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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.

Contact: Australian Light Horse Studies Centre

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Thursday, 6 August 2009
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, War Diary Account
Topic: AIF - NZMRB

 Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

NZMR Bde, War Diary Account

 

War Diary account of the NZMR Bde.

 

The transcription:

 

4 August

0200 - Received information that the enemy was pushing forward their left flank in a north east direction towards high ground west of Bir Et Maler and further that the outposts of Anzac Mounted Division at Hod el Enna had been heavily engaged throughout the night and were withdrawing on Bir Et Maler.

0700 - The Brigade moved out with orders to proceed to Dueidar. When 1¼ miles from Dueidar Brigade was directed to Canterbury Hill with orders to collect the two absent regiments at once and operate against the enemy's left flank reported in vicinity of Canterbury Hill

1100 - Brigade (strength was increased by six Troops, Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment) arrived at high ground 1½ miles south east of Canterbury Hill. Turks seen (about 2,000) busily entrenching on Mount Royston and hills to the north.

1130 -
Touch was gained with Anzac Mounted Division on the left and 5th Mounted Brigade (from Gilgan) on the right.

Enemy's advanced posts were then attacked and driven in supported by Royal Horse Artillery Battery. Further advances however then checked.

1450 - General Officer Commanding 2nd Light Horse Brigade arrived with message from general Officer Commanding Anzac Mounted Division stating that the two Brigades at Bir Et Maler could not move out until Mount Royston had been cleared. General assault arranged with 5th Mounted Brigade and ordered for 1645.

1645 - General Assault, supported by Royal Horse Artillery Battery.

1700 - Mount Royston rushed and 250 Turks surrendered.

1715 - The 127th Infantry Brigade was now approaching from the direction of Pelusium and came in eventually on the left of the Brigade as support.

1745 - Enemy continued to surrender on ridges north of Mount Royston, being heavily enfiladed.

1830 - Hills finally cleared and handed over to Infantry.

1915 - The Brigade moved to Pelusium to bivouac.


5 August

0530 - The Brigade left Pelusium in a south easterly direction to Bir en Nuss the guns and limbers going by a more southerly route (via Dueidar) where one Section of the Battery was left, the other proceeding with double teams.

0830 - Brigade arrived at Bir en Nuss where the 3rd Light Horse Brigade and 5th Light Horse Regiment were found watering also one Squadron Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment. The Brigade having watered proceeded towards Qatia along the telegraph wire, the guns not having as yet rejoined the Brigade.

The 3rd Light Horse Brigade moved forward on our right via Nagid and Hamisah.

1215 - The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade reached the high ground two miles west of Qatia.

A conference of Brigadiers was held and the attack on Qatia oasis ordered, where the enemy was reported in force.

1415 - General attack by 5 Brigades as per plan and the south west and western end of the oasis occupied.

1715 - 3rd Light Horse Brigade withdrew exposing the right flank of New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade.

1730 - Enemy reinforced his left flank and our right was very heavily pressed. (Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment.)

1900 - Brigade withdrew and moved to bivouac at Katib Gannit.

0300 - Arrived Katib Gannit, special guide having lost his way.

Note: On arrival water very scarce.

The Royal Horse Artillery Section joined the Brigade; on arrival at bivouac having been all day coming up owing to the very heavy going between Dueidar and Qatia.


6 August

0400 - Four Officers' Patrols left to reconnoitred for the Infantry Divisions attacking Qatia.

0600 - The brigade, less
Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment who followed after watering, moved forward to Qatia which was found unoccupied.

1030 - The Brigade again moved east to join touch with the enemy who was found entrenched across the telegraph line 1½ miles east of Hod umm Ugba. Heavy artillery fire was opened on us and kept up till dark.

 

Roll of Honour

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Roll of Honour, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade 

Lest We Forget

 

Further Reading:

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, Roll of Honour

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, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, War Diary Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 24 October 2009 5:27 PM EADT
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Roll of Honour, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade
Topic: AIF - NZMRB

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Roll of Honour

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade



Poppies on the Auckland Cenotaph plinth

 

The Roll of Honour contains the names of all the men from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade known to have served and lost their lives during the Battle of Romani.

 

Roll of Honour

 

Alexander Harold GOOD, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 7 August 1916.


Lewis MANSON, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Killed in Action, 5 August 1916.

Thomas McCAHON, New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron, Died of Wounds, 4 August 1916.

Edward Charles MORTON, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 7 August 1916.

 
Joseph George Alfred PICKENS, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Killed in Action, 4 August 1916.

 

Frederick Ormsby REES, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Killed in Action, 5 August 1916.


Ralph SUTTON, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 5 August 1916.

 

John WALKER Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 6 August 1916.

Leslie WALLACE, Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, Died of Wounds, 7 August 1916.

Mervyn Leigh WATERS, Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, Killed in Action, 4 August 1916.

 

Lest We Forget

 

 

Further Reading:

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

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, Roll of Honour, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 21 October 2009 4:38 PM EADT
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade
Topic: AIF - NZMRB

The Battle of Magdhaba

Sinai, 23 December 1916

Roll of Honour

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade


Poppies on the Auckland Cenotaph plinth

 

The Roll of Honour contains the names of all the men from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade known to have served and lost their lives during the Battle of Magdhaba.

 

Roll of Honour

Henry Allan BOWRON, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment.

 

Rudolph Grattan COOKE, Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment.

 

William Charles DAULTON, Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment.

 

Reginald Ewart GAMLIN, Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment.

 

Maurice Alfred HARDING, Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. 


Alan Gerald MORGAN, Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment. 

 

Edward James PEACOCK, Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment.  


Richard Reginald WATKINS, Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment.  

Lest We Forget

 

Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Steve Becker who provided much of the raw material that appears in this item.

