"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.
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Tuesday, 10 February 2009
Swan Barracks History, Part 2, the Building Topic: Gen - St - WA
Swan Barracks, Francis Street, Northbridge, Western Australia
The following history, Swan Barracks, Francis Street, Northbridge is extracted from a booklet produced by the 5th Military District in 1992. It is well researched and put together for anyone to read.
Part 2, The Building
The first two storeys of Swan Barracks' central stone building, and the drill hall behind it, have the distinction of being among the oldest buildings in Northbridge.
Local builders Holman and Cousten's tender of £52,080/1/11 for construction of the drill hall was accepted on 16 August 1895. The building was supposed to have been finished by December but it was not completed until Christmas Eve 1896.
The lengthy delay must have been difficult to accept given the growing demand for the hall and the contractor's recent experience with an almost identical building.
Drill Hall and Administration Building, 1898.
The distinctive curved trussed roofing used on the hall, quite modern for the time, was the same as that used for another military drill hall built by Holman and Cousten in Holdsworth Street Fremantle in 1895.
The frustrating delays were set to increase when Holman and Cousten's tender of 1400 pounds for the administration building was also successful.
On its scheduled completion date of September 30, 1896, construction of the building had barely started. The tardiness appears, however, to have had little to do with the contractors.
In his historical survey and management plan of the barracks, Perth architect John Stephens says the delays may have been caused by the rejection of the original plans drawn for the administration building in 1895.
"There may have been some problem with the design of the administration buildings," he says. "New plans were drawn up in April 1896 and a tender was accepted in July, but it was not signed by the contractors until February 1897.
"Construction of the Royal Mint Building (now the Perth Mint) may also have slowed work in the less prestigious building at Francis Street.
"Limestone used for both buildings was transported from Rottnest Island, a difficult task in the winter months, and the administration building contract may have been held over until summer because of the lack of stone."
Artillery Drill Hall, 1901.
The Public Works Department finally reported to Parliament in 1897:
"Perth - Central drill hall, completed, comprising stone administration offices and large iron drill shed and branch rooms.”
In 1900 another drill hall was built west of the existing structure. The hall was designed, and the construction supervised, by J.J. Talbot Hobbs (later Sir), a prominent local architect who was also a major with the volunteers.
Administration Building, 1901.
(Talbot's talents as an architect were destined to be overshadowed by his talents as a soldier. He commanded the Australia Corps as Lieutenant General Hobos from 1918-19. The Artillery Drill Hall, as it became known, was demolished in 1955.)
At Federation the new Commonwealth took over the buildings, then valued at 11,315 pounds.
The present facade of the stone administration building has been part of the Northbridge landscape since completion of the third level in 1910.
When the building was finished one soldier said it resembled "Castle Greyskull", a fantasy castle of children's fiction. The parapet and robust design of the new floor certainly complemented the romantic characteristics of the earlier building, enhancing its imposing and distinctive street facade.
The next addition to the expanding complex was the two-stage construction of the red brick and stone buildings on Museum Street. The first portion, the three level building at the North West corner of the site, was built in 1905. Six years later the second stage filled the remaining Museum Street frontage as well as taking up part of the western Francis Street frontage.
These western buildings were modified significantly in 1936 to provide an entrance, staircase and fireplace for the officers’ mess on the corner of Museum and Francis Streets.
The modifications also saw the United Services Institute (USI) moved from its original rooms next to the officers mess to the second floor of the North West corner.
Museum Street frontage of Swan Barracks, 1910.
(The barracks' resident ghost is said to inhabit the old USI library and offices. "George" the ghost has spooked staff and USI members over the years with the occasional touch of a ghostly hand and noisy strolls along the old floor boards.)
The original plans for the east and west wings on Francis Street were also drawn in 1936 but a later sketch dated June 1939 appears to have been the basis for the building.
Wartime secrecy clouds the detail, but the east wing (on Francis Street) and the north east wing (bordering Beaufort Street) were probably built in 1941 to cater for increasing administration pressures of World War Two.
While the date of completion of the western wing (Francis Street) is not recorded, it is likely to have been finished around the time of the demolition of the Artillery Drill Hall in the later half of the 1950s.
With available space being all-but filled, construction work after 1955 was restricted to relatively minor internal alterations. Among the more notable alterations for the soldiers was the extension of the Sergeant's Mess in the late 1970s into the part of the north east wing formally occupied by an other ranks canteen. The ORs canteen was relocated to a partitioned area at the eastern end of the drill hall.
Demolition of Artillery Drill Hall, 1955.
Over the years of development few rooms in the barracks have been left untouched. The building, while of significant historic value, was primarily a workplace and work needs often had to take precedence over aesthetics and nostalgia.
Swan Barracks remains, however, one of Perth's most distinctive buildings and it will remain a focal point in the memories of those tens of thousands of Western Australian soldiers who either enlisted or served there.
Hamel, France, July 4, 1918 Topic: BatzWF - Westn Front
France, 4 July 1918
Hamel, the first set-piece operation planned and conducted under Lieut.-General Sir John Monash, the newly appointed commander of the Australian Corps, took place on 4 July 1918. The action was actually a fairly small affair - little more than divisional scale - but has since become famous as a model of the completely successful all-arms battle. In particular, the methodical and thorough way in which preparations were made, the new procedures devised, and the use of conferencing as a means to both inform and consult subordinates, set new standards of generalship which were emulated subsequently by other commanders on the Western Front.
