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"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess

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Wednesday, 9 January 2008
The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Gullett Account
Topic: BatzP - Rafa

The Battle of Rafa

Sinai, 9 January 1917

Gullett Account

 

The following is extracted from the book written by HS Gullett called Sinai and Palestine,  Chapter XV, Rafa. 

 

Rafa

While Magdhaba was being fought by the mounted troops, and during the fortnight which followed, Sir Philip Chetwode took energetic steps to make the occupation of El Arish secure against any counter-stroke which might be attempted by the enemy. Sir Archibald Murray estimated that the enemy might have 50,000 men available for an assault on the head of his column. The British force at El Arish was now in a similar position to that in which the Turks had found themselves when they advanced in July to the Katia oasis. Between El Arish and railhead there was a stretch of thirty miles of heavy sand almost devoid of wells; while now the Turks, if they chose to attack, had a sound watered route to advance over. As the brigades of the 52nd Infantry Division came out of the desert, they at once set to work to ensure the new position with entrenchments.

On the morning of December 22nd ships of the British Navy had appeared off El Arish-a very welcome sight to the light horsemen-and at once began cleaning up the enemy mine-fields. By the morning of the 24th stores were being landed on the beach and on a pier which had been constructed by the Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train. From the beginning of the Sinai campaign, when the pilots of the Royal Naval Air Service, taking flight from their mother ship the B F I ~Aluclirrc in the Mediterranean, had been Murray's only air force, till the termination of Allenby's victorious march to the Taurus Mountains, the British Navy gave material assistance to the troops ashore. Its monitors, which had made possible the feint of a landing at Cyprus, had bombarded the Turks during the Battle of Romani; at El Arish it began to play an invaluable part in the operations by the transport of supplies to the advancing army. From this time on, as the long fighting march was continued, and the land forces, preceded by their mounted troops, entered port after port along the enemy's coast, the soldiers were cheered on the morning following each conquest by the sight of significant grey ships stealing in to greet and ration them from the sea.

Cold winds and rainstorms attended the last week of the year, and the Christmas season was passed by the light horse brigades in active preparation for further operations. The harsh desert life had sharpened the men's appreciation of the simplest luxuries, and the distribution of gifts to them by the representatives of the Australian Comforts Fund had a heartening effect which probably exceeded the fondest hopes of the Australian donors. Some of the regiments had received their "Christmas billies” on the eve of the march to Magdhaba, and the troopers had attached them to their saddles to supplement the limited rations. As they had advanced at the gallop before dismounting for action, many of the billies worked loose, and Christmas puddings, tins of bulli, packets of chocolates, and similar dainties were strewn thickly over the approach to the battle-ground.

On the 27th General Murray, whose visits to the front were not frequent, and who was unknown by sight to most of his men, came to Chetwode's advanced-headquarters at El Arish. After consultation, it was decided to press the advance as rapidly as possible along the coast, and so by indirect pressure compel the Turks to retire from the Sinai highlands. As a preliminary step it was resolved to raid the Turkish force in position at El Magruntein, close to the old Egyptian police post at Rafa. Aeroplane reconnaissance and photographs enabled accurate sketches to be prepared of the enemy's defences; and on the evening of January 8th, Chauvel marched out with the 1st and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigades, Chaytor's New Zealand Brigade, and the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Camel Brigade. Chetwode, who decided to supervise in person the conduct of the fight, moved with the column, and kept the 5th Mounted (Yeomanry) Brigade under his own direct control. This brigade, with Australian officers from the 1st Light Horse Brigade as guides, led the column as far as the native village of Sheikh Zowaiid, which was reached shortly before midnight and swiftly enveloped to prevent the Arabs from warning the Turks at Kafa. The New Zealanders then headed the night advance upon the Turkish position.

Although the light horsemen had already felt, when they reached the Wadi el Arish, that Sinai was behind them, it was on this ride to Rafa, after passing Sheikh Zowaiid, that they really cleared the outskirts of the desert and found themselves upon the pleasant rolling country of southern Palestine. The Negib, or south land, is fertile only by contrast with the harsh uplands of Judea to the north and the sandy wastes of Sinai to the south. Its undulating, treeless surface contains about 1,200 square miles lying roughly between the Wadi Ghuzze and the desert fringe of Sinai. The soil is light, and becomes more fertile towards the north; but, thanks to the phenomenal regularity of the winter rains, it is, so far as its limited capacity permits, one of the most dependable pastoral and agricultural regions in the world. Unfailingly in November the thirsty sun-dried land is refreshed with a downpour sufficient to start the native grasses, and to let the natives proceed with their crude cultivation and the sowing of the early crops. Then for about six weeks the country is blessed with ideally tranquil days of sunshine, and the land is clothed with swiftly-springing crops and pastures and a great glory of delicate wild flowers. About the end of the year, usually in the week of Christmas, the main wet season commences, and heavy rains fall frequently until about the beginning of March. There are diminishing showers during March and April; then comes the dry season, and up till November rain is rarely known.

