The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919
Chapter XVI. First Action in Sinai
Chapter XVI. First Action in Sinai.
Turks having been reported to be at Bir El Abd and Salmana, some 25 miles beyond Romani, the New Zealand Brigade was detailed to attack them. It was the first definite stunt of the New Zealanders. On the night of May 30, the brigade moved to Dababis. Wells were sunk and a supply of very salty water was obtained, but the horses were so thirsty that they drank it with relish. After resting for the day, the march was continued in the evening. Some distance south of Bir El Abd the 3rd squadron of the A.M.R. was sent by a detour to get behind the post, and, after cutting the telephone wires, to wait to cut off the Turks if they retired when the advance was made by the column. Through some delay, the advance was not made for two hours after the wires were cut by the 3rd squadron—incidentally bayonets had to be used for the job, and some noise was inevitable— and by that time the Turks had got away. The column then moved on against Salmana, which was to be attacked at dawn. The A.M.R. was again detached, and sent to get into position on the south and south-east side. At 4.45 a.m. the Regiment was in position, and the attack was delivered. The three squadrons galloped across the intervening flat ground towards the sand hill, upon which 200 or 300 Turks were in position. The astonished Turks hardly fired a shot, even when the Regiment dismounted near the base of the hill. Fixing bayonets, the troopers rushed the hill, but before they got to the top the Turks were in fast retreat. A brisk fire was opened on the Turkish rearguard, five of whom stood their page 103ground until shot. While this rapid movement was being executed the Regiment came under the fire of the C.M.R., who were advancing from the north-west, but fortunately no harm was done. The 3rd squadron pursued the retreating Turks, some of whom were on foot and some on camels, and succeeded in bringing fire to bear upon them from several eminences, inflicting losses that could not be estimated. At 6 a.m. several hundred reinforcements were seen coming to the aid of the Turks, and, as an action could not be fought so far in the enemy's territory, the squadron was retired. During the action the brigade had the valuable cooperation of an aeroplane, which dropped messages as to the Turkish movements. Only one casualty was suffered by the Regiment, Sergeant Parrish being wounded. This was the first casualty in action of the Regiment of this campaign.
The brigade returned to Dababis and, after resting for a few hours, moved on to Bir Etmaler, arriving at 10.30 p.m. Dog tired, the men were sound asleep the moment the horses had been cared for. At 6 o'clock the following morning they were wakened by the sound of bursting air bombs at the Australian Camp at Romani. It was only a matter of seconds before the Regiment had rushed to their horses and, riding them barebacked, had scattered in the desert, thus removing the target that airmen always look for. It was a strange parade. By the appearance of some men it might have been though to be a swimming parade, although it would have been difficult to account for one bare-legged man carrying his field glasses. The airman did not drop any bombs on the New Zealand lines, but he opened fire with his machine-gun on machine-gun emplacements. The fire was page 104returned by our machine-gunners, but no damage was done on either side. Unfortunately, the Australian Light Horse, whose camp offered a good target owing to its size, lost a number of men killed and wounded, besides many horses.
After a few days spent in patrol and welldigging operations, the brigade once more moved by night against Bir El Abd, but no Turks were encountered. Returning, it was intended to water the weary horses at Oghratina, but the water, such as it was, had practically given out, and it was necessary to push on to Er Rabah, where the same difficulty was encountered. The horses were extremely thirsty when Bir Etmaler was reached at 5.30 p.m. For this expedition the A.M.R. was under Major McCarroll, and the brigade under Lieutenant-Colonel Mackesy. Such night stunts, even though they did not involve fighting, placed heavy responsibilities upon the leadership. All precautions had to be taken against surprise, and only the experienced know the difficulties of moving such a column at night.
1. Worn out after night march on E1 Arish. 2. Machine-gun ready for enemy aircraft. 3. Over the border into Palestine: the first grass.
On The Desert. 1. Hod Amara. 2. Watering horses at Bir et Maler. 3. Laying telephone wire. 4. Another view of Hod.
1. A.M.R. Orderly Room at Mazar. Sergeant (afterwards Lieutenant) E. Foley in foreground. 2. Brigade on the march across the sand. 3. Typical desert hod or oasis, showing how the sand encroaches.
Throughout this period, the railway had been forging ahead, and the rails were not far from Romani. With it had come the pipe line, with its pure Nile water, upon which the whole scheme depended. With it had also extended the famous infantry road, which was merely a strip of wirenetting across the sand. The genius who hit upon this simple, but most effectual device, earned the eternal gratitude of the infantrymen and the War Office. On this road the infantry could do infinitely greater marches than on the sand.