Lieutenant Colonel Gerald Eugene Macdonald Stuart produced a unit history of the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance, AIF, in which included a section specifically related to the Battle of Romani and Bir el Abd and extracted below.
On August 3rd, 1916, the Ambulance with MAJOR E.R. WHITE in charge was situated at BALLY BUNION, a Railhead 7 miles out from the canal at BALLAH. This camp had only been occupied some 10 days, the unit having only just moved from SERAPEUM.
On the 3rd., there were various rumours as to moves, operations &c. but nothing definite whatsoever was obtained, so much so that an officer, CAPT YUILLE, and a party were detailed to proceed to KANTARA WEST to obtain sand carts and some other ordinance equipment. This party left early on the morning of the 4th.
During this morning gun fire was heard continuously and at 0745 an order was received to be ready to move in one and a half hours time. It was then too late to recall CAPT YUILLE. Only the barest of equipment was carried, also rations for 2 days. A party consisting of MAJOR WHITE, CAPT. STUART, a trumpeter, a small tent sub-division (including S/SGT WALKER, Dispenser, S/SGT SULLIVAN, nurse., PTE GRAHAM cook) 24 bearers, 4 sand carts and some burden camels moved out at 0915. These camels had only been attached just previously and had Bikanir drivers, a fact which led to confusion as the boys could not understand why Indians did not understand Arabic. CAPT CAVE was to remain till the following day in order to satisfactorily settle affairs and also to try and get in touch with CAPT YUILLE. It was arranged that LIEUT PYE, Dental Officer attached to the Amb., should take charge of the personnel and equipment remaining in camp after CAPT CAVE had left and to arrange as to any moves &c., he had with him for this purpose the personnel of what later was known as and formed the Immobile Section or Receiving Station. All ranks, owing to the mildness of the weather, marched out minus jackets and only carried their overcoats strapped to their saddles; this, in conjunction with their horse blanket afforded sufficient covering. Sun helmets were issued to all and no hats were worn.
MEDICAL EQUIPMENT. One F.S.P. No.l and F.M.P., were carried in addition an intravenous outfit and a fair supply of medical comforts. The Bde., moved in the direction of HILL 70, East of KANTARA, where it arrived a little after midday. Here horses were watered and fed, rations drawn, and a meeting of Bde., Officers held. At 1600, the Brigade moved to HOD ED DUEIDAR, which was reached after dark. We bivouacked here for the night. During the evening CPL KIMBERLEY (Farrier) arrived from KANTARA-WEST with cacolet camels to add to our means for the evacuation of casualties. At 0600 the Brigade moved out of DUEIDAR without watering. On this occasion a number of the personnel, who had travelled in the sand cart the previous day now travelled per sitting up cacolet. This was a decided relief to the sand cart horses. At 0830 the Brigade watered at a Hod some five miles out of DUEIDAR.
About midday HOD EN NOGID was reached where the Brigade came first in contact with the Turks; this contact later in the afternoon developed in to HAMISAH engagement, where the Brigade took 400 odd prisoners and some three or four machine guns. At about 1245,'sand carts were first despatched to collect wounded. (An incident during the loading of the first casualties:- a volunteer in this work was shot through the calf of the leg (a stray, of which there were many), much to his disgust. In fact his sole remark was "This red-cross business is no -—y good to me", got on his horse and rode into the Dressing Station which had by then been set up at HOD EN NEGID.)
The first two sand carts were soon full and MAJOR WHITE, after setting the running of the Dressing Station with S/SGT WALKER in charge came out to the field with the other two sand carts. Up to 1515 all carts were extremely busy picking up casualties both Australian and Turkish over a pretty wide front. Our casualties amounted to approx., 16, minus the killed. At about 1500 the Turks began to shell HAMISAH ridge with 10cm howitzer H.E., with aeroplane observation. Shooting was good, but no casualties resulted.
In passing, before leaving BALLY BUNION all ranks were issued with sulphate tablets for sterilization of water. (Personally I have always found them most objectionable since this day of August 5th., when having taken some of the contents of a water bottle, so treated, a violent attack of vomiting was induced, which rendered me hors de combat for two hours.)