As Chetwode's force on the evening of the 8th advanced from El Arish to Sheikh Zowaiid, a distance of about fifteen miles, the sky was clear and the air sharp. British and, Australian aeroplanes patrolling to the east had kept enemy aircraft at a distance, so that both the concentration and the march were concealed from the Turks. Chauvel, with Anzac Mounted Division and the Camel Brigade, cleared Sheikh Zowaiid at 1 o'clock in the morning of the 9th to ride the remaining ten miles to Magruntein (which lies about a mile to the south of Rafa) before dawn. Before reaching the scene of operations a considerable Bedouin encampment, believed to be hostile, was rushed by the New Zealanders in accordance with orders, and thirty armed Bedouins were speedily made prisoners without interrupting the progress of the column. The New Zealanders, working wide of Magruntein on the south, were by daylight in position to the east or Palestine side of the Turks. The cordon was swiftly drawn, with the 1st Brigade on the left of the New Zealanders, so as to attack from the east; then the 3rd Light Horse Brigade with the Camels on their left to attack from the east and south, and the 5th Yeomanry Brigade ready to complete the gap between the Camels and the New Zealanders' right.

Dawn had disclosed a new and gracious world to Chauvel's men. When darkness fell on the evening of the 8th, they were still riding over a land of desert sands, a land less harsh to the eye and firmer tinder foot than the desert of Sinai, but still destitute of vegetation. But, as the night wore on, the horses were hungrily reaching for the first green grass they had eaten since leaving the Delta of the Nile; and at daylight the troopers looked round on a rolling expanse of tender pasture splashed with patches of young barley, and sprinkled brilliantly with poppies, anemones, iris, and a wealth of other wild flowers. Jaded as they were after the night in the saddle, all rads were intoxicated with delight, and only vigorous riding prevented the desert-worn walers from halting to graze.

Seldom since long-range weapons came into use has a prospective battleground been disclosed in such clear detail to an attacking force. The enemy occupied a bare, irregular knoll with its slopes running gradually down for about a mile to the level of the surrounding plain on the east, west, south, and to the foot of the coastal sand-dunes on the north. The position had its summit in Hill 25s on the eastern side; to the south-east of that was another knob almost as high, marked by a solitary large tree. Except for this tree, scattered patches of early barley about nine inches high, and the tender winter grasses and mild flowers, the area was naked of vegetation or cover.

As the light became clear, the Turks discovered the long columns of horse and Camels moving rapidly to perfect the envelopment; the confusion which followed confessed their surprise. There was an immediate and disorderly rush of troops to their numerous earthworks, so that the light horsemen had a full view of their preparations for battle. But the discomfiture was not altogether one-sided. From the air-photographs Chauvel had prepared for a strongly defended position more or less in the open. But neither he nor Chetwode had expected a task so discouraging as that now disclosed to them. "When daylight broke," said Chetwode in his subsequent dispatch to Dobell, "the ground was seen to be almost entirely open and devoid of cover, while the immediate neighbourhood of the works was almost a glacis. I confess I thought the task was almost beyond the capacity of dismounted cavalry to carry through."

To the south and east of the position, and between Chauvel's brigades and the enemy, was a large scattered Bedouin encampment, whose people had been engaged in trade with the garrison and also in the cultivation of the surrounding country. These degenerate gipsy children of the great tribes of old would seem to have inherited a consciousness of all the armed hosts which for thousands of years have marched and fought upon their ancient countryside. They were indifferent alike to the sudden coming of strange troops, and to modern weapons and vehicles of war. Men and women at work in the fields would seldom trouble to cease their labours to look at the advance-guard of the British army, breaking for the first time into their district. During the engagement at Rafa some of the men continued to follow their crude ploughs on land between Chauvel's batteries and the Turkish trenches. Possibly, however, this indifference was studied and deliberate, for no sooner had each engagement ceased, than they swarmed like carrion-crows over the battleground.

