The Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment (CMR), like the rest of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (NZMR), soon recouped its strength after returning to Egypt from Gallipoli. When most of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force sailed for France in April 1916, the NZMR remained in Egypt as part of an Anzac Mounted Division which was helping defend Egypt against the Ottoman Turks. A rethink of British strategy in the region saw this defensive effort changed into an offensive one designed to take the fight to the enemy and destroy or neutralise his bases in the Sinai Peninsula.
The advance this new strategy required was made feasible by the construction of a railway and water pipeline eastwards from the Suez Canal across the Sinai Desert. This would supply the food, ammunition and most importantly water needed to keep the British forces – the ‘Egyptian Expedtionary Force’ (EEF) – fighting in a harsh environment.
By the end of the year the EEF had won a series of actions against Ottoman forces, driven them out of the Sinai, and reached the border of Palestine in one of the most successful Allied campaigns of the war.
Reinforcements bring the CMR up to full strength plus 10% of establishment. The Regimental Machine Gun Section is reorganised and strengthened from one to two sections (two to four machine guns).
- 23rd – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR leave Zeitoun Camp for the Suez Canal, 140 km to the east. The AMR bivouacs overnight at the village of Nawa. The journey takes seven days in all.
- 29th – The CMR completes its journey with a 5½-hour trek from Moascar to Serapeum, near the canal. A camp is set up and the CMR resumes training alongside the rest of the brigade.
The CMR spends the month training, playing sport and swimming in the Suez Canal.
- 5th – The CMR leaves Serapeum Camp and rides to Ferry Post railhead.
- 7th – The CMR relieves Australian infantry in the Suez Canal defences at Ferry Post railhead.
- 11th– The ‘Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division’ is officially established. Commanded by an Australian officer, Major-General ‘Harry’ Chauvel, it comprises:
- Divisional Headquarters
- 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade
- 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade
- 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade
- New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade
The Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division is soon routinely referred to as the ‘Anzac Mounted Division’ by its officers and men.
- 1st – The CMR is relieved by Australian troops and rides back to Serapeum.
- 6th – The CMR rides to Moascar.
- 7th – The CMR rides to Salhia, in the desert north-west of Ismailia, where the NZMR is being concentrated for training.
- 23rd – The CMR and the rest of the Anzac Mounted Division receive an urgent order to move to Kantara in response to an Ottoman raid on British outposts near Katia, 40 km to the north-east. The mounted troops ride through the night to cover the 40 km from Salhia to Kantara.
- 24th – The CMR arrives at Kantara at 6 a.m. and rests for the day at Hill 70, 10 km to the north-east.
- 25th – The CMR goes into camp at the ‘Loop’ (later known as Canterbury Post). Over the following days the men escort camel trains and conduct local patrols.
- 4th – The CMR receives four horses from the remount depot.
- 10th – The CMR rides to Romani, near the coast 30 km north-east of Hill 70, and bivouacs there for the night.
- 11th – The CMR moves to Bir Etmaler, just south of Romani.
- 12th – The rest of the NZMR joins the CMR at Bir Etmaler. The brigade’s role is to protect the wells in the area.
- 15th – The CMR, less 1st Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry Squadron, patrols 10 km east to Oghratina. The regiment arrives at 6.30 p.m. and bivouacs.
- 16th – The CMR continues its patrol before returning to Bir Etmaler at 10 p.m. The day is particularly hot and 23 men are evacuated to hospital suffering from heatstroke.
- 29th – The NZMR is ordered to attack Ottoman forces reported to be at Bir el Abd and Salmana. The brigade moves out at 10 p.m.
- 30th – The CMR arrives at Debabis, 20 km south-east of Bir Etmaler, at 7 a.m. and spends the day resting.
The CMR leaves Debabis at 9 p.m. as part of the brigade column. Finding Bir el Abd clear of Ottoman troops, the column moves further east towards Salmana.
- 31st – At 4 a.m. the CMR and the Auckland Mounted Rifles are ordered to attack Salmana. The rearguard covering the withdrawal of the main Ottoman force is soon overwhelmed. The Auckland Mounted Rifles starts in pursuit of the retreating Ottoman Turks, but all NZMR units are soon ordered to withdraw to Bir Etmaler, which the CMR reaches at 11.30 p.m.
- 5th – The NZMR leaves Bir Etmaler at 2 p.m. and rides for four hours to Oghratina.
- 6th – The NZMR leaves Oghratina at 3 a.m. and moves towards Bir el Abd, 20 km to the east, to clear the area of Ottoman troops.
