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The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine

Introduction by General Sir John G. Maxwell, G.C.B., K.C.M.G., C.V.O., D.S.O

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Introduction by General Sir John G. Maxwell, G.C.B., K.C.M.G., C.V.O., D.S.O.

The Government of New Zealand having done me the honour of inviting me to write a Foreword to the volume "New Zealanders in Palestine" of the history of New Zealand's share in the Great. War, I gladly comply for two reasons: first, an opportunity is given me to record my testimony to, and admiration of, the splendid qualities of the New Zealand Contingent; second, the pleasure with which we will all welcome the history of their achievements.

It may not be out of place to record the events leading up to the arrival of the Australasian Contingents in Egypt.

On August 29th, 1914, I was at the Headquarters of Marshal Joffre, at Vitry le Francois, where I received orders from Field-Marshal Earl Kitchener to proceed at once to Egypt and take over the command there. Somewhat disconcerted, I complied, and arrived September 8th in that country.

When I left France the French and British armies were in full retreat to the line of the Marne. Our little Army, after magnificent and strenuous resistance, had suffered terribly, and the question of reinforcements was paramount. It was, therefore, no surprise when, on my arrival in Egypt, I received orders to send every British soldier at once to England. I was informed that large forces were expected to be passing through the Suez Canal en route to Europe, and that a Territorial Division would be sent as soon as possible. The situation I found was by no means a pleasant one. The Turks were sitting on the fence, the Khedive Abbas was in Constantinople intriguing against us. The population of Egypt was some 12 millions, the great majority Moslems, in sympathy with their co-religionists the Turks; of the European population, the majority was Italian, Greek, German and Austrian, with a good proportion of Turks and Turko-Egyptians, Syrians and Armenians. The British and French were in a decided minority.

The extraordinary anomaly was the political situation. With considerable difficulty, and late in August, 1914, General page viiiSir Julian Byng had got rid of the diplomatic representatives of both Germany and Austria, yet the Nationals of both these countries remained; the Turks were diplomatically represented by a High Commissioner.

The Suez Canal was neutral and full of German ships. Spies abounded.

The situation of our Army in France demanded heroic measures—risks had to be taken; and it was very fortunate for Great Britiain that the late Earl Kitchener was at the helm! No one knew better than he what risks in the Near East could, or could not, be taken! He had already, with that remarkable foresight for which he was famous, begun the formation of the new Armies at Home, and had called on the Empire's great Dependencies and Colonies for far greater efforts than were at one time thought possible. Nobly they responded! But there was a very anxious and delicate period to be bridged over before these forces could be trained and marshalled where wanted.

Simultaneously with the withdrawal to England of all British Colonial troops, the bulk of the trained Indian Army was ordered to France. So long as the Turks did nothing, this stream of troops through the Canal and Egypt astonished the Egyptians and had the effect Lord Kitchener anticipated. They kept quiet. On September 25th, the 42nd East Lancashire Division, with two regiments of Yeomanry arrived.

The Turks during this period had mobilised their armies in Asia Minor and Syria; the Bedouins on the Sinai frontier became more aggressive. Consequently, the political situation in Egypt became more difficult. The only troops guarding the Suez Canal were the IXth Brigade, Lahore Indian Division.

In the meanwhile, the news from Europe was far from reassuring. Large Turkish forces were reported at Deraa on the Hedjaz Railway, at Nazareth, Nablus, Hebron and Beersheba. German officers and agents were said to be assisting.

To avoid their falling into the hands of raiding Bedouins, it was decided to withdraw Anglo-Egyptian authority from Sinai. One British officer, one Egyptian Judge from El Arish, and about twenty policemen from the rest of the Peninsula represented this authority. Steps were also taken to fill up page ixand destroy, as far as possible, all known wells and water supplies. It was no wonder that as the rumours of Turkish activities spread, the uneasiness in Egypt became more and more pronounced. On November 2nd, martial law was proclaimed. On November 16th, a further force from India for the defence of the Canal began to arrive, so on November 22nd the IXth Lahore Brigade proceeded to France to rejoin its Division. On November 20th, Lord Kitchener telegraphed that owing to the Turkish threat, the Australian and New Zealand contingents would disembark and train in Egypt, and that I was to make arrangements for their reception.

