Battles for the Holy Land.
compiled by Steve Butler
After the Battle of Magdabah the Turkish German force retreated back out of the deserts of Egyptian Sinai to their fortifications across the border at Rafa into Turkish Palestine. British forces quickly moved after them to harry and rattle a tied enemy. The Auckland Mounted Rifles led the pursuit.
Sergeant C Nicol of the AMR writes of events:
"...The mounted division, having proved its capacity for sudden night dashes across the desert, was on the move again at dusk on January 8 (1917), the objective being Rafa, a police post, consisting of a few tumbled-down buildings on the frontier, 30 miles away. This day the Wadi El Arish was in flood, but it was forded without difficulty, the spate being more remarkable for its width than for its depth. The column assembled at a point four miles east of the wadi on the road.
The intention was to surround the strong Turkish entrenchments, the New Zealanders again being part of the force to be thrown round the redoubt. Sheik Zowaiid was reached by 10 p.m., when a halt was made for three hours. This enabled the horses to be fed, but owing to the intense cold the men were anable to get any sleep. As a matter of fact they could not lie down, but had to tramp up and down to keep up their circulation. As dawn approached the “Camels” and yeomanry moved off to the north-east, to get into position for their attack from the west and south-west.
The Light Horse and the New Zealanders continued east, the first task being that of rounding up the Bedouins, believed to be hostile, living in and around the village of Shokh El Sufi, four miles south of Rafa. The A.M.R. threw a cordon round the village, and soon had collected a large crowd of yelling natives. Two unfortunate incidents proved the wisdom of the precaution taken to remove the Bedouins.
Punch - London
TURKISH CAMEL: "Where to?"
GERMAN OFFICER: "Egypt."
TURKISH CAMEL: "Guess again."
One A.M.R. man was shot dead by an Arab, who then escaped on the trooper’s horse. At another tent the Arab owner suddenly drew from his clothing a sabre, with which he struck one trooper over the head, knocking him unconscious, and then galloped off on the soldier’s horse, taking his rifle with him..."
A rather inglorious beginning to a action packed day that would end with the fall of Rafa.
1916 had been a year in the desert of the Sinai, first patrolling the Suez Canal and tentative training furloughs into the hostile arid sands before the confrontation of Romani in August. Now with the new year the ANZAC and British forces were entering the surer footed plains of the ancient land of Canaan that was open to a fast moving mounted force.
"...there is not a fence between the Suez and Constantinople — and the men rejoiced at the firmer ”feel“ beneath the hoofs. The field artillery, which accompanied the brigade, was able for the first time in the campaign to move at the gallop..."
Colonel Guy Powles recorded:
"...At 6 O'clock the Auckland Regiment in the advance reached the boundary line between Egypt and Turkey; and having halted his regiment the old Colonel (Lieutenant Colonel Charles Mackesy) rode forward alone, past the Boundary Pillar, and taking off his hat, there thanked Almighty God that he had at last been permitted to enter the Holy Land (and he was the first New Zealander to do so!) and came back smiling - and the sun rose and we were out of Egypt. And there for the rest of the day the battle was fought just around about here - in two countries at once - in Palestine and Egypt; one might say in two continents - Asia and Africa; for the Boundary Line between Turkey and Egypt ran its pillared course to the Gulf of Akaba about one mile from the great Redoubt on El Magruntein..."
Yes, you can make a difference to our history!
Ninety odd years have passed since Stan Burrowes took this photograph (right) at the "Bounadry Pillars of Rafa". The photgraph was taken on January the 9th 1917, as Brigade records confirm this as the day the NZMR Brigade crossed out of the Sinai Desert into Palestine. The Battle for Rafa took place later in the day. Although Stan made many notes to his photographs he dosen't mention who the soldier is in this picture.
What is more important is that this photo has remained in private hands of his family, unseen by anybody else until November 2006. Even the family were unaware of the significance of the history of this image. With such a find we ask you all to be careful before you discard old photos and other memrobillia from family estates - history is hiding in the corner cupboard.
We know the locaction to be correct as we can compare Stan's photo with that published in Lieutenant Colonel Powles book "The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine" published directly after the war in 1920. Below he leads the Wellinton Mounted Rifles across the border and on to Rafa.
Unseen photograph from 90 plus years ago.
Photograph taken January 9th 1917 by
Trooper Stan Burrowes WMR. This photograph in a collection stored by the Burrowes family and made available by Stan's grandson recently. Such finds are important to future generations.
above: New Zealand Mounted Rifleman
Leon Deluger, regimental number 35384, of the Auckland Mounted Rifles sits astride his mount in front of the tent camp outside of Rafa.
Further research on Leon reveals he was a carpenter in civilian life and his wartime ' next of kin' was his mother, Nellie Deluger of New North Road, Mount Albert, Auckland.
