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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, Powles, NZMRB Unit History, Account
Topic: AIF - NZMRB

The Battle of Rafa

Sinai, 9 January 1917

Powles, NZMRB Unit History, Account

 

Searching for the wounded on the Rafa battlefield, 9 January 1917

[Powles, p. 80.]

 

In 1922, C. G. Powles published a history of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade during the Great War called: The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine. The book included a chapter on the work performed by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade during the Battle of Rafa, Sinai, 9 January 1917 which are extracted below.

 

Powles, C. G., The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, (Auckland 1922), Chapter III - The New Zealanders in Sinai, pp. 64 - 81:

 

The 1st Light Horse Brigade made a great reconnaissance to the next village, Sheikh Zowaiid, about half-way to Rafa (and therefore to the Turkish border), and brought back stories of great rolling plains; of grass land and of crops just coming through the ground; and of a great lake of water (though they omitted to say it was brackish); and of the village of Sheikh Zowaiid itself with its stone walls and Turkish oil engines and pumps. And the Brigadier exhibited proudly a dozen healthy young hens “all laying” which he had purchased from the Sheikh.

These same hens became well known throughout the Anzac Mounted Division. If one ever wanted to find Brigade Headquarters one looked out for the chicken coops which on the move were carried on a camel; or if one were out riding since early dawn and feeling very hungry directed one’s steps to Brigade Headquarters— here was always ready a hearty Australian welcome and a good breakfast with bacon and “eggs.” Charlie Cox's chickens became proverbial!

Meanwhile many and anxious were the eyes directed upon the railway line as it crept up to El Arish. The great question of the day—a question which caused as much speculation as the Melbourne Cup —was “would it cross the wadi?" The construction engineers were plagued with questions—but knew nothing. Their instructions were to build to El Arish. Then a rumour went around that a shipload of railway material had just arrived at Kantara, in fact a man coming back from leave said he had seen two of them (and is it not wonderful how one always heard first of what was going to happen at the “Front,” from the “Back”?). Then one joyful day, a patrol was ordered as escort to the surveying engineer, our good friend Hay——who went away across the wadi; and we said, looking into each other's eyes, “It seems too good to be true, we are for the Promised Land after all!”

A diversion came and put an end to all these debates for a while. News had come in from many sources that there was a strong post of the enemy at Rafa, the last village of Sinai and which is situated on the Old Road where it crosses the Turco-Egyptian Boundary Line.

Intelligence reports showed some 2000 or 3000 men with guns strongly entrenched just out of Rafa, and from good aeroplane photographs capital plans were drawn of the enemy position showing every trench.

The position appeared to be on paper very formidable. There was a central “keep” on a hill called El Magruntein and spreading out fanwise towards the south-east, south and southwest was a system of redoubts connected by trenches.

The position looked one of “all-round defence” with its weaker side to the north-east, or on what would be, to a force advancing from El Arish, the farther side or rear of the position.

The Division received orders to move on the evening of the 8th January, 1917, to attack the enemy at Rafa at dawn next day. This time the Division was to be accompanied by the Camel Brigade (with its Hong Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery) and by the 5th Brigade Yeomanry, with a battery of the Honourable Artillery Company (18-pounders.). The whole force was to be under the command of Sir P. Chetwode.

It is necessary to lay some stress upon the difficulties of the undertaking, because the famous cavalry raids of history offer no real standard of comparison.

In the European wars of 1865 and of 1870, cavalry actions did not take place at any great distance from their base and even then there was food and water in plenty in the country. Again in America the great raids of Jeb Stuart and of Morgan were undertaken through country upon which the raiders could live. Our mounted troops (the cavalry of the Great War) on the other hand, have made their raids in the desert, where all supplies even so far as water for the horses had to be carried with the column. Our mounted troops carried out their raids in a country where, if a man fell out of the column and wandered alone, he perished miserably; where, if a water bottle by mischance were overturned or leaked, there was no water for the owner for perhaps another twenty-four hours; and this under a burning sun by day and bitter cold by night, in which he became soaked to the skin with the dew; and man cannot march and fight for more than a very limited time without food and drink.

