Topic: AIF - 2B - 6 LHR
Bir el Abd
Sinai, 9 August 1916
6th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account
Lieutenant George Lachlan Berrie produced a unit history published in 1919 called Under Furred Hats (6th ALH Regt) which included a section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and is extracted below.
Berrie, GL, Under Furred Hats (6th ALH Regt), (Sydney 1919), pp. 82 - 89:
Every possy they passed was littered with green date peelings, and the prisoners they took looked like hunted devils. What on earth was the waiting for? They had been there an hour now, literally frying on the sand. He knew they were going to attack Katia. Plenty of water there, and probably a strong Turkish rear guard.
But this infernal waiting was taking the last remnants of vitality out of everyone. He thought of something long, drawn through ice, if he ever went on leave again. He could hear a couple of chaps rowing over their horses disturbing each others' shade. They were agreeing to settle the argument after they had settled the Jackos. They were mates, too.
Well, it was enough to make any man quarrel with his best friend, this infernal waiting on top of everything else. But no sign of a move. Some Jacko guns were thundering from behind Katia, and he could see shrapnel bursting away towards the left flank. There seemed to be no one over towards Hamisah. Perhaps they were waiting for another Brigade to come up.
Thank God the front of the column was mounting. Swinging out into artillery formation they moved quietly towards Katia. Crossing the first skyline was enough to draw shrapnel, but a steady gallop, screened by the hollows between dunes and a scanty hod or two, brought them safely to the series of little sandhills fronting the dry swamp behind which lay Katia.
A few minutes later the Bushman found himself part of an extended line doubling from one sand hill to another and wondering why more men didn't go down. Jacko had evidently plenty of machine guns planted in Katia, and from the burst of his shrapnel away to the rear it looked as though he had located the horses.
They were now on the edge of the dry swamp. It was a good half-mile to the first palm trees and the only cover worth talking about was a small outcrop of sand running parallel to the hod.
Two or three hundred yards away it was. The men who got there would be lucky. Ah, they were off again.
The ground was hard; better to run on.
They were going down now; the man on his right pitched forward on to his face; and, glancing along the extended line as he ran, he could see figures lying still and others trying to crawl or limp back to the shelter of the sandhills they had just left.
That was close. Flecks of dirt spattered up all round him. Another minute and he lay panting behind the friendly shelter of the last cover they `would get before the final assault. He turned his head to watch the second line coming up. Continuous bursts of machine gun fire were following them all the way. They had got the range properly now. A sergeant was making towards him; another twenty yards and he would be safe.
Ah, they had got him, and it looked like for keeps.
The Bushman joined in the rush of several others and dragged the sergeant in behind the nearest sandhill. "How in hell are we going to carry him out?" "On our rifles and crossed arms. Two on each side, one take his head and the other his legs. Now, lift him steadily and keep in step as much as possible. Make straight for the sandhill." They had padded the rifles as best they could.
But no matter how carefully they stepped they knew that every movement cost the silent figure untold agony. Yet not quite silent. The wounded man spoke as they started: "You fellows are Britons to stick to a man like this." Walking almost on each other's spurs and cramped by their necessarily crouching attitude, the huddled group of men moved at a snail's pace for the nearest shelter.
They crossed the dry swamp almost unmolested. The sun was setting and its flickering rays dancing on the background of red sandhills blurred them as a target. But as they struggled up the first ridge the sand spat about their feet and the quiet figure spoke again.
"Put me down behind the hill and send a sand cart after dark. Six of you make a big target, you know," and in a whisper as they struggled on, "It's good to have mates like you chaps." In the British Military Cemetery of Old Cairo stands a monument erected by his comrades to one of the bravest of the brave Sergeant Major Johnston.
For two days we rested, buried our dead and collected from the battlefield any gear abandoned by the enemy. On the afternoon of the 8th we moved out once more in pursuit of the enemy, now retreating everywhere, but concentrated in force at Bir el Abd.
Leaving Katia at 10 p.m. we moved forward to take part in a strong reconnaissance of Bir el Abd.
An attempt was made to encircle the position.
The 3rd L.H. Brigade operated from the south, the New Zealand Brigade from the west, the 2nd Brigade from the north, and the 1st Brigade, it possible, was to menace the position from the east.
Less than an hour after sunrise the following morning the action started. Accompanied by the Ayrshire Battery, the 2nd Brigade approached its position by daylight and was warmly welcomed by a series of 4.7 H.E.-'s bursting in close proximity to the column.
As reserve to the Brigade, the Regiment, now under Major Bruxner, was stationed several hundred yards south of the Ayr shire Battery's position.
All day long the Battery waged a vigorous duel with the enemy's 4.7 and shrapnel, and one unlucky direct hit put several teams of horses, a gun, and its crew out of action. Vainly the enemy tried to locate our led horses, but although several high explosives came very close, we suffered no material damage.
A general attack took place at 11 a.m. and the New Zealand Brigade was drawn into an awkward position during a heavy encounter. To assist in their withdrawal during the afternoon, the Regiment went into action, and finally covered the withdrawal of the badly knocked about Ayrshire Battery.
We withdrew to Oghratina where we drew rations and forage and bivouacked for the night.
Returning to Khirba next day we found the deserted Turkish camp to contain some very acceptable articles of loot. Barley for the horses was plentiful, and besides tea, dates, meal and olives, there were several hundredweights of dried apricots pressed into rolls like brown paper.
Under the comprehensive name of "mungaree" we learnt during the next few days to envy the Turks its possession as a ration issue. For two days we remained at Khirba, and here we said farewell to "Galloping Jack." In a brief address he bade us good-bye from the saddle, and his exit in a cloud of dust over a sandhill and followed by deafening cheers, was truly characteristic of our brief but unforgettable experience of his leader ship.
From Bir el Abd to Katia we saw evidence of the great difficulty the enemy had had in transporting his heavy artillery through the heavy sand.
Besides temporary roads of brambles, they had used some thousands of feet of 9 by 2 inch planking, placing it in front of the guns and moving them along with what must have been snail-like, if sure, progress.
But what can be said of the great feat of the Turkish Infantry. We, on horse back, knew what it was to campaign during the desert midsummer. Their secret march to Oghratina unobserved by aerial patrols was in itself remarkable enough, but their sufferings during the weeks culminating in the battles of Romani and Katia must have been intense. On foot, carrying full infantry gear, living partly on green dates, and during the last two days waterless, their effort to drive us from Romani was, in spite of failure, such as to rouse the utmost admiration amongst their conquerors.
The enemy were now in full retreat eastwards of Salmana, and for the time being our acquaintance with him was ended. Withdrawing via Katia we returned to Et Maler on the 13th of August, and for the rest of the month, both horses and men enjoyed a, badly-needed rest.
The casualty list of sickness and death made a number of vacancies amongst the officers, and the following were promoted to commissioned rank:-Sig. Sgt. J. Back, Sgts. Allman, Ronald, Lomax and Corp. H. Dickson.
Popular also were the captaincys of Lieuts. Thompson, Tooth S., and Close.
The worst of the summer heat had now passed, and horses were beginning to be inured to the hard ships of desert life. But a number had succumbed to the strain; sand colic and sore backs were the predominant ailments, and many had to be evacuated to Veterinary Hospitals and replaced by re mounts. We left Et Maler on the 11 th of September and, moving by Katia, reached our new camping area, Hod el Hassaniya, the same after noon.
Citation: Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, 6th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account