Topic: AIF - 3B - 3 LHFA
The Battle of Rafa
Sinai, 9 January 1917
Macdonald-Stuart, 3rd LHFA, AIF, Unit History, Account
Transporting wound at Rafa, January 1917
In 1919, G. E. Macdonald-Stuart along with R. M. Downes and F. A. Maguire, published a history of the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, AIF during the Great War called: 3rd Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance from Formation to March 1919. The book included a chapter on the work performed by the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, AIF during the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917 which are extracted below.
Macdonald-Stuart, G. E., 3rd Australian Light Horse Field Ambulance from Formation to March 1919, (Unpublished MSS 1919), Rafa January 1917 pp. 33 - 35:
Prior to the RAFA fight the Mobile Section of the Unit was encamped at MASAID. On January 8th. 1917 the Brigade moved out and assembled on the beach at a point approximately one and a half miles East of the WADI EL ARISH which place was the rendezvous for all the troops engaged in the attack on RAFA. Here the horses were off saddled and fed and orders waited for.
At 1630 we were ready to move but instead of the ambulance proceeding with the Brigade, as had been the case in all previous operations until the advance on Damascus, all the different ambulances engaged concentrated and moved off together. With the exception of the regulation 10 minutes in every hour halt only one halt was made throughout the night and this was at midnight when rations were issued. This night ride of about 30 miles was uneventful.
By the way the party that proceeded to RAFA was composed roughly as follows:- Officers, Lt. Col. FRASER, CO., Major WHITE, Capts. EVANS & BASSETT, about 20 mounted bearers, 8 sand carts (6 horses constituting the team with one exception and this had only 4), 3 sledges, 15 sitting and 10 lying cacolets also ? burden camels carrying equipment and water.
At daybreak, January 9th., as the C.O. was not in touch with the Brigade and their whereabouts was uncertain two bearers (Ptes. DREW & REDROBE) were despatched to scout the country. They went away at a gallop and after covering a couple of miles came across a small body of the I.C.C. Bde., the O.C. of this party informed them that the position of the 3rd. Bde. was to the right of the I.C.C. Bde. Pushing on in a canter for about a mile they encountered a gentle rise and drew their horses up to a walk. On reaching the summit of the slope a turban suddenly appeared and the first idea that entered the heads of the bearers was that it was being worn by a C.T.C. native. In order, however to make sure of this, they went towards the object and when about 150 yards away from it the turban suddenly rose from the ground. It revealed beneath it the uniform of the enemy and simultaneously a second man appeared on the scene. The bearers, being without anus, noticing the surprised look on the faces of the Turks, called on them in Arabic to come out. When about 30 yards away a third, carrying a rifle, appeared and the other two stooped to pick up theirs. Like a flash REDROBE pulled out his jack knife and pointed it like a revolver and both galloped straight at the Turks at the same time making signs for them to hold their hands up. This they did and after driving them back a little an investigation of the position was made. It proved to be an entrenched outpost consisting of three men with rifles and plenty of ammunition. These prisoners were sent back and picked up by the rear guard.
About one and a half hours after daybreak the ambulance came up to the Brigade. Approx. 4 miles from the Turkish position Major WHITE was left to form a collection station. Just as the camels were unloaded, tents pitched and some stimulants (tea and Bovril) made, orders were received to advance another mile and re-establish. By midday the action was well advanced and the wounded commenced to arrive at the collecting station where the wounds were redressed. After this was done the patients were evacuated to SHEIK ZOWAID, a distance of about 10 miles.
Throughout the day the sand carts were kept very busy making trips to various parts of the field and often coming under very heavy rifle and machine gun fire. As at MAGDHABA the unit was extremely fortunate that no casualties happened among its personnel at RAFA.
To illustrate our good fortune the following incident is worthy of notice. Word was received that several wounded were in a certain position. One of our carts was sent to bring them in and the trip was made without a casualty. At the same time a cart from the 1st. L.H.F.Amb. went over exactly the same course and on the journey three men received serious wounds.
Just about the time that the Turks threw down their arms the Staff Captain rode up and asked Capt. EVANS how many wounded he had left with him and how long it would take to get them back to safety. His reply was that there were about 80 wounded and not a single sand cart available to transport them back.
It might be said here that all our carts were either conveying wounded to the collecting station established by Major White or working from there back to SHEIK ZOWAID. Lack of transport has always been a difficulty and with mounted troops it is almost an impossibility to overcome it. Usually they operate over such a large area and the wounded have naturally to be carried a very great distance with the result that the transport is always sorely overtaxed when casualties are at all heavy.
The Staff Captain explained that large numbers of reinforcements were advancing to the assistance of the enemy, both from SHELLAL and KHAN YUNIS, and that it would be necessary for us to get out within two hours. Shortly after Brigadier General ROYSTON also came along and pointed out the necessity for us to make a speedy evacuation. Owing, however as stated before to lack of transport this was impossible. Moreover there were still wounded to be collected from the field consequently as soon as they were available small parties were despatched to various parts of the scene of battle and a systematic search made for wounded. This proved a difficult matter as a pitch dark night had set in.
About midnight the job was completed and the last sand cart conveying wounded arrived at Major WHITENS station. At this time there were about 150 wounded there and all had to be transported to SHEIK ZOWAID.
At 0100, the morning of the 10th., Lt. Col. FRASER with 8 men pushed on to SHEIK ZOWAID in order to make arrangements for the reception of these wounded. A very trying night was spent at the Collecting Station as it was no easy matter to obtain transport for all the wounded and the fact that reinforcements for the Turks might come up any minute did not tend to add pleasure to the proceedings. However, what with sand carts, sledges and camel cacolets all were eventually got away without mishap.
The whole stunt, from leaving MASAID until our return there was most trying and strenuous both for man and horse. Some of the personnel were without sleep for periods up to 66 hours and a considerable portion of this time was spent in the saddle. One team alone covered a distance of over 100 miles in 56 hours and most of this was through sandy desert country. The unit were very fortunate in that no casualties occurred among the personnel, one horse only being hit. As was the case in almost all the other stunts of this type the health of the troops was excellent and very few were evacuated through illness.
It was not until mid-night on the 10th. that the last of the unit again reached our bivouac site at MASAID.