Then, again, the task set our mounted troops in these raids must be considered. To attack and overcome a stubborn enemy strongly entrenched with both field and machine guns, is at all times a difficult task. How much more so when the attacking force has a few paltry 18-pounders behind them, however well served these be. Yet these difficulties were again and again gloriously overcome by these young soldiers from the Southern Seas. It was a job that required dash and determination, combined with an infinity of painstaking forethought. The last round of ammunition, the last pound of “bully” and biscuits, and the last pint of water had to be worked out. When supplies could not be carried by the men they had to be carried to him and delivered at the very moment when wanted.

Yet all this was done. Men who had hunted and farmed fought as veteran soldiers, full of dash and determination and cunning; and he who had carried on a business or wielded a pen took his place and supplied and fed men and horses as never had been done before, or could have been done, even by the justly famed A.S.C. in the British Army itself.

Late in the afternoon the column assembled on the plain on the east side of the wadi over against El Arish. The wadi was “in spate” and the men and horses much enjoyed fording the River of Egypt _ splashing through the water on the shingle was so like New Zealand. With a thirty-mile ride to be considered it was decided that an assembly at dusk (as was the custom) would not give time: so the observation and perhaps bombing of enemy aeroplanes was risked and the column was actually in motion before the sun went down.

The first part of the way lay over very heavy sand-dunes, which tried the double-gun teams and ammunition wagon teams to the utmost; and it was some miles before the Old Road in its defined form appeared, and then the column took to that great shallow trough worked down by the feet of countless generations. The guns and ammunition wagons were given the hardened centre and the horsemen rode on each side.

Let us stop and watch them go by in the moonlight. The great wonder of the desert is its silence-all sound is swallowed up—and so in silence they go by, each troop riding in line with its troop leader in front. Over the swelling sand hills they come, line upon line-noiseless they go—no song, no laughter, no talking, not a light to be seen; no sound but the snort of a horse as be blows the dust from his nostrils; or the click of two stirrup irons touching as two riders close in together; or the jingle of the links of the pack horses; or perhaps a neck-chain rattling on the pommel. No other sound is heard unless one be very close, then there is a low swish swish as the sand spurts out in front of a horse's foot slithering on from step to step. All are intent upon the work in hand; all with faces turned to the Promised Land.

Here come the Light Horse, with their Emu plumes waving —here the quiet grim New Zealanders—here Yeomanry in helmets from many countries—and on the road itself go by the guns with their Scotch and English crews—and away out on the flank stretching out mile after mile into the black darkness of night come the camels, riding in sections four abreast.

There are Australians among them and Yeomen from the British Isles and our own New Zealanders, and following them a band of tall, silent, swarthy Sikhs on huge Indian camels. These are the Hong Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery, who so ably serve the Camel Brigade. And lastly, far behind, softly and slowly and calmly, come long streams of laden camels led by Egyptians bare-footed in the sand.

Very good progress was made to Sheikh Zowaiid which the head of the column, reached about 10 o’clock, and the whole force closed up and rested till 1 a.m. on the 9th, the men dismounting and going to sleep with their bridles on their arms; but to the unbounded surprise of everyone the good steeds instead of standing as usual as quiet and steady as statues and dozing also, immediately got their heads down and began cropping. Delighted investigations showed a halt had been made on cultivated land—with the crop showing about six inches—light sandy soil certainly, but soil it was. Though this caused a loss of much useful sleep, yet the pleasure shown by the horses more than made up for it, and many a man gave up entirely any thought of sleep and helped his horse to a “real green feed.”

At 1 a.m. on the 9th the column continued its march, with the Yeomanry following the “Old Road” direct on Rafa, and the Anzac Mounted Division bearing away to the east to get into position to attack from the south, east and north. By the Column Commander ‘s orders all wheels except the guns were to be left at Sheikh Zowaiid. This was done under protest by all Brigadiers as it meant leaving all reserve ammunition behind

About half a mile after leaving Sheikh Zowaiid an enemy Bedouin Camel Patrol was captured-—luckily not a man got away. At half past three the flank guard of the 3rd L.H. Brigade ran into a Turkish post and captured two Turks, but not before they had fired a flare. But this was not answered from anywhere and was possibly not seen.

It was known that there were a great number of Bedouins in this district and aeroplane photos had shown a very large encampment at Karm Ibn Musleh—close on to the Border—so the N.Z. Brigade was sent forward on a special duty to round up these Arabs. This was successfully done at daylight, but not before the warning Arab “lu-lu-ing” had gone Wailing over the downs—a most eerie sound in the half light. Immediately daylight came the nearest camp sent up a smoke signal and this was answered from camp to camp.

