London 1918, the Armistice and Gallantry research

London County Council in the Great War 1914 - 1918

LCC index

CHAPTER X.

Egypt and Palestine.

At the outbreak of war with Turkey it was estimated that about 140,000 troops were concentrated at Damascus, and it was anticipated that a part of these would be used for an attempt upon the Suez Canal. It was true that to reach the canal the enemy would have to cross the Sinai Peninsula, a waterless desert 120 miles wide, and that failure would be disastrous. On the other hand the enterprise, if successful, would sever a vital link in the British communications with India and the East, and such a possibility, however remote, had to be guarded against.

At the end of January, 1915, a Turkish column reached El Arish, passed through Wadi-el-Arish, and on 3rd February endeavoured to cross the Canal south of Ismalia. Our troops, fully warned, easily repulsed the attack, killed large numbers of the enemy and took 600 prisoners.

The British now pushed forward a railway from Kantara, and early in 1916 Qatia was reached. In April the Turks tried to interfere with the work but were driven off. In July an expedition of 18,000 men, hugging the coast, made some progress, but, bombarded from British monitors at sea, and harried by mounted troops on its left and rear, it was completely defeated on 4th/5th August with the loss of half its number in casualties and prisoners.

The Senussi of Sollum.

Trouble also arose with the Senussi on the western frontier. These were Arabs, nominally subject to the Turks, and, as they acknowledge in a loose way the religious authority of the Sultan, they were easily aroused against the Infidel. Early in December, 1915, a composite force, which included the 2/7th and 2 /8th Middlesex, occupied Matruh midway between the Nile and the western frontier and defeated the enemy several times in the neighbourhood. A defeat in February, 19 16, at Agagiya, sixty miles to the west, drove them back to Sollum where they were dispersed, with the loss of all their equipment, by armoured cars. Some of the fugitives fled 500 miles to the south-east along the oases which form a rough natural boundary between the desert plateau to the west of the Nile, and the Libyan Desert, and eventually reached the Dakhla oasis, near Upper Egypt. They were driven out in October, 1916, and a remnant which reached the Siwa oasis, 150 miles from Sollum, was defeated in February, 1917.

Palestine.

As a preliminary to the invasion of Palestine the Turks in January, 19 17, were driven out of El Arish and Rafah and the Qatia railway was continued to the latter place. Anticipating an attack they strongly fortified Gaza, Beersheba and the district between the Wadi Ghuzze and the Wadi es Sheria. In March our assault was launched. A few cavalry entered Gaza on the 26th but were cut off and, although the 53rd and part of the 54th Divisions surrounded the town, they were withdrawn a day or so later. On 17th April the attack was renewed, the 53rd Division attacking along the coast with the 52nd and 54th on their right. The assault seems to have been even less successful than the earlier attempt and, after two days' hard fighting, our men were withdrawn.

It was probably in this fighting that Co.-Sergeant-Maj. (afterwards Lieut.) W. A. Trumble (7th Essex, Arch.) was awarded the D.C.M. for his " marked ability and courage in handling his section in two engagements."

R. H. Lunn (Essex, Educ.) was killed near Gaza on 26th March, and M. T. Lucas (2/10th Middx., Educ.) near the same place on 19th April. Lieut. H. J. Payne, (4th Suss., Comp.) and F. A. Toseland (Highd. L.I., Asylums) on their way to Egypt were drowned on 4th May, 1917, when the transport Transylvania was torpedoed in the Mediterranean.

Capture of Gaza and Beersheba.

The Turks took the opportunity to strengthen their defences which were held by ten divisions. General Sir Edmund Allenby, now in command, determined to assault a point to the west of Beersheba where the country was so rugged that the enemy considered elaborate fortifications to be unnecessary. The preparations, which included the construction of many miles of roads and branch railways, the laying of rabbit wire on long stretches of sand so as to provide passable tracks for traffic, and the formation of depots for stores and munitions, occupied three months.

