The New Zealand troops detailed to assist in the defence of the Suez Canal
were the Auckland, Wellington, Canterbury and Otago Infantry Battalions and the New Zealand Field Ambulance. At 7 a.m., on January 26, the entrainment commenced; everybody working with a will, the last train cleared Helmieh
Siding at 3 in the afternoon. Brigade Headquarters, the Auckland and Canterbury Battalions, and two
[Photo by the Author
En route to the Suez Canal.
Tel-el-Kebir is the scene of the famous battle fought by Lord Wolseley in 1882
sections of the Field Ambulance detrained at Ismailia
; the Wellington and Otago Battalions and one section of the Field Ambulance going on to Kubri
, about twelve miles north of Suez
A glance at the map will show that the defence of Egypt
from the Turk was strengthened by two great natural obstacles—natural from a military point of view—the arid wastes of the Sinai Desert
, and the chain of salt lakes connected by the Suez Canal
. In those days, when trained men were not plentiful, it was natural that this long ribbon of sea water—nowhere less than sixty-five yards wide—should be
selected as the line of resistance, although much elaborate fortification had been made on the eastern bank, more particularly at Kantara
. In the matter of heavy artillery we had the advantage, as the Turk had to bring his guns over miles of soft sand, whereas we employed ships of the Royal Navy
, which, with their powerful guns, could move up and down the defence line, easily outranging the most powerful Turkish artillery.
About thirty miles south of Port Said
a few low sandhills cut off Lake Menzala from the Balah Lakes. Across this narrow isthmus ran the old
The Ghurka badge and weapon.
caravan route, through Kantara
, from Syria
. This was the classical way for an army attacking Egypt
. So Kantara
was made extra strong and garrisoned by Indian regulars.
Based on Ismailia itself were three sets of posts. A few miles north was El Ferdan, where a company and two platoons of the Auckland and Canterbury Battalions were stationed; the second group was nearer Ismailia — two posts, one called Battery Post, with two platoons of New Zealanders as part of its garrison, the other, Ismailia Ferry, with one company; in reserve at Ismailia were Brigade Headquarters, with the remainder of the Canterbury and Auckland Battalions not absorbed by the posts.
Between Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake was an important stretch of the Canal, only about seven miles long, but comprising the two posts of Toussoum and Serapeum. At the latter post, two platoons of the Canterbury Battalion (the 12th Nelson Company) were instrumental in helping to stave off the most determined attack ever made by the Turks on Egypt.
South of Serapeum the Canal widens into the Great Bitter Lakes and the Little Bitter Lake, the defence of this part of the line naturally being entrusted to the Navy, assisted by two French cruisers. Between the lower lake and Suez, a distance of about fifteen miles, the Wellington and Otago Battalions were distributed—units at different times being posted at Shalouf, Baluchistan, Ghurka Posts, El Kubri and Suez.
About midnight on the night of our arrival at Kubri, a party of Turks made a great show of liveliness, evidently to draw fire and so obtain some information as to our strength and dispositions. But nothing came of these diversions, which occurred periodically.