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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

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre aims to present an accurate history as chroniclers of early Australian military developments from 1899 to 1920.

The Australian Light Horse Studies Centre site holds over 12,000 entries and is growing daily.

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Saturday, 8 August 2009
Palestinian 1917-18, Contents
Topic: BatzP - Palestine

Palestinian 1917-18

Contents

 

Items

Where Australians Fought, Palestine, 1917-1918

Palestinian 1917-18, Palestine Campaign

 

 

Further Reading:

Palestine Battles

 


Citation: Palestinian 1917-18, Contents


Posted by Project Leader at 12:09 PM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 8 August 2009 12:15 PM EADT
The Volunteer Movement in Western Australia, Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers
Topic: Militia - LHW - WA

Western Australian Militia

Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers

 

The following is an extract from the book written in 1962 by George F. Wieck called The Volunteer Movement in Western Australia 1861-1903, pp. 30 – 32:

 
Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers

A resident of Pinjarrah, Mr F. Fawcett (late Cornet 6th Dragoon Guards) initiated a movement to form a Volunteer mounted corps at that centre. The corps was to be 15-17 strong and designated the "Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers". The Gazette of 23/10/1862 gave formal approval and appointed Mr F. Fawcett as Captain Commanding. At that time the roll bore the names of 17 members and 6 honorary members.

Captain Fawcett was a forceful and enthusiastic leader who gave much time, obviously much of his substance also, to raise a successful corps. His personality was such that in some miraculous manner he succeeded at one stage in raising the strength of the corps to 82 men in spite of the sparsely settled nature of the District.

The type of uniform selected was almost a replica of that worn by the 6th Dragoon Guards i.e., Scarlet tunic, white pantaloons, white helmet with spike, over-boots, and steel spurs. White facings or cords were adopted. It was a very spectacular dress but very unsuitable and difficult to obtain.

Arms comprised revolver carbines and Light Cavalry swords. At first the only revolver carbines available were six obtained from the guard of a convict ship, then in 1864, 18 new weapons were received from England. No other firearms were received by the corps.

All aims, accoutrements, saddlery, uniform etc. had to be obtained from England on a cash basis, orders being passed through the office of the Colonial Secretary at Perth. For a variety of reasons, not the least of them being ignorance of procedure and tardy communications, some deliveries were held up for two years or more and generally speaking the position was most unsatisfactory. The Executive Council had made provision for a corps of 18 all ranks, a fact of which Capt. Fawcett was well aware so he must be held responsible for the long delays and disappointments resulting from these delays.

By 1868 strength had increased to 61 men plus cadets, and by 1873 to 88. Attendances were not high but Inspecting Officers invariably reported the men seen as being efficient and of good spirit.
See: Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers, Nominal Roll, 1868

Among the highlights of this interesting corps' performances were the provision of an escort of one Sergeant, one Trumpeter, and four Troopers, for duty in connection with the visit of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh in 1867. For that duty six sets of Dragoon uniform were hurriedly made and issued at a cost to the public of £93/2/1. The escort was on duty for two months and for that service a special allowance of £16/10/0 was granted. In order to take part in the celebrations Capt. Fawcett marched part of the corps from Pinjarrah to Perth. In 1868 a special allowance of £65 was granted to cover the cost of a special muster.
Strength steadily declined from 1874 and by 1882 had dropped to 26. Disbandment was gazetted on 3/11/1882. Obviously the recruiting field had become exhausted: also it would appear that Capt. Fawcett's power waned after 1873 or else he became absorbed in other activities.

Capt. Fawcett commanded the corps for the full period of its 20 years' life. The junior Officers were similarly unchanged. Had there been a change of command in 1874 the course of events might have been different.



