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Thursday, 19 February 2009
The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, 23 December 1916, El Arish and El Magdhaba, 9th LHR, AIF, Commentary
Topic: AIF - 3B - 9 LHR

The Battle of Magdhaba

Sinai, 23 December 1916

El Arish and El Magdhaba, 9th LHR, AIF, Commentary


El Arish and El Magdhaba with the 9th Light Horse Regiment

Subtle things were happening at Bir el Malha indicating that something was in the wind. On Sunday, 10 December 1916, while the Regiment carried out routine work a draft of 35 men arrived from Kantara to bring the Regiment up to strength. In addition, another 31 remounts arrived to provide rides for the reinforcements. Stores and supplies were moving up to Bir el Mazar in greater abundance than normal. An aerodrome was being constructed at Bir Abu Tilul. Military police units seemed to appear in increasing numbers and wire enclosures were constructed indicating that Chauvel expected an offensive action and the resulting prisoners. The men put all the information together and speculated that an attack was not far away with the 9th LHR playing a role.



As if to be right on cue, “Galloping” Jack Royston rode into the 9th LHR camp on Monday, 11 December 1916 and called the officers together. After a long chat, Royston went out with the key Regimental leadership cadre: Daly, Parsons, Ragless, and McKenzie, men who were the 2IC and OCs of ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Squadrons respectively. The party spent the rest of the day scouting the front line areas where the 9th LHR was scheduled to move in the coming days. Royston did the same the next day with Daly, Chanter, and Ayliffe. This time they took a ride around the Bir el Gerarat area to observe and examine the enemy positions out from El Arish.

The Turks were busy too. While Royston was at Bir el Gerarat planning for the next attack with the officers, the Turks sent over a Taube to observe and bomb Bir el Malha. This resulted in the killing of a horse from the 3rd Machine Gun Squadron. To ensure the Turks were not forgotten, they made this a daily activity causing great annoyance and the occasional casualties. The disruption was of the greatest nuisance as the horses and men had to scatter to reduce the possibility of casualties. After a visit, it would take half and hour to an hour to collect all the horses together again and put them in the lines.

On Wednesday, 13 December 1916, Royston ran a practice alarm for the Brigade, which meant that the 9th LHR had to turn out with the rest of the regiments. While not as annoying in the numbers as was the practice of Antill, it was disruptive enough.

The next morning at 3am, Thursday, 14 December 1916, the 9th LHR mounted up and joined up with the 10th LHR for a route march to Bir el Arnussi. After a three hour march, the two Regiments arrived at Bir el Arnussi somewhere around 6.15 am where they watched other formations assemble. Bir el Arnussi was a gathering point for the Desert Column for a practice attack. While the rehearsal was taking place, at 1pm, the regular Turkish Taube made its appearance and observed the action. No bombs were dropped as it was a purely observational flight. What the observers saw created consternation amongst the Turks and the Germans. Von Kress now knew an attack was imminent and made his troop dispositions.

The men of the 9th LHR drew the same conclusion. Aeroplanes, dress rehearsals, and officers’ patrols all pointed to movement in one direction – El Arish. The men were so confident in their own ability, not withstanding the Bir el Mazar fiasco, that they had no doubts that any obstacle posed by the Turks would be readily overcome. It was with these thoughts in mind that they finished their rehearsal, watered and fed the horses. Afterwards they sat down to a hearty lunch, as hearty as cold bully beef and army biscuit could be, while washing it down with a warm mug of black, but very sweet, billy tea. When everyone was ready, the Regiment marched back to Bir el Malha arriving there at 6pm feeling very excited over the days’ activities.

The Turkish aeroplane flew over Bir el Malha the next day and the day following, Saturday, 16 December 1916. On that day the Taube circled around observing the relief of the 8th LHR by C Squadron at Bir el Kasseiba. Next day, Sunday, 17 December 1916, they flew another observation mission over Bir el Malha, although this time there was a variation, after circling the camp, the aeroplane flew onto Bir el Mazar and bombed it. While it caused little damage, it did cause a great deal of inconvenience.

Monday, 18 December 1916, was a time for Regimental consolidation. All members of the Regiment who were on various courses at Zeitoun all began to return and take their place. This included Siekmann, Bleechmore, Pender, and Nelson who spent a couple weeks at Zeitoun undertaking a cavalry course. Their return was timely as the next day they were ordered to take their places in the Squadrons while leading the Regiment in squadron advancing practice. By this time the Regiment was almost up to strength with 487 men, some 29 men under establishment, and 539 horses. They were ready for action.


After a day of kitting out and ensuring everything was in order the men went to sleep that night knowing that an operation was about to begin. At 6am Tuesday, 19 December 1916, the Regiment set off with the rest of the Brigade to the divisional concentration point at Bir el Gympie which they reached some eleven hours later, at 5pm. The horses were fed and watered while the cooks prepared something for the men. The men then snatched whatever sleep they could as they were warned that a night march was ordered.

At 11pm the Regiment rode off in company with the Brigade, marching towards the ridge of Umm Zughla, a large sand hill 12km south west of El Arish. From that location, the Regiment moved in a north easterly diagonal to Bir el Masmi, a small oasis with ten wells, some 6km south west of El Arish on the inland Rafa road. They watered the horses and moved off to Hill 110 where they arrived at 6am, on Thursday, 21 December 1916. The view from the hill was unbelievable for the men who had spent the better part of a year in the Sinai desert. The men saw pastures that were cultivated and green. There was a town with substantial buildings filled with people bustling about on their daily chores. It looked like paradise in comparison to where they had been. But the lure of El Arish was outside their grasp. The men were ordered to remain at this position until they received further instructions. So near and yet so far thought the men as they waited in the boiling heat. They heard nothing and even less was happening.

The dust cloud in the distance slowly moved closer to the Brigade. After a wearisome couple of hours waiting in the sun, the men looked forward to some change, any sort of action because broiling while doing nothing was pure hell. Dust clouds heading in their direction meant a despatch rider. Minutes later, a rider covered in dust arrived from Chauvel’s Headquarters with news and new orders. Things moved so fast the 3rd LH Bde were among the last to find out the latest information. The men were eager to hear everything the messenger had to say.


Apparently the 1st LH Bde had taken up their assigned position on the eastern side of El Arish, thus performing the traditional cavalry role in blocking off any escape by the Turks in the town. After outflanking the Turkish positions and taking up a line, the various Regiments in the Brigade sent out scouting patrols to find where the Turks were located and thus prepare for the anticipated attack. As the men went in the general direction of the Turkish trenches, they approached with great caution but much to their surprise, they were not fired upon. The patrols moved ever closer sensing a trap. Still no shooting. Finally, taking their courage in hand, some of the men crawled up to the gun pits in front of the trenches.

Every patrol found the same thing. The gun pits were empty. By this time, the troops on patrol became more confident as they raced to the trenches making up the various redoubts around El Arish. Much to everyone’s astonishment, the trenches were completely empty. Not a Turk to be seen defending them. It appeared as though the Turks had evacuated their positions during the night and melted away to Rafa. The town had been left to the Allied forces.

