Topic: BatzB - Elands
The Battle of Elands River
South Africa, 4 August 1900
Elands River Siege Map
[Click on map for larger version.]
Citation: The Battle of Elands River, South Africa, 4 August 1900, Elands River Siege Map
"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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WARNING: This site contains: names, information and images of deceased people; and, language which may be considered inappropriate today.
The Battle of Elands River
South Africa, 4 August 1900
Elands River Siege Map
[Click on map for larger version.]
Gallipoli, 7 August 1915
The following is an extract from Bean, CEW, The Story of Anzac: from 4 May, 1915 to the evacuation, (11th edition, 1941), pp. 607-624.
THE FEINTS OF AUGUST 7TH
The actual storming of the Turkish trenches on The Nek and on Baby 700 beyond it was to be made by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. Simultaneously the 1st Light Horse Brigade, then holding Pope's and Quinn's, was to seize with its 1st Regiment a part of the Chessboard and with its 2nd a sector of the Turkish Quinn's. Of these attacks, all difficult operations, that upon Baby 700 was by far the most important. The troops from Russell's Top were to be launched over the narrowing Nek to capture, first the several enemy trenches defending it, and immediately afterwards the maze of saps, about sixty in all, which seamed the front and both sides of the hill. If all the Turkish trenches were manned, the task would be absurdly beyond the power of the troops. But the light horse staff did not expect that any but the foremost Turkish lines would be occupied heavily, if at all, and the gigantic task was therefore confidently dealt with in the orders issued by the brigadier. Since the hillcrest along which the lines must first charge was a narrowing one between steep gullies, the number of men in each line was limited to 150. Two regiments of the 3rd Brigade, the 8th (Victoria) and 10th (Western Australia) were to undertake the main task, four lines, two from each regiment, following one another in quick succession The first line was to seize the Turkish trenches on The Nek, the second was to pass over them and take the nearer saps on Baby 700; the third would capture the farther trenches; the fourth, coming up with picks and shovels, would either fight or dig as required. The 8th Cheshire would then come over The Nek and help to consolidate; and, when once the trenches on The Nek had been secured, two companies of the 8th Royal Welch Fusiliers would climb up the western branch of Monash Valley, and from its head attack the nearer Turkish positions of the Chessboard, thus guarding the flank of the troops charging over The Nek, and eventually connecting with the assault of the 1st Regiment from Pope's. The troops were warned in orders that the garrison maintained by the enemy in his trenches appeared of late to be "not light," that machine-guns were believed to exist in five positions, all commanding the approach to The Nek, and that the fighting might disclose others. The five suspected gun-positions were widely scattered, and, with the exception of one, were all 200 yards or more beyond the Turkish front. They could not therefore be seized and silenced at the first rush; but it was stated in the light horse orders that the attacking troops would have "the full assistance of naval guns and high-explosive fire from the full strength of our howitzer and other guns." When once the main attack was completed, it should not be necessary for troops to expose themselves by passing over The Nek, since there had been already driven under No-Man's Land two shallow tunnels, which, as soon as the assault started, were to be converted into avenues of communication.
The two light horse regiments were in no way dismayed at their task. Had they possessed previous experience of pitched battle it is improbable that they would have faced so light-heartedly the prospect of attacking, along a high and exposed causeway, this hill, protected as it was by trenches eight deep and by well-posted flanking machine-guns. But the 3rd Light Horse Brigade had never yet seen any important offensive, and its troops accepted as almost certain the success of the big scheme, in which their attack was only a small part. They had so far experienced only the Anzac trench-warfare - eleven weeks of trench-digging and water-carrying; and when the orders for the attack arrived, all ranks became eager with the anticipation that within a few days they would have burst through the hitherto impassable trenches and would be moving through the green and open country. The prospect filled them with a longing akin to home-sickness. Four days before the attack, possibly in mistaken pursuance of an order which was cancelled in the case of other troops, their tunics were taken from them and they were left practically without clothes except their shirts, short pants, and puttees in which to fight. The order of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade was:
Shirt sleeves, web equipment, helmets, 200 rounds, field dressing pinned right side inside shirt, gas helmet, full waterbottle, 6 biscuits, 2 sandbags (4 periscopes per each line and gas sprayers to be carried by fourth line), wire cutters, rifle (unloaded and uncharged), bayonet fixed.
Men and officers were ordered to stow what they could of their spare kit into their packs for storage. Most of the men crammed into some corner among their clothes certain specially-treasured mementoes - a fragment of Turkish shell, some coins bought of a prisoner, a home letter, a photograph or two. There was no chance of taking such treasures with them; they expected to bivouac on the open hills. The nights being cold, many obtained little sleep after their tunics had been taken away. But such was the excitement of anticipation that nothing could depress them. A number who were really too ill for fighting hid their sickness from the medical officer in order to avoid being sent away. Others-like Sergeant Gollan of the 10th Regiment - though too ill to escape observation, successfully begged the doctor to let them stay. Others again - like Captain Vernon Piesse of the 10th who had been sent away to the hospital ship on August 2nd contrived to get back from hospital on the eve of the fight. Piesse succeeded in rejoining during the night of August 6th. "I'd never have been able to stand up again if I hadn't,” he said.
