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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

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Tuesday, 23 December 2008
The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, Gullett Account
Topic: BatzS - Magdhaba

The Battle of Magdhaba

Sinai, 23 December 1916

Gullett Account 


Left to right: Lt Murray, Surveyor; Mr Gullett, Official War Correspondent; Lt O'Connor, Photographer.
[AWM No B01393]

Gullett, HS,  The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, 1914–1918 (10th edition, 1941) Official Histories – First World War
Volume VII


When, on the night of December 20th, the brigades moved to encircle El Arish, Chauvel was still without information as to the direction taken by the Turks in their retirement. Two routes were open to them. They could fall back along the beach by Rafa towards Gaza, or, travelling up the Wadi el Arish, march by Magdhaba towards the railway at El Auja. Aiming to block both routes, if only temporarily, to the feared Anzac horsemen, they divided their El Arish garrison, and proceeded to improve two selected defensive positions, one at Magdhaba about twenty-three miles south-south-east of El Arish, and the other at El Magruntein, close to the Rafa Police Post, twenty-six miles east of El Arish along the coast. Early on the morning of the 21st the airmen discovered a force at work on a string of sangars around Magdhaba, and Chauvel pushed out strong patrols for ten miles along both routes to reconnoitre, and also to sound the country for water.

At 10 o'clock on the morning of the 2nd Sir Philip Chetwode, the Commander of Desert Column, landed on the beach at El Arish, having come by sea from Port Said. After consultation with Chauvel, he decided to take up the pursuit at once. Chauvel's men were then eating the last of their rations; but Chetwode, with a view to immediate operations, had arranged that a convoy with supplies should reach El Arish from railhead that evening, while the Navy was to cooperate immediately in landing stores from the sea. During the day ten Australian airmen raided Magdhaba and dropped 120 bombs about the settlement. The Turks retaliated hotly with rifles and machine-guns and on their return the pilots reported that the place was held by a considerable force, supported by a number of light guns. Chetwode, who had been preparing a simultaneous advance towards both Magdhaba and Rafa, then decided to send all his available mounted strength against Magdhaba, temporarily suspending operations to the east. The infantry brigades of the 52nd Division were now marching into the El Arish area, and so secured the new base of operations in the absence of the horsemen.

Anzac Mounted Division, less the 2nd Light Horse Brigade and the Ayrshire and Leicester Batteries, but supported by the new Imperial Camel Corps Brigade (then three battalions strong) and its Hong Kong and Singapore Mountain Battery, was in the early hours of the night concentrated at a point four miles up the wadi. The intention was to cover before dawn the nineteen miles between this point and Magdhaba, and to encircle and surprise the enemy. As, however, me of the infantry brigades became entangled with the camel convoy of Chauvel's force, the concentration was delayed, and it was not until nearly an hour after midnight that the column, with a squadron of the 1st Light Horse Brigade as advance-guard, commenced its ride up the wadi.

The Wadi el Arish, which with its tributaries drains a large area of central and eastern Sinai, contains water only for brief periods in the rare seasons of heavy rains on the barren highlands. A brown, muddy flood then pours down, overflows the actual course of the shallow wadi, and spreads out over the wide level flats on either side. In December,

1916, the wadi was dry, and the flats deep in dust from the movement of enemy troops. The main track between El Arish and Magdhaba follows the eastern side of the watercourse. Chauvel's column had the wadi and the sand-hills of Sinai on its right, and on its left the smaller sand-hills of the extreme edge of the desert region, which divide the wadi from the fertile country of southern Palestine. At this time the Turkish railway had been extended from Beersheba southwards through Auja and across the Sinai frontier towards El Kossainia, whence it was to have been carried to Magdhaba and down the wadi to El Arish. The wisdom of Murray's insistence on an advance across Sinai was clear. Had he been content to rest on the Canal, it is highly probable that during 1917 the enemy would have laid the line westwards across the desert to Katia, and the defence of the Canal would have demanded the presence of a great British force.

