Who can the desert's strength subdue?
Pipe, Rail and Road.
Pipe to carry your drink to you;
Rail to speed your rations through;
Road to march on firm and true
Past bir and hod.
So our gunner-poet—and in the main he speaks truth. But the "Road firm and true!" at any rate lived only in his imagination. One does not think that any infantryman would have written that line. Such as ride upon horses can afford imagination. If you walk you come down to facts.
The second stage of our Crusade began on October 12th, when the Battalion marched away from Katib Gannit, this time carrying packs. Officers were allowed 30 lb. valises. And in general our possessions were boiled down and the necessities of life became barer than ever. The first march, an easy one, was to Rabah, and was over by midday—the Battalion furnishing pickets for that night. At 6.30 the next morning we moved off again, reaching Atchan at 11, where a halt was made and
tea issued. Off again at 1.15, we reached Abu Afein in a couple of hours, having covered twelve miles of heavy going with the "loss" of eighteen men, of whom ten had heat exhaustion and three colic. On the 14th we reached Bir el Abd.
We have inserted a large number of place names in this narrative, not because the names are famous or to be found in any but a very large scale map, nor because there was even anything at these places to justify their having names at all, but because each little group of cacophonous Arabic words will call up to those who were with us memories and mental pictures of incidents and scenes, otherwise forgotten. Beduin place names too have a charm of their own. Hod um Ugba for
instance—officially translated as "the depression in the sand full of palm trees of Mother Ugba." When we visited it, it was almost equally full of dead horses. It was pathetic to think of old Mother Ugba squatting in a concentration camp on the Canal and dreaming of the obscure charms of her beloved hod! One hopes she is back in it by now with Fathers Hamra and Jeheira and the rest, and we at any rate will never disturb them more. Or was Mother Ugba some mythical heroine of
those great days when the armies of Egypt and of Asia moved through the desert to fight and plunder—and the Beduin hung on their flanks and cut up the wounded on either side indiscriminately, just as they do now. Or did she lead her tribe in the host of Saladin against the Crusaders and let the Saracens down as treacherously as she ambushed the Christians. Old de Joinville in his thirteenth century Chronicle of the Crusades has much to say of the Beduin. "Their belief is," he
tells us, "that no man can die save on the day appointed and for this reason they will not wear armor." Recalling Palestine in the summer one can think of other very good reasons for not wearing armor! Their place names do not seem to have had much attraction for the Crusading chronicler, but perhaps he felt rather doubtful of the spelling and he had no ordnance survey map to guide him.
Bir el Abd was much the same as any other bit of desert, save that the higher sand hills were lacking, the country consisting of rolling slopes of no great elevation well spotted with scrub. It boasted a fine breed of chameleon, and we also found a number of little tortoises, which were pressed into the service to give a bit of sport! Tortoise racing was a slow business, but eminently sporting, because the tortoise is so splendidly unreliable. On one occasion one of the
competitors in a big sweepstake was discovered to consist of a shell only—the tortoise who had once dwelt therein having died and turned to dust. In consideration of this it was given a start of six inches, but long odds were offered against it. However, at the end of the time limit—eight minutes—no competitor had moved at all, so that the tortoiseless one was adjudged the winner amid great applause.
Soon after our arrival we took over from the 7th S.R. as a reserve battalion and on the 23rd we took over a section of the outpost line itself. Bir el Abd was now the most forward infantry post. It was half-way between Kantara and el Arish—so that the "spear head" of the offensive defensive was making good progress. It was defended by a great ring of outpost positions, each held by a platoon or so, usually with another platoon in support. Night after night we slept in clothes
and boots, with our equipment on us, and woke at intervals to peer into the dark for an hour, or see that others peered—then two more hours' sleep and another turn of duty—and so on till we were called for stand-to—variously at three, four, five or six a.m., as the season changed. Then we all stood ready, rifles loaded and bayonets fixed, denied cigarettes or conversation, lest our positions be given away to an approaching enemy, who would not naturally be familiar with them
as he would in trench warfare, while the horizon in front of us grew lighter, till at last the desolate world revealed itself, empty as ever and, to the jaundiced eye of a fasting man, utterly abominable. And all the time the nearest Turk would be a camel outpost twenty miles away. Of course they might have come. When utterly fed up we would remind ourselves of the R.S.F. and the Turks who appeared before their pickets in a misty dawn in April. But to us they never did come.
