The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine
How the Brigade Rode through to Jaffa
How the Brigade Rode through to Jaffa
To go back to the situation on November 1st, it must be remembered that the Turkish line had been thrown back on its left, but not broken. General Allenby's plan now was to break through at the foot of the hills immediately to the north of Beersheba. This plan would cut the Turkish force in two, separating the troops in the lines on the plains, whose communications were the roads and railways running north to Ramleh, from the troops on the Judean Hills, who were supplied by the motor road from Jerusalem through Hebron.
A containing force for the Turks in the hills was formed of the 53rd Infantry Division opposite Tel Khuweilfeh, with the I.C.C. Brigade, Yeomanry Mounted Division, N.Z.M.R. Brigade and two squadrons of the M.G. squadron of the 2nd L. H. Brigade.
On the night of 6th November, the XX Corps, in a most gallant attack, broke the enemy's trench system at Kauwukah and at daylight on the 7th the Anzac Mounted Division went through and headed north along the great Philistian plain with the Australian Division behind it, and by nine o'clock was crossing the Wadi Sharia immediately east of Tel el Sharia where the 60th Division was fighting heavily. By 10 o'clock the Anzacs had reached Kh. Ameidat a station on the Ramleh-Beersheba line where a huge ammunition dump was captured with many prisoners.
One of the cavalryman's dreams was now realised. For one looked back, having passed the enemy front line by some 10 miles, and watched the great battle from the rear of the enemy position. His heavy guns at Hareira and Atawineh were firing away at the XX and XXI Corps and huge columns of smoke and dust shrouded the whole country now page 143behind. It was the moment of a lifetime; but there was no pause for reflection, as the Division was being shelled from the Judean hills on the right, from the enemy thrown back from the Sharia lines on the front, and from the Atawineh redoubts on the left.
The Division, shorn of one brigade and with no support from the Australian Mounted Division, who were held up two miles north of Sharia, could get no further this day and bivouaced for the night near Ameidat.
During the night news came through of the evacuation of Gaza by the Turk, and orders were received to use every endeavour to cut these forces off, more especially as the enemy still clung to the Hareira-Atawineh lines. The orders included the certain capture of the wells at the Wadi Jemmameh where was known to be a plentiful supply of water. This was of the greatest importance to the Division for there was no water at Ameidat. To strengthen the Division the 7th Mounted Brigade (Yeomanry) was sent up.
From now on, to the occupation of Jaffa, the two factors which had most influence upon the advance of the mounted troops were (a) the frequent counter-attacks which the enemy made against our flanks (most of these being directed against our right where the enemy was able to take advantage of the positions afforded him by the foothills of the Judean Mountains); (b) and scarcity of water.
At daylight on the 8th the advance was continued and the 2nd L. H. Brigade by a brilliant piece of work captured two guns that had been holding them up the evening before; but opposition stiffened, the enemy making a very determined stand on the Wadi Hesi, which was forced late in the afternoon. Also he made a fierce counter-attack against the Division's right which was most gallantly held off by the 7th Mounted Brigade, a very efficient Yeomanry brigade of two regiments with the Essex Battery R.H.A. (Territorial) attached.
The result of the day's fighting was an advance of eight miles to a position due east of Huj, the Turkish Headquarters and terminus of their military railway from the coast line. Here our guns got into a position just before dusk from which a fire was kept up during the night on to the main road leading north from Huj, with disastrous effects to the re-page 144treating Turks, as next morning was shown by the litter of guns, limbers, ammunition wagons and transport of all descriptions, jumbled up into heaps with their teams shot down.
The Jemmameh wells were captured and found in good order and a great proportion of the 1st L. H. Brigade horses were watered. But the work was too important to water any but those not actually in contact with the Turk.
Late in the afternoon the Australian Mounted Division had reached Huj where the Yeomanry by a fine charge captured 30 prisoners, 11 field guns and four machine guns.
By the evening of the 8th all Turkish positions in the Gaza-Beersheba line had fallen and the enemy was in full retreat.
During the night news came through that the Australian Division could go no further for want of water and that the Yeomanry Division, which had now rejoined the corps, was held up for the same reason and that therefore the Anzac Mounted Division would have to go on without support.
