October 6th 1918

Whilst the papers have been full of the advances being made on the Western Front, General Allenby’s successes in Palestine have also been a feature.

Capt. Billy Collier (RAMC) played a small part in progress on this front over the summer and has kindly sent us an account of an expedition with the Camel Corps to attack the Hedjaz railway, which set out from Akaba on August 2nd.

The column progressed via Rumm towards their objective, the Mudowwara station:

“The station was protected by three redoubts, each on a hill and two parties were to attack the two southern of these from the rear, while a third went for the station… 

One of the most wonderful sights I have seen was our attack on the middle redoubt. Through my glasses, I could see a long line of men, silhouetted against the first light of dawn, as they climbed the hills, and in spite of bombs and rifle fire streamed along the crest without a halt.

Our relief was great when up went the signal for the capture of the southern redoubt, followed quickly by that from the station. From now onwards I was busy with the wounded and I did not reach the station and breakfast till about 11. Here was the Turkish garrison all captured – 6 officers and over 150 men, of whom about 30 were wounded.”

The following day (9th) they moved on, “blowing up the line, the station and the magnificent wells and engines the Turks had built there.” 

By the 14th they had reached Bair and, intent on another scheme of attack, were joined by a new Political Officer:

“We were joined today by Colonel Lawrence as Political Officer and he remained with us, though living for the most part with his own men, practically till the end of the trip. He has a most wonderful influence throughout this country – even, I believe, throughout Arabia and Mesopotamia. In this country he always dresses and generally lives as a Bedouin and has become a sort of ‘great white chief.’ His home is in Oxford.

His party of 50 braves or personal bodyguard arrived on camels the following day, singing and firing their rifles into the air. Firing off a rifle seems to be a popular form of amusement.”

Their plans, however, were discovered by two enemy planes, which flew over them at low altitude.

“Reports were received that our objective was more strongly held than had been anticipated, and this with the fact that we must have been spotted by the aeroplanes decided Col. B and Col. L that the projected attack was too risky.”

On their journey back to Bair, Billy was summoned to tend a British officer who had been accidentally shot:

“When we got there, we found that the bullet had gone through his heart and death must have been almost instantaneous. It appeared that one of Col. Lawrence’s braves had been picking up his rifle from the ground just behind him when it went off accidentally. The rifle had a long loop of string which actually went round the trigger and was no doubt responsible for the accident; in every civilised country it would have been regarded as criminal negligence.”

They made the journey back to Bair without any further alarms, with their rations just about finished.

“The same morning I went on with Col. L and three sick men… We crossed the Hedjaz railway at a destroyed station just before sunset, and for some miles drove up hill and down dale, on a surface of sharp stones, large and small. Luckily we had no punctures and soon after dark we got on to a tolerably level road which brought us at length to Aba el Lissan, the headquarters of the Hedjaz northern army and our own British HQ. We were received with great excitement, for no news of the column had been received since we left Bair 8 days previously.”

I understand that the Lawrence family do indeed live in Oxford – on Polstead Road – not far from the Campbells, with whom they are acquainted.

 

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