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

Chapter XL. The Last Fight

page 231

Chapter XL. The Last Fight.

The day following the raid, the New Zealand Brigade moved against Amman, and fought its last definite action. At 6 a.m., the brigade moved east along the main road to attack the town from the north in co-operation with an attack from the west by the 2nd Light Horse. At 7.45 a.m., the W.M.R., who were in advance, came under fire from artillery, and from machine-guns and rifles in advanced posts. The country was of a rolling nature, and did not offer much good cover, even for dismounted men. At 10.30, the A.M.R., less the party which had raided the railway, with one section of the Mountain Battery and one section of the machine-gun squadron, was ordered into action on the left of the W.M.R. A double redoubt held the left of this section, and another held the right. Both positions were protected by wire. One squadron was sent forward dismounted to engage these positions. Observing that the ground between these defences and the main road was undefended, the Auckland colonel sent in one squadron to attack the redoubts from the west over this weak spot. This squadron was very soon under heavy machine-gun fire, but the artillery with the Regiment put over a covering fire and enabled the squadron to move forward by short rushes in small sections. One squadron remained in reserve awaiting a chance to go forward mounted, but the cover was of a very indifferent character. At half-past three o'clock this squadron was galloped up and reached the firing line without casualties, but when the men were dismounting, the enemy opened up an enfilade page 232machine-gun fire from the left, and made it necessary for the led horses to be galloped back. Some casualties, both in men and horses, occurred during the movement. The C.M.R., which had been sent in on the right, was now pushing vigorously against a strong post called the stone tower, and the A.M.R. pressed on in conjunction. Resolutely the 4th squadron moved closer and closer to the double redoubt, and when the final charge was imminent, up went the white flags, and 60 Turks surrendered, while others bolted into the Wadi Amman, which ran north and south behind them. Once again the Turk showed that though he could put up a very determined defence, he had no stomach for the steel. The line pressed on, and soon there was not a Turk who had not taken refuge in the wadi up which part of the C.M.R. was now advancing from the south. About this time the stone redoubt had fallen to a bayonet attack by some of the C.M.R.; another part of that regiment had galloped down the road and into the town, where some prisoners were taken. The rest of the C.M.R. then swept through the town to the high ground east of it, taking these defences in the rear. Already the Amman had been invested on the east by the 1st Light Horse, who had made a wide encircling movement from the left, the railway south of the station had been cut, and dispositions made to meet considerable forces moving north, and there was little more to be done than to gather up the prisoners. Once more the mounted troops had moved too quick and too wide for the Turk. The total captures of the brigade were: 1, 734 prisoners, 25 machine-guns, 2 automatic rifles, 1 4.2 howitzer, 2 75 cm. howitzers, 3 75 cm. mountain guns, 3 wireless sets, 298 horses, and a large amount of ammunition and other war material.

page 233

The A.M.R. spent the night in the Wadi Amman. No rations had arrived, but the contents of a garden helped to stave off hunger until the arrival of food the following night.

For distinguished work during the past four days the names of the following were brought under the notice of higher authorities:—Major J. H. Herrold, Captain A. C. M. Finlayson, 2nd Lieutenant H. A. Collins, T.-Sergeant E. P. S. Sweetman, Corporal E. Foote, T.-Corporal A. F. Buckland, and Trooper W. E. Tomkins.

The success of Chaytor's Force at Amman cut off between 8,000 and 10,000 Turks, who were being harassed from the east and south by a large Arab force. North of Amman there was hardly a Turk within 40 miles. The remnants of the enemy armies were in headlong retreat, but there was no hope of escape. Cavalry divisions from the coastal sector had crossed the Jordan ready to prey on the flank of the disorganised force, and better still, Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence's Arab Camel Corps had swooped in from the eastern desert and were co-operating. The delay to the retreat caused by this northern Arab force enabled two cavalry divisions, now south of the Sea of Galilee, to win the race to Damascus.

A few days after the capture of Amman the New Zealanders moved south to support the Light Horsemen, who had found themselves in a Gilbertian situation. The Turkish general had surrendered his whole force to General Chaytor, but the Arab population, now very much anti-Turk, had gathered in great numbers to despoil the Turks. The Turks were so menaced by the Arabs that they did not dare lay down their arms. When the New Zealanders reached the Ziza area, they page 234found that the Australians and Turks had become comrades in arms. In one case the outpost line opposing the Bedouins was held by Turks, with Australians lying in support. It was a rapid change from war to comedy, but from the Turkish point of view the Arabs were too close and too eager for loot to permit the comedy to be thoroughly appreciated. However, the arrival of the brigade ensured the safety of the Turks, who then changed their role from that of brothers in arms to that of prisoners of war.

A very amusing incident occurred at this period. After a busy day in collecting and despatching prisoners, the A.M.R. was resting in bivouac. During the evening, one solitary Turk, who had missed the round up, came in to give himself up. He went to a group of troopers, but they did not want to be bothered with another prisoner, so they refused to have anything to do with him. The unfortunate Turk toddled on to another group, but they also spurned him. Eventually the officers of the Regiment saw him, and they conceived the notion of directing him to brigade headquarters, which, of course, was a very naughty thing to do, but it had been a long war, and they were very keen to give the brigade a chance to make a capture. So the poor Turk, no doubt feeling like Mahomet's coffin, went over to brigade headquarters, and joy of joy, the "spare parts" there employed took the bait. They took it whole. They made the capture, but, it is said, they could not understand the sound of boisterous mirth which came down the wind. The Turk, probably, is still wondering over the extraordinary conduct of this Regiment of "St. George's Cavalry."