About an hour after the shelling had commenced the Brigade withdrew to NOGID. The Ambulance Personnel spent the evening and the greater part of the night attending our own patients and the Turkish casualties, giving intravenous saline &c.,
One Officer (LIEUT PALMER) died early next morning notwithstanding all efforts. During the evening the Brigade with all unwounded prisoners withdrew about two and a half miles westwards to HOD EL ENNA leaving the Ambulance at NOGID as the most advanced unit there being no troops whatsoever between it and the Turks during the night. However early next morning the position was restored to normal. Early on the morning of the 6th. A.D.M.S., ANZAC MOUNTED DIVISION, arrived and directed the casualties be evacuated to the 2nd L.H.F.AMB., at ROMANI. CAPT CAVE arrived about 0830 with two additional sandcarts consequently all casualties, Australian and Turkish, were despatched almost immediately to ROMANI per sandcart and cacolet. It displays great credit on the drivers and bearers of the Ambulance, that they soon adapted themselves to the desert, travelling over new tracts of it, both during the day and night, and not one instance of them losing their way is recorded. It is the same common sense that played such a large part in the success of the Australian in the SINAI campaign. It may be a matter of interest to state that most wounds in the Ambulance were dressed with gauze soaking in 5% saline in accordance with SIR A. WRIGHT’S suggestions. All cases appeared to do satisfactorily. There were no cases where iodine was repeatedly used. The water supply for horses or washing purposes in NOGID were very limited.
During the afternoon Brigade and Ambulance (minus that which had not returned from ROMANI, which was to follow) moved towards SAGIA, where in one hod (HOD ABU DAREM), a plentiful supply of very fair water, even for human consumption, was found. This was a great boon, as it saved inroads on water supply brought forward by the camel trains in fanatis, the water for fanatis was obtained originally from the pipe line linking up with the fresh water canal. HOD ABU DAREM was the site of bivouac for the night for Ambulance and Brigade.
Early on the morning of the 7th, the Brigade withdrew out of the Hod, as it was thought that the enemy would shell it with his long range howitzers. This did not occur and Ambulance and Hqrs, returned into the HOD. At about 1000 on the 7th, the Brigade (8th Regt. mostly) suffered about 16 casualties (three serious) with one officer (LIEUT URQUHART) and two or three other ranks killed. Up to this time all had been quiet except for some desultory rifle fire, in fact the Brigadier had been seen at 0945 and had given the information that there was practically nothing doing. The first intimation that fighting of any severity had occurred was when a badly wounded Australian, shot through the mouth and covered in blood, rode in, soon followed by 2nd LIEUT AUSTIN, 8th L.H. Regt, who was wounded in the neck. Sandcarts were sent out in two relays but there was no need for the second relay. Heat was severe, the sand hills fought over, were bare and men suffered from thirst. There was considerable battery work, the Turks persistently trying to find our guns with their shrapnel. (It was during a slack interval that some very interesting ruins, part of which is a very fine dome, were investigated, the building occupying fully an acre of ground: enquiries elicit no information regarding them.) After staying two and a half hours in the field and no casualties occurring all sandcarts with the exception two returned to the Dressing Station. Operative interference under chloroform was undertaken in the case of two casualties, one case especially where the tongue had almost been amputated at the base by a bullet, with much laceration of the floor of the mouth, being exceedingly difficult; by means of hot packs, and pressure, the haemorrhage was brought under control. This patient later completely recovered. Casualties were despatched in the Ambulance sandcarts and cacolets to the British Receiving Station in the neighbourhood of OGHRATINA; most however eventually had to travel right back to ROMANI. The amount of work thrown on drivers and horses can thus be easily imagined. PTE BOYD J.A., acted as bearer guide to the convoy and did excellent service. During the afternoon of the 7th, CAPT R.G. WOODS reported to give his assistance. Early next morning (8th) the Turks having retired, the Brigade pushed on and about 1400 bivouacked in HOD ABU DHAHAB. There, during the afternoon and evening water was developed by the Field Troop, horses watered and the Ambulance was rejoined by the sand carts, sent away under PTE BOYD J.A., the previous day. The sand hills just in this region are extremely steep and difficult to negotiate and it is the easiest thing imaginable to pass a large body of troops and have no inkling that they are in the neighbourhood. That the A.S.C., trains found us (ie. Brigade, Amb inc.) so often reflects markedly to their credit and the fact that on one occasion their dump was made in a position useful also for the Turks during the night as regards obtaining supplies cast no slur on their powers of localisation but only emphasises the peculiarity of the country.
At 0400 on August 9th, the Brigade was on the move again and before daylight was in close touch with Turkish outposts in the region of HOD EL HASSANEIN. The Brigade gradually went forward during the morning until at 0900 they found themselves held up before a position of which the "Bada Redoubt" was the main feature. At this time the Inverness Battery took up a position about 650 yards N.E. of Hod El Hassanein, D.H.Q., position for the day was 100 yards ahead but slightly west of the Inverness Battery.
At about 1000 word came back by means of one of our bearers and also from B.H.Q. that casualties had occurred. (By the way, it was customary throughout and commencing with the ROMANI operations to detach two mounted bearers to report to the R.M.O. of each regiment to act as communicating files between the Regiment and Ambulance; their duties at the time were not fully appreciated and conflicting reports occurred often as regards casualties, sometimes the report of certain casualties coming from three different sources appeared as if there were three different groups of casualties.) One Officer, Capt Stuart, with a section (4) bearers with two sand carts was immediately despatched to the front line about one and a half miles in front of B.H.Q. and just before the Bada Hill.
