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20th Division

1/4th Norfolk Regiment. Gaza

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20th Division

Can anyone help please--who has access to the war diary of The 1/4th Norfolks --for their actions on 19th April 1917 ( 2nd battle of Gaza I believe). I am especially keen to know if a Company Sergeant Major PATTINSON is mentioned on or just before that date--when he was killed in action. Hope you can help---thank you. Dave.

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PRC

As far as I'm aware this War Diary isn't yet available online. However the official regimental history quite often lifts verbatim from the wording and there is no mention of him specifically - but given the large number of casualties this isn'y perhaps surprising. In my personal opinion this was probably the blackest day in the history of the Norfolk Regiment.

 

From “The History of the Norfolk Regiment 1685 – 1918”, Volume 2, by F. Loraine Petre.

 

(Page 144 – 148)

 

Orders for the general attack on the 19th were issued so late on the 18th that they did not reach the men till nearly midnight, with the result that most of the night had to be spent in preparations for attack and distributing rations and water, all of which might well have been done during the day, had orders been issued earlier.

 

The orders contemplated the attack and capture of Gaza and the formation of a new line beyond it. There was to be a heavy bombardment from 5.30 a.m. for two hours before the infantry attack began.

 

The 163rd Brigade was to attack about Khirbet-el-Bir with the 52nd Division on its left. In the front line were the 1/5th Norfolk on the right, the 1/4th Norfolk on the left, and the 8th Hants in support, with the 5th Suffolks in reserve.

 

The four battalions were ready at 5 a.m. for the advance, which was to commence at 7.30 after a heavy bombardment for two hours. To the bombardment the Turks had made little or no reply, but when the infantry moved forward it soon became apparent that the British artillery had done very little harm, and the attack was met by what Captain Buxton describes as “a perfect hell of artillery and machine-gun fire.” The British artillery could not give them adequate support, as they had already fired away a great part of their ammunition and, moreover, the range of 6,000 yards was excessive. Thus, with little support, the infantry had to cross some 1,700 yards of undulating country in full view of the Turks awaiting them in trenches and well-wired redoubts beyond the Gaza-Beersheba road.

 

At 7.30 the two Norfolk battalions advanced. Watching the first stages from brigade head-quarters, Captain Buxton writes that “it was a magnificent sight to see them going in extended order as if on a field day.” Each battalion covered a front of about 900 yards. The right of the 1/5th Norfolk was directed on a Turkish redoubt which soon began to give trouble. The first low ridge was crossed by 8.30 and the second, about 500 yards further on, was reached. The 8th Hants now moved with one tank against the redoubt on the right of the 1/5th Norfolk.

 

On the opposite flank, the left of the 1/4th Norfolk, the other tank advanced on another Turkish redoubt, but unfortunately was hit by a shell and put out of action. The 1/5th Norfolk battalion disappeared over the second ridge and communication between the battalions became very difficult.

 

The tank with the 1/5th and the 8th Hants was presently set on fire, but not before it had inflicted heavy damage on the enemy and sent back twenty prisoners taken in the capture of the redoubt, which was held by a party of the 1/5th Norfolk men and some of the Camel Corps. All this time the British had been suffering very heavy loss from the Turkish artillery, machine-gun, and rifle fire which the British artillery, at a range of 6,000 yards, was unable to keep down.

 

About 10 a.m. Lieutenant Buxton, who had gone out to get information for brigade head-quarters, telephoned what he had seen from a shell hole in which he had ensconced himself. In his own words:

 

“It is quite obvious what had happened. The advance had been held up just below the Turkish line, and one could see our men lying out in lines, killed or wounded. The 1/5th Norfolk ‘B’ company under Captain Blyth, had captured Tank redoubt and had held it for some time, till all ammunition was spent. No support came up, and so those who did not get away, sixty in all, were captured in the Turkish counter-attack. My second tank, under Captain Carr, (its noted this is the one attacking with the 1/5th Norfolks), had done very well getting into the redoubt. The first tank had had a direct hit and was burning. It was obvious that our attack here had failed, and that most of our men had been killed. So I waited a bit longer, and when things were a shade quieter, got out of my shell-hole and ran back over the rise. There I came on about forty men of our brigade of all regiments. Major Marsh, who was O.C. 8 Hants, was there too, and Lieutenant Wharton of the 4th Norfolk. These men were just stragglers and all collected there. We decided it was no good going on then, so we started to dig ourselves in. This was all quite early in the morning – about 9. Marsh had a telephone line so I phoned back to Brigade H.Q and gave them all the news.

 

There were a lot of dead men and wounded all around us. Some of the latter we got behind our lines, in case the Turks tried a counter-attack. We were about forty men and one Lewis Gun, and no-one on our left or right for several hundred yards. The place we were holding was the top of a rounded hillock. The Turks kept us under pretty good machine gun fire all day. Marsh and I lay in a rifle pit and ate dates and biscuits for a bit. We allowed no firing, as we wished to keep our ammunition in case of a counter attack.

 

About 4 in the afternoon the 5th Suffolks were sent up to support us and consolidate the position we held. This was really a great relief. About seven the Brigadier came out after dusk and saw the place. He ordered us to retire during the night right back to our starting point, for it would not have been possible to hold this advanced position as long as there was no-one on our flanks at all.

 

During the day a few stragglers joined us, among them Corporal Burtenshaw and a private. He told me that Captain Birkbeck had been very badly wounded. I told the O.C. Suffolks whereabouts he was said to be. They promised to send out patrols to try and find him, but these did no good at all, as I afterwards heard.

 

We brought in a lot of wounded as we came back. The three attacking regiments of our brigade had all had very heavy losses. Each was reduced to about 150. The 5th Norfolk lost, killed or wounded, all the officers who went in, except one, and about 600 men.”

 

Meanwhile the 5th Suffolk had been sent up to stiffen the line, which was entrenched about 500 yards from the Turkish trenches with the hill where Lieutenant Buxton was on its right.

 

About 2 p.m. the divisional commander had ordered the 161st brigade, less one battalion, to reinforce the 163rd, and the commander of the former at once placed two battalions at the disposal of the commander of the 163rd. At 2.23 pm, a counter-attack was launched, with the 5th Suffolks on the right, the 6th Essex on the left, and all the artillery firing on the trenches. When this could make no progress, the 6th Essex were withdrawn behind the Sheikh Abbas ridge, whilst the remains of the Norfolk battalions and the 8th Hants dug themselves in in the positions they then occupied, and held on until daybreak on the 20th. By 5.30 a.m. on that day they had retired to reserve, in left rear of the 5th Suffolks.

 

The casualties in this disastrous attack of the 19th were extremely heavy in the Norfolk battalions, as shown below, (I’ve converted the table and notes to text).

 

1/4th Norfolks

 

Killed…….6 Officers (Major W.H.T. Jewson; Captains W.V. Morgan, S.D. Page, R.W. Thurgar; Lieutenant F.J. Cole; Second Lieutenant J. Levy.) and 49 other ranks.

 

Wounded….11 Officers and 312 other ranks.

Missing……1 Officer and 99 other ranks.

 

Totals…….18 Officers and 460 other ranks.

 

1/5th Norfolks

 

Totals…….19 Officers and 643 other ranks.