At daylight the three brigades were on the move and Bureir and Simsim were soon occupied and then Huleikat, Von Kressenstein's Headquarters (the G.O.C. VIII Army), where huge supplies of war material were captured and a very fine German Field Hospital was found abandoned. By mid-day the great Arab town of Mejdel was occupied and the ancient Ascalon passed by. In the afternoon an enormous convoy was overtaken consisting of the greatest variety of transport imaginable. There were camels, pack mules, pack donkeys, carts and wagons drawn by donkeys, mules, ponies and bullocks. The wagons were of every make and description evidently commandeered from the Bedouin population. All the unfortunate animals had been driven to a standstill, so hot was the pursuit.
By night-fall the main road and rail running north from Gaza was cut at Julis and a position taken up running from thence to the sea.
On the 10th stubborn fighting took place and the Division was unable to move its right further forward, but on the left the 1st L. H. Brigade occupied Esdud (the ancient Ashdod) and obtained a footing across the Wadi Sukerier.page break page 145
The water question had now become so acute that the Division had to call a halt while the Australian Division came up on its right and the 52nd Division, our old friends of the Sinai Campaign, came up and took over the line.
The Division then went across to Hamemeh where ample water was found on the beach.
Here the New Zealand Brigade rejoined the Division after a forced march of 52 miles, and of 62 miles for the Auckland Regiment which was in the line with the 53rd Division when the orders came for the Brigade to rejoin.
On the 11th and 12th the Division rested and the "B" echelon (Improvised Train) at last caught up the brigades with welcome supplies for man and horse.
On the morning of the 13th November the Division resumed its advance crossing the Nahr Sukereir, a flowing river, the first real river we had yet seen, by a fine stone bridge at Esdud, the ancient Ashdod of the Old Testament and the Azotus of the New Testament, and the town that played a great part in the time of the Crusaders—our own Richard I. captured it and fortified it in the year 1192.
On the beach there is still the ruins of an enormously strong castle built by him to defend the landing place.
The Division was reduced again to two brigades, as the 7th Mounted Brigade had been withdrawn to reserve and the 2nd L. H. Brigade sent away east to reinforce the Australian Mounted Division in its attack upon the Turkish positions covering Junction Station where the railway to Jerusalem leaves the Ramleh-Beersheba railway and takes its way up the great Wadi es Surar, called in the Book of Judges "the Valley of Sorek."
It leads right up to Jerusalem and it was up this natural entry into the hill that the Philistines sent the Ark of God when they returned it to the Israelites.
The Division bivouaced this night close to Yebna, the biblical Jamnia, which is situated just inside the sand dune belt on the banks of the Wadi es Surar, known where it enters the sea as the Nahr Rubin.
On the 14th the New Zealanders crossed the river close to the sand dunes with the 1st L. H. Brigade on its right. By nine o'clock in the morning the village of El Kubeibeh was occupied, page 146and pushing on, the Brigade encountered the enemy in the orange groves of Wadi Hanein and on the hills between this village and the sand dunes.
On the right the 1st L. H. Brigade encountered and drove back the enemy into the Jewish Colony of Deiran (called by the Jews Rechoboth) which they occupied during the day.
By noon the situation had sufficiently developed to enable General Meldrum to attack. The Canterbury Regiment was held up on the right against the enemy in the orange groves. In the centre the Wellington Regiment was in contact with the main Turkish position where the enemy held trenches on a high ridge with a steep face to the orange groves and sloping gradually towards the sand dunes, and presenting the top of the long arm of an inverted "L" towards our advance. The foot of the "L" bent westward until it touched the sand dunes.
The Aucklanders advanced on the Wellington Regiment's left, towards this foot, and were much troubled by machine gun fire from the long ridge against the end of which the Wellingtons were pressing.
The Somerset Battery supported the attack of the Brigade. The enemy appeared to be in fair strength and as it turned out numbered about 1500 men with 18 machine guns and one field battery. They were fresh troops brought up by our old friend of Sinai days, Kress von Kressenstein, for the express purpose of turning the left flank of the British advance and of relieving the pressure of the British attack on Junction page 147Station. They fought throughout the day with the greatest determination.