And the effort to be always ready, with so little hope of ever having any reward, was a real test of discipline—continuing as it did month after month in a country where unrelieved monotony tempted us all to the slackness of utter boredom.
The men were extremely badly off for washing water, and dirty bodies and dirty clothes were neither pleasant nor healthy. But there was no help for it. Sometimes a prowling officer would discover a little used well in some hod within marching distance, where the well-guard—for in Sinai you do not leave wells unguarded for any chance comer to draw a bucket of precious water—was amenable to tactful suggestion, or to which the Brigade could give us the entrée by some mystic
chit. Then we would go forth with our kits and letting down biscuit tins would draw up a supply of the brackish fluid, which we would pour into little holes dug in the sand and covered with a waterproof sheet. Then a leisurely undressing and a hopeless effort to soap oneself—soap will not lather in brackish water—and a delicious coolness as a comrade poured a tinful down one's back. Under garments would be rinsed and beaten out, and the party would hasten back to the bivouac,
and let someone else have a go. But there were long periods when a man could do no more than save a canteen lid full from his water bottle to get a shave, and there is no doubt that the lack of washing water aggravated the septic sores which afflicted the great majority. Wherever the skin was exposed on face, hands, arms and knees, any little cut or abrasion would fester till a big and painful sore had risen from the tiniest scratch. And with many men, however carefully they
were dressed and bandaged to exclude the flies, they would not heal—or if they did another crop sprang up to take their places. It was a real hardship to have to dig with hands thus marked, but one that the men put up with with surprising cheerfulness. In fact, however septic, dirty, dull, hot or tired they might be, they never failed to find something to laugh at, something to argue over, and something to hope for.
On the 27th of October the Brigade moved forward again to Salmana, just south of the great flat expanse of the dried up Lake Bardawil. Four hours' heavy marching brought each company to its position in a new outpost line, and we proceeded to dig positions with such effect that by nightfall 500 yards of trench were ready for occupation. Barbed wire and extra tools were brought up from Bardawil station by tired camels, and tired camels are if possible more exasperating than
fresh camels, especially to tired men. On the 29th the Commander-in-Chief rode round our new line, which was by this time in good order, and the spear-head had again been pushed a mile or two nearer the Promised Land. It was at Salmana we received instructions issued by G.H.Q. and carefully passed on to battalions by the intermediate staffs to report immediately all submarines observed, stating time and direction proceeding. This put us on our mettle and the desert was
carefully watched without success on our part, but a neighboring unit was able to report a submarine moving north across Sabkhet Bardawil. The information was acknowledged with thanks and it was then stated we could relax our vigilance as the message was only for troops on the sea-coast.
On the 3rd of November the first heavy storm descended on us, sheets of rain with thunder and lightning. The only protection against this new, but henceforward all too common form of Sinaitic frightfulness, was the blanket bivouac, and a blanket thoroughly soaked by the deluge was a poor covering for the now chilly nights. Fortunately the storms were usually succeeded by sunshine, and if they came in the earlier part of the day there was a chance of things being dried again
before dusk. If they came at night you could always look forward to the day.