Officers of Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers

Captain F Fawcett - 23 October 1862

Lieutenant JG Murray - 6 October 1868

Cornet F Oakley - 6 October 1868

Surgeon TF Beddingfeld - 17 November 1868

Chaplain Reverend JS Price - 17 November 1868

Lieutenant F de Lisle - 26 March 1870
 

 

Previous: Fremantle Volunteer Rifles

Next: Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers, Nominal Roll, 1868

 

Further Reading:

Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers, Nominal Roll, 1868

Western Australian Militia, Light Horse

Western Australian Militia, Infantry

 


Citation: The Volunteer Movement in Western Australia, Pinjarrah Mounted Volunteers

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Friday, 14 August 2009 12:17 PM EADT
Australian Light Horse, Roles within the Regiment, Sentries Paying Compliments
Topic: AIF - Lighthorse

Australian Light Horse

Roles within the Regiment

Sentries Paying Compliments

 

The following entries dealing with the roles and duties within the hierarchy of a light horse regiment are extracted from a very informative handbook called The Bushman’s Military Guide, 1898. While written in 1898, the information contained in the entries held true for the next twenty years with only minor modifications with the principles remaining as current then as now.

 

Sentries Paying Compliments

 

(1.) On the approach of an officer, when he is at least 15 paces distant, a sentry, if on the march, will halt, front, and shoulder arms; if standing at ease he will come to attention and shoulder arms. To field officers and other officers of the army and navy entitled to the salute he will present arms.

(2.) To all armed parties, whether they are commanded by an officer or not, a sentry will present arms, and the party will return the compliment by drawing and carrying swords, carrying or shouldering arms, or carrying lances or arms (when mounted), as the case maybe. Parties with side-arms are to be considered as armed parties.

(3.) To all unarmed parties a sentry will shoulder arms, unless they are commanded by field officers, in which case he will present; in return, the commander of the party will give the word "Eyes - Right," or as the case may be, and having passed him "Eyes-Front."

(4.) Sentries will not present arms to any officer or armed party after sunset, but as long as they can discern an officer they will come to their front on his approach, and stand steady till he has passed.

(5.) When a sentry is posted with a sword, he will "Carry Swords" on all occasions on which, if armed with a carbine, he would present or shoulder arms.

(6.) In Lancer regiments the compliment corresponding both to the "Shoulder" and the "Present" with the carbine, and to the "Carry" with the sword, is the "Carry Lance", as the salute for officers of all ranks and for armed parties.

(7.) Sentries in their sentry boxes will salute by coming smartly to attention.

 

 

Previous: Relieving and Posting 

Next: Sentries Challenging 

 

Further Reading:

Australian Light Horse

Militia 1899 - 1920

 


Citation: Australian Light Horse, Roles within the Regiment, Sentries Paying Compliments

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 September 2009 11:19 AM EADT
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Falls Account, The Turkish Advance.
Topic: BatzS - Romani

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Falls Account, The Turkish Advance.

 

The Battle of Romani, 4-6 August 1916

[Click on map for larger version]

[From: Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, Sketch 10 facing p. 178.]

 

As part of the Official British War History of the Great War, Captain Cyril Falls and Lieutenant General George MacMunn were commissioned to produce a commentary on the Sinai, Palestine and Syrian operations that took place. In 1928, their finished work, Military Operations, Egypt and Palestine - From the outbreak of war with Germany to June 1917,  was published in London. Their book included a section specifically related to the battle of Romani and is extracted below.

MacMunn, G. & Falls, C., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), pp. 184 - 190:

 

Part 2. The Turkish Advance.

July opened quietly. Active patrolling was continued one reconnaissance reaching Bir Salmana on the 9th and finding it unoccupied. The most advanced Turkish camp was at Bir el Mazar, 42 miles east of Romani, where upwards of 2,000 troops were believed to be concentrated, but the garrison showed no sign of aggression. It appeared that, the season being so far gone, the long anticipated Turkish offensive would now be postponed until the winter.

Suddenly the situation changed. On the 17th July enemy aircraft showed great activity over the Romani area. The German aeroplanes were faster and better climbers than any which Sir A. Murray had at his disposal, and though they did not prevent the British machines from reconnoitring the country ahead, they established a definite superiority in the air which was long to endure. [For a statement of the situation, see Note III at end of Chapter. The new German 300th Flight Detachment is mentioned in Note 1.] On the 19th July a British aeroplane, with Brigadier General E. W. C. Chaytor, commanding the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, acting as observer, discovered that a force estimated at 2,500 had occupied Bir Bayud and that there was a somewhat smaller concentration at Gameil. [Gameil, a small oasis, is west of Bir Bayud.] On the northern route there was a force of equal strength at Bir el Abd, where tents were visible among the groves. Some 6,000 camels were also seen at the camps or moving between Bir el Abd and Bir Salmana. By the morning of the 20th there had been another move forward. Three thousand men were now entrenched at Mageibra, and Bir el Abd had evidently been made an advanced depot for supplies and stores. There was also a small force so far forward as Oghratina, which had grown to 2,000 by the following morning. It was obvious that the Turkish offensive was after all about to be launched.