In reality, the scale and nature of the operation left little to chance. Its purpose was limited to straightening the line by carrying it eastwards no further than two kilometres on a frontage of 6.5 kilometres. Covering this movement were 650 guns, and the advancing infantry was supported by the British 5th Tank Brigade containing no less than 60 of the latest Mark V tanks. Overcoming the Australians' unhappy experience of working with tanks at the First Battle of Bullecourt (q.v. ), these armoured vehicles were ordered to accompany the assault troops immediately behind the creeping barrage, operating under infantry control to break down wire obstacles encountered and deal with troublesome enemy strong points.
Monash's main worries were concerned with the manning levels in his divisions, the ranks of which were already reduced by losses and being thinned even more by an influenza epidemic. To avoid totally crippling any one of the divisions, he resorted to assembling an assault force using a brigade from each of the 2nd (contributing the 6th Brigade), 3rd (11th Brigade) and 4th (4th Brigade). Command of this force in the attack was given to Major-General Ewan Maclagan, the General Officer Commanding 4th Australian Division, from whose sector it would primarily be launched. Bolstering the Australian strength were four companies of troops from the American 33rd Division, which were attached by platoons to Australian battalions to gain combat experience.
Arrangements for the operation were developed with remarkable attention to detail. To mask the sound of the tanks moving into position during the night of 3 July, Allied aircraft bombed Hamel and enemy rear areas. Several diversions were also planned, the main one requiring the 15th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division to strike beyond Ville north of the River Somme. To lighten the normal burden of the advancing infantry, innovative use was made of carrier tanks to bring forward supplies and of air-dropping ammunition to the forward troops.
The result of all this effort was that the assault met with outstanding success. The attack was over barely 90 minutes after it started at 3.10 a.m., and all objectives had been seized for a cost of just 1,062 Australian and 176 American casualties; the 15th Brigade's diversion added another 142 to the tally, making a total of less than 1,400. German casualties were assessed at considerably more than 2,000, including 1,600 taken prisoner. In addition, the enemy lost 200 machine-guns and trench mortars, plus some anti-tank weapons.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 148-149.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
C.E.W. Bean (1937) The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Main German Offensive, 1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Rarely happening but Australian naval vessels were employed in transporting small numbers of reinforcements from Australia to a theatre of war.
The HMAS Encounter weighed 5,880 tons with an average cruise speed of 21 knots or 39.9 kmph. It was a Challenger Class light cruiser Commissioned on 10 December 1905. It remained in service until disarmed and renamed Penguin in 1923 and scuttled at Bondi in 1932.
The HMAS Una was a captured (10 October 1914) German yacht called the KGS Komet. It weighed 977 tons with an average cruise speed of 18 knots or 33.33 kmph. After the Great War it was occasionally impressed into service and was finally broken up in 1959.
A fleet of transport ships was leased by the Commonwealth government for the specific purpose of transporting the various AIF formations to their respective overseas destinations. When not committed to military transport, these ships were employed to carry various commodity exports to Britain and France. The fleet was made up from British ships and captured German vessels.
[From: West Coast Recorder, 19 November 1914, p. 23.]
HMAT A2 Geelong weighed 7,851 tons with an average cruise speed of 12 knots or 22.22 kmph. It was owned by the P&O SN Co, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until it collided with SS Bonvilston in the Mediterranean and sunk, 1 January 1916.
HMAT A3 Orvieto embarking from Melbourne, 21 July 1914
[From: The Australasian, 21 November 1914, Picture Supplement, p. I.]
HMAT A3 Orvieto weighed 12,130 tons with an average cruise speed of 15 knots or 27.78 kmph. It was owned by the Orient SN Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 29 December 1914. It formed part of the first convoy of the AIF to the Egypt. The Orvieto became well known for its work during this convoy as it transported the prisoners captured from the beached German raider Emden. The German prisoners were take to Egypt by the Orvieto for imprisonment.
HMAT A4 Pera weighed 7,635 tons with an average cruise speed of 11 knots or 20.37 kmph. It was owned by the P&O SN Co, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 6 January 1917. The Pera was torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean on 19 October 1917
The HMAT A5 Omrah weighed 8,130 tons with an average cruise speed of 15 knots or 27.78 kmph. It was owned by the Orient SN Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 10 February 1915. The Omrah was torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean, 12 May 1918.
The HMAT A6 Clan Maccorquodale weighed 5121 tons with an average cruise speed of 15 knots or 27.78 kmph. It was owned by the Cayser, Irvin and Co., Glasgow, and leased by the Commonwealth until 14 April 1915. The Clan Maccorquodale was torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean, 17 November 1917.
White Star Liner HMAT A7 Medic leaving Fremantle, 2 November 1914.
[From: The Western Mail, 20 November 1914, p. 25.]
The HMAT A7 Medic weighed 12,032 tons with an average cruise speed of 13 knots or 24.07 kmph. It was owned by the Oceanic SN Co Ltd, Liverpool, and leased by the Commonwealth until 26 October 1917. The Medic was well known by the Australian forces as it was a key troopship for Australia during the Boer War, some 14 years before the re-engagement.
The HMAT A8 Argyllshire weighed 10,392 tons with an average cruise speed of 14 knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the Scottish Shire Line Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 24 January 1918.
The HMAT A10 Karroo weighed 6,127 tons with an average cruise speed of 12 knots or 22.22 kmph. It was owned by the Ellerman & Bucknall SS Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 3 January 1917.