By 7 o'clock the enemy garrison had been isolated by the cutting of the wires leading to Khan Yunis and Shellal. Twenty minutes later, as the brigades were completing their arrangements, the Royal Horse Artillery and the Hong Kong and Singapore Battery began registering their ranges for the bombardment preliminary to the attack, which was timed for 10 o’clock. The Turkish defences consisted of three groups of earthworks, A, B, and C, and a large strong redoubt on Hill 255, the whole making a rough square with one of its corners to the north.

Most of these earthworks were plainly visible to Chauvel's horsemen, as from their position out on the plain they waited for the order to advance, and the gunners as they opened fire had the rare satisfaction of laying on to their targets over open sights. At 10 o’clock the New Zealanders rode forward from the east, with the works C4 and C5 as their objective. Simultaneously the 1st Light Horse Brigade, also mounted, advanced from the east and south-east and closed towards the works C1, C2, and C3; while the men of the Camel Brigade, obliged as usual to leave their camels further back, marched on foot against the B earthworks from the south.

The 3rd Light Horse Brigade was temporarily held by Chauvel in reserve, nor did Chetwode at once commit the Yeomanry Brigade. A stimulating preliminary success was gained almost immediately by the New Zealanders. Soon after 10 o’clock parties of Turks endeavoured to escape from the main position by the track to Khan Yunis; the Canterbury Regiment with an enthusiastic dash galloped down upon them at the Rafa Police Post, and, continuing its rush, rode over a machine-gun emplacement 300 yards to the west. The Turks, demoralised by the yelling horsemen, surrendered without a fight, and six Germans and two Turkish officers and 163 other ranks were captured. This gallop also gave the Canterburys possession of a line of half-completed enemy works running from Rafa towards the south-east. At the same time the Auckland Regiment pressed in on the left of the Canterburys, while the Wellingtons on the right cleared the sand-hills between the enemy and the sea. The New Zealand Brigade as a whole then began slowly to close on the entrapped garrison. For some time the line steadily made progress against shrapnel, machine-gun, and rifle fire from the vigilant, well-placed enemy.

Very early in the fight the two reserve brigades (3rd Light Horse and Yeomanry) were thrown in, and by 11 o'clock all were engaged. The 1st Light Horse Brigade, on the left of the New Zealanders, was diverted somewhat to the right against works C4 and C5, in their endeavour to keep touch with the New Zealanders. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade advanced against C3 and C4 on the left of the 1st, while the Yeomanry Brigade was ordered to deploy against B1 and B2 on the left of the Camels. As the dismounted attack became general, with the successive waves of riflemen still about 1,000 yards from the enemy trenches, the seriousness of the British task was vividly disclosed. The circle was yet far too wide for contact; each brigade was more or less isolated, with its flanks exposed; and the admirable placing of the enemy posts left most of the British troops open to enfilade fire. For a time the Turks shrewdly withheld their lire, and all the regiments made rapid progress until they came within about half-a-mile of the earthworks. Then the Turks opened vigorously with all arms, and Chauvel's men, still beyond charging distance, were held by a hail of lead which each moment increased in intensity and deadliness. From time to time the horse artillery was advanced at the gallop to fresh positions, while the Indians of the Hong Kong and Singapore Battery gallantly man-handled their guns forward. All day the gunners shot with fine precision at the exposed targets; but, although they harassed the enemy riflemen, the material effect of their light weapons upon the earthworks was insignificant.

The extreme caution displayed at most stages of these dismounted attacks, and the relatively light casualties usually suffered, may be somewhat puzzling to those who have served only with infantry. But the explanation is simple. A light horse line is a slender striking force, and leaders dare not commit it to a decisive charge unless the odds of battle are strongly in its favour. A premature assault against a strongly placed enemy, as at Rafa or Magdhaba, might in a few minutes have ended in the complete destruction of the attacking regiments.