The Battalion remained in the Salmana area, with several changes of camp, until November 21st, when it returned to el Abd with the 7th H.L.I, to take over the defenses of that place, by now a railway depot of some importance. Local defenses of all important points along the railway had always to be carefully maintained. There would be plenty of warning of a strong attack from the east as there had been in August. But a raid by men mounted on camels might have come unheralded
from the south, and had such a raid succeeded in cutting the line, burning the stores, and wasting the water, say at el Abd, the British advance would have been greatly retarded. We therefore continued our nocturnal vigils on the ridges which encircled the station. The nights were now extremely chilly, but the flies had not yet succumbed. They swarmed everywhere, and the discovery of a dead camel an inch or two under the sand in "A" Company's bivouac area rejoiced their
pestilential hearts. It is the immemorial custom of the desert not to bury dead camels or horses but to let them lie. Then you know where you are and the sun soon cooks the carcasses till they become inoffensive. This is, however, repugnant to the tidy minds of European sanitary experts, who give orders for the burial of the deceased. The wiser Egyptian is overruled and has to do the burying. Now it takes a simply monstrous hole to hold a camel, and the result of the clash of
English and Egyptian ideas is a very imperfectly buried carcass, just covered from the beneficent influence of the sun, but filling the surrounding air with its disgusting aroma.
It was during this second stay at Bir el Abd that the Bint joined us—rescued for fifty piastres from the unworthy hands of a Port Said native by Lieut. Agnew. It was always a matter of surprise to the present writer that so many failed to pierce the bizarre exterior of this amiable ape and to reach to the warm heart and sweet temper within. Perhaps a certain savagery of attack and brutality in the use of the teeth misled them. But what affectionate solicitude would she
display as she minutely examined every inch of a human friend in an effort to exterminate those little typhoid carriers. What courage when she entered the tent of a General at el Arish and helped herself to a drink from the great one's basin. With what élan did she consequently rout a scandalized A.D.C. and with what skill, giving ground before reinforcements from the staff, did she fly up the biggest palm tree in the sacred enclosure. With what fortitude did she share our
hard times when water was scarce or rations late. How sweetly, in a French billet, did she accept the offerings of the children—and how natural her ferocious attack on these same children after she had been extremely sick as a result of a mixed diet of chocolate and cherries to which they had tempted her. And did she not suffer indignities enough to sour the sweetest disposition. Think of being tied to the saddle of a huge and smelly camel, whose gait made her sea-sick, for a
long day's marching. No wonder her piteous screams rent the air. And then when someone had loosed her from this uncomfortable eminence—think how cruel it must have seemed to her that friend after friend, sweating along in the sand, should repulse with evil words her amiable desire to add herself to the weight of pack and equipment for a ride on his shoulder, till she was forced to give in and hop along "on her own steam" in the hot dust. She did not always remain a front line
monkey, but with the transport she went through all the fighting in Palestine and then accompanied the Battalion to France. At last, bereft successively by the chances of war of all her best friends, she somehow drifted to Glasgow and is now believed to be living in a traveling menagerie. We can only hope that she wears the war medal she has earned and is treated with proper respect, and we are confident that she still lives up to her great motto—Nemo me impune lacessit.
All this time there was no drain of casualties, and remarkably little sickness. Inoculations were frequent and to judge by results very successful. Cholera inoculation was the mildest, typhoid or paratyphoid sometimes gave sore arms and headaches, tetanus only the wounded received and it was far the worst of the lot, but any one who has seen a man die of tetanus is not likely to complain. On an inoculation day the doctor had his chance, and we tried to establish cordial
relations with the medical department as soon as orders for the débacle appeared. The ceremony was always the same. The men were paraded by companies with their pay books, and shepherded into alphabetical order. Officers went first, in order, as they thought, to set the men a good example, and as the men thought, not to have to stand waiting in the sun. At the tent door—for a tent was usually borrowed from somewhere to give decency and privacy to the rites—an acolyte dabbed a
large yellow patch of iodine on the victim's arm. Moving into the superheated shrine, he assisted Sergt. Lyon to tick off his name on the nominal roll, and then approached the M.O. Some doctors were bland and cheerful, others humorous, others strictly businesslike, but they all knew that this was their chance to pay off old scores. By using the sharp needle or the blunt one, and varying the angle of the stick in, they could adapt their onslaught to their personal opinion of
the victim, and as a final insult in very bad cases, could observe as they pushed it home, "What a thick skin you have got."
