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Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment 1914-1919

Chapter Thirty — Memorial Parade at Ayun Kara

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Chapter Thirty
Memorial Parade at Ayun Kara

On 14th November, the anniversary of the Battle of ayun kara, a Brigade memorial parade was held on the battlefield at the wish of the inhabitants of the Jewish Colony of Richeon Le Zion, in order that they might express their gratitude to the New Zealanders who fought there. The adults and children marched from the village to the battlefield, and the President read the following address to Brigadier-General Meldrum and the New Zealanders there assembled:—

Gentlemen,—To-day we celebrate the first anniversary of this place which you conquered. Here you have left many of your comrades dead, and these we have placed in their last resting-place.

We all grieve for them, and we extend our deepest sympathy to the fathers, mothers, sisters brothers, and wives who have been so sadly bereaved of their beloved ones. These heroes have merited our very highest esteem and our heart-felt gratitude for the supreme sacrifice which they have made. Nevertheless, we must not allow our deep feelings of sympathy to overwhelm us. We owe it as a sacred duty to the brave heroes to be grateful and appreciate the sacrifice which they have made for it is at this moment that they fell gloriously on the battlefield. They were endowed with a sacred sentiment that they were fighting for the future, for humanity and to prepare for a better future in all the countries where the light of liberty has not yet shone.

We will he able to say of this noble deed that the grandeur of their sacrifice is paid by the grand victory to which they have all so nobly contributed, and which all humanity do honour. These dead have not only fought for their country, but apart from that they have planted the flag of justice and the torch of that brilliant light that they have everywhere lighted. This light will never be extinguished. This light will shine around this tomb when other heroes will increase that grandeur worthy of their predecessors. You have placed marking-stones along the route of the future. These indications formed by your tombs, the future generations will hold them there, will cause them to meditate and they will say: "It is just about a thousand years where, on the same sacred soil, some Western lords, coming with the sacred flame of religion and in the name of the Cross to liberate this land from the infidel and now, after such a long delay, the same children from the West come by the thousands, glowing with ardour, animated by the thirst for liberty, justice, and fraternity, liberated by the same country from the yoke to which it had been subjected since nearly five centuries.

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Rest in peace. May your blood, so generously spilled, serve for the redemption of humanity.

May those living never forget the noble dead whose arms honourably lie in that temple where humanity will offer up its prayers in the future.

General Meldrum, in reply (speaking with an interpreter) said:—

General Ryrie. Mr. President, Members of the A.I.F., N.Z.E.F., E.E.F., and the people of Richon,—We are met here to-day for several purposes. We who belong to the New Zealand Brigade are met to render our tribute of respect to the memory of our fellow. soldiers who lie buried here. Other soldiers are met to offer their tribute to fallen comrades, and you, the people of Richon, are met out of respect and gratitude to soldiers who fell while fighting to free your land from the oppressor.

Soldiers are men of few words, If it were left lo us to write the epitaph of those who lie buried here we would say. "They did their bit, and that is all about it." And that is how they would wish it to be written. But the people of Richon (your President and other citizens have told me) are going lo take it upon themselves lo tend and care for these graves and keep them green for ever.

I would like to say a few words about this to you and especially to the young people of Richon. For it is to them, even more than to the older ones we must look to carry this work out. And I say this to them: The men who fell here were very brave men. They have deserved all you can now do for them. They freely gave all they had—they gave their lives—that you and your people might be free.

We their fellow-soldiers will soon be going back lo our own homes. In the years to come our hearts will often go out to our dead comrades whose graves lie here. It will be a great consolation to us to know that their graves are being tended with care and as a Sacred duty.

Many of us in the future will come to this country, and we will always come to Richon for we have come to look upon the people of Richon as our friends, and we will come to see you with so much the greater pleasure because of the work you are doing in tending and keeping green the graves of our dead comrades."

The area occupied by the units of the Anzac Division stood close to the native village of Surafend, whose inhabitants for many year had terrorized the adjacent Jewish communities. They were thieves generally, and one of them at least was a murderer. The proximity of Surafend to the New Zealand camp afforded its people ample opportunity to extend their operation, and during one of their early morning raids a New Zealand machine-gunner was murdered whilst endeavouring to recover page 236property which had been stolen from under his pillow, the thief being caught in the act. In justice to the relatives of the victim, the authorities should have taken steps to arrest the murderer without delay, but nothing effective was done.

The troops had suffered casualties throughout the campaign by reason of the treachery of the natives, who were seldom or never punished for the offences committed, and they became somewhat concerned about the apathy shown by the authorities when comrades were murdered in cold blood.

The ambush of the New Zealand Brigade at Ain Es Sir was a case in point. The troops engaged on that occasion had carried out their instructions to make friends with and protect the Circassians, but when the treachery of the latter caused the death of several officers and other ranks no punishment was meted out to the offenders when we recaptured the village. This form of pandering to enemy subjects at the expense of the troops was resented by the latter, and bitterness was felt at the apparent neglect of the authorities in dealing with such cases. Prior to the murder at Surafend, the troops had exercised wonderful control over their feelings, in face of the insults and treacheries from which they suffered, but patience and forbearance have their limit. The arrest of the murderer before he could escape was hoped for, and ample time elapsed to enable the authorities to make an effort to do this. Delay in this matter worked up the feelings of the Anzacs and Home troops in the vicinity, and at nightfall they decided to avenge the death of their comrade themselves. A party of some two hundred men from all units within a radius of seven miles met at the village and demanded the production of the murderer. No satisfactory reply being forthcoming, the old men, women, and children were taken to a place of safety whilst the able-bodied men were dealt with and the village burned. At a Court of Enquiry on the incident, held subsequently, no evidence was available to attach the blame to any particular persons or regiment, such had been the secrecy with which the plans had been prepared.

The Arabs gave no further trouble.

Two days later the Brigade commenced to march to Rafa, camping en rôute at Yebneh, Mejdel, Gaza, and Belah, reaching Rafa on the afternoon of the 22nd. Tents were erected and the camp laid out generally.

On December 29th Lieut.-Colonel Whyte, with other officers and men of the W.M.R. who had malaria, proceeded to the Training Regiment for examination before a Medical Board, page 237Major A. R. Batchelar taking temporary command of the Regiment, and on Colonel Whyte's return to New Zealand in January he assumed command.