By half-past one the Wellington Regiment obtained a footing on the ridge and the 9th Squadron under Major Wilder, and supported by the 2nd Squadron, rushed the enemy's first position with the bayonet, and one machine gun and one Lewis gun were captured. These guns were used with great effect upon the enemy's second position, which was captured by another bayonet charge, and two more machine guns taken. The methodical attack on the enemy's third position was then proceeded with. By this time the Wellington Regiment was getting well along the ridge forming the long leg to the "L" and the Aucklanders on their left were coming under fire from the enemy holding the short leg that stretched across their front to the sand dunes.
Each regiment had a section of machine guns attached and these were used throughout, well up in the firing line, in such positions that each regiment gave covering fire to the other.
Close to the junction of the short leg of the "L" position with the long leg (the ridge along which the Wellingtons were making good progress), was a red knoll practically in front of the dividing line between our two attacking regiments. From this knoll the enemy maintained a most troublesome fire on the two regiments. Another position from which a galling fire was being received was captured by the 4th Auckland Squadron by a magnificent dash, two troops galloping right into the enemy. The boldness of this attack minimised the enemy fire to such an extent that few casualties were suffered.
The capture of this position and some high ground in the vicinity protected the left flank of the Wellington Regiment sufficiently to enable it to proceed with its attack upon the enemy's third position on the long ridge.
The Auckland Regiment by pushing small parties up along the sand dunes, discovered, shortly after two o'clock, that numbers of the enemy were gathering in some orchards in front of the regiment in a basin formed by the head of a shallow wadi that had at one time flowed westward towards the sea, but which the encroaching sand had cut off. This basin was just over and behind the short leg of the "L" and so completely out of sight of either attacking regiments.page 148
Every available man was hurried as far forward as possible to deal with this threatened attack, and Colonel McCarroll put into the firing line signallers, gallopers and batmen from his own Regimental Headquarters to hold on until the 3rd Squadron could be brought up. The latter advanced in magnificent style under the command of Major Twistleton. This gallant officer brought his men mounted to within a few yards of the heavily attacked line, where they dismounted and engaged the enemy. Major Twistleton here fell badly wounded, and subsequently died of his wounds.
This gallant officer was the Commander of the Legion of Frontiersmen in New Zealand. He had served with the Otago Mounted Regiment on Gallipoli with distinction. He had gone to France with the Pioneer Battalion, and after serving on the Western Front for some 12 months had come back to the Mounted Brigade—joining the Wellington Regiment just before the advance against Beersheba.
For his good work during these operations he had been given a squadron, and it was in leading his men at a critical period of this day's fighting that he fell. He was a man of great soldierly qualities and of fearless courage, and he was a splendid horseman. He was born in Yorkshire and came to New Zealand as a young man, where he had proved to be of that stuff of which the pioneers of the British Empire are made. Simple and direct in speech, his shrewd judgment and strong practical common sense proved at all times a tower of strength to his companions.
About this time the Wellingtons captured the enemy's third position, gaining practically the whole of the long ridge, but they were greatly troubled by fire from the red knoll already mentioned.
The Divisional Headquarters, situated on a high point called Neby Kunda, close to the village of Kubeibeh, sent word that large enemy reinforcements could be seen moving into the basin in front of the Auckland and Wellington Regiments, but there were no reinforcements available owing to the 2nd L. H. Brigade having been taken away by the Corps to reinforce the Australian Division in its attack upon Junction Station. But every available spare man at Div-page 149sional Headquarters, including signallers not on duty, grooms and messengers from the brigades, were formed into a troop in case they were needed.
At half-past 2 the first enemy counter-attack began, and it fell against Wellington's left. But being met with a heavy cross-fire from the Auckland and Wellington machine guns, it withered away. A quarter of an hour later two companies of Turks attacked the Aucklanders. This attack was a very determined one and was well supported by a battery, and at some places reached to within 15 yards of our line, where the enemy made great use of bombs. He occupied also a small hill on which all our men had been either killed or wounded, and from this position brought an oblique fire to bear upon the Auckland main position.
The enemy's machine guns also were most active, and from the excellent positions held they continued to enfilade our troops, one gun in particular on the red knoll between the Auckland and Wellington Regiments, inflicting many casualties.
The situation was serious, and prompt action was necessary to drive the enemy from the knoll. The approach to it was devoid of cover and presented a splendid field of fire to the enemy, but it also favoured the rapid transit of mounted troops. This advantage was quickly seized, for Captain Herrick and two troops of the 2nd Wellington Squadron galloped up a long shallow approach under terrific fire to relieve the pressure. On reaching the foot of the knoll the men dismounted and rushed their objective, engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting.