The advance-guard marched fast, and it was interesting to notice that the horses, moving for the first time since they came to Egypt on really firm and level ground, frequently over reached and stumbled. Speech and smoking were forbidden. The long column of ghostly horsemen was speedily blanketed in a heavy cloud of fine clayey dust; the only sound was the pounding of hoofs, the clank of stirrup against stirrup, and the occasional neighing and snorting of the horses. Each hour was (as is the cavalry practice) divided into forty minutes' riding, ten minutes' leading, and ten minutes' halt. Such nursing of the horses on this short night-ride might seem strange to the Australian countryman, until it is remembered that each animal carried from eighteen to twenty stone, and that the only way in which horses can be kept fit for operation after operation over a number of years lies in ceaseless thought for their welfare. The December night was bitterly cold, and the men, aching in their saddles, appreciated the spells of walking. Shortly before 4 o'clock the camp fires of the unsuspecting Turks at Magdhaba were seen by the advanced screen, and an hour later the head of the column was checked in an open plain four miles from the position Chauvel had intended to march nearer to the enemy garrisons before halting for the deployment of his brigades; but he and his staff were deceived by the brightness of the enemy's fires. As each brigade arrived, the men were dismounted and breakfasted and the horses fed, while Chauvel, accompanied by his staff and brigadiers, rode forward to make a personal reconnaissance of the position. Dawn was now touching the heavens over Palestine eastwards, and the dark upland of Judea could be descried to the north-east. As the enemy's bivouac fires faded, the valley about Magdhaba was concealed under a heavy bank of smoke, which made the reconnaissance slow and difficult. But with the assistance of Major Barlow, an Imperial officer who knew the ground and who was attached to the staff, the few huts and larger stone buildings recently erected by the Turks and used as a hospital were located, and the plan of attack was decided upon. So far, however, Chauvel was in ignorance of the position of the enemy's defences; as all the brigades had not yet arrived, he decided to wait for the appearance of his aeroplane? before committing his force. At about 6.30 the airmen arrived and, flying low, began to bomb the Turks. who, aiming at the pilots with machine-gun and rifle-fire, disclosed the position of their redoubts. Shortly before 8 o'clock the first aeroplane report was received, giving the location of one redoubt, and also the satisfactory intelligence that no enemy reinforcements were in sight as far as five miles beyond El Ruafa - a well some four miles south of Magdhaba-while at Ruafa itself only a few men were seen. Half-an-hour later all the brigades were moving into position for the assault.

The position of the Turks at Magdhaba was well designed to frustrate any attack by which at that time it could be threatened. Having destroyed the wells at Lahfan, nine miles up the wadi from the coast, the enemy knew that assaulting troops must be dependent upon the El Arish water, twenty-three miles away, and that, if he could resist for more than a few hours, the thirst of Chauvel's men and horses must terminate the engagement. Moreover, the ground strongly favoured the defenders. The few buildings of the settlement stood on the east side of the wadi, which about Magdhaba had worn a rugged, complicated gorge some twenty or thirty feet deep in the clay, and was freely broken on either side by short rough bays affording the best of cover to troops. On the Sinai side, immediately opposite the settlement, the desert came down close to the edge of the wadi in a rolling slope broken with many little ridges a few feet high, and thickly sprinkled with sand banked bushes which gave good protection to riflemen. On the east, extending north and south, a flat a few hundred yards across flanked the wadi; this was cut up by a number of small dry watercourses, splashed with bushes, and now, in the winter season, gay with anemones and hyacinths and other short-lived desert flowers. Beyond this flat to the east was a prolonged ridge dotted with large ant-hills and many bushes; this must be crossed by the attacking force. The enemy, with the heart of his position about the buildings, had constructed a system of redoubts, each capable of covering the next, at a radius of about half-a-mile from the buildings. Of these, two were on the east side of the wadi, and the remainder on the sand-ridges to the west. Knowing that the British would probably approach up the flat on the east, the Turks had ensured that, before the main redoubts could be captured, the British must involve themselves in the crossing of the wadi under fire.