Constant small drafts had increased our strength and the Battalion numbered about 30 officers and 800 other ranks when it was relieved by part of the 54th Division and started on a further advance to the east. These perpetual moves were far more complicated than the ordinary shifts from reserve to trenches in France, where convenient dumps and exchanges of tools and ammunition with the relieved troops, greatly decreased the labor, while wheeled transport and motor lorries
enabled one to retain many of the appliances of civilized life. The soldier on service, even in a desert, has a wonderful way of acquiring possessions, and every time we moved we were faced with the total loss of our dearest treasures. A heavy parcel mail usually arrived the day before, and we had to overeat ourselves or dump. Each company mess cherished a few bits of straw matting and some poles, found or stolen, with which they rigged up a precarious shelter wherein to eat
their meals, sitting in state on sand-bag seats at a table of sand covered with a waterproof sheet. Must these be abandoned and the bereaved officers feed in the open? A thousand times no. But there were no extra camels—the company camel would already be over-weighted by the mess box and X.'s valise—with its extra blanket and extravagant under-clothing. Great would be the searching's of heart. Still everything always came right in the end—the Brigade sent us some "buckshee"
camels at the eleventh hour, or at worst we got permission to send some stuff by train, when it could be delivered in due course somewhere within reach. Something always did have to go by train anyway, for we had now a second blanket per man, and there were not enough camels to carry these, so that round about a move the men had a succession of cold nights, after the second blanket had gone on, before it could be brought up to the new area.
Camel Lines, El Arish
Long before dawn on a "mobile" day we would rise in the chilly dark—it was still worse if we were on outpost to boot—and raucous voices would be heard bidding "No. 3 Platoon, hurry up with those blankets," or "No. 12, fall in for water issue." The blankets carried by camels had to be rolled lengthways in bundles of ten, and the rolls were then tied on to the camel saddle, where the outer ones brushed the flanks of that smelly and freely perspiring creature. Breakfast would be
issued—a half canteen of tea and a bit of ham, taken delicately from the fingers of the orderly man, as he fished it out from the dixie lid—a small enough bit it was, too, most mornings. One orderly officer still remembers the impassioned complaint of a hungry soldier who "wouldn't insult his youngest child by offering it a meal of that size." And how these wonderful people, the orderly men, ever managed to divide up their meager supply to a ravening company before daylight,
when half the men were engaged on various fatigues—no one but themselves can tell. Then a hasty loading of camels, and putting on of equipment, and we would fall in as the day began to break. Company parade and a wait, a move to battalion parade and a wait, then to Brigade rendezvous if the whole Brigade were on the move, and another wait, till the pack seemed dragging at the shoulders like a living thing before the regularly divided hours of march and halt began. The sun
came up and it grew hot, and at a convenient halt the men would remove the cardigan they had put on in the shivery hours of darkness. Hotter and hotter but not so thirsty these days, for we were more acclimatized and this was winter. At last a call for company commanders and they would ride forward to get the bivouac areas allotted to them—for these things were arranged beforehand now—we did not sit and grill in the sun while the Staff dealt with the question. On arrival
platoon commanders got their areas from the company commander, and explained to their men that they might bivouac "between that clump of scrub and that mound." Arms piled, equipment taken off, a rush for the most desirable sites, fatigue parties detailed to unload, and the cooks set to work to produce tea or heat the Maconochies. Hard words over a missing roll of blankets, bitter complaints at the loss of someone's bivouac pole, arguments between the loading party and the
escort who "had had to reload six camels by the way," a little digging of trenches for the night outposts—and so ends another dull day with the same business often to be repeated on the morrow.
