With the Yeomanry in Egypt
On 22nd November 1915 the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars left Gallipoli and sailed back to Egypt. The regiment was gradually brought closer to full strength and within a few months the yeomen were again in action, and this time their horses were with them. The British defence of the Suez Canal was centered on the town of Romani, about 30 kilometres to the east, and reconnaissance and aggressive patrolling of Turkish forward positions typified the work of the hussars during the spring of 1916. Lieutenant Algar Howard described one such patrol in his diary entry of 2nd April:
“. . . The post at Abu-el-Afein has been reconnoitred and found by B squadron, the Turks having left it two hours before. There are no signs of guns. The natives all report that the Turks moved back and our advance guard say they saw 12 go. Meanwhile our aeroplane comes over and drops a message “all clear”. The C.O.decides to move on to Bir-el-Abd at 0900. Bir-el-Abd is where the Turks have formed a market in opposition to ours and they of course collected lot of information from them. We arrive at Bir-el-Abd 1030. I was immediately sent off to destroy and search the first encampment. There was one large hut. We took three sacks of corn and gave it to the native women who are all half starved and were most grateful. We also took a sack of ammunition. We smashed 32 cast iron pumps and burned with paraffin 30 wooden troughs, much timber, 2 syce [groom] tents, various tools and the whole hut, which went off in a splendid blaze.
“. . . In all, the horses travelled over 50 miles in 19 hours. Fortunately, the weather was not too hot. We all regret not having fired a shot but at the same time we accomplished our task exactly as the G.O.C. wished us to. The whole country is desolate except for a few Bedouin women and children and a few very old men, the others all having been taken by the Turks to fight. The former is all half starved and eat any scraps we give them. The rest of the time they spend sifting the chaff they pick up in Camp and thereby pick up a few grains of corn. We are not allowed to interfere with them.”
The Turks got their revenge, however, when they launched a sudden raid on the Camps guarded by “A” Squadron at Qatia and by two squadrons of the Worcestershire Yeomanry at Oghratina on 23rd April, Easter Sunday and St George’s Day. The Worcester squadrons were all but wiped out, and despite the efforts of “B” and “D” squadrons of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars to relieve the outpost at Qatia, the Hussars lost a total of 113 all ranks in killed and wounded and, mostly, prisoners.
Lieutenant Howard was with “D” squadron of the relieving force. A brigade of the Australian Light Horse arrived the following day to relieve the Yeomanry who fell back on Kantara, as Howard noted in his diary:-
“. . . At 12 noon the G.O.C. ordered us to march to Kantara and a brigade of Australian Light Horse arrived to relieve us. Our horses were very exhausted and the men and we arrived at Kantara at midnight. . . . On the way there in the pitch dark Charles Turner halted the Squadron and sent for me, and said he could hear a Maxim firing in front of us. This was very awkward. However, we strengthened our advance guard and settled if attacked to just gallop into the dark and try and get on. However, nothing happened and we got home safely. Meanwhile, the Australians were supposed to go on to Romani and Qatia and attend to our dead and wounded. They got to our camp and looted and took possession of everything we had left – practically all our kit there. Our Brigadier sent up his three servants to recover his kit, but the Colonel there threatened to put them under arrest if they touched it. They did not get to Qatia till Wednesday morning and practically all the wounded they found died of exposure before they got them in. . . .”
The Turks were not to launch another major attack aimed at the seizure of the Suez Canal until August, and this was to prove to be their final attempt. The Battle of Romani opened on 4th August 1916, and the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars were to play their part in holding the line as part of the Anzac Mounted Division, and in the capture of an enemy artillery battery. Brigadier-General Wiggin of 5th Mounted Brigade described the action in his official report:-
“When Col. Yorke’s two squadrons arrived on the ridge they saw below them large numbers of the enemy and four camel guns in emplacements 400 yds in their immediate front. One of his squadron leaders, Lieut. Mitchell, gave orders to concentrate five rounds rapid at each gun in succession, and so knocked out one gun after another by killing or wounding all the gun detachments. I state emphatically that no one took any part in knocking out these guns beyond Lieut. Mitchell’s squadron of the R.G.H. Many Turks then ran forward towards the ridge with white flags and were told to come up. The total prisoners at this point was 450 and the total for the day 500.”
The pursuit of the beaten enemy began the following day and continued across the northern Sinai for the rest of the year, with the Turks fighting repeated rearguard actions. Lieutenant Edgerton Cripps was enjoying himself immensely, following the line of the telegraph poles in the dark with his patrol, during a brief withdrawal. His diary entry for 10th August reads:-
“It was exciting and weird in the dark, feeling you were the only man left behind. Nothing happened and I followed on an hour afterwards and, as the telegraph poles are still up, had no difficulty in finding my way. . . . I lay down and got an hour’s sleep after wandering about on my pony in the dark, trying to find the other outposts. We were relieved in the early morning, came on here, watered and fed and got some tea, biscuit and jam. Had a real slack day: made a good shelter with horse rugs and palm leaves, had a wash and shave and feel cleaner; . . .
“We don’t know what is going to happen to us. We hear the New Zealanders say they would sooner have one regiment of Yeomanry alongside them than a Brigade of Australians. We have got quite a reputation. I tell you this because there are certain people in high places who can’t say anything too bad for us after the “disaster”, which was bad management and nothing to do with us. So I don’t suppose we shall get much credit. It will be interesting to see. Our Anzac General is delighted with us and says all sorts of nice things, and told Ralph we saved the situation at Romani, where we were told to hold on at all costs till the infantry came up in the morning. They will probably send us to rest now if we can be spared. I don’t mind now, but I would not have missed this week’s fighting for anything.”