Chauvel's plan was to keep his force as far as possible on the good ground on the east side of the wadi, and to rely upon the speed and strength of his assault to drive the Turks across the wadi away from their only water-supply at the wells of the settlement. Then, using his horses, he would cut off their retreat towards Ruafa. Recognising the strength of the new Camel Brigade, he ordered Smith to advance straight up to the flat from the north, with his centre on the telegraph line which led from Magdhaba to El Arish, believing that the depth and force of the brigade would carry it through. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade, commanded by Royston, and the New Zealanders were placed together under Chaytor, with orders to attack from the east and to extend towards the south. Chaytor moved into position with the New Zealanders on the left of the Camels, and sent the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, which he decided to keep in reserve, further south. Cox's 1st Light Horse Brigade was in reserve, with orders to be ready to advance on the right of the Camels. The Inverness and Somerset Batteries (which were under Chauvel in person) were to open fire as early as possible on the Turkish redoubts, and this was to be the signal for the general advance. From the outset Chauvel recognised the engagement was a gamble against time, and definite orders were given to all brigades that the attack was to be pressed home. The men were dependent for water upon the scanty supply of their bottles, from which many of them had already made morning tea; when the advance began the horses had been about twenty hours without a drink.

Immediately after the brigades had moved, the British airmen reported small mounted parties of the garrison escaping up the wadi to the south, and Chaytor ordered Royston in send one of his regiments to block that outlet. The old South African soldier then engaged in a very bold stroke, which, as it developed later in the day, produced a substantial effect upon the whole operation. He personally accompanied the 10th Light Horse Regiment, which in this movement was led by Major H, C. H. Robertson, (In a wide galloping detour round the south of the position. At the wadi the Western Australians took a large number of prisoners, and eventually assailed the enemy from almost due east. While the men of the 10th were riding hard on the south, Chaytor, without waiting for the Camel attack to develop, pushed in with the Canterbury and Wellington Regiments, taking as his objective Hill 345 on the other side of the wadi.

The British and Australian airmen were showing great enterprise, flying very low and spying out and bombing the enemy's position; they frequently dropped messages informing Chauvel of the situation. At 10 o'clock a pilot landed on the flat close to Divisional Headquarters and reported that the Turks already showed signs of a general retreat by the south, so that Chaytor's left would perhaps not succeed in cutting them off. Here was the opportunity for Cox with the 1st Brigade. Chauvel immediately ordered him to advance, mounted, direct on Magdhaba along the flat between the wadi and the right of the Camels. Cox, preceded by ground scouts, moved off at the head of his brigade at the trot, thus introducing a striking spectacular note into the fight, in which up till then very few of the combatants on either side had been visible beyond a short distance. After trotting for a mile, the brigade encountered shrapnel fire from the enemy's four light mountain guns, and Cox, extending his regiments into " artillery " formation, increased his pace to a gallop. For a minute or more the light horsemen enjoyed the excitement of a cavalry charge, as the horses fought for their heads, and the quart-pots and other gear clattered and pounded against the saddles. But the rush was brief. After charging for half a mile, the brigade galloped into heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from a strongly posted redoubt directly in front, as well as from a redoubt to the west of the wadi on Cox's right front. Instantly realising that the report of an evacuation was incorrect, and that destruction lay ahead of his brigade if the charge was continued, Cox swung his regiments, still at the gallop, and took cover in a deep, blind tributary of the main wadi to his right. Here he dismounted his men about 1,900 yards from No. 2 Turkish Redoubt, which had fired on him from his front.