On December 4th we moved forward again to Salmana, three days later to Abu Tilul, and the next day to Bir el Mazar, twenty-five miles west of el Arish. Part of these mobiles lay over Sabkhet, where it was possible to keep step and the pipers attached to each company could amaze the desert rats with alien music. The hard work fell on the flank guards, who had to move over heavy sand and to keep up with the column rejoicing in the better going, and putting on the pace
accordingly. The sun at this time of the year was not so fierce that balmorals could not be worn with safety all day, but sun helmets were still retained, and had to be worn whenever we moved, there being no other way of carrying them. We were allowed a good deal of latitude in the matter of the tunic and a man might choose whether he would increase the warmth of his body by wearing it, or the load on his back by putting it in his pack. Water sterilizers were part of each
man's kit—in order that in the event of his having to drink unauthorized well water he should be able to kill off some of the more ferocious bacilli likely to be found therein. They were contained in glass bottles, which were easily broken in the pack, and the little tablets, especially when damp, showed the most extraordinary power of eating holes in the kit, and even of making their way through the pack itself, till it looked as if it had been partially burnt. As damaged
articles could not be quickly replaced, a ragged pack often added to the bizarre aspect of the British soldier, with his dew-whitened helmet, squashed out of all decent shape, shirt of varied hue rolled back from sunburnt chest and arms usually marked by a dirty white bandage or two, drill shorts stained, blackened and often torn, bare knees, puttees and rather disreputable boots. It is said that General Allenby when he took over the E.E.F. was much shocked at the sartorial
appearance of the infantry. We must indeed have afforded a sad contrast to the cavalry in France, but the conditions of life certainly did not lend themselves to spit and polish.
Of El Mazar there is little to record. The country was getting more and more hilly, the sand ridges running roughly parallel N.W. to S.E. On the western side they presented long gentle slopes, very trying to scale, while on the eastern they fell sharply into the succeeding valley, so that the well-earned down hill was over in a minute of scrambling over the boot tops in a cascade of sand. Camels could only take these steep slopes at an angle, and it was often very difficult
to get them and the Lewis gun pack mules along. The night we arrived at Mazar was memorable on account of our divisional pipe band and the band of the 42nd Division both playing at the same time during mess at their respective headquarters which were a very short distance apart and both only about a mile in rear of the outpost line. A few nights previous Brigade Headquarters issued an order that all nocturnal noises must be immediately reported and steps taken to stop such
noise. This probably referred to the camel drivers who had a habit of singing native chants far into the night and consequently disturbed the rest of those who wished to sleep. However, this opportunity could not be missed. The C.O. drafted a message which was at once signaled to Brigade Headquarters as follows: "Listening Post reports nocturnal noises vicinity of Division Headquarters. What action is to be taken?" The Brigade reply which arrived a few minutes later was very
brief and pointed; it ran, "Put the cork in the bottle."
All thought now centered on the taking of el Arish, some twenty-five miles further east, and well protected by Turkish trenches cleverly reverted with scrub, and dress rehearsals were held in which the whole force took part, and which meant a good deal of heavy marching. Between Mazar and el Arish lay a big belt of country where water could not be obtained even by well digging, so that not only men but camels and horses had to be watered from supplies brought up by rail and
stored in great canvas covered tanks. The provision of a sufficient quantity to supply the force for a number of days was thus the condition of a successful advance. On December 16th we moved forward to el Maadan, Kilo 128 on the railway, a march of twelve miles, which owing to the difficult country Colonel Morrison noted as "probably the most fatiguing the Battalion has yet undertaken." Here the outpost line was held by the 42nd Division and we were engaged on digging and
road making. The latter operation consisted in cutting scrub and flattening out a track at a reasonable gradient. On this long rows of ordinary rabbit wire netting were pegged down four abreast and the result was a "road" which very greatly increased the pace and extent of infantry marching. The wire prevented a man from sinking into the sand and was comfortable enough to walk on, if one was careful not to catch one's toes. Unfortunately these roads followed and did not
precede the force, and the 52nd Division usually formed the leading infantry, with the result that the Battalion never had the advantage of them for a "mobile" until after el Arish was passed, and then only for a few miles.