 

The 8th Hants had lost twenty-two officers and 546 other ranks. Every company commander of all three battalions had been killed or wounded. Lieutenant-Colonel Younden of the 1/4th Norfolk was slightly wounded, and Lieutenant Grissell of the 1/5th was wounded and missing, (Authors note: Afterwards found to have been killed. Lieutenant Buxton saw him and Lieutenant Eustace Cubitt about 7 or 8 a.m. and states both were killed about two hours later. )

 

With these terrible losses, aggregating well over the full strength of a battalion, it became necessary to amalgamate, for the time being, both Norfolk battalions in a single composite battalion, of which the 1st and 2nd companies were made up of the remains of the 1/4th, and the 3rd and 4th of the 1/5th. The command of this battalion was given to Lieutenant-Colonel Torkington of the Scottish Rifles.

http://lib.militaryarchive.co.uk/library/infantry-histories/library/The-Norfolk-Regiment-1685-1918-Vol-2/HTML/index.asp#/176/

(Edit - just checked, the link now appears to be broken)

 

From his regimental numbering, (287 then renumbered as a Territorial to 20010 at the start of 1917 ), it looks very much like he was a pre-war Territiorial, I see Soldiers Died in the Great War records him as born and enlisted East Harling. That presumably means he was the 29 year old married Coal and Corn Merchants Clerk recorded living at Kenninghall Road, East Harling on the 1911 Census? (Checked a couple of sites and looks like he and wife Ida K are mistranscribed as "Pattison").

 

East Harling seems to be particularly well covered in the local press. Of the Norwich based papers the Norwich Mercury and the Eastern Daily Press \ Eastern Evening News have a number of pictures of men from the village. I'm fairly certain there is no picture of him in the Norwich Mercury post his death, although I'm a very long way from transcribing all the local war news articles, so may be a reference to him there. I have big gaps for the EDP and the EEN, particularly late April to July 1917, so maybe something for him there. The titles are available on micro-film in the local studies section on the third floor of the Forum as well as at the County Archive at County Hall.

 

Elsewhere in the county, East Harling items crop up in the Diss Express and some of the Bury St Edmunds titles. These are available via the British Newspaper Archive, which can be viewed for free at a Norfolk County Library if you have a Library Card, or via subscription directly or indirectly as usually a premium subscription or a bolt on package with one the big name genealogy sites.

 

The Diss Express should also be available at the County Archive.

 

Hope that helps,

 

Peter

 

2nd Edit - see also this thread for a map and a lot more context.

 

 

Edited by PRC
(1) Website no longer available (2) Link to old forum thread

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20th Division

Peter---Thank you so much for this very comprehensive and prompt response to my query. Truly grateful. The reason for it is:--On our village green is the  war memorial. One of the "memorial " trees has died and The Parish Council, whilst considering a suitable replacement, learnt that there is an Apple Tree named " HARLING HERO"---so decision made! During research it was discovered that the Father-in Law of one of those men on the memorial was the "gardener" who first grafted the tree and named The Apple. Could the tree have been named to the memory of the  man remembered on the monument? From your reply I believe it is now highly likely.  Again--many thanks. My Best wishes. Dave. p.s. We shall follow-up your suggestions for further research. 

Edited by 20th Division
bad grammar.

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stevebecker

Mate,

 

While not all on the Norfolks, I do include them in something I wrote many years ago on this battle;

 

The 2nd Battle of Gaza

By Steve Becker

 

In the weeks following the first failed attempt to force the Gaza defences, (subsequent to General Sir Archibald Murray’s misleading report on the 1st Battle of Gaza) both antagonists initiated preparations to resume the struggle with increased intensity. This report which had convinced London that the enemy had suffered heavy casualties and that they should be attacked “as soon as possible” as a consequence his Army was substantially reinforced by all that could be spared from England as more troops, guns and supplies flowed into Egypt, these included tanks from the new Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps, which though worn by use as instructional tools in England, were a welcome addition, while other weapons sent were designed for terror, with 4000 gas shells for use against the stubborn enemy defences.

 

Allied air force reports confirmed the expanding strength of the Turkish Army and the rapid building program as new defences spread rapidly across the desert from Gaza to Beersheba.

 

The Camel Brigade during this time had been resting at Abassan el Kerbir where since March they had occupied and maintained an outpost line along the Wadi Ghuzze. This observation post was at Tell el Jemmi where a reinforced company from the Brigade was rotated each day while the remainder of the Brigade continued training, while also providing long range patrols out to the flanks of the Gaza position.  Much of this training involved the use of gas and the old PH type gas masks were issued to the troops which were forced to under go this instruction reluctantly.

 

At this time the Brigade was composed of the following companies

  

Camel Bde HQ

Gen Smith VC

 

 

1st Battalion

LtCol Langley

1st Co

Capt Cashman

 

Maj Mills (2ic)

2nd Co

Capt Campbell

 

 

3rd Co

Capt Naylor

 

 

4th Co

Capt Denson

2nd British Battalion

LtCol Gardner

5th Co

Capt Wilson

 

Maj Winterton (2ic)

6th Co

Capt Pettit

 

 

7th Co

Capt Gregory

 

 

9th Co

Capt Orchardson

3rd Battalion

LtCol De Lancey-Forth

11th Co

Capt Creswell

 

Maj Donovan (2ic)

12th Co

Capt Norris

 

 

14th Co

Capt Tolmer

 

 

15th NZ Co

Capt Priest

HK&S Batty

Maj Moore

 

 

26th MG Sqn

Maj Millar

 

 

1/1st Scottish Horse FAmb

Maj Mason

 

 

 

While the Camel Brigade was in Palestine, the newly formed 4th Anzac Battalion continued training in Egypt and its companies helped to support the defences of the Southern Canal Section with the Battalion HQ and the 13th, 17th and 18th companies around Kantara while the 16th NZ company was assigned to the Northern Canal Section. Other companies of the Camel Corps were deployed all over Egypt with the 8th and 10th companies still with the Western Desert Force occupying Sollum.

 

By early April General Murray’s Forces consisted of the Eastern Force under the command of General C. Dobell with four Infantry Divisions (52, 53, 54 and 74) and the Desert Column under General P. Chetwode of two Mounted Divisions (Anzac and Imperial) in all over 60,000 men and 182 guns.

 

General Dobell was placed in overall command of the Army as General Murray was too remained in Egypt, still all operational planning had to be approved by him. The plan decided on allowed an offensive to take place in two phases, which because of the long distances needed to move the Army up to the defences of Gaza, that it would come as no surprise to the enemy.

 

The 1st phase would to begin on the 17th April and would move the Army from its present position around Rafa across the Wadi Ghuzze and up to the defences of Gaza from the coast to south of the Sheikh Abbas ridge.  The 2nd phase would begin once the troops were concentrated and artillery in position, then an attack with the main strike Force with one Division (53) at Gaza and two Divisions (52 and 54) around El Muntar and Khirbet Sihan redoubts while one Division (74) was held in reserve. The Desert Column would protect the open right flank with the Anzac Mounted Division and while the infantry attacked frontally the Imperial Mounted Division would make a dismounted attack on the Atawine redoubt with the Camel Brigade attached. Each Infantry division was given two tanks and four were allocated to the 52nd Division for the battle and gas shells were supplied for the strong defences around El Muntar. The Navy would assist with a small fleet of warships by shelling Gaza from the sea and the Royal Flying Corps would have 25 aircraft of the 5th Wing (No’s 14 Sqn RFC and 67 Sqn AFC) to assist the Army.

 

The Turkish Army were kept well informed of British preparations for the coming offensive and they continued to keep them under close observation with mounted patrols, spies and from the air where the Turks and Germans with only six planes of FA (Fliegerabteilung) 300, came over the British lines regularly bombing almost every day, paying particular attention to the horse lines.

 

The 4th Turkish Army, under Colonel Ahmed Djamal Pasha, with the 22nd Corps under the German Kress Von Kressenstein, had rapidly increased in strength over the weeks and now consisted of three Infantry Divisions and one small Cavalry Division. These forces had strengthen the line from Gaza to Beersheba which employed the 3rd Division at Gaza, the 16th Division (less the 79th Regiment) at Tell et Sheria and the 53rd Division plus the 79th Regiment (16th Division) on the Khirbet Sihan line occupying a number of redoubts along the Gaza-Beersheba road. The 3rd Cavalry Division was held in reserve, and would later move down to Tel esh Sheria on the 17th April with the approach of the Desert Column. The total Turkish forces in all Palestine were around 48,000 and 101 guns of which only 18,000 were near the battle area at the time of the attack.