On receipt of General Chaytor's report, G.H.Q. took steps to reinforce the Romani position, still known as No. 3 Section Canal Defences and commanded by Major-General the Honorable H. A. Lawrence. Two battalions of the 42nd Division were moved up from No. 2 Section to Qantara and the 158th Brigade of the 53rd Division sent out to Romani on the 20th. The troops already at General Lawrence's disposal were the [180] 52nd Division and the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division, less the 3rd L.H. Brigade. On the night of the 22nd the dispositions in No. 3 Section were as follows:

On the main position:-

155th Brigade on the right (Redoubts 23, 22, 21 and 1 to 5);

158th Brigade (less one battalion) in the centre (Redoubts 6 to l0a);

157th Brigade on the left, holding the remainder of the line to the sea; and,

156th Brigade and one battalion 158th in reserve at Romani Station.


At Romani:-

1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades.


At Dueidar:-

5th A.L.H.


At Hill 70: -

N.Z.M.R. Brigade (less 5th A.L.H.), [The Wellington Regiment was attached at this time and throughout the Battle of Romani to the 2nd L.H. Brigade, and the 5th A.L.H. to the N.Z. M.R. Brigade.] and
Composite Regiment 5th Mounted Brigade. [The 5th Mounted Brigade had been in process of reorganization on the Canal after its losses at Qatiya and was gradually being brought up to Hill 70. A composite regiment of two squadrons Gloucester Yeomanry and one squadron Worcester Yeomanry, was moved up on the 20th. The third squadron of the Gloucester Yeomanry was at Pelusium when the Turks attacked the Australian outposts on the 4th August.] (Section Mounted Troops.)


At Hill 40:-

1st Dismounted Yeomanry Brigade.


The total rifle strength was about 14,000.

A relatively small proportion of the available artillery had been brought up owing to the shortage of water for the teams. The guns in position, including those sent up within the next few days, consisted of

one battery 60-pdrs.,

two batteries 4.5-inch howitzers, and

four 18-pdr, batteries.

The Ayr and Leicester Batteries R.H.A., with the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division, brought the total up to 36 guns.

Two 18-pdr. batteries 263rd Brigade, in position south of the railway, to fire south and south-east;

One 60-pdr, battery, 2 howitzer batteries 262nd Brigade and one 18-pdr. battery 260th Brigade in the centre, within the loop formed by the railway;

One 18-pdr. battery 260th Brigade on the shore near Mahamdiyah.


The employment of "ped-rails" - short wooden planks fastened to each wheel of the guns and wagons-had greatly increased the mobility of field artillery in the desert. Their object was to distribute the weight resting at any moment on the sand over a considerable surface, and thus minimize the sinking of the wheel. They were used throughout the campaign in Sinai and only removed when the comparatively firm soil of Southern Palestine was reached.

The water supply, which limited the amount of artillery that could be maintained at Romani, had a similar effect [181] with regard to troops. Sir A. Murray decided not to increase the force of four infantry brigades, but moved up the 160th and 161st Machine-Gun Companies, of the 53rd and 54th Divisions respectively, thus greatly increasing his fire power at a comparatively small cost in water. Meanwhile with the possibility of offensive action before his eyes, he ordered the concentration of a small mobile column of mounted troops and Imperial Camel Corps in No. 2 Section, [11th A.L.H. (less one squadron), City of London Yeomanry (less one squadron), 4th, 6th, and 9th Companies Imperial Camel Corps.] under the command of Lieut.-Colonel C. L. Smith, Imperial Camel Corps, and assembled the camel transport necessary to enable the 42nd Division to advance into the desert.

