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The War Effort of New Zealand

Chapter III. — The Senussi Campaign

page 42

Chapter III.
The Senussi Campaign.

At six o'clock on the morning of October 10th, 1915, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade under the command of Lieut.-Colonel H. T. Fulton, sailed from Wellington on active service. At midnight on November 16th the 1st Battalion, having disembarked at Suez, arrived in the Aerodrome Camp, near Cairo, followed by the 2nd Battalion on the 18th. On November 22nd the 2nd Battalion, with Lieut.-Col. A. E. Stewart in command, left for Alexandria for duty on the line of communications of the Western Frontier Force operating against the tribes of the Senussi sect which had invaded the western borders of Egypt from Cyrenaica. The 1st Battalion, under Major W. S. Austin, Was despatched on the evening of December 18th to join the force at Mersa Matruh. Each unit was approximately 1,000 strong.*

The Senussi sect was founded by Mohammed Ali el Senussi, who was born in Algeria in 1787 and completed his education in Mecca. His doctrine was a reversion to the original Koranic Law in its simple form. Mohammed Ali el Senussi settled in the Benghazi district, or Cyrenaica, just beyond the present western frontier of Egypt, and rapidly gained a religious following throughout the north of Africa from Tunis to the Red Sea. His grandson, Ahmed el Sherif, elected to the headship of the sect in 1902, is known as Sayed Ahmed, or "The Senussi."

The rise of The Senussi to temporal power dates from the war between Italy and Turkey in Tripoli, which lies to the west of Cyrenaica. Through the influence of Enver Pasha,

* Lieut.-Col. H. T. Fulton, to whom had been entrusted the organization and training of the headquarters and first two units of the Brigade, continued in temporary command thereof until some time after their arrival in Egypt. During the process of reorganizing the New Zealand Expeditionary Force after the withdrawal from Gallipoli, frequent changes in the command of the Brigade were made, but finally, when the New Zealand Division was formed in March, 1916, and the remaining two battalions of the Brigade arrived from New Zealand. Lieut.-Col. Fulton was formally appointed to the command, with the rank of Brigadier-General.

page 43Commander-in-Chief of the Turkish forces in Tripoli, The Senussi was induced to take up arms with the Turks against the Italians. On the withdrawal of the Turkish forces from Tripoli, The Senussi considered himself the virtual ruler of these districts, and, as such, continued the struggle with Italy. He had established friendly relations with the Egyptian Government, and his disapproval of the Mahdist movement in Eastern Sudan had won for him the approval of the Sirdar, Sir Reginald Wingate. It was therefore a matter of general surprise when it was announced in November, 1915, that Sayed Ahmed had invaded Western Egypt with a considerable force of Arabs, Turks and Berbers, augmented by some thousands of Egyptian Bedouin. The invasion, which is now known to be directly traceable to Turco-German influence, was more serious than the attempt of the Turks to cross the Suez Canal from the east, because trouble on the west might easily have led to serious internal political and religious disorders.

Hostilities had commenced on November 5th, 1915, when H.M. auxiliary cruiser Tara was torpedoed off Sollum by the German submarine U-35. On the following day an enemy submarine shelled Sollum, the most westerly Egyptian post. The camp here was sniped on November 15th; on the 17th the zawia or monastery at Barrani, fifty miles within our territory, was occupied by Senussi regulars; and next day the coastguard barracks at the same station were attacked.

The available enemy force at the commencement of hostilities was probably not less than 20,000. It had a nucleus of Turkish troops, with Turkish, German and Arab officers; the Senussi Regulars, a well-disciplined and uniformed force of from 2,000 to 3,000; and a varying number of irregulars. They were known to possess 6 mountain-guns, 10 mitrailleuses, and 6 field guns—all captured from the Italians; and they were also reported to have had other field-pieces and machine-guns landed from German submarines. They were well supplied with Greek, Italian and German rifles, and had abundance of ammunition. With the force there was a considerable number of mounted troops, and the supply of camels for transport was practically unlimited. The Commander-in-Chief was Nury Pasha, a Turkish officer.