Much to everyone’s relief, the Battle of El Arish was over without a shot being fired. The men were quite happy with a victory like this. If only the rest of the war could be the same, many of the Gallipoli veterans mused.

For all the new chums, they had to wait to taste battle, an experience that would leave few desiring trying more but stoically accepting their lot to see the war through to the end. But today they celebrated a bloodless victory and enjoyed its splendour.

The 9th LHR received orders to make camp at Hod Masaid, a palm grove 2km west of El Arish. Exhausted from their march and elated by their good fortune, the men bivouacked the night and slept well.


The next morning, Friday, 22 December 1916, the regular Turkish Taube flown by German aviators appeared over the camp, loitering in the sky seemingly drawing large languid circles while observing the Australian positions. Occasionally the sound of a Lewis Gun broke the stillness of the morning as the anti aircraft gunners tried their luck.

For the men on the ground, they were given orders to prepare for action again. For the rest of the day, they were occupied in preparing their equipment, cleaning their rifles, sharpening bayonets, polishing the leather, grooming horses and cleaning their clothes. In between the entire bustle, the men received their instructions on the upcoming action. The arrangements for rations and water were discussed, the location of the action and the part they would play in the overall projected attack.

Their mission: to capture the Turkish outpost at el Magdhaba.

El Magdhaba consisted of a few buildings of any substance. Laying some 32km south east of el Arish on the north side of the major wadi, which flowed from the hills and to the Mediterranean Sea, known as Wadi el Arish. Its key element was that it had wells of abundant water, which enabled the Turks to maintain a garrison at el Magdhaba. Their presence posed a strategic threat to the Allied advance along the Darb el Sultani by exposing the right flank to attack. Originally, both el Magdhaba and its companion Abu Aweigila had been garrisoned to protect Turkish railhead at El Kossaima, the jumping off point for developing an assault on Egypt via the Darb el Maghaza. As mentioned earlier, the raid at Bir el Jifjafa put an end to that plan. However, the rail link and troops were still in position and ready to strike at the Allies if given an opportunity.

To threaten the Allies, the Turks beefed up the numbers at the garrison. The troops came from the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 80th Turkish Infantry Regiment, units of the 27th Division, making up some 1,700 men under the command of Khadir Bey. The troops were local Arabs recruited from Palestine and so were not considered to be reliable by the Ottoman military authorities. In addition there were irregular units, a small Camel company and one battery of mountain artillery with their four guns.


British aerial reconnaissance showed that the area had been fortified with trenches and rifle pits surrounding Magdhaba, which were buttressed upon six main redoubts. The mountain guns faced the flat open ground of the north east approach where any attack was likely to arrive. The Turks gave every impression that they were ready and waiting for the anticipated Allied attack. They did not have long to wait.

The reality at Magdhaba for the Turks was vastly different to the British intelligence reports. This was a scratch force put into an isolated position at least one day’s march from help. The Machine Gun Company from the 80th Regiment had been sent to Khan Yunis. At this time every Regiment had only 4 machine guns concentrated within a single company. In this case, three machine guns and the respective platoons were at Khan Yunis leaving only one platoon with one machine gun at Magdhaba. The artillery they had was the antiquated 7.5cm Gebirgskanone M 1873, a mountain gun that had been phased out of service except for a few odd pieces within the Turkish forces. Despite being inspected by Kress on 22 December 1917 who recognised the shortcomings of the garrison, he was satisfied that the force was capable of withstanding any assault. In essence, the Turkish troops at Magdhaba were very much undergunned and on their own. Turkish intelligence confirmed this with the assessment that they faced 9 Cavalry Regiments with the Anzac Mounted Division and an artillery battery. In addition, they faced the ICC with 18 companies, one artillery battery and one machine gun company. Although the ICC had no Machine Gun Company at the time, the force was enough to overwhelm Magdhaba. Even knowing all of this, Kress left Magdhaba virtually defenceless.

At 4.50pm the Regiment mounted up and marched off with the Brigade to a place about a kilometre south of the El Arish Mosque and waited for further orders. At 6pm the order was given to mass with the Division at a point 3 kilometres south of El Arish by the main wadi. All surplus equipment was discarded by the men and placed in holding areas under Divisional police guard. The only items allowed were essential combat equipment and rations. This was no rehearsal as they had done many times before the capture of el Arish, it was obvious to all that this attack was the real thing.

While milling around in the wadi on that cold and dark night, the first problem emerged. The supply column holding all the rations were meant to rendezvous with the Division at 6pm, the same as everyone else so extra rations could be drawn. As luck would have it, instead of proceeding along the southern track to the meeting point, the column missed the correct turn off and set off for a journey to the east along the Rafa Road. It was only after travelling some 3kms without encountering a single man from the Division that the penny dropped. The column leader knew he was in trouble and ordered the supply train to turn around and head back to El Arish. This was no mean feat. Turning heavily laden wagons around in desert sands was executed with difficulty. Finally the column was able to set off again to the west until it arrived back at El Arish. Then the column slowly made its way to the assembly point with the Division. On arrival, each squadron’s quartermaster staff had to quickly get their allocated supplies from a specific wagon. Since the late arrival of the supply column there was no time to unpack at the wagons. What eventuated was havoc and chaos. Chauvel could only watch in exasperation as his Division disintegrated into anarchy.


It took many hours from the scheduled set off time before the Division was ready to move. Early in the morning, at 1.30am, Saturday, 23 December 1916, the Regiment was able to march off with the Division. Adjacent to Wadi El Arish was the telegraph line, which the Division followed until arriving at Es Ria, an empty well and locality some 5km north of el Magdhaba. It was cold in the saddle and rules of march were observed – silence and no smoking. The only relief occurred when at the end of 40 minutes riding, the men led their horses for ten minutes and then rested for ten minutes every hour. By dawn the men could see the camp fires of the Turks in the distance. Orders were given for the 9th LHR to deploy to a position 3 kilometres north of El Magdhaba.




While sitting around having their breakfast and a cup of tea the remaining men of the 9th LHR watched the several British aircraft buzz the Turks at about 6.30am. They sounded like angry mosquitoes tormenting the head of a sleeping giant. The first response was some desultory fire from the anti aircraft machine gunners. This did not satisfy the pilots who then proceeded to bomb the garrison. This produced the desired result. Firing became more concentrated and organised from the various redoubts. The pilots had done their work well. Their task was to draw the Turks into as much retaliation as possible through the calculated torment and so disclose the actual positions of the machine guns and trenches. The information was duly noted and dropped off at Chauvel’s headquarters where the plans for the attack were receiving their final touches.