The two brigades of the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division at Romani redoubled their activity in patrolling. On the 20th July the 2nd L.H. Brigade, with two guns of the Ayrshire Battery, demonstrated against Oghratina and captured several prisoners, from whom the enemy's order of battle was learnt. It appeared that the Turkish force was commanded by Kress in person and consisted of the 3rd Division, of which one regiment had proved its marching and fighting qualities at Qatiya, and a regiment of camelry ; with a number of special machine-gun companies, heavy and mountain artillery, officered and partly manned by Germans and Austrians. [Fuller details of the enemy's force, from Turkish sources, are given in Turkish Forces.] From this date until the opening of the battle one of the two Light Horse brigades at Romani marched out each morning towards Qatiya at 2 a.m., and bivouacked till dawn in front of the position. It then advanced on a wide front until it had drawn the enemy's fire. If the Turkish outposts were weak, they were driven in; if the enemy appeared disposed to counter-attack, the brigade retired slowly. It returned to camp at nightfall, and the second brigade carried out an identical manoeuvre next day.

Until the 28th the enemy remained quiet, but that morning he was found to have occupied the Hod um Ugba, 5 miles east of the British line. Lieut.-Colonel W. Meldrum, commanding the Wellington Regiment, proposed to eject him from this position, which did not appear to be strongly held. Approval was given to his suggestion, and a brisk [182] attack by two squadrons, supported by two guns and several machine guns, drove the Turks from the hod, with the loss of 8 prisoners of the 31st Regiment.

The enemy's hesitation, his cautious advance and careful entrenchment of successive positions, was puzzling to G.H.Q., which asked for nothing better than an attack upon the Romani defences. We now know that the long pause was due simply to the fact that the Turks were awaiting their heavy artillery, delayed by the necessity for constructing tracks through the areas of heaviest sand and even then compelled to move by very short stages. But to the British command it seemed possible that Kress was not, after all, contemplating an attack, and that he would content, himself with sitting down and blocking the British advance. In this case it was probable that he would soon receive reinforcements, and it was therefore necessary to be prepared to attack him before they arrived. The Commander-in-Chief considered it scarcely possible that the Turks could attack in force elsewhere than on the northern route, and was prepared to reduce the troops in Nos. 1 and 2 Sections to a minimum. He calculated that all his preparations for the equipment of his force with camel transport would be complete by the 3rd August, but he decided to give the enemy another ten days, and instructed General Lawrence to be prepared to attack about the 13th, the date of the full moon, unless himself attacked earlier.

Sir A. Murray also discussed with Vice-Admiral Sir R. E. Wemyss, commanding the East Indies Station, the possibility of a landing at El Arish and the destruction of the Turkish base there. It was proposed to land an infantry brigade 3,000 strong, with detachments of engineers, and to construct entrenchments which it might be necessary, on that treacherous coast, to hold for several days while awaiting weather conditions favourable for re-embarkation. The C.I.G.S. cordially approved of the proposal and in fact agreed with reluctance to its abandonment when the victory of Romani and the retreat of the enemy towards El Arish had altered the situation.

The advance to the Hod um Ugba on the 28th, disturbed though it was by the Wellington Regiment, proved to be the beginning of the Turkish offensive. Next morning the enemy's line again ran through the hod, stretching for a short distance north of the caravan route and about six miles [183] south of it, to a point west of Badieh. By the morning of the 3rd August it was evident that he was at last about to launch his attack, for he had moved forward to Qatiya. His line now ran north-east and south-west, from the Bardawil Lagoon to east of Qatiya, with his left flank thrown well forward.

To Sir A. Murray it appeared that the enemy commander was bound down to one plan of operations. It was incredible that he should throw his main weight against the prepared defences. What was anticipated was a containing attack against these defences and an attack with all available strength against the British right south of Katib Gannit. A manoeuvre of this nature would obviously expose the Turkish left flank to an attack by mounted troops, an arm in which the British were strong and the enemy weak. To meet an attack designed to turn his right and pass round it against the camps at Romani and the railway, Sir A. Murray's plan was as follows. In the first place, the enemy was to be delayed and made to pay as dearly as possible for every foot of ground won south of Katib Gannit; then, when he was thoroughly committed and, it was hoped, in some degree disorganized, he was to be attacked in flank by the Section Mounted Troops from Hill 70 and Dueidar, and by the 3rd L.H. Brigade from the Canal Defences, while the Mobile Column already described operated more widely against his flank and rear.