This was indeed welcome news—more appreciated by me than by the contingents themselves!

On December 3rd, 1914, the New Zealand troops began to arrive.

On December 18th, Egypt was proclaimed a British Protectorate.

On December 19th, the Khedive Abbas Hilmi was deposed and His Highness Hussein Kamel proclaimed Sultan of Egypt.

On December 30th, His Highness the Sultan made his State entry into Cairo, the Australasian contingents assisting at the ceremony.

On December 24th, the Hon. Sir Thomas Mackenzie, G.C.M.G., F.R.G.S., High Commissioner for New Zealand, with the late Rt. Hon. Sir George Reid, G.C.B., High Commissioner for Australia, arrived in Egypt on an official tour of inspection. This visit was peculiarly well-timed and vastly appreciated both by their countrymen and the authorities in Egypt; the former were able to hear from the lips of their representatives to Great Britain exactly how matters stood and, as far as was known, their prospects. The High Commissioners were able to see for themselves the conditions and difficulties prevailing in Egypt. Incalculable benefit was derived from this visit. Both High Commissioners delivered stirring speeches, and put great heart into their contingents. The New Zealanders were addressed by Sir Thomas at their camp at Heliopolis, whilst Sir George did the same to the Australians at Mena, under the shadow of the Great Pyramids.

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During this time, the Turkish activities began to take shape, and there was little room for doubt that an attempt to invade Egypt was contemplated.

I have thought it advisable to recount these facts in order to make it clear why the Australasian troops were detained in Egypt and not sent through to France.

It was out of the question to allow the Turk a foothold in Egypt. The troops now settled down to reorganisation and strenuous training until April 25th, 1915, when the Gallipoli campaign opened. It is true that in February, 1915, the Turks carried out their intention of crossing the Sinai Peninsula, and attempting to cross the Canal and invade Egypt. The immense difficulties of such an attempt were speedily manifest, and it required no great effort on our part to throw those who reached the Canal back in confusion.

Some of the Australasian troops assisted in this first serious defeat of Turkish ambitions. The Gallipoli campaign, though the troops performed prodigies of valour and to all intents and purposes destroyed the flower of the Turkish armies, was not the success it was hoped for. The expedition failed, and the evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula led up to the Palestine expedition, which happily was gloriously successful.

The Gallipoli campaign showed the world what magnificent soldiers these splendid men from Australia and New Zealand were. The reputation they won there was afterwards fully maintained in many a bloody fight in France and Palestine. It was not my good fortune to accompany them in either of these campaigns. In 1914-15 and the early part of 1916, when these contingents were under my command in Egypt, it was my privilege to see a good deal of them, and I state, without fear of contradiction, that although they subsequently covered themselves with glory, they, during their stay in camp in Egypt, covered themselves with credit by their excellent soldier-like behaviour, notwithstanding the novelty of the conditions prevailing, the cruel temptations and difficulties of language.

It would have been a trial for the most disciplined troops to find themselves in a "halfway house" debarred from proceeding to the battlefield of France, and, as they thought, page xi"out of it." Yet they bore themselves like men. The late Sultan Hussein frequently used to express to me, in no measured terms, his intense admiration for the countries that produced such men—volunteers who gave up everything, prepared to give up their lives, for their King and Mother Country. He could hardly understand it; yet he said, "With such men you must win."

The men of Australia and New Zealand were soon destined to find that so far as fighting was concerned, they were very much "in it." Right gloriously they fought, and though we mourn many a brave soldier now resting peacefully in his far-off grave, yet they have not given their lives in vain; for when the history of the Great War is written and incidents are seen in their proper proportion, I am sure it will be conceded that the exploits of our gallant men in Gallipoli, Palestine and Mesopotamia, under the orders of General Sir Ian Hamilton, Field-Marshal Lord Allenby, and Generals Maude and Marshall, were responsible in a great degree for the ultimate defeat of Germany.

New Zealand has every reason to be proud of what her sons have done for the Empire, and in no theatre have they more reason to be so than the glorious and bewilderingly successful campaign in Palestine.


London, August 12th, 1919.