At 8.30am, orders were issued for deployment. The 3rd LH Bde was combined with the NZMRB, both units being placed under the overall command of Chaytor. The New Zealanders were deployed in the sandhills to the east of Magdhaba but south of the Camel Corps. To the right of the New Zealanders the 3rd LH Bde deployed as part of the divisional reserve. Half the Regiment was allocated as escorts with one troop going to Division Headquarters, two troops went to the Camel Corps and one troop to each of the Machine Gun Squadrons.

At the same time, the 10th LHR was detached and led by Royston in a dash to the south and seal off any escape routes for the Turks. Already parties of Turks were attempting to flee from the garrison by going south through Wadi el Arish. The hard riding from the 10th LHR put an end to that ambition as they drove south and crossed Wadi el Arish at the cemetery, 3km south of Magdhaba. Closing the bag at the northern end was the CMR who galloped the rifle pits and took the vital Hill 345. Both Regiments then converged onto what was known as Redoubt No 4 at the immediate south of el Magdhaba.

At the same time, the balance of the 9th LHR was deployed to the left of the New Zealanders while the 8th LHR was placed to the left of the 9th LHR and touched the ICC units about 2 kilometres from the Turkish lines. By placing this force to the east of el Magdhaba, the Turkish mountain battery had no targets. When they were finally put into action, the Inverness Battery quickly silenced them when they began firing at 10am.

Simultaneous to the field guns firing, the men from the 9th LHR could see the dust kicked up by the horses of the 1st LH Bde as they moved south for deployment. It was a thrill for them to watch the 1st LH Bde men gallop in the style of Cavalrymen until they disappeared in the wadi where they remained, about 1,800 metres from the Turkish redoubts. The evaporation of the Brigade into the heat haze and wadi proved to be an anticlimax. They were still left waiting around with nothing to do but watch the battle from a distance.


At 1.00pm it was decided by Chauvel to put some new impetus into the stalled attack. He had just received some disturbing information from the troop of Field Engineers, which had been left at Bir Lahfan, an oasis half way between el Magdhaba and el Arish. Their job was to get ground water for the horses. The news was that no water was to be had. A crisis was looming and Chauvel needed a breakthrough or to give the order to withdraw. He decided to press forward and trust in fate rather than caution.

As part of the move, the 8th and 9th LHRs were ordered to cover a flat open plain, which gave no cover. It was a tricky operation requiring discipline and cooperation between the machine gunners and the troops. The regiments dismounted and the horse holders took the horses back out of range of the Turkish guns. The rest of the Regiments moved up on foot and got into position to attack. At first it was relatively easy going until they reached 1,000 metres when all hell broke loose. Snipers and machine gunners from the Regiments were quickly moved forward and began to return fire. The Turks were forced to drop their heads below the parapets of their trenches or hunker down in the rifle pits. At a given signal, two troops rushed forward some 25 to 50 metres when they dropped. The machine gunners opened fire again to begin the whole process, as another two troops would make the dash. By 2.30pm this leapfrogging gave an advance of 500 metres.

The Turks seeing the inevitable result of these tactics sought to hold it up by sending over a shower of shrapnel. The Turks artillery fire ended almost as soon as it began due to the accurate supporting fire from the Inverness Battery. While the artillery duel was on, the men rested and reserve ammunition was brought up for the final assault.


News now came through that a combined force of the ICC and 3rd LHR had taken No 2 Redoubt at 2.30pm and captured 95 prisoners. The door was open to capture the balance of el Magdhaba. Some 45 minutes previously Chauvel had despondently cabled Chetwode that he was thinking of calling off the attack. Now he was chuffed. The attack would succeed. This renewed the confidence of the troops who were ready to perform any feat just to bring things to an end.

At 3.15pm the 9th LHR recommenced the assault. Again they used the leapfrog method to quickly gain 350 metres in half an hour when they stopped and rested. The order was given to fix bayonets for the final rush. The machine gunners poured a tremendous amount of fire on the Turkish trenches when on a given signal, the machine gunners turned their guns away in support of the Camel Corps and New Zealanders.

Once the machine guns had altered their firing positions, together the men of the 8th and 9th LHRs jumped up, cheering with blood curdling calls and charged headlong into the Turkish trenches. Despite laying suppressing fire, the machine gunners could do no more to support the men from the two Regiments. Initially a Turkish machine gun section with one gun opened up on the right of the charging squadrons from the 8th and 9th LHRs. The 8th LHR was in full view of the machine gun and suffered the full brunt that killed 7 men while one man from the 9th LHR was killed. A further group of men from the 9th LHR received their wounds at this point. ‘C’ Squadron was particularly hard hit, losing 10 wounded.  

From the perspective of the Turks, the charging Australians presented a terrifying sight to which the Turkish defenders lost heart. Apart from a few committed soldiers, the Turks offered little resistance. ‘C’ Squadron was the first into the Turkish trenches. One or two Turks put up some sort of fight and were bayoneted for their troubles. The rest surrendered as quickly as possible.



After the men of the 9th LHR began to round up their prisoners. There was intense rivalry between the units in collecting prisoners. Until a prisoner had been attributed to a Regiment, it was a free for all to claim the prisoner as theirs. This led to some very friendly, and sometimes decidedly unfriendly, actions. When the 9th LHR prisoner group was finally rounded up it totalled four officers and 154 Other Ranks who were rapidly moved off to the Divisional holding area.

The Regiment moved towards the buildings, which formed the bulwark of the defence of el Magdhaba. While pressing forward with the attack, Capt Wearne the leader of the Brigade Scouts, arrived asking for troops to help the 10th LHR attack the buildings. Maj McKenzie put together two troops and went on foot to give their support. A few minutes after McKenzie’s group moved out, Royston galloped up and gave Scott the same request. Chanter was despatched in command with two mounted troops. It took a few minutes for the horse holders to bring up the mounts. Once in the saddle, they moved off following Royston. By the time they arrived to support the 10thLHR, the fight was over.

Despite worries to the contrary, the well supplying el Magdhaba was filled with an abundance of water so the horses and men drank all they could. The Turks, without intending to do so, obligingly provided large stocks of firewood for use by the Division. As the chill of night descended, fires were lit all over the captured garrison while meals cooked. Men, who were sworn enemies a few hours before, now sat side by side swapping tales, cups of tea, food and cigarettes. This characterised the campaign in the Sinai and Palestine. There may have been a war on and fought accordingly, but there was rarely any animus displayed in this conflict. Both Turks and Australians shared a great deal of respect between each other. By and large, they fought within the boundaries of implied rules of conduct. Rarely did the combatants transgress. Until the Turks were to be marched off to the POW camp prepared for them at el Arish, they were given rich hospitality by the Allied troops. The men of the 9th LHR were enthusiastic in this companionship of shared hardship. That evening was preserved for the camaraderie of men who did their job but understood their antagonists better than some of their own country folk. Afterwards, the Turkish prisoners were given the same rations as the Australian troops in anticipation of their journey to El Arish and the POW camps in Egypt.

After everyone had their thirst and hunger sated, the 9th LHR moved off with the Division at 11pm for yet another night march to Bir Lahfan, their first stop. This was when a good slow docile horse was the treasure of the Lighthorseman. While the horse plodded on following the horse in front, the men could sleep in the saddle. The men were exhausted after three night marches and two attacks.

