Topic: AIF - Cars
1st AUSTRALIAN ARMOURED CAR SECTION, AIF
This is a transcription from a manuscript submitted by Captain E.H. James called "The Motor Patrol". It is lodged in the AWM as AWM 224 MSS 209. This is Part 1.
PALESTINE, Part 1
We were now in Palestine proper and settled down in billets in Richon where the Jewish villagers were doing their utmost to make us comfortable. In return we were able to give them our rations of sugar and teat, two luxuries they had been compelled to go without since the war began.
The 11th December was a red letter day for the patrol. Instructions were received to hand in the old derelicts of cars that had served us so well over thousands of miles of all sorts of country and under all sorts of conditions.
We accordingly took them (with the mud of three continents and scars from many battles) to the headquarters of 956 M.T. Company who handed us out six new Fords in their place. The old buses had done their work nobly and it gave the drivers quite a pang to part with them when it came to the point. The drivers carefully removed the name plates before handing the machines in. Each car had been carefully named by its original crews and they were always known by their names in movements.
There was ANZAC (so named because it was supposed to have been used on the peninsula at Gallipoli) and was the oldest car in the patrol. Then came BILLZAC which was generally the companion to ANZAC. OTASEL received its name from its tendency to warm the feet of its occupants and SILENT SUE because it was the quietest car in the fleet. IMSHI was so named on account of its speed capabilities. (IMSHI being the Egyptian word for clear out.) No. 6 car was generally known as BUNG. This car carried the spare ammunition and some said that this was the reason for its name, but some held that there were other reasons.
Anyhow the old ones were gone and we now had to transfer our love to the new. For a couple of days we spent our time oiling, greasing and testing the mechanical parts, tuning up engine, fitting up the machine gun mountings, also our ration and ammunition containers to the best advantage. We were now able to dispense with the condensers as owing to the cooler climate and harder ground these were not necessary for the radiators. The first job of the new vehicles was to distribute voting papers for the conscription referendum which was done on the 13th December.
During the remainder of the month the Patrol was engaged in various small movements along the front. The weather had settled down to continuous rain and was extremely uncomfortable to all those moving outside their billets. Owing to the condition of the ground and the state of the roads neither side was able to make any very big movement. The Patrol did quite a bit of escort work to and from Jerusalem along the road from Jaffa. This road which was originally built a couple of thousand years back by the Romans required extreme care in driving. The grades were very severe and the hairpin bends were too sharp for a vehicle with a long wheelbase to negotiate. Brakes on the motor cars and lorries were severely tested in coming down the 3000’ fast drop from the Jerusalem hills to the plains below. Quite a number of motor vehicles were lost and unfortunately a number of men also through brake failures. At some of the bad corners the wrecks could be seen hundreds of feet below, generally with their four wheels upper-most and the contents scattered beneath. They were there for ever and can probably still be seen by tourists where they act as a warning to fast drivers. The Jaffa-Jerusalem road in spite of its dangerous character was a very important, and practically the only route from the coast to the hills of Judea. A large volume of motor transport was continually on the road carrying munitions, stores and food for the starving population and it soon became apparent that the road would not stand the heavy traffic.
Large numbers of native labourers were engaged in repairing and rebuilding the bad patches and several steam rollers were brought up. Fortunately, there was no shortage of road metal as the country on either side of the road was practically solid rock are was strewn with boulders and spells which only had to be broken and carried a raw yards.
The women and girls from surrounding villages did a great deal of this work gathering the stones in baskets which they carried on their heads to the required places. These people were practically starving and they welcomed this work as they were fed and paid by the army authorities.
As our cars were continually journeying to and from Jerusalem along this road, we began to give serious consideration to the condition of the brakes. Although most of the British vehicles had ample braking surfaces this could not always be said for some of the cheaper type of cars used in the army and it was no exaggeration to say that sometimes a set of brake shoes would be worn out in one day's work descending these hills. Most of the accidents that took place were caused by some failure in the transmission such as broken tail shaft or universal point, faulty crown wheels and pinions.