At six o’clock the Auckland Regiment in the advance reached the Boundary Line between Egypt and Turkey; and having halted his regiment the old Colonel rode forward alone, past the Boundary Pillar, and taking off his hat, there thanked Almighty God that he had at last been permitted to enter the Holy Land (and was the first New Zealander to do so!) and came back smiling—and the sun rose and we were out of Egypt. And for the rest of the day the battle was fought just round about here—in two countries at once— in Palestine and Egypt; one might almost say in two continents—in Asia and Africa; for the Boundary Line between Turkey and Egypt ran its pillared course to the Gulf of Akaba about one mile from the great Redoubt on El Magruntein.

The battle of Rafa took the same course as that of Maghdaba—the long night approach the contact at dawn, the closing in during the forenoon, the determined attack in the afternoon and the surrender at dusk.

But here the task was greater. At Maghdaba the enemy's strength lay largely in his invisibility—-the flat ground and well-sited trenches took hours to find. Here the strength lay not in the flatness of the position, but in its rising ground with its central “keep” on El Magruntein, a conical grassy sloped hill some 200 feet above the surrounding country. Clear for 2000 yards or more all round this position lay a beautiful turf land, slightly rolling, with a background of the great dunes stretching right along the coast in a strip of a half mile to three miles in width — away up to Jaffa. The edges of these sand hills were about a thousand yards from the centre of the Turkish position on its western side.

As the sun came up the enemy lines could be seen with the central keep dominating the whole—providing many tiers of fire to back up the well planned redoubts and lines of tenches. These were laid out by the German Engineer and dugby the Turk—a combination of best field engineer and best “digger” in the world. But forethought and good leading led the attack eventually on to the one place vulnerable.

At a quarter past six the Division was placed as follows:

Divisional Headquarters, 1st and 3rd L.H. Brigades anc the Artillery just south of Karm Ibn Musleh. The N.Z. Brigade was about one and a quarter miles North at Point 350, close to the "i" in Shok El Sufi; and the Camels three-quarters of a mile west of Karm Ibn Musleh. The Divisional Commander and Brigadiers spent a little time in studying the position while the aeroplanes were making their observations. These soon reported that they had been fired upon from all trenches. The airmen, however, performed perhaps their most useful work at a distance from the actual battlefield. They kept the movements of the enemy forces under- observation giving timely news of the advance of the relieving columns from Shellal or Khan Yunus.

Shortly after 8 o’clock orders were issued for the attack; the New Zealanders were to attack from the east—taking the group of trenches C4 and C5; and the Brigadier was to make provision for the safety - of his own right flank (and rear) which extended to the sea.

The 1st L.H. Brigade was ordered to attack C3, C2 and Cl and when these objectives had been carried both brigades were to rally and attack the central redoubt. The Camels were ordered to attack D Group and the 3rd L.H. Brigade to remain in reserve.

In the meantime a New Zealand patrol had reached to the north of Rafa and cut the telegraph line.

The brigades were soon in motion towards their several objectives and the New Zealanders had some four miles further north to go in order to attack from the east. It was a sight to hearten even a conscientious objector to see those magnificent men and horses moving over the close turfed open downs in “Artillery formation” with the Brigade Headquarters in the lead.

At 10 o’clock the attack began with the Aucklanders leading—supported by two machine guns. The Canterbury Regiment was ordered to prolong the Auckland right and in doing so advanced upon and captured Rafa, intercepting some camels which were seen retiring from the El Magruntein position. Six Germans, 2 Turkish Officers, 16 other ranks and 21 Bedouins together with camels, horses and mules were taken with a line of half completed works running from Rafa to the south east. In Rafa itself were a few huts, the Police Barracks and the Police Post on the Main Road.

In getting into a position well forward and where the led horses could be left, the Auckland Regiment galloped over some out-lying trenches, and two German Officers and some 20 Turks were captured. Two of the latter attempted to run away, but Major McCarroll cut one down with his sword and severely wounded him. This is probably the first occasion on which a sword was used by a New Zealander in this War.

The Wellington Regiment was ordered to support the Canterbury Regiment and also to protect the brigade from attack from the north and north-east, the direction of Khan Yunus and Shellal, at both of which places the enemy were known to be in numbers. So two troops were sent off for this purpose.

By 11 o’clock the position of the force was as follows :— From the extreme right (or northern flank) Canterbury Regiment, Auckland Regiment, 1st L.H. Brigade, 3rd L.H. Brigade, Camel Brigade and on their left and reaching to the sand hills the 5th Yeomanry Brigade.