It was on this ride that many men reported hallucinating, even Chauvel himself. Idriess, in his book, “The Desert Column”, tells the story:


Later—A very peculiar story is being discussed throughout the Desert Column. It appears that the troop when riding back the thirty miles from Magdhaba were enveloped in blinding clouds of dust. Nearly the whole column was riding in snatches of sleep; no one had slept for four nights and they had ridden ninety miles.
Hundreds of men saw the queerest visions—weird looking soldiers were riding beside them, many were mounted on strange animals. Hordes walked right amongst the horses making not the slightest sound. The column rode through towns with lights gleaming from the shuttered windows of quaint buildings. The country was all waving green fields and trees and flower gardens. Numbers of the men are speaking of what they saw in a most interesting, queer way. There were tall stone temples with marble pillars and swinging oil lamps—our fellows could smell the incense—and white mosques with stately minarets.
It is strange to hear the chaps discussing what they saw, as they sit smoking under the palms. I don't think they would talk so openly had it not been for a general riding with his staff. Suddenly he and a companion officer galloped off into the darkness. It has just come out that both officers suddenly saw a fox and galloped after it!

At Bir Lahfan the division was met at 3am by 400 camels filled with supplies. These were distributed to the 1,300 Turkish prisoners who arrived at 4.30am. Once they had been supplied, the Division moved off to El Arish. The 9th LHR arrived at Hod Masaid at 10am in the morning Sunday, 24 December 1916, where the grateful men lay down and slept.

Later on that day the men who took part in the battle could reflect upon their achievement. There were a number of firsts involved at Magdhaba. This was the first time the Anzac Division had been deployed in a set piece battle. The use of the Lewis gun in battle proved the value of their ability to suppress fire. This brought up an additional need to get mobile automatic rifles as part of the Light Horsemen’s fighting tools, which led to the introduction of the Hotchkiss Rifle. It was Chauvel’s first independent battle where he had total command of the allied forces. It was the first decisive victory over the Turkish forces where the enemy had been completely removed from the war. Very few Turks escaped the net. Finally, the risks were high and the margin between success and failure very slim indeed. There was a time when Chauvel had sent orders calling off the attack. The only reason for the attack pressing on was the refusal of the pivotal field commander, Brigadier General Charles Frederick 'Fighting Charlie' Cox, GOC of the 1st LH Bde, to read the withdrawal order until his men finished capturing Redoubt No 2. After that, the battle was nearly won, so Chauvel prudently and quickly countermanded the order.


For the men in the 9thLHR, they felt elated that that had just taken part in a momentous battle. It signalled the culmination of all their training, as they were now a proficient, battle hardened unit, skilled at using the horse as a decisive tool of war. Their moral was high, the confidence in their officers was even higher. Despite all the firing, shrapnel and charges, one man was killed through the fighting with a further 17 men wounded.

L/Cpl Henry Richard Alfred Pix, a labourer from Port Lincoln and former Gallipoli veteran, was killed during the charge on the Turkish trenches. After the action, he was buried near where he fell, some 600m from No. 3 Redoubt. The Regimental padre, Chaplain Finnigan officiated over the funeral. Sadly, after his death was notified, his estranged mother sought to capitalise upon his death by claiming a pension. His mother had abandoned Pix and his two sisters some 20 years before upon the death of their father. An uncle raised the three children. As adults, their mother returned occasionally to torment the children and blackmail them into giving her money. When Pix departed Port Lincoln for the AIF, he left his will with a solicitor to ensure his mother would not be able to touch his estate. After a great deal of heartache and fighting, the sisters finally received all their entitlements.

If the men of the 9th LHR thought they did well, this opinion was reinforced on Christmas Day, 1916. At a Brigade parade specially called for the occasion, Royston was effusive in his praise for the men and their achievement. Then he brought on the lead act for the day, Lieutenant General Sir Philip Chetwode, their Commander in chief, who let the men know in no uncertain terms as to the gratitude he felt for their loyal service and fighting abilities in producing a local success. Chetwode read out the official statistics of the battle:

Turkish losses
1290 Prisoners including 45 Officers
97 Turkish dead buried by the Allies
40 horses and 60 camels captured
4 Mountain Guns, and
1 broken Machine Gun
Allied losses
5 Officers killed and 7 wounded
17 Other Ranks killed and 117 wounded
27 horses killed

In contrast, Kress was alarmed. The way to Jerusalem was opened as a consequence of this action. Had the light horse division moved to el Auja, the rail line to Jerusalem through Beersheba was wide open for exploitation. Jerusalem could have been in the hands of the British for Christmas 1916 rather than a year and 20,000 casualties later. The British were content with a local success rather than a strategic success. Anything more was not even within sight of the British command.

Nor in sight of the jubilant men celebrating their victory. Not even the torrential downpour could dampen their excitement. The men were pleased to have done their job well and more pleased to survive the experience.

Christmas Day, that year, may have been celebrated away from home among the flies and bully beef, but nothing could spoil their elation. They celebrated their good fortune by tucking into the contents of their Christmas Billies kindly provided by the grateful citizens of Australia.

It wouldn’t long before they would be given the opportunity to relive this experience. Rafa was just down the road.


Roll of Honour
179 L/Cpl Henry Richard Alfred Pix, 25: Killed in action, 23 December 1916.
Lest we forget

The wounded:

702 Pte Hugh George Adams, ‘B’ Sqn, wounded in right forearm.
1838 Pte Louis Brown, ‘A’ Sqn, wounded in right hand.
395 Pte George William Nelson Cox, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in right leg.
1472 Pte Albert Henry Crack, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in right leg.
785 Pte Colin Crossley, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in right leg amputated.
1158 Pte John Finn, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in right arm.
426 Pte Frederick Jordan, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in finger.
146 Pte Frederick Thomas Keane, ‘A’ Sqn, wounded in right thigh.
442 Pte Thomas Leonard, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in right shoulder.
1012 Pte Allen Lorimor Mounsey, ‘A’ Sqn, wounded in left arm
575 Pte George William Raven, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in face.
1286 Pte Sydney Binfitt Riley, ? Sqn, wounded in right leg.
2822 Pte Eric Walter Sandland, ‘A’ Sqn, wounded in groin.
2830 Pte William Phillips Whittlesea, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in right leg.
501 L/Cpl Robert Watmaugh Wishart, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in left thigh.
504 L/Cpl Benjamin George Wuchatach, ‘C’ Sqn, wounded in right forearm.


