NEW ZEALAND MOUNTED RIFLES

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DESERT DESSERT

photograph: Dunning Family Collection. circa 1917
With arms crossed, third from left, a happy Sergeant Pat Dunning of the 11th North Auckland Mounted Rifles proudly shows off the newly arrived luxuries delivered to their desert camp - fresh local Watermelons and tinned "Golden Sun" peaches and apricots shipped from half a world away to supplement a boring diet of Bully-beef and hard tack.


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21st Anniversary issue
penny and half-penny
stamps 1936.



50th Anniversary issue
4 penny and 5 penny
stamps 1965.


2008 stamp
90th Anniversary of
Anzac 2008.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 



15th November 1917 - Ayun Kara
From the camera of Trooper 30467 J H Russell, 21st Reinforcements 6th Manawatu Mounted Rifles, Wellington Mounted Rifles. The following morning after the attack and counter attack at Ayun Kara on the 14th November 1917. Troopers converge to talk of the events of the hectic day before. Center right, with feet protruding out from under a covering blanket, a New Zealand Mounted Rifleman lies dead.
More photos from Trooper Russell's camera may be viewed HERE
An unknown trooper walks about the battlefield on the morning of November 15th 1917. Turkish dead lie where they fell. The rock hard ground and open undulating countryside void of any substantial vegetation left the men of both sides without any cover during an advance.
Major A.H. Wilkie of the Wellington Mounted Rifles wrote of the opening of the battle:
Contact was gained with the enemy at 11 a.m., the C.M.R., in advance,
pressing forward to the Wadi Hanein, where it was held up at noon, the 6th W.M.R.
Squadron, in support, advancing under heavy fire to a position on the west of the
Wadi, where it dealt with enemy snipers in an orange grove close by, much enemy
movement being observed further north.
At this time the remainder of the Brigade was approaching the southern
extremity of a high ridge which, running in a northerly direction for about a mile,
turned at a right angle towards the sandhills on the left. The enemy held the ridges
which formed the right angle to the north, and could be seen to be reinforcing them.
An immediate attack to capture the position was therefore decided on, General
Meldrum giving his orders verbally for the operation at 12.30, the objectives being
given as follows:- The W.M.R. (dismounted) along the main ridge (on which there
were several entrenched positions), the A.M.R. (mounted) on the projecting ridge to
the left, the Somerset Battery and the Machine-gun Squadron to support the attack.
Two squadrons of the C.M.R., under Major Gordon, to remain in reserve on the
southern end of the ridge. Preceded by artillery fire, both regiments advanced rapidly,
and at 1.30 the 9th W.M.R. Squadron commenced to attack its first objective - a series
of entrenchments on the top of a hill from which the garrison directed heavy machinegun
and rifle fire at the advancing troops. Supported by a 6th Squadron troop, under
Lieutenant Baigent, the 9th Squadron pressed the attack with great determination, and
on reaching charging distance it rushed and captured the position at the point of the
bayonet. The garrison fled in confusion, leaving behind twenty dead, a Lewis and a
machine gun. Lieutenant W. R. Foley thereupon turned the captured gun to cover the
9th Squadron, the latter having continued to advance against its second objective,
Captain Herrick's 2nd Squadron taking over the captured position.

A Turkish soldier lies dead in the late Autumn morning. Many hundreds of Turks fell during the battle of Ayun Kara. This attack by New Zealand troops against the enemy on the outskirts of Richon le Zion is perhaps New Zealand's finest hour under arms.
Next morning even before the burial party arrives, it can seen that the bolt of the rifle has been removed from this soldiers weapon. A now useless clip of ammunition lies under the soldiers arm pit.
Even though winter is approaching the condition of the soldiers foot ware is appalling, mainly rags and bandages cover his legs for warmth. Attached to the man's feet are flimsy souls bound by rags, his upper feet and toes exposed to the elements.
That the Turkish army was able to fight on for nearly another year with such shortages of basic comforts for its men is a tribute to the valour of the common man of Turkey - and a revelation of the arrogance of the ruling classes of Europe that put their people under such duress.