Cox had commenced his advance with the 1st Light Horse Brigade by marching the 1st Regiment under Granville against works C1, C2, and C3. With about 2,000 yards to cross after leaving their horses, the regiments made good headway until the men reached the sunken road about 800 yards east of Cox towards which, as we have seen, they had been drawn in their efforts to keep touch with the New Zealanders on their right. At 11 o'clock the 2nd and 3rd Light Horse Regiments were sent in on either side of the 1st. Cox's sector was particularly exposed, especially on its left, where the 3rd Regiment suffered severely. The three regiments pressed on slowly by troop and squadron rushes, until the 10th Light Horse Regiment of the 3rd Brigade made contact with the 3rd Regiment under Colonel Fulton, when the pace was stimulated, and in places the advance was carried to within 400 yards of the enemy's defences. Between 1 and 2 o'clock the 1st Regiment rushed a small outlying trench, killed several Turks, and took twenty four prisoners. Here Major T. E. W. W. Irwin and thirteen men were wounded and one man was killed. At about the same time the 2nd also overran an enemy post and secured twenty prisoners. But the Turkish redoubts constantly enfiladed the Australians, and soon the 1st Brigade was definitely arrested. Orders were given to dig in, but the men had only their bayonets and the ground was hard, so that this work was slow and the cover gained but slight. For more than three hours the regiments held their positron, with the exception of a slight retirement which Cox decided upon for the 3rd, and which was carried out in perfect order. The strength and confidence of the Turks at this time were shown by their endeavour to exploit what they perhaps took to be the beginning of the general British retirement. As the 3rd Regiment fell back, the Turkish riflemen stood up and opened rapid fire. But they were at once observed, not only by the 1st and 2nd Regiments, but also by the 9th and 10th on the left, and were promptly forced down by the good shooting of riflemen and Lewis gunners.

The experience of the 9th and 10th Regiments of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, and the 1st Battalion of Camels under Langley, was similar to that of the 1st Brigade. Langley led the 1st Battalion under cover of a ridge until he was within 700 yards of the " B " group of defences. The 15th Company (New Zealand), which was that day attached to the 1st Battalion, and was led by Captain J. G. McCallum formed the firing line. Attempting to cross the ridge, McCallum's men were caught by a withering enfilade fire from the " C " works on his right, and McCallum fell mortally wounded. Lieutenant H. A. J. Linford was killed at about this time. Pending developments in the other sectors, Langley was ordered to halt behind the crest, where his battalion was without a target, and for about four hours remained out of action. At 2 o'clock the left flank of the 5th Mounted Brigade joined up with the right of the New Zealanders, and the circle was complete. But it was practically stationary; and, with only a few hours' daylight remaining, the outlook was liked neither by Chetwode, whose headquarters were four and a half miles away, nor by Chauvel, who from an elevated position to the south had a clear view of the operations. General Royston, of the 3rd Brigade, at about this stage impulsively galloped right round the whole position, but saw no such opportunity as he had seized so effectively with the 10th Light Horse at Magdhaba.

At no stage in the advance were the brigades able to establish sustained superiority of fire. When the several regiments were halted, they could, with their rifles and machine-guns, supported by the batteries, keep the enemy fairly quiet; but immediately the pressure was taken off to enable the squadrons to advance in succession, the Turks stood boldly up above their parapets and re-asserted their mastery. Moreover, the munition reserves had been left at Sheikh Zowaiid, ten miles away, and were slow in coming forward. As a consequence the New Zealand Brigade had four machine-guns out of action in the early afternoon; and soon after 3 o'clock the Inverness Battery, which was attached to that brigade, fired its last shell and was sent back to divisional headquarters. Chetwode at no stage contemplated an expensive fight to a finish. The Turks at Rafa numbered only about 2,000, and, even if they were not overthrown, it was practically certain that they would speedily retire further east. The British had all or nearly all their mounted troops engaged, and, with the prospect of an early general advance into southern Palestine, heavy losses among the horsemen could not be afforded at that stage.

The Turks and the assaulting circle therefore settled down at short range to a prolonged duel of small arms. Even lying flat as they were, the British were clearly visible to the enemy on the higher ground. Intensive fire was maintained to keep the Turks off their parapets, and the machine and Lewis gunners, working right forward with little or no cover, ceaselessly skimmed earthworks, and were of incalculable value. Casualties were kept remarkably low, although the heroic stretcher-bearers, moving fearlessly in the open, were a constant target, and two squadron leaders of the 3rd Regiment, Major C. Mills' and Major L. A. Lewis, were wounded as they walked about cheering their lines. Happily the mountain guns of the enemy were compelled to extend their activities all round the menacing circle, and in consequence their fire was never concentrated and seldom accurate. As at Magdhaba, it was a stern fight against the approaching darkness, with Chauvel and Chetwode seeking complete victory at the lowest possible cost. And, as at Magdhaba, Chauvel knew that the capture of one strong earthwork in the enemy system would give him the key to the whole situation. He therefore waited with his usual patience, while his regiments crouched within attacking distance, alert for the opportunity to spring.

