cut or burnt out. No breeding could be demonstrated three days after the work was completed. The work in the other wadis consisted of canalising, cutting down jungle, filling in holes and oiling stagnant pools. The work when once carried out required constant attention and maintenance and the Sanitary Section with the unit malarial squads were continually employed on the maintenance work, special working parties being provided for the initial work. Two large swamps on the east bank of the Jordan, one at El Ghoraniyeh bridgehead, the other at El Henu ford, were found to be prolific breeding places and were drained and oiled. A large amount page 261of this extensive work was carried out by the Indian Infantry Brigade. Breeding was also found to be rife at Ain es Sultan the source of Jericho's water supply, situated about one-and-a-half miles north of Jericho. Here there was an area of several acres in extent consisting of banana plantations and other cultivated land copiously irrigated by the over-flow from the Ain es Sultan spring. With the aid of a company of E.L.C. 600 strong working for two months breeding was supressed in this area.
"This in brief was the extent of the problem with which we were confronted. The measure of the success of the work carried out can be best estimated by the rise in the malarial incidence when we advanced into unprotected country. During the six months prior to the advance on September 21st the percentage of incidence of malaria in the Desert Mounted Corps was just over five and the majority of these cases were contracted in the front line where the evening breeze brought down hordes of mosquitoes from the Turkish positions and No Man's Land. In the reserve areas where the protective measures were fully operated the incidence of malaria was very low.
"On September 21st the N.Z.M.R. Brigade, the 1st L.H. Brigade, and the 1st and 2nd B.W.Is. moved forward into the Jisr ed Damieh area, swampy ground in which no attempt had been made to cope with the mosquito menace. The air was full of hordes of peculiarly aggressive and blood-thirsty mosquitoes, laden with as subsequent events proved the parasites of malignant malaria. It was here that a great deal of infection was incurred, for the 2nd B.W.I. Battalion which remained in this area when the rest of Chaytor's Force moved eastward into Moab, suffered severely. By October the 19th, seven officers, 719 other ranks of this unit (practically the whole strength), were evacuated with malignant malaria. Malaria began to appear in the mobile force in Moab on September 28th. The 1st L.H. Brigade were the first to experience the epidemic, evacuating 126 cases during the week. The N.Z.M.R. Brigade almost simultaneously commenced to evacuate large numbers of men acutely ill with the disease. The incidence reached a climax on October the 4th, when the 3rd L.H. Regiment evacuated 62, 1st L.H. Regiment 58 and page 262the N.Z.M.R. Brigade 145. Many dramatic incidents occurred on the march back into Judea. There were cases of one man leading as many as eight horses, all his mates having been stricken down, and many men fell from their saddles in high fever. This exceptionally high rate of malignant malarial cases was experienced until October the 9th when the numbers fell abruptly. Additional proof that the Jisr ed Damieh area was responsible for the majority of the infections is supplied by the 2nd L.H. Brigade which moved directly from the protected area into the hills. Their evacuations from malaria during the period September 21st to October the 10th were 57 as compared with 239 cases in the 1st L.H. Brigade and 316 in the N.Z.M.R. Brigade for the same period. It has been truly said that the last phase of the Palestine Campaign was fought and won in the incubation period of malignant malaria which is 10 to 14 days.
"To people accustomed to ordinary benign tertian malaria the serious and dramatic nature of the malignant type was most alarming. The men attacked were suddenly prostrated in high fever, 105° and 106° F. being frequently reported, they were often delirious and occasionally maniacal. Unless treated immediately and efficiently with quinine the mortality was high. Once again it was amply proved that prevention is better than cure."