In both light horse brigades, on the afternoon of August 6th, anticipation was raised to a high pitch by the sight of the 1st Infantry Brigade attacking at Lone Pine. For two hours the troops on Pope's and Russell's Top watched crowd after crowd of distant khaki-clothed figures running forward into the heart of the Pine and carrying onward that magnificent assault; and most of the onlookers had not the least doubt that at dawn next morning their own attack upon Baby 700 would be equally successful. Throughout the night wild bursts of rifle-fire were heard, first comparatively close at hand, then more distant, as the other assaulting columns worked into the hills. Lastly, a little before day-break, there came, far off and faint, a sound as of the bubbling of water in a cauldron. It was the rifle-fire at Suvla. About that time the attacking parties of the 8th Light Horse in the trenches on Russell's Top took up the positions from which they were to make the rush. Each squadron carried forty-eight bombs, and a reserve of 400 was to accompany each line. The first line had two scaling- ladders for crossing or clambering out of the deep Turkish trenches; and with each line were to go four small red and yellow flags, to be erected in captured trenches as a sign to the artillery and the staff. Behind the 8th the 10th, in similar kit, assembled in the rearward saps, ready to file into the front trenches as soon as the two lines of the 8th had gone forward. At 4 o'clock there commenced the “intensive" bombardment which was to precede the attack. All night long Phillips's, Caddy's, and Bessell-Browne's field-guns, the New Zealand howitzer battery on Anzac Beach, and "C" Battery of the 69th (British) Howitzer Brigade had each been firing single rounds at two-and-a-half minutes' intervals upon the enemy's trenches at The Nek and the Chessboard. The foremost trench at The Nek, and such trenches in rear of it as were on the seaward slope, could only be reached by the New Zealand howitzers. The shrapnel of the field-batteries was entirely harmless, but the howitzer shells inflicted serious loss. Occasionally one would explode actually inside some bay crowded with men of the 18th Turkish Regiment - the same which had made the desperate attempt of June 3oth, and which was still garrisoning The Nek. At frequent intervals throughout the night the Turkish infantry, crouching in their line, would find maimed and shattered comrades being bundled past them along the trenches. The garrison of The Nek was thus placed under a heavy nerve-strain. At 4 a.m. the artillery which had been engaged in this bombardment, with the addition of Trenchard's two mountain-guns, increased its rate of fire to four shells a minute. At the same time the guns of the supporting warships opened, concentrating upon Baby 700 and the trenches immediately below it at The Nek. At 4.27 (according to the watches of the artillery) for three minutes the batteries increased their fire to an "intensive” rate. Since the night of May 2nd no such bombardment had been seen at Anzac. The front Turkish trench, being very close to the Australian, largely escaped the shells, but the position behind it became an inferno, the dark-brown dust of the shell-bursts, dimly visible in the grey light, rolling in clouds across the face of the hill and shutting out all view from any distance. During this bombardment the two lines of the 8th Light Horse were waiting in their front trench. The trench being a deep one, pegs had been driven into the wall for the men to hold, and niches cut for their feet, so that when the signal came they would be able to spring out in a flash. Beside the first line on the fire-step stood the second, ready to give the men of the first a "leg-up." Three officers, with previously-checked watches, waited at intervals along the front, preparing to give the word for the charge. One of these was Lieutenant-Colonel A. H. White, the commander of the 8th, formerly a well-known Melbourne business man, who had insisted upon leading the first line of his regiment. The chance that such a leader would survive on such a day was obviously remote, and White, evidently realising this, had gone to the brigade office ten minutes before the start and held out his hand to the brigade-major, Antill. “Good-bye." he said simply. Two minutes later he was in position with his troops, with his eye on the second-hand of his timepiece. The men beside him showed no trace of excitement, hitching up their kit, and getting a firm foothold below the parapet.
For some reason, which will probably never be explained the bombardment which was then thundering upon the enemy ended-according to one account, "cut short as if by a knife" - seven minutes-before the watches on Russell's Top pointed to 4.30. The orders to the artillery were clear - that the guns were to continue until 4.30, when the land artillery would "stop" and the naval guns continue to fire upon targets farther back. There seems little question that there had been a mistake in the timing of the watches. Whatever the cause, the shelling of the enemy's forward lines ceased; the destroyers began to direct a less intense fire on to some of the more distant trenches. The rest of the artillery, according to order, became silent. On either flank of Russell's Top two Anzac machine-guns made ready to give covering fire to the attack. For three minutes hardly a shot was fired. But during that time the Turks, though severely tried by the night's experience, gradually raised their heads and, realising - that there was now no fire at all upon them, manned their trenches two-deep in anticipation of the assault which they knew must be imminent. One line seated on the parapet and the other standing behind it, they nestled their rifles to their shoulders, took aim, and waited. Their machine-guns here and there rattled off a dozen shots as they made ready for action. A spasmodic rifle-fire began, aimed at the Australian parapet, which was visible twenty to sixty yards away over the bullet-riddled stumps of dry bushes. Behind that parapet a few of the officers, looking at their watches, were perplexed at the sudden cessation of shell-fire. "What do you make of it? " asked Lieutenant Robinson of Major Redford. “There’s seven minutes to go." “They may give them a heavy burst to finish," was the reply. But none came. "Three minutes to go," said Colonel White. Then simply, “Go!"