 

The Camel Brigade received its orders early on the 16th April and made preparations to move at one hours notice. The 3rd company was at Jemmi with two sections of the 2nd company and a section of two guns of the Hong Kong and Singapore battery, when at dusk a strong body of Turkish cavalry was spotted approaching our position, they were kept under observation till dark when they retired to the north.

 

On the 17th April the Army began to move and the Hong Kong and Singapore Battery with two sections of the 1st company were sent to the Wadi Ghuzze to protect the crossing and to act as an antiaircraft battery while the Brigade moved to Fukhari to anticipate a move while remaining under cover from enemy aircraft. The brigade waited undisturbed without any word till around 5 pm on the 18th April when it was ordered to cross the Wadi Ghuzze and concentrated by midnight at Charring Cross. The Battalions started out at 6 pm and after crossing the Wadi Ghuzze, where they concentrated at Charring Cross between 10 pm and midnight, there the troops dismounted and waited for the word to move forward as they rested and prepared for the day.

 

During the short break at Charring Cross orders arrived for General C.L Smith VC which informed him that the Brigade had been placed under the command of General S. Hare of the 54th Division, this order No 43 of Eastern Force establish the Camel Brigade in the front line for the attack on the Khirbet Sihan group of trenches, which where 4000 yards south-east of Ali Muntar. The attack called for an assault by the Camel Brigade with the 163rd Brigade at key redoubts on the Gaza-Beersheba road and two tanks of “E” Company Heavy section of the Machine Gun Corps were allocated to the 54th Division for there capture. Of these tanks one had been destroyed on the 17th April and now only one remained to carry out the plan.

 

At 4.45 am on the 19th April the men moved dismounted into their assembly areas with the 1st Battalion leading passed Dumbell Hill then on to Sheikh Abbas ridge were the 1/8th Hampshire (Hants) Battalion had entrenched and we began preparations for the assault. The animals had been withdrawn with their holders under the command of the battalion 2ic’s to behind the Sharta ridge at 3.30 am and only those camels needed to carry stores, ammunition or cacotets moved with the troops up to the assembly area. While there a British officer of the Machine gun Corps reported to General Smith to discuss the operation and the use of his tank, he attracted much attention as a curio before being given the objective then driving off to his position. General Hare had attached the 1/7th Essex Battalion of the 161st Brigade (which was held in reserve), to the Camel Brigade for the coming battle only it was slow in arriving and did not take part in the action till later in the day.

 

General Smith deployed his brigade with its 1st Battalion on the left to support the 163rd Brigade in its seizure of the key redoubt at Tel Seichan (later known as Tank redoubt) and the 3rd Battalion to the right to assault the Khirbet Sihan village near the redoubts (known as Jack and Jill redoubts) the 2nd Battalion was held in support and reserve until the 1/7th Essex should arrive when the Essex Battalion would be used as the reserve. The Brigade would be supported on the right by the 4th Light Horse Brigade (less one regiment) of the Imperial Mounted Division during its attack on the Atawine redoubt

 

Garrisoning this line was the Turkish 53rd Division, a good quality Anatolian Division under the veteran command of Colonel Selahattin Bey, with the 163rd Regiment on the right in the area of El Muntar, and the 165th Regiment holding the area of the Khirbet Sihan redoubts, including the Tank, Jack and Jill and Atawine Redoubts, while the 161st Regiment was in reserve near Hirbet - Ruseym, ready to move to any threaten area. The 125th Regiment (16th Division) under Major Hayri Bey, was also held in reserve at Berti Cered, until the morning of the 18th/19th April when it was moved down to the area of Hirbetel-Kufiye. The 14th Artillery Regiment had all its batteries deployed along the front with two groups east of the Tank Redoubt and one west. Three companies of Engineers were also attached to the Division, as was the Austro Hungarian 2/6th “Obus” 6x 100mm Gun Gerbirgshaubitz (Mountain) Battery under Lieutenant Lewicki, along with a team of AAA guns (Two 37mm Maschinen Flugabwehr Kanonen auf Sockel) from the Bavarian Flakzug 136, under Lieutenant de Reserve Bader.

 

The ground over which the 1st Battalion had to attack sloped down from point 404 on Sheikh Abbas ridge then gradually up to the enemies redoubt on the 400 metre plateau a distance of just over 2000 yards, the terrain was completely exposed with little cover except for a number of small wadis which had cut the bare ground like a knife wound from the infrequent rains. The redoubt was on a flat rise which gave excellent observation over the surrounding area, it had been turned into a fortress with an outer and inner defence lines surrounded by barb wire and to its rear ran the Gaza-Beersheba road. It was strongly garrisoned by a Battalion plus a section of the Machine Gun Company of the 165th Turkish Infantry Regiment with about 400 men in the Redoubt and around 200 men in the surrounding area for counterattack, while two 4 gun batteries of 14th Turkish Artillery Regiment directly supported them.

 

The 1st Anzac Camel Battalion’s attack

 

The main attack by the Camel Brigade would be made by the 1st Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel George Langley, who deployed the 2nd Company under Captain Archie Campbell on the left with the 4th Company under Captain Herbert Denson on the right, the 3rd Company under Captain Fred Naylor in support, while Captain Walter Cashman’s 1st Company (less two sections guarding the field ambulance and Hong Kong and Singapore Battery) were held in reserve, in all the Battalion numbered not more then 360 men in the firing line.

 

The battle plan called for the 1st Battalion to “Move on to the ridge on the right of the 163rd Brigade, the left battalion in the Camel Brigade will advance and conform to the movement of that Brigade.” which meant the 1st battalion would advance with the 163rd Brigade, which had placed its jump off tapes about 200 yards in front of the 2nd Company, their right flank Battalion was the 1/5th Norfolk, which would act as the guide for our advance as Divisional orders called for the Camel companies to bypass the main redoubt, as it would be secured by the British infantry, while the Camel companies would push on to secure the defences to the rear of the redoubt.

 

On Thursday the 19th April, the cold morning air was broken by the sound of heavy guns with Zero hour at 5.30 am, this preparation bombardment was to last for two hours as they pounded the redoubts along the main Turkish line, assisted by the navy and concentrating there fire on Gaza and the strong defences of Ali Muntar. At 7.20 am the Divisional 18 pdr Batteries took over laying down fire on the main points to be attacked, the display was quite impressive except was later found that most of the shells had missed there intendant targets.

 

At Zero hour plus two (7.30 am), the word was given to advance and the tank allocated to the attack moved from behind Dumbell Hill into a position in between the 1/5th Norfolk’s and the 1st Battalion. This tank was a MK1 female called HMLS Nutty, under command of 2/Lieutenant Frank Carr and his crew of seven men, it moved off to the rear of and between the 1st Battalion and 1/5th Norfolk’s still due to a small wadi it was forced to the right, crossing behind the 1st Battalion in front of Sheikh Abbas ridge, as it then moved towards the objective to the north-west back across the front of the 1st Battalion as it advanced to catch up with the 1/5th Norfolk’s.

 

The 2nd Company had moved off promptly at 7.30 to cover the 2000 yards they would need to traverse before reaching the enemy trenches, only first they had to align themselves with the 1/5th Norfolk, still carrying the weight of 300 rounds of ammunition (Camel brigade SOP) and stores of a pick and shovel per three men and over the soft sand quickly exhausted the men (this was exceeding the load authorized in Divisional orders by General Hare of 150 rounds per man or the 250 rounds in the Imperial Mounted Division orders). The infantry with a shorter distance to travel kept up a strong pace forcing the cameleers to continue moving and not to advance by section rushes. The leading companies were deployed on a section front with three extended lines in each section, Lewis guns were placed to the right of the second line as the companies moved from artillery formation into extended order after moving a few hundred yards.