The HMAT A12 Saldanha weighed 4,594 tons with an average cruise speed of 11 knots or 20.37 kmph. It was owned by the Ellerman & Bucknall SS Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 14 June 1917. The Saldanha was torpedoed and sunk in Mediterranean, 18 March 1918.
The HMAT A13 Katuna weighed 4,641 tons with an average cruise speed of 11 knots or 20.37 kmph. It was owned by the Ellerman & Bucknall SS Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 10 February 1917.
The HMAT A15 Star of England, later renamed Port Sydney, weighed 9,136 tons with an average cruise speed of 13.5 knots or 25.00 kmph. It was owned by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 22 September 1917.
The HMAT A16 Star of Victoria, later renamed Port Melbourne, weighed 9,152 tons with an average cruise speed of 13.5 knots or 25.00 kmph. It was owned by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line Ltd London and leased by the Commonwealth until 2 October 1917.
The HMAT A17 Port Lincoln weighed 7,243 tons with an average cruise speed of 12 knots or 22.22 kmph. It was owned by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 26 September 1917.
The HMAT A18 Wiltshire weighed 10,390 tons with an average cruise speed of 13.5 knots or 25.00 kmph. It was owned by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 2 October 1917.
The HMAT A19 Afric weighed 11,999 tons with an average cruise speed of 13 knots or 24.07 kmph. It was owned by the Federal SN Co Ltd, London. The Afric was torpedoed and sunk in the English Chanel, 12 February 1917.
HMAT A20 Hororata, Port Melbourn, 23 November 1916
The HMAT A20 Hororata weighed 9,400 tons with an average cruise speed of 14 knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the New Zealand Shipping Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 11 September 1917.
The HMAT A21 Marere weighed 6443 tons with an average cruise speed of 12.5 knots or 23.15 kmph. It was owned by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line Ltd, London. The Marere was sunk by a submarine's gunfire in the Mediterranean, 18 January 1916.
HMAT A22 Rangatira about to leave Pinkenba Wharf Brisbane, Qld, 24 September 1914
The HMAT A22 Rangatira weighed 8948 tons with an average cruise speed of 14 knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the Shaw, Savill and Albion Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 15 February 1915. The Rangatira was stranded off Cape of Good Hope, 31 March 1916.
The HMAT A25 Anglo-Egyptian weighed 7,379 tons with an average cruise speed of 14 knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the Nitrate Producers SS Co, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 16 April 1917.
The HMAT A26 Armadale weighed 6,153 tons with an average cruise speed of 11 knots or 20.37 kmph. It was owned by the Australind SS Co, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 7 June 1917. The Armadale was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine off coast of Ireland, 27 June 1917.
The HMAT A27 Southern weighed 4,769 tons with an average cruise speed of 10.5 knots or 19.44 kmph. It was owned by the Central Shipping Co, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 3 February 1915.
HMAT A28 Miltiades in King George's Sound, Albany, October 1914
The HMAT A28 Miltiades weighed 7,814 tons with an average cruise speed of 13 knots or 24.07 kmph. It was owned by the G Thompson & Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 15 September 1917.
The HMAT A32 Themistocles weighed 11,231 tons with an average cruise speed of 15 knots or 27.78 kmph. It was owned by the G Thompson & Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 20 October 1917.
HMAT A33 Ayrshire departing from Port Melbourne on 3 July 1916
The HMAT A33 Ayrshire weighed 7,763 tons with an average cruise speed of 13 knots or 24.07 kmph. It was owned by the The Scottish Shire Line Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 9 January 1918.
The HMAT A36 Boonah weighed 5,926 tons with an average cruise speed of 10.5 knots or 19.44 kmph. The Boonah was previously a captured German vessel called Melbourne. It was manned by Australia officers and crew and transferred to Commonwealth Government Line, 28 March 1918.
HMAT A37 Barambah at Port Melbourne on 5 June 1916
The HMAT A37 Barambah weighed 5,923 tons with an average cruise speed of 10.5 knots or 19.44 kmph. The Barambah was previously a captured German vessel called Hobart. It was manned by Australia officers and crew and transferred to Commonwealth Government Line, 23 May 1918.
The HMAT A39 Port MacQuarie weighed 7,236 tons with an average cruise speed of 12.5 knots or 23.15 kmph. It was owned by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 13 January 1917.
The HMAT A41 Bakara weighed 5,930 tons with an average cruise speed of 10.5 knots or 19.44 kmph. The Bakara was previously a captured German vessel called Constaff. It was manned by Australia officers and crew and transferred to Commonwealth Government Line, 1 May 1918.
The HMAT A42 Boorara weighed 5,923 tons with an average cruise speed of 10.5 knots or 19.44 kmph. The Boorara was previously a captured German vessel called Pfalz. It was manned by Australia officers and crew and transferred to Commonwealth Government Line, 24 June 1919.
The HMAT A43 Barunga weighed 7,484 tons with an average cruise speed of 11 knots or 20.37 kmph. The Barunga was previously a captured German vessel called Sumatra. It was manned by Australia officers and crew. The Barunga was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine in the North Atlantic, 15 July 1918.
The HMAT A45 Bulla weighed 5,099 tons with an average cruise speed of 10.5 knots or 19.44 kmph. The Bulla was previously a captured German vessel called Hessen. It was manned by Australian officers and crew and transferred to Commonwealth Government Line, 15 April 1918.