Richon le Zion - November 1918

photo: Graham Bines, Alfred Bines collection
43716 Alfred Bines was a member of the NZMR Signallers and saw action in Turkish Palestine 1917 -1918. A dedicated page to Alfred is HERE and was compiled some time back.
On receiving new photographic software last week I decided to see if I could upgrade some of the poorer quality photographs we have had in stock for a few years, and these two images presented here have been processed with the new filters.
The original PDF Scan is still HERE, and a little bit of tweak allows us to see perhaps a small ten percent improvement from this original wide angle print of the NZMR Signallers on parade at Richon le Zion in November 1918.
This photo was taken immediately after the NZMR retreated back across the Jordan to the rest area established in the vicinity of the old Ayun Kara battlefield of 12 months before. The war was over, and the men parade with their mounts and their new mechanical horses, the newly obtained courier motorbikes. The images of the bike riders were previously very difficult to make out sitting on their bikes in front of the bulbous shapes of the cactus pear.
Although still a little out of focus, we can see the men and horses are in well groomed form.

photo: Graham Bines, Alfred Bines collection

BRIDGES TO NOWHERE

Earlier this month (Feb. 7th) a series of photographs were sent in by Tim Williams, two of them reproduced below showing the area in the Jordan Valley where "Chaytor Force" launched its advance across the Jordan River towards Es Salt and the final objective of Amman.
Tim's images are magnificent to view in their original large scale format, but because of our bandwidth restrictions we are unable to reproduce them full size here. However even by posting these smaller images we get a sense of the isolation of this barren topography set 1200 feet below sea level in a crucible of dust and sun.
There is little shelter here from the intense heat, and in 1918 the pockets of trapped river water along the Jordan became the breeding grounds for mosquitoes and flies that were able to spread diseases that killed more soldiers than combat itself during the closing stages of WW1.

Tim's writes in part:-

In December 2011 I visited Damia Bridge referred to as Al Jisr Ad Damieh in your "Whitemen - Blackmen - Jew" page where the battle there is described. The NZMR was involved in the battle with the Chaytor Force. They took the bridge from the retreating Ottoman Army which was important strategically as it controlled the road from Nablus to Amman, and important tactically as it prevented many troops of the Ottoman army from retreating, resulting in their capture. The Nablus-Amman road is still in use in parts, but it is now impossible to travel the whole route due to the closure of Damia Bridge.
The bridge has undergone a few permutations since the pontoon structure that was there in 1918. Visible now are the ruins of an old bridge of indeterminate age to the north, a single lane concrete structure and a bailey bridge which is the southernmost of the three. The concrete structure was bombed by the Israeli airforce in 1967 and is largely in ruins.
The Bailey bridge was put up by Jordanian army engineers in 1967 or soon after. It functioned as a crossing for goods and people between the West bank and Jordan until the late 1990's. It is now in a bad state and, despite further work by the Jordanian army 5 years ago is weakened and over grown with papyrus reeds.

A newly released book gives an interesting view of the lives of soldiers in the Ottoman Army. "The Locust Year" ( Salim Tamari, University of California Press, 2011 ) is based on the dairies of 3 Ottoman conscript soldiers from the area. These conscripts, some loyal to the Ottoman cause, some clearly involved reluctantly, describe the experience of fighting of the Ottomans at a time when the idea of Arab identity and Arab nationalism was first arising. One of the diary writers was killed somewhere around Nablus and I wonder if he might have made it as far as Al Damia bridge where Chaytor's Force dealt to him.

Regards,
Tim Williams


Tim Williams lives in the area at Beit Jalla, and is employed with a United Nations office in East Jerusalem.

"On September 16th 1918 the troops remaining in the valley were consolidated under the command of Major General Chaytor and designated “Chaytor’s Force” consisting of the following units:-

Anzac Mounted Division
A/263 Battery R.F.A.
195th Heavy Battery R.G.A.
29th and 32nd Indian Mountain Batteries. No. 6 (Medium) Trench Mortar Battery.
3 anti-aircraft sections R.A.
Detachment No. 35 AT. Company RE.
38th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Jewish Volunteers).
39th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Jewish Volunteers).
20th Indian Brigade.
1st Battalion British West Indies Regiment.
2nd Battalion British West Indies Regiment."


from "New Zealanders in the Sinai Palestine" 1920 Powles.

Right: The Bailey Bridge across the Jordan: a barren landscape showing the immediate climb out of the valley.