Meanwhile Chauvel had moved his headquarters to a high knoll above the flat, about two and three-quarter miles from the Magdhaba settlement, from which he had a comprehensive view of the whole theatre of operations except those of the 1st Brigade. By 11 o'clock the batteries had been for some time shooting effectively, but still the attack made little progress. The advance of the New Zealanders was harassed by fire from the redoubts on both sides of the wadi. Smith's Camels were in difficulties on the flat in the centre, where the ground on most of their front was level and almost naked of cover. They were serving a good purpose in drawing fire, and so easing the position for the other brigades; but they were still a long way from their first objective, the No. 2 Redoubt on their right front, which had stopped Cox's gallop. After some delay, Cox from his position in the wadi sent forward the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Fulton, dismounted, to assist the Camels in their attack on the No. 2 Redoubt. At about the same time the Hong Kong and Singapore Battery came into action close to his headquarters, and the Indian gunners soon found the redoubt and reduced the activity of the Turkish riflemen. Fulton had four machine-guns attached to his regiment; making clever use of these, he further curtailed the fire of the redoubt, while his men, covered by the broken wadi up which they were advancing, made slow but constant progress. A wide bay of the wadi separated Fulton's regiment from the Turkish redoubt, and had to be crossed by the attackers, Its floor was level and naked, except for scattered bushes; but shortly before 2 o'clock the light horsemen were within 100 yards of the Turkish trenches. Simultaneously the Camel Brigade, with the 3rd Battalion under Captain C. R. V. Wright* leading, and the 2nd under Major J. R. Bassett and the 1st under Langley in close support, were rapidly closing on the redoubt in section rushes from the left. Further round on the east the New Zealanders were also advancing with great dash in the open and, being in full view of the Turks in No. 2 Redoubt, doubtless contributed to their demoralisation. After a brief pause to stiffen the lines for the assault, the light horsemen of the 3rd Regiment, with Major J. J. Brooks at their head, and the Nos. I and 11 (Australian) Companies of the Camel Brigade, led by Lieutenant Cashman and Captain Creswell, leaped from the ground and dashed, shouting, at the redoubt with their bayonets. For a few moments the Turks punished them severely, but as the two bodies of assailants, each striving for the honour of first entry, flung themselves at the trenches, the Turks stood up in a body and surrendered.

This was the turning point in the engagement.

But so narrow was the margin between victory and failure that, even as No. 2 Redoubt was falling, Chauvel was giving earnest consideration to the idea of a general withdrawal. He had not then learned of the advance of the 1st Brigade, but had just been advised that his engineers had failed to get water at Lahfan. After discussing the situation with Chaytor, and with Smith of the Camel Brigade, he telegraphed to Sir Philip Chetwode that no progress was being made, the horses had been a very long time without drink, and the attempt to develop water at Lahfan had failed; he therefore proposed to break off the fight. Anticipating Chetwode's approval, the following order was then issued to the brigades:--"As enemy is still holding out and horses must be watered, the action will be broken off and the forces withdrawn. Each brigade will be responsible for its own protection during the withdrawal." The order was handed to Cox just as Fulton's men were being pulled together for their charge with the bayonet on No. 2 Redoubt. “Take that damned thing away," said the light horse leader, "and let me see it for the first time in half-an-hour." With the fall of the position, the whole prospect was changed. Soon afterwards Chetwode, in reply to Chauvel, strongly urged that the fight should not be abandoned, even at the cost of some of the horses, and suggested that all guns should be concentrated on one redoubt, with a view to its capture with the bayonet after dark. SO swift had been the development, however, that Chauvel was now able in a telephone conversation with Chetwode to assure him that there was no further doubt as to the issue.

The significance of the achievement of the 3rd Light Horse Regiment and the Camels was immediately demonstrated. The prisoners in the redoubt numbered three officers and ninety two other ranks. Fulton, exploiting his success, rushed UP two of his machine-guns to the position, and these opened a galling fire on the next Turkish redoubt across the main wadi on the right, towards which the advance was at once continued by the light horse and the Camels. Further to the left the 2nd Camel Battalion made touch with the New Zealanders, who, together with the 8th and 9th Light Horse Regiments of the 3rd Brigade, were now gaining ground on a wide frontage.