The fearlessness and determination of Captain Herrick so inspired his little force that the position, with its machine gun, was taken. The two remaining troops of Herrick's squadron immediately came up to reinforce, and a fine body of fire was brought to bear upon the Turks in front of the Aucklanders, whose commander quickly seized the opportunity caused by the success of the 2nd Squadron and advanced his right to a position where enfilade fire could be brought to bear into the basin. This movement was greatly helped by the Wellington Regiment, who advanced machine guns and brought up more men to reinforce their left.page 150
It was now about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and this hot fight had been going on since half-past 1.
The determined attack and stubborn defence of our men began to tell upon the enemy, and his fighting strength gave way. He was pursued with rifle and machine-gun fire, but neither regiment was in a fit state to follow him, and there were no fresh troops that could be used for this purpose. So darkness came with our men resting on the ground they had so hardly won.
Thus ended a brilliant battle, in which the Brigade had attacked and captured a strong natural position held by an enemy in superior numbers, and this enemy force was backed up by a well-concealed battery and held trenches with the aid of numerous machine guns. The enemy force was estimated at 1500 men, with 18 machine guns and a battery of artillery. The Auckland and Wellington Regiments combined would not have numbered more than 1000, and of these some 200 were in charge of the led horses; but the rapidity of the movements of the two regiments, combined with a splendid co-operation—a co-operation which continued all day and existed between each troop in each squadron, and between each squadron in either regiment, and between the two regiments.
The day's action brought into play the full attacking powers of the mounted arm against an enemy in position. There was the mounted advance to the first fire position by one regiment, and then its systematic capture of enemy trenches on foot as infantry with rifle and bayonet and Hotchkiss and machine guns, and its rapid reinforcing on horseback of the successive positions when captured.
With the other regiment there was the advance mounted under cover of artillery fire to successive fire positions; the rapid seizing of small tactical features at the gallop; the outflanking of the enemy position by aid of the mounted man's mobility; and finally there was the magnificent mounted charge by which the red knoll was captured.
During the day the Canterbury Regiment drove large bodies of the enemy through the orchards of the Wadi Hanein, and by its action successfully covered the right of the two regiments fighting on the hills.page 151
The casualties suffered by the Brigade in this action were 5 officers and 39 other ranks killed, and 12 officers and 129 other ranks wounded, 41 horses killed and 22 wounded.
The captures made by the Mounted Corps were 5720 prisoners and upwards of 60 guns and 50 machine guns with an enormous quantity of ammunition and war material of all kinds and railway rolling stock.
Among those killed was Captain A. Herrick, M.C., of the Wellington Regiment.
He had gained his commission on Gallipoli. Early in the Sinai Campaign he had devoted himself to the study and page 152handling of the Lewis gun in which he became an acknowledged authority. And when the Lewis guns were replaced by the Hotchkiss he took these up with equal enthusiasm and effected many improvements in the manner of carrying this gun. He was absolutely fearless and showed a wonderful judgment in the attack. These qualities were well shown on this day. At one of the most critical moments of the Ayun Kara action he galloped his squadron right into the firing line, capturing the "red knoll" position that threatened the whole of our line. This brilliant piece of work turned the tide of battle, but at the cost of his life.
It will be gathered from the foregoing narrative that the Anzac Mounted Division was the only division able to carry on without falling back for water. This is explained by the splendid horsemastership of all ranks. It must be remembered that this division had spent 12 months in the deserts of Sinai and the lessons learnt there were never forgotten. The horses were ever the first care; and they started upon the Beersheba operations in the very pink of condition.
So remarkable was the performance put up in the advance from Beersheba to Jaffa, that an enquiry was set up upon the receipt of certain questions from G.H.Q.
For the information of horse lovers the letter and the answer sent through Desert Mounted Corps are here set out:—
I shall be glad if you will be so good as to let me have the following details as regards the animals of any of the units under your command during the period 1/11/17 to 31/12/17:—
1. The longest period they were continuously without water. 2. The work performed during this period. 3. Whether they fed well when they were thirsty. 4. The average number of times they were watered daily during the period specified or during any intermediate period. 5. The smallest amount of grain and fodder they received at any time and for what period. 6. The average amount of grain and fodder they received during the whole or any intermediate period. 7. The maximum amount of grain and fodder they received at any time and for what period. 8. To what extent were units able to supplement their forage locally, by grazing or otherwise. 9. When was there any noticeable change in their condition and vigour as a result of work and privation.