The HMAT A46 Clan McGillivray weighed 5,023 tons with an average cruise speed of 14 knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the Cayser, Irvin and Co, Glasgow, and leased by the Commonwealth until 16 August 1917.
The HMAT A47 Mashobra weighed 8,174 tons with an average cruise speed of 12.5 knots or 23.15 kmph. It was owned by the British India SN Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 21 December 1916. The Mashobra was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean, 15 April 1917.
The HMAT A49 Seang Choon weighed 5,807 tons with an average cruise speed of 12 knots or 22.22 kmph. It was owned by the Lim Chin Tsong, Rangoon. The Seang Choon was torpedoed and sunk off coast of Ireland, 10 July 1917.
The HMAT A50 Itonus weighed 5,340 tons with an average cruise speed of 12 knots or 22.22 kmph. It was owned by the British India SN Co Ltd, London. The Itonus was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean, 20 December 1916.
The HMAT A52 Surada weighed 5,324 tons with an average cruise speed of 10 knots or 18.52 kmph. It was owned by the British India SN Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 4 January 1917. The Surada was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine in Mediterranean, 2 November 1918.
The HMAT A55 Kyarra weighed 6,953 tons with an average cruise speed of 14 knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the AUSN Co Ltd, London, and manned by Australia officers and crew. The Kyarra was leased by the Commonwealth until 4 January 1918. The Kyarra was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine in the English Channel, 26 May 1918.
The HMAT A57 Malakuta weighed 7,430 tons with an average cruise speed of 12 knots or 22.22 kmph. It was owned by the T & J Brocklebank Ltd, Liverpool, and leased by the Commonwealth until 24 January 1917.
The HMAT A58 Kabinga weighed 4,657 tons with an average cruise speed of 12 knots or 22.22 kmph. It was owned by the Ellerman & Bucknall SS Co Ltd, London. The Kabinga was captured by Emden in the Bay of Bengal on 12 September 1914 and released with the Emden’s beaching at the Cocos Islands. The Kabinga was leased by the Commonwealth until 19 June 1917.
The HMAT A59 Botanist weighed 7,688 tons with an average cruise speed of 13 knots or 24.07 kmph. It was owned by the Charente SS Co Ltd, Liverpool, and leased by the Commonwealth until 6 December 1916.
HMAT A61 Kanowna embarking from Townsville Harbour, August 1914
[From: The Queenslander, 22 August 1914, p. 30.]
The HMAT A61 Kanowna weighed 6,942 tons with an average cruise speed of 14 knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the AUSN Co Ltd, London, and manned by Australia officers and crew. The Kanowna was leased by the Commonwealth until 18 March 1919.
The HMAT A62 Wandilla weighed 7,785 tons with an average cruise speed of 16 knots or 29.63 kmph. It was owned by the Adelaide SS Co Ltd, Adelaide, and manned by Australian officers and during her service by mainly Australian crews. The Wandilla was leased by the Commonwealth until 24 January 1917.
The HMAT A63 Karoola weighed 7,391 tons with an average cruise speed of 15 knots or 27.78 kmph. It was owned by the McIlwraith, McEacharn's Line Pty Ltd, Melbourne, and manned by Australian officers and crews. The Karoola was leased by the Commonwealth until June 1919.
The HMAT A64 Demosthenes weighed 11,223 tons with an average cruise speed of 15 knots or 27.78 kmph. It was owned by the G Thompson & Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 16 March 1917.
The HMAT A65 Clan Macewen weighed 5,140 tons with an average cruise speed of 15 knots or 27.78 kmph. It was owned by the Cayser, Irvin and Co, Glasgow, and leased by the Commonwealth until 14 April 1917.
The HMAT A66 Uganda weighed 5,431 tons with an average cruise speed of 10 knots or 18.52 kmph. It was owned by the British India SN Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 4 December 1916. The Uganda was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine in Mediterranean, 27 May 1918.
The HMAT A69 Warilda weighed 7,713 tons with an average cruise speed of 16 knots or 29.63 kmph. It was owned by the Adelaide SS Co Ltd, Adelaide, and manned by Australian officers and mainly by Australian crews. The Warilda was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine in the English Channel, 3 August 1918.
The HMAT A70 Ballarat weighed 11,120 tons with an average cruise speed of 14 knots or 25.92 kmph. It was owned by the P & O SN Co, London. The Ballarat was torpedoed by a submarine in the English Channel, 25 April 1917 and sank the next day.
The HMAT A74 Marathon weighed 7,827 tons with an average cruise speed of 16 knots or 29.63 kmph. It was owned by the G Thompson & Co Ltd, London, and leased by the Commonwealth until 28 July 1917.
Royal Mail Steamers
These Royal Mail Steamers were contracted to carry the mail between Australia and Britain. On occasion, parts of the ship were booked by the AIF to carry troops and cargo. The following list is of the Royal Mail Steamers who carried troops:
The SS Makariniweighed 10,624 tons with an average cruise speed of 13 knots or 24.07 kmph. It was owned by G.D.Tyser & Co, London. Accommodation for 750-steerage class passengers. Built by Workman, Clark & Co, Belfast, she was launched on 3rd Feb.1912. In 1914 Tyser's was taken over by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line (Port Line) and she was renamed SS Port Nicholson. Mined and sunk 15 miles West of Dunkirk 15 January1917. [Great Passenger Ships of the World by Arnold Kludas, vol.1, ISBN 0-85059-174-0, which contains a photo of the ship] [Merchant Fleets by Duncan Haws, vol.21, Port Line]
The SS Port Lyttelton [sometimes referred to as SS Port Lydelton in Australian sources] was formerly the SS Niwaru but requisitioned in 1916 as a troop ship and renamed to SS Port Lyttelton. The ship weighed 6,444 tons with an average cruise speed of 12 knots or 22.22 kmph. It was owned by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line, London.