 

Further Reading:

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, Roll of Honour 

The Battle of Magdhaba

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 22 November 2009 6:09 AM EAST
The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, NZMRB, Unit History Account
Topic: AIF - NZMRB

The Battle of Magdhaba

Sinai, 23 December 1916

NZMRB Unit History Account

 

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Guy Powles along with Major A Wilkie produced in 1922 a book called The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, in which included a section specifically related to the Battle of Magdhaba and is extracted below. A copy of this book is available on the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association website.

 

Powles, CG, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, 1922.

 

Now the Wadi El Arish is what the ancients called the “River of Egypt.” It is a great dry watercourse coming from the heart of the Sinai Peninsula and there flows down it, two or three times in each year, a great “spate of water.” This usually occurs in December or January, at which season there are great thunderstorms among the mountains. For the rest of the year the wadi is dry; though, as we proved afterwards, water can be obtained at certain places by well digging. Our intelligence reports showed that the Turks were building a railway from Beersheba through Magdhaba, which lies some 30 miles up the wadi from El Arish, and was intended to reach the Suez Canal by way of the route which lay through the mountains.

There was always a danger of an attack by the Turks along this route so that it was necessary that the country to our south should be constantly patrolled. This work was undertaken by the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, which had been formed from New Zealand, Australian, and Yeomanry reinforcements.

The equipment of this fine body of men included the ‘Dhurra’ bag carrying five days grain for the camel, and a cylindrical five-gallon tank holding the rider’s five days water supply. Food for five days and spare clothing, were carried in a canvas ‘‘Pikau’’ bag slung over the saddle. Strapped over all were blankets, overcoat, rifle, &c., the full weight carried being about 3201b, including the man.

The camels were swift trotting and were supposed to be able to go five days without water. New Zealand contributed two companies, the first of which—the 15th Camel Company— was formed in July under the command of Captain J. G.

McCallum, a very keen and efficient young officer, who, backed up by the natural aptitude of the New Zealand soldier to fall in with existing circumstances, very soon had his company fit to take the field. Later a second company was formed, a gain from volunteers and surplus reinforcements. The two companies took part in all operations undertaken by the I.C.C. Brigade until June 1918, when they were reorganised, and formed the 2nd N.Z. Machine Gun Squadron in the final operations.

The Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Archibald Murray, came out to Mazar and rode round the outposts, going to the Auckland Regiment who were “farthest east” on the Old Road, and laid his plans for the advance upon El Arish.

More Yeomanry Regiments had by now arrived and with the addition of the Camel Brigade, the mounted force available for future operations had considerably increased. So all available troops were formed into a force called “The Desert Column” under the command of Lieut.-General Sir Philip Chetwode, who had so successfully commanded a cavalry brigade in the retreat from Mons, and a cavalry division later on in France. Plans were laid and orders issued for the advance and attack upon El Arish, when information came that the Turks were evacuating the town.

The Anzac Mounted Division immediately prepared to march out, and on the evening of the 20th of December concentrated at a point on the Old Caravan Road about 15 miles from El Arish, and an all-night march began. The plan was that El Arish was to be completely encircled by dawn — the 1st L.H. Brigade, crossing the wadi to the south of the town, were to close the exits to the north and east; the camels arid the N.Z. Brigade to close all escape to the south; while the Yeomanry advanced from the west.

The N.Z. Brigade, with whom marched the Divisional Headquarters, was guided by Lieut. Finlayson of the Auckland Regiment who had previously led patrols into this vicinity; and so excellent was his judgment and skill in finding his way that when daylight appeared the column was found to be within 200 yards of the small sand hill to which he had been asked to guide it. As soon as communication could be obtained with the other brigades it was found that all had reached their allotted positions before dawn and so completely isolated the town; and soon afterwards our patrols entered the town and found that the Turks had gone.

The praise for this bloodless victory was in a great measure due to the horses, for the Turk was beginning to feel a wholesome dread of the speed and wide striking range of our mounted arm. He preferred to abandon rather than to defend the well prepared and excellently sited trenches at El Arish. He was so apprehensive about the security of his line of retreat that he made his exit good before the mounted troops could attack. His fears were soon realised however, at Magdhaba, where his retreat was abruptly terminated.

Immediate steps were taken to patrol the country to find out what, had become of the garrison, and a line of out-posts was formed well to the east of the town. During the day the Desert Column Commander, General Chetwode, arrived on the beach at El Arish by motor launch from Port Said. Reliable information soon showed that the El Arish garrison had retired to Magdhaba and plans were put in hand for the advance of the Division to this place. The defence of El Arish was handed over to the Yeomanry and to the 52nd Division as they came up, and the Anzac Mounted Division concentrated after dark on the evening of the 21st at a point about five miles south of El Arish on the wadi. Here supplies were issued which had been brought from railhead by camel; and the Division resumed its march about midnight.

The weather was cold but the going admirable, and good progress was made.

Each hour was divided into 40 minutes riding, 10 minutes leading to warm the men, and 10 minutes halt.

The fires of the enemy camp at Magdhaba having been observed at 3.50 am.

the force continued to advance until 10 minutes to five and then halted and dismounted in an open plain some four miles from its objective, while the Divisional Commander went forward to reconnoitre. The number of bivouac fires indicated a considerable force and the brightness of the lights was very misleading as to distance.

The position appeared much closer than it really was.

This showing of lights by the enemy clearly indicated how impossible he thought that tired horses and men after an all night march of 30 miles could possibly set out immediately upon another 30 mile march to the position to which he had retired.

As dawn broke, the bivouac fires disappeared, and a haze of smoke obscured the valley from view for some time. Reconnaissance of the enemy's position was therefore very difficult, and though our aeroplanes were assisting it was not until 8 o ‘clock that orders could be issued for the attack.

