Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918

Chapter XX. N.Z.M.C in Sinai and Palestine

page 449

Chapter XX. N.Z.M.C in Sinai and Palestine.

When the New Zealand Division left Egypt in April, 1916, the New Zealand Mounted Brigade Ambulance, as we saw in Chapter VII., remained with its Brigade—both units now dissociated for the rest of the war from the New Zealand Division.

The Anzac Mounted Division under General Chauvel, A.I.F., comprised four brigades: three of Australian Light Horse, and one of New Zealand Mounted Rifles. To each brigade a cavalry ambulance was attached:—the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Australian Light Horse Ambulances; and the New Zealand Mounted Ambulance. The work of these units while attached to the New Zealand and Australian Division in Gallipoli has already been referred to. In April the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance was at Ferry Post, accompanying its brigade on outpost duty some seven or eight miles East of the Suez Canal. The ambulance, at this time commanded by Lieut.-Col. Hand Newton, N.Z.M.C., was organised in two sections, and in accordance with the existing establishments of a British cavalry ambulance. There were six medical officers and about 120 O.R., including N.Z.M.C. and N.Z.A.S.C. drivers attached; the transport, which had come from New Zealand comprised ambulance waggons and general service waggons of Dominion manufacture and seven motor ambulance cars provided in Egypt. The medical equipment was similar to that of the field ambulances, consisting of medical and surgical panniers and ordnance material. The tentage comprised circular tents and two operating tents giving shelter for 50 patients.

At Serapeum, near the railway station, the headquarters of the Anzac Mounted Division were established. The A.D.M.S. was Lieut.-Col. Downs, A.M.C. with Captain Hercus, N.Z.M.C. of the New Zealand Mounted Ambulance as D.A.D.M.S. On 6th April the Division moved up to No. 3 sector of defence, based on el Kantara and on Salhia or Salahieh, where the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance was encamped with the brigade on the edge of the cultivated land. It was from this point, probably, that Moses headed his caravans towards Sinai, and it was also at this spot, certainly, that Naploeon concentrated his four divisions for the Syrian Campaign. The New Zealand Mounted page 450Brigade group, under the command of Brigadier General Chaytor, C.M.G., D.S.O., including the New Zealand Machine-gun Squadron, a territorial R.H.A. battery, 2 camel companies, New Zealand Engineer troops, the mounted ambulance and the train numbered a little more than one of Napoleon's depleted infantry divisions: just over 2500, so that the Anzac Mounted Division with its four brigades and attached units was about as strong as the French force that advanced into Sinai in February, 1799.

During the month the ambulance reorganised its transport for desert warfare. Six sand carts—two-horsed light drays with a square hood and very broad tyres—each accommodating two stretcher cases were substituted for the ambulance waggons; while camels were provided for carrying wounded in cacolets, and for the transport of rations, water, equipment, and bearers.

Towards the end of April the advanced troops of a Turkish Expedition, moving westward to attack the canal north of Kantara, had reached the Katia Oasis, driving in English Yeomanry who were holding that position. The Anzac Mounted Division marched out to meet them and finding no Turks in Katia, occupied Dueidar, 15 miles, and Romani, 25 miles out from Kantara. In these movements the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance journeyed with its brigade—then in Reserve—to Hill 70, some seven miles east of Kantara. It had followed the route trodden by man from time immemorial from Salahieh—the last town in the Nile Delta on the edge of the desert, the point of departure of the old caravan route from Egypt to Syria—and, if we are to believe certain authorities, midway between their point of departure and Kantara, they passed over the very spot where Pharoah's army was lost in the Serbonian Bog, or the old Pelusiac branch of the Nile.

Early in May the desert transport of the ambulance was completed by a camel section comprising 81 natives under a warrant officer and 140 camels. Of these, 29 camels were for equipment, 17 to carry cacolets providing transport for lying and sitting cases, and 77 baggage camels for personnel. About this time Major Mathew Holmes, N.Z.M.C., joined the ambulance and took command of "B" section; but experience was beginning to show that the old two-section arrangement was not practical for desert warfare.

It was now the Khamsin season; the average midday temperature rose to 109° F. or over in the shade of the double tents. Much reconnaissance work was in hand and there were many casualties from heat stroke amongst the unseasoned troops, page 451as yet learning their first lessons in nomad life and gaining experience in the problem of desert transport. Expecting some fighting in a lengthy reconnaissance as far as Bir el Jeffeir on May 15th, the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance was ordered to Katia for the purpose of forming a dressing station there, and had orders to send small detachments with sand carts and sledges for wounded transport with the brigade. The only casualties were 2 officers and 29 O.R. suffering from heat stroke, who were evacuated via Romani to el Kantara by the new military railway under construction. On the 16th May the thermometer registered 117° F. in the coolest double tent of the mounted field ambulance.

Other expeditions with reconnoitring bodies early convinced Lieut.-Col. Hand Newton that his bearer sub-division required to be mounted. At first mules were provided for this purpose as there was no authority as yet for the reorganisation of the New Zealand Ambulance. The Australian Light Horse Field Ambulances and the British Cavalry Ambulances had already an allotment of horses for 24 bearers. The baggage camels were found to be too slow to keep up with horsemen, and were otherwise unsuitable, so that the camel sections were withdrawn from the field ambulances at least until further experience showed that a cavalry field ambulance fitted for desert warfare required to be subdivided into a mobile and a so called immobile section.

At the end of May our ambulance moved to El Debabis to form a dressing station, sending on mounted bearers with sand carts with the column patrolling as far as Bir el Abd about 20 miles from Katia. One, lightly wounded, riding his own horse, and one wounded Turk were brought in; the ambulance returning by Ogratina to Bir et Maler and a date-palm plantation or Hod, which they had occupied as headquarters since early in the month and where they remained until near the end of June.

Experience gained during the reconnaissance period showed that the existing pattern of desert cart, which required six horses in sandy country, was too light in construction; the square hood was flimsy and soon broke away. Sand sledges on broad four-inch runners with two horses proved successful for stretcher cases and gave an easy ride to a seriously wounded man. The camel cacolets were very uncomfortable, and the camels were too slow. The lying cacolets, on account of their unruly movements, were almost impossible for seriously wounded men. Stretchers of regulation pattern proved very difficult to carry on horseback, so that the need of a lighter pattern, or a folding page 452type, was keenly felt by the regimental stretcher bearers. As the result of these varied experiences a new ambulance organisation came into force in the middle of June. Each cavalry ambulance now formed a mobile section constituted as follows:—The Tent Subdivision of the Mobile Section had a personnel of 2 officers, 1 W.O., 1 staff sergeant, 2 cooks, 8 nursing orderlies and 1 clerk. The Bearer Subdivision, commanded by a captain, had 9 mounted bearers N.Z.M.C. or A.M.C. The transport consisted of 8 sand carts, 10 cacolet camels for lying cases, 15 cacolet camels for sitting cases, and there were 32 draft horses for the sand carts. This provided transport for 36 stretcher cases and 30 sitting, while the remaining camels were utilised for the transport of water, equipment and rations. In all, the Mobile Section had: 4 officers, 40 O.R., 40 draft horses, 16 riding horses and 44 camels. The only wheeled transport was the broad tyred sand cart. The Immobile Section was manned by the remaining personnel and held the bulk of the heavy equipment. The newly constituted Mobile Ambulance Sections were tried out in June and July, and seemed well adapted for their work. But some further reorganisation of the Mobile Section was authorised at the end of July. Provision was made for an increase of personnel up to 5 officers, 74 O.R., cacolet camels were increased to 25 for sitting cases, and the original allotment of one camel for water carrying was found to be so inadequate that the number was increased to 8. A new pattern sand cart of much more durable structure was issued; it had a rounded iron framed hood, and, in spite of added weight, it was considered an improvement on the earlier type. The ambulances had much to do in reorganising their equipment and arranging for a well ordered distribution of loads as the Mobile Sections only were to accompany the brigades into action. The Immobile Sections of the ambulances, having now a very limited personnel, heavy equipment and no transport, could be utilised only on the railway, and must, to a certain extent, be pooled for the formation of a divisional collecting or main dressing station. All these arrangements were shortly to be put to the test in the battle of Romani.

General Chaytor, who was making a personal reconnaissance in an aeroplane on July 19th, observed long columns of the enemy approaching on an eight mile front from Bir Salmana, less than 20 miles east of Katia. The 52nd Lowland Scottish Division, which had been at Helles in 1915, and was now holding the railhead near Romani, moved up into prepared defensive positions while our cavalry outposts, keeping close watch on the enemy page 453movements, gave way gradually as the columns of the 3rd Turkish Division drew on to Romani. On the 25th there came a polite note dropped from a German aeroplane warning our ambulances that their red cross flags were not sufficiently visible from the air, a matter to which the ambulances gave serious attention. Large crosses were traced on the sand near the dressing stations which our own aeroplanes reported to be clearly visible at 7,000 feet Similar red crosses, on a large scale, were constructed with broken bricks on a white-washed ground in France in 1918, by our ambulances near Bapaume.