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Orders for the formation of a Western Frontier force were issued on November 20th, 1915, and Major-General Wallace, C.B., was appointed to command. The original composition of the force was as under:—one mounted brigade, comprising three Yeomanry regiments; one composite regiment of Australian Light Horse; the Notts Battery, R.H.A., and Ammunition Column; one infantry brigade, formed of three battalions of British territorials; one battalion of the 15th Sikhs; and the
Dabaa Railhead

Dabaa Railhead

2nd battalion of the N.Z.R.B. In addition there was one squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, and also a divisional train from the 1st Australian Division. The following details were stationed along the Alexandria-Dabaa railway:—The 2nd N.Z.R.B.; one squadron Royal Naval Armoured Car Division (afterwards moved to Matruh); a detachment of the Bikaner Camel Corps, with an Egyptian Army M.G. section; and an armoured train manned by Gurkha Rifles.

The 2nd Battalion of the N.Z.R.B. arrived at Quamaria Camp, Alexandria, at midnight on 22nd/23rd November, and on the following morning Lieut.-Col. A. E. Stewart was appointed to command the line of communications westwards from Alexandria. He was instructed to push out a company of the Battalion to the rail-head at Dabaa on the following day, and thereafter to distribute the remainder of the page 45companies on posts from Sidi Mergheb, near Alexandria, along the railway line to Dabaa.

The Mariut railway, which runs along the Mediterranean coast, was built by the late Khedive of Egypt as a private speculation. It was afterwards sold to the Egyptian Government, and is now a part of the State railway system. It is of broad gauge, and is approximately 100 miles in length. From Dabaa westward to Bir Fuka, a distance of about 30 miles, a narrow-gauge line was partially constructed, but at this time the rails had been removed. A motorable road, the remains of an ancient Roman highway, runs from the rail-head at Dabaa right on to the port of Sollum on the western frontier, and passes through Matruh, which is some 90 miles west of Dabaa.

Aeroplane and Hangar, Dabaa.

Aeroplane and Hangar, Dabaa.

Lieut.-Col. Stewart established his headquarters at Dabaa, and the 2nd N.Z.R.B., now under the command of Major R. St. J. Beere, was disposed along the line in fifteen posts, the garrisons of which varied in strength from 1 officer and 24 other ranks at less important points, to 12 officers and 300 other ranks at Dabaa.

The posts occupied were either at railway stations or in page 46the vicinity of the larger native villages. The garrisons immediately set to work to put these into a state of defence and to lay in reserve supplies of food, water, and ammunition. The materials used for walls and breastworks consisted either of loose and quarried rock or of sandbags, according to the nature of the country. An admirable rivalry sprang up amongst the various garrisons, which stimulated the men to extraordinary exertions, and in a few days each post became a veritable stronghold.

As time wore on, however, the men's enthusiasm waned. They had come out west full of hopes of an early conflict with
Spy captured by 2nd Battalion.

>The Rifle Brigade's 1st Prisoner

the invaders, but they were disappointed to find nothing more exciting to relieve the monotony than the ordinary patrolling into the desert, the capture of an occasional suspected spy, the stopping and bringing in of suspicious-looking caravans, and the passing of mounted troops, artillery and transport bound for Matruh. Even the novelty of the conditions and the natural curiosity regarding the country and its inhabitants began to pall, and especially so when sand-colic became page 47
Sketch Map of Area through which Battalion passed.

Sketch Map of Area through which Battalion passed.

page 48prevalent. Perhaps the most exciting incident was that experienced by the garrison of a newly-established post at the village of Hammam. In the dusk of the evening of the first day on duty, streams of men and beasts of burden appeared to be converging on the post from all points of the horizon. Later on camp-fires gleamed on every side, and the officer in command of the post came to the conclusion that the end of all things was at hand. After standing to arms all night, the little garrison were somewhat relieved in the morning to find that the sudden growth of population in the neighbourhood of from 500 to 5,000 souls was merely the accompaniment to the holding of the ordinary periodic and peaceful market, warning of which had not reached the post.

At the beginning of December a company of the 15th Sikhs were sent westward to establish posts at the wells of Gerab, Baggush and Jerawala, on the road to Matruh. These, however, were withdrawn by the middle of the month, and later on the Sikhs rejoined their regiment, which had gone to Matruh by sea.

Definite reports were received from time to time of concentrations of Bedouin in the vicinity of the line of communications, but no attacks thereon eventuated. The most important of these camps was that of Sayed Harun, located near Baggush, but this, as will be seen, was dealt with by a column from Matruh at the end of December.

There was much satisfaction when, on December 19th, the Battalion was warned that it would probably be relieved within the next few days. On that date, Lieut.-Col. Ferguson-Davie, of the 54th Sikhs, took over command of the line of communications, and on the 28th the various posts were relieved by troops of the 54th Division. The 2nd N.Z.R.B., on relief, went by rail to Quamaria Camp, Alexandria to rest and refit; and on January 18th, after a tour of guard duty on the railway and traffic bridges over the Mariut Canal, proceeded to Moascar Camp, Ismailia, whither Brigade headquarters had already been moved from their old quarters at Heliopolis.