A message which helped to a decision, though entirely unofficial, was that which fell from an aeroplane of the Australian Flying Squadron. The author had flown over an enemy position and had been given such a hot reception there that his feelings prompted him to advise his friends in the Light Horse,—for home consumption only— "the (bastards) are there all right.” This important message however fell near D.H.Q. and the latter immediately took full advantage of its principal information without questioning the pedigree of the Turks concerned.

General Chaytor with his own brigade and the 3rd L.H. Brigade was given orders to move on Magdhaba by the north and north-east and to endeavour to cut off all retreat. The camels advanced straight on Magdhaba following the telegraph line and the 1st L.H. Brigade was for the present in reserve. The Division’s batteries soon got to work but targets were extraordinarily hard to find. The enemy’s batteries and trenches were exceedingly well concealed, but by 10 o’clock the N.Z. Brigade had closed well in and the news was brought in by an aeroplane that the enemy were beginning to retire and that there was a possibility of their escaping our enveloping movement. So the 1st L.H. Brigade was ordered to move direct on to Magdhaba, but meeting severe shrapnel fire as it trotted over the open plain, was compelled to change direction and take refuge in the wadi bed, up which it advanced against the enemy’s left, detaching one regiment to move round to the south of the enemy’s position. By 12 o’clock all three brigades and the Camel Brigade were hotly engaged, but on account of mirage and dust-clouds good observations were impossible.

The greatest assistance was, however, given by the aeroplanes whose reports, frequently brought in, and often given verbally by the observer, whose pilot brought him to ground by Headquarters, showed estimated positions, strength, and movements of the enemy at various points. The information generally indicated that he was preparing to evacuate. The country favoured the enemy who took full advantage of the many folds in the ground to conceal himself. Much drawing of fire was necessary before he could be located.

With the Auckland Regiment in reserve the N.Z. Brigade had advanced with Wellington on the right and Canterbury on the left in “Line of Troop Columns” accompanied by the Vickers and Lewis Guns. On arriving at a point about 2000 yards from the enemy position four enemy mountain guns and many snipers opened fire upon the advancing troops, but they pushed forward to a point 1600 yards from the enemy where they dismounted to attack on foot. But the advanced screen under a Wellington officer had pushed up to within 400 yards where they dismounted in a covered position. At noon the situation was as follows :— The New Zealanders were engaged with and had partially enveloped the enemy’s right; the 3rd L.H. Brigade was still held in reserve by General Chaytor, with the exception of the 10th L.H. regiment, under that well-known New Zealander of the 2nd contingent, Lieut-Colonel “Barney” Todd, D.S.O., which was engaged in making a wide turning movement to the south to intercept any retirement by the enemy. The I.C.C. was attacking direct on the village and the 1st L.H. Brigade was working on to the enemy's left by way of the wadi bed.

At this time the fire from the enemy mountain guns and from his rifles and machine guns was very heavy, but the guns were very badly served and the small arms fire most inaccurate.

As the attack developed, at 12.30, General Chaytor sent in the 8th and 9th L.H. Regiments between the Wellington and Canterbury regiments, where there was a gap of some 800 yards.

About 1 o‘clock word was received that water could not be found at Bir Lahfan, which meant that there was no water for the horses nearer than El Arish, 30 miles away, and it was realised that the enemy was in a very strong position with redoubts well sited and fully manned. Considerable doubt was felt therefore if the position could be taken before dark. But about 2 p.m. things began to improve; both 1st L.H. and N.Z. Brigades making progress—the 1st L.H. Brigade capturing some trenches and about 100 prisoners.

By 3.30 p.m. the New Zealanders with fixed bayonets were swarming over the trenches to the east of the houses and the Turks were surrendering in all directions.

At four o ‘clock General Chaytor was enabled to report that his men held the buildings and redoubts on the left and that the 10th L.H. advancing from the south had captured two trenches on that side, so that all retreat to the Turks was cut off.

As darkness came on fighting had practically ceased and prisoners were rounded up and collected, and horses watered at the captured wells.

One of the decisive events of the afternoon was the capture of a battery of four mountain guns. This was effected by Lieut. Johnston, Canterbury regiment. After the surrender of the first batch of prisoners Lieut. Johnston and six men pushed on to where the battery was still firing; he attacked the position and after firing a few rounds the garrison consisting of two officers and 15 men surrendered.

The Auckland regiment, with the 1st L.H. Regiment (from the 1st L.H. Brigade) and one squadron from the 3rd L.H. Brigade were left to clear the battlefield; and the three brigades began their 30 mile ride back to El Arish, stopping at Bir Lahfan where a convoy of camels bad arrived laden with much needed water for the men, who had left El Arish the night before carrying one water bottle per man only.

It must be remembered that they had been marching and fighting for 30 hours without pause and for most of them it meant the third night without sleep. To pass one night without sleep is trying; two nights is absolutely painful; but the third night without sleep after heavy fighting with all the added strain and excitement that it means—is almost an impossibility. Men and horses were dropping off at the oddest times and in the oddest of positions, and many men and horses came down in the dust; and this long night ride may safely be regarded as one of the most trying of the many wearisome marches experienced by the brigade. Apart from the intense cold which penetrated to the bone the lightly clad horsemen, the men were fatigued to such a degree that words fail to adequately describe. They had been called upon to make a superhuman effort immediately following their long march from Mazar; and had succeeded in performing all that had been asked of them.

Dense clouds of dust almost blinded the tired horses, which collided with one another in the dark. Many a man fell asleep, and letting his reins slack, was taken by his horse — who feeling the loss of control had quickened his pace—far in among the troops in front. This caused much amusement and especially so in the case of the Italian Liaison Officer who was among those who fell asleep on their horses. He was riding with the Headquarters of the Division behind one of the brigades and though clad in khaki wore a cap of a different colour and shape from the British cap. Three separate times did his horse take him away in amongst the horses of the leading brigade; and three separate times did tired and dosing troopers wake up with a start to find a stranger riding with them; and three separate times was he brought back to Divisional Headquarters under arrest as a spy! He was a cavalry officer and had lived in England and in New Zealand and was a most popular man amongst all who knew him, but these repeated arrests distressed him considerably and added to the amusement of all concerned and helped to pass away the weary hours.