He left New Zealand on the 31st May 1917 on the 'Moeraki' as part of the 25th Reinforcements.
This photograph 1919 - AWM
Trooper Deluger. This 2007 computer colourised image is from a black and white original photograph from the archives of the Schmidt Photgrapic studio Auckland.
Photgraph 2006, Gal Shaine - Israel.
9/662 Major Francis Morphet Twisleton M.C.
Auckland Mounted Rifles.
who died of wounds 15th November 1917 resulting from the action at Ayun Kara, and buried at Ramela Cemetry.
from "New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine" Powles:-
Every available man was hurried as far forward as possible to deal with this threatened attack, and Colonel McCarroll put into the firing line signallers, gallopers and batmen from his own Regimental Headquarters to hold on until the 3rd Squadron could be brought up. The latter advanced in magnificent style under the command of Major Twistleton. This gallant officer brought his men mounted to within a few yards of the heavily attacked line, where they dismounted and engaged the enemy. Major Twistleton here fell badly wounded, and subsequently died of his wounds. This gallant officer was the Commander of the Legion of Frontiersmen in New Zealand. He had served with the Otago Mounted Regiment on Gallipoli with distinction. He had gone to France with the Pioneer Battalion, and after serving on the Western Front for some 12 months had come back to the Mounted Brigade —joining the Wellington Regiment just before the advance against Beersheba. For his good work during these operations he had been given a squadron, and it was in leading his men at a critical period of this day’s fighting that he fell. He was a man of great soldierly qualities and of fearless courage, and he was a splendid horseman. He was born in Yorkshire and came to New Zealand as a young man, where he had proved to be of that stuff of which the pioneers of the British Empire are made. Simple and direct in speech, his shrewd judgment and strong practical common sense proved at all times a tower of strength to his companions.
Military Cross: London Gazette 14th January 1916 21st-28th August 1915 Kaiajik Aghala. Came particularly under notice for distinguished service. (at Gallipoli).
Mentioned in Despatches: London Gazette 28th January 1916, In Connection with the operations described in General Sir Ian Hamilton's despatch dated 11th December 1915.
Served in Gallipoli and also France.
Turkish troops awaiting the attack on the Gaza line.
These two views of the same image show the inherent dangers faced by the English Generals as they planned to take Gaza with a frontal Infantry attack. The flat open expanse of territory was void of any real cover in which to use during an advance, the second image shows also the inhospitable rocky terrain impossible to dig in for trench cover.
At the start time of the attack at five in the morning, the approaches to Gaza had become cloaked in a heavy fog. The New Zealanders and Australian Mounted troops used this cover to mobilise and encircle the town and set themselves for an attack from the rear when ordered. Unbelievably the English commanders waited many hours for the fog to lift and then sent their men into the attack across hundreds of yards of open territory in broad sunlight at 10 am
Wide view: Not one tree or blade of grass insight.
Light Horseman, Ion Idriess wrote in his book "Desert Column":
"The brigade and the New Zealanders lined the hills and looked right down into Gaza, its white minarets peeping from the trees that are thick on this side of the town. We halted, because that was the British general’s orders. The infantry were to take Gaza, not us. And we watched a tragic day.
But we massed Australians and New Zealanders for hours were spectators of the fight. It made our hearts bleed. Here we were gazing right down into the city — and not allowed to enter it. Our position was unique, miles of the semicircle battle was spread like a panorama before us.
Stan and I reined in and watched the attack on Ali Muntar through our glasses. The poor Welshmen, coming up the open slopes towards the redoubts were utterly exposed to machine-gun and rifle fire. Shrapnel had merged in a writhing white cloud over the advancing men. They plodded out of a haze of earth and smoke only to disappear into another barrage. It was pitifully sublime. When within close rifle-range, line after line lay down and fired, while other lines ran past them to lie down and fire in turn. And thus they were slowly but so steadily advancing, under terrific fire. Every yard must have seemed death to them. We could see in between the smoke-wreaths that when each line jumped up, it left big gaps. Some thousands of the poor chaps bled on Ali Muntar that day. And the pity of it was they should have advanced in the fog and been saved that slaughter."
Lieutenant Colonel James McCarroll of the NZMR wrote later in his diary:
"I can’t understand what has happened, some one has blundered.
This was the Infantry’s first battle, and had been saved for them."
A 1917 photograph of a Turkish Machine gun Corps on the Tel el Sheria line, Gaza.
Note water cooled jacket on the machine gun housing. [It should be noted also that this photograph
is obviously from a training exercise, and these men would normally present themselves to the enemy in a
better prepared defensive position of at least being dug in as much as possible. The difficulty of making
trenches in such terrian is obvious.