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The 1st Battalion, N.Z.R.B. (less machine-gun, transport and stretcher-bearer sections, and one platoon of "D" company) reached Mersa Matruh by sea on December 22nd. Mersa Matruh is the first landing-place west of Alexandria, from which city it is distant some 200 miles. It was chosen as the British base for the campaign against the Senussi Moslems and their supporters, and the garrisons of Sollum and Sidi Barrani, respectively 142 and 90 miles west of Matruh
The old flag over Headquarters, Mersa Matruh.

The old flag over Headquarters, Mersa Matruh.

page 50were withdrawn to it. At Matruh the camps of the various units were spread out between the snow-white shore and a low sandy limestone ridge, about 1500 yards inland, the crest of which was put into a state of defence and held as an outpost line. The country inland is rocky, but interspersed with patches of hard, brown, clayey soil. The coastal strip is subject to occasional torrential rains which turn the thin surface soil into soft sticky mud. Water is scarce, and such wells as exist contain brackish water for the most part only suitable for animals. Until a condenser was erected, supplies of fresh water had to be brought from Alexandria by sea. Beyond a few dry flower-stems and roots of scrubby thorns, sufficient only to boil a mess-tin of water, there is no fuel in the country.
Major-General Wallace transferred his headquarters from Alexandria to Matruh on December 7th, 1915, and four days later had his first encounter with the Senussi forces. From five to six miles south of Matruh is a table-land some
Lt.-Col. Fulton, N.Z.R.B. on right of middle row.

Representatives of New Zealanders, South Africans and Sikhs at Mersa Matruh

page 51300 feet high, dropping to the coastal strip in a steep escarpment. The outline of the plateau is irregular, and ten miles to the west of Matruh it is only two miles from the sea. Intersecting the escarpment at right-angles are numerous ancient water-courses, steep, dry and rocky, and in some cases miles in length. In one or other of these wadis, as they are called, the enemy would establish a temporary stronghold. He had been located at Wadi Senaab, eight miles to the westward, and on December 11th a column moved out to attack him. The Yeomanry, aided by a squadron of Australian Light Horse, inflicted over 100 casualties and cleared the wadi. The force, which included the Sikhs, camped on the ground won. Being reinforced by the Royal Scots, the column started again on the 13th for a spot 12 miles farther west to engage the enemy, but in crossing Wadi Shaifa was itself attacked by a force of 1,200, with artillery and machine-guns. The enemy was defeated, however, leaving 180 dead, and was pursued till dark, when the column returned to Matruh.

It was evident that the force under General Wallace was not sufficiently strong both to hold Matruh and to bring the enemy to a decisive engagement; and it was in response to his request for reinforcements that the 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade was despatched from Cairo, together with a battery of the Honourable Artillery Company and two 4-inch naval guns.

On December 23rd the Battalion was warned of an impending operation in which it was to participate, and was instructed to borrow signal personnel and transport from the units detailing part of their troops to form the garrison of the post. Fortunately the machine-gun officer, with the personnel of his section, arrived on the eve of the battle, but his work next day was greatly hampered owing to the shortcomings of the borrowed limber-teams in the rough wadi-country.

The enemy had been concentrating in the vicinity of Jebel Medwa, a prominent hill some eight miles south-west of Matruh, his strength being estimated from air reconnaissance and other sources to have reached 5,000 men, of whom more page 52
Sketch Map of Area fought over by 1st Battalion.

Sketch Map of Area fought over by 1st Battalion.

page 53than half were Mahafizia, or regular soldiers, with four guns and some machine-guns, the whole being under the command of Gaafar Pasha.

General Wallace's force moved out at 5 a.m. on Christmas Day. It consisted of two columns. The main column, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Gordon, 15th Sikhs, was made up of the 15th Sikhs, the 1st N.Z.R.B., the 2nd Battalion Middlesex, with the Royal Bucks Hussars and a section of the Notts Royal Horse Artillery. The left column was commanded by Brig.-Gen. Biscoe, and consisted of three squadrons of Australian Light Horse, three squadrons of English Yeomanry, a Yeomanry M.G. Section, and the Notts Royal Horse Artillery. Six armoured cars and several light cars of the Royal Naval Armoured Car Detachment left Matruh at 7 a.m. to join the columns.