Further Reading:

9th Light Horse Regiment, AIF

9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Roll of Honour 

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, 23 December 1916, El Arish and El Magdhaba, 9th LHR, AIF, Commentary

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Wednesday, 11 November 2009 7:28 AM EAST
Bert Schramm's Diary, 19 February 1919
Topic: Diary - Schramm

Diaries of AIF Servicemen

Bert Schramm


During part of the course of his military service with the AIF, 2823 Private Herbert Leslie Schramm, a farmer from White's River, near Tumby Bay on the Eyre Peninsular, kept a diary of his life. Bert was not a man of letters so this diary was produced with great effort on his behalf. Bert made a promise to his sweetheart, Lucy Solley, that he would do so after he received the blank pocket notebook wherein these entries are found. As a Brigade Scout since September 1918, he took a lead part in the September 1918 breakout by the Allied forces in Palestine. Bert's diary entries are placed alongside those of the 9th Light Horse Regiment to which he belonged and to the 3rd Light Horse Brigade to which the 9th LHR was attached. On this basis we can follow Bert in the context of his formation.

 Bert Schramm's Diary, 19 February 1919


Bert Schramm's Handwritten Diary, 18 - 21 February 1919

[Click on page for a larger print version.]


Bert Schramm

Wednesday, February 19, 1919

Bert Schramm's Location - Tripoli, Lebanon.

Bert Schramm's Diary - Nothing worth recording, just the usual routine. No mails.



9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary

9th Light Horse Regiment Location - Tripoli, Lebanon.

9th Light Horse Regiment War Diary -  0900 Camp routine.

1000, Brigade shoot held with teams of eight draw from all units. Practices fired, 5 rounds application, 5 rounds snap shooting, 1 minute rapid, 2 in bull counts 4, 4 in inner circle counts 3, 6 maggie counts 2, 12 outer counts 1.

Results: -

10th Light Horse Regiment - 606
9th Light Horse Regiment - 605
8th Light Horse Regiment - 562
3rd Machine Gun Squadron - 549
Brigade Headquarters Group - 540

1400, Inter-Regimental football match held.

9th Light Horse Regiment versus Combined Machine Gun Squadron which was won by 9th Light Horse Regiment, 6 goals 12 behinds to 2 goals 2 behinds.



Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924.

No Entry

Previous: Bert Schramm's Diary, 18 February 1919

Next: Bert Schramm's Diary, 20 February 1919


Further Reading:

9th Light Horse Regiment AIF War Diary - Complete day by day list

Bert Schramm Diary 

Bert Schramm Diary - Complete day by day list


Additional Reading:

Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924.


Citation: Bert Schramm's Diary, 19 February 1919

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 3 May 2009 9:17 PM EADT
Wednesday, 18 February 2009
Aircraft with Ottoman Army Units in Palestine
Topic: Tk - Bks - Air Force

Pasha and Yildirim, the Palestine Front, 1915 to 1918


(R) Lt Midhat and (R+1) Capt Fazil, the first Turkish aviation personnel in Palestine, 1915.

[From: Ole Nikolajsen, Ottoman Aviation 1911 - 1919, p. 212.]


Part 10 - Aircraft with Ottoman Army Units in Palestine


Rumpler Doppeltaube


Rumpler Doppeltaube

Rumpler Doppeltaube Fethi arrived Aleppo 28 December 1914, crashed 29 December 1914.



Ponnier Acrobatic Trainer


Ponnier Acrobatic Trainer

Ponnier Acrobatic Trainer arrived 17 March 1915, crashed 9 April 1915






P6 arrived 3 October 1916 and delivered to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable, October 1916.
P7 arrived 3 October 1916 and delivered to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Last flight on 2 March 1917
F8 arrived 3 October 1916 and delivered to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable, February 1917.
P9 arrived 3 October 1916 and delivered to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable, February 1917.
P10 arrived 3 October 1916 and delivered to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable, November 1916.




AK28 delivered 26 November 1916 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Crashed 27 November 1916.
AK30 delivered December 1916 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Left in Medina.
AK31 delivered March 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. To Aircraft Park, Damascus, April 1918.
AK40 delivered December 1916 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Left unserviceable in Medina.
AK51 delivered April 1917 to 4ncü Tayyare Bölük. Crashed 5 March 1918.
AK59 delivered November 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. To Aircraft Park, Damascus, April 1918.
AK72 delivered December 1916 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Left unserviceable in Medina.





AK4 delivered March 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. To Aircraft Park, Damascus, April 1918.





R1150 delivered November 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Destroyed at Maan, 8 May 1918.
R1837 delivered August 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Crashed 4 February 1918.
R1847 delivered November 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable, 18 May 1918.
R2626 delivered November 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable, 18 August 1918.
R2627 delivered August 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. To Aircraft Park, Damascus, January 1918.
R2628 delivered November 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. To Aircraft Park, Damascus, February 1918.
R2636 delivered November 1917 to 3ncü Tayyare Bölük. To Aircraft Park, Damascus, 1918.





AEG2 delivered December 1917 to 4ncü Tayyare Bölük. Lost on 28 March 1918.
AEG3 delivered December 1917 to 4ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable March 1918
AEG22 delivered December 1917 to 4ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable August 1918
AEG26 delivered February 1918 to 14ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable September 1918.
AEG27 delivered February 1918 to 14ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable July 1918.
AEG28 delivered February 1918 to 14ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable May 1918.
AEG29 delivered February 1918 to 14ncü Tayyare Bölük. Burnt 24 June 1918.
AEG30 delivered February 1918 to 14ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable Summer 1918.
AEG31 delivered February 1918 to 14ncü Tayyare Bölük. Rendered unserviceable September 1918.
AEG32 delivered February 1918 to 14ncü Tayyare Bölük. Burnt 24 June 1918.


Source: The above extract is obtained from a self published work by Ole Nikolajsen called Ottoman Aviation 1911 - 1919Aircraft with Ottoman Army Units in Palestine comes from Chapter 8, Pasha and Yildirim, the Palestine Front, 1915 to 1918, p. 200. The text has been edited to remove errors and make it readable for an English speaking audience.


Further Reading:

The German Ottoman Air Force 

Air War on the Palestine Front, December 1915 to January 1917

Turkish Units - The Ottoman Air Force

Lieutenant Colonel Hüseyin Hüsnü Emir, Yildirim


Go To:

Previous Chapter: Aircraft Delivered To German Units in Palestine 1916-18

Next Chapter: Aircrew Serving In Ottoman Army Aircraft Units in Palestine


Citation: Aircraft with Ottoman Army Units in Palestine

Posted by Project Leader at 11:01 PM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 1 March 2009 9:26 AM EAST
Egyptian Army Camel Corps, A Study of the Tactical Employment of Camel Corps, Percy Account
Topic: AIF - 5B - ICC

Egyptian Army Camel Corps

A Study of the Tactical Employment of Camel Corps

Percy Account


Alan Ian Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland, 1928.


In 1913, Captain Alan Ian, The Earl Percy, wrote an article about his experiences with the Egyptian Army Camel Corps over the previous decade. The article was called "The Egyptian Army Camel Corps and Their Work, a Study of the Tactical Employment of Camel Corps" which was published in The Army Review, Volume VI, Number I of January 1914.