The former of these two elements in the scheme of defence was ensured by a concealed prolongation of the right flank south of Katib Gannit. Major-General Chauvel, after a careful reconnaissance, had selected a position from Katib Gannit to the Hod el Enna, some four miles long, with a second position covering the series of parallel gullies, running south-east and north-west, which gave access to the area of soft sand in rear of the Romani defences. No entrenchments were made, as they would have betrayed the position to the active enemy aircraft, but telephone lines were laid down and the officers of the 1st and 2nd L. H. Brigades made themselves thoroughly acquainted with the ground. It was on these two brigades, under the command of General Chauvel, that was to fall the task of holding up the enemy till he could be taken in flank by the rest of the mounted troops, echeloned in rear. These were on the 3rd August disposed as follows At Dueidar:-

5th A.L.H. This regiment which, as has been stated, temporarily formed part of the N.Z.M.R. Brigade, was sent forward at night to reconnoitre the Turkish left, the Auckland Regiment taking its place at Dueidar.

At Hill 70:-

N.Z.M.R. Brigade (less 5th A.L.H.) and 5th Mounted Brigade, still Section Mounted Troops, that is, under General Lawrence's direct command.


At Ballybunion, the railhead of the metre-gauge railway from Ballah:

3rd L.H. Brigade.


At the railhead of the metre-gauge railway from Ferdan:-

Mobile Column.


The 42nd Division had been concentrated at Qantara between the 20th July and the end of the month, and by the 3rd August moved out along the railway and disposed as follows:

At Gilban Station:-

127th Brigade.

At Hill 70:-

126th Brigade.

At Hill 40:-

125th Brigade.


As it seemed probable that the enemy would attack next morning, the 1st L.H. Brigade was ordered to occupy at dusk the skeleton position south-west of Katib Gannit, with two regiments in line and one in reserve. The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades had had heavy and trying work in the desert heat and were both below strength, so that when horseholders and other details were deducted neither had more than eight hundred rifles available for dismounted action.

The preparations were now complete. British monitors had been lying off Mahamdiyah for some days, shelling the assembling Turkish force. An armoured train was in a siding at Qantara, ready to assist in the defence of the right flank. All available aircraft had been collected at Ismailia, Qantara, Port Said and Romani.

 

Previous: The British Occupation of Romani 

Next: The Turkish Attack on The 4th August 

 

Further Reading:

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Falls Account, The Turkish Advance.

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 7 September 2009 6:24 PM EADT
Friday, 7 August 2009
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 5th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, Unit History Account
Topic: AIF - DMC - British

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

5th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, Unit History Account

 

5th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry in bivouac at Er Rabah

[From Morrison, Ch VII, Illustration 12]

 

At the conclusion of the Great War, Colonel Frederick Lansdowne Morrison, the erstwhile Commanding Officer of the 1/5th Battalion Highland Light Infantry, 157th Infantry Regiment, 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division asked his officers to provide accounts of their time in the Sinai and Palestine. Morrison collected the stories and edited them. In 1921, in printed in Glasgow for a limited private edition, the book The Fifth Battalion Highland Light Infantry in the War 1914-1918 finally came available. It included a section specifically related to the Battle of Romani and is extracted below.

Morrison, F.L., The Fifth Battalion Highland Light Infantry in the War 1914-1918, Glasgow, 1921. 

 
Chapter VII

The Sinai Desert - Mahamdiya, Romani, Katia

The peaceful life of our seaside resort was soon destroyed by rumours that the Turks were moving. On the evening of July 19th, an aeroplane reconnaissance discovered a considerable force of them at Bir el Abd, some twenty-five miles to the east of us, and noticed smaller parties much nearer. The Turkish feat of moving a force, then reckoned at from 8000 to 9000 men, fifty miles from El Arish without our being aware of it, was a very fine one, and when it is remembered that they attacked us at Romani, seventy-five miles from their base, with 18,000 men and artillery up to 6 inch howitzers, everyone who has felt what the desert is like in July will be full of admiration. Nor can one wonder at the fact established by our all-wise Intelligence, that prisoners captured had sore feet. The first ripples of the commotion produced by this report reached us at 1 a.m. on the 20th, when the Adjutant was summoned to Brigade Headquarters. At 2.45 a.m. half "C" Company moved out to take over Redoubt No. 10, and later in the morning "B" Company garrisoned No. 8 and "D" Company No. 11, while the rest of "C" Company occupied 10A. These redoubts, though habitable, were still unfinished. They were part of the defences mentioned above as being in the hands of the Egyptian Labour Corps, a chain of posts running south past Romani and then turning west among the sand hills. The garrisons had at once to set to and improve their position, strengthen their wire and finish off the fire bays. At 10A a signal station had to be established in mid-desert some hundreds of yards from the redoubt, owing to a temporary shortage of signal wire. Signallers are naturally imperturbable, but the officer in charge confessed to a thrill of horror when, having with some difficulty made his way to his signal station at midnight and been handed the receiver, even as he uttered the preliminary "Hullo," the instrument suddenly sprang from his grasp and rushed off into the darkness. Mastering an almost overpowering desire to run for the redoubt, he assisted two signallers to investigate and discovered that the wire had caught in the foot of a straying camel, which had proceeded on its thoughtless way with the receiver attached.