The plan of attack was for the right column to advance directly on Jebel Medwa, the left column to proceed in a wide detour by Wadi Toweiwia and so round the right flank of the enemy to deny his retreat to the west. The Clematis stood off-shore to assist with gun-fire as targets presented themselves.

The right column moved south-west along the Khedival motor road. The Bucks Hussars formed the screen, and were followed by the 15th Sikhs, who provided the advance guard. The 1st N.Z.R.B. came next in order, and supplied flank guards to the main body.

At about 6 a.m. the enemy gave warning of our approach by means of a flare on one of the sand-hills, and half an hour later the advance guard came under artillery fire from the south-west. The Sikhs immediately shook out into artillery formation, and the 1st N.Z.R.B. was ordered to conform to their movements. Advanced elements were pushed back, and by 7.15 a.m. the whole of the main body had crossed the Wadi Ramleh.

At 7.30 a.m. the Sikhs were ordered to attack the right flank of the enemy, the Bucks Hussars and the 2nd Battalion Middlesex to co-operate by a containing attack along his front. West of the road the Sikhs came under rifle and machine-gun fire, but their advance was not checked. They moved steadily forward in extended order, the 1st N.Z.R.B. page 54following in artillery formation for about a mile. The Middlesex Battalion were soon able to occupy Jebel Medwa, and the right flank was thus secured. The section of the Notts battery came into action on the high ground near the road 2,000 yards east of Jebel Medwa, and silenced the enemy's guns, and at 7.45 a.m. the Clematis opened fire, her shooting being "spotted" by our aeroplane.

In the nullahs of Wadi Medwa the Sikhs met with considerable opposition, and our "A" Company was sent forward to prolong the line on the left flank. By 9.30 a.m., "B" Company had also reinforced the firing-line, and by 10 o'clock Wadi Medwa was cleared. The guns were soon after brought forward to the western side of the wadi, and "C" and "D" Companies placed in reserve in the nullah behind the guns. At 11 a.m. the left column could be seen operating about two miles to the south-west, and was signalled to change direction northwards along the Wadi Merjid.

By noon, "C" and "D" companies and the four machine-guns were sent into the firing-line, extending it to the right, and the work of clearing out the many nullahs at the head of Wadi Merjid was carried on, the whole line moving forward slowly but surely. Our battalion was held up for some time by hot rifle and machine-gun fire from a donga running forward at right-angles from the main enemy position, two companies, with the Sikhs, being on one side of this, and two companies on the other. At this stage our line was somewhat long and thin, and at 2.30 p.m. part of the left was withdrawn and pushed into the centre. This alteration was completed by 3 p.m., at which hour the Sikhs were withdrawn, apparently to avoid hampering the movements of the mounted troops who now appeared in their vicinity.

It now became evident that the enemy's stronghold was the edge of the main wadi towards our right front, along which he occupied an entrenched position. The objective being thus clear, the Battalion moved rapidly forward, and by 4 p.m. this position was in our hands. The clearing of the wadi was accomplished with thoroughness, and by the time it was completed over 100 dead were left in the trenches, caves and hollows. Unfortunately the mounted troops were late, page 55and many of the enemy were able to escape through the seaward end of the wadi and over the ridge beyond. Some 34 prisoners were taken here, while 80 camels and a number of asses, sheep and goats were destroyed in the wadi, and a large quantity of rifle and gun ammunition brought away and buried. By this time the remainder of the force had left the field, and the Battalion formed up for the march back at 5.15 p.m.
Field Cooking, Mersa Matruh

Field Cooking, Mersa Matruh

The infantry units bivouacked for the night at Jebel Medwa, commencing the return march to Matruh at 4 a.m. next day.

The casualties of the 1st N.Z.R.B. were 6 killed and 14 wounded. The dead were brought in and buried in the little military cemetery at Matruh, and before we left the station permanent memorials were erected over their graves.

In his despatch regarding this action, General Maxwell, Commanding in Egypt, specially mentions the 1st N.Z.R.B., its Commanding Officer, and Q.M.S. A. L. McCormick, Corporal R. Lepper and Rfmn. T. Nimmo. Of the New Zealanders it was said, "This was the first time the men of the 1st Battalion had been in action, but they fought with the steadiness of seasoned troops."

The immediate result of the action was the retirement of The Senussi with his Staff and the remains of his force to page 56Unjeila and Halazin, some twenty-five miles to the west; and subsequent events show that the Christmas Day fight was the turning-point in the campaign that ultimately brought about The Senussi's downfall.