The powers of endurance of the human brain have their limits and rebel when overtaxed; and on this journey “visions” in various forms appeared to most of the riders. Although the route of the march was practically bare, yet streets and houses well lit up, and curiously shaped animals were seen. The Divisional Commander, usually the most staid of men and who was riding with his staff, was suddenly seen to set spurs to his horse and accompanied by the officer who was riding beside him galloped off to one side in the darkness. The column had gone on its way stumbling and grumbling for a mile or more before the General and his companion quietly slipped back into their places; and it was some time before the explanation of their sudden leaving of the column could he got out of them. It appears that they both, at the same time, thought they saw a fox and thought that they were fox hunting and so went off at a gallop.

That many hundreds of men should see tall buildings lighted up and strange forms—each according to his fancy— is curious, but that two sober sensible well balanced men should at the same time experience the same hallucination is more than strange. Many discussions have followed these happenings and our wise ones laid it down that the brain had temporarily lost certain of its powers of endurance, which sleep alone could restore. Perhaps this phenomenon accounts for the story told in France of the “Angels of Mons” during the early stages of the war when the British troops were fighting continuously there.

The Brigade eventually arrived at its bivouac ground near Nasmi about three miles from El Arish at about six o’clock on the morning of Christmas Eve; and was almost immediately heavily bombed by enemy planes.

The losses during this action were astonishingly small considering the fighting done and the captures made. The list is an interesting one as showing what is taken from a beaten enemy who is out in the field far from civilization, and it is of course very incomplete, for darkness came on before the last Turk had surrendered, and there was not enough time to collect a quarter of the military material of value. The list is as follows :—
Large quantity of Hospital equipment.

Turkish orders and newspapers.

A number of plans of reservoirs, etc.

1282. Prisoners, including 43 officers 1 Battery Mountain Guns.

4 Machine Guns complete.

1 Broken Machine Gun.

1052 Rifles.

180 Bayonets.

6 Boxes of gun ammunition.

10,000 Rounds of S.A.A.

1 Dredger.

Component parts of an oil engine intact.

10 Fantasses.

40 Horses.

50 Camels.

Telephone wire equipment.

Amongst the officers captured was Khadir Bey commanding the 80th Regiment, Izzet Bey commanding 2/80 Battalion and Rushti Bey commanding 3/80 Battalion. Many hundreds of Turks were killed and wounded yet our casualties in the whole Division were only 12 killed and 134 wounded, of which the N.Z. Brigade contributed two officers, and seven men; and 36 other ranks wounded only. The extremely light casualty list may be attributed to the great adaptability of our men to this class of warfare. The attack was well-planned and well carried out with great skill and boldness, every man showing a skill and intelligent appreciation of the situation and fearless confidence in himself and his comrades. And the fine and sturdy persistence of the Youth from the Southern Cross ultimately placed them in a position to charge with the bayonet; and the line of glistening bayonets at close range with determined men behind them, overcame the enemy who quickly collapsed and surrendered.

It is worthy of note that in an address to the Brigade the following day General Chetwode said “that the mounted men at Magdhaba had done what he had never known cavalry in the history of war to have done before, i.e., they had not only located and surrounded the enemy's position but they had got down to it as infantry and had carried fortified positions at the point of the bayonet.” The season was midwinter in this country; and though the days had been hot the nights had been growing bitterly cold. Throughout the whole of the desert campaign, after the camps at Romani had been left, the troops had had no tents; not even a sun shelter was issued to them. When in the palm groves a certain amount of shelter from the sun could be obtained, but men bivouacking out in the open suffered the full blast from the sun. Many unauthorised “bivvies” were acquired from time to time, pieces of sacking, pieces of canvas, Bedouin cloth, in fact anything that would serve as a sun shelter was pressed into use, to be thrown away again immediately a “stunt” came on. Now however with the bitterly cold nights and the prospect of winter storms coming, every effort was made to get tents from Egypt; but they were not forthcoming until some time after the winter storms had broken upon us.

 

Further Reading:

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, Roll of Honour

The Battle of Magdhaba

The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Roll of Honour, Australia and New Zealand

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, NZMRB, Unit History Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 22 November 2009 12:34 PM EAST
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, NZMR Unit History Account
Topic: AIF - NZMRB

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

NZMR Unit History Account

 

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Guy Powles along with Major A Wilkie produced in 1922 a book called The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, in which included a section specifically related to the battle of Bir el Abd and is extracted below. A copy of this book is available on the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association website.

 

Powles, CG, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, 1922

 

Chapter III

The Battle of Romani.

"And the Egyptians lay encamped on the banks of the Nile which runs by Pelusium, awaiting Cambyses. The Persians crossed the desert, and pitching their camp close to the Egyptians, made ready for battle. Stubborn was the fight which followed and it was not until vast numbers had been slain that the Egyptians turned and fled." —Herodotus.

Now the ruins of ancient Pelusium are to this day to be seen some few miles from the wells of Romani; and it was just outside Pelusium in the rear 528 B.C. that the invading Persians conquered the Egyptians. Upon this self same ground 2500 years later the invaders of Egypt were to be defeated in the Battle of Romani.

The operations which now ensued and which resulted in the complete defeat of the Turks and of the final overthrow of tile German-Turkish dreams of cutting the Suez Canal and of conquering Egypt, may be described as of three phases.

In the first phase our plans were perfected; the railhead at Romani protected with strong works and manned by infantry; and the mounted troops drew the enemy on across the desert until he finally attacked our railhead.

