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With the Cameliers in Palestine

Chapter XI — Merely a Visit to the Dentist

page 93

Chapter XI
Merely a Visit to the Dentist

In April, 1917, after some months of patrol work in the Sinai Desert with the 16th N.Z. Company of the Camel Corps, Trooper "Kirk" felt fed up with the monotony of the life amongst the sand, piqueting, patrolling, packing stores and water, ticking-parades, etc., etc., when he felt he might be taking part in more exciting events in the front line, so he decided to have a change, legitimately if possible, but if this way was not possible, at all events to have one. When drawing stores at a railway siding one day he heard from some troopers in a passing train that there were rumours of a big move shortly at the front, so Kirk decided to go and investigate. On his return to camp in the palm hod, he put in an application for leave to attend the military dentist, somewhere up the line, for some pressing (?) dental treatment. Leave for two days was granted, and, supplied with the necessary pass and order for travelling, he set off in search of the New Zealand Mounted Brigade. Proceeding by train, he worked his way from one camp to another, till he located the Brigade at Deir el Belah. Reporting to the Military Dental Officer, he had some initial dental work done, and then immediately sought the O.C. of a mounted squadron, and requested to be allowed to take part in the "stunt" which, he had found out, was to start that night. Recognizing a relative of a former college acquaintance in New Zealand, and admiring the spirit of his visitor, the Major said he could fix him up as far as rations, equipment and duty were concerned, if Kirk could find a horse for himself, there being just then a shortage of remounts at the Brigade.

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Kirk found his way to the veterinary lines, and accosting the officer in charge, he told the latter of his errand. The Brigadier happened to come along, and hearing of the request, evidently suggested that the "Vet." should do what he could for the applicant, so to Kirk’s delight a horse was supplied. Making his way back to the friendly squadron commander, he requested that the latter should keep to his terms of the agreement. The Major, surprised at Kirk’s pertinacity and success, agreed, and with the Colonel’s consent, a place as Number Three in a section was found for the new recruit. The column moved off at 1830 (6.30 p.m.) on April 16, to take part in the second disastrous attack on Gaza. During the march that night Kirk let the rest of the men in the section clearly understand that he had not travelled all the distance from Sinai to act as a horse-holder (which is the duty of Number Three in a mounted section), and quite a heated argument took place. Finally Kirk’s personality prevailed, and the Number Four agreed for the sake of peace, to act as horse-holder, and let Kirk go into the firing-line.

At daybreak the squadron reached the position they were to attack, and advanced at full gallop under artillery fire, thus forestalling the shells of the Turkish gunners, who failed to shorten their range to keep pace with the galloping Mounteds. When the latter arrived within striking distance of their objective, they drew rein, dismounted, handed their horses to the care of the Number Threes, and advanced on foot to the attack of the position. The Turks, with shrapnel, searched the position where the led horses were placed, and one of the first men to be hit was the horse-holder of the section of which Kirk was a member.

Kirk’s luck held good during the three days of fighting that ensued, and he returned safely with the New Zealand Mounteds to the south side of the Wadi Ghuzzi.

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During the day after the retirement the mounted men attempted to water their horses near Sheikh Nuran, but being under observation of the Turkish aeroplanes, they were systematically bombed whenever a squadron approached the water-troughs. When an enemy plane approached, the squadron would scatter and then, after the plane had passed on after dropping its bombs, the men would return to the troughs, to scatter again when another plane appeared. During one of these flights Kirk observed a bomb landing directly in front of a horse ridden by a trooper called Boyd. Horse and man disappeared in a cloud of dust; the spectators were horrified to see the horse completely dismembered, with apparently no sign of the rider. The query at once arose in their minds, "Has he been blown to atoms?" Such things had happened before, but out of the cloud walked the trooper, quite unperturbed. "Here, you blighters, fetch me a led horse. Do you think a fellow’s going to walk?" he called to the astonished group nearest to him, and vaulting on to the barebacked horse, he coolly rode it back to the troughs to water it.

Kirk in due course returned to Deir el Belah with his dental treatment still unfinished. He presented himself once more to the Dental Officer, and received the treatment for him to be classified as dentally fit for military duties.

General Murray, in his despatches dealing with the attacks on Gaza, sets out three aims in the objective of the attacking force (1) to protect his railhead, (2) to pin the Turks to their ground so that they would not retire without fighting, (3) to try to capture Gaza, and having achieved two out of the three aims, he ordered the force to withdraw.

Kirk also had three aims in his mind (1) to receive his baptism of fire, (2) to take part in an attack on the page 96historic town of Gaza, and (3) to receive dental treatment for a broken dental plate. Having achieved all his aims Kirk decided to retire to his own unit in the sands of the Sinai Desert, and become a Camelier once more.

His conscience, however, troubled him, and he saw only too clearly the position he had placed himself in, as his time of leave was considerably exceeded. He therefore took the Dental Officer into his confidence, explained his position, and asked the latter to give him a "chit" explaining that the extra time was necessary for pressing reasons. The D.O. rose to the occasion, furnished the document, and Kirk returned to his own unit in the palm hod. On his arrival there he was at once placed under open arrest for overstaying his leave. The next morning he was hailed to the Orderly tent, where his O.C. (who was convinced that Kirk had been indulging in a riotous orgy in Cairo all the time) gave him a severe reprimand, and asked what he had to say as to why the usual punishment for such an offence should not be meted out to him. Kirk produced the Dental Officer’s certificate, and humbly explained that his dental treatment had been interfered with by the movements of the Brigade, and much as he desired to do so, he could not return without the sanction of the Dental Officer, and that he really was the victim of circumstances over which he had no control. The storm blew over, and he was dismissed with a caution, but that was the last dental leave he ever received from that O.C.

With such a promising start to his military career, it is not surprising that this enterprising young trooper should later on in the war be mentioned in despatches for gallantry at Amman in March, 1918, and also as a machine-gunner at the capture of Damascus, on September 30, 1918.

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British Tank at Gaza

British Tank at Gaza

I.C.C. in Beersheba

I.C.C. in Beersheba