On the 3rd of August the Turks occupied the Katia Oasis and advanced against Romani with one column, while two other columns led by traitorous Bedouins, who had access to our lines, attempted to turn the right flank of the position by seizing high ground southwest of Romani, not far from the Pelusium station on the military railway. Here, after a stiff fight, they were driven off and counter attacked by the Anzac Mounted Division.

Early on the morning of the 4th the N.Z.M.R. Brigade in camp seven miles east of Kantara, moved out towards Dueidar and by midday was attacking near Mt. Royston, about four miles east of Pelusium railway station. The Mobile Section of the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance, under Lieut.-Col. Hand Newton, following the Brigade opened a dressing station at Canterbury Ridge, a mile from the railway line, and evacuated their wounded to Anzac Siding, north-west of Pelusium. The following day the bearers and transport for wounded pushed on with the advancing New Zealand Brigade who were attacking the Turks at Katia. The Tent Subdivision did not get up until 5.30 p.m. when they opened a dressing station and received wounded. During this fight we lost one of our medical officers: Captain Wood, N.Z.M.C., R.M.O. to the Wellington Regiment, who with his medical orderly was dressing wounded close up to the south-western edge of the date palms of Katia. Both the medical officer and the orderly were mortally wounded and died shortly after the action, which was broken off at nightfall. The Mobile Section moved back to Et Maler, near Romani, arriving at 6.30 am. on the 7th with exhausted horses; they handed over their wounded to the 2nd Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance who formed a divisional receiving station. That same day the Immobile Section of the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance, under Major M. Holmes, N.Z.M.C. was ordered up to the 47 Kilometre peg on the railway near Katia, where they had orders to form a divisional collecting station.

page 454

On the 6th, 7th and 8th of August, their rear guards offering a stubborn resistance but losing many men and much material, the Turks fell back until they reached Bir el Abd, some 20 miles from Romani: here they seemed to be in strength and determined to make a stand. The Anzac Mounted Division attacked Bir el Abd on the 9th and a severe engagement followed. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles in the centre of the Battle line were counterattacked by very strong bodies but held their ground in a somewhat critical position until they withdrew at nightfall. There were many wounded in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles which the R.M.O., Captain Orbell, N.Z.M.C., had much difficulty in extricating under heavy fire. The Mobile Section had followed on and during the day had established a dressing station three miles behind the firing line on the caravan route at a date plantation known as Hod Ed Debabis, where they collected wounded, evacuating serious cases to the 47 kilometre peg and the lightly wounded to Ogratina. During the action the ambulance was bombed by aeroplanes, losing 5 N.C.O.'s and men wounded, and several horses killed. At night when the action was broken off they moved back five miles to Ogratina, where the remaining wounded were taken over by an ambulance convoy. During these operations they had cleared in all 141 wounded. On the 10th the Mobile Section moved forward to Hod el Debabis, while the Immobile Section dealt with 167 wounded which were evacuated by train via Romani to el Kantara. The Turks were retiring on the 12th, and it was determined that the Anzac Mounted Division should hold the country as far east as Bir el Abd, as transport difficulties precluded an immediate advance. The enemy had lost so heavily that he was unable to continue his daring enterprise, and all danger of a further invasion of Egypt was definitely averted.

The experience gained by the medical service was discussed in conference of ambulance commanders: many important imperfections in the organisation of the medical formations for desert warfare were brought to light and amended as far as was possible. The most salient points were these:—Owing to the fact that the regimental Maltese carts could not be used there was so much difficulty in transporting the regulation pattern stretchers that they never reached the firing line—improvised stretchers made of blankets and rifles had to be used, but were a poor substitute. The regimental stretcher bearers, leing armed with a rifle, were compelled either to abandon their weapon or experienced much inconvenience from carrying it page 455slung while transporting wounded. Sufficient attention had not been devoted to the training of these details, who, as often as not, were to be found in the firing line with their squadron so leaving the evacuation of wounded to volunteers or unauthorised persons. S.B. armlets were in some regiments non-existent. Another matter related to the regimental medical detachment that needed attention was the necessity for an independent channel for communication with the ambulance commander. Messages from many sources demanding sand carts for wounded reached the dressing station and served to dissipate the limited transport of the Mobile Section. The cacolet camels, being slow, and presenting a very large target, were not suitable for work in the open near the front line, but sledges were found to be very useful for this purpose. Sand carts were never to be had in sufficient numbers and it seemed that at least 10 would be the minimal requirement of a Mobile Section. Ultimately after a close consideration of all factors, it was decided to procure for the regimental stretcher bearers a light bamboo stretcher which could be conveniently carried on horseback. Regiments were advised to see to the training and proper employment of their stretcher bearers in action. All demands from regiments to ambulance for transport for wounded were to come by mounted bearer from the R.M.O. only, to the commander of the bearer personnel, or the officer commanding the Mobile Section. Sand carts to the number of 12 per ambulance were demanded, but it was never found possible to supply so large a number of these indispensible vehicles. Medical equipment taken form the Turks showed a high grade of efficiency, and more especially the Turkish pattern cacolet for stretcher cases was found to be much superior to our own. But in general the use of cacolets was limited as the wounded travelled very uncomfortably in this means of conveyance. A sledge constructed by the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance with broad four-inch runners was demonstrated to be preferable to a cacolet for handling serious lying down patients, more especially in close proximity to the firing line.

The months of September, October, and November were a period of outpost duty, rest, training and organisation. Sanitary effort was not neglected, although the sickness wastage rate of the Mounted Division would have been considered very high on fee Western Front, as it averaged from 12 to 14 per 1000 per week. There had been a mild outbreak of cholera following the advance in August: the disease was prevalent amongst the page 456Turkish troops as we learnt from notices to that effect left by the enemy near the wells at Bir el Abd. The Immobile Section of the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance, which moved forward about this time to the 57 kilometre peg, had a bacteriological laboratory attached under Lieut.-Col. Martin, A.A.M.C., late of Lemnos, by whom both the cholera, dysentery and diphtheria epidemics were investigated in an isolation hospital established for the purpose, A mobile laboratory attached to a mounted division is a necessity in the sub-tropics, and the Anzac Field Laboratory thus constituted remained during the campaign in close touch with the Division. The earliest cases of malaria were noticed in the autumn and were traceable to infections arising at el Kantara. With the granting of leave for short periods to Alexandria and Port Said there was an increase in venereal disease, A sanitary section had been authorised for the Anzac Mounted Division in August and was now beginning to make its weight felt by providing sanitary apparatus for the regiments and supervising the bathing and disinfestation stations; a very necessary precaution as a few cases of relapsing fever had been reported. "Pinking" of wells or their chlorination and placarding of suitable water supplies were some of the more important duties during the cholera outbreak.

During this period of waiting for the railway to come forward—it was moving at the rate of a mile a day—no military operations of importance took place, but in November railway construction had advanced so far that plans for the capture of el Arish were under discussion. It was not until December the 20th, however, that the town, completely surrounded by the Division, was found to be abandoned by the enemy, who had offered no resistance. It was otherwise in 1799: Napoleon, who had arrived in front of el Arish on the 17th of February—he had ridden or driven up from Cairo in seven days—found a very lively siege in hand, and one of his divisions under Reynier fighting a pitched battle on the east bank of the wadi in order to disperse the Turkish relief columns coming down from Gaza. The fort at el Arish fell into his hands on the 20th, and on the 25th he was in Gaza; it was but a little more than three weeks since his columns had moved out from Salahia!

Our Turks had retired to Magdhaba where, on the 23rd, they were to be attacked by the Division. Sir Philip Chetwoode, who arrived by motor launch and had landed on the beach at el Arish, now took command of the whole force of cavalry and camelry of which the Desert Column was formed and issued page 457orders for the battle. The New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade was in bivouac two miles south-east of el Arish on the afternoon of the 22nd. The Mobile Ambulance Section moved out at 6 p.m., the bearer personnel keeping pace with the regiments, the Tent Subdivision following in rear with the slower moving camels under the escort of a troop of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. All had rendezvous at a point in the dry bed of the wadi el Arish where a halt was made; and later the night march to Magdhaba was resumed, the distance from el Arish being 30 miles. The column arrived before daybreak and at 8 a.m. on the 23rd a dressing station was opened by Lieut.-Col. Hand Newton, N.Z.M.C., some three miles west of Magdhaba, the bearer personnel following the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade into action.

