The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919
Chapter XXVII. To Jaffa and the Auja
Chapter XXVII. To Jaffa and the Auja.
Jaffa was occupied without opposition, the Turks falling back to the line of the river Auja, a few miles further north. While this fighting had been taking place, great success had been achieved to the south. Ramleh, on the Jaffa-Jerusalem railway, was taken; and the enemy, whose receding line extended in a south-east direction from Jaffa, had reason to feel anxiety for Jerusalem itself.
With its bivouac in the suburb of Sarona, the original home of the German Colony, on the northeast outskirts of the town, the Regiment did duty on the outpost line and in the town itself. After living by desert ways for so long it was no small novelty to garrison such a fine town as Jaffa, with its wide streets, gardens, and trees. In normal times Jaffa had a population of 60,000 people, including 30,000 Moslems, 10,000 Jews, and 10,000 Christians, but during the war its population had gone down considerably, and it had lost its prosperity, partly through there being no fuel for the engines which had been used to pump the water from the wells to irrigate the orchards. Within a few days of the British occupation, Jews and Christians, who had been expelled by the Turks, started to return, bringing their goods and chattels in all sorts of conveyances.
The names of the following officers and men were brought under notice in connection with the month's fighting:—page 168
On November 1.—Lieutenant K. J. Tait, Signal-Corporal G. S. Watt, Temporary-Corporal O. F. T. Young, and Troopers W. R. D. Laurie, J. Wilkinson, and J. Smillie.
On November 8.—Lieutenant S. C. Reid, Sergeant C. N. White, Corporal H. D. Aitken, and Trooper D. Pilcher.
On November 14. — Acting - Captain W. Haeata, Sergeant-Trumpeter J. L. Morgan, Corporal A. G. De Lautour, Lance-Corporal F. H. Hardie, Temporary-Sergeant M. Gilbert, and Troopers H. Underwood and W. H. Jefcoate.
On November 24 and 25, the New Zealanders took part in a very stiff engagement against strongly reinforced Turks on and beyond the Wadi Auja. The purpose of the action was to secure control of the bridge and fords, and to contain as large a number of the enemy as possible by creating the impression that a further move northwards was contemplated.
As soon as the north bank had been cleared by the W.M.R. and the C.M.R. the infantry crossed the bridge, and the 3rd squadron (Captain Cheeseman). and the 11th squadron (Captain Herrold) of the A.M.R. moved to the outpost line beyond the infantry, the two squadrons being under Major Whitehorn. Two squadron posts, with two machine-guns, were established in front of Hadrah, the other regiments holding similar posts between them and the sea. All was quiet until 2.45 a.m., when a small mounted patrol of the enemy appeared in front of the forward post of the 3rd A.M.R. The patrol retired under the fire of the troopers, but half an hour later heavy fire broke out on the left flank of the thirds, and they were compelled to retire to a pre-arranged line of resistance. Our machine-guns opened a rapid fire for 15 minutes, and for another brief space there was quiet. At 3.45 the enemy made another advance, supported by heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, and the advanced troop of the 3rd squadron found itself outflanked on both sides. It fell back on the rest of the squadron, but the Turks, in strong force, swarmed forward, and the squadron, as soon as it got its led horses sent back, retired to the position held by the machine-guns. Communication with headquarters was now impossible owing to the wires having been cut by enemy fire. Eventually two messengers were sent out, advising the infantry of the situation. By 4.30 the enemy were between the two squadron posts of the A.M.R. The machine-page 170guns on both sides opened up, and the enemy continued to press forward, getting close enough to use bombs. The position of the 3rd squadron became untenable, and with the machine-guns the troopers were compelled to fall back upon the infantry at 5.45. The 11th squadron was able to remain in its position, and opened fire on the force now pressing the 3rd squadron and the infantry. About 8.30 the infantry, under the covering fire of the two A.M.R. squadrons, fell back on the bridge. By this time 12 enemy guns were firing on Hadrah and the bridge. The A.M.R. horses were still on the north side of the river, and as the bridge was impassable the "Number Threes" were ordered to race for the ford near the mouth. It was one of the