It is unlikely that any of the members of the Light Car Patrol will forget their first trip to Jerusalem. Several of the bridges had been blown up by the retreating Turks and crossings had to be made through streams that were fortunately not too deep to negotiate with our cars. The approaches to the streams however, were extremely rough and steep and many huge boulders had to be levered aside. There was plenty of manhandling in order to get the vehicles up the steep banks of "one in one" and back to the track again. On one bridge the crown of the arch only was blown out and here we were enabled to place a couple of stout planks across the gap over which we drove in comfort. In spite of all the hard work the trip was wall worth it all. The views from the heights around Jerusalem were wonderful.
The British Headquarters had been established in a large German building on the Mount of Olives from the tower of which could be seen the blue Mediterranean to the West and twenty five miles away to the east could be clearly seen the Dead sea which appeared to be only about five miles off. This sea and the Jordan Valley with Jericho, case over twelve hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean on the other side. The enemy still held all this country below and our batteries in a valley alongside were busy plastering him with shrapnel and H.E. while an occasional burst of one of the enemy shells in the villages alongside seemed somehow to be quite out of place with the surroundings. The weather was clear and the visibility was wonderful. The roads could be clearly distinguished through the glasses winding up the hills, thirty or forty miles away.
We were later to know quite a lot about this country from very close acquaintance when we found out that some of it at least looked much better from a distance.
The heights of Jerusalem were very cold after our long sojourn in the desert. It was now nearing the middle of winter and our drivers felt the hail and sleet very severely as there cane no protection on the cars while driving and most of them were quite glad to return to the comparatively warm climate of Jaffa and Richon after their visits to the hills.
Christmas Day was celebrated at Richon le Zion. There was comparative quiet at the front, although two days previously an engagement had taken place at Mulebbis (a village several miles out). The inhabitants turned out in force to celebrate the occasion and the famous wine cellars of the town were drawn upon for the troops who were supplied with a liberal ration of the beautiful Tokay for which the district is famous. We had a church parade in the morning and in the afternoon the inhabitants provided a free banquet. Unfortunately, it rained most of the time, but nevertheless the troops enjoyed the occasion.
Two days later, we moved away through seas of mud and water to the village of Esdud. During the month of January, 1918, the unit was kept continually busy reconnoitring the various roads and tracks along the whole front from Jerusalem to the coast, but on the 17th February, we moved with the A & N.Z. Mtd. Division to Jerusalem as a big operation was brewing on that flank. Next day we proceeded with Engineer officers to Solomon’s Poole on the Hebron Road to establish watering places for the horses and troops.
On the 20th February the division proceeded along the back road to force the way to Jericho. Our orders were to take our cars and escort the motor transport along the Roman Road to Neby Muse which overlooks Jericho. We proceeded satisfactorily for eight miles and after making a reconnaissance we found that the main road which is very precipitous and steep would be impassable for wheeled vehicles for many hours. We then went back to a rough track known as the "Pilgrims" road which we worked along laboriously for about 4 miles until we came to the hill Gebel Ektief. Here we were compelled to stop as the hill was held in force by the enemy.
We placed the vehicles under cover of a neighbouring slope and climbed a hill opposite in time to view a wonderful charge by our infantry up the slopes of Gebel Ektief.
The hill had entrenchments near the summit and we noticed that the enemy troops in the trenches at the right flank at the approach of our infantry jumped out of the rear of their trenches and ran along the top of the trench towards the other flank.
Later on we discovered that there was a sheer precipice behind them and they ran towards the other and to get away before it was too late. We were getting a wonderful dress circle view of the fight and in the excitement some of our men must have made themselves too conspicuous as a few minutes later we were plastered with shrapnel by the disgruntled enemy gunners.
Needless to say we soon left our front view seats and as the road was now comparatively clear of the enemy we proceeded to our job of getting the transport along.
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