The battle opened at 10 a.m., the New Zealand troops attacking from the north-east. The bearer personnel took up a position near brigade headquarters on some high ground overlooking the town and from there sent forward sand carts, sledges, and bearers to the collecting posts, formed by the R.M.O.'s. The Turkish Garrison, although completely invested by the Anzac Cavalry, and the Camelry, held out in their redoubts with well directed machine-gun fire and a battery of mountain guns to assist them, until approaching evening warned the besiegers that no water could be obtained until they entered Magdhaba and that the place must be carried by storm before nightfall. A bayonet charge settled the matter; the Turks surrendered by 4.30 p.m. and at dusk, our horses were watering at the captured wells. There had been few casualties at the dressing station up to 2 p.m., but by four o'clock large numbers of wounded were coming in as the result of the final assault. Many of the wounded, both Turkish and British, were brought into the well equipped Turkish Field Hospital at Magdhaba, and as they could not be cleared that night, remained there until the 24th in charge of the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, some R.M.O.'s and the D.A.D.M.S., Captain Hercus, N.Z.M.C., who was in charge of medical arrangements. The main force retired to el Arish that night leaving two cavalry regiments to protect the wounded. The New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance had a brisk twelve hours work, as they did not get in all their wounded until 3 a.m. on the 24th; they tended 15 officers and 153 O.R. Their first convoy comprising 9 sand carts, 3 sledges, 1 captured Turkish buggy and cacolet camels, left at midday on the 24th, and the whole Ambulance Mobile Section cleared the dressing station page 458site with the more seriously wounded at 1 p.m. The night that followed was very cold; the wounded in the cacolets suffered severely, the cacolets were constantly breaking down. Two of the lying cases died during the night march. Very early on Christmas morning, about three miles from el Arish, the ambulance, now almost at the point of exhaustion, was met by a convoy of the 52nd Division with sandcarts, to which all the cacolet cases were transferred, and by 4 a.m. the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance had handed over their wounded to the receiving station on the beach. In all they had handled some 168 wounded, 37 being New Zealanders, while the Turkish wounded brought in by them numbered 5 officers, 55 O.R. The wounded were to have been evacuated by sea from el Arish but rough weather and heavy seas prevented, so that on the 28th a large convoy was formed at el Arish and carried the wounded in sand carts or sledges to the 139 kilometre peg, where a hospital train awaited them. The New Zealand Brigade and the ambulance moved down to the beach to a very pleasant camp, where the "multitudinous laughter of the sea" was a delight for tired men and horses. At the end of the year Major M. Holmes, N.Z.M.C., went to England on duty, and as we have seen took over command of No. 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance in France.

In the new year the invasion of Palestine was decided upon and preparations for the execution of this war policy were on foot. On the 8th of January, 1917, the Desert Column was concentrated at el Arish for a raid on Rafa, the first outpost on the Turkish frontier. In this dashing cavalry exploit five mounted brigades were employed; 2 Australian Light Horse Brigades, the New Zealand, the 5th Yeomanry, and the Camel Brigade. The medical troops comprised a mounted field ambulance mobile section for each brigade, and two ambulance convoys, the desert equivalent of an M.A.C. Each ambulance convoy had 2 officers, 20 O.R., 16 A.S.C., 68 native drivers, 74 camels, 8 sand-carts, and was capable of transporting 126 patients of which 46 lying down. The distance to be covered from el Arish to Rafa was over 30 miles, in part through desert, partly on formed tracks beyond Sheik Zowaiid, a halfway halting place. Railhead, where hospital trains could load wounded, was now up abreast of el Arish where the field ambulances of the 52nd Division formed receiving stations, the equivalent of main dressing stations or C.C.S.'s

At 4 p.m. on the 8th the Desert Column was set in motion and forded the wadi el Arish, the old frontier of Egypt, now a page 459rustling yellow stream that partly filled the wide shingle bed and beyond the bar streaked the blue of the sea with saffron bands. The ambulances marched behind the ammunition camels; their pace limited to two and a half miles an hour. That night they bivouacked near Sheik Zowaiid, 15 miles from Rafa, in cultivated land traversed by hard mud tracks suitable for wheeled or even motor transport. One tent subdivision of the 1st Light Horse Field Ambulance, the two ambulance convoys, and a detail of the Divisional Sanitary Section for water purification duties, remained to form a receiving station at Sheik Zowaiid, but the Mobile Sections detaching the bearer personnel and transport to the brigades moved on with the column.

At 1 a.m. on the 9th, the march was resumed along the Darb el Sultaniyeh—the Way of the Kings—the beaten track of all the armies of the ages. As the sun came up the enemy was found strongly posted on a smooth green hill, its sides scarred by trenches and on its crown a redoubt of very formidable appearance. The cavalry brigades closing in from all sides—the New Zealanders from the north galloping through the village—dismounted and encircled the hill with a ring of well nourished fire from machine-guns and rifles. The battle was fully engaged by 11 a.m. The New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance Tent Subdivision had opened a dressing station near Divisional Headquarters at Shokh el Sufi, about four and a half miles south-east of Rafa, while the bearer divisions had formed a collecting post on a road leading from the north, at a spot about two miles from the New Zealand firing line near General Chaytor's headquarters. Owing to the very open nature of the hillside and the absence of cover, the sand carts could not be brought up as far as the R.A.P.'s, so that most of the evacuations had to be by hand and in this work the light bamboo stretchers proved their worth. Very few wounded had reached the Tent Subdivision by 2 p.m., but after this hour the flow became increased. The first convoy of lightly wounded left the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance early in the forenoon for Shiek Zowaiid. The battle dragged as the afternoon wore on, the position was so strong and so well defended that it seemed that we must be held up until nightfall, before the final assault could be made. Already a regiment of Turkish infantry was on its way from Khan Yunus to relieve the two battalions at Rafa. The position was indeed critical when, at 3.30 p.m., Sir Philip Chetwoode gave orders for a concentration of all available artillery on the redoubt and a general assault. As no visible results followed this order, retire- page 460ment was inevitable as large forces of Turks were seen approaching from Shellal. There was a moment of tense anxiety. A partial retirement was in progress, but suddenly all was redeemed by a sparkle of New Zealand bayonets on the hill-top, and after a while, the garrison, over 1500 in number, surrendered. But a speedy withdrawal was necessary. Above all, the wounded still lying out must be collected and brought in, and before the final phase of the battle, the sand carts moving boldly out into the open under their red cross flags, collected the wounded unhampered by fire from the still occupied trenches and without casualties to bearers or horses. At 5 p.m. the Tent Subdivision of the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance had orders to close, pack up and stand by. All the patients and the equipment were loaded upon the camels and word was sent to the bearer division to expedite the work of clearing their wounded. At 5.30 p.m. the battle was over; the Tent Subdivision closed at 6 p.m. and joined the main body now withdrawing to Sheik Zowaiid. But the Bearer Division remained behind searching for wounded in the dark. At 10 p.m. they were assured by a staff officer that all the New Zealand wounded were in, but they still persisted in their efforts until, at 1.30 a.m. on the 10th the last of their sand carts left the battle field. In all the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance had collected 7 officers, 60 O.R. The total wounded brought in by the column was 27 officers, 385 O.R. including 162 Turkish wounded. At Sheik Zowaiid the wounded remained through the night in the tent subdivisions, but owing to a lack of transport there was some shortage of blankets, rations, comforts and dressings. Small supplies of the last two necessaries came forward on the 10th by aeroplane. It was not until 5 p.m. that day that the last of the wounded were brought off by the convoys. During the day some medical personnel and burial parties remained on Rafa Hill covered by strong rear guards. Although the armed Amalekites prowled, like hyenas in search of prey about the newly dug graves, the Turks did not advance to investigate the situation more closely, but remained on their outpost lines some four miles away. On the 12th all our wounded were put aboard a hospital train at the 152 kilometre peg. The New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance returned to camp at Massaid, where they remained for over a month resting, training, and reorganising.

The desert had now been left behind; the wanderings in the wilderness had ceased. To our nomads, now over a year in the desert, the spring time luxuriance of the plains of Philistia seemed page 461indeed a thing of promise. The lustrous green of the barley fields gemmed with scarlet anemones and purple irids gave new hope to man, and the horses whinnied with delight as they pranced girth high in verdure. Thoughts of adequate wheeled transport filled the mind of the medical troops: beyond were roads fit even for motor ambulance cars, wheeled transport of European type was required urgently, as at present they had neither ambulance waggons. G. S. waggons, water carts, nor motor ambulance cars.

By the end of March railhead had reached Rafa; preparations were forward for the capture of Gaza. On the 23rd a conference of field ambulance commanders was held for the purpose of discussing the oncoming operations. The task set for the cavalry was to envelop the city from the north and north-east, and on the 25th, the three mobile sections, less camel transport, were moving with the Anzac Mounted Division across the Wadi el Ghuzze to Beit Durdeis some four miles north-east of Gaza. At 2.30 a.m. on the eve of the first battle of Gaza, the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance Mobile Section, less the Tent Subdivision and Camel Transport, accompanied the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade to Deir el Belah on the high road to Gaza, three miles south of the Wadi el Ghuzze, where they went into bivouac. Starting at 2.30 a.m. on the following morning, the 26th of March, a twelve mile trek via Tel el Ahmar, four miles due south of Gaza, brought the column to Tel el Humra in the vicinity of Beit Durdeis, where the Anzac Mounted Division were now in position to strike from the north and the north-east. South of Gaza the Infantry of the 53rd Division failed to get home in their frontal attack. Their losses were heavy; they made little headway. It was now the turn of the Anzac Division, and by 3 p.m. the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were trotting out, under a desultory shell fire, to el Masrah, a little more than a mile due north of Gaza, where they dismounted for action, with the 2nd Australian Light Horse on their right pushing down from the north. Each New Zealand regiment as it dismounted was accompanied by one sand cart, but the main transport park of the Mobile Section remained under cover of a steep bluff close by brigade headquarters.

