War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

Ellwood: The Gaza B was the telling point of the whole war. And it was when the flank at B was turned that the whole war folded up and all we had to do after that was a joy ride not to get too far away from our transport and our supplies and at the same time collect the enemy where we had a dust with them here and there, a bit of a skirmish sort of business, you know. But I forget, I think it was about 36 hours from the time that we left our camp, we had to ride from somewhere about El Arish, I think it was, no that was at . Anyhow, we had to ride about 36 hours till we got to the flank that was where we were up near the coast down to B. and the horse had been conditioned for that and we had been conditioned to go for a long period without water and food and one thing and another. We arrived at Tel el Saba which was the fort for B. It was sitting on the banks of a very deep waddy.

Anyhow, to cut a long story short, we got held up there, the whole of the show got held up. That was the attack from Gaza to B , the whole line, was held up because the left flank wasn’t turned – the enemy’s left flank. And it got to such a state that the commanders were anxious about their horses and watering their horses and one thing and another, they were the main consideration, we could have gone a lot longer but they were worried about that and word was sent back to Allenby that we were held up and that we’d have to retire and get back to water.

By this time a conference had been held, it was being held at headquarters and the brigade commanders were called up there and the regimental commanders were sent to the brigade to take over command while they were away. And there was a big confab of commanders up at headquarters and Chauvel and all the rest of them and word came back from Allenby’s headquarters when it was made known to him that we’d been held up and that we’d have to retire to water our horses and word simply came back from Allenby – “water your horses in Beersheba tonight – no more than that, no less, with the result that the whole thing was put in conference amongst the commanders, the brigade commanders and division commanders and Jimmy Grant, he was the acting brigade commander of the 2nd brigade and he was originally he the leader, the commanding officer of the 11th regiment and he offered to take his regiment around the flank of the Turk to turn and the flank was protected particularly strongly by hills.

It was more mountain goat country than anything else and he offered to take his regiment, not his brigade, they’d be in support of course, he offered to take his regiment around the flank and we couldn’t get the Tel el Saba fort from the front on account of this very deep gully or waddy as we called them, it was, we were held up and Jimmy Grant, Acting Brigadier Grant, he offered to take his show around and it was a very very tough ride, the horses, in some cases were like mountain goats struggling up the sides of mountains to get to the position. Anyhow, he got around and he finished up by the bayonet charge, you know all about that, you read about that, and that was the breaking up of the left flank of the enemy and how it came about, how that charge came about. They were simply told they had to water in Beersheba, and

Jimmy Grant came to the rescue by, it was an adventurous and probably an optimistic way of doing it, but he did it and got away with it. It was a wonderful show, there’s no doubt about it, but you can’t imagine Light horsemen with bayonets fixed on the end of their rifles, they’re heavy things, riding their horses with one hand and carrying the rifle and bayonet in the other and charging across the trenches and that sort of business to clean out the fort and once we cleaned the fort up, of course, it was just a matter of winding the whole show up then. We did finish up by watering in Beersheba that night. That is just a tale attached to it. Is this of interest at all?

Turnbull: Yes, very very much of interest. When Grant offered to do that, were there anyone, any dissenters?

Oh, no, I think they all looked at him with astonishment you know, because it was that difficult that the enemy took no advantage of his … he couldn’t see any disadvantage by not protecting his left flank, you see, that was his rear, on the left flank. It was a wonderful piece of, I don’t know what you’d call it, but Grant deserves a great deal of credit for that and it was a risky thing, a very very difficult thing and a very very brave thing, I thought. The 11th regiment, in my estimation, stands out very very . A couple of other units that I can’t speak enough of, enough praise of, the 13th and the 15th battalion. We happened to be associated with them on Gallipoli and they were in more or less, their area was what we called Queen’s Post and they lost a lot of people there and so did we too on Queen’s Post and they were two very fine battalions. One was Queensland the 15th and the other was a New South Wales battalion, the two very highly regarded.