On December 20th we moved to Kilo 129 and took over a bit of the outpost line from the 6th Manchesters and that evening we occupied the trenches in orderly silence as usual. Sentry groups were put out, rifles loaded and all hope of a smoke put away till the dawn. As darkness fell, however, there appeared from the westward a great cloud of dust and columns of mounted men, and Horse Artillery, their gun-wheels broadened with pedrails, moved through our line and proceeded to
camp immediately in front of our silent and alert sentries. They off-saddled and huge fires sprang up like magic, great columns of tired horses moved backwards and forwards to water, and the air was filled with the cheerful din of Australian talk and song. Rumors had been floating about all day that the Turks were evacuating and the sudden arrival of the cavalry left little doubt as to their truth. The pressing problem for the officer was how to explain to his scandalized men
that the Anzacs were not violating all the rules of properly conducted warfare. This was done by postulating far flung cavalry outposts in the dim distance. One has often wondered whether they existed except in our imaginations; but the Anzac likes to conduct war in his own way, and if somewhat casual about details, many a Turk will witness that he has a firm grasp on the essentials. We felt justified in relaxing somewhat our usual vigilance and spent a peaceful night. Long
before dawn, however, the cavalry had moved off with uncanny speed and quietness, and surrounded el Arish before daylight, after a brilliant ride over unknown, unmapped, and very difficult country in the dark. Within the next few days they attacked the Turks at Maghdaba and Rafa—each thirty miles from el Arish—inflicting heavy defeats and capturing many prisoners in each case. The story of all this has been well told by Mr. Massy in The Desert Campaigns. But the unhappy
infantry had of necessity to be left out.
One great service the cavalry invasion did render us. The Australian light horseman has the bump of acquisitiveness even better developed than the Lowland infantryman, and having a horse on which he can hang his trophies he can give this penchant greater scope. But when he is going into action—or believes himself to be—he unhesitatingly sacrifices all that will incommode him in the serious business of war. In consequence the ground recently vacated appeared at dawn to our
astonished eyes covered with a litter of discarded possessions. When we moved camp it was our honorable custom to pick up and burn or bury every tin, every fragment of paper and every match and cigarette end and to leave the desert swept and garnished as we found it—or better. So our first thought was one of scandalized amazement at the extreme untidiness of the business. Our next was less disinterested. We were on mobile rations, bully, biscuit, milk and jam. Vegetables and
the "wee piece ham" had disappeared. Surely Australians did not live like that. Nor were we disappointed. Foraging parties returned laden with sides of bacon, cheese, bread, Maconochies, sacks of onions and desiccated vegetables, enough to make us quite certain of a full meal on Christmas Day, so long as we did not move in the interval. Nor was this all. Folding benches and tables, matting and bivouac poles, frying pans and canvas buckets, books and tobacco, a watch and even
a real live horse were discovered—all the things which stand for wealth among such a primitive tribe as we then were. It is rumored that hot and blasphemous Australian Quartermaster-Sergeants rode back that evening to retrieve some of their property. Well, they did not find it all. People who like bacon shouldn't leave it lying in deserts in front of hungry Scotchmen.
Our own orders to advance were cancelled, and we stopped on at Maadan. The evacuation of el Arish was rather an anti-climax. No one wants another war, and it would not be honest to pretend that we were all fire-eaters living for nothing but the joy of a scrap. At the same time a life of dreary monotony on a dead land becomes more endurable when there is the hope of coming excitement and the spur to effort of a definite place to be won. And when a man is keyed up to the idea
of a fight, life seems dull and flat if he is suddenly told that it will not come off.