The Turks were at the same time being seriously harassed on their rear. The 19th Light Horse Regiment, which Major Robertson had led round by the south to cut off the retreat up the wadi and along the telegraph line further west, had been engaged for some hours in an isolated and exciting encounter. "hen Robertson, who had led the regiment with great dash, rode down on the wadi at the gallop with his men shouting wildly close behind him, he cut across a column of 300 Turks retreating in disorder. Startled by the sudden appearance of the Western Australians, the enemy was thrown into confusion, and surrendered without any attempt at fighting. Among the prisoners was a senior officer of engineers, who shared the terror of his men at the sight of the dusty and unshaven horsemen. He informed Robertson - a Duntroon graduate, who looked very young for his rank that he would only surrender his sword to the Australian officer in charge. Somewhat embarrassed, Robertson said that he was the leader. He was as dusty and disreputable looking as his men, and the Turk handed over his weapon with the air of a man resigned to a violent death at the hands of savages.

After crossing the wadi, Robertson swung north, completely enveloped the enemy's right flank, and closed his only outlet of escape. Under his most spirited leadership the squadrons then advanced on the rear of the Turkish redoubts with such vigour that the garrisons were deceived as to their strength. The frequent ridges, broken with many little knobs and desert bushes, gave good cover to the horses; and the line went forward in a succession of mounted rushes, galloping from cover to cover, dismounting, engaging for a time in rapid fire, and then riding forward again. The machine and Lewis gunners, riding with the advanced troops, gave effective covering fire. At this time Major L. C. Timperley was severely wounded while leading his squadron.

The advance of the Western Australians was now going with great vim, and all ranks were excited and above themselves with confidence. Lieutenants F. W. Cox and A. U. Martin, who were leading their troops on the left of the line, encountered a substantial Turkish redoubt on their immediate front, occupied by between 300 and 400 men. Though the Australians did not number more than between thirty and forty, they galloped straight on the position. They offered only a scattered and galloping target, but the Turks hit several horses and men before they reached the trenches. Despite the punishment, the light horsemen maintained their charge, and scrambled over the earthworks. To dismount meant certain annihilation; Cox and Martin therefore galloped straight on under heavy fire, leaving the redoubt unreduced. As they rode away from the trenches, Martin's horse was killed, and the young officer was shaken and dazed by the fall. Cox spurred on with his men to the cover of a ridge; then, accompanied by Sergeant Spencer Gwynne, he gallantly rode back under intense fire, took Martin on his saddle and galloped with him to safety.

Royston, who, as usual, was riding about in the thick of the fight, attended only by his orderly, galloped up to a Turkish trench and was instantly covered by five enemy rifles. The old fighter excitedly raised his cane and, knowing no Turkish, shouted at the riflemen in Zulu; whereupon the Turks, impressed with the demonstration, dropped their rifles and held up their hands. The 10th Regiment captured in all 722 prisoners.

Equally bold and important in its bearing on the fight was the work done by a squadron of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment led by Major Birkbeck, which Cox had sent out with orders to cross the wadi, ride wide to the west of the enemy, and menace the remaining redoubts from the rear. This squadron was not seen by the Turks until it appeared over a ridge directly behind them. With his little force in a scattered line, Birkbeck led a mounted dash at the redoubt previously ridden through by Cox and Martin, his men galloping over ground strewn with the dead and wounded men and horses of the 10th Regiment. The squadron, although severely punished by the Turkish rifles-finding itself, too, under fire from the New Zealanders and the 9th and 10th Regiments across the wadi-maintained its charge and galloped into the redoubt. There the men, reining up their horses, began to shoot from their saddles. The Turks, demoralised by this second unexpected swoop from their rear, immediately broke; about 100 prisoners were taken, and the remainder, who fled towards the main wadi, were secured later.