 

The enemy had quickly spotted the advance of our troops and the Tank and laid a sporadic fire along the line of advancing men, a number were hit still the men pushed on under the steady fire of shell and machine gun. About 8 am the 1st Battalion was rejoined by HMLS Nutty which had moved across their front from the right and soon attracted the attention of a number of enemy Batteries which began to pound the area around the tank and the companies of the 1st Battalion and 5th Norfolk’s, this fire was both heavy and extremely accurate and it appeared to the men to be singling out individuals, the enemy had plenty of time to range the ground and its shooting showed its expertise, and it was said by the soldiers of the Camel Brigade, “to be the finest bit of shooting they had ever seen” with the enemy never wasting a shell, moreover it was under this now continuous fire that the 2nd company were forced to shift to their left as they followed in the wake of the tank.

 

The men had closed in behind the tank for protection from the fusillade except it only served as a focal point to the enemy gunners, as they struggled under the weight of there loads and the enemies salvos, the infantry was still in front of the cameleers and fell in behind the tank as it passed them while the 2nd company had to kept on the move till a small sand ridge was gained about 8.15 am.

 

This small ridge was between 350 to 500 yards from the enemy redoubt and there the shattered and exhausted remnants of the two Battalions took shelter as the tank was hit and lost direction in a small wadi between the ridge and the redoubt. Meanwhile Captain Campbell sent orders back to the 3rd Company, to conform to him, as the 4th company had disappeared to his right in the smoke and dust and his own company was severely hit. Meanwhile Captain Birbeck OC A Company 5thNorfolk’s gathered his survivers around him as the remainder of his battalion took cover.

 

The 163rd Brigade, at this time committed the two companies (A and B) of the 1/8th Hants Battalion, which had been in support, to assist with the 5th Norfolk’s, while the other two companies (C and D) were supporting the 4th Norfolk’s, only A and B companies were decimated in moving forward trying to reach the 5th Norfolk’s and barely a few gallant men of the right flanking companies struggled through the fire to reinforce the beleaguer force, these joined the remainder of the Norfolk’s and Camel companies around 08.30 am.

 

Meanwhile the advance by the 4th company and Battalion Headquarters had been drawn to the east to adhere to orders to bypass the redoubt and conform with the 11th company only the heavy cross fire had forced them to seek cover in a small wadi which ran to west off of the main Wadi Sihan just as the 2nd company had been drawn west towards the 163rd Brigade, a gap was now created between his forward companies and Lieutenant Colonel Langley was forced to committed his small reserve of two sections of the 1st Company, under Captain Cashman, to fill this gap. In the meanwhile the 3rd company had struggled forward to support Captain Campbell and under heavy shell fire had followed the line of bodies belonging to the 2nd company. They reached the small sand ridge shortly after 8.30 am which was occupied by the sheltering 2nd Company and the remains of the 5th Norfolk’s and 8th Hants and soon became embroiled in the fight with the Turkish defences, in which both companies were heavily hit by the enemies fire and suffered many casualties with Captain Naylor wounded, yet continued to lead.

 

Around 8.40 am the tank HMLS Nutty appeared again under a cloud of dust and exploding shells driving straight for the redoubt, seeing this Captain Campbell decided that he could no longer follow his orders and bypass the redoubt, however now must make a dash and secure the fortification.

 

He lined a number of Lewis gunners along the top of the small ridge and using there fire ordered the men to advance, both the 2nd and 3rd companies fixed bayonets and rose to the attack. These companies had started the day with a little over one hundred men in both, now barely half that number had survived, and as the Turkish fire hit these heroes that number was again sadly reduced, still they surged on and made the Turkish line under a volley of rifle fire and with the help of soldiers from the 5th Norfolk and 8th Hants, set about clearing the trenches “with the bayonet”. The wounded Captain Naylor had insisted in leading his men forward, only to be shot in the head on reaching the enemies trenches, in a life or death struggle to capture it, the death of Captain Naylor, who had never been well esteemed by his men after an incident at Sollum in 1916, only after this day that view changed.

 

The Turks which occupied this part of the redoubt put up a stout defence, only the shock of the tank, and the aggressive attitude of our troops, proved to much for them, as they broke and ran back to their rear defences, some throwing away their weapons still between 20 and 50 Turks were captured, 20 prisoners by Sergeant Joseph Pearson B Company 8th Hants, these prisoners were promptly gathered and sent to the rear under guard of several wounded men from the British and Camel companies except few survived the bullet swept ground of no man’s land.

 

Meanwhile the redoubt at this time was a scene of chaos, as the tank was under close fire by two four gun batteries, this intensity continued as the tank belching fire and smoke had entered the redoubt dealing with enemy machine guns, except bellied in the first trench where it was then seen to be hit by three HE shells, which broke its track and bust into flames, forcing its abandonment by the brave crew, and so it was left as a target for the enemy gunners, however thanks to the tank the damage had been done and our small forces had secured a vital tenure in the redoubt by 9 am.

 

Captain Campbell now took control of the survivors and with only about thirty men remaining of the two Camel companies he placed the remnants of the 2nd company in the centre and the stronger 3rd company on the right flank, still most of the men were mixed together and fought with who ever took command. On one flank Sergeant Charlie Greenway, who had taken command of his section after the officer was wounded, continued to fire on the panicked Turks as they raced to the rear.

 

Meanwhile on the left flank the remainder of the British Battalions, in all about twenty or more men, under Captain Blyth B Company 5thNorfolk’s, occupied and extended their hold in the trench and formed a defence, following the death of Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Grissell DSO. These measures were necessary as there were not enough men to control the whole redoubt, so it had to be held by a number of strong points. In the centre Campbell placed six Lewis guns along the exposed top of the trench to keep any Turkish counterattack to the flanks. The enemy had now retired to their secondary defences, which were still on a higher elevation to our men and there poured a strong fire into our positions.

 

During the morning the endurance of Captain Campbell and his men was tested under the increasing pressure of the enemy, six runners were dispatched back to Lieutenant Colonel Langley all requesting reinforcement and ammunition, still none arrived in time, all disappeared in the exposed ground between the redoubt and our lines. One man Private Edward Richardson, carried a message out and after going 50 yards was shot three times and despite these serious wounds crawled back with his message arriving to late, and Corporal Bill Hope the Battalion Signal Corporal, was killed carrying such a massage. While Private Bert Galli had tried to get through with three camels loaded with small arms ammunition, except the animals were killed by heavy fire, Galli tried again during the day but was forced to stop, still never the less did succeed in bringing some much needed ammunition to the 4th Company.

 

The breach of this redoubt caused considerable concern in the enemies’ camp and the Divisional reserves of the Battalions of the 161st Regiment were rushed to this threatened sector, meanwhile the reserve company of the 165th Regiment was committed to the Tank redoubt from the area of Khirbet Sihan and began to infiltrate towards our troops in the redoubt.

 

Around 10 am, groups of the enemy were observed gathering to the flanks, and they began to move slowly forward, in one case they appeared being driven by a German officer, who recklessly exposed himself to our fire, yet bore a charmed life without being hit. These new troops now found the redoubt was not held in any strength, and small parties of the enemy soon established pockets amongst our posts, which soon became untenable with the strong cross fire and with the shortage of ammunition, we were forced to retire further along the trench onto the rear posts, thus our men retired fighting step by step to the rearmost trenches where they had broken in hours before. Among the heroes of this contest was Sergeant Wally Finley, of the 2nd company, who was killed resisting the enemy allowing our men to escape and form a new bomb block, and Sergeant Albert Cook, Privates Soles Nassau and Richard Biggs of the 3rd company who fought until overrun and were never seen again?

 

The Cameleers were now using a lot of Turkish ammunition and bombs, as our own ammunition was exhausted, never the less, with this increasing pressure they could not hold out for much longer.