General Smith, of the Camel Brigade, recognising that progress was for the time impossible on the sector allotted to him, decided early in the afternoon to extend his line to the left and engage "B" group of works from the south-west. Major Bassett undertook these operations with two companies of the 2nd (British) Battalion. Acting on a suggestion from Langley, Smith then ordered Major H. J. Huddleston, with two companies of the 3rd (Australian) Battalion and one company of the 2nd (British) Battalion, to work round on the west, between Bassett's men and the yeomanry, with a view to an assault with the bayonet against RI, the main redoubt of that system, The movement was promptly effected, and Huddleston, an Imperial officer and a heavy giant of a man, made ready for the charge, while the Hong Kong and Singapore guns, man-handled forward by the Indians under heavy fire, came into action against B1 at a range of only 1,500 yards, and immediately reduced its volume of machine-gun and rifle fire. At almost the same moment the Camels received from Huddleston the preliminary order to " charge on the whistle," the New Zealanders on the other side of the battleground were being pulled together by their officers for a similar charge against the main redoubt on Hill 255.

As at Magdhaba, victory was almost thrown away by a premature order for a general withdrawal. A detachment of the 8th Light Horse Regiment under Lieutenant L. A. W. Macphers0n.l and parties of the Wellingtons had been sent to watch the country to the east and north-east for enemy reinforcements from Khan Yunis and Shellal. Shortly before 4 o'clock a force estimated at two battalions was observed four miles west of Shellal moving from Weli Sheikh Nuran on the rear of the Anzac Mounted Division, and half-an-hour later the patrols towards Khan Yunis reported another body about 500 strong advancing from the north east. These reports were endorsed by the British airmen, who, however, estimated the Turkish reinforcements at 2,500. At that time Chetwode's attacking troops were everywhere at a standstill; his last reserves were committed, and the enemy was coming up rapidly behind Cox's brigade and the New Zealanders. Chetwode, therefore, after discussing the situation with Chauvel by telephone, decided at 4.25 to break off the fight and withdraw. The 5th Mounted Brigade was at once pulled out; and Chetwode accepting failure, mounted his horse and began his ride back to El Arish. At the same time the order to withdraw was issued to the brigades of Anzac Mounted Division.

But the order, although received by some of the brigades, fell on regardless ears, for at that moment both the men of the Camels and the New Zealanders were out in the open with fixed bayonets in a prolonged uphill charge for the Turkish trenches. It is impossible to distinguish between the merit of these two superb advances. Chaytor had received direct intelligence of the approach of the enemy's relief force, and decided in the brief time remaining to bring the struggle to a test with the steel. Redoubt 255, on which the brigade was to march, stood out clearly nearly a mile away from the New Zealand line, on the crest of an absolutely naked grassy slope. All officers recognised that they were engaged in a contest against time; they led their men up the hill at a great pace, but still did not find it easy to keep in advance of the eager troopers. It was a wild tempestuous rush rather than a steady arid precise advance of the kind in which British regular infantry so often excels. As the men went forward, heavy rifle and machine-gun fire was concentrated on the redoubt, until (in the words of the brigade report) it was "smoking like a furnace." But despite the hail of lead the Turks, resisting with fine courage, could be seen standing up to take aim with their rifles. As usual, however, when the Ottoman was flurried, his shooting was poor, and the New Zealand casualties were extremely light. When about 800 yards from the position the line was consolidated. The New Zealanders then charged up the slope in two grand rushes, and leaped yelling at the trenches. The Turks, menaced with the bayonet, made only a feeble resistance before they surrendered. Their casualties had been heavy. The trenches were strewn with dead and wounded, in some places two and three deep. The New Zealand Brigade in the whole day's operations had only seventeen men killed, and nine officers and eighty-four men of other ranks wounded.

While the New Zealanders on the north were sweeping irresistibly up the long rise to 255, Major Huddleston, on the south, closely followed by the impetuous Camels and supported by fire from the machine-guns, was charging in an equally bold fashion up the bare slope leading to the work B4. In the first rush Captain G. A. Smith of the 12th Company (Australian), was killed at the head of his men. The line went on with gathering speed against heavy fire, although, as the Camels closed, the enemy shooting became erratic and ineffective. When 200 yards away Huddleston's men could plainly see the Turks fixing their bayonets; accepting the challenge with a great roar, they rushed at the stronghold. But as they reached the trenches the Turks raised a number of white flags, and a moment later the panting assailants, who were almost too exhausted after their long charge for further effort, were shaking hands with the enemy all along the line. Many times during the campaign there were similar examples of this instinctive incapacity of the Anzacs to sustain their battle-fury for a moment after the fight was won; again and again, when the enemy had taken full advantage of his trenches, and continued shooting until the last possible second, he was spared as soon as he dropped his rifle. With all their zest for battle, the men from the two young Dominions were never bloody killers. Huddleston captured five Turkish officers and 219 unwounded men of other ranks, while his own losses were Captain Smith and nine men killed, and thirty-nine wounded.