The second phase was the Battle of Romani, which might have been called the second battle of Pelusium, and which consisted of the great Turkish attack and our counter stroke.

In the third phase, the Turk was driven hack into the desert and finally defeated in the action of Bir El Abd.

Immediately the news of the enemy’s advance was brought in by General Chaytor, there began a busy and an arduous time for the Anzac Mounted Division. At or around the wells of Romani were the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades, and their work was to keep in touch with the enemy and to find out his strength and his movements. It had long been realised that if possible the Turk, when his next advance began, should be induced to come on and to attack us where we could get the support of the infantry; for by practical experience it was definitely known that under the great summer heat and on the burning sand, our infantry could not be expected to march more than six miles per day. Therefore it would be wise to induce the Turk to attack us in position, maintaining at the same time a mobile mounted force with which to strike at his flank, to cut his communications, and so surround him.

A defensive line was therefore constructed by the 52nd Division (Lowland Scots), a magnificent lot of men of fine physique, who played a good game of Rugby and were therefore soon on the best of terms with our men. They were veterans from Helles where they were under the command of Lieut-General the Hon. H. A.

Lawrence, afterwards Sir Hubert Lawrence, K.C.B., Chief of Staff to Sir Douglas Haig, and who now commanded all troops in the Romani area. This line rested its left on the sea at Mahemdia (the camp of Chabrias—that famous Athenian Admiral who conquered the Egyptian Fleet about the year 376 B.C. and landed his forces here for the attack upon Egypt) and ran along a series of sand hills protecting railhead at Romani and enclosed with its right a mighty sand hill called Katib Gannit, a total length of some six miles. But though protecting the railhead this fortified line did not include the “Old Road”—the caravan route which runs from Katia through Dueidar and so to Kantara. This was left to the Anzac Mounted Division whose distribution was now as follows :— lst and 2nd L.H. Brigade— vicinity of Romani (with the 2nd L.H. Brigade was the Wellington Regiment) ; at Hill 70 about five miles behind Dueidar lay the N.Z.M.R. Brigade with the 5th L.H. Regiment at Dueidar itself, and patrols away east along the “Old Road”—the New Zealanders with the addition of two regiments of Yeomanry and two R.H.A. batteries formed the force destine to strike at the enemy’s southern flank; further south based upon the Canal, was the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.

The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades working from Romani took it in turn day by day to harass the enemy, to report his movements, and to draw him on. The work was exceedingly interesting but very arduous, and was carried out day after day in the scorching sun with little or no sleep.

Miniature battles between our own and the enemy’s patrols were frequent, and the prisoners thus taken were invaluable sources of information to us.

The Wellington Regiment was still attached to the 2nd L.H. Brigade and remained and fought as a unit therein through the battle of Romani and the operations following, which were preceded by those fatiguing day and night reconnaissances.

The regiment bore its full share of the fighting and earned the unstinted praise of the Australians who affectionately termed the Wellingtons the “Well and Trulies.” Moreover, at one stage in these operations, the Wellington Regiment temporarily furnished—owing to casualties—the Brigade Commander, the Brigade Major, and the Staff Captain, simultaneously for the 2nd L.H. Brigade.

On the 28th July enemy forces had entered Um Ugba— which formed an advanced salient in their position. Lieut-Colonel Meldrum who commanded the regiment and who loved a fight, asked permission to take the Hod, and for two guns to assist in the attack.

The assault was made by two squadrons who advanced under machine gun fire and the well-directed fire of the two 18 pounders, and was made at the point of the bayonet with a determination and energy that gained great praise from the Light Horsemen who witnessed it. The enemy were driven out of the Hod leaving 16 dead and 8 prisoners in our hands.

A typical day’s work at this time was as follows :— A brigade would leave its bivouac about one in the morning and would get into touch with the Turks about daylight, picking up officer patrols that were left out all night by the preceding brigade. A section of horse artillery from the Ayrshire Battery with guns mounted on ped-rails accompanied the Brigade which soon came to blows with the Turks in finding out his dispositions. After harassing the enemy all day, the Brigade early in the afternoon would begin its return to its bivouac at Romani, leaving out as before a number of officer patrols to watch the Turks. These officer patrols were of the greatest value and the timely information sent in by them on the night of August 3rd gave ample notice of the Turks’ great advance.

These tactics were so skilfully carried out that every move of the Turk was known to us; and he daily reported to Constantinople— “British again driven back towards the Canal.” By daylight on August 3rd the enemy had advanced to and occupied Katia Oasis—within striking distance of the infantry line at Romani.

Immediately in front of Katia lay our open right flank with the Old Caravan Route leading to Dueidar and the Canal. The possibility of the Turkish attack developing in this direction had been considered by General Lawrence in consultation with Divisional Commanders; and the plans for meeting such an attack fully discussed.

Having in view that the morrow, August 4th, was the last day of the Mohammedan Feast of Bairam; and that the Turks would probably attack on that day; General Chauvel decided to leave out for the night the whole of the 1st Light Horse Brigade to hold an out-post line of about 3 miles to cover all the entrances to the sandhill plateau, which formed the Romani position, and which were unprotected by Infantry posts. It was this skilful placing of the 1st L.H. Brigade by The Divisional Commander that upset the Turkish plan—causing the enemy to deploy four hours before he intended to and making one of his columns change direction in the dark, forcing it into the soft and steeply undulating sand dunes lying between Romani and Kantara.

The night was a very quiet one and very dark. At 10 o‘clock a light was seen at Katia. It was exposed four times for 10 seconds each time; then ceased; and all was quiet. Just before midnight the 1st Light Horse Brigade called up the Divisional H.Q.

by telephone and reported that bodies of the enemy were appearing in front of the outpost line, and that firing had commenced.

