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

Chapter XLI. The Remaining Enemy—Malaria

page 235

Chapter XLI. The Remaining Enemy—Malaria.

The human enemy had been conquered, and one might have expected that the horsemen, who had served their country so well, would have ridden with the proud dignity of conquerors, but, alas! there was still one malevolent enemy which could not be laid low. It was malaria fever. The infection had been brought from the Jordan Valley, and after the excitement of the fighting on the high country had subsided, the men went down by the score. The havoc it wrought in those regiments of strong men was pathetic. On October 2, the day before the column left Amman for the Valley by the well-known track through the Wadi Sir and the Wadi Jeraia, 24 officers and men went down with malaria; from Nimrin, two days later, 76 were evacuated to hospital, at Jericho the next day 58 were fighting with death. The sight of the Regiment on the march—the regiment which had carried itself so gallantly through years of grim war—was tragic. Men, suddenly overcome, stuck to their saddles as long as they could, and then drew out from the column, and were helped into a shady place to await the ambulance men, whose devotion to the sick put the crown on a splendid record. Other men managed to hold out longer, but they swayed in their saddles as the column moved on. By the time Jericho was reached there were hardly enough men left to lead all the riderless horses. By the end of the month, no less than 11 officers and 331 other ranks had gone to hospital. By then only Lieutenant-Colonel McCarroll and Captain W. W. Averill, the adjutant, page 236of all members of the Regiment, had escaped the fever. With a very large number of reinforcements, the New Zealanders continued on to Jerusalem, and after spending a few days there moved on to their old camping place at Richon-le-Zion, via Latron and Ramleh. Following is a list of those who were awarded decorations in connection with the recent operations:—Major J. H. Herrold (11th squadron), D.S.O.; Captain A. C. M. Finlayson (4th squadron), M.C.; Lieutenant H. A. Collins (3rd squadron), M.C.; Corporal E. Foote (4th squadron), Corporal E. P. S. Sweetman (4th squadron), Lance-Corporal A. F. Buckland (11th squadron), and Trooper W. E. Tomkins (11th squadron), M.Ms.

Training was resumed by the New Zealanders, but few there were who took it seriously, for cavalry and armoured cars were pressing on to Aleppo, and everyone knew that the end was near. It came on October 31, when Turkey was granted an armistice, the terms of which meant practically unconditional surrender. The first article of the terms gave infinite satisfaction to the Gallipoli veterans. It stipulated that the Dardanelles and Bosphorus were to be occupied by the Allies. So, after many days, the Gallipoli failure was vindicated.

A couple of days later the New Zealanders attended a function arranged by the Jews of Richon to celebrate the victory and the declaration of the British Government that Palestine would be given to the Jewish nation. The delight of the people, who had suffered the cruel tyranny of the Infidel, was unbounded, and the festivities will never be forgotten by the representatives of "the youngest people in the world."

page 237

So began a delirious fortnight. First came the Austrian, and then the German armistice. The scene on the night when the guns ceased on the French front was wonderful. Coloured lights lit the town, and singing and cheering filled the air. The veterans of the campaigns frolicked like youngsters. The A.M.R. officers decided to raid the W.M.R. mess, but no one was at home, for the W.M.R. and the C.M.R. officers had already left to raid the A.M.R. When the Aucklanders returned they were "arrested," and compelled to sing songs and supply all the refreshments. Afterwards the treasurer of the mess declared that the visitors seemed to have had nothing to refresh them for years.

On November 14, the anniversary of the battle of Ayun Kara, the Jewish population formally took over the care of the New Zealand cemetery. The New Zealand Brigade was represented by 50 officers and 150 men, with a firing party. The president of the community gave an impressive address, to which Brigadier-General Meldrum replied. The Rev. Mr. Wilson read a portion of the burial service, and the firing party fired three volleys. Hymns were then sung. Later the bodies of all New Zealanders buried in the neighbourhood were exhumed and interred in this cemetery.

The Regiment remained at Richon until December 18. Some training was done, but the really serious activities related to sport. At first small athletic meetings and rifle "shoots "—yes! the veterans actually were interested in shooting at targets—were the diversions, but these soon gave place to horse racing. The meetings increasing in size and importance until those responsible were page 238giving large prizes, and men were gathering from everywhere to attend and to put their piastres on the "machine." At the Divisional Meeting there was an attendance of about 10,000 men. Among the horses, who had been campaigning for so long, some remarkable racers and steeplechasers were "discovered"—but the "discoveries" were kept dark by the regiments concerned for the confounding of rival units.

From Richon the A.M.R. moved to Rafa, where the men "went to school." An educational scheme was started, and it was typical of the force that the chief "dominie" was found in the ranks, in the person of Trooper J. Robertson, a school inspector in civil life, who had taught not a few of his comrades in bygone days. Trooper Robertson became Major Robertson in a single day—a unique instance of rapid promotion—and under his direction the brigade imbibed knowledge. It was a novel sight to see the classes sitting in groups on the sand in front of black-boards.