At this hour General Chaytor moved his Headquarters to the Boundary Post one-mile south-east of Rafa, immediately behind the Auckland Regiment. The Inverness Battery from a position near the Anzac Mounted Division Headquarters covered the advance of the Brigade, later moving to a covered position behind Brigade Headquarters at a range of 2250 yards. During the advance two reserve guns of the N.Z.M.G Squadron were placed in position on a small ridge which afforded cover. Very good shooting was done by these guns supported by half a troop from one of the regiments, on trenches and parties of the enemy in C group at a range of about 800 yards and the fire greatly assisted the 3rd Brigade in advancing; in fact it eventually forced the enemy to abandon that portion of his position and an enemy machine gun was subsequently found there. The Machine Gun Squadron Commander then took over the four remaining guns and distributed them along the line of attack. The machine gunners advanced with the troops, giving them mutual support, and they were able to bring covering fire to bear on the central redoubt right up to the time of its capture.

By half past 11 the attack was progressing well all along the line. As the “Times” special correspondent who witnessed the operation says :— "The ground in front of the position was so open that the whole action could he seen for miles, and presented a battle picture of a kind seldom witnessed in a modern war. One may mention in passing that the unusual conditions led to some unusual incidents, such as a Padre digging himself in with a spoon, or a man trying to put an ammunition camel down under fire while himself discreetly first adopting kneeling and then the prone position. The enemy had an ideal field of fire as the ground for some 2000 yards in front of the position offered not one inch of cover. Over this perfect glacis our dismounted troops advanced by rushes under very heavy fire, particularly from the enemy machine guns, which were very difficult to locate. That the attack could have made any progress at all in daylight speaks very highly both for the dash and determination of the troops and for the accuracy of the covering fire. The Mounted Division had learned to put great faith in the fine shooting of the Territorial Batteries attached to them, and the gunners again gave them admirable support bringing their guns well forward in absolutely open country. They had the rare experience of seeing their targets, but they themselves were even more visible to the enemy who shelled them heavily with his mountain guns. The fire-fight was severe and prolonged but by three o’clock distinct progress had been made in spite of the fact that our men were fighting under every disadvantage against some of the best Turkish Troops. At half past three the rear face of the enemy position began to be seriously threatened by the pressure of the New Zealanders’ attack from the north.”

To bring this pressure to bear at this time the New Zealand Brigade had continued their steady good work. After the capture of Rafa and the clearing of the sand hills to the sea (which was done by the Wellington Regiment) the Brigade settled down about noon to the systematic taking of the great central redoubt.

The Canterburys, on the right of the Brigade ‘s advance, were steadily working their way forward just inside the sand belt and between them and the Aucklanders was the Wellington Regiment less the squadron on the look-out to the north and east. All three regiments continued making steady progress, though owing to the bowling-green nature of the country the pace was necessarily slow, and delay was caused by the “overs” from the H.A.C. battery attached to the Yeomanry. At two p.m. the Canterbury Regiment gained touch with the Yeomanry who were attacking straight along the road from El Arish and whose left was on the sand hills. These two forces junctioning on the sand hills completed the encirclement of the whole Turkish Force.

At 2.45 p.m. most important information was obtained from a Turkish machine gun officer and three Germans who had been captured by a Wellington troop, on the watch towards Khan Yunus. The information disclosed the fact that the 160th Regiment had left Shellal when the attack began with the intention of reinforcing the Rafa Garrison. Shellal is about 10 miles away on the Wadi Ghuzzeh and the going is good. Further information went to show that the Rafa Garrison consisted of two taburs of the 31st Regiment each one thousand strong, with four Krupp mountain guns. At this hour though the 1st L.H. Brigade had been making good progress and had reached the line of the “Big Tree” they were now at a standstill. The 3rd Brigade on their left were also held up and no progress could be made by the Camel Brigade or by the Yeomanry.

At half-past three General Chetwode ordered all guns available to be turned on to the Central Redoubt and that a general assault was to take place; but still no progress was made and the enemy planes at about this time became very active in their bombing. Disquieting reports also came in from the two troops of the Wellington Regiment who were now engaged with the advanced guard of the enemy relieving. forces advancing from Khan Yunus and Shellal respectively. These appeared to be about two battalions in number and other troops were seen further back advancing over the hills, but too far off for an estimate of their numbers to be made.