The storming of these two earthworks was immediately followed by the collapse of the whole enemy resistance. The New Zealanders pushed on strongly towards other entrenchments, but the Turks in them surrendered; similarly, as Huddleston's men prepared for further advance, the enemy raised white flags. Cox's regiments of the 1st Brigade were quick to appreciate the significance of the determined advance of the New Zealanders. As soon as they were seen in the open, the three light horse regiments rose and dashed forward at the " C " group of earthworks, and the 10th and 9th Regiments on their left, who could see both the New Zealanders and the Camels, joined in the general assault. At the same time the 5th Yeomanry Brigade returned to participate in the closing stages of the struggle. The remaining redoubts were speedily overrun without serious opposition although scattered hursts of rifle fire continued until the fall of darkness. In view of the menace of enemy reinforcements from the east, it was decided immediately to evacuate the battleground, and the main force retired upon Sheikh Zowaiid, where the brigades bivouacked for the night. The field ambulances of Anzac Mounted Division remained on the battleground, covered by two regiments of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel L. C. Maygar, V.C., of the 8th Regiment. The Turkish reinforcements withdrew when they discovered the fall of the position, but early in the morning of the 10th a force of cavalry and camelry made a spirited but fruitless attack upon Maygar's two regiments.

All day the British and Australian airmen hovered over the fight, and for the first time on this front used wireless to direct the fire of the batteries. One of the observers was Lieutenant Ross Smith, who had fought at Romani in the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, and was now mastering the new service in which he was to have so remarkable a career.

The total British casualties at Rafa were 71 killed and 415 wounded. The enemy had 200 killed, and 168 wounded and 1,434 unwounded 'Turks were made prisoner. The trophies included four mountain guns and a number of machine-guns.

Nearly all the British wounded were carried off the battleground during the progress of the fight; sand-carts were provided for their transport, and arrangements for their treatment worked smoothly. On the fall of the position all possible relief was given to the wounded Turks and the ambulance men were active all through the night. At dawn the Bedouins swarmed over the field; an hour later it had been stripped as clean of fighting material as the surrounding country. Uniforms and boots were torn savagely from the dead, and even from any of the Turkish wounded who still remained on the ground; afterwards it was found that even the graves had been opened by the wretched natives in their lust of gain. All through the campaign, British policy pandered foolishly to these degenerate roaming Arabs of western Palestine. Firm punishment for gross offences at the outset would have saved infinite trouble later on and the loss of many good Australian and British lives by murder. But the Foreign Office, entirely ignorant of the quality of these people, insisted that the army leaders should treat them as respectable practising Moslems, kin to the Arabs of the Hejaz and of the same faith as the Moslems of the Indian Empire; and instructions were given that special care must be taken not to offend their susceptibilities. The Bedouins, who were almost entirely without either moral or religious principles of any kind whatever, readily took advantage of the situation. For more than two and a half years they continued to engage with impunity in thieving and more serious crimes against the British forces, and to bring false charges against the men to the sympathetic ears of British staff officers.

At Rafa the 7th Light Car Patrol, a British unit under Lieutenant W. H. P. McKenzie a young New Zealander, came into action for the first time on the front. The patrol, made up of six Ford motor-cars, each carrying a machinegun, pushed boldly forward over the level ground in support of the Yeomanry Brigade, and its mobility and effective shooting gave promise of the remarkable work these units were to play as the campaign moved to the north. The 1st Australian Light Car Patrol was at this time engaged under Captain E. H. James on the western desert, but was afterwards brought to Palestine. The two patrols which in reconnaissance and other operations often advanced considerably ahead of the mounted troops, and constantly engaged in sporting little fights against great odds, became heroes in the eyes of the Australians and New Zealanders. They were in the thick of many open fights, and also served the army in other capacities. After the fall of Rafa, McKenzie removed his guns and assisted in the transport of the wounded; they frequently succoured stranded airmen; later they became the favourite escort of General Allenby in his many advanced and thorough reconnaissances of enemy positions.

 

 

Further Reading:

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917

The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Roll of Honour

The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917, Gullett Account


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Saturday, 8 January 2011 8:12 AM EAST

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