In an instant the first line, all eagerness, leapt over the parapet. Facing them, not a stone's throw away, were hundreds of the enemy, lining two-deep their front trench and others behind it. The garrison had been reinforced the previous afternoon, when the Lone Pine bombardment started, the resting battalion of the 18th Regiment having been rushed from Mortar Ridge into the trenches. From that moment the crowded troops had waited for the attack. Consequently, the instant the light horse appeared, there burst upon them a fusillade that rose within a few seconds from a fierce crackle into a continuous roar, in which it was Impossible to distinguish the report of rifle or machine-gun. Watchers on Pope's Hill saw the Australian line start forward across the sky-line and then on a sudden grow limp and sink to the earth "as though," said one eye-witness,” the men's limbs had become string." As a matter of fact many had fallen back into the trench, wounded before clearing the parapet. Others, being hit when just beyond it, managed at once to crawl back and tumble over the parapet, thus avoiding trenches - the certainty of being hit a second and a third time and killed. Practically all the rest lay dead five or six yards from the parapet. Colonel White had gone ten paces, and the two scaling-ladders lay at about the same distance. Every officer was killed, but on the right, near the edge of the valley, Private McGarvie and two others survived between the bullets as if by a miracle, reached the enemy's parapet, and, since they could effect nothing single-handed against two or three tiers of crowded trench-lines, flung themselves down outside the Turkish parapet and waited, throwing bombs, of which they had a bag full, into the enemy's trench. They eventually crawled on to the slope of Monash Valley, where they were in partial shelter. On the other flank, near the seaward cliff, Lieutenant Wilson of the 8th also reached the enemy's trench and was seen sitting with his back to the parapet, beckoning to others to come on to him. Shortly afterwards he was killed by a bomb from the Turkish line. Here and there other individual soldiers had come near enough to the enemy's trench to throw a grenade, for the sound of the explosions could be distinguished for half-a-minute amid the uproar. But most of those who heard that fire realised that no attack could survive in it. The sound of bombing almost at once ceased. The first line, which had started so confidently, had been annihilated in half-a-minute; and the others having seen it mown down, realised fully that when they attempted to follow they would be instantly destroyed. Yet as soon as the first line had cleared the parapet, the second took its place, each man with his hand on the starting-peg and his foot on the step. The fire which roared undiminished overhead made it impossible to hear spoken orders. But exactly two minutes after the first had gone, the sight of leaders scrambling from the trench showed that the sign had been given for the further attack Without hesitation every man in the second line leapt forward into the tempest.
A few survivors of that line afterwards remembered passing most of the first, all apparently dead, lying six yards in front of its own parapet. The second got a little farther, since, after the fight, its dead lay a few yards beyond those of the first line. Captain Hore, who was leading on the right, where No-Man's Land was widest, by running as fast as he could reached a point fifteen yards from the Turkish trenches. There, glancing over his shoulder, he perceived that he was the only man moving across the bare surface, the rest appearing all to have been killed. He flung himself down at the point which he reached. None in that part of the line passed him.
Yet about this time observing officers stationed int eh trenches on Russell's Top undoubtedly saw, through the haze of dust raised trenches by machine-gun bullets, a small red and yellow flag put up in the enemy's front line. It was on the south-eastern corner of the trench. Who placed it there will never be known, but there were almost certainly a few men of the first line who had managed to get into the extreme right of the Turkish trench. For ten minutes the flag fluttered behind the parapet, and then some unseen agency tore it down. The fight in that corner was over; it could only have one ending. The Australian staff was subsequently told by a Turkish soldier, who had been in the front Turkish trench at the time and who was afterwards captured, that he knew nothing of any Australians having entered it alive. "They came on very well," he said, "and three men succeeded in reaching the Turkish trenches, falling dead over the parapet into the bottom of the trench."
These faint evidences are probably all that will ever be obtained concerning the incident. But its effects were important. After the second line had started, the men of the 10th Light Horse (Western Australia), forming the two lines which were next to attack, filed into the trenches which their predecessors had just left. In addition to the fire which had previously swept the parapet, two Turkish 75-mm. field-guns were now bursting their shrapnel low over No-Man's Land as fast as they could be loaded and fired. The saps were crowded with dead and wounded Victorians who had been shot back straight from the parapet and were being carried or helped to the rear. Among the Western Australians, who occasionally halted to let them pass, every man assumed that death was certain, and each in the secret places of his mind debated how he should go to it. Many seem to have silently determined that they would run forward as swiftly as possible, since that course was the simplest and most honourable besides offering a far-off chance that, if everyone did the same, some might at least reach and create some effect upon the enemy. Mate having said good-bye to mate, the third line took up its position on the fire-step.
