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With the Machine Gunners in France and Palestine

Chapter IX — The Capture of Jerusalem

page 212

Chapter IX
The Capture of Jerusalem

While the New Zealand Brigade had been advancing along the coast to Jaffa, the rest of the Army had been making steady progress towards Jerusalem, which the enemy, for strategical and political reasons, meant to hold at all costs. In order to draw the enemy forces away from Jerusalem, and so relieve the pressure, it was decided to send the Brigade across the River Auja, with the apparent intention of continuing the offensive northwards. On 24th November the Brigade received orders to cross the river and to clear the enemy for a space of two miles northwards.

The Canterbury Regiment, with two sections of machine guns, moved out from Sarona at 1 p.m., and crossed the ford at the mouth of the Auja and proceeded to the attack. The village of Sheikh Muannis was captured with little opposition. The two sections were only able to employ a small amount of long range shooting. The Wellington Regiment then went through the Canterburys and captured Khurbet Hadrah. After the infantry moved up to hold the new line three squadrons (two from Auckland Regiment and one from Wellington Regiment), each accompanied by a section of machine guns, took up an outpost line ahead of the infantry.

At 3 a.m. on 25th the section under Lieut. P. D. Russell, with the outpost squadron on Khurbet Hadrah, was attacked, the enemy creeping almost up to the guns before they were discovered. The guns opened fire at once, and together with the aid of the rifle fire of the squadron drove the enemy back into the darkness. Russell improved his position as much as possible before the enemy again attacked, at 4.30 a.m. This attack was held up until 5.30 a.m., when Russell received orders from the Outpost Commander to withdraw to the ridge about 500 yards in rear. Just as the guns were being withdrawn, Russell and two gunners were wounded. Sergt. S. L.

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Emerson then took command of the section and succeeded in getting it back to a position on the left of an infantry post, where he gave orders to dig in.

A short while after daybreak the enemy shelled this position very heavily, causing a number of casualties. Sergt. Emerson, with splendid devotion to duty, got the wounded dressed and evacuated. At 8 a.m. the Squadron Commander (Capt. R. P. Harper, M.C.) reached the position, but was at once seriously wounded. Before he could be taken back the enemy attacked in large numbers. Emerson was now the only unwounded gunner left. Gallantly he fought singlehanded the section's only serviceable gun. He succeeded in turning the enemy on the flank opposite his position, but as the troops were forced to withdraw, he had to abandon both his guns and equipment. Together with Capt. Harper's horse holder, he succeeded in getting the Squadron Commander back to safety. Probably the gallant conduct of Sergt. Emerson on this fateful day stands out as one of the most conspicuous deeds performed in the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps.1

Capt. Harper's wounds were very serious and prevented him from again taking his place at the head of his Squadron. The loss of this officer, whose great courage and leadership had been outstanding features from the time he served in the ranks until he had risen to his responsible command, and had turned his Squadron into what was generally termed "the most efficient unit in the Brigade," was a very grievous blow to the Corps.

The section with the outpost Squadron at Sheikh Muannis withdrew to the ford and gave covering fire from its northern side while the Squadrons crossed, until the reserve sections were sent forward to cover the crossing from the southern side. These sections took up a defensive line along the river, and when the crossing had been effected inflicted heavy casualties upon the advancing enemy at ranges from 1200 to 2000 yards.

The Canterbury Regiment had crossed the river on the 25th and taken up a position on the hills to the north of the ford. As the Auckland and Wellington Regiments withdrew to cross the river the 1st Squadron Canterbury Regiment held back the enemy while the crossing was being effected, and page 214then gradually fell back under cover of the machine guns in command of 2nd Lieut. Edridge, whose splendid and bold handling won well deserved praise.

About 11 p.m. the 61st Essex Regiment took over the line, and the gunners withdrew to support positions, where they remained all night.

On the 1st December the Squadron returned to Sarona. From the 4th to 10th the Squadron undertook trench duties, when it was relieved by an infantry company and returned to Ayun Kara.

The day after the relief came the gladdening news that Jerusalem had fallen.

The Squadron moved to Esdud on the 13th December, and remained in rest until January 20th, during which time it had shifted to its old bivouac near Ayun Kara.

Capt. Hinman became O.C. Squadron in the place of Capt. Harper.

1 Emerson subsequently died from malaria.