But as is usual in desert warfare, time passed and nothing happened. "B" Company were relieved in No. 8 by the 53rd Division and rejoined "A" Company in camp. The other garrisons got into tents which they pitched in the ground behind the redoubts, so that the majority of the men could have shelter by day. At night the trenches were manned, and all was ready for an attack at dawn. But with the exception of some bomb-dropping raids by their planes, the enemy remained passive. The Australian Light Horse reported that he was busy digging in on a line through Oghratina, some miles east of Katia, and we began to think that he intended to put the onus of attacking on to us. The fear, however, was unfounded, he was only completing his preparations, and on the night of August 3rd-4th he advanced and occupied Katia.

This movement was reported, and "A" and "B" Companies, who had by now relieved "C" and "D" in the redoubts, were warned that the attack was now almost certain. Before dawn on the 4th a bombardment began, but its entire force fell a mile or two to the south of us upon the Romani defences; the Turkish plan being to attack there and, if possible, to turn our right flank. All the morning the artillery fire continued, our reply being strengthened by the "crack of doom imitations" of a couple of monitors out at sea to the north of No. 11. Little or no news filtered through to us, and the redoubt companies spent a hot day in their trenches, which were but ill suited for permanent occupation, while the reduction in the water issue, made necessary by the fear of future difficulties in refilling the storage tanks, started a thirst which was not appeased for many days. During the night, however, we heard enough to assure us that things were going well, and early on the 5th we received orders to leave the redoubts to a garrison of the unfit and to rendezvous in the old camp, prepared for a "mobile."

About midday the Battalion moved off, "A" and "C" Companies having only just arrived from the redoubts after a wakeful night and a heavy morning's work, and already thirsty, though no more water could be issued. A single water bottle, once filled, is but a poor supply for a long day under the Egyptian sun. Marching over heavy sand in the hot hours, even when the haversack has replaced the pack, soon produces an unparalleled drought. Sweat runs into a man's eyes and drips from his chin. It runs down his arms and trickles from his fingers. It drenches his shirt and leaves great white streaks on his equipment. And while so much is running out, the desire to put something in grows and grows. The temptation to take a mouthful becomes well nigh irresistible, and once the bottle of sun-heated chlorine-flavoured water is put to the lips, it is almost impossible to put it down before its precious contents are gone. Then a man becomes hopeless and there is danger of his falling out. All honour to those, and they were many, who through age or sickness, had greater difficulty in keeping up than the rest of us, but who yet carried on indomitably to the end, or only gave in when they had reached a stage of complete collapse. How often in such hours have we felt that if only we could live where one may have an unlimited supply of water just by turning on a tap, we should be content for ever. But are we, my friends? I fear not.

One cannot help feeling that the comparison made with the performances of regular battalions in the heat of India before the war, are unfair. These were trained men, caught young and developed to a high standard of physical fitness, marching along the excellent Indian roads, with a certainty of a good water supply at their night's camping place, and accompanied in many cases by travelling canteens and soda water machines. In our ranks were to be found many men of middle age, unused to active life, and many boys whose physique had not had time to respond to military training. Some had but recently joined us and were not acclimatised, others had not recovered their strength after the dysentery of Gallipoli. Roads or canteens there were none. Of course British troops have often found themselves in such conditions and worse on active service. But it is interesting to find that that fine old soldier R.S.M. Mathieson, always said that he personally never suffered from thirst to anything like the same degree during the Egyptian campaign of 1882.