By 7 a.m. it has become clear that there are no Ottoman forces in Bir el Abd, and orders are received to ride back to camp at Bir Etmaler, which the CMR reaches at 5.30 p.m.
- 10th – The CMR leaves bivouac at 2 a.m. to undertake a reconnaissance. The regiment reaches Sagia, nearly 20 km east of Bir Etmaler, at 11 a.m. and rests for the day.
- 11th – The CMR leaves Sagia at 1 a.m. and continues its reconnaissance. After reaching Mageibra, 10 km to the south, at 4 a.m., the regiment returns to Bir Etmaler by 6.30 p.m.
- 15th – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR ride to nearby Katia to assist a reconnaissance by the Australian Light Horse.
- 16th – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR return to Bir Etmaler.
- 23rd – The CMR leaves Bir Etmaler at 10 p.m. for Hill 70.
- 24th – The CMR reaches Hill 70 at 5 a.m. The day is spent setting up camp.
- 28th – Major Percy Acton-Adams assumes temporary command of the regiment.
- 29th – The 10th (Nelson) Squadron moves back to Kantara to spend a week in the rest camp .
- 2nd – Lieutenant-Colonel Findlay departs on leave and Major Acton-Adams assumes command of the CMR.
- 3rd – The CMR, the 4th (Waikato) Squadron of the Auckland Mounted Rifles and a two-gun section of machine guns form a composite regiment and move to Dueidar, 10 km north-east of Hill 70, to support operations by the 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment.
- 5th – The composite regiment returns to Hill 70.
- 6th – 10th (Nelson) Squadron returns from Kantara.
- 7th – 8th (South Canterbury) Squadron rides to Kantara to spend a week in the rest camp.
- 14th – 8th (South Canterbury) Squadron returns to Hill 70 and is replaced at the Kantara rest camp by the 1st Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry.
- 15th – The three separate regimental machine-gun sections are reorganised as a single autonomous unit, the New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron. Lewis guns are issued to the NZMR regiments.
- 18th – Lieutenant-Colonel Findlay resumes command of the regiment.
- 20th – A large Ottoman force is discovered advancing westward on a 12-km front in the vicinity of Salmana and Bayud, 30 km east of Romani.
The CMR stands by at Hill 70 as numerous reports of combat between units of the Anzac Mounted Division and Ottoman Turks come in.
- 21st – 1st (Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry) Squadron returns to Hill 70.
- 4th – Battle of Romani: The first wave of Ottoman attacks begins shortly after midnight. Concentrated against a sandhill known as Mount Meredith, it is repulsed by the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade.
A second wave of Ottoman infantry assaults that begins around 2 a.m. is pressed home with much more determination. Intense fighting takes place all along the line. By daybreak the Ottoman Turks have forced the Australians off Mount Meredith and back towards Wellington Ridge.
The NZMR reaches a point 2½ km south of Canterbury Hill at 11.30 a.m. It is decided to attack the Ottoman forces holding Mount Royston, a large sandhill at the western end of Wellington Ridge. The Auckland Mounted Rifles is in the centre, the CMR on the right flank and some British Yeomanry on the left flank. This force advances steadily throughout the afternoon.
A general attack is ordered for 4.45 p.m. in an attempt to clear Mount Royston before dark. The 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment joins in on the left. The Ottomans withdraw or surrender, and by 5.30 p.m. the summit has been taken. By 6.30 p.m. most of the Ottoman forces still in the area have surrendered.
That night the CMR bivouacs at Anzac railway siding.
The CMR has lost one man killed and 15 wounded.
- 5th – Battle of Romani: The NZMR moves off at 6 a.m. in pursuit of the Turkish forces, which are now retreating.
The NZMR, along with the 1st and 2nd Light Horse Brigades and the 5th Mounted Brigade, is ordered to attack the Ottoman rearguard at Katia. The attack begins at 2.30 p.m. The Ottoman Turks defend a strong position resolutely, and at 7 p.m. the attack is abandoned. The CMR withdraws 3 km and bivouacs for the night.
The CMR has lost two men killed and 14 wounded.
- 6th – The NZMR leaves the bivouac at 6.30 a.m. Katia is found to be empty of enemy forces, and the Ottoman rearguard is located at Oghratina at 11.30 a.m. After spending the afternoon observing and avoiding shellfire, the CMR is ordered at 7 p.m. to withdraw to Er Rabah, where it spends the night in bivouac.
Four men have been wounded and another dies later of his wounds.
- 7th – The CMR leaves camp with the rest of the NZMR at 4.30 a.m. The brigade returns to Oghratina and spends the day observing the Ottoman defences, then withdraws to the bivouac at Er Rabah at 7 p.m.