With the 1st Brigade and the Camels advancing strongly on the north and the New Zealanders and the 8th and 9th Light Horse Regiments closing swiftly from the east, the issue of the fight was now virtually decided. After the capture of No. 2 Redoubt, the 3rd Regiment and the Camels had made rapid progress towards No. 1 Redoubt. The rival forces were now everywhere fighting at close quarters, and Chauvel ordered his batteries to cease fire. The Turks at No. 1 Redoubt again refused to fight with the steel; about 4 o'clock, as the Australians approached with the bayonet, they surrendered, and, pressing on, the Australians soon had No. 3 Redoubt in their possession. Khadir Bey, the Turkish commander at Magdhaba, was captured in No. 1 Redoubt.

While the Wellingtons of the New Zealand Brigade had marched direct on Hill 345 by a line which would carry them through the buildings of the settlement, the Canterburys had swung to the left and made a wide detour across the front of the 8th and 9th Regiments, continuing until their left was in touch with the 10th Regiment. Although the ground was as a whole exposed to the enemy fire, good shelter for the advancing riflemen was given by the large ant-hills and many bushes, and casualties were slight. But progress was very slow, and by 1 o’clock neither regiment was within striking distance of the enemy. At this hour Chaytor ordered the 8th and 9th Light Horse Regiments to strike in between the Wellingtons and the Canterburys.

Dismounting about a mile and a half from the Turks, the two Australian regiments advanced quickly over the first 1,000 yards. As the opposition of the enemy rifles grew strong, each squadron moved by troops in bounds of from twenty five to fifty yards, with the Lewis gunners always forward and doing excellent work in keeping down Turkish fire. When the front line was within 500 yards of the enemy trenches, the squadrons were halted and additional ammunition brought up. This was the first engagement in which the men carried two bandoliers, and the innovation added so much to the fire strength of the regiments that it was adopted during the remainder of the campaign. Soon after 3 o'clock the line resumed its advance by troops successively, and the 8th Light Horse Regiment, always singularly unlucky, suffered many casualties at this stage. Captain M. B. Higgins and Lieutenants E. H. Mack and E. G. Down were killed as they led their men, and Lieutenant J. T. Currie was wounded; only ten men of other ranks were killed or wounded-a graphic comment upon the bold leadership by junior officers. With the Wellingtons on their right, the two Australian regiments fixed bayonets about eighty yards from the enemy trenches, and then charged right home. For a few minutes the Turks engaged fiercely in a hand to hand encounter, and several of their men were killed with the bayonet before the general surrender. The Australians then covered with their fire the advance of the Wellingtons, and, as the New Zealanders advanced to close quarters, the Turks in front of them raised the white flag. The 8th Light Horse Regiment, which had encountered the stiff est of the opposition, pressed on and captured a second position, taking in all 250 prisoners.

At a few minutes past 4 o'clock all the redoubts had fallen. Isolated enemy parties about the wadi continued to resist for a little longer; but by 4.30, as the short winter day was closing, the last shot had been fired, and Chauvel's victorious troops, converging from the complete circle about the settlement, met in the falling darkness. In the last general charge the units had overlapped and mingled, and for two or three hours in the night the scene was one of great animation and confusion; regiments were re-assembled, horses brought up, watering erected as far as possible at the crowded wells, and prisoners collected. The competition for prisoners between the different regiments was, as usual, very keen. The French military attache, Captain Count St. Quentin, while wandering about looking at the Turks, was seized by a light horseman, and, despite his excited protests, bundled in with the captives. All foreigners were alike to the excited light horsemen. As the men lit their cigarettes and pipes, the matches gave brief peeps of Australian troopers, very gay despite their weariness; of silent, sullen Turks; of fretful, thirsty horses; of great, stolid camels, never in the least concerned at the din and clamour of battle; while out on the surrounding country scores of little fires marked the position of the wounded, and guided the tireless bearers to their relief.