The position at this time was critical. The Turks in the trenches were fighting stubbornly and large bodies of enemy reinforcements were close at hand. Ammunition was running short in the firing line and the Inverness Battery, which had so effectively assisted the New Zealand Brigade throughout the day, ran out completely and was sent back.

A conversation took place on the telephone between the Divisional Commander and the Commander of the Desert Column, as to the advisability of 38

abandoning the attack and withdrawing the troops owing to the advance of the enemy reinforcements. Before, however, any orders could be put into effect the New Zealanders were seen on the crest of the Central Redoubt—having stormed and captured it at the point of the bayonet. After which the remaining enemy positions quickly fell to the other brigades—being dominated and enfiladed by the New Zealanders on the central keep.

Time attack which brought about this sudden transformation was carried through in perfect manner and was the culmination of a day of steady methodical and persistent work, exhibiting the characteristic tenacity of the New Zealanders and their fighting Brigadier.

It was New Zealand’s day. The Brigade had advanced across grassy slopes, with no cover but an occasional clump of the Iris Lily, planted to show the boundary of a field. The covering fire from the machine guns, Lewis guns, and rifles was perfect, and was the great feature of the attack. At four o ‘clock, when General Chaytor ordered a general assault, the hail of bullets on the redoubt made it smoke like a furnace. This kept the enemy fire down to such an extent and so disturbed his aim that our men were enabled to cover the last 800 yards of glacis-like slope in two grand rushes, every one having made up his mind to “get home.” Another outstanding feature of the Brigade's attack was the determined use of machine guns. These advanced in the firing line, crossing their fire to get better targets, co-operating with one another and with the machine guns of the 1st Light Horse Brigade and advancing to within 400 yards of the Turk’s main position. Four guns of the Canterbury Regiment on the right flank gave good covering fire at effective ranges. These guns were placed in a trench, but were afterwards moved forward to a sunken road, from which position they were able to maintain “overhead” covering fire until the assaulting troops were within a few yards of the trenches. The position of these guns was also of such a nature that had the pressure from the enemy reinforcements advancing from Shellal proved too heavy to be held off, and the Brigade forced to retire to the coast, they would have been most useful and effective in covering the retirement.

Another feature of the final charge was the spectacle of many of our men firing as they ran—such was the feeling of “Fire Superiority.”

After a short pause to reorganise in the redoubt, an attack was launched upon the “sandy redoubt" "C", 5 — which quickly surrendered. Darkness had now come on and the Brigade assembled close to the great redoubt while prisoners were being collected and sent on to Sheikh Zowaiid.

It was still a race against time, and no one knew what might develop from the Turkish columns from Shellal and Khan Yunus so ably held off all day by the Wellington Regiment. The whole Division was therefore given orders to move back to Sheikh Zowaiid where there was water ready and supplies for horse and man. These were reached about midnight.

The Ambulance Carts and the Stretcher Bearers were still busy and the work of tending and collecting the wounded was carried on far into the night, even though the Ambulances had worked without ceasing throughout the long day. Prisoners, amongst whom were German machine gunners, had to be collected; the captured guns taken away, and a Christian burial given to those gallant fellows who had given their all for their country. A strong rearguard therefore was left and all available empty wagons sent up from Sheikh Zowaiid with which to clear the battlefield.

At Sheikh Zowaiid the Wellington Regiment remained until the morning of the 11th, to enable this to be done.

The Division had marched back to El Arish on the 10th, reaching there tired, but successful, on the evening of the same day.

A lesson, not without its uses, was learned from the failure of the Ammunition Supply during the critical hours of the battle. As has been said, no wheels but the guns were allowed to come past Sheikh Zowaiid during the night march. The intention of Desert Column Headquarters was that the reserve ammunition was to be sent on after daylight, but in many cases it failed to reach the units in the firing line. Major Wilkie the ubiquitous quartermaster of the Wellington Regiment remained at Sheikh Zowaiid with the supply convoys; but during the early hours of the battle was so concerned at the small amount of S.A.A. with which his regiment had gone into battle, that he went forward to Rafa and hearing that his regiment was calling for ammunition, seized a cable wagon, emptied out the signalling gear and wire, filled it with boxes of S.AA. and galloped across to the New Zealand Brigade— thus replenishing the machine guns in time for the great assault on the Redoubt. This foresight and dash on this officer’s part very materially helped in the final success.

