"At a mile distant their thousand hooves were stuttering thunder, coming at a rate that frightened a man - they were an awe inspiring sight, galloping through the red haze - knee to knee and horse to horse - the dying sun glinting on bayonet points..." Trooper Ion Idriess
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Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916, Roll of Honour, British Forces Topic: AIF - DMC - British
Bir el Abd
Sinai, 9 August 1916
Roll of Honour
Poppies laid on the London Cenotaph
The following Roll of Honour, while incomplete, reflects the large number of casualties suffered by the British forces during the Battle of Bir el Abd. The Roll of Honour contains the soldier's full identity where ever possible, and the unit to which he was attached. The fate is detailed as to whether the soldier was Killed in Action on 9 August.
Roll of Honour
William DALGARNO, Ayrshire Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, Killed in Action 9 August 1916.
John GRAHAM, Ayrshire Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, Killed in Action 9 August 1916.
David RITCHIE, Ayrshire Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, Killed in Action 9 August 1916.
John WHITE, Ayrshire Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, Killed in Action 9 August 1916.
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, 5th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, Unit History Account Topic: AIF - DMC - British
Battle of Romani
Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916
5th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, Unit History Account
5th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry in bivouac at Er Rabah
[From Morrison, Ch VII, Illustration 12]
At the conclusion of the Great War, Colonel Frederick Lansdowne Morrison, the erstwhile Commanding Officer of the 1/5th Battalion Highland Light Infantry, 157th Infantry Regiment, 52nd (Lowland) Infantry Division asked his officers to provide accounts of their time in the Sinai and Palestine. Morrison collected the stories and edited them. In 1921, in printed in Glasgow for a limited private edition, the book The Fifth Battalion Highland Light Infantry in the War 1914-1918 finally came available. It included a section specifically related to the Battle of Romani and is extracted below.
Morrison, F.L., The Fifth Battalion Highland Light Infantry in the War 1914-1918, Glasgow, 1921.
The Sinai Desert - Mahamdiya, Romani, Katia
The peaceful life of our seaside resort was soon destroyed by rumours that the Turks were moving. On the evening of July 19th, an aeroplane reconnaissance discovered a considerable force of them at Bir el Abd, some twenty-five miles to the east of us, and noticed smaller parties much nearer. The Turkish feat of moving a force, then reckoned at from 8000 to 9000 men, fifty miles from El Arish without our being aware of it, was a very fine one, and when it is remembered that they attacked us at Romani, seventy-five miles from their base, with 18,000 men and artillery up to 6 inch howitzers, everyone who has felt what the desert is like in July will be full of admiration. Nor can one wonder at the fact established by our all-wise Intelligence, that prisoners captured had sore feet. The first ripples of the commotion produced by this report reached us at 1 a.m. on the 20th, when the Adjutant was summoned to Brigade Headquarters. At 2.45 a.m. half "C" Company moved out to take over Redoubt No. 10, and later in the morning "B" Company garrisoned No. 8 and "D" Company No. 11, while the rest of "C" Company occupied 10A. These redoubts, though habitable, were still unfinished. They were part of the defences mentioned above as being in the hands of the Egyptian Labour Corps, a chain of posts running south past Romani and then turning west among the sand hills. The garrisons had at once to set to and improve their position, strengthen their wire and finish off the fire bays. At 10A a signal station had to be established in mid-desert some hundreds of yards from the redoubt, owing to a temporary shortage of signal wire. Signallers are naturally imperturbable, but the officer in charge confessed to a thrill of horror when, having with some difficulty made his way to his signal station at midnight and been handed the receiver, even as he uttered the preliminary "Hullo," the instrument suddenly sprang from his grasp and rushed off into the darkness. Mastering an almost overpowering desire to run for the redoubt, he assisted two signallers to investigate and discovered that the wire had caught in the foot of a straying camel, which had proceeded on its thoughtless way with the receiver attached.
But as is usual in desert warfare, time passed and nothing happened. "B" Company were relieved in No. 8 by the 53rd Division and rejoined "A" Company in camp. The other garrisons got into tents which they pitched in the ground behind the redoubts, so that the majority of the men could have shelter by day. At night the trenches were manned, and all was ready for an attack at dawn. But with the exception of some bomb-dropping raids by their planes, the enemy remained passive. The Australian Light Horse reported that he was busy digging in on a line through Oghratina, some miles east of Katia, and we began to think that he intended to put the onus of attacking on to us. The fear, however, was unfounded, he was only completing his preparations, and on the night of August 3rd-4th he advanced and occupied Katia.