The apparent uselessness of continuing the effort did not engender a second's hesitation in the light horsemen. They knew that their operation was a small part of the crucial struggle in the campaign, and, whatever their doubts, they could not feel sure that the whole structure of the plan might not depend upon their role in it. That they should falter, and "let down" their mates in the other columns at a critical moment, was unthinkable. Certain efforts, however, were made by the regimental leaders to discover whether the sacrifice was necessary. Major who commanded the third line, reported to the regimental commander, Colonel Brazier, that success would be impossible. Brazier, who during a slight relaxation in the Turkish fire had been able to raise a periscope, had himself seen the 8th Regiment lying prone in front of the trenches, either waiting for a lull in the fire or killed. About this time a staff officer from brigade headquarters came to him and asked why the third line had not gone forward. But Brazier, doubting whether the annihilation of additional troops could serve any interest except that of the enemy, determined to raise the question, as he had full right to do, before allowing that line to start. He accordingly at 4.40 went to brigade headquarters, which was slightly in rear, and finding there only the brigade-major, Colonel Antill, told him what he had seen, and informed him that, in view of the strength of the enemy's fire, the task laid upon his regiment was beyond achievement. But Antill, who was the main influence in the command of the brigade; had already received the news that one of the red and yellow flags had been seen in the enemy's trench. It seemed an urgent matter to support any troops who might have seized part of the Turkish line. He replied, therefore, that the 10th Regiment must push on at once.
It was then about 4.45. The roar of small-arms which had been called forth by the lines of the 8th had subsided to almost complete silence before the third line, formed by the 10th, went out. But as the men rose above the parapet it instantly swelled until its volume was tremendous. The 10th went forward to meet death instantly, as the 8th had done, the men running as swiftly and as straight as they could at the Turkish rifles. With that regiment went the flower of the youth of Western Australia, sons of the old pioneering families, youngsters - in some cases two and three from the same home - who had flocked to Perth at the outbreak of war with their own horses and saddlery in order to secure enlistment in a mounted regiment of the A.I.F. Men known and popular, the best loved leaders in sport and work in the West, then rushed straight to their death. Gresley Harpers and Wilfred, his younger brother, the latter of whom was last seen running forward like a schoolboy in a foot-race, with all the speed he could compass; the gallant Piesse, who had struggled ashore from the hospital ship; two others, who had just received their commissions, Roskams and Turnbull - the latter a Rhodes scholar. Sergeant Gollan, who had begged the doctor's leave to take part, was mortally wounded. Captain Hore of the 8th, still crouched far out on the summit, waiting to go on with any supporting line, did not realise that any such lines started. But as he lay he saw two brave men, first one and later another, run swiftly past him each quite alone, making straight for the Turkish rifles. Each, after continuing past him for a dozen yards, seemed to trip and fall headlong. They were undoubtedly the remnant of the two lines of the 10th Light Horse.
After the third line had gone, Colonel Brazier had again determined to prevent, if possible, further sacrifice of men. Major Scott, commanding the fourth line, had reported as Todd had done - that the task could not be achieved - and Brazier had therefore again referred to Colonel Antill, but was ordered to advance. "As the fire was murderous," wrote Brazier afterwards, "I again referred the matter personally to the brigadier (General Hughes), who said to get what men I could and go round by Bully Beef Sap and Monash Gully." While the question of stopping further charges over The Nek and attacking instead from a new direction was thus being debated, the fourth line had assembled on the fire-step The roar of musketry had again died down; but, as commands could not safely be given by word of mouth, the leaders had arranged that the sign to advance should be a wave of the hand. Major Scott was to give the signal to his troop leaders, and they would pass it to their subordinates. It was known to the troop leaders, but not to the men, that the stoppage of the assault was under discussion, when about 5.15 a.m. there appears to have come to the right of the line some officer who had possibly heard of the first decision of brigade head- quarters, and who asked the men why they had not gone forward. The incident is obscure, but the impression was somehow created that the charge had been ordered. The troops on the right at once leapt out. Instantly there burst forth the same tempest of machine-gun fire. As this uproar started, Major Scott, waiting near the centre, exclaimed: "By God, I believe the right has gone!" The nearest N.C.O's looked at Captain Rowan, their troop leader, who signed to them to go, at the same time rising himself and waving his hand, only to fall back dead from the parapet. His troop sergeant, Sanderson," repeated the signal, and the men in the centre sprang out. Sanderson's experience in this fourth rush has been recorded.
The rhododendron bushes had been cut off with machine-gun fire and were all spiky. The Turks were two-deep in the trench ahead. There was at least one machine-gun on the left and any number in the various trenches on the Chessboard. The men who were going out were absolutely certain that they were going to be killed, and they expected to be killed right away. The thing that struck a man most was if he wasn't knocked in the first three yards. Tpr. Weston, on Sanderson's right, fell beside him as they got out of the trench, knocked hack into the trench. Tpr. Biggs also fell next to him. Sanderson went all he could for the Turkish trench. Tpr. H. G. Hill, running beside him was shot through the stomach, spun round and fell. Sanderson saw the Turks (close) in front and looked over his shoulder. Four men were running about ten yards behind, and they all dropped at the same moment. He tripped over a rhododendron bush and fell over a dead Turk right on the Turkish parapet. The Turks were then throwing round cricket-ball bombs - you could see the brown arms coming up over the trenches. The bombs were going well over - only one blew back and hit him slightly in the leg. There were two dead men to the right towards the top of the hill, lying on the Turkish parapet - they looked like the Harper brothers. Sanderson knew how badly the show had gone. ... He managed to get his rifle beside him and clean it, and got the first cartridge from the full magazine into the barrel. He expected the Turks to counter-attack, and decided to get in a few shots if they did. After about half-an-hour, looking back, he saw Capt. Fry (of his regiment) kneeling up outside the " secret sap." Sanderson waved to him, and Fry saw him. ... The Turks were not up (i.e., lining their parapet) at this moment, because the navy had begun to bombard, and lyddite shells were whizzing low over the parapet and exploding on the back of the trench, so close that they seemed to lift Sanderson off the ground every time - he was sure the first short would finish him. Major Todd (who had survived from the third line) came along beside Fry and presently shouted something which seemed to be: "Retire the fourth line first." Sanderson looked round. There was none beside him except the dead. He crawled towards the secret sap ... about half-way there was an 8th L.H. man lying on his back, smoking. ... He said: “Have a cigarette; it's too _ hot.” Sanderson told him to get back and keep low, as machine-guns were firing from across the Chessboard and cutting the bushes pretty low. There was a lieutenant of the 8th L.H. there who had had some bombs in his haversack. These had been set off and the whole of his hip blown away. He was alive and they tried to take him in. He begged them to let him stay. I can't bloody well stand it," he said. They got him into the secret sap, and he died there as they got him in. In front of the secret sap were any number of the 8th L.H. The sap itself was full of dead. There were very few wounded - the ground in front of the trenches was simply covered. Sanderson went along the secret sap into the front line and there saw (dead) Cpt. Rowan, Weston, and another Hill and Lieut. Turnbull just dying then. ... About fifty yards of the line had not a man in it except the dead and wounded - no one was manning it.
