War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

Ellwood: The desert’s a big place and there a lot of hills in it that are here today and gone tomorrow for camps and I don’t remember the actual place. I can remember an instance when we were chased – a place called Igree, Igree Flat and Igree is the Egyptian word for hurry, Igree is hurry and we, this occasion we had to hurry off this flat. But oh you couldn’t pinpoint, I mean the place was just a mass of desert with an oasis here or there or something else but you’d – it would simply be a spot on your map.

Turnbull: Could you remember where it was roughly between where you’d been last and where you were going to at all.

Ellwood: No, no.

Turnbull: You can’t.

Ellwood: No, no. Because there were so few places of prominence or distinction to take, even to take a bearing you wouldn’t find anything to register on excepting a hillock or a bit of sand dune. The only place where a compass was of much value was at night time with the stars. But on the desert it had to be handled all the time. You couldn’t fix on any different or certain spot you know. You follow? It was just a mass of heat, not heat but a massive area of sand with hillocks here and there and all the rest of it and sometimes you’d go out on reconnaissance in the morning and you’d come back and you’d swear you were coming back over different country. It managed to change size and shape and all sorts of things within 8 or 10 hours and the were something, that’s the strong winds. They were something which were oh, I don’t know how to express it but the dust used to be that thick that you were fortunate if you could see your horses ears. And the only way you could keep contact was by your horse, keeping his head very close and up and off and in the tail of the horse in front of him.

Of course we had people who were noted for their skill probably or something and they had the reputation of being cats that you could throw in the air and always point them – fall on your feet sort of business. They seemed to have a second sight of some description and were able to find their way under any circumstances. I don’t know what it was but certain people had – I can remember one in our brigade who had a reputation of that description. A chap named Wright yes Wright and he had the reputation of somebody you could throw up in the air and he would fall down pointing in the right direction. He seemed to have a second sight of some description. But at night time was the only time that you could move about with any degree of certainty because there was nothing of any distinction topical sort of business you know to denote where you were. The villages were very, very few and far between, hundreds of miles probably in some instances. Occasionally you would see a stray Bedouin on a camel with his family.