(Signed) G. R. Butler, Brig-General.
Director of Veterinary Services, E.E.F.
With reference to your …. herewith report in detail as asked for:—
(a) One cable wagon team from D.H.Q. was without water for a period of 84 hours. (b) Several regiments in the two Australian Brigades were without water for a period of 60 hours. (c) The N.Z.M.R. Brigade was without, water for 72 hours. 2.
- By (a) above, almost continuous work, cable laying, which entailed heavy work partly over rough country.
- By (b) above, fast travelling and reconnaissance, averaging about 20 miles each day.
- By (c) above, first two days reconnaissance, averaging about 20 miles per day, remainder of period practically no movement.
3. Yes, up to 36 hours; after that, in most cases, they refused to eat. 4. During the period of advance, once per day, i.e., to 15/11/17, after that twice daily. 5. 4 lbs. grain and no bulk fodder for 24 hours. 6. An average; of 9 lbs. grain with average 4 lbs. Tibbin requisitioned from inhabitants up to 17/12/17. From 17/12/17 to 31/12/17, 12 lbs. grain and average 4 lbs. haystuffs. 7. As shown in last period in para. 6. 8. An average of 4 lbs. haystuff per horse was obtained from the inhabitants throughout the whole period of operations. Grazing nil. 9. Decided falling off in condition and vigour after 36 hours without water. With good food and water horses picked up remarkably, though it is to be observed that all units report that issue of grain on five consecutive days caused serious trouble, the horses suffering from diarrhoea and laminitis and losing vigour. With reference to the cable wagon team which was without water for 84 hours, though much distressed at the end of that period, these horses quickly recovered. It is to be remembered that the horses of the Division commenced operations about 26/10/17, in execllent condition, which is largely responsible for the fact that evacuations on account of debility have been extremely small, both during operations and afterwards.
(Signed) E. W. C. Chaytor, Major-General.12/2/18.
Note.—The horses of one Brigade had an indifferent watering only on morning of 6th, and watering next during the action on the 8th, no more water until during the night of 10/11th. They were greatly distressed on the 10th, but by the 13th were, with the good water and rest, fit for work again, though they lost considerably in condition.
The 14th November, the day of the action of Ayun Kara, was a day of surprises, for on this day our men encountered the first white civilised people since leaving Egypt, and also made their first acquaintance with the famous Jaffa orange groves and the vineyards of Palestine.page 154
About mid-day the 1st L. H. Brigade drove the Turks from a ridge facing Yebna, where the Division had bivouaced the night before, and breasting the rise were astonished to see in front of them, nestling in the hollow, a modem village with red tiled houses so different to the flat-topped oriental architecture our men had become accustomed to. It was a sight to make one rub one's eyes and fear that it were a dream; more especially so, as no such town was shown on our maps, which bore the words "Khurbet Deiran" (or the cistern of Deiran). We found this new garden city to be the Jewish Colony of Rechoboth, founded in the year 1890 by Russians and now famous for its almond groves.
The Light Horsemen were met by an enthusiastic crowd of Zionists—men, women and children.
That evening the mayor of the town, hearing that the commander of the Division was a New Zealander, sent across to his bivouac at Neby Kunda a huge flagon of rich wine with a message "From the Oldest Colony in the World to the Youngest," no doubt alluding to the Israelites in their colonization of the land of Caanan.
There were many strange happenings during this day in the luxuriant orchards belonging to this village and to the neighbouring colony of Wadi Hanein. Fierce fighting with the Turk who suffered heavily had filled the villages with his wounded. There were happy meetings with English speaking Jewish Colonists, for quite a number had been in Australia at a time of distress in the history of these colonies. The story is told of a party riding in the dusk through the lanes among the orange groves, and coming to a cross roads, were in doubt as to the way. They were startled to hear a voice say with an unmistakable Yankee twang "Waal, I guess you are looking for the road." This was the first time for two years that any of that party had heard English spoken by an inhabitant of the land. The friendly American turned out to be an American Jew who had settled down to orange growing just before the war.