As the New Zealand Mounted Rifles fought their way through the northern outskirts of the town, close touch with the R.M.O.'s was maintained by the N.Z.M.C. bearers, and casualties were collected within a few minutes of their reaching the aid posts. There was good cover from huts and tall hedges of prickly pear.

page 462

As the afternoon wore on, and our men penetrated further into the suburbs the whole ambulance transport was pushed up as close to the firing line as cover permitted. The Tent Subdivisions and the Camel Transport did not reach Beit Durdeis until late in the afternoon. Lieut.-Col. Hand Newton opened his tent subdivision north of Gaza where he admitted wounded until 10.30 p.m. when he was ordered to withdraw to the west bank of the Wadi el Ghuzze.

When dark came and the fighting died down the Mobile Section had orders to withdraw, but no move was made until the last of the sand carts came in and word had been received from the R.M.O.'s that all was clear. The transport available was barely sufficient to accommodate the 6 officers and 28 O.R. wounded, of which all but three were New Zalanders. No Turkish wounded were carried away, they were made as comfortable as possible with a first field dressing and left where they fell. On arrival at the concentration point ordered for the Anzac Mounted Division an endeavour was made to feed and dress the more seriously wounded, but at 11 p.m. came the order to march, and the New Zealand mounted field ambulance sections, carrying their wounded with extreme difficulty in the crowded carts, in inky darkness, retired with the brigade to el Belah, 15 miles back, where, after a very trying journey, the patients were handed over to the 1st Welsh Field Ambulance at 7.30 a.m. on the 27th, and were transferred to the 54th C.C.S. at Kahn Yunus on the day following.

At the second attempt to take Gaza, the Australian and the New Zealand Mounted Divisions were assigned the duties of watching the road to Beersheba and engaging Turkish reinforcements that might be marching from the latter direction to the assistance of Gaza. The Mobile Section left its bivouac by the sea shore near el Belah on April 16th and forded the Wadi el Ghuzze with the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade near Shellal where the Tent Subdivision established a dressing station. The transport of the mounted ambulances had by this time been augmented by two limbered waggons, which served to carry the Tent Subdivision equipment; six sand carts still filled the duties of ambulance waggons; camels and cacolets were discredited as they had proved far too slow and too primitive for mobile ambulance work in Palestine. On the 19th the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance moved up to a point on the west bank of the Wadi Imleh about four miles south of Abu Hareira, where the New Zealand Mounted Rifles went into action. A page 463dressing station was opened at 2 p.m. receiving, in all, 5 officers, 78 O.R., including 1 New Zealand Medical Corps bearer wounded. Frequently the dressing station was bombed by the Turks who seemed for the time to have a complete mastery of the air. At 4.30 p.m. the Tent Subdivision was cleared by light motor ambulance cars coming up by road from Tel el Jemmi, to which place, after the disastrous action, the Mobile Section returned at night with its brigade. A confused night of intense darkness, the Khamsin blowing; the troops disheartened by lack of success; horses and men exhausted.

During the hot summer months the operations stagnated. The failure at Gaza and the establishment by the Turks of an entrenched line over 20 miles long to Beersheba limited the movements of the Desert Column to a war of outposts, trench digging, reconnaissance and patrolling, more especially in the direction of the open flank to the eastwards. Early in May an Anzac Rest Station was formed by the Immobile Section of the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance at el Marakeb, on the beach, opposite Kahn Yunus. While acting as a receiving station at el Belah this Immobile Section had suffered severely from aeroplane raids, having 2 N.Z.M.C. O.R. killed, and 9 wounded besides losing horses on the 4th and again on the 9th of May. Major Trotter, N.Z.M.C., at this time commanding the section, with assistance from the Red Cross Society, organised a very pleasant tented camp where sea bathing and an improved dietary did much to restore the vigour and spirits of jaded Anzac convalescents who arrived daily by cacolet camels from their respective ambulances for a ten days rest.

All through this long period of summer heat the troopers suffered much from sickness, and the weekly wastage rose to over 20 per 1000. Sanitary effort was not neglected and with the cheerful co-operation of our old friends, Majors Le Lean and Austin, every effort was made by Major Harvey Sutton and the Anzac Sanitary Section to maintain field sanitation at as high a level as possible. A determined war was waged against dust, bad water, flies, lice, and the anophelines, and especially against boredom and the weariness of the spirit begotten in men remote from the amenities of home life, even of civilisation, and who had no opportunities of getting leave nor any change from the dreadful monotony of the East. Periods of rest in June and September during which bivouacs were established by the sea, and recreation provided, did something to relieve the war weary Veterans of the Sinai Campaign. With the cooler nights of October page 464and the early rains the health of the troops improved and the prospects of an imminent move to a decisive action cheered the whole Desert Column.

Important administrative changes had come about. The Desert Column was now included in the "East Force" under Sir Philip Chetwoode's command, and with the formation of other mounted divisions became the Desert Mounted Corps of four divisions under the command of General Chauvel. Command of the Anzac Division, comprising the 1st and 2nd Australian Light Horse and the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigades passed to Major General Chaytor, C.B., D.S.O. Colonel Downes, A.A.M.C. became D.D.M.S. of the Desert Corps, while his late appointment was filled by Lieut.-Col. Croll, A.A.M.C., who became A.D.M.S. of the Anzac Division with Major Hercus, N.Z.M.C., as D.A.D.M.S. The organisation and transport of the mounted ambulances had been somewhat remodelled; the mobile sections had now 1 G.S. waggon each, with 3 limbered waggons in which to carry their tents and equipment. Camel transport was no longer used but riding camels were provided for personnel. The sand carts, 12 in number, still represented the ambulance waggons; there was one water cart, and it was hoped to be able to attach one light motor ambulance car to each of the three ambulances of the Anzac Division. Cycle or wheeled stretchers capable of being adapted to horse traction had been issued, in limited numbers, but proved unserviceable and were shortly withdrawn.

After a period of rest on the beach at Marakeb where men and horses took on renewed spirits and vigour, the Division closing its rest camp in the last week of October, was on the move for a magnificent cavarly drive against the Turkish left flank at Beersheba. East Force was on "Z" day to envelop and seize Beersheba; the 60th Infantry Division attacking frontally while the cavalry by a wide encircling movement, were to cut the railway to Jerusalem and envelop the Turks from the East. The medical arrangements were these:—the mobile sections would, as usual, accompany their brigades. To the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance Tent Sub-Division was given the task of forming a divisional collecting station near Iswaiwin about six miles by road south east of Beersheba, while the A.D.M.S. proposed to hold one tent subdivision, that of the 1st Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance, in reserve. If all went well the divisional collecting station was to move into Beersheba when evacuated by the enemy. At Asluj, some 16 miles south of Beersheba, the three immobile sections of the Anzac ambulances were to form page 465a corps collecting station under the control of the D.D.M.S., a sort of C.C.S. in fact, where a certain amount of urgent operative surgery could be performed by officers specially qualified. From the divisional collecting station to the corps station evacuations would be by road with light motor ambulances.

Leaving their point of departure near Kahn Yunus, a two days' march of about 30 miles, during which water was very scarce, brought the N.Z.M.R. Brigade and the New Zealand Mobile Section to Asluj, a station on the Turkish military railway which accompanied the road from Beersheba to el Auja on the Sinai frontier. Here a halt was made on the 29th. On the night of the 30th the march was resumed in brilliant moonlight, and by 7 a.m. on the 31st the Anzac Mounted Division was assembled on high ground near Iswaiwin and Khasm Zanna overlooking their objective, the Tel el Saba and the low lying ground to the west, where the mosque of Beersheba could be seen dominating the town.

At 9 a.m. the advance of the N.Z.M.R. began—their objective Tel el Saba, the key of the Turkish position—while the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade on their right were directed upon Tel el Sakati about six miles out to the north-east of Beersheba on the Hebron Road. Divisional Headquarters remained at Khasm Zanna, three miles from Tel el Saba and about five miles from Beersheba. It was close to this point that the Tent Subdivision of the N.Z.M.F.A. established the divisional collecting station at 12.40 p.m. The bearer personnel and transport had gone forward with the firing line. The road that came from the Turkish positions in the town and went south-east in the direction of Asluj was in good condition and practicable for light motor ambulance cars so that the work of the bearer personnel was much assisted by pushing the motor ambulances to a car post a mile forward of the divisional collecting station. Throughout the action close touch was maintained by the bearers with the R.M.O.'s and at no time was there any shortage of sand carts to clear the R.A.P.'s.

At a little after 2 p.m. the Auckland Mounted Rifles took a trench line on the eastern face of Tel el Saba and the main position was rushed at 3 p.m. Shortly after this the 1st A.L.H. Brigade and the Australian Mounted Division galloped in a dashing charge over the trenches south-east of the town and Beersheba and its remaining garrison fell into our hands.