 

Shortly after 11 pm, as Captain Campbell sorted out the last of the Camel company survivors in the remaining section of trench, the Lewis gunners were still in action and broke up a number of enemy concentrations as the Turks prepared to drive the last of our men out of the redoubt, Lieutenant Bill Ellis was sent to the left, as some soldiers were seen retiring, only he was wounded, and as the ammunition now gave out, and with no hope of reinforcements or ammunition to continue the battle, Captain Campbell had no option but to order the survivors to withdraw, the word was quickly passed to Captain Blyth, who at first wanted to fight it out to the finish, except faced with the inedible they agreed to retire. Before he left Captain Campbell went to check on his Lewis gun teams, to ask for volunteers to cover the withdrawal, only to find one wounded survivor, Private William Barry, who was ordered to retire and despite a broken arm carried his Lewis gun out.

 

There was much confusion in the trenches at this time, as not all the men received the word to go, while others found themselves cut off by the Turks, who appeared all over, while others seeing the retreat ordered the men to stay and fight and cover the retirement. A similar scene occurred with the British, as those who couldn’t make the trip back were left to be captured.

 

Captain Campbell had set off with Lieutenant Ernest Aylwin and CQMS Harry Malcolm (who should have remained in the rear but had joined the attack for the fun of it) they became separated in the smoke and rifle fire, and only Campbell made it back without a scratch, the sole officer of nine from the two Australian Camel companies, who took part in the assault to do so. The survivors had retreated out of the redoubt to the right rear in the direction of the 4th company, as the ground to the rear was strongly covered by the enemy’s fire. Meanwhile the 1st company had moved into a conspicuous position between the redoubt and the 4th company to provide the link, except they were soon forced to cover the retirement of the 2nd and 3rd companies from the protection of a small wadi, still with only two small sections, Captain Cashman was limited in what he could do, and he held his ground as a counterattack was expected from the enemy, while in this position the company lost, Private John Mitchell killed, and two officers (Bill Ellis and Les Stock), and a number of men wounded. He did establish contact after 1 pm with the remainder of the British Battalion’s, who had dug in around the small sand ridge.

 

During the long afternoon the wounded lay exposed to the sun, lying in agony waiting for someone to get them, except with nearly all of their mates now dead or wounded most waited in vain. Despite this a large number of our wounded were brought in by men such as Sergeant Bob Love of the 4th company, who went out into no man’s land to help recover the many victims, yet they where to numerous for all to be recovered and some had to be left to the clemency of the enemy. Lieutenant Colonel Langley had set up a casualty dressing station to the rear of his HQ, in a small wadi, and all the wounded who could be reached were brought there for dressing before moving them to the rear. One of those brought in wounded was Lance Sergeant James Anderson, an original from the 8th Battalion AIF, who was suffering from a gun shot wound to the buttocks, while others were not so lucky, Private Sid Cherry a Canadian, who had enlisted in the 3rd Battalion AIF in 1915 before transferring to the Camel Corps, and Private Wilhelm Konsten, one of a number of Finnish born seaman, were both killed. 

 

As the action continued in the redoubt, the 4th company had become pinned down behind a small sand ridge about 400 yards to the east of the redoubt, and Captain Denson was ordered to dig in by Lieutenant Colonel Langley and await developments and to minimize casualties. This had happened because true to their orders the company had continued to advance for the rear defences of the enemy redoubt, and despite the Turkish fire, they soon found that the company was isolated in between the tank redoubt and the Wadi Sihan, with no support available other then the 11th company on its right flank. The men were forced to hide behind a small Wadi and engage the enemy, also to cover the withdrawal of the 2nd and 3rd companies, still the enemy had them in a deadly cross fire from the redoubt and the Wadi Sihan and sustained many casualties in this exposed position, these included Sergeant Herbert Perkins, Privates Arthur Emery, Neil Munro, John White and Richard Winslett were killed and three officers and 27 men wounded.

 

When Captain Campbell and his men had retired from the tank redoubt, there still remained a small garrison, who were left to fight it out alone, only with little ammunition remaining it was only a matter of time before they were overrun. This isolated party numbering over thirty men of all nationalities, continued to challenge the enemy till around 2 pm, when the Turks broke into the last section of trench. There the wounded Lieutenant Bill Fender of the 2nd company found himself in a trench with a number of men and after being hit in the neck was abandoned as dead and captured, along with a collection of men, most of whom were wounded, about 11 Australians and eight British soldiers were captured when Lieutenant Wilfred Strachan-Roberts of the 8th Hants, tried to fight it out in the last trench, only were compelled to surrender. Two men Privates Roy Kelly and Bert Story from the 3rd company escaped the Turks during capture, and set off with bullets chasing them as they ran back to our lines, Kelly was wounded and Story had five bullets through his hat, still both survived to tell the tail.

 

During this time Major John Marsh OC 8th Hants, gathered approximately one hundred and forty survivors around him to form a line in the sand outside the redoubt. Among this group was Lieutenant Wharton 1/4th Norfolk’s, along with Lieutenant Buxton from the 163rd Bde HQ. They remained in this exposed position bringing in the many wounded including Corporal Burtenshaw and Private Toogood, and waited for any expected Turkish counterattack, until the 5thSuffolk’s arrived.

 

At 1 pm General Hare had ordered the 161st Brigade forward to reinforce the line held by the 163rd Brigade, which had suffered over 1500 casualties, including two Battalion and twelve Company commanders, when they arrived, the 1/5th Suffolk (163rd Bde) and the 1/6th Essex Battalions (161st Bde) were ordered to make a fresh attack on the redoubt. At 2.20 pm the Battalions commenced their advance, still had not gone far when the attack was stopped by General Hare, this was due to the withdrawal from the redoubt by the last of our forces, and declining situation on his right flank with the retirement of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, and the problems with the Imperial Mounted Division.

 

At 5.55 pm orders were received that “the battalion was to withdraw back to the ridge” and Lieutenant Colonel Langley arranged for the clearing station to be removed before moving the 1st and 4th companies. At 7.45 after having gathering all the wounded that could be recovered the remnants of the battalion quietly moved back to Sheikh Abbas ridge in the safety of darkness undisturbed by the enemy, and found the 7th Essex Battalion in position to cover their retirement, the 1st Battalion then moved to the rear of the ridge to take up a reserve position.

 

During the night the number of Australian prisoners would increased as the enemy cleared the ground between the lines and in all twenty two Australian cameleers from the 2nd and 3rd companies were captured by the Turks, and an unknown number of British soldiers, which included the crew of the intrepid tank HMLS Nutty, 2/Lieutenant Frank Carr age 35, a Golfing International from Birmingham UK, the daring tank commander had been badly burned during his escape from the blazing tank and died from his wounds in a Turkish hospital, Lieutenant Bill Fender the only Australian Camel Corps officer to be captured during the war, had transferred to the Cameleers from the 6th Light Horse Regiment in 1916 and was 29 years old from Ashfield in Sydney NSW, only he died of wounds in the hands of the enemy that night before medical help could reach him, this unfortunate fact was not know by the family of both Carr and Fender, until two years later when the prisoners were released, as they had been reported as a prisoner after the battle by the Turks, and the family endeavoured to discover his whereabouts, only they heard no word of him until 1919.

 

Among the many Australian prisoners were Private Harold Vidler, one of the last Lewis gunners, who with Private Phil Fletcher, had fought to the last round when the order to retire was given, they had set off after Captain Campbell, but after going a few yards Vidler was shot threw the knee and Fletcher disappeared in the smoke also wounded, Vidler lay wounded in front of the redoubt till morning when a number of Turkish looters discovered him, they killed another man near him with a bayonet, only spared him and was found later by a enemy patrol. Private Charles Flatt, was wounded outside the redoubt in the charge, he had been shot in three places in the leg and thigh and was found by a Turkish patrol during the night. Private Walter Humphris had also been seriously wounded in the charge and was later recovered that night by the Turks, he lasted a few days before dying from his wounds in a Turkish hospital. Among the 11 Cameleers captured with Lieutenant Roberts of the Hampshire Regiment were Private Reuben Blechynden (wounded), Corporal Alex Currie, Privates Joe Dodd, Phil Fooks, Tom Halliday, Daniel Jones (wounded), Ernest Ingram (wounded), Phil O’Hare, Charles Otway (wounded), Lance Corporal Arthur Tierney and Private John Angus. Other wounded taken prisoner included Sergeant George Paltridge, Privates Fred Jeffrey, William Simmons and Noel Sherrie, while others were trapped in the redoubt and surrendered for lack of ammunition Privates Pat Duffy, Albert Kimber and Sergeant Fred Saville.