It was at this stage that there were recovered a certain number of those who had gone out on the left and fallen wounded into ground which was partly sheltered. Lance-Corporal Hampshire, making five journeys, brought in Lieutenant Craig and others, the neighbouring Turks (according to one account) apparently refraining from firing at him. Most of the stricken, however, were on the exposed summit where no man could venture and live.
It appears that the left of the fourth line, although the brigadier's final decision did not reach it in time to prevent its movement, went forward more cautiously than the rest, the men keeping low and not running. They were partly in shelter, and, after advancing a short distance, flung themselves down among officers and men of other lines who were lying there. Among these was Major Todd, who, on discussing the position with other senior officers, decided, as has been related, to withdraw the survivors. Upon this being done, Todd received the brigadier's new order to proceed down Bully Beef Sap and Monash Valley, in order to support the detachment of British troops who were to assault from that direction. This step, however, was eventually abandoned, the impossibility of the plan being sufficiently demonstrated in the attempt made by the British to carry it out.
The plan of the attack had provided that, when once the enemy's trenches on the actual Nek had been captured by the first line of light horse, two companies of the Royal Welch Fusiliers should move up Monash Valley between Pope's and Russell's, and, when nearing its head, should climb the slope on the right and commence a flank assault upon the Chessboard, while a hundred yards farther east the 1st Light Horse from Pope's would also be frontally attacking. This assault would be impossible unless the trenches at The Nek were first taken, since their garrison would shoot into the back of the attacking British at seventy yards range. When, however, the red and yellow flag was sighted in the front trench on The Nek, the staff of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade considered the conditions sufficiently fulfilled to allow the British attack to proceed.
The two companies, together with some engineers of the New Army, had before dawn filed down Bully Beef Sap into the valley, up which they turned. Passing through the barbed-wire at the farthest Anzac post, they moved, one company up a steep washaway or indentation to the right, the other straight ahead along the main gully. At the limit of safety they waited for word of the capture of The Nek trenches. "At 5.10 a.m.," records their colonel, "a message was received that the Australian Light Horse were holding the 'A' line of trenches, and I was instructed to move forward at once."
In consequence of the dense undergrowth, Lieutenant- Colonel Hay had directed that the troops should be sent forward in parties of only ten at a time. Such a party accordingly began at once to climb the washaway; but no sooner had it moved than bombs were thrown at it from the enemy's trench, the parapet of which could be seen fringing the summit. The 1st Light Horse, watching from Pope's, observed the Turks running forward from their trench, rolling bombs down the cliff-face. The leading men of the Fusiliers were blown back and, in falling, swept away those on the uncertain foothold below. The enemy, who seemed inclined to follow, were instantly stopped by the light horse snipers, who quickly picked off a score of them. But the task of climbing the washaway seemed hopeless, especially as the muzzles of two machine-guns could be seen protruding over the parapet. Colonel Hay therefore decided to abandon the attempt. Meanwhile the other company had come, almost at its starting-point, into heavy machine-gun fire, its leader, Captain Walter Lloyd, had been killed, the subaltern next to him wounded, and every man in the first party hit. The company had thus been checked, and, as Colonel Hay found that the advance could only be made in single file and that any attempt to renew it was at once met by the fire of a machine-gun and by bomb-throwing, he reported to brigade headquarters that he was held up. The brigadier had diverted two companies of the Cheshire Regiment into Monash Valley, but, as the Fusiliers had failed, the attack there also was abandoned.
Thus by six o'clock the attack both on The Nek and by way of Monash Valley had been brought to a standstill. On' no other occasion during the war did Australians have to face fire approaching in volume that which concentrated on The Nek. From the whole face of Baby 700 and from secure positions far on both its flanks machine-guns swept that narrow space with a devastating cross-fire. In the 8th Light Horse half of those who started had been actually killed and nearly half the remainder wounded; that is to say, out of a total of 300, 12 officers and 142 men had been killed and 4 officers and 76 men wounded. The 10th Regiment had lost g officers and 129 men (of whom 7 officers and 73 men had been killed).
