The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919
Chapter XX. Back to the Outpost Line
Chapter XX. Back to the Outpost Line.
From Abd it moved on the next day to Bir El Ganadil, where it took over the forward outpost line from the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. Here the men were back again to the old duties of scouring the desert night and day. Within a few days the Regiment was moved forward to Bir El Kasseiba, and so the work went on. An important part of the duties in this forward position was that of locating and developing water. Our air force was constantly active, and various means of replying to questions dropped by the airmen were devised. For instance, a party would be marched round in a ring on the south side of the column to indicate "no" The life was hard, but now that the winter season was well on, it was healthy. Fresh goat meat was now included in the daily ration. Daily, Bedouins and their families were brought in and sent back to live at the expense of the nation, and in this connection some of the patrols had quite new experiences. On one occasion a woman rebelled against leaving the little hod, and the junior lieutenant in charge of the party felt nonplussed. He strongly objected to meeting with the modern woman movement away out in the desert. He got the rebels in, of course, but felt aggrieved. Later, the reason for the conduct of the woman became plain, and it proved that she was not a modern woman after all. Another batch was brought in, some of them with babies, belonging to the first lot. Apparently the babies had been left some distance away, but the mothers could not explain. One woman told an Egyptian camel-driver that she had left her baby in a bush, and page 122when she was told to go and get it she kissed the feet of her guard and wept for joy. The cooks that evening prepared condensed milk for the babies, to the delight of the troopers, who had remarks to make about the start of the regimental nursery, and the appointment of a sergeant nurse.
Towards the middle of November, the Regiment moved on to Bir El Mazar, a spot some 20 miles east of Bir El Abd, which the railway was now approaching. The other regiments of the brigade were scattered about the neighbourhood, and keeping guard over several miles of front. There were no palms at Mazar, but good water was found. The ruins of an ancient Norman Church were found on the coast not far away from the camp. So rapid had the progress of the railway become, that on November 26 the brigade had to move on once more, their base now being El Mustagidda, a few miles from Mazar.
On the following day, Captain Finlayson and Lieutenant M. E. Johnson, with a party of eight men, left on a reconnaisance of the road to El Arish and of enemy works at Masmi, three miles south-west of the town. This entailed a long detour into the desert to the south from Bir El Gererat. This part of the journey had to be covered by night, and solely on compass bearings. The last five miles had to be covered after daybreak. The patrol was able to ascertain that there was no serious opposition around Masmi, but saw one or two small patrols. Our patrol was not observed, and got back according to time-table with all the necessary information. The total distance travelled was 46 miles. About this time camel patrols made similar expeditions page 123to other points of the desert, and thus its topography and the dispositions of the enemy were thoroughly investigated. During the succeeding days considerable activity took place among the air forces of both sides, and the mounted regiments became inured to the experience of scattering when the Taubes appeared. Early in December, all four brigades of the Anzac Mounted Division were on the front, and the two infantry divisions were up with the railway. El Arish was to be the next objective, but before the blow could be struck the railway had to be brought as far as Kilometre 128, and a great supply of water accumulated. This was absolutely essential, because the desert to the south in this region was the most waterless tract of the Sinai. Fortunately what water there was, was fresh, the brackish wells having been left behind. By December 20, the preparations were complete for the advance, which, owing to water troubles, had to be swift and sure. Any lengthy delay would have meant disaster to the mounted brigades which had to deliver the blow.