During the day the motor ambulances had carried wounded to the corps receiving station at Asluj which by 7 p.m. was full.

page 466

The Anzac divisional collecting station was also full so that casualties had to be collected by the Tent Subdivision of the 1st A.L.H.F.A. on a road midway between Asluj and Beersheba. As shelter could not be provided for all the wounded in the N.Z.M.F.A. Tent Subdivision, an overflow was directed to a dressing station formed by the 5th A.L.H.F.A. close by, and as the road to Beersheba was not yet open, the wounded had to remain in the divisional collecting station during the night. By midnight the N.Z.M.C. personnel had fed and dressed the remaining patients and, as their equipment included 120 blankets and the night was cold, all were made as warm as possible in improvised shelters.

At 6 a.m. on the 1st of November two enemy aircraft descending to 1200 feet bombarded the area occupied by the N.Z.M.F.A. still open for wounded, and although red cross flags were prominently displayed, and there were no fighting troops within two miles, yet the aircraft, after expending their bombs, sprayed the encampment with machine-gun fire; it seemed deliberately. Bullets and bomb fragments penetrated the tents and bivouacs, tore even the red cross flags, but, by strange providence, the only casualties were one wounded again hit, and one mule killed. At 2 p.m. that afternoon all patients were cleared by motor ambulance to Beersheba and the Mobile Section, reunited, joined the Brigade at Tel el Saba. The Tent Subdivision had dealt with a total of 60 wounded and 13 sick during the operation, the total casualties of the Anzac Division being 15 officers, 150 O.R. The water supply throughout the action was extremely limited and, but for a thunderstorm on the night of the 29th, which filled some water holes, the wounded would have fared badly.

But more serious fighting was to follow. From the 1st November onwards the infantry fight was continued in the attempt to break the Turkish line to the west of Beersheba during which period the Anzac Mounted Division and the 54th Division were engaged in protecting the right flank to the north and east of the town, a portion of our line subjected to heavy Turkish counter attacks. The N.Z.M.R. Brigade was in action on the 4th, 5th and 6th near Tel el Khuweilfeh, some eleven miles due north of Beersheba, close to a good military road used by the Turks in their retreat and where they now fought a stern rearguard action and delivered many counter attacks. On the 4th November, the N.Z.M.F.A. had orders to proceed to Mikreh, about two and a half miles south of Tel el Khuweilfeh page 467where they were to relieve the 5th Yeomanry Brigade Ambulance and were to form a divisional collecting post. As the road north was under observation and heavily shelled during the day, the bearer personnel moving up to the Brigade Area brought with them blankets, extra dressings and medical comforts for the purpose of establishing an A.D.S. where the wounded could be sheltered during the day, pending evacuation along the exposed road under the cover of night. Major Trotter, N.Z.M.C., in charge of the bearer personnel pushed on along the road to a point giving good cover near the head of a dry water course, not far from brigade headquarters. Above them the Canterbury Mounted Rifles were holding a line on Ras en Ngab. Sand carts could with difficulty be brought so far forward as the country was very rough. The Canterbury firing line was still some considerable distance beyond the A.D.S. Wounded came in continuously to the N.Z.M.F.A. divisional collecting station during the night, and when fed and dressed were evacuated by motor ambulance cars to an Anzac receiving station four and a half miles south on the Hebron road. Some 70 casualties were thus evacuated.

The night had passed quietly at the A.D.S. but at dawn casualties came in. One sandcart went down early to the Tent Subdivision passing over the road which was shelled at intervals and was in places open to machine gun fire, and as the journey was completed without mishap, the sand carts continued to evacuate the forward positions during the day. Some lightly wounded from the firing line came down to the A.D.S. on horseback, but the stretcher cases could not be evacuated until nightfall as the position was very exposed. As the brigade was to be relieved that night all the bearer personnel came in with the stretcher cases, reaching the Tent Subdivision about midnight. The Camel Brigade Field Ambulance which was to take over, had opened at 5 p.m. and helped with the work of the divisional collecting station. But in the morning it was found that the N.Z.M.R. Brigade had not been relieved through the night so that the whole of the bearer personnel was obliged to return to the A.D.S., at about 10 a.m. In the afternoon the Brigade was relieved by the Imperial Camel Corps and all went back to bivouacs near Mikreh, the horses going 10 miles into Beersheba for water. During this action the N.Z.M.F.A. dealt with 133 wounded and 36 sick. Of the wounded, 5 officers and 64 O.R. were of the New Zealand Brigade.

On the night of the 6th the infantry divisions broke the line west of Beersheba and at dawn on the 7th, the Anzac page 468Mounted Division, less the N.Z.M.R. Brigade, with the Australian Mounted Division dashed through to the rear of the Turkish positions making north-west for the railway line to Jerusalem at Ameidat. The Turks hurried out of Gaza that night and on the 8th were in retreat; their whole line was crumbling. On went the cavalry without much water and with little feed for their horses, till they reached Ashdod on the 10th and handed over to the 52nd Division coming up from Gaza on the extreme left of the British line. The exhausted horses, weak from want of water, were brought to the bounteous wells at Hamame a few miles north of Ascalon; at this time the N.Z.M.R. Brigade joined the Division.

On the 11th of October the N.Z.M.R. Brigade left Beersheba on its forced march of 56 miles through Sheria, Huj and Burcia arriving at Hamame on the 12th at 10 p.m., where it rejoined the Division. The weather was hot and oppressive, water was very scarce on the march, but supplies did not fail as "B. Echelon" the improvised divisional train arrived on the same day.

On the 14th the Division while pushing north encountered stiff opposition after crossing the Wadi Rubin. The Turks in superior numbers held a strong position on ridges covering the road to Jaffa. At noon the A.D.M.S. instructed the N.Z.M.F.A. to open a divisional collecting station at el Kubiebeh three miles north of Yebna. At 1.30 the N.Z.M.R. Brigade was engaged at Ayun Kara and was meeting strong resistance; an hour later wounded were coming in to the Tent Subdivision opened near the mosque in el Kubiebeh. The bearer personnel had found a covered position about one mile further north. During a very determined counter attack on the left of the Brigade there were heavy casualties on our side, but the attack was beaten off and the position secured by 4 p.m. Following this the collecting station rapidly became congested; the wounded were fed, dressed, given A.T.S., and accommodated in improvised shelters. At 8 p.m. the 1st A.L.H. Field Ambulance was ordered up to open at Kubiebeh so as to relieve the N.Z.M.F.A. and from this time onwards all further wounded brought in were directed to the relieving Tent Subdivision. At 10 p.m. Lieut.-Col. Hand Newton evacuated 69 lightly wounded by means of the returning brigade supply waggons, but the bearer personnel, on account of darkness and rough country, could not clear the battlefield of New Zealand wounded until after midnight. Early the next morning our sand carts brought in some seriously wounded Turks and in the page 469afternoon the motor ambulances were evacuating the dressing stations to Yebna. During this sharp engagement the losses of the Brigade—mainly in two regiments only, Auckland and Wellington—amounted to 44 killed, 81 wounded, nearly 18 per cent, of casualties amongst the 700 rifles actually engaged, and the proportion of killed to wounded was unusually high. The ambulance collected almost all the New Zealand wounded: 7 officers, and 74 O.R., and with British and Turkish wounded, and including the sick, admitted during the action, 166 patients. The Turks must have lost heavily as many of their wounded were found in rear of the positions on the 10th and many more had been abandoned in the town hall of Richon Le Zion, a Jewish garden settlement just north of the disputed ridges and of which more is to be said later.

A regiment of N.Z.M.R. had entered Jaffa two days after the action at Ayun Kara. Lieut.-Col. Hand Newton was ordered to proceed there on the 17th for the purpose of taking over the French hospital, but the buildings were found to be in such an unsavoury condition, due to a hurried withdrawal of the Turks, that after herculean efforts, the small staff of the Tent Subdivision—the bearers being still with the Brigade—found it impossible to cleanse the wards satisfactorily. The mattresses were heavily infested with bed bugs, mosquitoes extraordinarily prevalent, and the sanitary offices and water supply were in a dangerous condition of neglect and disrepair. In fact, as some wit suggested, the hospital seemed to have remaind unopened since the retreat of the French Syrian Force from Jaffa on May 27th, 1799, on which day the army surgeon, Desgenettes, indignantly repudiated Napoleon's suggestion that the 60 moribund sick, about to be abandoned, should be granted euthanasia by an overdose of opium. Lieut.-Col. Hand Newton reported to the A.D.M.S. that the French hospital was unfit for occupation and on the 20th, General Chaytor, whose headquarters were now in Jaffa, arranged for the Mounted Field Ambulance to take over a portion of the Jewish college as a garrison hospital.