The Fusiliers had lost 4 officers and 61 men (1 officer and 15 men killed). The Turkish soldier before mentioned, who was in the enemy's trenches during this attack, stated that on The Nek during the actual assault the Turks suffered no loss." The 18th Regiment, which itself had been cut to pieces in endeavouring to cross the same narrow space on June 30th, felt that it had "got its own back." Complimentary orders were issued by the Turkish commanders contrasting that regiment with the 14th and others, which had lost their posts in the hills; some medals were granted and promotions were made for bravery.
Surafend, the massacre
Palestine, 10 December 1918
The following is extracted from the book written by HS Gullett called Sinai and Palestine, Chapter XLV, Aleppo and the Armistice Aleppo and the Armistice, pp. 787 - 791.
The Australians and New Zealanders in Gallipoli were shortly withdrawn. In their camps at Tripoli and on the Philistine plain the light horsemen waited, eager in the prospect of early return to Australia: But an unfortunate incident was destined to throw a shadow over the last days in Palestine of Anzac Mounted Division. Close to the camps of the three brigades in December was the native village of Surafend. All the Arabs of western Palestine were thieves by instinct, and those who dwelt close to the Jewish settlements were especially practised and daring. Throughout the campaign the British policy, as already noticed, was to treat these debased people west of the Jordan as devout Moslems, kin not only to the Arabs of the Hejaz but to the Mohammedans of India. And the Arabs, a crafty race, quick to discern British unwillingness to punish their misdeeds, exploited their licence to extreme limits.
They learned, also, that there was a disposition in the British Army to assume without justification that any looting and other similar offences practised by the troops against the natives had been committed by the Australians. Consequently, if the Arabs missed a sheep from their flocks, they were emphatic that a soldier in a big hat had been seen prowling in the neighbourhood. Seldom punished, they became very impudent in their thefts from all British camps, and at times ventured to murder. All troops may have suffered equally; but, while the British endured the outrages without active resentment, the Australians and New Zealanders burned with indignation, and again and again asked for retaliation, but without obtaining redress. After the armistice a few men of Anzac Mounted Division were shot by the Arabs, and the resentment in Chaytor's division became dangerously bitter.
The natives of Surafend were notorious for their petty thieving. Prompted, perhaps, by the knowledge that the Anzac camps would soon pass for ever from their midst, and emboldened by the immunity they enjoyed, they grew audacious in their pilfering. They were reinforced, too, by a body of nomad Bedouins camped close to their village. The Australians and New Zealanders, sleeping soundly, were a simple prey to the cunning, barefooted robbers, and night after night men lost property from their tents. One night a New Zealander of the machine-gun squadron was disturbed by an Arab pulling at a bag which served him as a pillow. Springing up in his shirt, he chased the native through the camp and out on to the sand-hills, shouting to the picquets on the horse lines as he ran. As he overtook the native, the man turned, shot him with a revolver through the body, and escaped. The New Zealander died as the picquets reached him. The camp was immediately aroused, and the New Zealanders, working with ominous deliberation, followed the footsteps of the Arab over the loose sand to Surafend. They then threw a strong cordon round the village and waited for morning, when the head men were summoned and ordered to surrender the murderer. The sheikhs were evasive, and pleaded ignorance. During the day the matter was taken up by the staff of the division, but at nightfall the demand of the men for justice was still unsatisfied.
Meanwhile they had resolutely maintained their guard about the village, and no Arab was allowed to leave. That which followed cannot be justified; but in fairness to the New Zealanders, who were the chief actors, and to the Australians who gave them hearty support, the spirit of the men at that time must be considered. They were the pioneers and the leaders in a long campaign. Theirs had been the heaviest sacrifice. The three brigades of Anzac Mounted Division had been for almost three years comrades in arms, and rarely had a body of men been bound together by such ties of common heroic endeavour and affection. From the Canal onward men had again and again proudly thrown away their lives to save their wounded from the enemy. Not once in the long advance had a hard-pressed isolated body ever signalled in vain for support. The war task was now completed and they, a band of sworn brothers tested in a hundred fights, were going home. To them the loss of a veteran comrade by foul murder, at the hands of a race they despised, was a crime which called for instant justice.
They were in no mood for delay. In their movement against Surafend, therefore, they felt that, while wreaking vengeance on the Arabs, they would at the same time work off their old feeling against the bias of the disciplinary branch of General Headquarters, and its studied omission to punish Arabs for crime. They were angry and bitter beyond sound reasoning. All day the New Zealanders quietly organised for their work in Surafend, and early in the night marched out many hundreds strong and surrounded the village. In close support and full sympathy were large bodies of Australians. Good or bad, the cause of the New Zealanders was theirs. Entering the village, the New Zealanders grimly passed out all the women and children, and then, armed chiefly with heavy sticks, fell upon the men and at the same time fired the houses. Many Arabs were killed, few escaped without injury; the village was demolished. The flames from the wretched houses lit up the countryside, and Allenby and his staff could not fail to see the conflagration and hear the shouts of the troops and the cries of their victims.
The Anzacs, having finished with Surafend, raided and burned the neighbouring nomad camp, and then went quietly back to their lines. In the morning all the disciplinary machinery of the army was as active as hitherto it had been tardy. General Headquarters demanded the men who had led the attack and had been guilty of the killing. The Anzacs stood firm; not a single individual could definitely be charged.