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).
Notwithstanding the fact that it was the height of summer, the Turk was about to challenge. His first concentrations, a few miles east of Katia, were observed on July 19 by General Chaytor and an airman who had taken him out for a “joy ride” after the desert had been reported clear. The force was estimated at 9,000 men with guns. The bringing of heavy guns over the desert for so many miles was a remarkable feat. It was afterwards found that in many places the Turks had made a gun road by digging ditches where the wheels were to run, and filling them with brush, which prevented the wheels sinking in the soft sand.
The Turks started to dig in on a line from Oghratina to Mageibra. All the vital eminences were held in strength, and our patrols were frequently fired on, in some cases by machine-guns. Patrols of the A.M.R., under Lieutenants Reed and Martin, were sent to Bir Nagid, some 15 to 20 miles to the south, to keep a secret watch against the enemy’s left. Secrecy demanded that this little post, so far from assistance, must be supplied with rations and water and fodder during the hours of darkness. Camels, of course, had to be used to transport the supplies, and as they took four or five hours to cover the outward journey, this was a matter of some difficulty. The fact that the camel drivers were Mohammedan Indians, under a superb looking individual who wore a sword, and that the escort was a party of A.M.R. troopers under a corporal, led to an amusing incident the first night, or rather morning. Dawn was just about to break when the loads had been taken off, and there was need for haste if the camels were to be out of sight by sunrise. The Indians did not appreciate the position, and instead of turning back at once, they washed their hands and made ready to pray as the sun came up, the individual with the sword not excepted. The A.M.R. corporal tried persuasion, but that being of no avail, he used the toe of his boot on the head Indian. This form of persuasion was quite effectual.
At the time the enemy’s intentions were not known. He was certainly expected to move forward and gain the advantages of the Katia system of oases, but there seemed every possibility that there he would wait for the British to dislodge him. The Commander-in-Chief decided to give him battle on August 13. A considerable force of infantry was in position, but the chief activity for some days was among the mounted troops of both sides. The enemy did not wait to be attacked, however. On July 27 his force, estimated now to number about 20,000 men, made an advance to Abu Darem, in the south, but was checked to some extent in the north by Light Horse and the W.M.R., with whom the latter were then brigaded.
So far the A.M.R. had remained at Hill 70 “standing by.” Important patrol duties were daily carried out. On August 1, part of the 11th squadron was sent to establish a strong post to Bir En Nuss, some miles to the east of Dudar, to sink sufficient wells to water a brigade, and part was sent to Bir Nagid to keep a watch on, the Turks. These hods were opposite the Turkish left, which was “in the blue,” the desert being its only protection, and the troopers looked forward with the liveliest anticipation to what they hoped would be a rapid out—flanking movement, the eternal dream of cavalry. The troops of Finlayson and Alsopp were in touch with enemy patrols, and were able to send in valuable information as to the activities of the enemy at Hamisah. On August 3 the remaining two squadrons relieved some Light Horse at Dueidar. That night the enemy force made a general advance, one of the fiercest fights being a delaying action by a small body of Light Horse at Hod “El Enna”. On the morning of the 4th, the Turks commenced to push forward their left flank, in a north-west direction, towards the high ground west of Bir Etmaler, and soon were on Mount Royston, a high sand dune, three miles north of Romani. This hill now became the key to the whole action. Whatever side held it would have possession of Romani, and it fell to the New Zealanders to take a prominent part in the action which regained the hill and put the seal of failure upon the hopes of the German led Turks.
At 7 a.m. the New Zealand Brigade, in which the 5th Light Horse had taken the place of the W.M.R. who had been detached for some time, got orders to move forward. The A.M.R. was at Dueidar, and got orders to join the brigade as strong as possible. The 3rd squadron and two troops of the 4th squadron rejoined the column a mile and a-half south- east of Canterbury Hill, the 11th squadron and the balance of the 4th squadron remaining to patrol the Dueidar-Katia road. About 11.30 a.m. a force of Turks, numbering 2,000, was observed on Mount Royston. About midday, after being heavily shelled by the skilful German or Austrian gunners on the ridge, a dismounted advance was ordered, the C.M.R. being on the left, the 3rd squadron of the A.M.R. in the centre, and yeomanry on the right. It was actually an enveloping movement, the New Zealanders moving against the Turkish front and the yeomanry against their southern flank. Enemy advanced posts were driven back, and the 3rd squadron, now supported by Major McCarroll with the two troops and the machine-gun section, again moved forward across the sandy “waves.” The warm fire of the Turks was returned vigor- ously by the A.M.R. machine-guns and the supporting battery, which had brought up its guns with twelve horse teams. Steadily the line moved forward, but surprisingly few casualties were suffered, one of the reasons being the advantage taken by the men of the cover offered by slight depressions, while the dangerous ruts, running parallel with the advance, were avoided. It was to be a race against time. If the hill did not fall before nightfall all the effort of the day would be lost, so a general advance was ordered for 4.45 p.m. When the moment arrived, the Turks had begun to feel the pressure of the enfilade fire from the south, and they had already evacuated a position slightly in advance of the base of the hill, and also the left end of their trenches on the ridge itself.
