War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

Ellwood: On one occasion, before the big push north into Palestine it was, when everything had to be hush-hush and we had to treat the natives or the desert Arabs or the Bedouins, or whatever you like to call them, with kid gloves so that they wouldn’t transfer any information to the enemy and all this sort of business, and the division, the unit was camped, not our unit, but I’m not mentioning any names but its interesting, it was camped alongside a village where the Arab, who wasn’t altogether antagonistic to us but he was a thief, very keen on getting possession of our rifles and ammunition, anything like that, it would put him a step above his brother, with the result that they used to sneak into the camp of a night time through the lines – with a big camp you couldn’t have it completely surrounded with a circle of sentries – and if he found, if he was undetected and found people sleeping he’s just sneak up and take their rifle and sneak off with it, you see.

And if you happened to wake up, you were unfortunate enough to wake up while he’s doing it, the next thing you knew he’s have a knife in you. So this went on for quite a while despite orders that we were to treat them with kid gloves, the Bedouin or the native Arab or the desert Arab and they got rather disturbed about it, particularly the New Zealanders. Anyhow to cut a long story short, we complained to headquarters about it and word came back that they had to be treated with respect and all this sort of business on account of the delicate position and the people took it, some of us took in our own hands at the finish, to teach the Arab a lesson. They got together and went through the village one night and chastised those who they found owning rifles belonging to, you know, our people, with the result that the results didn’t please Allenby, it got to his headquarters.

He lined the whole of the division up, the Anzac division, and they were a division that had to be respected, I mean, they’d been through Gallipoli and they’d done, they’d fought as you can see quite a lot of fights. He lined them up, they were a well disciplined crowd and a good crowd and as I say he was one of those fellows that he always galloped everywhere and bullied his way into everything. This was what made him unpopular – and he galloped into the middle of the square and before his staff had put up their horses, he started on us, and he started to abuse us and tell us what a lot of this and that and all the rest of its we were on account of the way we had behaved. Well, the sound, and if you can imagine millions of hives of angry bees, the hum, that come from it, anyhow he read the message an he simply turned on his heel, he thrashed his horse around and jabbed his spurs in, scattered his staff and the last we saw of him was going over a sand hill with his staff and the sequel to it all was this, that this emphasising his lack of popularity, not his ability.

After the war he came out to Australia with a fanfare of trumpets expecting the red carpet and banquets and all the rest of it and within a week he sneaked away quietly back to England again finding out that the Australian Light horsemen had a long memory. That was Allenby. But nobody could say a word about his ability as a soldier. He cleaned up the show, there’s no doubt about that. But as for being popular with the forces, they respected him very very much but his popularity was very low.