Allenby wasted no time in expressing his mind to the division The brigades were assembled on foot in hollow square, and the Commander-in-Chief addressed them in strong, and even, one might say, ill-considered language. He used terms which became his high position as little as the business at Surafend had been worthy of the great soldiers before him. The division fully expected strong disciplinary action for Surafend, and would have accepted it without resentment. But the independent manhood of the Anzacs could not accept personal abuse from the Commander-in-Chief. Allenby’s outburst left the division sore but unpunished. The affair had unfortunate consequences.
A strained situation continued until about the middle of 1919, when, after the suppression of the revolt in Egypt, the embarkation of the colonial forces was resumed. The Australians of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade and New Zealanders were on the eve of departure, yet the division had not been recognised by the Commander-in-Chief since the speech at Surafend. Allenby was then in control of the affairs of Egypt; he was visited by an Australian, who pointed out to him the unsatisfactory position which existed. He expressed surprise at hearing of the feeling engendered by his speech; the Surafend incident, he insisted, had deserved all that he said of it at the time; but it had not shaken, nor could anything shake, the deep admiration and even affection he felt for the Anzacs, nor could he adequately express his appreciation of their campaigning qualities and services. He issued at once a glowing and appreciative farewell order to the Australians, and at the same time wrote personally a tribute to their work in Palestine which is remarkable for its discernment of their distinctive qualities. This letter read as follows;-
''I knew the New South Wales Lancers and the Australian Horse well in the Boer War, and I was glad to meet some of my old friends of those days when the light horse came under my command just two years ago.
"When I took over command of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in July, 1917, the light horse were already veterans, tried and proved in many a fight. Since then, they have shared in the campaigns which achieved the destruction of the Turkish army and the conquest of Palestine and Syria, and throughout they have been in the thick of the fighting. I have found them eager in advance and staunch in defence. At Beersheba, a mounted charge by a light horse regiment, armed only with rifles, swept across the Turkish trenches and decided the day. Later, some of the regiments were armed with swords, which they used with great effect in the pursuit of last autumn.
"On foot, too, they have equally distinguished themselves as stubborn fighters. They have shown in dismounted action the dash and enterprise of the best type of light infantry.
"The Australian light horseman combines with a splendid physique a restless activity of mind. This mental quality renders him somewhat impatient of rigid and formal discipline, but it confers upon him the gift of adaptability, and this is the secret of much of his success mounted or on foot. In this dual r61e, on every variety of ground-mountain, plain, desert, swamp, or jungle the Australian light horseman has proved himself equal to the best.
"He has earned the gratitude of the Empire and the admiration of the world."
There, between their great Commander-in-Chief and the Australians and New Zealanders, the painful Surafend affair rested. It was characteristic of the strong temper and of the frailties of both. Both had erred in anger. The sincerity of Allenby's final words to them was never doubted by the troops. Surafend, however, should not be forgotten. Without making excuses for the Anzacs, it may be said that the affair arose out of the simple fact that British regular officers entrusted with Australian commands in Egypt and Palestine, with a few notable exceptions, too often failed to grasp the vital fact that the narrow traditional methods of handling the soldiers of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are not by any absolute law also the way to handle young men of the dominions. There is in the young British peoples overseas a genius, strong and distinctive, which must be considered in war as in peace.
Surafend, the massacre
Palestine, 10 December 1918
The following is extracted from an outline provided by Terry Kinlock posted on the Great War Forum, 18 September 2005.
My research to date reveals the following sequence of events.
During the evening of 9 December 1918, Trooper Leslie Lowry was sleeping in his tent in the New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron lines near the Ayun Kara battlefield. He awoke to find someone trying to pull his kit bag, which he was using as a pillow, out of the tent. Lowry leapt to his feet and chased the thief through the camp and into the sand hills, calling for help as he ran. As he caught up with the thief, the man turned and shot him. Lowry was found lying in the sand, bleeding from a bullet wound to the chest. He died just as a doctor arrived, having said nothing. No witness actually saw the fatal shot fired, or saw the murderer run into the nearby village of Surafend. However, tracks were reportedly found from the murder scene to Surafend.
The men of Lowry’s unit, probably assisted by other New Zealanders and Australians, immediately threw a cordon around the village to prevent anyone from entering or leaving. They did not enter the village that night – they simply stabilised the situation and waited for ‘the heads’ to launch an immediate criminal investigation. But nothing happened: no military policemen arrived to conduct a crime scene investigation, no witnesses were interviewed, and no senior officer arrived to take charge.
The next morning, Chaytor sent an officer to GHQ to register his growing concern, and another to take command of the cordon. The men there were angry and frustrated, but they continued to wait for something to be done. The only response to Chaytor’s plea was a peremptory order from GHQ to remove the cordon around Surafend immediately. Chaytor tried to overturn this decision, but failed. When the cordon was removed in the afternoon, a steady stream of Arabs immediately left the village.
That evening, the men took matters into their own hands. A soldier of a neighbouring Australian Light Horse Regiment stated afterwards that New Zealanders appeared in their tent lines looking for support. Another source describes a secret meeting in the sand dunes at 7 p.m., where an anonymous Australian light horseman quietly presented the action plan to the men present.