An operation by the N.Z.M.R. resulting is many casualties was carried out on the 24th and 25th of November. The Brigade crossed the Auja river north of Jaffa, seizing bridge heads and leaving three squadrons supported by infantry north of the river to secure the ford and the bridge at Hadrah. The Turks responded by a counter attack in force, which drove our outposts back over the disputed river crossings. The N.Z.M.F.A. Bearer Section with transport was at 8 a.m. on the 25th close to the page 470bridge where they formed a collecting station. The sandcarts although in full view of the enemy were permitted to collect wounded unmolested, and casualties of which 39 New Zealanders were brought in and evacuated to the Anzac Receiving station at Ramleh by camels and motor ambulances. This closed the active operations for the year and in December the Immobile Section coming in from Ramleh, the whole N.Z.M.F.A. was in rest at Esdud where they spent a cold, wet and wintry Christmas Day. Until late in February, 1918, no movements of importance are recorded, and during this time the Brigade and its ambulance rested, refitted, and reorganised in the vicinity of Esdud and Richon. Command of the ambulance was relinquished in December by Lieut. Col. Hand Newton, D.S.O., who was proceeding to France to take over the New Zealand Stationary Hospital; in his absence Major Trotter, N.Z.M.C., temporarily commanded until the arrival of Lieut-Col. R. H. Walton, N.Z.M.C., late D.A.D.M.S. of the New Zealand Division.

During the period of rest in January the troops, were in tented camps; about them were pleasant garden villages, embowered in trees and set about with vineyards and orchards, where the orange throve and the almond flourished: Jewish colonies founded now for many years under the Zionist movement. Here, there were white people, some who spoke English, as they had come, some from America, some even from Australia and New Zealand. In these pleasant and gracious surroundings the sickly troops renewed their health by recreational training and release from monotony. Of all the villages Richon Le Zion close to Ayun Kara, was the most treasured by the New Zealanders; here General Chaytor had his headquarters; and here the Municipal Washhouse—the town had been planned on the most modern lines—made a famous divisional baths so that with the aid of wine vats and large boilers a weekly hot bath could be given to the whole force. Disinfestation of clothing from lice was a pressing problem. A mild type of relapsing fever was not uncommonly seen in Anzac troops and typhus was known to be endemic in the Turkish Army. Owing to the very infrequent visits of the train disinfesting plant to railhead, the only means available were the brushing of the seams of the clothing and the wholly futile use of N.C.I. or "Oxford" louse powder which served, not at all as a deterrent, but rather as a relish to the parasite in his blood feasting. A small hot air disinfesting plant, taken by our Division from the Turks at Ramleh, was much appreciated, but the page 471need of a Thresh disinfestor was stressed by the divisional sanitary officer. At Richon a great parade of sanitary perfection and the forgotten laws of Moses, again recited to the Elders by the Anzac D.A.D.M.S. and sternly enforced by the commander of the sanitary section, Major Harvey Sutton, A.A.M.C.

After the fall of Jerusalem plans for the 1918 operations were maturing. Reorganisation of the mounted ambulance transport—the never to be settled question—was again considered. In February the new transport equipment was issued, not without vigorous protest from the Anzacs. Under their old establishment each mounted ambulance had 12 sandcarts, 20 cacolet camels, and, recently, 4 light motor ambulances; all of which provided transport for 40 lying and 38 sitting cases. Under the new orders the sand carts were to be replaced by 6 light horsed ambulance waggons; the cacolet camels and the riding camels for the tent personnel were to be withdrawn. This readjustment it was urged, imparied both the mobility and the carrying capacity of the ambulances. The sand cart, however defective in construction, had much to recommend it:—it was two wheeled and much handier that the light ambulance waggon; it carried three lying cases with ease as opposed to two; it could be hauled empty by two horses in any country, whereas the waggons required four; and above all, its adaptability to sandy, marshy or rough country, or to muddy roads, and the ease with which it could be manoeuvred quickly across country to the proximity of the firing line made it vastly superior in cavalry operations of a scattered nature. In a word, the ambulances were loath to part with the desert cart, whose worth had been proved in two years of campaigning on all conditions of surfaces, from deep sand to glutinous mud; the broad tyres and the two wheels were the keynotes of its perfection.

Eight months campaigning in the Jordan Valley with two raids into the mountains of Moab, the first a partial, the last a complete success, concluded the operations of the N.Z.M.R. Brigade and its ambulance in the victorious year of 1918. Although Jerusalem had fallen on December the 8th, the Turks still held on to the wilderness about Jericho in the Jordan Valley, less than 20 miles by motor road from the Holy City; and were still using the Dead Sea and a motor road east of Jericho to Es Salt and thence to Amman on the Hedjaz railway for the transport of grain from the southern extremity of Moab. In order to drive the enemy out of Jericho and deny him the use of the Dead Sea near the mouth of the Jordan an expedition was page 472organised in February consisting of the 60th London Territorial Division, the 53rd Division and the Anzac Mounted Division.

On the 17th of February, 1918, the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade was concentrated at Bethlehem where the cold wintry weather on the Judean Hills was a sharp change from the pleasant warmth of the maritime plains about Richon which they had left two days before. The New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Walton, N.Z.M.C., was in camp at Mar Elias, midway between Bethlehem and Jerusalem about two and a half miles from either point. For the purposes of the raid they were permitted to retain four sand carts; otherwise their transport was as laid down in the new establishments; but six baggage and twenty cacolet camels were now added to the transport. The Turkish positions astride the broad motor road leading down from Judea to the Jordan were attacked by the infantry on the 19th near Talaat Ed Dum, ten miles east of Jerusalem, while the Anzac Mounted Brigade, using an ancient track six miles south of the main road endeavoured to outflank the enemy and penetrate to his rear at Jericho. As the track was narrow and very rugged, and permitted the passage of horsemen in single file only, no wheeled transport could accompany the cavalry. The N.Z.M.F.A. with their 26 camels went down by the rough goat track to Ali Muntar, a hill momentarily held by the Turks but soon overrun by the N.Z.M.R., and bivouacked for the night, there were no casualties. The following day the N.Z.M.R. engaged a position covering Neby Musa about six miles south of Jericho. By noon the infantry had cleared the motor road at Talaat ed Dumm and the Turks were falling back on the Jordan. After some sharp fighting the N.Z.M.R. had their way just after midday, went on three miles, but were unable to advance upon Nebi Musa which lay across a deep chasm impassable to horses, and covered by artillery enfilade fire. The ambulance stumbling down the three miles of steep hillside picked up some sick and wounded at the site of the engagement, collected a few more lightly wounded coming in on horseback and settled all down comfortably for the night in tents carried by the camels. That night the 1st L.H. Brigade scrambled down into the depths of the Jordan Valley and reached east of Jericho on the morning of the 21st; but the enemy was now well away to the. Jordan, six miles east. Our ambulance had much difficulty in getting down the steep rocky torrent bed, where horses had to be led in many places, and in transporting the sick and wounded in the cacolets. At times the patients had to page 473be off loaded and carried by hand over certain critical points in the track and loaded again on the cacolets; a distance of two miles took over six hours to negotiate and the seriously wounded suffered unutterable torment in the swaying cacolets. In the afternoon they entered Jericho and established a dressing station in the Russian hospice, where later on they collected and tended some 11 seriously wounded Turks abandoned in the hotel. The following morning a light motor ambulance convoy coming down from Jerusalem cleared the Tent Subdivision which was now reinforced by two of its light horsed ambulance waggons and one limber which had been sent on from the mounted ambulances transport park at Talaat ed Dumm on the much congested motor road. All were back near Jerusalem on the 23rd. A Regiment of N.Z.M.R., some artillery, and a N.Z.M.C. detachment with the light horsed ambulance waggons remained in the valley. As the ambulance personnel had helped to nurse some cases of typhus abandoned by the Turks in Jericho, all went to the Mount of Olives where they were duly disinfested and got back gladly to Richon on the 26th.

But they were not to enjoy a long period of rest, as early in March preparations were afoot for a very remarkable raid by the Anzac Mounted Division. The intention was to interrupt the communications of the Turkish forces who, based on Amman, were operating along the Hedjaz railway against our allies, the Sherifean troops. Es Salt, the largest city east of Jordan, was to be seized by the 60th (London Territorial) Division operating along the motor road from Jericho; while the cavalry, outflanking the Turks, dashed into Amman and blew up a large railway viaduct in the vicinity. In order to do all this it was necessary first to cross the Jordan river, now in flood, and as the Turks in retiring from Jericho had burnt the wooden traffic bridge at the Ghoraniyeh crossing, where the motor road passes over to es Salt, it would be necessary to construct pontoons. Wet weather and a flooded Jordan delayed departure, but by the 20th of March, the force was concentrating at Talaat ed Dumm, halfway down to the Valley.

On the 13th a specially organised Mobile Section of the N.Z.M.F.A. under the command of Lieut.-Col. Walton, N.Z.M.C., marched out of Richon with the Brigade. They had left behind their Immobile Section, really "A" Section Tent Subdivision with part of the heavy equipment of "B" Section. The personnel of the Mobile Section comprised 5 officers, 35 O.R., N.Z.M.C., 1 farrier A.S.C., and 4 N.Z.E. signallers with a helio and lamps page 474for intercommunication. The transport included 6 light horsed ambulance waggons, 4 sand carts, 24 cacolet camels, 37 baggage camels, 10 water carrying camels. The medical equipment, reduced to bare essentials, consisted of the most necessary panniers of the Tent Subdivision; extra dressings and splintage, medical comforts, 80 blankets, a Soyer's stove, and a few other stores. The tentage carried was one operating and five circular tents. All the personnel were mounted with the exception of the Tent Subdivision. Other ranks were supplied with Egyptian donkeys. Many difficulties were experienced on the march from Richon to Bethlehem over bogged roads in heavy rain; the camel convoy was for a time lost and part of the equipment, including splints and medical comforts, was looted by Bedouins; but the deficiencies were made up later, including four precious Thomas splints drawn from a C.C.S. in Jerusalem.