Alan Ian Percy, 8th Duke of Northumberland KG CBE MVO TD (17 April 1880 – 23 August 1930) was the son of Henry Percy, 7th Duke of Northumberland and Lady Edith Campbell. He served as a Captain in the Grenadier Guards during the South African War from 1901 to 1902, obtaining the Queen's Medal. In 1908 he was in the Sudan Campaign, taking part in the operations in Southern Kordofan and gaining the Egyptian medal. For a time he acted as Aide-de-Camp to Earl Grey. During the First World War he served with the Grenadier Guards, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur

Percy, Captain The Earl, "The Egyptian Army Camel Corps and Their Work, a Study of the Tactical Employment of Camel Corps", The Army Review, Volume VI, Number I of January 1914, pp. 1 - 6:


To many authoritative works have been written on the employment of the various arms of the service in time of war, that it is rather surprising that the use of troops mounted on camels – who play so considerable a part in our small wars in India, in Somaliland, and in the Sudan-should hitherto have been neglected. To some extent the need has been met by the "Camel Corps Training" which has recently been brought out, but its scope is necessarily limited. Officers who may find themselves in command of these troops as part of a force of all arms have little to guide them except what local knowledge they may themselves have gained as to their employment, either from personal experience or from those in immediate command of camel corps. It is surely time that definite principles be formulated for their action, as has been done in the case of mounted infantry ; for camel troops, while they have many advantages and are, indeed, quite indispensable in certain theatres of war, have also many limitations, and any wrong use of them may lead to disaster. An instance of this is afforded by the battle of Omdurman, where the Camel Corps very narrowly escaped being cut to pieces through the common error of imagining that it could be used for extended reconnoitring operations like cavalry or mounted infantry. Against a mounted enemy such action is courting disaster. The Egyptian Army Camel Corps has now been in existence 12 years, during which it has gained a practical experience of campaigning in desert country, in thick bush, and in the rocky hills of Southern Kordofan. It may be of interest, therefore, to readers of this REVIEW to give a short preliminary sketch of its service, its origin and its history, followed by an account of some very interesting manoeuvres lately held in the neighbourhood of its headquarters, El Obeid, which are considered to have provided most valuable lessons for the use of such troops in bush country.


Nature of the Service in Kordofan.

Kordofan has always been the storm centre of the Sudan and the Corps has had its hands full. The importance of El Obeid lies not only in the fact that it is the principal town and market of the province, but that it is a strategical centre, lying midway between the desert and low scrub country to the north, which is the home of the camel-owning tribes, and the forest country to the south, which is the home of the Baggara or cattle-owning tribes-the remnants of those fierce warriors who formed the main fighting strength of the Dervishes. Southern Kordofan is known to the Arabs as Dar Nuba, the country of the Nubas. These are the remains of the original negro inhabitants of the country ; they have been gradually driven by the Arabs out of the lowlands into the isolated rocky hills which are scattered all over the district, rising precipitously to a height of 2,000 or 3,000 feet above the surrounding swamps and forests. In these mountain fastnesses honeycombed with caves this strange race builds its villages, grows its corn, and tends its herds of sheep, cattle and goats. Generally speaking they are peaceable enough, but some of these gebel (or mountain) clans have an evil reputation for raiding the neighbouring Arabs, murdering isolated parties which may happen to stray too near their gebel, or carrying off their women. Most of the fighting done by the Camel Corps has been against these tribesmen, but its details, however thrilling, are hardly of interest to the student of military science. It has, however, demanded the highest qualities of discipline, enterprise and daring in the men. The tribesmen invariably retiree with the greater part of their personal property and live stock to the bowels of the earth, whence they maintain a hot fire on any troops who may happen to come within range of their milers and Remingtons. With these weapons, even though deficient of the backlight the use of which their owners cannot grasp they make fair practice up to 300 yards. The unsatisfactory nature of this fighting may be understood if the reader can imagine himself walking over a vast rabbit warren composed of enormous boulders, piled to a height of some 1,000 or 2,000 feet and covering several square miles in area, with an invisible enemy beneath hire whose whereabouts it is impossible to ascertain. It was easy enough, of course, to destroy the villages and crops and carry off what cattle remained on the surface; but what rendered the enemy's tactics peculiarly baffling was that in many cases the subterranean passages were of such vast extent that they could accommodate any number of cattle and sheep. The Government also wished to compel the tribesmen to surrender some of their rifles, partial disarmament being the only guarantee of good behaviour, but the damage inflicted by the troops was sometimes insufficient to enforce this act of submission. Officers naturally hesitated to engage in underground warfare in labyrinths, where whole battalions might be swallowed up, and where all the advantage lay with the enemy. Latterly, however, the problem has been tackled in a systematic manner by the Camel Corps, and in recent expeditions extensive cave-clearing operations have been carried out. Parties preceded by torch bearers have explored these recesses with great success, and though some loss has been sustained, the Nubas now know that their immunity is gone and that the arm of the Government is able to reach them.

Though troublesome, these tribes are not the real danger to the Government that is caused periodically by the rise of some nebbi (or prophet) proclaiming himself to be the successor of the Mahdi, with the signs and wonders, the visions and miracles, common to such impostors. There have been many such attempts, and salvation depends on nipping them in the bud. Apart from these requirements the force is called upon chiefly for police duties, such as providing patrols for disturbed districts, for protection against raiders from Darfur or the western desert, or to provide escorts for the inspectors of the Sudan Civil Service in their journeys.


Origin and History of the Camel Corps.

The present Camel Corps must not be confused with that which took part in the advance to Khartoum under Lord Kitchener. The latter, composed largely of Egyptians, was found to be entirely unsuited for the work which fell to it of restoring order and security in the frontier provinces. The Egyptian is not only unable to stand the climate, but he lacks the special characteristics which would render him fitted for such service. It was also found very difficult to ration the men when on patrol. In these circumstances Major Wilkinson, who commanded the force, proposed that it should be disbanded, that companies should be raised locally, and that the force should be placed on the footing of an “irregular" corps. The Egyptian companies were therefore abolished, the Sudanese companies were formed into one company, and two more companies were raised, composed of Arabs. The men were self-supporting, found their own food and clothing, and wore pretty much what they pleased. These conditions were subsequently altered to some extent by Captain Hawker, Coldstream Guards who commanded the Corps from 1903 to 1906. He "regularized" them a little more, introduced a khaki uniform and insisted on smartness in drill and dress. Henceforth, though having a special code off discipline and regulations, the, corps can hardly be described as an "irregular" one in the ordinary sense of the word.

Mobility is the great essential of such a force. The camels are all procured from the Eastern Sudan, where the best riding camels are bred. Great mortality sometimes occurs among these animals, owing to the necessity of patrolling Southern Kordofan during the rainy season. The fly in those districts gives them a disease very much akin to sleeping sickness in a human being, while even in the dry season the heavy clay soil, baked by the sun, forms cracks, which impede their progress and lame them.