- 8th – The CMR leaves camp with the rest of the NZMR at 4.30 a.m. and finds Oghratina abandoned. Patrols make contact with the main Ottoman position 3 km west of Bir el Abd. The CMR bivouacs at Debabis.
- 9th – The CMR leaves bivouac at 4 a.m. to take part in an attack on Bir el Abd by the Anzac Mounted Division. The CMR is initially in reserve but is soon sent forward to support the left flank of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. Ottoman counter-attacks eventually halt the advance, and at 11.20 a.m. enfilading fire forces the left flank to retire. With Ottoman counter-attacks continuing, the division receives orders to withdraw at 4.15 p.m. The CMR withdraws successfully while in close contact with enemy forces. The regiment bivouacs at Debabis.
The day’s fighting has cost nine men killed and 22 wounded. Another six men are reported as wounded and missing.
- 12th – The CMR leaves Debabis and conducts a reconnaissance. Bir el Abd is found to abandoned by the Ottoman Turks. Further patrolling discovers Ottoman positions around Salmana.
The CMR returns to Debabis that evening.
- 14th – The CMR moves to Hod el Amara and sets up a bivouac.
- 20th – The CMR moves to Bir el Abd and occupies the outpost line.
- 27th – The CMR is relieved and moves back to Hod el Amara.
- 31st – The CMR holds a Board of Enquiry into the fate of men who are missing after the recent fighting.
- 11th – The NZMR leaves Hod el Amara at 5.30 a.m. and arrives at Bir Etmaler at 11.30 a.m.
- 20th – Three officers and 95 other ranks of the CMR leave for a new rest camp at Sidi Bishr (on the coast near Alexandria).
- 30th – Regimental headquarters and another draft of men leave for the rest camp at Sidi Bishr. The CMR men still at Bir Etmaler come under the temporary command of the Auckland Mounted Rifles.
- 3rd – Lieutenant Colonel Findlay departs for a period of leave in England. Major Acton-Adams assumes command of the CMR.
- 7th – Regimental headquarters arrives back at Bir Etmaler and resumes command of the CMR men.
- 23rd – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR leave Bir Etmaler and rides to Bir el Abd, where they bivouac for the night.
- 24th – The CMR rides to Willegha and relieves the 10th Australian Light Horse Regiment in the forward outpost line. It maintains a defence against Turkish incursion and mounts patrols to gain as much information as possible about Turkish movements and find souces of water.
- 27th – The CMR rides to a new outpost line at Mossefig, 11 km east of Salmana.
- 3rd – Major Acton-Adams is promoted to temporary lieutenant-colonel.
- 13th – After being relieved, the CMR rides to a new outpost line at Mazar and rejoins the rest of the NZMR there.
8th (South Canterbury) Squadron is detached to man an outpost line at Malha.
- 17th – Lieutenant-Colonel Findlay returns from leave and resumes command of the regiment. Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel Acton-Adams reverts to the rank of major.
- 25th – The CMR, along with the rest of the NZMR, leaves Mazar at 5.45 a.m. and rides to Mustagidda, where it sets up a new outpost line.
8th (South Canterbury) Squadron rejoins the regiment.
- 3rd – The 1st (Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry) Squadron is sent to an outpost line at Zoabatia.
- 4th – The 10th (Nelson) Squadron is detached to an outpost at Arnussi.
- 20th – The CMR (including the detached squadrons), along with the rest of the NZMR, leaves Mustagidda at 1.30 p.m. After a 1½-hour pause at Ghurfan el Gimal, the force rides through the night for 35 km to get into position to attack El Arish.
- 21st – The attacking force arrives at El Arish to discover that the Ottoman garrison has abandoned the town three days ago. The CMR bivouacs at Masmi, 5 km to the west.
- 22nd – Scottish soldiers of the 52nd (Lowland) Division arrive at El Arish and relieve the Anzac Mounted Division. The allows the Anzac division to attack the Ottoman garrison – two battalions of the 27th Arab Division – at Magdhaba, 40 km inland. The NZMR concentrates in Wadi el Arish for this task.
- 23rd – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR leave bivouac at 1.10 a.m. and arrive at a point about 6 km outside Magdhaba at 4.50 a.m. After a reconnaissance, the village is attacked. The last Ottoman resistance is overcome late in the afternoon.
The CMR’s casualties are two killed and 11 wounded.
- 27th – As the CMR moves to a bivouac near the beach west of El Arish, a storm that will rage for 12 days begins.