The batteries, whose orders were to march immediately after the action, reached El Arish about midnight. Granville, of the 1st Light Horse Regiment, was left with a few squadrons to clear the battleground; and half-an-hour before midnight Chauvel, with his headquarters and the 1st Brigade, commenced the long ride back to El Arish, followed by the rest of the force. Chetwode had ordered camel convoys forward to meet the column with water and rations. Part of the force halted and were refreshed on the route, while others rode right through and reached the camp near the coast about an hour before dawn. This was the third, and with many of the regiments the fourth, night without rest, and there were very few officers or men who did not sleep as they rode.

Scarcely any Turks escaped from Magdhaba.

Granville's men buried ninety-seven of their dead, and their wounded were estimated at about 300, while 1,282 were made prisoners. Four mountain guns, 1,250 rifles, and 100,000 rounds of small arms ammunition were seized, as well as a considerable number of horses and camels. Chauvel's casualties were; officers, 5 killed and 7 wounded; other ranks, 17 killed and 117 wounded.

Extreme suffering was inflicted upon the wounded in the course of transport over the twenty-two miles to El Arish. The broken nature of the ground made the process of collection slow; it was not until the afternoon of the day following the engagement that Major C. E. Hercus a gifted young New Zealander, who was in charge of the ambulance, was satisfied that the area had been thoroughly searched and all men accounted for. With the wounded men on camel cacolets, the ambulance then marched out from Magdhaba. A hideous night followed, as the long column of 150 camels, each bearing its burden of two jolted, groaning men, moved slowly through the intense darkness. The dust was stifling, and the cold extreme. The cacolets frequently became unbalanced, and at each breakdown the whole column was held up. This was the fourth successive night on which officers and men of the ambulance had been without sleep; but all ranks worked cheerfully, as they did on every occasion throughout the campaign, in their endeavours to relieve the agony of the shattered men.

Three men died on the camels.

At El Arish the wounded were lifted down and rested. But they were still thirty miles from railhead, and unfortunately the arrangements made by the higher staffs were, as at Romani, indefinite and unsatisfactory. The medical officers of the Anzac Mounted Division had already packed the men on to the comfortable sand-carts for the long journey to the railway when orders were received to evacuate them by sea. A strong and bitterly cold wind, with a heavy sea, was beating in from the Mediterranean. The men had to be unloaded from the sand-carts, and suffered unnecessarily from exposure until December 8th, five days after the fight, when the orders as to sea-transport were cancelled, and they were permitted to proceed by land as originally arranged. Consequently, from seven to nine days elapsed between the fight and their arrival at hospital. Neither the experience of a hundred campaigns, nor the impulsive sympathy of ordinary men towards human suffering, nor, apparently, the ease with which simple and effective arrangements could be made, seem able to move a British army staff to give to the wounded in the field-especially if operations are far removed from the influence of public opinion-that treatment which in times of peace is given by civilians to the most despised of dumb animals. In the fighting on Sinai the British wounded had more to fear from faulty arrangements for their transport than from the cowardly Bedouin of the desert.

The unqualified success at Magdhaba supplies a classical example of the right use of mounted riflemen. In scarcely more than twenty-four hours the light horsemen, New Zealanders, and Camels had ridden upwards of fifty miles, had fought, mounted and dismounted, twenty-three miles from their water-supply and fifty miles from railhead, and had surprised and annihilated a strongly placed enemy. The engagement brought out all the effective qualities of the light horsemen: the excellent discipline of the silent night-ride, the rapid approach before dismounting, the dashing leadership of the junior officers, the cleverness of the men, while maintaining their advance, in taking advantage of all cover, the effective use of machine-guns and Lewis guns, and the eagerness of the troopers for bayonet work as they got to close quarters. Chauvel's leadership was distinguished by the rapidity with which he summed up the very obscure Turkish position in the early morning, and by his judgment and characteristic patience in keeping so much of his force in reserve until the fight developed sufficiently to ensure its most profitable employment.


Further Reading:

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, Gullett Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 22 November 2009 11:46 AM EAST

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