This out-post line had been taken up after dark on the evening of the 3rd but nevertheless withstood the enemy’s main attack from 12 midnight to 4 a.m. on the 4th, when the 1st Brigade was reinforced by the 2nd Brigade; and then the two Brigades as previously arranged, pivoting on the extreme right of the infantry position, gradually withdrew to a line which had already been decided upon, covering the right flank and rear of the Romani position.

At 3 o ‘clock in the morning some more information came in from the N.Z.

Brigade which had an officer patrol at Bir Abu Rami away out on the Old Caravan road. It appears that the officer in charge had heard the enemy approaching and had sent an N.C.O. with some men to investigate. This N.C.O. soon encountered the enemy, and leaving his patrol in observation hurried back to Bir Abu Raml to warn the party there, but he found himself in between two columns of Turks moving northwest.

He then rode quietly to one column, rode along it until he struck a gap in the transport camels, went through and made off with his information apparently unobserved. It soon became apparent that the enemy ‘s attack was made in three columns in numbers about 8000. One, their right column, attacked the 52nd Division in front. This attack was easily held off, but the 52nd Division was subjected to severe shelling during the day. The Turk centre column and his left column were most skilfully led round the open flank on the 52nd Division’s right, and on, to seize the camp and the railway. The skill and confidence with which these columns were led was explained some days afterwards when some Turkish orders were captured, signed by Lieut.-Colonel von Stotsein, Commander of the 4th Group. These orders stated, inter alia, “Bedouin guides will be required to have a certificate to be able to cross the enemy lines.” This meant that only those Bedouins who were in our pay (and supposed to be getting information for us) were to be employed. The enemy were so determined in their attack that they would undoubtedly have reached the railway but for the gallant and skilful resistance put up by the Light Horse Brigades and our Wellington Regiment. There was no moon and the Turkish masses could not be seen.

Our men could only fire at the flash of the enemy rifles and beat off his bayonet attack when it came.

As has been said, at daylight the 2nd L.H. Brigade, with the Wellington Regiment reinforced the 1st L.H. Brigade, prolonging the latter’s right. The enemy’s weight was such that the two Brigades gradually drew back until about 11 a.m. The enemy’s main attack, arrested by the well-directed fire of the R.H.A. Batteries of the Anzac Mounted Division, and by our rifle and machine gun fire, which was contributed to considerably by the 52nd Division infantry posts on the right of the Romani position, appeared then to have exhausted itself, but held its ground.

The camps as well as the firing line were heavily shelled by the Turkish guns of various calibres including 5.9” and 10.5 Cm. guns, and were severely bombed by enemy planes.

The enemy now held a line running from the Bardawil along the front of the 52nd Division entrenched position and thence bending westward through, and including, the great sandhill called Mount Meredith to the great sand dune Mount Royston (named respectively after the G.O.C. 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades). This latter position dominated the camp area at Romani and threatened the railway line.

General Royston, under whom the Wellington Regiment was serving and who was a very Knight of the old Crusaders was throughout this momentous day the most conspicuous and ubiquitous figure on the battlefield. Although wounded he rode amongst the men, for whom he always had a cheery word, encouraging them and often exhorting them to take cover, whilst openly exposing himself. It is said that he used up no fewer than 8 horses during the fighting; and a characteristic message came from him to H.Q. late in the day—” General Royston has just been wounded and has gone to get another horse.” It was just at this critical period of the day’s fighting that the N.Z.M.R.

Brigade with some Yeomanry appeared on the high ground to the west of Mount Royston, and our counter stroke began. .

To go back to the movements of this force since early dawn, at 2 o’clock on the morning of the 4th General Chaytor had been advised of the Turkish advance against Romani and moved with his Brigade towards Dueidar along the Old Caravan Route; but events moving so rapidly at Romani and the Turkish attack proving so strong and reaching so close to the railway, that when within a mile of Dueidar he was ordered to move to Canterbury Hill close to Mount Royston, where he arrived at 11 O’clock, finding Yeomanry from the 5th Mounted Brigade already in touch with the enemy on the south west of Mount Royston.

The attack on Mount Royston at once began; and some infantry from the 42nd Division began to arrive from time Suez Canal at the Pelusium railway station close by. Aided by the accurate and rapid shooting of the Somerset R.H.A. Battery the N.Z.

Brigade soon obtained a footing on Mount Royston; and by a very gallant advance in which the Yeomanry took part, the position was captured late in the afternoon; and it was occupied by the infantry, who had arrived too late to take part in the fighting. The mounted men continued to advance until darkness put an end to the fighting, capturing some 1200 unwounded Turks and a mountain battery. The prisoners were sent into the Pelusium railway station and the N.Z. Brigade with the Yeomanry fell back to the railway line to feed and water their horses while the two L.H. Brigades put out an outpost line upon the field of battle. The 3rd L.H. Brigade, which so far had not been engaged, reached Dueidar after dark.

And now began the third phase, the thrusting back of the enemy into the desert.

At 4 o‘clock in the morning of August 5th the Division began to move, advancing towards Katia. The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, with them the Wellington Regiment and the Ayrshire and Leicestershire batteries, captured large numbers of prisoners and quantities of material in every mile of their advance. The Wellington Regiment with the 7th L.H. Regiment and supported on the left by infantry posts of the 52nd Division, fixed bayonets and stormed "Wellington Ridge," a position dominating the camps. They encountered heavy rifle and machine gun fire, but rushing up the sandy slope with irresistible dash, they quickly broke through the Turkish front line. The enemy became demoralised and our troops pressed forward from ridge to ridge without a pause.

At noon the situation was as follows: ——Away on the right, south of the Old Caravan Road attacking the enemy in Bir El Hamisah, was the 3rd L.H. Brigade. Next came the N.Z.M.R. close up to the southwest edge of the Katia palms; on their left was 1st, 2nd, and 5th Brigades in that order; and on their left again the 52nd Division was attacking Abu Hamra.

