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

The Fight at Ras El Nagb

The Fight at Ras El Nagb

Meanwhile the troops in the line to the north had encountered stout opposition, and on the 4th, whilst the W.M.R. and A.M.R. were taking their turn in the search for water, the Brigade was hurried forward to relieve the 5th Mounted Brigade, the latter being heavily engaged in the general line facing Ras El Nagb, thirteen miles north-east of Beersheba. The C.M.R. effected the relief at 5.30 p.m., the two other regiments arriving later, the W.M.R. having meanwhile located a good well, where the water-cart and bottles were filled. The 6th Squadron was placed on the left of the C.M.R., on a ridge facing Kheuwelfeh, against which the Infantry were operating, two A.M.R. Squadrons reinforcing the right of the C.M.R., the strength of the enemy mated at two thousand rifles and three batteries of artillery, The Turks commenced to attack at three o'clock next morning, their numerical strength, supported by the fire of cleverly-concealed batteries, enabling them to maintain aggressiveness throughout the day. From Kheuwelfeh, on the left, their bombarded our front line. From other directions shells were landed amongst the horses in the Wadi-Sultan, and long-range fire from page 164the north of Kheuwelfeh swept the position at intervals. The Somerset and an Indian Mountain Battery were in position south of Ras El Nagb, the fire of these being directed principally at Kheuwelfeh. At eight o'clock the 9th Squadron relieved the 6th Squadron, and a couple of hours later the 2nd Squadron took up a poistion on a knoll west of Ras El Nagb. The enemy were trying to work round the flank there, but well-directed fire from the Squadron dispersed them.

By this time the fall of Beersheba and the forcing back of the Turkish left were taking effect along the Gaza Beersheba line, from which the enemy had commenced to retire. Mounted troops were required to pursue the fleeting Turks, and the New Zealand Brigade received orders to hold itself in readiness to proceed with the Anzac Division and co-operate with the 20th Corps south of Sharia. The Imperial Camel Brigade was to relieve the New Zealanders at Ras El Nagb, but failed to arrive at the appointed hour, with the result that the departure of the Brigade was delayed for some time.

Meanwhile the left of the New Zealanders' line had been further strengthened by the 6th W.M.R. Squadron, the latter occupying the crest of a ridge on the left of the 2nd Squadron, where it checked an advance of a force of about four hundred Turks who were trying to work round the flank there.

The Turks were very aggressive on the left, and at about 1.30 p.m. the 2nd Squadron was heavily bombarded from the direction of Kheuwelfeh, many casualties being inflicted. Major Scott and Captain Hine having been wounded, Captain A. H. Herrick assumed command of the Squadron. Later the Turks advanced with fixed bayonets to within two hundred yards of our line, but heavy cross-fire broke the attack, the Turks retiring to a position five hundred yards from the New Zealanders, where they maintained a vigorous machine-gun and rifle fire till dusk.

Water and rations had been brought forward on packs for the men during the afternoon, but the horses had not had a satisfying drink for at least two days. It therefore became necessary for the men not engaged in holding the line to lead the horses to Beersheba, a distance of fourteen miles, where the nearest water was to be obtained. Next morning the 6th Camel Brigade arrived, giving half a pint of much-appreciated water to each of our men before taking over the line. Tired, and sorely in need of sleep as the result of a strenuous week of continuous trekking and fighting, the W.M.R. marched on foot page 165over broken country to Likeyeh, six miles south, where the horses rejoined them later.

The powers of endurance which the horses were found to possess during these trying times in continuing to work under a blazing sun without water for periods ranging from forty-eight to seventy-two hours (the latter time refers to the Hotchkiss gun pack horses) are probably without parallel in the history of warfare. Only acclimatised animals could have survived such an ordeal, and the fact that none of the W.M.R. horses were lost from causes other than casualties speaks volumes for the horsemastership of the men. The Regiment's casualties were: Two officers and seven other ranks wounded, six horses killed and thirteen wounded.

For gallant conduct during this engagement the following decorations were awarded:—Military Cross, Lieutenant C. J. Pierce; Military Medal, Sergeant J. A. Little, Sergeant T. H. Hulton, Lance-Corporal J. J. Austin, Trooper W. G. Fargie, Trooper W. Southern.

The Brigade remained in support of the 53rd Division in the waterless area close to Ras El Nagb till the night of 9th November, when it received welcome orders to move next day.

Gaza had fallen on 7th November, and the Turks had meanwhile been driven northward till the right of their line rested on the sea coast to the north of Hamameh, where the Anzac Division faced them. General Allenby's right, in the vicinity of Ras El Nagb was then firmly established, but strong forces opposed him on the left, so the New Zealanders were to join the Division there.