Topic: AIF - 2B - 7 LHR
Bir el Abd
Sinai, 9 August 1916
7th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account
Lieutenant Colonel John Dalzell Richardson produced a unit history published in 1919 called The History of the 7th Light Horse Regiment AIF which included a section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and is extracted below.
Richardson, JD, The History of the 7th Light Horse Regiment AIF, Sydney, 1919, pp. 31 - 33:
Orders were received to move out on the 8th, and hang on the flanks and rear of the slowly retiring enemy. He had now withdrawn to Bir el Abd, being followed up by the Yeomanry, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and 3rd Light Horse Brigade, who were comparatively fresh troops. It was thought that no great opposition would be encountered and permission was given to leave a number of the more exhausted men and animals in camp. Consequently, the Regiment moved out with a total strength of only 214. After a long night march the two brigades (1st. and 2nd.) at dawn on August 9th, were moving among melon patches on the sand dunes to the north-west of Bir El Abd. Suddenly a 5.9 burst close to the centre of the column and others followed. Cover was found under the steep banks of the sand ridges close by, and the Wellingtons were sent forward dismounted, to occupy the high sandhills to the west of, and overlooking Bir El Abd; their advance was quickly checked. A consultation between the Brigadier and Regimental Commanders was held as to the advisability of a dash across the low ground to the north-west of Bir El Abd, but a personal reconnaissance showed this to be strongly held and, the idea was abandoned.
At 11 p.m., orders were received that the regiment would move, dismounted, on the left flank of the Wellingtons, and make a demonstration against the enemy, in which the whole Division would co-operate. The 1st. Light Horse Brigade was on our left. The horses were placed under good cover and a march on foot through the sand was made for about a mile, until the enemy was found occupying a high steep sand ridge running like a whale back into the plain of Bir El Abd, and distant from it about 2,000 yards.
Under our covering fire, which quickly wore down that of the enemy, the Wellingtons advanced and drove him off the ridge with the bayonet-, our advance was then continued. Half the Regiment occupied the captured position with the Wellingtons, who were in close touch. The other half of the Regiment, under Captains Willsallen and Easterbrook (Major Bice had collapsed under the heat and the long march in the sand), pushed down the valley round the north-eastern slope, but were quickly held up, and forced to retire back to the position first advanced from, by heavy enemy fire and a determined counter attack, which also stopped the 1st Light Horse Brigade. Captain Easterbrook was tossed into the air by a heavy shell, and Lieutenant Waddell was badly wounded in the face; Lieutenant Humphries had sustained a severe wound in the hand during the first advance.
Meanwhile, the captured ridge was undergoing a severe bombardment by 5.9's and mountain guns, and a great strain was imposed on the men holding it, lying, as they were, quite in the open, without shelter of any sort. The enemy machine guns and rifles also opened, and his infantry could be seen advancing about 800 yards distant. Our field guns now commenced to fire, and helped to check this advance, but were presently themselves subjected to a searching fire from the 5.9's, which killed many of the gun horses, and later made it difficult for the men to get guns and limbers away. The enemy advance was finally checked about 500 yards from the ridge and an afternoon of great heat wore on under incessant rifle fire, with heavy intermittent shelling. Fortunately, the effect of a 5.9 burst in the sand is very local. In many cases, these shells burst within six feet of men and horses, without doing any damage.
Great difficulty was experienced in getting the wounded away, as owing to the steep ridges, the sand carts could not be brought within a mile of the front line. The horses were brought up closer, and many wounded men were placed upon them and brought out, suffering agony as they went. For gallant work as stretcher bearers,. Troopers McFarland and Gould, later on, received Military Medals and the Serbian Star.
Touch could only be obtained with Brigade Headquarters by dismounted orderly, as the Brigade helio stations were heavily shelled, and found it impossible to carry on.
About 4 p.m. it was decided to make a simultaneous withdrawal from the forward position, in conjunction with the. Wellingtons to ridges about half a mile in rear, where proper touch could be obtained with B.H.Q. and orders received. This was done gradually, the retirement being heavily shelled and the enemy machine guns becoming particularly active. On reaching the first firing line position of the day, the remainder of the Regiment was linked up with; the 6th. Regiment was also found in position there, Orders were then received to retire to a position in rear, and cover the withdrawal of, the field ambulance and the wounded from a hod close by. The horses were mounted under heavy shell fire and the Regiment moved back, the 6th. Regiment covering our withdrawal, and retiring also shortly afterwards. The enemy quickly followed up to the positions vacated but did not attempt any attack on the new line, which was held until all the wounded had been safely taken away.
Abu El Afein, four miles in rear, was the point of concentration given,. and after resting there some hours, further orders were received to retire to Oghratina, as there were indications of an enemy counter attack; Oghratina was reached after mid-night and bivouac was made, all ranks being greatly exhausted. Out casualties for the day were 5 O.R.'s killed, and 3 officers and 14 O.R.'s wounded-marvellously light considering the severity of the fire. To those who endured the shelling on the ridge all that hot afternoon at Bir El Abd, it will always be a memory of great mental and physical strain.
Next morning the Brigade moved to Khirba, eight miles west of Bir El Abd, and patrols were sent out to observe the enemy movements in the vicinity. Turkish ambulance waggons were busy, indicating that the enemy also had suffered severely. It was evident that he was still holding the line in strength. At Khirba, much Turkish grain and stores of various kinds were found, including rolls of dried apricots; without these, the rations for men and horses would have been scanty.
Citation: Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, 7th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account