As soon as the final rush began the attackers were met by white flags instead of bullets. About 250 Turks were taken by the A.M.R., including a complete hospital. With the south section of the position taken, it was merely a matter of
moments before the whole position was occupied, over 1,000 prisoners being secured besides a battery of mountain guns. The first man to reach the guns was Lieutenant 0. Johnson, of the A.M.R., who was killed a few days later. In the latter stages of the action some infantry gave support on the left.
Altogether it was a very satisfactory day’s work, and the results were of the highest importance, seeing that the Turkish retirement began almost immediately. The Regiment had carried itself according to its Gallipoli traditions, and they were very tired but very satisfied men who rode back that night to rest after handing over the position to the infantry. But perhaps the proudest man of all was the padre, who had the distinction of getting a piece of metal through his hat without receiving any injury.
Major Alexander Herbert Wilkie, Adjutant of the Wellington Mounted Rifles, a unit which was part of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, wrote an account of this unit in 1924 called Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment - 1914 - 1919, 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.
Wilkie, AH, Official War History of the Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment - 1914 - 1919, (Auckland 1924).
Battle of Romani Operations
At this time our defensive line extended from the vicinity of Mehamdiyeh, an ancient watering-place, on the left, and then continued southward for a distance of six miles along a line of sand dunes to Katib Gannet, a razor-backed sandhill a mile and a-half south-east of Bir Et Maler. This line was entrenched and held by the 52nd (Lowland) Scottish Division, and it covered the railhead then at Romani, the remainder of the railway being protected by the 1st and 2nd Brigades near Romani and Bir Et Maler and by the New Zealand and 5th Yeomanry Brigades at Hill 70. The two latter brigades guarded also the water-pipe and telegraph lines from Kantara
Lieut.-General H. A. Lawrence commanded the troops in the forward zone, his infantry reserves being some distance in the rear. The headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Archibald Murray, were then at Cairo, 130 miles from Romani
On 22nd July the W.M.R. encountered the enemy near Sagia, and the 2nd Squadron captured seven prisoners. The Turks were gradually pressing forward, making no attempt to conceal themselves, their idea apparently being to make as much display as possible in order to impress on our troops his great strength. During the next few days the 1st and 2nd Brigades were kept busy checking the enemy, and on the 28th the 2nd W.M.R. Squadron encountered strong opposition at Umm Ugba, two miles north of Katia. The Turks had taken the Hod there, and were within striking distance of the wells at Katia, so Colonel Meldrum, who commanded our left flank facing Umm Ugba, asked permission from General Royston to take the Hod and to have two guns to assist in the attack. General Royston, who loved a fight, consented, and the attack was made by two W.M.R. Squadrons under cover of machine-gun and artillery fire, and carried out at the point of the bayonet with great determination. The enemy were driven out of the Hod, leaving sixteen dead and eight unwounded prisoners on our hands. The Lewis gunners, under Lieutenant Herrick, performed particularly good work. Finally the Ayrshire Battery shelled an enemy camp at Sagia, on our right, and scattered it
Meanwhile the Turks had been advancing their left flank towards Bir Nagid, where posts of the New Zealand Brigade were located
The country on our right flank, towards Katia, was quite open, and through it ran the ancient road connecting Katia with Duiedar. The possibility of the Turkish attack developing in that direction had been considered by General Lawrence in consultation with Divisional Commanders, and the question as to whether the high ground known as "Wellington Ridge," eight hundred yards south of the W.M.R. camp, should be held and defended was discussed. General Chauvel favoured this being done, and his representations were well grounded, as will be seen later. Wellington Ridge commanded the Light Horse Camps, but it was considered to be too isolated for an Infantry post to hold, so the idea of holding and defending it was abandoned
Early on the morning of August 3rd the 2nd Brigade relieved the 1st Brigade, observing the enemy at Katia. The W.M.R. was advance guard that day, and they soon came under heavy fire. The Turks were in strength, and there was great activity along their positions, so the 2nd Brigade took up an outpost line to keep them under observation, till nightfall, when the Brigade commenced to return to Et Maler, leaving officers' patrols to watch the enemy
At this time the enemy line ran generally as follows :- From a point on his right six miles east of Romani, through the Katia Oasis, and thence to Bir Nagid, his left - a total of seven miles
Meanwhile two regiments of the 1st Brigade had taken up an outpost line three miles in length from Wellington Ridge southward on the right of the Infantry line through Mount Meredith to Hod El Enna to cover the entrants to the gullies which opened towards Katia from the Romani camps. In view of subsequent events, this disposition proved to be a wise one, the presence of these posts confusing the enemy when he appeared and delaying his advance for some time
When the 2nd Brigade withdrew from Katia the Turks must have followed close on its heels, for at 11.30 p.m. the 1st Brigade reported that an enemy force was moving along its front, and just before midnight firing began, principally at Mount Meredith and Hod El Enna. The enemy was found to be in great strength in both these places, and the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, which had reached camp; was ordered out
This brigade did not immediately take part in the fight, being placed under cover of Wellington Ridge, but eventually its firmness and tenacity assisted in checking and finally defeating the Turkish advance