Two hundred men, armed with pick handles, bayonets or iron strips wrapped in puttees or sacks, quietly encircled the village at 8 p.m. One New Zealand witness claimed that British artillerymen from the Ayrshire Battery carrying horse traces (heavy harness chains encased in leather) also took part.
Most accounts state that the village headman was then given one last chance to hand over the murderer. When the murderer failed to appear, the next part of the plan was carried out. The old men, women and children in the village were woken and taken out of harm’s way, and the village was ransacked, probably in an attempt to find Lowry's stolen kit bag. Any Arab men remaining in the huts were subjected to ‘a sound thrashing’. A Bedouin camp next door to the village received the same treatment. Within 45 minutes, the village and the camp were burning to the ground, and between 30 and 40 Arab men had been beaten to death or badly injured. There is no evidence to suggest that anything more than a severe beating of the adult men was intended. Most sources attribute the high death toll to the resistance put up by the inhabitants of the village. Suggestions that some of the men were castrated and thrown down a well are unsubstantiated.
The fires were seen by men in the 2nd LH Brigade, whose camp site overlooked the village, and reported to NZMR Brigade Headquarters. The Auckland and Wellington regiments were both ordered to send a squadron, and the Machine Gun Squadron to send a troop, ‘to preserve order in the village.’ They found Australian MPs and the Richon le Zion picquet already there. Lieutenant Lord gave evidence that, when he arrived at the village soon after 8.45 p.m., he encountered ‘a large body of troops coming away from the village. There was no rifle shooting at that time and I saw Bedouin women, children and old men sitting together near a hedge. They were quiet and nobody was interfering with them.’ Lord did not enter the village, as it was ‘burning furiously’, and, as there were no more troops in the vicinity, he returned to camp. The other New Zealanders cordoned the village and patrolled the perimeter, but no attempt was made to put out the fire. They withdrew at 10 p.m., ‘all being quiet.’ The old men, women and children moved back into the ruins of their homes and began to mourn their dead.
The next morning, GHQ at last took action – but against the raiders, not the Arabs who had allegedly harboured Lowry’s killer. Each brigade in the Anzac Mounted Division immediately convened a Court of Inquiry, but the men closed ranks and professed ignorance of the whole thing. No offenders could be identified by Arab survivors or by anyone else.
Chaytor was furious, although his anger must have been tempered by the knowledge that, had his pleas for action during the daylight hours before the raid been answered, the attack would not have happened. With no offenders to blame, Chaytor turned his anger on the officers of the New Zealand brigade. It was clear to Chaytor that the regimental officers had failed in their duty for not stopping the attack once it had begun. ‘The singular inaction of almost all officers can only be due to a very grave lack of knowledge of their duties and responsibilities, or to a deliberate neglect of their duty.’ Strangely, the only punishment that he imposed was to ban leave for all officers. No one was ever court-martialled for Surafend.
Many of the accounts written after Surafend blame others for the attack. Harry Porter, a New Zealand veteran, stated that the Australians attacked Surafend. Only a few New Zealanders – ‘the harder cases, say half a dozen’ – took part. Gullett lays the blame squarely on the New Zealanders, who he says were the ‘chief actors’, supported by the Australians. The Report of the Court of Inquiry conducted in the 2nd LH Brigade amounts to little more than a denial of any involvement by the men of that brigade. One New Zealander thought that the ‘skilled organising suggested that some of the old hands were involved. But I know in my mind that the tried veterans who had battled so far for so long, would not have gone to this length. The killing was the work of some unblooded gang that had never been under fire. I feel as certain of this as if I’d seen the whole affair.’ The British Army rebuilt the village, and, in 1922, the governments of New Zealand and Australia reimbursed the British Army the sums of £858.11.5 and £515.2.9 respectively.
1st LHR, AIF
1st Australian Light Horse Brigade Headquarters
Roll of Honour
Poppies on the Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra
The Roll of Honour contains the names of all the men known to have served at one time with the 1st Light Horse Brigade Headquarters and gave their lives in service of Australia, whether as part of the 1st Light Horse Brigade Headquarters or another unit.
Roll of Honour
Claude Neville BEAMISH, Died of Disease, 26 January 1917.
Clive Russell BRAY, Died of Wounds, 13 March 1917.
Walter BURROWES, Died of Disease, 9 September 1918.
Sydney DANIELLS, Died of Disease, 14 February 1919.
Cyril Lester Gordon DOWNE, Died of Accident, 3 March 1919.
John Stephen GARRETT, Died of Wounds, 6 July 1915.
Archibald Kirby MacDONALD, Killed in Action, 5 April 1918.
Edward MITCHELL, Died of Wounds, 2 July 1915 , and subsequently buried at sea.
Charles OLSEN, Died of Wounds, 6 August 1915 , and subsequently buried at sea.
George Francis PAUL, Died of Disease, 18 April 1916.
William Thomas ROBERTSON, Killed in Action, 7 August 1915.
Edward Thomas SHAW, Died of Wounds, 25 March 1918.
James Drummond SWASBRICK, Killed in Action, 11 April 1917.
Herbert Mapleton THORPE, Killed in Action, 17 April 1917.
Vernon WARE, Died of Disease, 3 April 1916.
Oliver William WOOLFREY, Died of Wounds, 20 August 1917.
Alexander YOUNG, Killed in Action, 16 July 1918..
Lest We Forget
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Steve Becker who provided much of the raw material that appears in this item.
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