This movement was reported, and "A" and "B" Companies, who had by now relieved "C" and "D" in the redoubts, were warned that the attack was now almost certain. Before dawn on the 4th a bombardment began, but its entire force fell a mile or two to the south of us upon the Romani defences; the Turkish plan being to attack there and, if possible, to turn our right flank. All the morning the artillery fire continued, our reply being strengthened by the "crack of doom imitations" of a couple of monitors out at sea to the north of No. 11. Little or no news filtered through to us, and the redoubt companies spent a hot day in their trenches, which were but ill suited for permanent occupation, while the reduction in the water issue, made necessary by the fear of future difficulties in refilling the storage tanks, started a thirst which was not appeased for many days. During the night, however, we heard enough to assure us that things were going well, and early on the 5th we received orders to leave the redoubts to a garrison of the unfit and to rendezvous in the old camp, prepared for a "mobile."
About midday the Battalion moved off, "A" and "C" Companies having only just arrived from the redoubts after a wakeful night and a heavy morning's work, and already thirsty, though no more water could be issued. A single water bottle, once filled, is but a poor supply for a long day under the Egyptian sun. Marching over heavy sand in the hot hours, even when the haversack has replaced the pack, soon produces an unparalleled drought. Sweat runs into a man's eyes and drips from his chin. It runs down his arms and trickles from his fingers. It drenches his shirt and leaves great white streaks on his equipment. And while so much is running out, the desire to put something in grows and grows. The temptation to take a mouthful becomes well nigh irresistible, and once the bottle of sun-heated chlorine-flavoured water is put to the lips, it is almost impossible to put it down before its precious contents are gone. Then a man becomes hopeless and there is danger of his falling out. All honour to those, and they were many, who through age or sickness, had greater difficulty in keeping up than the rest of us, but who yet carried on indomitably to the end, or only gave in when they had reached a stage of complete collapse. How often in such hours have we felt that if only we could live where one may have an unlimited supply of water just by turning on a tap, we should be content for ever. But are we, my friends? I fear not.
One cannot help feeling that the comparison made with the performances of regular battalions in the heat of India before the war, are unfair. These were trained men, caught young and developed to a high standard of physical fitness, marching along the excellent Indian roads, with a certainty of a good water supply at their night's camping place, and accompanied in many cases by travelling canteens and soda water machines. In our ranks were to be found many men of middle age, unused to active life, and many boys whose physique had not had time to respond to military training. Some had but recently joined us and were not acclimatised, others had not recovered their strength after the dysentery of Gallipoli. Roads or canteens there were none. Of course British troops have often found themselves in such conditions and worse on active service. But it is interesting to find that that fine old soldier R.S.M. Mathieson, always said that he personally never suffered from thirst to anything like the same degree during the Egyptian campaign of 1882.
We left the Battalion moving off S.E. from the camp for the Brigade rendezvous. Here we received orders to attack a "hod" named Abu Hamrah, which lay between us and Katia. The distance was not great, hardly six miles as the crow flies, but we were not crows and had to adopt less direct as well as more laborious methods. The Battalion was on the right in support to the 7th H.L.I., and the march continued with but short halts till 4 p.m., when we had a somewhat longer pause, and a chance to reinforce our early breakfasts. Few men, however, can eat either bully beef or biscuit when they are thirsty, and that was all we had. It always seemed strange that we should not have made more use of food more suitable to the climate. Later on dried figs and occasionally little dried apricots were issued with the mobile ration. Doubtless these are not very sustaining, but they are the fruit of the country, and it is better to have a little you can eat than a full ration that you cannot, whatever the decrease in caloric value may be.
There was neither sound nor sign of enemy opposition, and the advance was resumed in artillery formation in an hour or so. Darkness began to fall and great difficulty was experienced in keeping touch with the battalion in front and even between the different companies, a difficulty increased by the first line camels of the 7th, who were perpetually, though inevitably, getting in our way. When daylight had actually failed it must be admitted the Brigade had become somewhat disintegrated. The Argylls did not regain touch till next morning. The Battalion, minus "A" Company, who had been cut off by some camels and thus entered Abu Hamrah on their own, got up on the right of the 7th, where the errant company eventually discovered it.
Immediately strings of camels now appeared on all sides marching and counter-marching across everybody's front, holding up exasperated and desperate platoon commanders, who finally ruthlessly cut them in two and forged ahead to a chorus of blasphemy from weary escorts and lamentations from terrified native drivers. The peaceful hod had become an inferno. No one knew anything except that there were no Turks. After superhuman efforts on the part of various exalted personages, things were straightened out, pickets detailed and posted, and the men, too tired even to swear, dropped where they were, and rapidly cooled down in the chilly dew. It was now nearly eleven o'clock, and a half bottle of water was issued, enough merely to whet the consuming thirst which gripped everybody. Tunics were disentangled from the damp congeries on our backs and we had a few hours' precious sleep.