 

 

The 3rd Anzac Battalion’s attack

 

While the 1st Battalion was advancing on Tank redoubt, the 3rd Anzac Battalion, under Lieutenant Colonel Newell De Lancey-Forth, was to attack and occupy the Khirbet Sihan village, near the redoubts (known as Jack and Jill redoubts) and, to prevent the movement of enemy troops across his front from Beersheba or from Huj to Gaza. He organize the battalion with the 11th Company under Captain Randolph Creswell on the left and the 12th company under Captain Arthur Norris to the right, the 14th company under Captain James Tolmer in support and the 15th NZ company under Captain Roy Priest was held in reserve, a section of the Brigade machine gun squadron with their heavy Vickers Machine guns were placed under command to engage targets at distance once the position was taken, in all the 3rd Battalion numbered around 450 all ranks.

 

The terrain on which the battle was fought consisted of the Khirbet Sihan redoubts which lay behind the Gaza-Beersheba road and to the right of the Wadi Khirbet Sihan on two small hills at a height of 400 meters, behind these hills was the small Arab village of Khirbet Sihan which housed the garrison Headquarters of the 165th Turkish Infantry Regiment of the 53rd Turkish Division. The defences of Jack and Jill hills were two small redoubts with defences stretching west into the Wadi Sihan and east to overlook the next redoubt on Atawine ridge. The terrain was open but for the main Wadi and a number of washouts which all flowed into the Wadi Sihan, a number of barley fields cut this other wise barren land scape run in peace time by the villagers from Khirbet Sihan, the strength of the garrison was unknown but should have numbered not more then 200 men of a reinforced Company from a unknown Battalion of the 165th Turkish Infantry Regiment.

 

The 3rd Anzac Battalion formed up at 7 am to the east of the Sheikh Abbas ridge, and the advance began promptly at 7.30 am, as the troops began to move towards the Gaza-Beersheba road the tank HMLS Nutty came into view as it passed behind the rear and right of the 1st Battalion trying to cross a small wadi, the Turks quickly saw this movement and showered both battalions with shell fire as the tank then started towards the front of the 1st Battalion and shortly disappeared in a cloud of dust belching exhaust smoke. About this time the Hong Kong and Singapore battery which had deployed to the rear of the 3rd Battalion was hit by a lucky shell that fell amongst the camels killing or wounding the crew to one of the guns including Gunners Kishen and Saudagar Singh killed, and Gunner Vincent Sykes, who was mortally wounded, while scattering the remainder of the battery animals, which put the battery out of action for some time.

 

Chook Fowler 12th Light Horse Regiment, mentions this incident in his book “Looking Backwards”, “That the Turks directed some of there 70mm (75mm) guns on to them, I saw two direct hits on the camels, and many pieces of camel and parts of the guns went high into the air”. “We never heard any shells that had been fired by that battery”.

 

Meanwhile the men advanced quickly across the open ground towards their objective, the companies had deployed on section fronts in three lines with Lewis guns interlaced amongst the sections and moved in extended line formation under sporadic shell and rifle fire losing a number of men as they advanced, these included Private Ray Webb who was mortally wounded when hit on the head by a shrapnel Pellet, while amongst the wounded at this time were Captain Norris, who was shot through the foot, along with Privates Jack Condon and Edward Wright.

 

The 11th company was now being drawn towards the 1st Battalion and the stalled 4th company on the left, as the 12th company pushed on through a field of barley only the fire from the first redoubt became too heavy and soon forced the company to seek cover in the Wadi Sihan, which was short of the Gaza-Beersheba road. Lieutenant Colonel Forth soon arrived with Battalion Headquarters and walked among the sheltering men inspiring them with his recklessness while others complained of him drawing the enemies’ fire. Here they exchanged fire with the Turks for some time while remaining pinned to the wadi walls till around 8.45 am when Lieutenant Colonel Forth ordered the men up and attack as he had perceived the 1st Battalion rush their objective.

 

The men came out of the wadi at the run with bayonets fixed as they quickly crossed the Gaza-Beersheba road under an intense crossfire from machine gun and rifle, flushing out a number of Turks in spider holes in advance of the main position, despite this fire the cameleers gained the first Turkish redoubt which to their surprise was abandoned without the enemy offering any resistance and a number of prisoners were taken, some wounded except most escaped to the second redoubt.

 

While the 12th company was advancing across Gaza-Beersheba road C Squadron of the 11th Light Horse Regiment, who was on the battalions far right flank, observed two machine guns nests in enfilade of them, Major Percy Bailey quickly ordered two troops under Lieutenant’s George Hoffman and Charles Clifford to rushed forward and capture these guns, except soon joined the 12th company in the capture of the last redoubt.

 

With this unexpected bonus in the capture of this first entrenchment now allowed Lieutenant John (Jock) Davidson, who had taken command after Captain Norris had been wounded, to push forward his company then rush the next redoubt? At this time the two troops from C Squadron supported the attack on the right flank while this mixed force of light horsemen and cameleers advanced on the last redoubt under a tormenting fire. Fortunately the enemy in the 2nd redoubt were still too stunned and disorganized to put up only a token resistance as they once more broke and ran to the rear towards Khirbet Sihan village as our men reached the Turkish works overrunning the frightened garrison.

 

One of the men to win the DCM that day was Private John McGrath of the 11th Light Horse, who rescued the crew of a Hotchkiss machine gun after they had been wounded, he would later join his brother in the 12th Company during in the war.

 

This victory now left us in command of an important position among the enemies’ defences and Lieutenant Davidson now had to reorganize his company while his Lewis guns teams fired at the retreating Turks and also took one of the enemies’ batteries under fire as it raced to get out of range.

 

It was said by higher command at the time that our men never reached this far except later in the war members of the Brigade and Battalion revisited the area and found the remains of men from the 3rd Battalion still around this position and this marked the extreme point reached by allied troops that day.

 

Meanwhile the Enemy had become alarmed at the loss of so vital a position and with its important location to Khirbet Sihan, still a concentrated response could not be quickly arranged as the local reserve had been used at the Tank redoubt and Jack and Jill redoubts would have to wait until the Divisional reserves arrived.

 

Shell fire increased as the men arranged their defences against an expected counterattack. It was during this fire that word came from the Headquarters of the 11th Light horse to withdraw the two Troops of C Squadron from the redoubts. Lieutenant Colonel Forth sent Lieutenant Davidson to Major Bailey to ask them to stay except with reluctance the two troops under Lieutenant’s Hoffman and Clifford had to depart leaving the reduced and battered 12th company to hold both redoubts alone. The 11th company at this time was still near the Wadi Sihan on the Gaza-Beersheba road holding off enemy flank attacks still the situation in front of the 4th Light Horse Brigade and the Imperial Mounted Division in its attack on the Atawine redoubt had turned against them as large bodies of the enemy were counterattacking their line and so C Squadron was desperately needed to assist and they retired some distance to the rear of the 3rd Camel Battalion to rejoin their parent formation.

 

At 2.30 pm large numbers of Turkish reinforcements had now arrived, this led to the 4th Light Horse Brigade being ordered to retire to a ridge 700 yards to their rear having already retired some 600 yards from the Atawine defences exposing the flank of the Camel Brigade. 