Yet more strange was a little episode that occurred as the Divisional Headquarters rode through the village of Wadi Hanein, a very prosperous Jewish Colony set in the midst of page 155luxuriant orange groves and called by the Jews Nachalat Reuben (or the heritage of Reuben).
The road lay through a deep lane bounded on either side with huge mimosa hedges in full bloom and the sweet smell reminded one of Kipling's lines about the smell of the wattle "Riding down to Lichtenburg" and one felt not a little homesick. The lane led out into an open space where crowds of white men, women and children welcomed us with loud cries of "Shallome, Shallome" and much talking in Yiddish. Suddenly came a clear cut question in excellent English from a woman, "Do you know a soldier of the name of ——?" An audible smile went down the little column and the Staff Officer leading suggested that there doubtless were many soldiers of that name in the Division, but that if she knew his regiment enquiries could be made. Quickly the answer came, "Yes, he is a New Zealander and is in a N.Z. Mounted Regiment, but I do not know which. I would much like to find him for he is my son." And before any further answer could be given a burly policeman, who had been riding behind the Provost Marshal and who had been chosen by that officer quite haphazard that morning from the Divisional Mounted Police as his horse holder for the day, rode forward and said he had a letter for a Mrs. —— which had been given to the Divisional Police by Trooper —— of the Auckland Regiment about a year ago with the request that all enquiries possible be made for his mother in the villages in Palestine. And here we found her after riding 200 miles through an alien land; and she was the first white woman we had spoken to in all that ride.
Needless to say that Trooper ——'s C.O. was at once communicated with, and the son was given leave to go to his mother.
Jaffa was taken over by the New Zealand Brigade on November 16th, when the town was surrendered to Lieut.-Colonel J. H. Whyte, O.C. Wellington Regiment.
Three days later the Navy put in an appearance and a naval officer was appointed to manage the port, such as it was, and to improve facilities for the landing of stores. But the town was administered by the New Zealanders for the next fortnight, until a representative of the director of "Occupied Enemy Territory" was appointed. It was an interesting page 156work and fortunately the population upon our arrival was small, all but Turkish sympathisers having been expelled by Jemal Pasha eight months before. Out of a population of 50,000 inhabitants only some 10,000 remained; so the town for an Oriental one was fairly clean.
The word Jaffa means "beautiful" and indeed it is a beautiful city. The great sweep of the green orange groves comes in from the plains melting into the gardens of the town. At the foot of the old city is the solid stone quay, as sound as the day the Crusaders of old tied up their ships; and protecting this old quay from the waves of the Mediterranean lies the reef of Andromeda, and the great rock to which she was tied is still shown. Facing it is Simon the Tanner's house, of which Dean Stanley in his classic book says, "One of the few localities which can claim to represent an historical scene of the New Testament, is the site of the house of Simon the Tanner at Jaffa."page 157 page 158
It was here at Jaffa that Napoleon massacred his prisoners and when he retreated it was here that he poisoned his sick.
Six Nations at Jaffa.
Left to right:—Major Davis, U.S.A.; Major St. Quentin, France; Lt.-Col. Bruxner, Australia; Lt.-Col. Powles, New Zealand; Capt. Patterson, Scotland; Major Caccia, Italy.
The staff had shown great devotion to these children. They were native women trained by Miss McConachy, who before the war was in charge of the Mission School here, and who since the war had so ably carried on the Soldiers' Club in the Ezebekieh Gardens, Cairo, and by her untiring work at the Australian Red Cross Rooms had endeared herself to every Australian and New Zealander in the Force. Much interest was taken by those who came first into Jaffa in searching for and in finding her house and in placing over it a guard.
The New Zealand Brigade took up a protective line covering Jaffa, just south of the river Auja, and connecting with the Light Horsemen who prolonged the line across the plain to the hills north of Ludd.
Reconnaissances of the river were made and it was found to be deep and unfordable, except at known places. These were a ford on the sea beach where the water reached about half way up the saddle flaps; at the Jeriseh Mill, where men on foot could cross on the mill dam; and at the bridge on the main Jaffa-Nablus road there was a stone bridge, and close by it a mill dam upon which men on foot could cross. These crossings were all held by the enemy.