At 3 a.m. we stood to and began to dig ourselves in, in positions sited with extreme difficulty, in unknown country, in the dark. Soon, however, orders were received to prepare to move, and in spite of every effort, not more than half the men had had their bottles filled before we had to continue the advance. It was a very hot steamy morning, and the coolness of dawn soon disappeared. The advance was slow, and we grew thirstier and thirstier whether we moved or halted. On reaching a ridge overlooking Rabah and Katia it was found that the leading battalions were too far to the left. We and the Argylls were therefore ordered to turn right-handed and occupy Katia. The dark line of palms appeared very enticing, if very far away, and the Battalion struggled manfully on, shedding the weaker brethren as it went and, very nearly "all out," reached its objective about 10 a.m.
Our troubles were now nearly over. There were no enemy, and the trees gave us a grateful shade, which only "B" Company, pushed forward to hold an outpost line on the far bridge, had to forgo. A fine stone well was found in the oasis with a good supply of cool, though curious tasting water, and canteens were soon being let down into it at the end of puttees in a hopeless effort to cope with our thirst, after which the bolder spirits went so far as to nibble a ration biscuit. But one cannot help reflecting on what might have been the consequences for us if the Turks had adopted the German policy of well-poisoning.
We afterwards heard that the Turks, evacuating Abu Hamrah on our approach, had taken up a strong rear guard position at Katia, and had beaten off the cavalry, who had retired behind us to water their horses and get a much needed night's rest. The Turks had seized their opportunity and slipped away during the night. As far as we were concerned they were welcome to slip.
The story of the Battle of Romani can be read elsewhere. It was not an infantry show—at any rate on our side—though elements of the 52nd Division saw some fighting. No praise can be too high for the endurance and fine fighting quality of our cavalry, both Anzac and English. And it is reckoned that the Turks lost a good half of their force, either killed or captured, before they outdistanced the mounted pursuit.
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 157th Infantry Brigade War Diary Account Topic: AIF - DMC - British
Battle of Romani
Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916
157th Infantry Brigade War Diary Account
War Diary account of the 157th Infantry Brigade.
The only action taken by troops under my command was the movement of the Divisional reserve to a position of readiness west of Hill 88 square M.5(a), this move being completed by 1600 and the opening of fire by my stationary battery between 1200 and 1300 and again at 1900 on the enemy soon to be in Abu Hamra.
At 0945 your G.96 was received, ordering Brigade and attached troops to be ready to move at short notice, and to hand over works and inner defences to men unfit to march. Necessary action was taken.
At 1035 your G.103 received, ordering Brigade with attached troops to move to a position of readiness to attack Abu Hamra, the force to rendezvous north of Work 8 square M.5 (b) at 1115.
On receipt of these Instructions orders were immediately issued to the Officer Commanding the Yeomanry under my command to proceed forthwith to Hill 62 square N.8(a), Hill 79 square N.8(b) and Hill 90 square N.3 (c) to cover the rendezvous and forward movement there from, and report any information obtainable concerning the enemy.
The 6th and 7th Highland Light Infantry previously detailed as Divisional Reserve in accordance with instructions received were in position just west of Hill 88 square M.5(a). These two battalions were fully mobilised and reached the rendezvous approximately at the appointed time. The relief of works 10, 10a and 11, and the detailed arrangements for the occupation of the inner defences Chabrias Camp necessarily took some time as also did the movement of the battery, Field Company and Yeomanry from Romani, but by 1230 the whole force as under was assembled at the rendezvous with the exception of the Field Ambulance which arrived there at 1330.
157th Infantry Brigade.
Detachment Glasgow Yeomanry (Strength about 60)
"A" Battery 263rd Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery 1/2nd Lowlands Field Company, Royal Engineers
Mobile Section Field Ambulance
Divisional Cable Section
To avoid delay, Commanding Officers of various units were interviewed by me as they arrived, and given detailed instructions regarding the movement from the rendezvous to the position of readiness, and probable course of operations. One battalion 155th Infantry Brigade and one battalion 156th Infantry Brigade having been ordered to co-operate from a position just west of Work 5 in the attack on Abu Hamra I selected as my position of readiness the low ground immediately north of the two hills 59 squares N.14 (a) and N.15 (a) and gave this to Unit Commanders in the firing line as their first objective, but with orders not to proceed beyond Hill 62 square No.8 (a) without instructions from me.