Behind the Mounted Division came the 42nd Infantry Division marching in much distress in the scorching sand.

The Turks were making a very determined stand on the line Bir El Hamisah — Katia-Abu Hamra, using their guns to good effect and with numerous machine guns well placed in the palms fringing on the eastern side of the great flat marsh which stretched right across the front of the enemy’s position and gave them a most excellent field of fire.

A general attack was decided upon to commence at 2.30 p.m. at which hour the N.Z. Brigade, and the 1st and 2nd L.H.. Brigades advanced at the gallop over the exposed country. The 5th L.H. Regiment fixed bayonets which glittered in the sun, and the great line of galloping horses presented a magnificent spectacle—shell fire was unheeded, bullets buried themselves in the sand dunes as the horses surged over them. The advance continued until the ground became too swampy to carry the horses; and the men dismounted and went in on foot.

This mounted charge considerably shook the morale of the enemy - for in many places he displayed the white flag on the near approach of the horses.

A hot fight ensued and it was here that the popular medical officer of the Wellington Regiment, Captain Wood and his assistant Sgt. Moseley, lost their lives in succouring the wounded.

Meanwhile the 3rd L.H. on the extreme right were held up and failing to work round the enemy's right flank drew off and this led to the Canterbury Regiment getting the full force of a strong Turkish counter attack.

Darkness put an end to the battle and the Division withdrew to water the horses, leaving Lieut. Johnson with his troop of the Auckland Regiment as a listening post.

The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades who had borne the heat and burden of the day during the long and arduous days prior to the battle, and who withstood so gallantly the weight of the enemy’s attack on the night of August 3rd and early morning of August 4th, were now so tired out that they were sent back to the bivouac lines at Romani and Etmaler. But the 5th Mounted Brigade which had been attached to the Anzac Mounted Division remained under General Chauvel's command. Orders were received to follow up the enemy—while the two infantry divisions, the 42nd and the 52nd, were respectively to advance to Katia and Abu Hamra and to hold these places.

In his cautious advance across the desert the enemy had prepared position after position and these were now invaluable to him in his retreat. He fought a very strong rearguard action well covered by his guns; and after stubborn fighting during the 6th, 7th and 8th, he was pressed back to Bir El Abd some 20 miles from the Romani lines.

Assistance to the Division was given on the south by a small flying camel column from the Ballah railhead, who harassed the Turks’ left flank working through Bir El Mageibra, Bir El Aweidia and Hod El Bayud.

The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades, who had been resting, were now ordered up and being so few in number were formed into a composite brigade under General Royston. At daylight on August 9th the Division began its advance with the New Zealanders in the centre following the telegraph line; the 1st and 2nd Brigades on the left; and the 3rd L.H. Brigade on the right and in touch with the small flying column.

The enemy were soon encountered and were driven back on to Bir El Abd on a frontage of about 10 miles.

At 5 o’clock the New Zealand Brigade reached the high ground overlooking El Abd and there withstood a heavy counter attack by the Turks who came on in two columns of 5000 to 6000 each. But well backed up by the Somerset and Leicester batteries the Brigade firmly established itself across the telegraph line and the Old Caravan Road. By mid-day our advance had been completely checked—the Turks bringing up fresh troops and counter-attacking most determinedly. His guns were also well placed and his fire heavy and accurate.

The Ayrshire Battery which was with Royston's column was badly cut up and great difficulty was experienced in moving the guns when he was forced to retire, being obliged to give ground for nearly a mile. The 3rd L.H. Brigade after advancing well up on the right flank was also forced to give ground by the accuracy of the Turkish shell fire, but the New Zealand Brigade held on in the centre and owing to the bending back of both wings were holding a very exposed line on the forward slopes of the hills overlooking the Hod. Though the enemy by the burning of store depots and by movement which could be observed was showing great anxiety to retire, yet finding he could hold his position and that his flanks were not threatened and being reinforced with fresh troops from El Arish, he again delivered a fierce counter-attack on a frontage of about two and a half miles right to our centre. The brunt of this attack was borne by the Canterbury and Auckland Regiments, and by a squadron of Warwickshire Yeomanry, which was under General Chaytor’s command. The attack was gallantly withstood and the Turks beaten off just as darkness fell.

A great fight was put up by the machine guns. Lieut. Gordon Harper, the gallant commander of the section of machine guns attached to the Canterbury Regiment, was mortally wounded and brought out with great difficulty by his famous brother, Captain Robin Harper, O.C. Machine Gun Squadron, who had all guns available playing upon the advancing Turks arresting their advance when within 100 yards of the New Zealand position.

This defeat of the last Turkish counter-attack took place just before dusk and continued as the New Zealand Brigade withdrew under cover of these machine guns which were supported by some Yeomanry whose troopers offered many helmets to be used as “flame extinguishers” to hide the machine gun flashes as darkness came on.

Each helmet was held over the muzzle and the gun fired through it, and it can be imagined the life of a helmet under such conditions would not be long; but it did its work effectually while it lasted.

Here also fell many gallant officers and men, among them Captain Johnston of the Auckland Regiment and Major Hammond of the Canterbury Regiment, both squadron leaders.

After Bir el Abd.

Particularly sad circumstances surrounded the death of this last officer, who was very ill on the morning of the battle, in fact he had been recommended for evacuation to Hospital, but insisted on remaining and leading his squadron; and fought his men with great brilliancy throughout the day. Lieut. A. Martin of the Auckland Regiment also was severely wounded and died in Cairo some weeks later.

He had shown exceptional ability as a “water officer,” finding and developing wells far ahead of the Main Body. On this day at Bir el Abd after conspicuous good work he fell while leading his troop.