After a halt in the Judean Hills a descent was made into the valley and by the 21st March, all were concentrated about Talaat ed Dumm and Jericho. The force known as "Shea's Group" included the 60th Division, the Anzac Mounted Division, and one Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, a bridging train and three batteries of mountain guns. As the enemy, now warned by our enforced delays, held the crossings on the Jordan, the passage was a matter of some intricacy, but bold swimmers of the London Regiment established by night a small bridge head at Hajlah about three miles above the Dead Sea and the Anzac engineers threw over a pontoon which enabled the infantry to pass and to enlarge the bridgehead. Still nothing could be done at Ghoraniyeh until the Auckland Mounted Rifles, crossing by the pontoons, swept the eastern banks of Jordan by a series of charges. The following day the whole force was across, the 60th Division by a stout bridge at Ghoraniyeh, the cavalry at Hajlah. Crossing the Jordan plain, eight miles eastward to the Moab foothills, the N.Z.M.R. and the Mobile Section reached Shunet Nimrin on the es Salt road, where they halted for the night. The following day it was obvious that no wheeled transport could accompany the ambulance in its march up the mountains by villainous tracks through the valley of the Wadi es Sir so that the waggons were ordered back to the motor road and the Mobile Section with its camel transport breasted the long climb of 4000 feet to the Moab Plateau. All that day and all night they climbed over wretched muddy tracks in cold, bitter rain and sleet to the village of Ain es Sir, 15 miles from the valley on the western edge of the plateau. Many of the camels page 475and some of the drivers perished during this fearful march, and so exhausted were men and beasts when they concentrated on the 26th, some two miles east of the Circassian village, Ain es Sir, that a 24 hour halt for rest was compulsory. This day es Salt was taken by the 60th Division and part of the garrison escaped to Amman by the main road.

Data of time and space must now be closely considered. Amman was about nine miles from the cross roads east of Ain es Sir; the road running north at the cross roads connected with the main es Salt-Amman Road—nominally a motor road—at Sweileh and passed through Bkt. um Audd, distant about two miles. At this point or some 400 yards to the west of it, it was decided to place a Tent Subdivision of the 2nd A.L.H.F.A. to act as a divisional receiving station. At Ain es Sir, the Tent Subdivision of the N.Z.M.F.A. would open, clearing to the motor road via Bkt. um Audd. It was considered that motor ambulance cars coming up from Jericho and passing through es Salt could reach the divisional receiving station at um Audd, which was about 15 miles east of es Salt, or 35 miles by road from Jericho. No other roads suitable for wheeled traffic existed. The nearest infantry ambulance M.D.S. was west of es Salt in the valley of the Shahib river. The Anzac Receiving Station—an operating team—would be established in conjunction with the Infantry M.D.S. Cacolet camels coming from the Anzac firing line would require four hours at least, to reach the motor road at Sweileh; the number of wounded transported—say 50 per trip of 12 hours. The nearest operating team was not less than 20 miles from the divisional collecting station. No wounded, clearly, could be carried down the Tough tracks used by the cavalry in scaling the Moab mountains. All roads leading from Amman were mud tracks and unfit for wheeled traffic in this severe weather, as it had rained almost incessantly since the valley was left. The camels and their drivers upon whom we were dependent for all evacuations from the firing line by Bkt. um. Audd, were suffering greatly from exposure and short rations. Finally the nearest C.C.S. was in Jerusalem, 20 miles from Jericho—60 from Amman—but the road from there on was practicable—if not blocked with traffic—for heavy ambulance cars. These were some of the problems of the medical situation, without discussing the possibility of a shortage of medical supplies. The A.D.M.S. had at his disposal 3 tent subdivisions and 150 cacolet camels, enough transport possibly, for 150 wounded. Bad news came in early on the morning of the 27th when the cavalry were advancing page 476over ploughed land with newly sown crops peeping through: it was found that the road east of es Salt was very narrow, very greasy, much broken up, blocked by abandoned Turkish lorries, and wrecked motor transport, almost impassable by motor ambulance cars and available with difficulty for wheeled transport only.

The N.Z.M.R. Brigade advanced on Amman and came into action three miles due south of the town with their right overlooking the Hedjaz railway, their left on the Wadi Amman. The bearers of the N.Z.M.F.A. formed a collecting post close to the river where they were for a time subject to shell fire but suffered no casualties. By 4.30 p.m. the N.Z.M.F.A. Tent Subdivision had opened with the Camel Brigade Field Ambulance about two miles out from Ain es Sir, on the road running east to Amman. The wounded, brought in by cacolet to the divisional collecting station at um Audd, proceeded thence by the divisional sand carts to the field ambulance of the 60th Division in the Wadi Shahib. By midnight on the first day 13 officers, 170 O.R. wounded, had been evacuated: of these, the N.Z.M.F.A. bearers had sent down 11 New Zealand wounded and 7 sick.

On the following day, the 28th, little progress was made: there was a very determined resistance by the garrison of Amman, well posted and well served by field artillery to which we could only reply with mountain guns. In the afternoon a general attack with the assistance of a brigade of infantry and the mountain guns did not realise any substantial gains, but time must be played out so as to allow the demolition parties, working to the south of Amman, to wreck the viaduct. The N.Z.M.F.A. bearer personnel, had a mounted runner both at brigade and divisional headquarters and were in constant touch with the R.A.P.'s. The bearers acted as escort for the wounded coming down in camel cacolets from the bearer post to the Tent Subdivision and served as guides for the returning camels. Evacuations from the front line were satisfactory but the Tent Subdivision was already running short of medical supplies, and blankets; the wounded were suffering severely from cold and sodden clothing, as brutal rain and icy winds still dogged the expedition. That day 13 officers and 124 O.R. wounded were evacuated from the Division.

On the 29th there was a shortage of wheeled transport at the divisional collecting post: sand carts sent from Bkt. um Audd through es Salt to the M.D.S. at 4.30 a.m. on the previous morning had not yet returned. The A.D.M.S. was urgently in need of tentage and supplies—there were only 6 operating and page 47715 circular tents for the whole division. A cave and improvised shelters were utilised by the divisional collecting post which at one time held 243 patients. Eight camel loads of blankets, dressings and comforts were demanded by the A.D.M.S. but the Jordan was angry in flood and supplies could hardly be maintained. Fortunately, the Anzac Receiving Station had managed to push on beyond es Salt and with it came some light ambulance cars to a point two miles east of the town—the nearest to which motor vehicles could approach to Amman.

The attack dragged on, an affair of trenches and machine guns; but our people were determined—a night assault would be made and every effort expended to reach the viaduct. At 3 a.m. on the third day of the siege the New Zealand Brigade rushed a hill overlooking Amman; they advanced over 1000 yards and held the position against counter attacks, pushed well home with bombs and under heavy artillery screens; we had serious casualties. But all efforts elsewhere failed to shake the garrison in spite of their substantial losses; the game was drawn; we must withdraw. Early in the morning the bearer parties of the N.Z.M.F.A., in anticipation of heavy casualties, brought up all available cacolet camels and, until noon, all seemed to be going well, but with the very substantial losses incurred by the brigade during the counter attacks, the bearer post became crowded. No cacolet camels were returning. All were being used from the Tent Subdivision to the A.D.S. at um Audd; the camels breaking down from fatigue, want of food, and cold.

As the afternoon wore on the wounded of the N.Z.M.R. accumulated. The medical officer of the Wellington Regiment, Captain Gow, N.Z.M.C., the R.M.O. of the Auckland Regiment, Captain Wilton, N.Z.M.C., and an R.M.O. of the Camel Battalion had a combined R.A.P. about 1000 yards in rear of the hill taken by our Brigade which became congested with wounded. In spite of urgent calls from the ambulance and the brigade headquarters, no camels could be obtained. The R.A.P. had to be cleared by carrying the wounded back over a mile to brigade headquarters in blankets, the combatants doing most of the work, and the post was cleared at 4 p.m. when the orders to withdraw were issued. After this only 2 cacolet camels came up to the R.A.P. although some 20 to 30 wounded were brought down from the firing line. All these patients the R.M.O.'s tied to their horses—some had penetrating wounds of head, thorax or abdomen—and the firing line held fast for a precarious three hours until all were brought away. The only alternative was to page 478abandon the wounded to the Bedouins. At 9.30 p.m. four pairs of lying and five pairs of sitting cacolets left the bearer post; then no camels until 11 p.m. and these utterly exhausted. Had it not been for a few baggage camels obtained from the I.C.C. more wounded would have had to face a nine mile journey to the divisional collecting station on a wild night, lashed face down head to tail on their horses; even with broken limbs. By this time all the forward area was clear. At 8 p.m. the N.Z.M.F.A Tent Subdivision had 100 patients and still more coming in; it was not until 2.30 a.m. on the 31st that the dressing station was hurriedly cleared by cacolet camels of the I.C.C. while the cossack posts of the rear guard held off the Turks. Next morning the Brigade was about Ain es Sir, our Tent Subdivision with its camels and equipment going on down by the mountain track, through which they had ascended, to Shunet Nimrin, at the foot of the mountains. The bearer personnel with cacolet camels remained with the Brigade and bivouacked for the night near Ain es Sir.