 

This disclosed the position held by the 12th company which now became untenable as this vital position was not reinforced, and with the men now falling and the Lewis gun teams being knocked out one by one, till only five men remained, among those killed were Sergeant Lindsay Field an original from the 3rd Light Horse Regiment, Privates Ernie Norton shot in the chest and Alex Gibson his mate killed near him. Among the many wounded were Privates Arthur Gwyther shot in the abdomen, Vince Hennessy hit in the leg, Bill McManus hit in the arm, Alf Kennett hit in the mouth and Levy Tompkins hit in the head.

 

As the long afternoon dragged on, Turkish troops of the 161st Regiment, where seen advancing in a crescent formation trying to encircle the company on Jack and Jill Redoubts, when Lieutenant Davidson received orders to retire to the 11th company’s position near the Gaza-Beersheba road. This was accomplished with little trouble in spite of the large number of wounded with the company, as they retired down the hills, fire came from three sides as they fought there way back to the wadi and some form of safety.

 

All the while the 11th Company was still holding the area around the Wadi Sihan under the most trying of circumstances and increasing pressure from the enemy, who was using the wadi to cut off our men on Jack and Jill hills, in the desperate fighting along the wadi Cpl Mick Mahoney and Private Mick Hogan (shot in the throat) along with Private Ken Mudge were killed and there were many wounded.

 

Around 3 pm General Hare had become aware of the trouble on his right flank and had ordered his Division and the Camel Brigade to hold fast and prepare for a counterattack that should the Imperial Mounted Division uncover this right flank, he would be ready to move troops to the threatened area and have the Camel Brigade in a defensive position to repel any attack. This change of fortune and his failure to break the enemy defences had convinced General Hare to stop the wasting attacks against the enemies’ strong fortifications and had stopped the attack by the 161st Brigade and ordered the withdrawal of the 3rd Battalion from its exposed position on Jack and Jill redoubts.

 

The 3rd Battalion Headquarters had remained in the wadi and now with both companies concentrated Lieutenant Colonel Forth encouraged the men to hold on except he was wounded, when shot in the shoulder, along with the Regimental Sergeant Major George Hay, who was evacuated, only to died from his wounds during the night, he was 45 years old and a veteran of Gallipoli, an original from the 18th Battalion AIF, he had been senior soldier in the 3rd Battalion since its formation in December.

 

By the late afternoon Lieutenant Colonel Forth discovered the 4th Light Horse Brigade was retiring again, and with the destruction of the 1st Battalion, now found himself alone in front of an aggressive enemy, when the order by General Hare arrived to withdrawal to a defensive position on the Sheikh Abbas ridge. Lieutenant Colonel Forth then ordered all wounded gathered and commanded the evacuation back through the barley field to the edge of the Sheikh Abbas ridge where the 14th company occupied a defensive position with the section of the Brigade Machine gun squadron to the east of Pt 404. The rear guard fought during the evacuation as the Turks pressed our troops, however they continued to be the targets for Turkish artillery as they moved up Sheikh Abbas ridge, Lance/Corporal James Kermode commanded a Lewis gun team with the 14th company and covered this retirement and when the two companies passed him he was subjected to the enemies shells and rifle fire, except he held on to till the men were safe then retired fighting. The soldiers of the 11th and 12th companies had been at first reluctant to abandon the ground won at such a cost and on arrival back to the 14th companies position were exhausted by their experience.

 

On the arrival the 12th company on Sheikh Abbas ridge they were moved into reserve and the 15th NZ Company moved up to extended the firing line to the south-east, thus refusing the line. The 14th company thicken the line with elements of the brigade machine gun squadron and waited for the expected counterattack. The 4th Light Horse Brigade had by this time retired well to the rear of Sheikh Abbas ridge and support from that flank had almost disappeared.

 

The Turks continued shell the cameleer’s line, and during this shelling Lieutenant Ben Chapman was killed observing for his battery of the Hong Kong and Singapore artillery.

 

There on Sheikh Abbas ridge the Camel Brigade waited however the enemy held back which allowed our troops to rest and reorganize and to clear some of the many wounded from the battlefield. The commanders of both Battalions requested artillery support late in the afternoon to break up enemy concentrations only none was available to the Camel Brigade. The troops were treated late in the day to a display of aerial combat as a German Turbe (Rumbler C1) of FA (Fliegerabteilung) 300 flown by Fizefeldwebel Gustave Kautzmann and a British Martinsyde of No 14 Squadron RFC fought it out in the sky above them, they all cheered as one of the planes fell to the earth only to discover that it was ours and the pilot Captain Francis Bevan had been killed.

 

Once it became dark at 7.45 pm the 3rd Battalion was ordered to retired further up the ridge and dig in with the 7thEssex around Pt 404. Turkish snipers became active in the dark and a number of men were hit including Captain Priest, commanding the 15th NZ Company, who was mortally wounded while visiting his posts. The 2nd Battalion replaced the 1st Battalion in the defences and soon their line was tested when the 5th and 9th companies were subjected to a heavy fusillade in the dark, in which Lance/Corporal Henry Fisher was shot in the leg and Privates Dave Miller and Herbert Gowlett were shot in the head, Len Corke shot in the jaw and Tom Benson and George Holland shot in the body. At 9 pm the Brigade was ordered to retired to the rear of Sheikh Abbas ridge leaving the 161st Brigade to watch the enemy, the camels and handlers had been brought up behind the ridge earlier that day at 2 pm and once the men were withdrawn they married up and mounted moving silently down to Charring Cross arriving at midnight.

 

There was a strong sense of defeat amongst the men that night as they slowly rode back to Charring Cross in having survived the most harrowing experience of their lives, their fatigue and the loss of so many mates was a sober reminder to all of their own fallibility in this war.

 

One of the tragic consequences of the battle were the innumerable wounded on the battlefield they were the most difficult to remove as there was so many that the Camel Brigade medical services of the Scottish Horse Field Ambulance were completely swamped and had to draw on the 54th Division for help. They also had a problem with casualties as both the 53rd and 54th Casualty Clearing Stations were overflowing regardless men were sent to them of whom Private Laurie Taylor died of his wounds at the 53rdCCS that night. It was well after midnight before all wounded could be recovered and cleared to the rear but still many had to be left as unrecoverable. Chaplain Hubert Gordon and Padre Scott-Little of the Camel Corps were conspicuous among the wounded that night adding what comfort they could while providing help to the strained medical staff.

 

The 2nd Company had joined the Camel Brigade from Sollum on the 25th March with six officers and 163 men now it had all but ceased to exist and only Captain Campbell and five unwounded men remained out of the 105 that started the day, one of the most unfortunate members of the company to be killed was Private Alfred Armstrong was an original from the 7th Battalion AIF who had transferred to the Camel Corps and the 2nd Company in January 1916, he had the dubious honour to have been awarded 90 days field punishment No1 while his company was at Sollum.

 

General Dobell had intended to continue the battle the next day but during the night reports came in from his Army showing the extent of the days sacrifice and with over 6500 men lost in his Infantry Divisions and the Desert Column convinced him that the prospects of a renewal of the battle had little success.

 

In the Camel Brigade, the 1st Battalion was in critical shape having lost almost 70% of their men and only the strong 2nd Battalion with its four uncommitted companies and two companies of the 3rd Battalion were in any condition to continue the fight.

 

On the morning of the 20th April the Brigade, less the two decimated companies of the 1st Battalion, formed up at 3.30 am and marched dismounted back to the southern side of Sheikh Abbas ridge, not far from Dumbell Hill to dig in, trenches were commenced with the help of engineers from the 54th Division, the 3rd Battalion now under the command of Major George Donovan was placed on the right and had a run in with some Turkish sentries in the dark during the erection a barbed wire fence, while the 2nd Battalion held the left flank and the remnants of the 1st Battalion in reserve.