We left the Battalion moving off S.E. from the camp for the Brigade rendezvous. Here we received orders to attack a "hod" named Abu Hamrah, which lay between us and Katia. The distance was not great, hardly six miles as the crow flies, but we were not crows and had to adopt less direct as well as more laborious methods. The Battalion was on the right in support to the 7th H.L.I., and the march continued with but short halts till 4 p.m., when we had a somewhat longer pause, and a chance to reinforce our early breakfasts. Few men, however, can eat either bully beef or biscuit when they are thirsty, and that was all we had. It always seemed strange that we should not have made more use of food more suitable to the climate. Later on dried figs and occasionally little dried apricots were issued with the mobile ration. Doubtless these are not very sustaining, but they are the fruit of the country, and it is better to have a little you can eat than a full ration that you cannot, whatever the decrease in caloric value may be.

There was neither sound nor sign of enemy opposition, and the advance was resumed in artillery formation in an hour or so. Darkness began to fall and great difficulty was experienced in keeping touch with the battalion in front and even between the different companies, a difficulty increased by the first line camels of the 7th, who were perpetually, though inevitably, getting in our way. When daylight had actually failed it must be admitted the Brigade had become somewhat disintegrated. The Argylls did not regain touch till next morning. The Battalion, minus "A" Company, who had been cut off by some camels and thus entered Abu Hamrah on their own, got up on the right of the 7th, where the errant company eventually discovered it.

Immediately strings of camels now appeared on all sides marching and counter-marching across everybody's front, holding up exasperated and desperate platoon commanders, who finally ruthlessly cut them in two and forged ahead to a chorus of blasphemy from weary escorts and lamentations from terrified native drivers. The peaceful hod had become an inferno. No one knew anything except that there were no Turks. After superhuman efforts on the part of various exalted personages, things were straightened out, pickets detailed and posted, and the men, too tired even to swear, dropped where they were, and rapidly cooled down in the chilly dew. It was now nearly eleven o'clock, and a half bottle of water was issued, enough merely to whet the consuming thirst which gripped everybody. Tunics were disentangled from the damp congeries on our backs and we had a few hours' precious sleep.

At 3 a.m. we stood to and began to dig ourselves in, in positions sited with extreme difficulty, in unknown country, in the dark. Soon, however, orders were received to prepare to move, and in spite of every effort, not more than half the men had had their bottles filled before we had to continue the advance. It was a very hot steamy morning, and the coolness of dawn soon disappeared. The advance was slow, and we grew thirstier and thirstier whether we moved or halted. On reaching a ridge overlooking Rabah and Katia it was found that the leading battalions were too far to the left. We and the Argylls were therefore ordered to turn right-handed and occupy Katia. The dark line of palms appeared very enticing, if very far away, and the Battalion struggled manfully on, shedding the weaker brethren as it went and, very nearly "all out," reached its objective about 10 a.m.

Our troubles were now nearly over. There were no enemy, and the trees gave us a grateful shade, which only "B" Company, pushed forward to hold an outpost line on the far bridge, had to forgo. A fine stone well was found in the oasis with a good supply of cool, though curious tasting water, and canteens were soon being let down into it at the end of puttees in a hopeless effort to cope with our thirst, after which the bolder spirits went so far as to nibble a ration biscuit. But one cannot help reflecting on what might have been the consequences for us if the Turks had adopted the German policy of well-poisoning.

We afterwards heard that the Turks, evacuating Abu Hamrah on our approach, had taken up a strong rear guard position at Katia, and had beaten off the cavalry, who had retired behind us to water their horses and get a much needed night's rest. The Turks had seized their opportunity and slipped away during the night. As far as we were concerned they were welcome to slip.

The story of the Battle of Romani can be read elsewhere. It was not an infantry show—at any rate on our side—though elements of the 52nd Division saw some fighting. No praise can be too high for the endurance and fine fighting quality of our cavalry, both Anzac and English. And it is reckoned that the Turks lost a good half of their force, either killed or captured, before they outdistanced the mounted pursuit.
 

 

Further Reading:

The British Army 

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Roll of Honour, British Forces

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 5th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, Unit History Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 25 October 2009 5:26 PM EADT

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