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

Chapter XXXVII. Trials of the Valley

page 218

Chapter XXXVII. Trials of the Valley.

Several days of rest were spent at the old "bivvie" ground. They were spent rather than enjoyed, for the steamy heat of summer was now upon the land. The flies were in myriads and the mosquitoes were on an energetic offensive. Odd parties, more or less listless, wandered about with Old Testaments and guide books, and marvelled over the ease with which Joshua made his conquests. Others tried the simple art of floating in the Dead Sea, and ruminated in a lethargic sort of a way at the presence of a naval section with a motor-boat or two on the salt waters. But the thermometer registered anything up to 110 degrees in the shade, and hence it was not surprising that most of the men were inclined to take everything for granted.

Finally, the New Zealanders were moved to a camping ground up in the western hills near Talat Ed Dumm. "Funny sort of place to live," said one trooper. "There's not enough flat ground to play marbles." "Who the devil wants to play marbles," growled his mate, who, it may be inferred, had had enough of the valley.

At the end of May, the brigade shifted to El Khudr, near Bethlehem. There was a difference of 2,000 feet in the altitude, and the change in temperature had a marked effect upon the general health. The country looked a paradise after the desolate valley and the inhospitable hills. The grape vines were green, the barley crops were ripening, and fruit hung upon the trees. It was page 219Palestine at its best. Leave parties were now going to the rest camp at Port Said, and the campaigners for the time-being forgot the trials of the Jordan.

Towards the middle of June the New Zealanders returned to the Jordan valley for a stretch of patrol duty, the A.M.R. being bivouacked at Wadi Abeid.

Mosquitoes, scorpions, and snakes seemed to increase with the summer, which dragged wearily on. "Jacko" sometimes raised sufficient energy to throw over a few shells, and the British gunners, more through politeness than anything else, threw a few back—at least so it seemed to the men on the horse lines or in the trenches facing north. Fortunately for the well-being of higher officers, a lively paper-war was proceeding over small matters that could affect the winning of the war, but for the rank and file there was little mental stimulus, and that is a sad state of things to happen in the Jordan valley when summer heat saps the system. True the Regiment had to find daily a working party for trench defences—but digging is not a mental stimulus when the shade temperature is 110 degrees and the air seems devoid of oxygen.

At the beginning of July, the A.M.R. took over a sector from the W.M.R., the new bivouac being at Ain Ed Duk beside "the best spring in Palestine." Here shower baths were erected, and they provided the one comfort of the stifling days. About the middle of the month the enemy restored some interest to life by attacking a salient held by Light Horse on the right of the A.M.R. A force of Germans attacked one side of the salient and page 220got possession of sufficient trench to isolate those at the point of it. Turks attempted to attack the other flank of the salient and the line held by the A.M.R., but artillery fire kept them well back. A vigorous counter-attack by Australians closed the gap the Germans had made, and 400 were captured. The Hun prisoners were highly wroth against the Turks for letting them down, and did not hesitate to say so to their captors. During the day the W.M.R. went out after a party of 100 Turks, and captured 60. They were nearly mad with thirst, and no wonder, for the shade temperature that day was 115 degrees. What it was in the sun can be conjectured from the fact that rocks were too hot to touch. The object of the enemy attack was to gain possession of the fine stream behind the British lines. Prisoners stated that they had suffered greatly from a shortage of water, and that they had been promised plenty if they took the position. They certainly found a plentiful supply of water, but in a prison camp.

A few days later the New Zealanders were relieved, and they moved back to Talat Ed Dumm, and thence after a week to Bethlehem and cooler air. During the month the Regiment had evacuated to hospital four officers and 166 other ranks, the majority of them being malaria cases. This was the general experience of all units in the torrid valley, and it emphasised the importance of the efforts to combat the mosquito by "canalising" the creeks and dealing with still water where the insects bred. Three weeks were pleasantly spent. Regimental and brigade sports were held, and a great deal of sight-seeing took place. On August 16, page 221the brigade left on the return journey to the "melting pot" of Jericho. What was said about the Jordan Valley when the column descended into its heat cannot here be stated. The Regiment camped near Jericho, and found guards and mosquito-squashing parties, and did some training. Yes! It was a very unpopular valley.

The month's hospital list had 109 names. The following were mentioned in despatches by General Sir E. H. H. Allenby for distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty:—Captain W. Haeata, 3rd squadron; Lieutenant S. L. Wright, attached to Brigade Transport; and Lance-Corporal W. H. Jefcoate, 3rd squadron.