The Story of Two Campaigns: Official War History of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919
Chapter XXXII. Raid into Gilead
Chapter XXXII. Raid into Gilead.
At dawn the next morning, the New Zealand Brigade moved from the crossing in a north-east direction over the ground the A.M.R. had cleared the previous day. The A.M.R. was in reserve, and watched the infantry and various mounted units, including the W.M.R. and the C.M.R., occupy the foothills without serious opposition. Into the Turk's position on the hill of Nimrin, which guarded the valley up which the main road led to Es Salt, the 60-pounders put some shells, while eight aeroplanes dropped bombs. Under this cover the infantry rushed the place, and captured 50 Germans, four field guns and two machine-guns. The advance was immediately pressed on. The New Zealanders, after watering at the fast mountain stream in the Wadi Nimrin (the horses having become accustomed to drinking from troughs or nose bags were perplexed by the current, and showed a tendency to follow the water down in search of a still place) moved along the Es Salt road for a short distance, and then turned to the right up the Wadi Jerria, which was knee-deep in grass and ablaze with bright flowers. The advance guard was commanded by Lieut.-Colonel McCarroll, and consisted of one squadron of the C.M.R. (in the van), the A.M.R., and the Hongkong Mountain Battery, which used camels to carry the guns and ammunition. After five miles had been covered the narrow track became very steep. It was hard for the horses, but terrible for the camels. With all necessary safeguards out, the column bivouacked on the cold heights of page 196Gilead. The contrast in temperature with that recently experienced in the Jordan Valley was marked. They were now between 2,000 and 3,000 feet above sea level, and they shivered in the cold. To crown all, rain began to fall, and sleep was well nigh impossible. At dawn it was utterly impossible to "boil up" and, feeling as miserable as frozen dogs, the horsemen continued the march. The ration camels had been unable to scramble up the track from the wadi, so no food could be issued for the day, but the iron emergency ration was in every man's holster. When the rain ceased a dense mist enveloped the mountains, and through it the regiments pushed on. At a distance of 100 yards they looked more like phantom horsemen than flesh and blood. Soon the track started to descend to the Wadi Sir. Up this wadi the brigade moved, and suddenly through the mist loomed the Circassian village of Ain Es Sir. In the village was a party of 88 Turks, under two officers, engaged in cutting down poplar trees for fuel for the railway engines on the Hedjaz line. Never were there more surprised men. They were gathered in without a shot being fired. The advanced guard passed through the village, and when the column came up the men were amazed to see Turkish soldiers wandering about the streets, but they were merely being mustered by their officers to be handed over to the beings who had ridden out of the mist. The Circassians, the most treacherous ruffians the New Zealanders were to encounter, slunk about in surly silence, but committed no hostile act. Their chance was to come later.
The wireless men with the brigade set up their instrument, and received a message that the page 1972nd light Horse, who had been crossing the mountains by a more southerly route, had been delayed by the atrocious weather. The New Zealanders, therefore, bivouacked just beyond the village, the horses receiving the last handful of grain that had been carried on the saddles. Patrols were sent out a couple of miles further on and captured a patrol of six Germans, and later a German scout. No other enemy troops were seen.
There was still no sign of the ration camels the next morning, and when the fog lifted at 10 a.m. the horses were taken out to feed on the growing oat crops. Later in the day 50 horses were sent back to "pack up" food for the men. By this time hundreds of the men of the Sherif of Mecca, all armed to the teeth, were roaming about and anxious to take a hand in the war against the Turks. That day the brigade was joined by the rest of the Anzac Division, and preparations were made for the attack on Amman the next day.
The column moved at 8 a.m. (March 27), the horses having had nothing but green feed. The plan was for the New Zealanders to attack Amman from the south, with their right flank on the railway, while the Camel Brigade attacked from the west, and the 2nd Light Horse from the north. Leaving the road a couple of miles east of Ain Es Sir, the New Zealanders swung to the south-east to enable them to get into position. The A.M.R., with a section of the machine-gun squadron, formed the advanced guard, the 4th squadron being in the van. About two miles and a-half from Amman the Regiment came under shell fire, particularly when crossing the sky line into a wadi which afforded some cover, as it moved east to its appointed position. When about 1, 500 yards page 198from the railway, the Regiment turned north. On the left was the C.M.R., which connected with the Camel Brigade. The W.M.R. was detailed as escort to a demolition party, whose duty it was to destroy the railway in the vicinity of Kissar Station. It was now about noon. As the two regiments moved on Amman, they were accompanied by a ragged and highly excited mob of Bedouins, whose chief, a fine old type, shadowed the Auckland colonel, in the hope of being given a share in the action. Unexpectedly a train came in from the south, and stopped opposite the left flank of the Regiment. Our machine-guns opened on it, and machine-guns on the train replied. A squadron was getting ready to charge it when it steamed on to Amman. The old Arab chief blazed away at it in good style, but he went to earth very quick when a bullet whizzed past his ear.
A little later the Aucklanders witnessed a rare sight. Over the hills east of the railway came charging a party of Arabs, hundreds following on foot. Their quarry was a party of 60 Turks, who had not been quick enough to board the train. The 4th squadron set off to see what was happening, and were just in time to prevent the Arabs from slaughtering the unfortunate Turks. One German had been done to death, however, and most of the Turks had been despoiled of all their clothing. Meanwhile, the Turkish artillery and machine-guns had held up the advance on all sides. The attackers had no guns, and there was no sign of the infantry from Es Salt, which had fallen early that morning. On front of the 3rd squadron was Hill 3039, which was alive with machine-guns. The 11th squadron was sent to the high ground east of the railway to protect the flank, and the 4th squadron came up from page 199the line to support the 3rd. A shell dropped among them, and killed two men and wounded seven others, besides knocking out a number of horses. At 6 p.m. the enemy delivered a strong counter-attack against the right of the Canterbury, and succeeded in gaining the ridge, but almost immediately were driven from it at the bayonet point. No further progress was possible that night, but the line reached was held. The Regiment had 13 casualties for the day. No rations came up that night, and odd biscuits had to suffice. The horses fared much better, the wadis being full of grass.
Next morning a force of 300 Arabs went to the colonel for work. Laughingly he pointed to the hill that had held up the advance, but the old boy declined the honour. He used the very sound argument that all his men would be killed before they could reach the top. A handsome young Arab, who had been interpreting, then asked, "Will Amman be captured?" "Yes," replied the colonel. "What will you do with the Circassians?" continued the Arab. "Leave them alone if they don't trouble us," was the reply. "Won't you allow the Arabs to kill them all," queried the young cut-throat, who, by the way, had been taught the English tongue at St. George's in Jerusalem, and was reputed to be a Christian. Soon after a troop of the Regiment was sent off to investigate a report that Turks were coming from the south, and the Arabs swarmed after them. It was a picture of contrasts—the East and the West! Disciplined soldiers and a mob! The Arabs who remained with the Regiment persisted in walking about the sky line until one of their number was killed by a shell nose-cap striking his head. The rest ran for their lives. Then one came back to page 200the body, shied off like a horse when he saw the hideous wound, and then regaining courage rushed forward, grabbed the dead man's cloak and made off with it. Other Arabs then came up, and bolted like hares with the knives and other belongings of the deceased.