This second photo shows the Damieh Bridge. Built well after the Mounted Rifles attacks in 1918 and worse for wear from repeated actions from other later 20th century confrontations.
Also known as the "Adam" Bridge it has the unusual specification of being recorded as -354 metres below sea level.
Taken from the Jordan east bank this view looks back towards an Israeli border post and the roadway designated Highway 57 today. When reading historical literature of the Mounted Rifles the road is referred to as the "Nablus-Dameih" road or the "Nablus-Amman" road.

Photographs Tim Williams 2011
The area today from Google Maps.
Use the navigation buttons on the image left to move about the map.
The rounded red marker points to the disused bridge crossing of the Damia/Adam Bridge of today. In 1918 this point became the focus of two attacks in which the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were involved.
On the 30th April 1918 the AMR crossed the GHORANIYEH Bridge to the south not far from Jericho. The Aucklanders made a daring gallop up the plain on the eastern side of the Jordan river to the Damieh bridge crossing, falling on the Turkish defenders from behind and securing the bridge. Leaving an Australian contingent to hold the crossing the New Zealanders began the 4000 foot climb up to attack Es Salt and Amman.
This first strike finished in failure and a withdrawal was made back across the Jordan to Jericho. Although the Anzac horses had a tough time climbing in the heavty rain, traversing slippery rocky slopes covered in loose shale, they still made good time. Unfortunately the Camels of the Imperial Camel Corps and transport camels of the C.T.C. carrying stores, water and ammunition were to suffer terrible injuries. The great "ship of the desert" was completely out of its element on the steep slopes as they tried to enter into the ancient land of Moab. Many animals were lost, perhaps thousands, most due to bitter cold and slippery surface. The camels splayed out spread-eagled under their loads, breaking limbs and rib-cages and had to be destroyed on the spot. The failure of the Camels in these conditions forced the command to disband the Camel Corps in June 1918.

On September 20th the crossing at Al Jisr Ad Damieh was to again face an attack by the New Zealanders. Lieutenant Colonel Powles writes in "The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine":

"...Soon after daylight the systematic attack on the bridge began. At 7 o’clock an enemy force of about 500 with two mountain guns appeared advancing down the Wadi Farab facing the left of the Wellington line. This was the advanced guard of the broken VII Army endeavouring to escape to the Hedjaz. The position of the Brigade at this time was precarious. In addition to the 500 Turks advancing against the left an enemy counter-attack of about 1200 men was developing on the right flank at Ed Damieh. On the right rear a body of Turks having crossed the river from the eastern bank had attacked the B.W.I. battalion (left at Talaat Amrah) in an endeavour to cut off the column; and one of the captured Staff Officers of the 53rd Division had divulged the fact that a force of two battalions of infantry was only three to four miles distant on the left rear. General Meldrum reinforced the Wellingtons with the 10th Squadron of the Canterbury Regiment, and the 500 Turks were soon forced back into the hills, from which they intermittently shelled the Wellington Regiment for the rest of the day. The enemy’s counter-attack from the bridgehead upon the Aucklanders was strongly pressed, and the 1st Squadron Canterbury Regiment and one company B.W.I. were sent to reinforce Colonel McCarroll. A general advance was made at 11 o’clock and by a splendid bayonet charge the enemy position was carried, our machine guns causing great casualties to the fleeing enemy. The bridge was soon taken and the 11th Squadron, crossing mounted, pursued the enemy for some distance and captured many prisoners..."

GOOD PHOTOS AND COMMENTS ON BEERSHEBA FROM SERVICE MEMBERS

Serving RNZAF man and grandson of a NZMR man, Marty Fitchett, was kind enough to alert us to some recent photographs and comment posted on the popular RNZAF boards on the subject of BEERSHEBA
The images were taken on February 12th give a up-to-date look at the Beersheba War Cemetery, headstones and the famous Turkish Railroad Station now surrounded by high rise housing.
Some informative personal comments from forum members on their own families involvement in the attack on the Garrison town that fateful last day of October 1917.
Interesting to read active service members take on the situation today.
As a guest to this site you may visit other military forums and subjects by going to their home page HERE.

Since posting the above link yesterday, John Saunders, the photographer has joined the NZMR Forum, and if you wish to comment or write to John directly enter the Forum on the subject of Beersheva HERE.