Frequently, also, the paths are ploughed up with elephant tracks, in which they flounder helplessly. Owing to the fatal nature of the climate to camels a mule company was raised in 1904, but this has since been transferred to Omdurman and has become No. 1 Company Mounted Infantry. In 1905 this company marched from El Obeid to Wau, in the Bahr-el-Ghazal, in order to take part in an expedition against the tribes of Niam-niam. The distance traversed was 430 miles. During this march it was found necessary to amputate a man's arm, an operation which Captain Percival, who commanded the company, successfully performed himself with the aid of an Egyptian officer.

In 1906 a detachment of Sudanese infantry at Talodi, in Southern Kordofan, was treacherously attacked and a large number of its men were massacred by some neighbouring Arabs, who apparently believed that the rainy season would prevent any troops from El Obeid from reaching the scene until a considerable time had elapsed. Every available plan was, however, dispatched immediately; a mixed force of Camel Corps, 12th Sudanese, and a few guns covered the 240 miles in little more than a week and took summary vengeance.

During 1906 another company of Arabs was raised, bringing the total number of companies up to four. Early in 1907 a disaster occurred to a detachment of No. 2 Company which was stationed at Bir Natrun, an important post in the desert west of Dongola. A convoy which was to supply them with provisions having failed to arrive at the appointed time, the Egyptian officer in charge of the detachment decided that the risk of remaining there was too great and set out to march to Dongola. The party lost its way in the terrible sandstorms, the women and children were discovered by the belated convoy and rescued in the, last stage of exhaustion, but of the men who had scattered it, the hope of finding water about 20 perished, including the officer. The incident revealed the extraordinary courage and endurance of which the Arabs are capable.

Many of them refused to kill their camels, though the only hope of prolonging their lives lay in the course always taken in such circumstances of opening the camel's stomach and drinking the water inside animals they said, were the property of the Government and they were responsible for them. The most remarkable feat was that of a sergeant who eventually reached water alone, the small party who accompanied him having lain down to die. Having refreshed himself and his camel lie returned to his insensible comrades and revived then, by pouring; water into their eats, their tongues by that time having, swelled to such an extent that they could swallow nothing. The inquiry subsequently held showed the marvellous fortitude; and calmness which these men display under the most trying circumstances.

In 1907 a company of Shaygieh Arabs was raised for service in Egypt, but this company was afterwards transferred to the Sudan and became No. 5 Company.

In 1908, 1909, and 1911 occurred various expeditions against the hill tribes already referred to. On two occasions a force of all arms from Khartoum has been employed, but it is not unfair to say that the bulk of the work has fallen to the Camel Corps.


Organization and Characteristics of the Corps.

The above short sketch will give some idea of the nature of the service and history of the Camel Corps. Of the five companies, two are stationed at El Obeid, two at Bara (about 50 miles to the north east), and one, No. 5, is at Wad Medani, on the Blue Nile. Companies are 150 strong, each being under the command of a British officer, with the rank of bimbashi (or major), having under him five Egyptian or Sudanese officers. The Sudanese are trained at the Military School at Khartoum, which has already turned out excellent material. The bimbashi is given the full powers of a commanding officer. He can enlist and discharge any man he pleases, and has complete control over his command. That these duties are not of a light character will be readily understood when it is mentioned that they include a meat deal of practical knowledge of veterinary surgery, of the peculiar habits of camels and all that concerns their welfare, the necessity of knowing his men thoroughly, of regulating their domestic affairs to the extent of allowing them to marry and to divorce their wives, and of looking after the comfort of their families. The Arab has all the virtues and the faults inseparable from an excitable, highly-strum; nature. Intensely brave and capable of extreme devotion to leaders whom he trusts, he is yet subject to gusts of passion, naturally careless, and apt to get out of hand when lie can get as much drink as he likes, or when there is a chance of plunder. He requires an iron discipline, plenty of hard work and officers whom he likes and in whom he has confidence. In these circumstances there is no better soldier in the world. He will do the longest clays on foot without food or water, and submit to any hardships without complaining. The whale secret lies it, the, fact that each company has a British officer who knows is men inside and out, and is, within certain limits, absolute foal over them.

El Obeid is now connected with Khartoum by rail, and the day may not be far distant when British influence will be extended further west to include the province of Darfur. Darfur is a perpetually disturbing factor. It is nominally British but is not occupied, and has been allowed to retain its Sultan Ali Dinar, who pays annual tribute to the Government. His rule is a precarious one, slavery flourishes unhindered, and the tribes are unruly to a degree. How the problem will be solved it is impossible to say, but it is evident that the situation may at any time become acute, and the Western Sudan will long remain a source of anxiety. The population of Kordofan is increasing enormously ; and with growing prosperity, and as they feel the effects of recovery from the exhaustion of the terrible wars of the Mahdi and the Khalifa, and the famines and pestilences which devastated the country, there may come a revival of the turbulent spirit which has always marked their history. Those whose work lies on this outpost of our Empire have to prepare for such contingencies as a native rising on a large scale, and warfare against forces consisting principally of mounted men operating in a country where information is peculiarly difficult to get, where reconnoitring is almost impossible, and where sudden attack must ever be looked for.


The Manoeuvres near El Obeid.

The manoeuvres which were held at the end of January, 1913, were planned to afford lessons in this species of warfare. The country where they took place lies some 205 miles south of El Obeid. It is rolling country, covered with more or less dense thorn scrub about 12 feet in height; it is intersected at frequent intervals by khors or watercourses-dry in winter, but swift-running streams during the rainy season. In the neighbourhood of these khors the bush is much denser and higher, and there are many forest trees. Extensive clearings are made round the villages and planted with crops, but these grow to such a height that a man walking through them on foot is completely concealed from observation. There are, of course, many native tracks through the bush, and the main routes connecting the principal villages have been cleared by the Government and allow of four camels marching abreast.


Further Reading:

Imperial Camel Corps, AIF

Imperial Camel Corps, Roll of Honour 

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

Double Squadrons  


Citation: Egyptian Army Camel Corps, A Study of the Tactical Employment of Camel Corps, Percy Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Friday, 5 February 2010 7:16 PM EAST
The Battle of Magdhaba, Sinai, December 23, 1916, 9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account
Topic: AIF - 3B - 9 LHR

The Battle of Magdhaba

Sinai, 23 December 1916

9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account


9th LHR men sorting through rifles captured at Hamissah.


Major Thomas Henry Darley produced a unit history of the 9th Light Horse Regiment, AIF, called With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, in which included a section specifically related to the Battle of Magdhaba and is extracted below.

Darley, TH, With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide, Hassell Press, 1924, pp. 60 - 63.


El Arish and El Magdhaba Operations

El Magdhaba is situated on the banks of the Wadi El Arish, about 23 miles, as the crow flies, from the sea. Except from a military point of view, it was a place of no importance, but standing in a natural defensive position it was well garrisoned with a view to holding up our further advance. It could also be used by the enemy as a starting place for a turning movement against our right flank. It was clear to all that no further advance could be made in our direct line until this menace to our communications was removed, and the Commander in Chief decided that the Anzac Mounted Division would efficiently carry out this duty.

