Topic: AIF - Cars
1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF
THE DEAD SEA
This is a transcription from a manuscript submitted by Captain E.H. James called "The Motor Patrol". It is lodged in the AWM as AWM 224 MSS 209. This is Part 2.
THE DEAD SEA - Part 1
Towards the end of June the Light Car patrol received instructions to patrol the River Jordan from Hajla and Henu to the mouth, where he River enters the Dead Sea. The orders were to patrol twine daily (at dawn and in the evening before dark) and to report the result to divisional Headquarters. On either bank of the river there were clay foothills over which we soon made motor tracks. These hills commanded a good view of the surrounding country for about 10 miles and by the aid of field glasses any movement could quickly be seen. The river was nominally the dividing line between the two forces but actually the British hold both banks for most of the distance. This patrolling of the River banks meant that the unit spent a considerable amount of time travelling backwards and forwards from the camp north of Jericho to the Dead Sea which was the starting point of the line to be patrolled and in order to reduce this dead mileage we applied to have our camp moved down towards our starting point. This request was granted by Headquarters and accordingly on 12th July we were transferred to Rujm-of-Bahr on the coast and generally known as the Dead Sea Post. This new move was a very welcome one to all members of the unit. It meant that we got away from the choking and blinding suet encountered wherever bodies of horsemen were moving (end this was practically all the time near a Light Horse camp) but whet was far more welcome was the fact that we were near the water and bathing could be indulged in. We built our bivvies right alongside the water and in the morning rolled out of the blankets into the sea for our swim. The Dead yea would be a good place for non swimmers, as it would be practically impossible to drown. The buoyancy of the water is such that a person may stand in deep water and hold his arms up out of the water and the water will not rise over his neck. A swimmer used to fresher water however, will notice that it is vary difficult to get speed up. This is probably because of the density of the water and of the difficulty of keeping the feet down as they have a tendency to rise to the surface all the time. One of the chief amusements of the Place was to encourage visitors to dive into the water head first. The water was intensely bitter and if any of it went up the nose or got into the mouth the victim would probably cough and splutter for half an hour or until no managed to wash out his throat with fresh water again. If the water got into the eyes it would sting very severely for quite a while. A peculiar effect of a dive into the water was the speed with which the diver shot up out of the water again and sometimes if a parson dived straight down he shot out feet first again.
The Dead Sea Post was an ideal spot from many points of view for our camp. There was a workshop there and a forge which were extremely useful to us. One of the first things we did after being stationed there, was to remove the wheels from our cars and leave them overnight or as long as possible soaking in the Sea. Our wheels were only wooden ones (as the pressed steel wheels were not available at that time) and we had experienced considerable difficulty in keeping wheels tight owing to the extreme heat and in some cases we had narrow escapes from wheels practically collapsing altogether. The result of the soaking was to swell the wood making the spokes and felloes tight. This was not merely a temporary remedy because the brine soaked right into the wood and although the wood appeared perfectly dry in the day time, in the night air the salt would always get damp again causing the joints to swell.
There was stationed quite a fleet of motor boats at our post. They included a couple of fast six cylinder "Wolseley" speed launches each fitted with a Vickers gun. There were also some ships boats with outboard motors and later on two large Thornycroft twin screw gun boats each fitted with a three pounder were transported overland by tractors and launched near our camp. These boats greatly appealed to the men of our unit who were nearly all good mechanics and expert machine gunners and on many expeditions across the water the Dead Sea fleet was manned by the members of the Light Car Patrol who became known as the "Amphibians". Quite a lot of work was done by these boats after dark as we would then run our "agents" across the sea, land them in enemy Territory and pick them up at prearranged spots after they had completed their mission. On certain nights the boats would cruise along the enemy coast keeping watch for lights as if one of our men wished to be picked up he would light a fire under a cliff or overhanging ground so that the light would not show inland. The boat would then move quietly in towards the light and pick him up. Great caution of course had to be exercised as there was always the risk of treachery but this was never experienced. One of the agents, an old native, who appeared to be well trusted by Headquarters, had made many trips backwards and forwards and seemed to bring back a lot of information. This old chap was generally very regular in keeping his appointments with the boat, but one night he did not turn up and after the third night of cruising he was given up for lost by the crew. But about a week later the lookout reported a light some miles south of the usual position. A boat was sent down and after carefully cruising towards the light they discovered the old chap nearly dead, lying on the beach alongside a fire which he had lighted. He was carried on board and given some food and water after which he seemed to revive. He had been badly wounded in the foot and he was taken across as soon as possible to be attended to. There was a large hole in his foot where a bullet had gone through it and it was expected that the leg would probably have to be amputated. It appeared that the old fellow had been seen by some of the Turkish sentries as he was passing through their lines and they had fired at him, one shot getting him in the foot.
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Further Reading:The Australian Light Horse - Structure
Citation: 1st Australian Armoured Car Section - The Dead Sea - Part 1