Two alternative positions were selected for the battery:
1st Position - Near Work 7.a. from which fire could be brought to bear against Hills 72 and 74 squares N.27 and N.22 and also to cover my left flank,
2nd Position - Square N.7(d).
Immediately on arrival of the Yeomanry from Romani at the rendezvous the Officer Commanding was ordered to send forward 1 Troop to support my original detachment which had already been sent out. His orders were to make good Hill 69 square N.9(b) Hill 72 square N.10(a) and Hill 46 square N.15 (a and b), to use his own initiative as to pushing further forward, and to keep me fully informed. In order to avoid being seen, battalions were ordered to move from the rendezvous round the northern slopes of Hill 100 whence they would turn south east towards their objectives. All four battalions were to move in attack formation 6th raid 7th Highland Light Infantry forming firing line, supports and local reserves, 1/5th Highland Light Infantry and 1/5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders forming my general reserve. The 1/5th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as my strongest battalion was echeloned on the left flank to protect this flank. The Field Company, Royal Engineers, moved on the less exposed flank, immediately in rear of the 1/5th Highland Light Infantry. Mobile Section Field Ambulance, and baggage train were ordered to remain in the first instance under cover of Hill 100.
Hearing from my Yeomanry that Hill 90 was occupied by them, the leading battalions were ordered to proceed at once to Hill 62 square N.8(a) where they were to remain under cover pending orders to advance to the two Hills 59 referred to above.
At about 1500 the Yeomanry Officer who had been ordered to report to me in person came in and informed so that rifle and Machine Gun fire had been opened by the enemy from the ridges about Hills 72 and 74.
At about 1520 your G.108 was received informing me that a Yeomanry patrol and armoured train hard been unable to find Turks in Abu Hamra and directing me to send patrols immediately to verify this. (I had already done so), it Turks found, to attack at once unless I considered them too strong, in which case 2½ battalions would be sent to co-operate with me from Work 5.
If I ascertained that Abu Hamra was all clear, I was to bivouac for the night, suggested by the General Officer Commanding near Hill 100, or if preferred, within the outpost line.
At 1530, I received a report from my Officer Commanding Yeomanry that his Officers Patrol was held up while crossing Abu Hamra at point Kilo 46, enemy holding Hill 74 and ridges east and west, apparently about 40 or 50 men on ridges and 60 or 70 were seen in small groups behind Hill 74. Patrol forced to retire. A few enemy also seen its trees at Bir abu Hamra. Having fully satisfied myself that the enemy was in some strength on the ridges south east of Abu Hamra, I ordered my battery to open fire on Hills 72 and 74, my Yeomanry to again press forward under cover of this fire, and my leading battalions to search to the two hills 59 preparatory to the attack.
It was now clear to me that to fulfil my original object namely the attack on Abu Hamra, I must, instead of attacking that place attack Hills 42 and 74, and the ridge between them, the capture of which would automatically mean the capture of Abu Hamra, whereas the capture at Abu Hamra would merely have placed me under the command of the enemy on the above Hills and ridges. I at once called up the General Officer Commanding Division on the telephone, informed him of the situation, telling him I was preparing to attack Hills 72 sad 74 but that if I did so, I must bivouac there for the night and not where suggested by him. At approximately the same time I received reports regarding our own cavalry moving in the direct urn of KATIA and being shelled by the enemy.
Shortly after this I received a report that our cavalry were being driven back. At this time I personally observed the enemy shelling Abu Hamra and the country to the south east of Hills 72 and 74 they were lengthening their range, which tended to prove the report just previously received that our cavalry were being driven back. This shelling, without being excessive was fairly severe. It was very difficult to ascertain what really was happening as I could obtain no connection with the 5th Mounted Brigade or Anzacs. I was then informed on the telephone that our own mounted troops complained that they wore being shelled by our own guns. I replied that they were not being shelled by me, and that enemy were undoubtedly on Hills 72 and 74 and I asked the General Officer Commanding if he could give me any information as to what was happening to our own cavalry. He instructed me to wait a few minutes before launching the attack, while he communicated with No.3 Section.
At 1710 I received a message cancelling move of 1½ battalions 156th Infantry Brigade and 7th Royal Scots to position of readiness just west of work 5 (9 111) to co-operate with me. Ten minutes later I received a message that above 2½ battalions would move at 1800 to a position of readiness west of Work 5 (9 114).
At about 1700, I received in confirmation of telephone conversation GB 302 instructing me to advance to the attack and to endeavour to get in touch with the 5th Mounted Brigade. I immediately advanced to the attack and during the advance received a message from my Yeomanry saying that the enemy had apparently evacuated Hills 72 and 74, and that they had been seen retiring from these Hills.