The 15th coy I.C.C. Brigade (The New Zealand Company) had some heavy fighting during the day, and their brilliant commander, Captain McCallum, the man who had made the company, was killed.

The work of the Medical Corps and the stretcher Bearers was again magnificent. The little canvas hooded sand-carts were to be seen on all parts of the field throughout the action, approaching right up to the firing line again and again.

Considering the nature of the battle, the storming of trenches with very little artillery support over a perfectly open plain, the casualties in the New Zealand Brigade were exceptionally light. This can be attributed to the splendid co-operation of the machine guns, and of troops, squadrons and regiments; and the natural aptitude of our men for warfare of this nature. It must be remembered that the Brigade was largely seasoned with Anzac veterans and that all ranks had now been fighting the Turk in the desert for 12 months. The Turks were confident almost to the last that they could hold their position; and one captured officer admitted that he thought it was impossible for the attackers to succeed in the time available, and before the arrival of the Turkish Reinforcements. Our captures included :—

1472 Prisoners.

4 Krupp Guns.

7 Machine Guns.

1610 Rifles.

45,000 Rounds of S.A.A.

71 Belts of S.A.A.

134 Pack Saddles.

85 Camels.

19 Horses

35 Mules; and a large quantity of miscellaneous equipment.

162 Wounded Prisoners (collected by us)


The expenditure of small arms ammunition was large, and adverse comments were afterwards made; but ammunition is cheaper than men, and the free use of machine and Lewis guns undoubtedly enabled the N.Z. Brigade to capture what at one time looked to he an impregnable position.

The capture of Rafa with its Turkish garrison completed the clearing out of the enemy from Sinai, which province he had held since the outbreak of the war. It completed the Sinai Campaign, the Desert Campaign as it was often called, in which the Anzac Mounted Division had borne the chief part and upon which almost the whole of the fighting had fallen. Henceforth the British forces engaged were to be greatly increased and the scope of the fighting greatly extended, but it was in this Desert Campaign in Sinai that the spade work was done, that the experience was gained, and the force forged, that was ultimately so dramatically to overthrow Turkey.

The small force of Australian amid New Zealand horsemen and British Territorial horse-gunners which began the campaign at Romani formed the nucleus of the largest body of horse that had ever operated under one commander since the days of Darius the Persian; and with their comrades from Great Britain and India, were to justify without any doubt the retention of cavalry as an indispensable arm of the service.

This small force had grown into the “Desert Column” and was to become “East Force” at the battles of Gaza and ultimately the great “Egyptian Expeditionary Force” that was to overthrow the Turkish Empire.

In this Campaign our men became true horse-masters; and it can be safely said that in no campaign of which history has cognizance has the horse been so well understood in all his needs, and so well fed and tended. A horse not in the pink of condition was a rare sight. The forage was good and on the whole in sufficient quantities and the hot dry climate apparently suited the constitution of the horse. Much care was taken in the early phases of the operations when near the Canal to protect the animals from the sun by the erection of sun-shelters made of matting or canvas; but as the campaign progressed and transport became difficult the sun-shelters were left behind and the horses bore the full glare of the sun’s rays at all times, and apparently suffered little thereby. This was well shown later on, under the appalling conditions in the Jordan Valley where these same horses maintained their condition and general fitness in a wonderful way. The men learned to live in the desert and to find their way both by day and by night in a manner worthy of the Bedouins themselves; in fact our men were the better guides, the Bedouin as often as not in common with Gyppies, proving to he suffering from night blindness. As has been said there were no tents; palm-leaf shelters, odd pieces of canvas, captured Turkish canvas sheets or Bedouin cloth were all that could be found or carried. Later on, as Palestine was reached, a canvas sheet about five feet by four feet was issued to each man; and two of these laced together made a fairly good “tent d’ abri” under which two men could squeeze; but being so short made a poor shelter when the winter rains were met.

The Division settled down into fairly comfortable bivouacs and tents were brought up by train. The New Zealand Brigade was camped on the shore about three miles from El Arish where there was an ample supply of good water. Bathing, football, boxing, were fully indulged in and our men worthily upheld New Zealand’s traditions. The absorbing topic of the hour again became the railway, and its progress towards Palestine was eagerly watched.

 

A copy of this book is available on the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association website.

 

Further Reading:

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, Roll of Honour 

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, Powles, NZMRB Unit History, Account


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Monday, 31 January 2011 8:00 AM EAST

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