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The Mounted Riflemen in Sinai and Palestine: The Story of New Zealand's Crusaders

Chapter XV

page 125

Chapter XV.

After the first unsuccessful attempt by the British to take Amman, the usual routine continued for some time in the Valley, and then the New Zealanders were concerned in a second attempt on the same objective, which took place at the end of April. It was usual, later, to refer to this as the "second Amman stunt," although the primary objective was Es Salt. But no doubt the successful occupation of Es Salt would have been but a step towards the attacking of Amman, the point on the Hedjaz railway through which came all enemy supplies.

In these operations the Brigade was first thrown in on the right flank of the attack on the Turkish positions in the foothills of Gilead. This was to draw Turkish fire from the British infantry, who were in a tight corner. Then they were moved across to the other flank, to the Umm Shert ford of the Jordan, where their task was to cover the retirement of some Australian units. These Australians had in a brilliant manoeuvre successfully reached Es Salt, high up in the hills, but owing to the failure of the attack elsewhere, notably at Shunet Nimrin, a naturally strong position heavily held by the Turks further south in the page 126foothills, had to be withdrawn. This they just managed to do with the assistance of the New Zealand Brigade.

The New Zealanders remained in the Jordan Valley throughout the summer of 1918, with the exception of two spells of "barely a fortnight each spent in the hills near Bethlehem. One of these breaks occurred in the beginning of June, the other in August.

On both occasions the Brigade trekked up the winding white road, through the Hills of Judea, which runs between Jericho and Jerusalem. Stopping one night at Talat Ed Dum, a dry, dusty bivouac, they passed next day through Bethany, and, skirting the walls of the Holy City, travelled through modern Jerusalem, and so out along the Hebron road to the bivouac site.

It was while in these bivouacs, having brief spells from the Jordan Valley, that most of our men got the opportunity of seeing Jerusalem. Leave parties from each regiment would ride in the eight or nine miles to the Holy City in the morning, spend the day sight-seeing, and return in the evening. Of the many photographs sent back to New Zealand by men of the Mounted Brigade, most were of historical spots such as seen round about Jerusalem, and seldom of the deadly monotonous places where their work kept them for the greater part of their time. From this some people seemed to derive the impression that the Mounted Riflemen were page 127having some sort of a "Cook's tour." This was far from being the case, as it was only during infrequent breaks, such as these, in the long months of unending work and discomfort, that the men got the opportunity of seeing these places. Even when nominally "resting" like this, a trooper's time was never his own—horsepickets had to do their turn every night just the same, guards had to be supplied, while pumping parties for watering the horses, and endless other working parties were called for.

While "spelling" near Bethlehem, our men watered their horses twice daily at the ancieut "Pools of Solomon"—great oblong cisterns of stone, some hundreds of feet long, still in good repair. The pumps were worked by the pumping parties on a ledge in one of the cisterns, the water being delivered into the canvas troughs above, where the horses could be brought in. These hand-pumps and canvas troughs were carried everywhere with the Brigade, and where water was available could be quickly erected and brought into operation. The writer made an incautious inquiry as to the historical origin of these huge, well-built reservoirs—a dusty individual, looking up from between the two horses he was watering, volunteered the information that Solomon built them for bathing his many wives—but the informant was under suspicion as a humorist.

While in these parts, the New Zealanders saw the local crop of barley being gathered in, and page 128the grain, being winnowed. The whole process of agriculture as practised by the natives of the Holy Land is most primitive, their methods being still the same as were used in the time of Christ. Only in some of the German and Jewish agricultural colonies will modern implements and ways of working be seen. Ploughing and sowing is done at the beginning of the rainy season, about November, or later. The type of plough in general use by the natives is very crude, consisting merely of an upright stick, having a metal-shod toe like a double edged share; to the upright stick, which usually has a cross-piece at the top for a handle, is attached another piece of wood projecting forwards, to which the team is yoked. With this implement the tiller of the soil goes up and down his little plot of land, breaking it into small furrows but a few inches deep. Teams of all varieties are in use, from that of two oxen, to a single camel, the quaintest combinations being seen; often an ox and a donkey—sometimes a camel and an ox.

At harvest-time, the crop is cut, usually by the women, with sickles, and gathered into sheaves. These sheaves are taken into the threshing-floor, being carried by camels, donkeys, and the womenfolk. For in Palestine, the native women are but the chattels of their lords and masters, and are expected to do a big part of the work that supports the family. On. the threshing-floor, the oxen, roped together page break
Black-and-white photograph of German troops captured by New Zealanders in Jordan, World War One

Germans captured in the Jordan escorted as prisoners past the historic-walls of Jerusalem through which years before their Kaiser had entered in State.

page break
Black-and-white photograph of New Zealand troops advancing, Jordan, World War One

New Zealanders descending to the Jordan at Damieh after driving the Turks From their positions defending the crossing.

Black-and-white photograph of New Zealand troops advancing through Palestine, World War One

New Zealanders passing through mountain town of Es Salt the morning after its capture.

page 129four or five abreast, tread out the corn, which is spread out like the bottom of a sheaf-stack. A couple of youngsters will usually be seen superintending them, one forking the corn into the path of the animals as the other drives them monotonously round and round. Often the family donkey will be seen attached to one flank of the slow moving team, "doing his bit." When the corn has been well trodden, and is crushed into chaff with the grain amongst it, it is winnowed. This is done on a breezy day by natives armed with broad wooden forks. With these tools they throw a mass of the crushed corn into the air—the wind blows the chaff and dust to one side, and the grain falls at their feet. The women finally go through the grain with a riddle, to clean it, when it is ready to be sold or made into flour for their own use.

Bethlehem, picturesquely set in the surrounding country, was visited by many New Zealanders, the historical Church of the Nativity being viewed with interest.

The road into Jerusalem runs northwards along the Judean hilltops, the ride in from Bethlehem being a pretty one.