At 7 a.m. on the 1st April, the march was resumed down the Wadi Sir. The rear guard, formed by the Wellington Regiment, no sooner clear of the village of Ain es Sir, was fired upon by the Circassians, losing 8 killed and 8 wounded, including one N.Z.M.C. bearer who had a penetrating wound of the abdomen. While the Wellingtons dealt bloodily with the offenders the ambulance people loaded the wounded on the cacolets, bringing all safely to Shunet Nimrin by 7.30 p.m. The total of casualties tended by the divisional collecting station—which travelled by the main road—was 513 wounded, 49 sick, British troops; and 13 wounded and 10 sick Turks. The casualties in the N.Z.M.R. Brigade were:—killed: 6 officers, 32 O.R.; wounded: 6 officers, 116 O.R.; missing: 13 O.R. Yet in spite of the hardships of evacuation over nine miles by cacolet or, in some instances, lashed to a horse, and at least fifteen miles over a very bad road in sand carts, or again by cacolet, and a motor journey of 40 miles to Jerusalem, the condition in which the wounded reached the C.C.S.'s was considered to be on the whole most gratifying. Five wounded are reported to have died in transit on the Moab plateau which, considering the means of transport, shortatge of blankets, and the severe weather, is not remarkable. Most astonishing is the completed story of the medical arrangements and the surprisingly good condition of the wounded; much to be admired the determination with which the R.M.O.'s* so well assisted by the fighters, carried off all their wounded under the very eyes of the page 479enemy, as, had they used their eyes, they must have seen when the moon was up at 8.30 on the night of the withdrawal. Beyond all praise the dogged heroism of the camel drivers who, shivering in their cotton clothing, hungry and forlorn, stuck to their miserable camels and brought the wounded safely through.

And now for the rest of the summer and early autumn the Anzac Mounted Division was in bivouac in the weird depths of the Jordan Valley, 266 fathoms below sea level, where no Europeans had ever dared to live in summer time before. But the Anzacs were not Europeans and they stuck it out somehow, although in the summer months the thermometer rose above 115° F. in the coolest double tents of the ambulance, and an acrid alkaline dust hung in the scorched atmosphere penetrating everywhere, scalding the throat and searing the eyes, and the Khamsin blew such fiery gusts that even the flies died.

Sanitation presented many difficulties. Horse manure and human dejecta spread in the sun dried to tinder in two days and burnt readily, but the dust nuisance required sedulous regulation—Mosquito brigades worked incessantly, canalising the stagnant pools, clearing out weedy growths and oiling the waters that trepidated with the larvæ of anopheles. There was at first a serious wastage from malignant malaria: during June and August the cases averaged 80 a week in the Anzac divisional troops employed in the valley; as many as 221 were evacuated in the first week of August. But after this, while in the protected areas, the rate fell by one half and it was not until September that malignant malaria decimated the troops. In all this work the Anzac Mobile Laboratory, which remained in the valley throughout, rendered most valuable assistance, more especially in training the ambulance officers in malarial diagnosis.

Casualties were light although there were frequent affrays of outposts east of Jordan. Short periods of rest up in Judea at King Solomon's pools, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, where the air was keen and wondrous chill after the heat of the valley, helped to maintain the Anzacs in some degree of fitness; but high sickness wastage rates were recorded. In July the average was nearly 40 per 1000 per week evacuated to C.C.S. and this figure was exceeded in September. Malaria, of which the malignant form increased in incidence in late autumn, was the chief cause of wastage. Gastro-enteritis and dysentery were a negligible factor. Many mild cases of sickness were treated in Jerusalem at the Desert Corps Rest Station, and the usefulness of this institution in maintaining strength was abundantly manifested.

page 480

But now the end was at hand; once more the Anzacs would climb the mountains of Moab and this time to a final victory over Amman and the IVth. Turkish Army. Allenby's master stroke was to break the Turkish line in the plains of Philistia, unleash his impatient horsemen and sweep all Armageddon into a net cast towards Damascus. All happened as planned; on the 19th of September the enemy lines of resistance broke and melted in the orange groves of Jaffa; three divisions of cavalry galloped through the breach, never halting until they drew rein about a beaten army. No more complete victory is known to history.

In preparation for the last campaign General Chaytor took command of all the British troops in the Jordan Valley; his command known as "Chaytor's Force," comprised the Anzac Mounted Division, the 20th Indian Infantry Brigade, 2 battalions of Jewish troops under Patterson of Zion Mule Corps fame, and 2 battalions the West Indian Regiment. The task assigned to this composite force was to secure the right flank and the Jordan crossings, and to exploit any withdrawal that offered opportunities for a winning stroke against the IVth Turkish Army. The 19th, the day of the great battle on the coast, certain first moves took place in the Jordan Valley. The 1st N.W.I. Battalion was operating north of Jericho on the west of Jordan. Captain Hay, N.Z.M.C., in charge of 15 camels and 12 bearers, detached from the Mobile Section went up to collect wounded and admitted 23 West Indians. The N.Z.M.F.A. Mobile Section was still in camp, but at 9.30 p.m. on the 21st moved to the Wadi el Auja to take over a station of the 1st A.L.H. Field Ambulance, three miles north of Jericho on the Roman road west of Jordan, where Captain Hay's party rejoined. That night the N.Z.M.R. Brigade moved on and occupied Fussail, ten miles north of Auja; some 39 casualties—only three New Zealanders—were evacuated by light horsed ambulance waggons and light motor ambulance cars. The following day, the 22nd, the British line was 20 miles north of Jerusalem and the New Zealanders were securing the important bridge across the Jordan at Jisr ed Damieh, capturing many prisoners while their casualties were light. By evening their advanced guard was across the Jordan following the Turkish rearguards to es Salt. The ambulance opened a dressing station in the foothills near the crossing at 5 a.m. The wounded brought in by camel cacolet were mostly Turkish; our casualties were trivial. In the afternoon the ambulance moved down to the flat near the bridge where they took over a Turkish field hospital with 128 sick and 4 wounded, captured by our Brigade, whose page 481bag included a divisional commander and over 500 prisoners. All patients were evacuated that night along a very rough road to K. Fussail, where the 1/1 Welsh Field Ambulance took over. A convoy of light motor ambulance cars carried on the line of evacuations to Jericho.

It was now clear that the IVth Turkish army which had faced us all the summer was retiring in all haste to Moab and the Hedjaz railway. What followed is soon told. Again the long and exhausting escalade of the mountains of Moab; a day's halt for concentration about es Salt and Ain es Sir and a brilliant envelopment and capture of Amman almost without artillery support—the guns were slow to clear the mountain tracks—and, on the 25th, the surrender of the garrison, some 1700 in all, with about 500 sick. The day after the fall of Amman the New Zealand ambulance took over a Turkish hospital near the railway station and after the capitulation of the Turkish corps to the south of Amman, tended over 500 enemy sick near Kissir.

So ended the war against man and here began the victory of disease. In the first 12 days of October the ambulance admitted over 700 cases of malaria, most of it malignant. The New Zealand Brigade lost at least a third of its strength. Many a horseman dropped from the saddle during the descent to the Jordan, and many died afterwards in the hospitals in Jerusalem. All through September the incidence of malignant malaria had been increasing in the debilitated troops holding the river crossings, where anti-mosquito measures were not neglected; but the effect of moving into the untreated Turkish areas at the Damieh crossing north of Jericho was a wholesale infection of the New Zealand Brigade with P.U.O. of which 62 per cent was diagnosed as malaria, and in the greater number the disease was malignant in type. Furthermore, there were over 1000 cases of P.U.O. negative for malaria which were influenza, no doubt contracted from the Turkish prisoners. The D.A.D.M.S., Major Hercus, D.S.O., N.Z.M.C., who had devoted much energy to anti-malarial work in the Jordan Valley, estimated that during the period of the final operations the Anzac Division alone had 2827 cases, and the whole of Chaytor's force suffered a loss of 4543 by malaria. The last battle was fought and won during the incubation period of malaria; and it was fortunate for the force that this period was not shorter. Here is a poignant episode for the preventive commentator, another "Walchern" wherewith to bludgeon the sanitary conscience of the Army.

page 482

Back to Richon and the battlefield of Ayun Kara, where, at the foot of a monument erected by our friends the Zion Colonists, the Armistice was celebrated by a memorial service. And then a long rest at Rafa, and later police work in the Nile Delta, until the New Zealand Mounted Field Ambulance was demobilised in June, 1919, and sailed for New Zealand after five and a half years memorable service in the East.

* Capt. Gow received the M.C. for this engagement.