At daybreak, shortly after arrival at Es Ria, the Regiment took up a position about 3,000 yards north of El Magdhaba. From this point the 1st Light Horse Brigade could be clearly seen closing in to the attack. At 9.45 a.m. the Brigade commenced to move round the enemy's right flank, whilst the New Zealanders occupied some prominent sand hills; the Inverness and Leicester Batteries, Royal Horse Artillery, being between them and the Imperial Camel Corps. These batteries immediately opened fire on the redoubts, thus enabling the advancing troops to gain ground. The enemy up to this had lain low, but he prepared to give his usual display of defensive fighting and opened heavy and accurate fire at ranges of from 1,000 to 1,200 yards.

The Regiment now took up a position on the left of the New Zealanders and was supported by the 8th Light Horse Regiment. The two Regiments dismounted and advanced in extended order. The country at this particular point was practically level for a distance of 2,000 yards, whilst the enemy trenches were on a slight rise, and so placed that their fire would sweep the whole plain. A few grassy hillocks dotted over the plain afforded slight cover, but these were few and far between. As the Regiments advanced the line was shortened by the 8th Light Horse Regiment advancing on a slightly different direction, and two troops were dropped back as support.
When about 1,000 yards from the enemy position snipers and Lewis guns were pushed forward to cover the advance, which was made by alternate rushes, troop by troop, each troop supporting the advance by rapid fire. The heavy and accurately placed fire of the enemy began to take effect, and a number of casualties occurred, but by 2.30 p.m. the line had been advanced to within 500 yards of the position, and drew the attention of the enemy gunners who opened a brisk fire with shrapnel.

The line was now straightened up and reserve ammunition brought forward for the Lewis guns. At 3.15 p.m. the line again advanced by rushes of 25 yards, whilst the batteries kept up a brisk fire on the redoubts. On arrival at 150 yards from the redoubts, the line laid low for a spell and at 3.45 p.m. bayonets were fixed ready for the final rush. At a given signal the whole line leapt to their feet, and, rushing forward with wild cheers, carried the outer trenches, many of the enemy being bayoneted before the remainder surrendered

Our machine guns, which had been in rear supporting the move by overhead fire, now came forward, and together with the Lewis guns and rifles, opened a heavy fire on the enemy position to our right thus enabling the Imperial Camel Corps and New Zealanders to advance. In the meantime the 10th Light Horse Regiment had moved round the right flank for the purpose of cutting off any attempt at escape.

The 8th and 9th Light Horse Regiments now advanced against the buildings from which rifle fire was being directed, the 8th Light Horse Regiment capturing a battery of light guns during the move. As the prisoners were being rounded up news arrived that the 10th Light Horse Regiment were hard pressed on the far side of the buildings, and McKenzie, Major KA, with 50 men were immediately sent to their support.

Royston, Brigadier General JR, called for two mounted troops, and as the horses had just arrived, these were despatched under the command of Chanter, Captain JC, but this party on arrival found that the enemy force had already surrendered to McKenzie, Major KA, and his party. McKenzie, Major KA, with C Squadron did excellent work during the day, and to them fell the honour of taking the first enemy trench.

The Royal Flying Corps was by no means idle during the day, our pilots skimming the enemy trenches frequently and doing good work with their machine guns. They also dropped a liberal supply of light bombs on enemy strong points, doing considerable damage and with good moral effect.

This was the first action in which the Lewis gun teams had used their new guns, their work showing great initiative and tactical judgment, special credit being due to McKenna, 804 Corporal B; Harley, 471 Corporal A; and, Carter, 892A Corporal WH, for the manner in which they handled their teams, reconnoitred the position, and brought effective fire to bear with economical use of ammunition. Cruddas, 397 Trooper GF; and, Fulwood, 11 Trooper AL, did splendid work in bringing up supplies of ammunition under heavy machine gun fire, whilst the stretcher bearers, Crack, 1472 Trooper AH; and, Currie, 645 Trooper AH, did excellent work amongst the wounded.

The Regiment had little time to collect prisoners, but five officers and 154 other ranks taken in the first trench were handed over to the Division. It had been stated that the enemy had destroyed their water service when all hope of a successful resistance had been abandoned, but this was found to be incorrect, and both horses and men drank to their heart's content from his abundant supply. A party was sent out to collect the wounded and bury the dead, whilst another party from one of the Brigades was sent to clear up the battle ground.

A plentiful supply of wood was found, and as the night was drawing in and was bitterly cold large fires were lighted. It was indeed a strange sight to see our men and the Turks, who one hour before had been fighting a bitter fight, sitting side by side round the fires, sharing their evening meal and cigarettes, apparently on the best of terms.

At 11 p.m. the Division moved off on the return journey, arriving at Bir Lahfan at 3 a.m., where it halted and bivouacked. The huge column of prisoners arrived at 4.30 a.m. and halted. A convoy of 400 camels had been sent out from El Arish, and at daybreak each enemy prisoner received a ration consisting of one tin of bully beef, one pound of biscuits, and one quart of water. For the purpose of distributing these rations the prisoners were paraded in line, and were told off in parties of 20, under their own officers and Non Commissioned Officers. Each party was then given 20 tins of meat and one tin of biscuits, and were marched off a short distance, where the supplies were distributed amongst the party. It is doubtful whether they had ever received such a generous ration during the whole of their desert campaign.

At daybreak the Division resumed the march to El Arish, and went into bivouac at Hod Masaid, which was reached at 9 a.m. on the 24th December 1916. The operations had been a severe test on the endurance of both men and horses, as three night marches had been done during the past four nights, with plenty of hard work during the intervening days.

That the operations were an unqualified success is proved by the fact that the whole garrison of roughly 2,000 had been captured, together with a large quantity of stores, a battery of guns, and many machine guns. The prisoners were a mixed lot, representing many tribes, but were all of fine physique. Several Germans were amongst the bag, and one black officer was seen. After a short rest and meal they were conducted to El Arish and sent to Egypt.

The work of the transport was very trying throughout these operations. When the force moved from the Wadi El Arish on the night of the 22nd December 1916, the transport camels allotted to the Brigade were collected and marched to the supply depot on the beach at El Arish by Darley, Captain TH, and loaded with further supplies. At 10 a.m. on the 23rd December 1916 this party commenced the long and trying journey to El Magdhaba, 80 per cent of the camels carrying drinking water. By continuous marching El Magdhaba was reached at 9.30 p.m., and the supplies were issued to the various units. The convoy immediately started on the return journey, arriving at Bir Lahfan at 2 a.m. where it halted. After the prisoners had been rationed the two convoys were moved back to El Arish, arriving at 3 p.m. on the 24th December 1916.


Further Reading:

9th Light Horse Regiment, AIF

9th Australian Light Horse Regiment, Roll of Honour 

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, 9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 21 March 2010 2:19 PM EADT

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