The Battalion went out with a mobile column again on the
Rifleman Edgar Norman Davis, Robert Greenless Blaikie, Leslie Garnet Hoskings.

The Rifle Brigade's First Graves, Mersa Matruh

page 57afternoon of December 28th, to operate against a hostile force under Sayed Harun which was threatening the line of communications between Matruh and Dabaa. The trek lasted three days, during which we reached a point five miles beyond Bir Zarka, on the Siwa route, and altogether about 26 miles from Matruh. This expedition was an extremely arduous one. The country was exceedingly trying, low-lying stretches of loose sand alternating with rock-strewn table lands; and in the anxiety to get on to the heels of Sayed Harun the customary halts were frequently dispensed with. Even the hardy Sikhs found the strain almost unbearable. The operation was in some respects fruitless, for Harun had taken alarm and had cleared away in haste, leaving one month's food supplies, 400 sheep, 90 camels and 200 tents, which fell into our hands.
Big Gun in the outpost line, Mersa Matruh.

Big Gun in the outpost line, Mersa Matruh.

During the first three weeks of the new year the Battalion was employed on outpost duty, supplying working-parties on the line of defence, or engaged in training and route-marching. There was great joy in the camp when our band arrived on January 8th; and thereafter we had an interesting series of open-air concerts. Lieut.-Col. H. T. Fulton, D.S.O., came to Matruh on January 9th and resumed command of the Battalion.

page 58

On January 19th, 1916, aerial reconnaissance disclosed a concentration of the enemy, about 5,000 strong, at Halazin, 25 miles south-west of Matruh. On the 22nd our attacking force, which included a battalion of South Africans that had just arrived, moved out under the personal command of General Wallace. We reached Bir Shola, 16 miles out, and bivouacked for the night. At midnight heavy rain came on.

At 6 a.m. on the 23rd we moved out from Bir Shola in two columns, the infantry on the right and the mounted troops on the left in close touch, and marched due west in the direction of the enemy camp. Distant firing was heard at 9.40 a.m., and reports came in that the advanced screen of Yeomanry were engaged with the enemy. The Bucks Hussars and the H.A.C. were sent forward in support, the infantry column continuing the march in close order. At 10.30 a.m. the infantry filled up to 200 rounds, closed up its column, and the Sikhs, followed by the South Africans and the New Zealanders, advanced to the attack as the mounted troops uncovered the front.

Soon after 11 a.m. the enemy were observed working round our right flank and driving in the mounted troops. To check this the flank guard of two platoons of the 1st N.Z.R.B. was pushed out to about 1,500 yards. The attack was pressed on, our Battalion being still in support to the Sikhs and South Africans. By 12.30 p.m. it was found necessary to reinforce the right flank guard with two more platoons and two machine guns from the Battalion, and this whole company, under Captain Puttick, succeeded in driving off from that quarter an attack by 400 of the enemy, and silencing his two machine guns. At 1 p.m. "C" Company, under Captain Pow, was sent to the left in support of the left company of the Sikhs, and was eventually brought into the firing-line there. At the same time, half of "A" Company, which had formed the rear-guard, was brought forward to the reserve.

By 2.45 p.m. the Sikhs, South Africans, and part of the 1st N.Z.R.B. had reached the enemy's main line, but the mounted troops on the left had not been so successful. Indeed, they had been pushed back to such an extent that by 3.30 p.m. they were occupying, with the guns of the H.A.C., a page 59position nearly 1,000 yards in rear of the Field Ambulance. To restore the situation here, a composite company (half of "'A" and half of "D") under Major Kay, was hurried off to Force Headquarters, where it received orders to attack the enemy, estimated at 250 strong. This subsidiary attack was successful, and the enemy driven off; and the arrival of "B" Company under Captain Puttick, which had been withdrawn for the purpose from its position on our right flank, completed the security at this point. The position for the time had been very critical, and Major Kay was personally complimented by General Wallace on his quick grasp of the situation and his prompt and thorough action in dealing with it.

In the meantime, the main attack by Colonel Gordon had progressed satisfactorily. His firing-line extended over a mile in length, and had moved across ground absolutely devoid of cover. Desert mirage made it very difficult to locate the enemy's positions. The enemy was slowly but surely pressed back, but his retirement of nearly three miles to his main line of resistance was conducted with such skill as to deny all our efforts to come to close quarters with him. By 4 p.m., however, he was driven from his final position, and the remnants of his force fled westwards. His camp was taken, and his tents, equipment and stores were burnt.