When proceeding up one depression the Ambulance detachment was plainly visible and the Turks, who gave pretty full evidence that they respected the Red Cross Flag, diminished firing markedly when the flags unfolded and blew out. This respect was somewhat spasmodic in character, on one occasion during the day, they chased a sandcart for half a mile with shells, a pretty sight to the onlookers but extremely trying to the drivers. On arriving at the Regimental first aid posts it was soon seen that our time would be occupied fully. The two carts were soon filled with casualties and sent back, only those with a chance of surviving being loaded. One Officer (hopelessly shot through the abdomen was not moved). The position of this first aid post which was used all day was very poor, affording little cover and was shelled and sniped at continually, however the locality provided none better. The work of the drivers of the Ambulance sandcarts was extremely fine, as both going out and coming in, they were under machine gun, rifle and shell fire. Again the work of SGT FLOCKHART, Medical Sgt, to 8th A.L.H. Regt, was magnificent. Repeatedly he brought back, either in front or at the back of his saddle a casualty in the face of severe fire of all descriptions, altogether it was a performance of the highest standard.
Close shell bursts caused very nasty wounds especially fractures and in some cases, branches of desert shrub bound together with a bandage had to act as splints, anything at all had to do. Capt Cave at about 1130 arrived at the aid post with two additional sandcarts and the information that MAJOR WHITE had fanned a Dressing Station in Hod El Hassanein. An incident occurred about 1300, which perhaps is worth recording. A man from the 8th L.H. Regt, shot through the arm (in three places) and brachial plexus, suffered such immediate agony, that he stood up on a sand hillock in full view of the enemy in order to get himself killed. However he received no further damage and was pulled back under cover. His was one of the rare cases when the presence of a Medical man on the spot, determines whether it is a case of living or not; here both brachial artery and basilic vein and cephalic vein were cut and haemorrhage was profuse. Even in the short space of time that had elapsed much blood was lost; artery forceps were applied and he was evacuated with them on. In the end he had to lose his arm but had a good recovery and reached Australia. Heat during the day was severe and thirst a terrific bugbear. Certain men in the combatant units showed very cracked lips and dry swollen tongues. Loading of casualties, especially the lying down cases, was difficult particularly under shell fire, when the horses were extremely restive; owing to this some of the wounded suffered severely.
At about 1700, when the Turks, who were preparing a counter attack, increased their gunfire, the first aid post had a very unpleasant time, being plastered with shrapnel for about 1/4 of an hour, horses however, were the main sufferers.
A little after 1700, Lieut Robertson, 9th L.H., was shot through the abdomen by the Turks under unfortunate circumstances; with the greatest gallantry he was carried out from under the very noses of the Turks by CPL BARRINGTON 9th L.H. Regt., put in one of the sand carts and evacuated to the Dressing Station. At 1800 our line was withdrawn slightly and A.M.C. Officers and 0/Ranks rejoined the Ambulance at HOD EL HASSANEIN in a very fatigued condition. Here everyone was extremely busy attending to the fairly numerous casualties over 60 in number (if I remember rightly). There were no incidents of note during the night of the 9th and 10th as regards the Ambulance.
Early next morning a hostile plane dropped a bomb near the Hod, and drove down one of our planes, severely wounding both pilot and observer (one fatally).
During the 10th, a 3rd Bde, Detachment was sent to BAYOUD at the request of a column operating there; CAPT YUILLE arrived from KANTARA. LIEUT ROBERTSON was operated on (two wounds in the thigh, much destruction of abdominal wall, intestine not damaged) and was later evacuated. He later died at PORT SAID. All cases possible were evacuated to a British Receiving Station, OGHRATINA on the morning of the 10th.
Evening of the 10th., admitted several sick, one being a case of cholera (typical, died next morning)
On the 11th. the Brigade advanced, the Turks having retired & occupied BADA HILL and moved in the direction of the SAIMANA plain. One Australian shot through both knees was found at the foot of BADA REDOUBT. He had been exposed for nearly 48 hours, Turks however had given him water, but had not dressed his wound. He lived 16 hours after being admitted to the Dressing Station; shock and exposure having proved too great. One wounded Turk in charge of another was found also being taken care of by another Turk. MAJOR KIDD, 10th L.H., went in with Cholera to the Dressing Station, his case appeared almost hopeless, was evacuated after receiving local attention and made a good recovery ultimately.
BRIGADIER-GENERAL ROYSTON took over charge of the 3rd L.H. Bde., from BG.-GENERAL ANTILL.