Soon after the Turks had commenced to attack Mount Meredith, firing ceased for some time. This was mystifying at first, but it later transpired that the lull was due to the Turks having wrongly estimated the position of the line held by our troops, as captured enemy maps showed our line much further back. The Light Horse posts around Mount Meredith had not been anticipated by the Turkish Commander, and when our true position became known he had to remodel his plans
At 2.15 on the morning of the 4th, however, heavy firing broke out all along the line, the Turks apparently being ordered to attack whatever was in front of them
The troops at Hod El Enna and Mount Meredith were sorely pressed, and began to withdraw gradually. The enemy pressed the attack with great vigour, and events around Mount Meredith began to develop rapidly. Strong bodies of the enemy were outflanking our right, gaining ground slowly, and at 4 a.m. the 1st Brigade was forced back towards Wellington Ridge. The Turks had meanwhile captured Mount Meredith and had lined the crest, bringing machine guns into action
At daybreak, as the situation became more acute, General Royston extended the 6th and 7th Light Horse Regiments from the right of 1st Brigade westward, his instructions being to hold Wellington Ridge at all costs. The W.M.R. were in reserve behind the northern slopes of the hill in a depression, and with them were the led horses of the 6th and 7th Regiments. This depression afforded the only available cover for the horses, on account of heavy rifle and machine-gun fire which raked the ground around it, but the horses in massed formation presented a splendid target for enemy air craft, which were then active, and when a number of them suddenly appeared, flying low, some anxious moments were passed. Fortunately, the airmen did not observe the packed horses beneath them, and they directed their bombs, without result, at the Leicester Battery, close by
Just before 5 a.m. the enemy's guns - some of them being 5.9. calibre - opened fire along Wellington Ridge, and they searched the ground in rear The enemy flanking movement continued, and aeroplane bombing became more active. At the same time machine-gun fire from Mount Meredith swept Wellington Ridge, making the southern slopes of the latter untenable, and the 1st Brigade was ordered to withdraw to a knoll further back. A little later the 1st Brigade was driven from the Knoll, but the 2nd Brigade, fighting stubbornly, clung to the western slopes of Wellington Ridge
Divisional headquarters had meanwhile also moved back, and established itself in the W.M.R. camp. Colonel Meredith was then ordered to collect the 1st A.L.H. Brigade, which was retiring on Et Maler, and later one of its regiments was sent to strengthen our right
At seven o'clock the W.M.R. took up a position on the left rear of the 6th and 7th Light Horse Regiments, the movement being carried out at the gallop under very heavy rifle and machine-gun fire. The Turks were then advancing rapidly towards Wellington Ridge, and the 6th and 7th Regiments were withdrawn to take up a line on the right of the W.M.R. the latter covering the retirement. The Turks thereupon occupied Wellington Ridge, and the high ground overlooking the Light Horse camps, which now came under heavy artillery, machine-gun, and rifle fire. It will thus be seen that the line taken up by Colonel Meldrum lay between the Turks and the Et Maler Camps, and it was owing to the stiff resistance maintained there, supported by the fire of the Ayrshire and Leicester Batteries, that the Turkish advance towards Romani railway station was held up
The fight had now reached a very interesting stage. Our defence line was very thinly held; all our regimental reserves had been absorbed into it, and the Infantry reserves were not in sight. The Turks, however, did not appear to fully appreciate the situation; they hesitated for a time on Wellington Ridge, when they might have used their greater numerical strength to better advantage, and it was during this time that fate was to turn against them
Meanwhile the general situation had apparently been viewed with some alarm in the vicinity of Divisional Headquarters, where the orderly-room clerk of the W.M.R. had been ordered to burn the regimental records. The cooking utensils and other impediments had been packed for removal when the quarter-master of the W.M.R. arrived from the firing line, where the Turks had been checked, and he arranged with the cooks to unpack the dixies and serve up tea in the firing line. The cooks responded readily, and in the face of heavy artillery and rifle fire they carried the tea to their comrades, who, having had no time to breakfast, fully appreciated it
The enemy were meanwhile pressing forward between Et Maler and Mount Royston, a big sandhill on the left of his line, three and a-half miles west of Mount Meredith, and during this momentous phase in the operations General Royston was the most noticeable and ubiquitous figure on the battlefield Although wounded himself, he rode amongst his men, for whom he always had a cheery word, inspiring them and exhorting them to take cover, while openly exposing himself. The General was most energetic throughout the fighting, and used up no fewer than eight horses during the day
At 9.45 a composite Regiment of Yeomanry gained touch with the enemy two miles south-west of Mount Royston, the Anzac Division at that time being extended from Wellington Ridge, where the W.M.R. held the left on the line to some sandhills north of Mount Royston, our right, where the Yeomanry soon joined up. A little later two companies from the 156th Infantry Brigade took over part of our line from the 7th L.H. Regiment on the right of the W.M.R., thus enabling the line to be extended further westward to check the enemy advancing there
Meanwhile the N.Z.M.R. Brigade had been advancing from Hill 70, and at eleven o'clock it reached Canterbury Hill, close to Mount Royston, the key of the position. The arrival of the N.Z. Brigade and Yeomanry at this point was most opportune and, commencing to attack immediately, they ultimately changed the whole aspect of the fight. The Turks were entrenched, and they defended stubbornly, but the New Zealanders gradually closed in on them, and by five o'clock, on the approach of the 42nd Infantry Division, General Chaytor was able to thrust all his mounted reserves into the fight, and Mount Royston was captured at the point of the bayonet
