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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Photos of drainage of marshes & narrow gauge railway in the Palestine coastal sector - 1918

Eran Tearosh

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A different and quite unusual subject. After Allenby had to postpone the plans for a further advance northwards in early 1918 (Due to sending a big part of his best forces to Europe, to face the projected German Spring Offensive), the EEF was forced to adopt an active defensive role. This meant that a major part of the front line remained near potential malaria breeding areas for the next months to come when the mosquitoes hatch. The EEF took major precautions to deal with this. The Anti-Malaria 'war' in Palestine is recorded in many books and articles. 

I wish to concentrate on the coastal sector, north of Jaffa and the Auja (Yarkon) River, a sector held at that time by the 7th (Meerut) Division. Two bodies of water, north & south of el-Jelil, were drained by the Royal Engineers, Indian engineering units (Sapper & Miners and Pioneers), and ELC (Egyptian Labour Corps) workers.  The northern one, Bahret Katurieh, was particularly interesting. 

This map is an extract of an original PEF (Palestine Exploration Fund). I'm using this one as I can include the whole relevant sector in one map:



Now we concentrate on Bahret Katurieh. This is a part of the military version of the PEF's map, and this is the map used by the EEF in late 1917 and early 1918. Note at the bottom the word 'Tunnel'. This ancient tunnel, which was used in ancient times to drain Bahret Katurieh was included in the PEF's reports and of course, marked on the map. 



The engineers found the ancient tunnel and decided to use it for the same purpose, but intensive engineering efforts were needed there to be able to reuse it.

A few months later, the EEF is already using a much higher-quality map: 


Note that the word 'Tunnel' doesn't exist, but now we see the word 'Drain'.  In the Indian engineering reports, I found that they were using a Dacuville during the works on the tunnel. Note that at the right bottom corner, we see the north end of a narrow gauge railway that came from Jaffa and Sarona. I'm not sure, but I guess it continued a bit further to the west during the works and then dismantled (Hope this can be confirmed somehow).

I'm looking for any photos of these drainage works, the tunnel, the train/railway, etc. 

The tunnel still exists today, as do both these marshes (much smaller and 'controlled' these days).


As to the Jaffa - el-Jelil railway:  


The railway crossed the Auja (Yarkon) River at Hadra Bridge, which was at a fascinating ancient site, nicknamed here 'Ten Mills'. A huge archeological project is going on there for some months now, and the archeologist in charge consults with me regarding WWI findings there. He didn't know about the railway but confirmed that he did find a few things that are probably connected. Anything (Especially photos) of this railway and/or Hadra Bridge from that time (1918) will be very much appreciated. 



Edited by Eran Tearosh
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Sorry, my details come from the Jordan Area and the many problems we had there from this.

It put over a third or more of the ALH into hospitals during 1918

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Hi Steve

Yup. The Jordan Valley was the main and most vicious area of the Anti-Malaria campaign. Not only for Australians, but also for Kiwis, Brits, Indians, West-Indies and Jews who were there.

The XXI Corps sector on the west side of the line was quite different. There's lots of material available, including photos and even footage, but not for the coastal area.

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From https://militaryhealth.bmj.com/content/jramc/34/2/85.full.pdf
quote from p.18/19 of the pdf

The engineering work was carried out by the 14th Army Troops Co. Royal Engineers.
(5) The Bahret Katnrieh.- The work on this large marsh was started on April 18. It consisted of clearing and deepening the old tunnel, and constructing channels to the sea and to the marsh from the west and east ends respectively. To obtain the correct level it was necessary to deepen the floor of the tunnel by some ten to fifteen feet; an extensive operation which was aided by the construction of a Decauville railway. Unfortunately the concussion of heavy guns on May 27 caused the collapse of the western end of the tunnel, as the result of which not only had a large amount of work to be done over again, but a timbered gallery 160 feet long had to be constructed to support the roof. The channel which was dug from the tunnel to the sea was l¼ miles long with an average width of six feet.
On June12 the system was completed, and water began to discharge from the marsh at the rate of 90,000 gallons an hour. As the level of the water subsided, herring-bone channels were dug in the marsh by working parties in full view of the enemy, who every now and then put a few shells over. At the same time sedges were cut over a wide area to encourage evaporation, and by July 13 the whole marsh was completely dry. But unfortunately this was too late to prevent the hatching out of large numbers of anopheline mosquitoes, which caused outbreaks of malaria among troops stationed in the neighbourhood. 
An interesting point connected with this locality is that early in June, when swarms of A. maculipennis suddenly appeared in the neighbourhood of the marsh at a time when little or no breeding was discoverable, large numbers of the adults of these species were found harbouring in the tunnel. There were also swarms of culicines in the tunnel, but it was noticed that the culicines occupied the positions near the end of the tunnel while the anophelines occupied the central part. There seemed a strong probability that these mosquitoes had hibernated in the tunnel during the winter, and that the first swarms which appeared were composed of individuals which had hibernated there and in the caves which abound in the district. Two cylinders of chlorine gas were discharged into the windward end of the tunnel, and very few mosquitoes survived. Other victims of the gas were numbers of frogs, snakes and birds. 
Anophelines remained plentiful in this area during June, but in July their numbers diminished until at the end of the month few were left. 
This valuable and difficult engineering work was carried  out by a company of Indian sappers and miners under the C.R.E., 7th Indian Division. 

[also note map & photographs: pages 7 & 10/11]


Edited by michaeldr
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Posted (edited)

Thank you Michael!

As I wrote, I have the details (including this source), but thanks for the effort!

I'm searching for photos!

By the way - do you want to join me next time to 'Ten Mills'.It's an active excavation site, so you can't get there on your own these days




Edited by Eran Tearosh
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Thank you for that invitation; it sounds like a fascinating project and I would be delighted to be able to get a closer look. Please message or email me with details as to when/where we can meet up. 

re photographs; I wonder if searching using as a ref the Indian units mentioned in the above article would produce better results? 

all the best, Michael

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