liveliest gallops horse-holders ever had. Speed was the one chance of getting the horses out of the closing vice, and speed was secured, notwithstanding the fact that some of the men were leading six horses. Although under fire for most of the way, the horsemen, with their arms almost out of the sockets, reached the ford without serious loss and plunged through to safety. A few of the men decided to risk swimming the river rather than running the gauntlet to the ford, and somehow got across. The casualties among the horses and the men who led them would have been heavy had not the Turks, who tried to intercept them, fired as they ran. Meanwhile the dismounted squadrons held on to the north bridge head, and after all the infantry were over the 3rd squadron rushed across, some by the bridge and some through the water. It was not until then that any artillery support was given. The Somerset Battery and the guns of the infantry page 171brigade opened on Hadrah, and this enabled Captain Herrold and his squadron, who had been within an ace of being cut off, to move down the bank and cross at the bridge. The W.M.R. and the C.M.R. had a very similar experience further down the river, having to hold on to cover the retirement of the infantry. Afterwards some crossed dismounted at the ford near the mouth, and others by boat.
At the bridge the A.M.R. and some 30 Tommies, who had not departed as fast as some of their comrades, formed a line covering the south bridgehead, and, as the belated artillery concentrated on Hadrah, a party of the A.M.R. forded the river and brought back their own and infantry wounded through the waist-high stream. This gallant work was done under fire.
The Regiment's casualties were: 1 killed, 1 missing, and 19 wounded, including Major White-horn, who had been in command of the Regiment since Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll was wounded. Major Munro now assumed command of the A.M.R.
After the struggle on the Auja, the New Zealanders went into bivouac about half-a-mile southeast of Sarona, a step rendered necessary through the wonderful accuracy of the Turkish guns which ranged right on to the Somerset Battery, the guns of which had to be removed at the gallop. There was every reason for supposing that German residents of Sarona were signalling information to the Turks. The infantry brigade, it is understood, investigated the spying, and executed the culprits. For some days the guns of both sides were constantly in action, and fighting occurred further page 172inland. Two destroyers arrived off Jaffa, and assisted the British guns by bombarding the Turkish lines. To relieve the transport which had had an extremely hard month, small vessels landed stores at what answered for a wharf at Jaffa. The Regiment's chief concern was to build up its strength again, and a considerable number of men and horses came up to fill the many gaps.
Some men will remember Jaffa chiefly for its oranges, its wines, and its howling jackals. In connection with oranges there was quite an entertaining incident. For some time the men had been suffering from septic sores, a very painful and uncomfortable trouble, in enduring which they had displayed their usual uncomplaining fortitude and that fine comradely spirit in relieving those most afflicted. General Chaytor, on being informed by the medical authorities that oranges would probably cure the men, requisitioned oranges, and had them issued. The army supply authorities said there was no authority to issue fruit, but the issue went on with splendid results. Finally the general found authority to issue vegetables, and he proved that oranges were vegetables. As to wine, the soldiers were forbidden to purchase it, but the orders were not proof against the genius of "old soldiers" and wine was secured, although on one occasion the thirsty souls had to go the length of parading a bogus guard to relieve the infantry doing duty at the wine store. Lieutenant Briscoe Moore states in his excellent book, "The Mounted Rifleman in Sinai and Palestine," that one trooper on being questioned why he had been to the wine store, replied brazenly that he had gone to get his page 173horse a feed. Considering the potency of much of the grape juice, it is highly probable that he did. And then the jackals! These animals made mournful music throughout the nights. One man declared that there were at least 100,000 jackals in one orchard, and he had not been to the wine press either. At sunset the first of the animals began to pipe up, and the combined choir was soon going full blast.