The weather, however, did its best to give us something to think about. It rained most nights, with thunder and lightning accompaniments, and the damp and dismal hours of darkness seemed endless in the exposed piquet's. Save for the Australian loot it looked like a fasting Christmas. Parcel mails could not be sent up, for every camel was required to convey food and fodder on to the cavalry. The cigarette ration was behindhand and most of the men were without a smoke. The
officers could torture themselves with the thought of five turkeys ordered in Port Said and unlimited mess stores lying sixty miles away at Romani. But at the last moment all was changed. A parcel mail came in—and the specter of bully unrelieved vanished—the five turkeys, personally conducted by a versatile officer's servant, made their appearance—together with sufficient Daily Telegraph plum puddings for every one to get a piece, and last but not least, a determined
Brigadier held up a ration convoy, and refused to let it through until he obtained enough cigarettes for a small issue to the Brigade. This action increased the sympathy which all felt for a tragedy which afflicted Brigade Headquarters at this time. Their live turkey shepherded up the line with extreme difficulty, suddenly, though perhaps not unjustifiably, died before any one had time to kill it. Captain Kennedy was immediately summoned to conduct a post mortem and had
regretfully to decide that it was not fit for human consumption, adding however that if it were sent up to our headquarters they would make quite sure.
So there was some attempt at Christmas cheer in the holes in the sand into which the weather had driven us, for we who had once set our bivouacs to catch every breath of wind, now dug ourselves down three or four feet to avoid the sand-laden and icy blast. (We were thus also admirably protected against the bombing raids of the Turk's aeroplanes.) The three outpost companies had their vigil cheered by the distant drums and fifes of an English battalion playing "While shepherds
watched their flocks by night—all seated on the ground," and felt a new and poignant sympathy with those whose watch must have been so like our own.
The great spell of Christmas seemed even to have touched the hearts of G.H.Q. for on Christmas Eve the C.O. received a wire through Brigade to ask "How many of your officers have wives in Egypt?" He was compelled to reply that no officer had managed the feat suggested. But it is nice to speculate on how the staff in Cairo, who doubtless had, felt their hearts go out to their less fortunate brethren of the fighting forces and how they hatched a plan for special private wires
from wife to husband at this season of goodwill. Let no cynic obtrude other motives for that famous telegram.
Baggage Camels On Shore Near El Arish
On December 29th we moved forward again to Kilo 139, near Abu Feleifil. We left behind us Captain Wightman as Post Commandant at Kilo 128, a position which he held with true Scottish tenacity long after the whole post had melted away, and he had no one to command except his batman, another of the same bull-dog breed. He only admitted defeat when the last of the water in the canvas tanks was consumed, and the passing ration train had given up leaving anything for him to eat,
and steamed past the forgotten post with a derisive whistle. At 139 we enjoyed heavy rain storms, bleak cold days, and a tearing wind; which raised a sand-storm as soon as the rain had sunk in. We were, however, free of outpost duty on the 31st and able to take off our boots at night for the first time for a fortnight, and a surprising number of us were able to celebrate the new year with a nip of something better than chlorinated water. On the 5th we took the outpost line
again, but in the interval we did several route marches and saw the excellent Turkish trenches at Masaid among palm trees, growing scattered over a wide area, quite unlike the little concentrated hods with which we were familiar. We were now only a mile or two from the sea, and the roar of the surf reached us day and night, but bathing had lost much of its attraction with the change of weather and was even rather dangerous. On one day the sand-storm was so bad that it was
impossible to leave camp. Anything left in the open was rapidly buried, and our food and drink, our ears and eyes and mouths were kept full of grit for twenty-four hours.
On January 8th we were off again and moving down to the coast, marched on to el Arish. The going was naturally very heavy, but we thus avoided the almost impassable jumble of high sand-dunes inland. On that day the Anzac cavalry passed us on their way to fight at Rafa, riding down the beach in long lines, and making a very impressive sight. The effect was rather spoilt by the inconsiderate attentions of some Turkish planes but no harm was done. We reached our bivouac area
south of el Arish about two. It is a curious commentary on the complaints of the cold that we have just voiced, that the men of a new draft reached el Arish, running with sweat and vowing they had never been so hot in their lives, in spite of being in shirt sleeves, while the rest of us wore our tunics, and were hardly even thirsty.
The Fifth Battalion, Highland Light Infantry
The Fifth Battalion, Highland Light Infantry in the War 1914-1918