Allenby’s Gunners – Review

World War I and the Sinai campaign gave us Lawrence of Arabia; King Faisal of Iraq; King Hussain and the Arab revolt from Ottoman rule; the Charge of the Australian Light Horse; and the advance on Damascus. It also gave us broken promises and a carve up of the Middle East which arguably has resulted in problems that we still have today.

General Sir Edmund Allenby led the force that marched on Damascus. The force included Australian, New Zealand and British mounted contingents, British infantry and artillery and an Arab army under the command of Ḥussain’s son Faiṣal, formed in the Hejaz, with Syrian and other Arab officers and British help led by T.E. Lawrence.

Peter O’Toole along with T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom have immortalised the Arab contribution to the campaign; the Charge of the Australian Light Horse has focused the Cavalry contribution to the campaign; the taking of the railway was an Arab contribution; and the taking of the towns and wadis has shown the infantry contribution for those that marched along with the columns. The arm overlooked in the past, however, has been the artillery that took part in the campaigns.

Allenby’s Gunners – Artillery in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns 1916-1918 by Alan Smith published by Pen & Sword Military on 6 December 2017 (ISBN: 9781526714657) does much to set the record straight.

Alan Smith is an Australian author, the book first being published in Australia by Blue Sky Publishing before being picked up by Pen and Sword Military and being exposed to a wider audience.

The book is very well laid out with the Table of Contents listing the photographs; maps; and tables before the Foreword. A Preface then follows after which are Notes on Sources; Abbreviations used; and Map Legend. The main part of the book is then broken up into three broad sections or Narratives, with Narrative One providing the Background to April 1916. Narrative Two covers the period November 1917 to May 1918 and Narrative Three covers May 1918 to November 1918 and the end of the war. There are then 8 appendices; endnotes; bibliography; and an index.

Each of the Narratives is then further broken up into bite sized chunks. For example, Narrative Two covers:

  • The Great Northern Drive
  • The drive north to Junction Station
  • Allenby takes Jerusalem
  • The Northern Front and the defence of Jerusalem
  • The capture of Jericho
  • The Amman raid and the first Es Salt affair
  • The April 1918 battles of XX Corps and XXI Corps
  • The second Es Salt raid
  • The Northern Front 1. Wadi Auja: 18 March 1918
  • Summer in the Jordan Valley

The narratives are easy to read and flow well. The layout of the book makes browsing easy and it is a simple matter to look into particular areas of interest. In addition to the written content of the chapters, Smith has provided relevant illustrations at various stages through the book.

For example, Chapter 22, The Northern Front 1. Wadi Auja: 18 March 1918 is four pages long and contains image 16: the Abu Tellul feature which was the objective of Allenby’s planned advance in the area, with the capture of the Wadi Auja and its waters, designed to dishearten the Turks further. Smith carries the narrative well but doesn’t lose sight of the objective of the book, which is to discuss Allenby’s Gunners, the artillery arm of Alenby’s forces.

So Smith discusses Bulfins XXI Corps which went into the attack with:

  • 52nd (Lowland); 54th (East Anglian) and 75th divisions and XXI Corp Cavalry
  • XXI Corps Artillery under Brigadier Williamson-Oswald:
    • 100th Heavy Group (15th and 181st batteries plus one section of the 43rd Siege Battery)
    • 102nd Heavy Group (189th, 202nd and 380th siege batteries with one section of the 43rd and another of the 304th siege batteries)
    • 95th Heavy Group (209th Siege Battery and one section each of the 134th and 304th siege batteries)
  • Under command 75th Division – one section  of the 134th Siege Battery , tractor drawn

Smith describes the assault and the contribution of the batteries to the assault. For example, he notes:

The infantry’s objective was the line of Wadi Deir Ballut. Farndale notes that ‘there were good positions for the artillery’, recognising also the impressive road building efforts of the RE field companies and infantry working parties to move the guns forward. On one such road to Abud, the 177nd Brigade RFA advanced by leapfrogging batteries.

The action overall was successful with the artillery-infantry cooperation.

The research Smith has put into this work is remarkable but importantly Smith does not lose sight of the object of the book, which is to cover the contribution of the artillery to the campaign. Artillery was key to the success of the campaigns in the Middle East. Best is that this book is written by an Aussie who is capable of looking at the campaign as a whole and the contributions of all arms without being tied up by the jingoism around the Australian Light Horse charge at Beersheba.


This book has re-sparked an interest in me in the Sinai and Palestine Campaigns of 1916 to 1918 as well as a desire to look further now at the carving up of the Middle East by the British and French post war.

Mr Smith, you have written a remarkable history and I commend you for it. It is a book I will refer to again many times in the coming years. And hour to spare, a narrative to read. Well written, I have no hesitation in recommending this book to anybody with an interest in Military History.

Rugby World Cup 2011

I don’t often comment on sport but sometimes you just have to.

