Topic: AIF - NZMRB - AMR
Bir el Abd
Sinai, 9 August 1916
AMR Unit History Account
13/112 Sergeant Charles Gordon Nicol, a member of the Auckland Mounted Rifles, a unit which was part of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, wrote an account of this unit called The Story of Two Campains” Official war history of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914 - 1919 in the Battlefields of Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine during WWI, in which included a section specifically related to the battle of Beersheba and is extracted below. A copy of this book is available on the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Association website.
Nicol, CG, The story of two campaigns : official war history of the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, 1914-1919, (Auckland 1921).
There was little rest for the brigade on the night of August 8. Bir El Abd was to be attacked at 6 the following morning, and the lines were awake and busy at 2 a.m., when horses were fed. The brigade moved out at 4.30, and at 5.15 the advance screen supplied by the A.M.R. was in touch with the enemy. (Flow simple it is to say that a screen was in touch with the enemy! How easy to say it, but what of the bullets that whip the morning air and the anxious peering eyes that must miss nothing, and the furrowed brow of the lieutenant who must be certain that the messages he sends back by flag are perfectly true. Yes! it is much easier to say that the screen gained touch). Leaving the horses under the cover of sand dunes the troopers, in open formation, moved forward to the attack, from a point about one and a-half miles west of and overlooking Bir El Abd. Splendid covering fire was provided by the Somerset Battery. The front line of the A.M.R. comprised the 3rd squadron on the left, and two troops of the 11th squadron and one section of machine-guns on the right.
On the Regiment’s left were the C.M.R., with Australians beyond them, and on the right was expected to come the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. The 3rd brigade again failed to get up, and again the Regiment had its right flank “in the air.’ On the left of the hummocky country to be traversed was a ridge running forward from Bir El Abd, and on it were the Turks who, if unmolested, would have made it particularly hot for the attackers, but the moment the advance was started Lieutenant Hinman’s machine-guns sent a deadly sheet of metal along the crest and cleared it. The absence of the brigade on the right soon began to have serious consequences. At 6.45 it was reported that enemy reinforcements were coming over the long ridge south-east of Bir El Abd, and the Regiment had to extent its front to a considerable extent.
Major McCarroll went across to command this section, taking with him two troops of the 4th squadron. Advancing by troops the regiments made steady progress. At 9 a.m. the right flank was reinforced by one squadron of the 5th Light Horse. About 11.20 the C.M.R. and the left flank of the A.M.R.. had to retire a distance owing to enfilade fire and, with the continued pressure against the unprotected right, the situation began to look ugly. Half-an-hour later the Turks counterattacked with two battalions, each numbering 500 or 600 men. Aided by the Somerset Battery, the Regiment was able to hold its ground until the arrival of small reinforcements and a W.M.R. machine-gun section. The enemy then opened up a heavy artillery fire, which continued until 3.30, when he launched a second counter-attack, before which the C.M.R. had to retire.
During the afternoon the Turks sent in three fresh battalions against the left, and although the fighting did not develop into a hand-to-hand affair, it was warm enough for anyone. By 3.15 the A.M.R. reported that it was holding the enemy well, but at 4.15 a retirement was ordered. This presented a problem of difficulty, especially in view of the signs of another counter-attack. It had been observed, however, that the machine-guns used by the enemy were of German make. It was thus known that their field of fire was limited. Accordingly, it was decided to move back slowly to a point where the horses could be brought up, and then rush off the two flanks at a wide angle, which would prevent the machine-guns getting round on them. This was done, leaving only a small body in the centre. When the time came for this section to move, the enemy machine-guns were apparently fixed on the flank routes taken by the others. Instead of going by the flanks the men mounted their horses and galloped straight over the ridge immediately in rear. So successful was the movement that only one casualty occurred among the last section as it got away. Mention should be made of the splendid work of the machine-guns under Lieutenants Hinman and McCarroll in covering the respective withdrawals of the right and left sections. Some delay occurred in starting the final withdrawal on account of the shortage of sand carts for the wounded, but all the wounded were successfully evacuated before it began. The Regiment’s casualties for the day numbered 11 killed and 19 wounded. The A.M.R. lost two particularly fine officers in Captain O. Johnson, who was killed, and Lieutenant A. M. Martin, who died of wounds. Lieutenant Martin had done splendid work in finding and developing water.
This was the last fighting the Regiment engaged in at this period. The Turk, menaced on the southern flank by the Camel Corps, and on the rear by the mounted troops, who had so thoroughly proved themselves, hurried his departure, and within a couple of days patrols had penetrated beyond Salmana without meeting the enemy. For some days the Regiment was bivouacked at Bir El Abd doing patrol duty and helping to bury the dead and the bodies of animals. Plenty of evidence was found of the havoc the guns had caused among the enemy transport camels. Romani was a most decisive victory. Nearly 4,000 prisoners were captured and the Turkish casualties were estimated at no less than 7,000.
Thus, over half the force that had come across the desert was accounted for. The Regiment had its full share of fighting.
During the week the men had little sleep, little water, and only “hard tack” and bully beef for food. The heat had added to their trials, which did not end with the battle, however, for patrol duty beyond Salmana was the usual routine. “It’s a hell of a life,” wrote one man during these days. “We need a spell, and so do the mokes. At Bir we found lots of beer bottles.
Empty, of course. If ever I get out of this don’t talk desert to me. The only shelter from the sun is what we can rig up with our blanket. All manner of insects attack us at night, and at dawn they are relieved by an army corps of vicious flies.
Anyhow we got an onion issue today, and they say the railway is coming on fast. I suppose we are dinkum crusaders, but we don’t look it or feel it. In the next war I’m going to be a rum buyer in Jamaica.” A few days after the last of the fighting, Brigadier-General Chaytor had to go to hospital owing to his Gallipoli wound giving him trouble, and in his absence Lieutenant-Colonel Mackesy took command of the brigade and Major McCarroll of the Regiment.
A week later the brigade moved to Hod Amara, beyond Abd, where it took over the out post line, and made a reconnaissance over the rough ground north of Salmana and the island of El Gaiss, which is separated by a very shallow strip of water which dries up in summer. No traces of recent occupation by the enemy were found. It was a long, rough ride, but most interesting. En route a number of dry salt “lakes” were crossed, the horses’ hoofs not making a mark on the hard crystal bottom. There was good fresh water in the vicinity of El Gaiss, sometimes in proximity to very salt wells.
Patches of water melons and fig trees were found, and the fruit tasted like food of the gods after the fare of the recent hard days, but many suffered terrible pains afterwards. Lieutenants Finlayson and Coates acted as guides to the brigade on this expedition.
A couple of days later an enemy airman dropped three bombs on the Amara Camp, but did no harm. It was at this time that the 3rd squadron commander, Major Schofield, who had been seriously wounded on Gallipoli, broke down in health, and went away for good. He was succeeded by Major Bennett.
The brigade remained at Amara until September 11, the only diversions being provided by enemy ‘planes, which usually appeared overhead at breakfast time, but usually passed on. A shift was then made back to the old camping ground at Bit Etmaler, where a well-earned rest a was enjoyed. Reinforcements were received, and the old hands were sent away on leave to a splendid camp, established for the convenience of leave men, at Sidi Bishr, on the coast at Alexandria. A pleasant month was so spent.
Meantime, the railway was pushed on with remarkable speed, and all that troubled the workers and their protectors was air raids, which, however, rarely did any damage.
On October 22 the New Zealand Mounted Brigade was shifted up to Bir El Abd with camel transport, which was suggestive of further adventures.
Citation: Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, Unit History Account