At six o'clock the Infantry arrived, too late to take part in the fighting, but they garrisoned Mount Royston whilst the mounted troops continued to attack further on the left
The forward move of the mounted troops on the right flank continued till darkness set in, when an outpost line was taken up by the two L.H. Brigades and two battalions of Infantry, these continuing the line from the right of the 52nd Division to Mount Royston, facing the enemy, who still held Wellington Ridge
Although the 1st and 2nd Brigades had been moving continuously for about twenty hours, and it must be remembered that the W.M.R. and the 6th and 7th Regiments had already been without sleep for two nights, they were confident of dislodging the enemy next morning. The tenacity in holding up the Turks close on their camp and the opportune arrival of the New Zealand Brigade at Mount Royston had saved the day, and it was from that time that the Turks lost their offensive, never to regain it
About 1200 prisoners were taken, also a mountain battery and a machine gun
The W.M.R. casualties were :- Five officers and 19 other ranks wounded
Altogether the battle cost the British about 800 casualties - killed, wounded, and missing. Firing continued after dark all along the line, the enemy using artillery
The 3rd A.L.H. Brigade and the Inverness Battery arrived at Duiedar at 8.30, and halted there for the night. So far, this Brigade had not been engaged
Orders for next day's operations were then issued, they being briefly to the effect that a general advance would commence at daylight to dislodge and drive back the enemy, who had retired to a line of entrenched positions from Hod El Enna, his left, through Katia to Abu Hamra; the Anzac Division to thrust forward all along the line, with its right on Hod El Enna and its left with the 52nd Infantry Division. The latter was to strike at Abu Hamra and the 42nd Division on Katia, but after the initial attack the Infantry gave little assistance during the rest of the day. The 3rd A.L.H
Brigade was directed on Hamisah to turn the Turkish left and cut in behind the enemy, but it made little headway
The counter-attack commenced at four o'clock on the morning pf 5th August, the W.M.R., with the 7th A.L.H. Regiment on its right, and supported on the left by the Welsh Fusiliers, charging with fixed bayonets across the broken country which separated them from the main Turkish position on Wellington Ridge. They encountered heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, but, rushing up the slopes in an irresistible charge, they quickly broke through the Turkish front line. The enemy soon became demoralised, and our troops advanced from ridge to ridge without a stop and completely overwhelmed the Turks, who surrendered in hundreds. Without waiting to hand over the prisoners, Lieut.Colonel Meldrum ordered up his horses and remounted the Regiment, and, taking with him a section of machine-gunners from the 2nd A.L.H. Brigade under Lieutenant Zouch, pursued the retreating Turks towards Katia, gathering prisoners en route
Meanwhile the 1st A.L.H. Brigade on the right had moved south-east on Hod El Enna
At 6.35 General Chauvel was placed in command of all the mounted troops, and as the W.M.R. had commenced the pursuit of the demoralised retreating enemy without orders Divisional Headquarters were notified en route by helio of the Regiment's action and of its intention to push forward
The Regiment relentlessly pursued the enemy, capturing hundreds of prisoners, till it approached Katia, where it came under heavy fire. The eastern portion of Katia was found to be strongly held, and a fusillade of machine guns and rifle fire, supported by a mountain battery, held up the further advance of the Regiment
Dismounting two squadrons, the Officer Commanding took up a position with six machine guns. As the Regiment was unable to advance further without assistance, Headquarters were advised of the situation. The Regiment remained in this position till 9 a.m., closely observing the enemy. Although the numerical strength of the Regiment was very small in comparison with the force opposed to it, its presence so close on the heels of the enemy plainly agitated the latter, who maintained a most vigorous fire from battery machine guns and rifles
After the very successful advance from Romani, during which about 2000 Turks, some Germans, a battery, and six machine guns had been captured, the remainder of the mounted troops commenced to concentrate near Katia, where the W.M.R. were still holding their position close to the rearguard of the enemy and patrolling the surrounding country. These patrols were very successful, and one of them, under Lieutenant Allison, captured 93 prisoners and 80 camels, besides an ammunition supply dump
At 9 a.m., however, Lieut.-Colonel Meldrum received an urgent appeal for assistance from the C.R.A., who, was moving forward with two batteries, and who reported that he was being attacked from the north-east by Turks two miles east of Katib Gannit. Two squadrons of the W.M.R. were immediately withdrawn to protect the Artillery, the other squadron remaining in position to keep touch with the Turkish Main Body; but on their arrival at the position indicated it was found that the attack on the guns had not materialised, though one battery, the Leicesters, had retired. The Ayrshire Battery was brought up. and put into action against the Turkish rearguard, and the two W.M.R. Squadrons again took up their former positions
At 10 a.m. Lieut.-Colonel Meldrum received word that he was temporarily in command of the' 2nd A.L.H. Brigade, vice Brig.-General Royston, wounded, so, handing over the Regiment to Major Spragg, he set to work to gain touch with the 6th and 7th A.L.H. Regiments and to concentrate his Command
Colonel Meldrum's appointment proved a most popular one. His previous series of successes on Gallipoli and elsewhere won for him the confidence and respect of Australians and New Zealanders alike. He fully understood his men. He appreciated the splendid fighting qualities they possessed, and used then to the best advantage. He quickly recognised good work and promptly acknowledged it. The Colonel's indomitable determination and tenacity in defence, his aggressiveness in attack, and frequent use of the bayonet, prompted the Australians to refer affectionately to him as "Fix-Bayonets Bill" - surely a soubriquet to be proud of.
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