I enjoyed the Rugby games over the weekend, admired the plucky efforts of Italy to be 6-6 with the Wallabies at half time then breathed a sigh of relief as the Wallabies climbed back on top in the second half. I thoroughly enjoyed the USA v Ireland game and feel that if the USA could manage to play some more meaningful internationals each year they will become a force in world rugby, especially as the US have two Olympic Gold Medals for Rugby ((France won the first and Australasia (Austrlaia and New Zealand) won the second)).

Japan, always entertaining, the island teams – Fiji, Tonga and Samoa – exciting to watch as always. I am curious to see the efforts of Russia, Georgia and Namibia.

It is the All Blacks though that I am interested in at the moment. They won the very first Rugby World Cup and, well, that’s it. They’ve almost won the Webb Ellis trophy a couple of other times but heroically have managed to fail. The following sums it up:

With the Cameliers in Palestine

And I know, “Cameliers” should be spelled “Cameleers” but hey, it is the English of 1938 and there were not too many spellings of Cameleers in New Zealand at the time, unlike in Australia where we had and continue to have a reasonable population of the beasts.

Anyway, the point of this post is not the misspelling of a word on the title of the book With the Cameliers in Palestine by John Robertson ((Robertson was formerly of the Fourth battalion of the Imperial Camel Brigade, temporary Major of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and the Assistant-Director of Education to the New Zealand Mounted Brigade in Egypt)) but rather to highlight an online resource provided by the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand called the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre. This is a wonderful resource with some fine research material available, especially for World War 1 and World War 2 and the role of New Zealand in those conflicts. The resource centre has placed books online as well as making some of them available as downloads in XML format or Microsoft eReader format. As an example, two excerpts from With Cameliers in Palestine which writes about the Imperial Camel Corps (I.C.C.) are below:

During a part of 1916 and 1917, an Australian detachment of the I.C.C. patrolled the Oases of Baharia, Dakhla, and Kharga, which are situated west of the River Nile, and some two hundred, and three hundred and seventy miles from its mouth. They are a part of the Great Sahara Desert that extends across the whole of Africa to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It was across this country that Cambyses, the Persian conqueror of Egypt, in 525 b.c. sent an army of fifty thousand men to try to capture Siwa. The whole force disappeared into the desert waste, and from that day to this no trace of it has ever been discovered. The desert as well as the ocean can keep its secrets. The Persians were either overwhelmed by a violent sandstorm, or lost their way and died of hunger and thirst in the desert.

Some of the Australians came up to the I.C.C. Detail Camp at Abbassia in March, 1917, after having been on desert patrols for some months, during which time they had very few opportunities of drawing or spending their pay. Their clothes and equipment were faded and worn out; they were dying with thirst, and the joys of Cairo awaited them. The camp wet canteen ran dry in an hour or two, and then they adjourned to the city. A double guard had to be put on the guardroom that night in the camp, and the accommodation was taxed to its utmost before morning. In a short time the camp authorities decided it would be best for all concerned if these troops once more adjourned to the silent wastes, and the Cameliers moved off into the unknown.

This sort of fits well with the reputation of the Australian troops in the conflict. A further note in this work that ties back to the exhibition at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra earlier this year about Lawrence of Arabia and the Light Horse:

Another detachment of the I.C.C., consisting of fifty Australians with two machine-guns, made an interesting reconnaissance to Jebel Musa (Mount Sinai) in the south of the Sinai Peninsula, while in July, 1918, two British companies, three hundred strong under Colonel Buxton, marched across the Sinai Peninsula to Akaba on the eastern branch of the end of the Red Sea. There they joined up with Colonel Lawrence and his Arab forces, and trekked north parallel with the Hedjaz railway to the neighbourhood of Amman, and from there made their way back to Beersheba in the south of Palestine.

So, a site well worth visiting. Tomorrow’s lunch reading will be The Samoa (N.Z.) Expeditionary Force 1914–1915 by Stephen John Smith.

Enjoy the reading!

Emirates Airlines

I had to slip across to New Zealand on the return to Australia from Mongolia (now there is a flight route for you). Talking to the delightful and lovely Wendy, my travel agent in Ulladulla, we thought that we would try something a little different so she booked my onto the Emirates Airlines flight from Sydney to Auckland. Price was about the same as doing the same thing with Qantas, Air New Zealand and the like but there was none of this “fuel surcharge” rubbish, it was just a cost for the flight.

It has been nearly 8 years since I last flew Emirates. I must admit that if it is possible, the service has got better over the years. So has the concept of making the customer (the passenger) comfortable. I don’t often look forward to flights – well, except for those flights taking me to someone I am missing – but I will admit that I am really looking forward to the flight back to Sydney on Emirates.

After that, it will be a reintroduction to Singapore Airlines from Sydney to Beijing. I must admit to looking forward to that as well if only to see whether Singapore Airlines has changed or not over the years.

“Taxi! To the airport!”