I may mention here that the shooting of my battery on Hills 72 and 74 was very good indeed, and this I think undoubtedly accounted for the retirement of the Turks.
The advance was continued towards the ridges south east of Abu Hamra. By this time it was dark, and night formation was adopted. The ridges about Hills 72 and 74 were occupied without opposition, and an outpost line was taken up with three battalions on these ridges, and one battalion north of the railway protecting my left flank, and the men set to work to dig themselves in.
Having satisfied myself regarding the outposts, I established my Brigade Headquarters at 0200 between Kilo 46 and Kilo 47 and the moment communication was complete reported the situation to the General Officer Commanding delay is obtaining communication was caused by shortage of cable.
At 0330 I received a message G.127 ordering me to move with troops attached at 0415 and occupy the line from ruins of Katia exclusive to Er Rabah. About the same time a warning message handed in at Division Headquarters 2535 was received by my signal office warning me to be ready to move at 0400. Previous to receipt of this, I had sent a message to my battery to proceed to their second position or to a more favourable position as agreed between me and Officer Commanding Battery. (To be in position by 0430). The Officer Commanding Battery reported to me that this order was perfectly clear and definite, but I believe he received contrary instructions from some other source.
Immediately on receipt of G.127 I ordered the Yeomanry to proceed at once in the direction of the advance, and I rode to battalions with my Brigade Major and ordered them to get ready to move immediately. With the very short notice given, it was quite impossible to get them off to time, and as it was they had to start without any tea or breakfast.
The advance on the new objective was carried out with two battalions in the front line, and two in reserve as before, and the objective was reached without opposition, and a line of local protection taken up in accordance with instructions received from Divisional Headquarters. The Brigade remained on outpost duty until relieved by the 155th Brigade about 2000.
Roll of Honour
N MATHESON, 1st/6th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, Killed in Action 4 August 1916.
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 52nd (Lowland) Division, War Diary Account Topic: AIF - DMC - British
Battle of Romani
Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916
52nd (Lowland) Division, War Diary Account
War Diary account of the 157th Infantry Brigade.
Anzacs report 2,000 Turks advancing from Waset, they are entrenching old battlefield of Qatia. Turkish line near Katia was defined now as on the high ground north west of Er Rabah and east and south east of Katia. The enemy are entering the Hods of Katia. It would appear that attack is now imminent.
0430 - Anzacs report that they are being attacked from the direction of Hod el Enna - Mount Meredith to just south of No.1 Post.
0505 - Enemy pressing Anzacs hard, latter have fallen back from Mt Meredith. 2 enemy aeroplanes over camp bombing one bomb killed 7 and wounded 3 of our Yeomanry horses, another killed 1 royal Engineer Officer (Lieutenant Aitken) and wounded Major Spence. Turks shelling Romani hard with High Explosive shells.
0600 Anzacs driven off Wellington Ridge. The attack might now be said to have commenced. Turkish plan as was always expected seemed to be an attack on Romani from the south and holding attacks from the east. Turks made 3 distinct attacks,
(1) Against Work 23.
(2) Against Work 21a and 22.
(3) Against Works 4 and 5.
Works 4, 5 and 6 were subjected to a very heavy bombardment and suffered a number of casualties. No.5 work had 87 High Explosive shells within the wire. In one or two cases the Turks managed to cut the barbed wire between the posts, but their attacks met with no success and their casualties near No. 23 were very heavy.
1200 - Our stationary battery opened fire on the Turks in Abu Hamra. 5th and 7th Highland Light Infantry in Divisional Reserve ordered to mobilise and proceed to a position west of Hill 88 just west of No.8 Post.
1400 - Brigade Major sent to guide Battalions to correct place.
1600 - Battalions in position behind Hill 88.
1700 - Received notification of big counter attack against enemy to the south of Romani. 127th Brigade from Pelusium to move to Mount Royston. Anzac from their left to Mount Meredith. 156th Brigade from Anzac left to 156th Brigade Posts. Attack was very successful and about 2,000 prisoners taken. The Turks seemed to be played out and only too ready to surrender. It appears that a large force of Turks went towards Pelusium but met the 127th Brigade and suffered heavily. A great number of prisoners were kept for the night at our post at Canterbury Hill.
0300 - Received orders that we were to mobilise and hold ourselves in readiness to move at short notice, the posts in front were to be taken over by weak men not fit enough for the mobile column. All preparations were made and at 1115 Brigade moved off to the rendezvous in accordance with instructions received.
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