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The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919

Chapter XXVIII. The General Offensive

page 174

Chapter XXVIII. The General Offensive.

On December 4, the New Zealand Brigade moved east to Sakia, and there relieved a battalion of the Camel Corps in the trenches, the horses being left a mile away. Here they remained, while was enacted the greatest event of the war— the advance which forced the Turks to evacuate Jerusalem. In the actual move against the Turks which drove the infidel from the Holy City, the New Zealanders had no part, but already they had contributed to that end by their resolute fight at Ayun Kara, which forced the Turkish right further north, and the action on the Auja, which drew against them some thousands of the enemy who otherwise would have been used further south.

Advancing through the rain and mist the infantry had reached the outskirts of Bethlehem by the evening of December 8, with cavalry already across the Jericho road, where it turns east from the Valley of Jehosaphat. Panic broke out among the defenders, and during the night the Jews listened with joy to the sounds of the retreat. After four centuries the Turk was flying headlong from the scene of his worst tyranny. By a happy coincidence the day was that of the festival of Hanukah, which celebrates the recapture of the Temple by Judas Maccabæus from the heathen Seleucids in 165 B.C. The day of deliverance had come. The Arab prophecy, that when the Nile flowed into Palestine, the prophet (Al Nebi) from the west should drive the Turk from Jerusalem, had been fulfilled.

page 175

On December 11, the Commander-in-Chief made his formal entry into the city. All units of the army were represented at this historic ceremony. The 20 men from the New Zealand Bri-gade rode 40 miles over the hills to be present, arriving with the grime of war upon them and their accoutrements, just one hour before General Allenby walked through the Jaffa Gate with the representatives of the army behind him to the citadel below the Tower of David, from the terrace of which was read in seven languages a proclamation announcing that order would be maintained in all the hallowed sites of the three great religions, which were to be guarded and preserved for the free use of worshippers. The simplicity of the ceremony was in sharp contrast to the pompous entry, through a new gap in the wall, of the German Kaiser in 1898.

After spending several cheerless days in the wet trenches, the A.M.R. proceeded to Jaffa, where it came under the orders of the 52nd Infantry Division, the W.M.R. and the C.M.R. going back to bivouac at Ayun Kara. While at Jaffa the Regiment again came under the command of Major Whitehorn, who returned from hospital. A few days later the A.M.R. relieved a brigade of infantry on the left of the Auja line, the horses being sent back to Jaffa.

On the night of December 20, the 52nd Division crossed the Auja, and carried the enemy positions on the north. The A.M.R. returned to Jaffa for their horses, and on December 22, moved to the scenes of their fighting on the north side of the Auja, and put in a strenuous day on patrol in advance of the infantry. The A.M.R. then moved back to Jaffa and thence to Esdud, 30 miles page 176south, near the coast, to rejoin the brigade. They marched via the Yebna Bridge (Yebna is the Jamnia of the New Testament period and the Ibelin of the Crusades), and thence along the sand dunes to the brigade bivouac south of Wadi Sukereir. It was one of the most severe marches the Regiment had ever done. Heavy rain fell continuously, and a cold wind raged. The night of December 24 was spent beyond Ayun Kara, the men being drenched to the skin. Pushing on the following morning the bedraggled column struck seas of mud on the Yebna plain, horses going down and being got up with great difficulty. The limbers at some places were right under water. Then the Wadi Sukereir had to be swum. The fact that it was Christmas Day may have had something to do with it, but the fact is that the men's cheerfulness seemed to increase with every new misery. There was no bully beef that evening, but a little of the salt flat substance that the army calls bacon was available, and some sort of a meal was therefore made at the sorry-looking fires. The doctor was in fine mood for a meal, and he had an extra ration for himself.

On January 12, the brigade moved north to Richon le Zion, the Jewish village near to Ayun Kara, and there tents were provided, and training and football again became the normal life. Soon after the shift, Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll returned from hospital and resumed command of the Regiment. Major Whitehorn became second in command. During this period no fighting of any importance took place. The Turks had established a line running round the north of Jaffa to the north of Jerusalem, Philistia and the greater part of Judea had been occupied, but before a further advance could be made the army had to be reorganised.