By October all was ready and on the 27th Gaza was heavily bombarded from the land and the sea, while a sortie from the town was beaten off. The enemy's attention being thus concentrated upon the right of his line, the 6oth and 74th Divisions advanced by a night march, and at dawn on the 31st attacked the sector west of Beersheba, By the early afternoon the defences had been breached, and later in the day the town, with 2,000 prisoners, was seized by Australian Horse which had made a wide detour to the east. On 1st November Tuweil-abu- Jerwal, a commanding height north of the town, was occupied by the 53rd Division, and the Tel-Kuweilfe pass, still further to the north, was blocked. Turning west the 10th and 60th Divisions on the 6th captured a sector of the defences towards Gaza, and the 60th at Sheria also cut the railway leading to Jerusalem. The Turks had been held in Gaza by the 52nd Division, which advanced before dawn on the 2nd, but the situation was now desperate and they retreated in disorder along the coast. The town was occupied on the 7th. Thus in one week Gaza and Beersheba were captured, and the enemy was driven out of the whole of the very formidable positions between those two towns. Some 9,000 prisoners and 80 guns were captured.

Corp. G. Kirkby (1st Co. of London Yeo., Educ.) was awarded the D.C.M. for gallantry and devotion to duty at Gaza. " He rendered splendid service during two actions, and on many other occasions, under the most difficult conditions."

C. J. Hitchcock (M.G.C , Educ.) died of wounds on 28th October near Beersheba, John McGrath (2/15th London, Estates and Valn.) was killed near the same place on the 31st, W. J. Howes (10th London, Tram.) near Gaza on 2nd November, Lieut. F J. Miles (R.F.A., Educ.) near Sheria on the 6th, and Bomdr. W. C. Hygate (R.F.A., Tram.) near Sheria on the 7th. P. C. Bernard, wounded on 4th November, died in hospital on 5th March, 1918.

Fall of Jerusalem and Jericho.

The Turks next attempted to make a stand at El Kubab on high ground guarding Jerusalem and the railway thereto, but were driven out by the 52nd Division. Ramleh was seized on the 15th and Jaffa on the 16th, the latter forming a useful base for supplies by sea. The enemy were now hemmed in on the high ground to the east and south-east of Jerusalem. Avoiding any frontal attack on this main position. General Allenby on the 20th seized the Nebi Samwal ridge north of Jerusalem by means of the 75th Division. On 8th December the 53rd Division advanced from the south and east and the 60th and 74th from the west, east and north. Next day the city surrendered and on the 11th it was entered by our victorious troops.

Fresh enemy troops advancing towards the city were driven off on 27th December by yeomanry and the 10th Division and, following up this success, our troops next day pushed the enemy back some miles. Several weeks of rain caused hostilities to be suspended and time was thus given for putting roads and railways into repair. Towards the end of February, 1918, fighting commenced again, and the 60th Division with Anzac horse fought their way towards Jericho which was entered on the 21st.

C. E. West (2/14th London, Educ), wounded on 8th December in the advance upon Jerusalem, died on 28th March, W. J. Templeman (R.F.A., Tram.) died at Cairo on 7th December of malaria or enteric, Lieut. A. E. Pragnell (2/2 1st London, Educ.) was drowned on the 30th when the transport Aragon was torpedoed in the eastern Mediterranean, A. H, B. Barnard (2/15th London, Educ.) was killed on 20th February, 1918, to the north of Jerusalem, C. J. F. Dockett (2/15th London, Comp.) died of wounds on the 21st, and F. B. Neate (2/24th London, Parks) was killed on 9th March.

Raids across the Jordan.

Early in the war many Arab tribes in Hejaz, to the east of the Red Sea, threw off the Turkish suzerainty, which for long they had barely acknowledged, and a force under Feisal, son of the King of Hejaz, in addition to protecting the right flank of Allenby's advance, also attacked various posts between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea and harried the Turkish lines of communication along the railway from Damascus to Mecca.  To assist these columns the 60th Division and Anzacs on 21st March, 1918, forced the passage of the Jordan and pushed on to Es Salt which was occupied on the 25th. Attempts during the next few days to reach the railway in strength failed, but small raiding parties cut it in several places and on 2nd April the troops were withdrawn. On the 30th the attack was renewed when mounted troops again occupied Es Salt and the Goth Division assaulted positions to the south-west. A Turkish counter-attack upon the left flank of the expedition was successful and forced our men to retire with the loss of nine guns. As a set-off nearly one thousand Turks were captured.