Unfortunately pursuit was found to be impossible. The heavy rain of the previous night had converted the whole countryside into a quagmire, with the result that the cavalry horses were exhausted, the armoured cars could not operate, and the supply train was bogged three miles from Bir Shola. The force bivouacked two miles east of the captured position, at a spot where the ambulance had became immovable owing to the deep mud. The weather was wet and bitterly cold, and the troops spent a miserable night without greatcoats, blankets, food or water.

Next day, the 24th, there was no sign of the enemy, and the force returned to Bir Shola. The return march proved to be a most arduous business. Owing to the state of the ground all wheeled vehicles had to be assisted by hand, and to the New Zealanders, the rear battalion of the main body, fell the greater part of this exhausting labour. The transport page 60of the wounded presented the greatest difficulty; they could not be taken in the ambulances, and those unable to ride had to be carried on stretchers, a severe strain upon the troops already tired out by their own exertions and a sleepless night, and still without food or water. We reached the parked transport at 2 p.m., filled our water-bottles, and in somewhat better spirits continued the trudge to Bir Shola. Here we bivouacked again, but as it rained during the night, and the coats and blankets were already wet, very little sleep was obtained. Matruh was reached at 4.30 p.m. on the 25th, after a comparatively comfortable march in good weather.

The casualties of the 1st Battalion in this engagement were one other rank killed, and two officers and 30 other ranks wounded. The British dead were buried at Halazin, but as it was discovered that the enemy had interfered with the graves for the sake of spoil, the bodies were afterwards brought in and interred at Matruh.

Sergt.-Major Robert Charles Purkiss; Sergt. Stanley Francis Weir, Corporal Ernest Charles Beresford Wilkinson; Corporal Archibald Woollat; Rifleman John Matthew Todd.

The Rifle Brigade's First Graves, Mersa Matruh

The enemy had received a very severe blow, and it transpired from the reports of deserters that the effects of this reverse, following upon that at Wadi Merjid on Christmas Day, had gone far to discourage the Grand Senussi, and to shake the faith of his followers.

General Maxwell, referring to the success on January page 6123rd, said:—"Especial praise is due to the leading of Colonel Gordon, who commanded the main attack, and to the gallantry of the Sikhs, South Africans and New Zealanders, who fought with invincible dash and resolution throughout the day."

On January 26th, warning was received that the Battalion was to leave Mersa Matruh to rejoin the New Zealand forces elsewhere, and next day the following General Order was issued by Major-General Wallace, C.B. Commanding the Western Frontier Force:—"On the departure of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, the General Officer commanding desires to place on record the universal regret of the Force at losing the comradeship of a reliable body of men of whom England may well be proud." The weather, however, proved unfavourable for a move, and then the departure was postponed to permit of the Sikhs going first.

The power of the Senussi having been so broken in the engagements of Christmas Day and January 23rd that any fear of danger to Matruh was practically at an end, it was now decided to clear the enemy from the coast westward, and re-take Sollum. In connection with this scheme the 1st Battalion, with a huge camel transport, moved out with the object of establishing an advanced station in the direction of Sidi Barrani. Starting at 9.30 on the morning of February 13th, and proceeding along a camel-track near the coast, the column reached Zowiet Um Rakhum and bivouacked at 3 p.m., after an interesting march of fifteen miles. While here we received instructions that we were to go back to Alexandria for a destination unknown. On the following day we were relieved by the 1st South African Battalion, and commenced our return march at 4.40 p.m. We had a delightfully cool moonlight night, and reached Matruh comfortably by 9.30 p.m. Our recall was a great disappointment to all ranks, as we had been looking forward to participating in the taking of Sollum, which would have been a fitting climax to our work with the Western Frontier Force.*

* The concluding stages of the campaign followed rapidly. As the force moved westward it was strengthened by the arrival of the remaining battalions of the South African Brigade. The Senussi forces were badly beaten again near Barrani on February 26th and Sollum was captured on March 14th. Pushing on for twenty miles beyond Sollum the Armoured Car Detachment captured all the enemy's guns and machine guns; and by a bold dash on an enemy camp forty miles still further westward rescued the survivors of the crew of the torpedoed Tara.

page 62

The return to Alexandria commenced on February 15th, and by the 18th we were settled down in the Rest Camp at Matras. On the night of February 28th the Battalion left Alexandria, rejoining the Brigade at Moascar Camp, Ismailia, on the following day.