On either side of the “Old Road” they lie, the Aucklanders on the south side and the Canterbury men on the north side — on either side of that road down which those old Crusaders under Baldwin came to oust the infidel from Egypt; and by the same road came that “man of Destiny” eager to conquer a new world for himself; and back again he hurried crushed and shamed; and fled to Europe. And earlier still came Darius and Cambyses the Persians, Alexander the Great with his Greeks, and Anthony with his Romans; and now iron trains thunder by on that selfsame road and they will know— those gallant fellows we left there—They will know that now at last the work is well and truly done.

The three brigades were then withdrawn to water their horses and to rest some few miles back.

At daylight next morning strong patrols went forward and remained in touch with the enemy throughout the day, but the horses were too tired to enable an attack in force to be made.

On the 11th no serious fighting took place, but the enemy was watched and harassed, and plans were made for an attack on the 12th. The advance began at daylight and our patrols soon reported that the enemy was retiring—Bir El Abd was found to be evacuated—and he was followed as far as Salmana, where a small rearguard was encountered.

Difficulties of transport and feeding the troops precluded the advance being carried any further, and arrangements were made to hold the country as far east as Bir El Abd.

The prisoners captured during the Romani operations amounted to nearly 5000, including 50 officers, some German and Austrians. We also captured a very large number of rifles and a camel-pack machine gun company complete, a mountain battery, quantities of stores and ammunition and two complete field Hospitals most excellently appointed. All the arms and equipment were of German manufacture and the camel-pack machine gun company ‘s equipment had been especially designed for desert warfare. Many of the rifles were of the latest pattern and made of rustless steel.

Enemy casualties were estimated at 3000.

The result of these operations was the complete defeat of an enemy force of some 18,000, of which in killed, wounded and prisoners, he lost 9000 men.

The Turk throughout displayed the greatest determination and tenacity. His strength during the rear-guard fighting debarred any serious interference with his flanks. Heavy going and lack of water for our horses assisted the enemy greatly in that they confined our movements. His guns were well served with an unlimited supply of ammunition. The fact that he had transported guns of 5.9 in. calibre across the yielding sand of the desert speaks volumes for his engineering ability. This was accomplished apparently by a large party of workmen who preceded the guns and excavated two parallel wheel tracks through the sand to correspond with the width of the wheels on the gun carriages. These tracks were then filled with brushwood which was firmly packed, and formed an excellent road along which the guns were manhandled; a truly wonderful feat. For those places in the desert where the sand was too soft for this road, strong wooden planks were carried on camels, to be put down as temporary crossings. The same thoroughness and foresight in all branches characterised the enemy's organisation throughout, due no doubt to their German leaders. The heavy guns were manned by Austrians, the machine guns by Germans.

The Field Hospitals were complete with all the instruments, fittings and drugs modern science could supply. The bid to break the Suez Canal and to conquer Egypt was a bold one and it was made by picked troops who fought a clean and vigorous fight notwithstanding the tribulation of their wonderful march in midsummer, and this justly earned the admiration of our troops. The attack upon Egypt failed and the attacking force lost at least half its numbers, but the Turkish Government thought so highly of the enterprise that it awarded a special star to the survivors.

The following extract from a captured order by Jemal Pasha is of interest:— “ARMY ORDER. 30th January, 1915.

1. Grants of money, to be given to the families of officers killed in the attack on the Canal, in addition to legal pensions. (L.T. 250 in one payment apparently).

2. Officers killed, who have shown extraordinary bravery, will be promoted in rank and the pensions of the higher rank will be paid to their families.

3. Privates, corporals and N.C.O’s. killed in the attack on the Canal who have shown great bravery will be promoted to a higher rank. The pensions attached to the higher rank will be paid.

4. When the conquest of Egypt has been completed the family of every officer and soldier killed will have a house built for it by the government in its town or village.

5. Claims in this connection must be authenticated by the A.C.

Commander.

6. This order applies to all soldiers on the line of battle or behind it.

7. It also includes officers and men disabled by wounds and rendered unable to work.

Commander of the IV Army, and Minister of Marine.

AHMED JEMAL” That these operations and the attack upon the Canal in January, 1915, were not merely raids, but were genuine and determined attempts to conquer Egypt, was amply proved afterwards when our forces were able to see the great and thorough preparations in Palestine. A new railway had been built extending the Palestine system to the Wadi El Arish, and alongside it was constructed a fine motor road. Permanent works were constructed for the conservation of water along the route; and at the Wadi El Arish enormous rock cut reservoirs were being made.

The tenacity and endurance of our own troops of the Mounted Brigades were magnificent. The battle was fought and persevered with through abnormal summer heat, regardless of long periods of thirst suffered by man and beast. The artillery and machine guns covered our advances. in defence they wrought havoc on the enemy's attack. No words can adequately express the untiring devotion of the medical officers, the stretcher bearers and the sand-cart drivers who were ever in the firing line, traversing enormous distances and doing all that lay in their power to alleviate the sufferings of the wounded.

The heavy sand precluded the use of the army ambulance whether motor or horse drawn, and the wounded were collected by the cacolet camel or by the sandcart, a two-wheeled vehicle with broad tyres on its wheels. The cacolet was a contrivance lashed to a camel’s back which carried a man on each side; but the rolling motion which accompanied the camel’s gait allows of neither rest nor ease and exacts the full penalty of pain from the unfortunate occupant. Happy indeed was the man whose wound permitted him to he lashed instead to his horse.

Sledges of wood and sheet iron were improvised to cope with the abnormal number of evacuations; but the close contact with the ground surface indelibly impressed upon the occupant of the sledge the rough nature of the country.

 

Further Reading:

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, Roll of Honour 

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, NZMR Unit History Account

Posted by Project Leader at 8:52 PM EADT
Updated: Thursday, 8 October 2009 9:25 AM EADT

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