 

All day the troops waited under the scorching sun exposed to shell fire as the Turks waited to see if the British would attempt another attack, only their air force was busy coming over our lines photographing and dropping the odd bomb, still thanks to the Hong Kong and Singapore Battery, now acting as antiaircraft guns, they were kept at a distance. Late in the afternoon large bodies of the enemy were seen gathering at 5000 yards to the north and batteries of the 54th Division were directed on to them and any danger quickly disappeared.

 

During the night of the 20/21st April the men worked on the defences and all posts were wired in and trenches completed as a cold wind now came from the sea making life uncomfortable in the trenches. As other day dawned on the unprotected ridge the Brigade was again subjected to a heavy bombardment in which a number of shells fell amidst the 2nd Battalion area, this unit had so far escaped serious casualties except at 6.15 am the 2nd Battalion now came in for special attention when enemy aircraft came over spotting for the artillery and a large number of shells fell on the locale killing six men and wounding  three officers and 10 men from the 9th company and Battalion signallers, including the Battalion Regimental Medical Officer Captain Collier and Lieutenant Marsh, along with the company commander Captain Charles Orchardson MC, who died from his wounds, among the wounded was Sergeant Maurice Bracey suffering from shell shock. Latter that morning at 7.15 an aircraft dropped bombs on the camel lines at El Kutshan killing a large number of animals along with Privates David Rees and Fred Southgate and five men were wounded of which Lance/Corporal Charles Holmes died of wounds.

 

The Brigade waited in this exposed position on Sheikh Abbas ridge till the night of the 23rd April when the cameleers were relieved at 2 am by the 161st Brigade with the 1/7th Essex replacing the 2nd Battalion in the advanced position.

 

The men moved back to Dumbell hill where they once again rejoined their animals, this time the Brigade proceed back across the Wadi Ghuzze via Tell el Jemmi then on to Abassan el Kerbir arriving at 7.30 am.

 

Little is known today of the sacrifice by the men of the Camel Brigade on the Tank and Khirbet Sihan redoubts on the 19th April 1917 when the Palestine Campaign is mentioned only the swift moving columns of the Light Horse are brought to mind not the strange cadence of the Camel companies moving silently across the desert.

 

Thus ended this tragic battle which had cost the Camel Brigade the greatest number of casualties suffered by Australian Mounted troops during the whole of the Palestine campaign and was only surpassed during the war with those suffered by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade at the Nek on Gallipoli were they lost 372 men out of 600 engaged. The Camel Brigade also lost the largest number of prisoners captured in battle during the campaign as well as the only Australian Mounted officer to be captured.

 

The total casualties for the Camel Brigade very from sources and range from 370 killed and wounded from Captain J.R Hall on Brigade staff  to “Gulletts” Official history of 345, the British Official History lists all mounted troops together under the Imperial Mounted Division and give a total of 547, most of whom were from the Camel Brigade.

 

The Camel Brigade War Diary Annex for the Battle list the casualties for the period from the 19th to the 22nd April as three officers and 41 men killed, 19 officers and 271 men wounded with one officer and 39 men missing total 374. In the War Diaries, the 1st Battalion reported the loss two officers and 30 men killed and 10 officers and 154 men wounded with one officer and 16 men missing total 213, while the 3rd Battalion does not list their casualties and the AIF Casualty Return for period list over 300 Australian casualties for the Camel Brigade but these include all causes including Prisoners of War.

 

A search of the records showed that the Australians of the 1st Battalion lost at least 234 casualties with one officer (Captain Naylor) and 36 men were killed, 12 officers and 163 men wounded of which one officer (Lieutenant Hill) and eight men died from wounds. From the 1st Battalion a further one officer and 21 men were taken prisoner of which one officer (Lieutenant Fender) and 13 men were captured while wounded of which one officer and three men died from their wounds and a further three men died in captivity from cruel treatment or neglect.

 

The worst affected units in the 1st Battalion were the 2nd company which lost 15 men killed and two officers and 73 men wounded of which two men died of wounds and one officer and nine men taken prisoner of which one officer and five men were captured while wounded, of these one officer and one man died of their wounds while in captivity and another one man died from cruel treatment, this totals 100 casualties for the company from about 105 present.

 

The 3rd company lost one officer and 14 men killed and four officers and 49 men wounded of which four men died from wounds, there were a further 12 men taken prisoner of which 8 men were captured while wounded of which two men died from wounds and another two men died in captivity from cruel treatment, this totals 80 casualties for the company of 94 men and 180 casualties from approximately 199 men in the two Camel companies involved directly in the assault on Tank redoubt.

 

The Australians from the 3rd Anzac Battalion lost at least 88 casualties with six men killed, three officers and 74 men wounded of which five men died from wounds. The 15th NZ Company records show that one officer (Roy Priest) and one man (Ernest Boys) was killed while 21 men were wounded of whom one man (Robert Woods) died from wounds. To this total we must also add the Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel De Lancey-Forth as wounded he was British.

 

The greatest loss in this Battalion was the 12th company which lost three men killed and three officers and 35 men wounded of which two men died from wounds, total 41 casualties.

 

The British 2nd Battalion reported the loss of eight men killed with three officers and 25 men wounded of which one officer (Captain Orchardson) and two men died from wounds. One officer (Captain Collier) was an Australian doctor attached to the Battalion.

 

The Hong Kong and Singapore Battery casualties were one officer (Lieutenant Chapman) and two men killed and one man died from wounds while other casualties were not reported, the Brigade Machine Gun Squadron did not report any losses.

 

The Brigade also reported the loss of 176 camels during the Battle.

 

A comparison between the two British Infantry Battalions involved directly in the assault on Tank Redoubt show they lost the following casualties;

 

The 1/5th Norfolk’s (TF) Battalion lost seven officers (Lieutenant Colonel Grissell, Captain’s Beck MC, Birbeck, Cubitt, Lieutenant’s Gardiner, Plaistowe and Tebbutt) and 199 men killed in action with one officer (Lieutenant Hervey) and 17 men died from wounds while eight officers and 401 men were wounded and four officers and 229 men were reported as missing possibly all amoung the many dead with few as prisoners.

 

The 1/8th Hampshire (Princess Beatrice’s) Battalion had a battalion strength of 23 officers and 746 men and lost eight officers (Captain’s Pittis MC, Seely, Lieutenant’s Attfield, Hills, King, Pakeman, Ratsey, and Shelton) and 177 men killed in action with 11 men died from wounds, while 15 officers and 298 men were wounded and four officers (Lt’s Atkin, Cox, Blofeld and Roberts) and 28 men were taken prisoner of which one officer (Lieutenant Blofeld) died from wounds while in captivity.

 

The 11th Light Horse Regiment reported 11 men killed and six officers and 47 men wounded with 1 man wounded and taken prisoner. These casualties include Major Bailey wounded and although heavy for a Light Horse regiment all of these losses were incurred against the Atawine Redoubt, none being recorded near the Khirbet Sihan.

 

Where as the Turkish casualties for the whole battle are recorded as 2013 with 402 dead and 1364 wounded and 247 missing, what the casualties were around Khirbet Sihan are unknown but the 53rd Turkish Division after this date had one of its regiments disbanded from the division and by the 3rd battle of Gaza had the 161st, 163rd and 79th Infantry Regiments.

 

Cheers

 

S.B

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20th Division

Good Morning S.B. Thanks for this account you wrote, it is greatly appreciated. I will print this off if I may and forward it to our councillors to add to the information supplied by Peter as above. Accounts of the Eastern Campaigns seem overshadowed by those of "The Western Front" --but we all appreciate the fact that the sacrifice was as great. Sad that history records it as "a sideshow" and I suppose it is too late to change this image. My Great Uncle was mortally wounded at SHERIA on 6th/7th of November 1917---dying two weeks later in Cairo of "gunshot and bayonet wounds". A visit to his grave in Cairo on the 80th anniversary of his death was a very moving experience. Anyway--thank you again and we feel that the memorial tree we intend to plant on our memorial green will be most fitting. Regards. Dave.

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