Capt. F. V. Harris (10th London, Solr.) won the M.C. on 26th March but no details are available. Co.-Sergeant-Maj. B. C. Hales (2/23rd London, Educ.) was awarded the D.C.M. for his gallantry during the first raid. " He took command of his company, when all the officers had been wounded. Under intense rifle and machine-gun fire he moved fearlessly about, encouraging and organising his much depleted company. Afterwards, he was placed in command of the left of the battalion line, when his courage and resource under heavy fire materially assisted in beating off two strong counter-attacks."

Co.-Sergeant-Maj. S. T. Watson (2/23rd London, Educ.) ' The fighting in the Hejaz cannot be gone into in detail, but the British gave some assistance, and for continuous and consistent good service whilst commanding an armoured car from April 1917, onwards Lieut. E. H. Wade (M.G.C, Tram.) was awarded the M.C. was killed near Es Salt on 28th March, Sergeant A. A. Clements (R.A.V.C, Educ.) near Jericho on 2nd April, and Corp. A. Symons (2/2oth London, Educ), Lance-Corp. H. Osborn (2/i6th London, Educ.) and J. W. H. Woodward (2/2oth London, Comp.) on the 30th.

Battle of Megiddo.
The success of the German offensives in France from March onwards led to the recall of the 52nd and 74th and the bulk of the 60th Divisions, their place being taken by Indian troops, chiefly from Mesopotamia. Large Turkish forces were detached for service in Persia and elsewhere, so that for once the Allies had the advantage in numbers. As soon as his new troops were properly incorporated in the army General Allenby decided to seize the opportunity for overwhelming the enemy in this part. Accordingly on 18th September the 10th and 53rd Divisions made a feint on the right of our line to the north of Jerusalem, and next day the main attack was launched against the enemy's positions on the coastal plain north of Jaffa. This was completely successful; two important lines of defence were overrun, and on the 20th three cavalry divisions, pushing forward through the gap thus formed and wheeling eastward, cut the enemy's lines of retreat at El Afuleh and Beisan and seized the crossings over the Jordan. Liman von Sanders, the German commander-in-chief, narrowly escaped capture at Nazareth, his headquarters. Under attacks by the 10th and 53rd, aided by several Indian divisions, from the south and west the enemy now turned and fled, and, as the main outlets were already held by our troops, escape was possible only for small scattered bodies using the rough and narrow hill tracks. The disorganisation was completed by the airmen who dispersed the fugitives with bombs and machine-gun fire. Such of the enemy as escaped were relentlessly pursued, and Damascus surrendered on 1st October and Beirut on the 7th. In less than three weeks from the opening of the attack 75,000 prisoners (including 3,000 Germans and Austrians) and 300 guns were captured ; out of three Turkish armies only some 17,000 escaped death or capture.

The advance still continued and, as the enemy offered little resistance, progress was rapid. Tripoli surrendered on 13th October and Horns on the 16th, while on the 26th Aleppo and Muslimie, the latter an important railway centre, were captured after a brisk skirmish with enemy rearguards. General Townshend, who had been taken prisoner at Kut, was now released with the request that he would arrange an immediate armistice. This was signed on the 30th when the Turks agreed to open the Dardanelles and Bosphorus, to surrender all prisoners, to demobilise their army and to transfer to the Allies the control of all railways.

During this fighting no members of the Council's staff were killed, but Lieut. W. A. Trumble, D.C.M. (6th Essex, Arch.) died in Egypt on 9th October, and W. Jackson (2/22nd London, Educ.) near Jerusalem of malaria on the 13th, and Corp. E. M. Stiller (R.F.A., Tram.) died in hospital at Alexandria of pneumonia on 14th December.