During 1917 the Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment (CMR) and the rest of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (NZMR) take part in three battles for Gaza. After two setbacks, the third battle is won. The way is now clear for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to advance along the coast of Palestine as far as modern-day Tel Aviv, and into the Judean Hills towards Jerusalem.
- 1st – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR move back to the railhead at Kilo 139 (markers give the distance from Kantara), mainly because of the difficulty of transporting supplies across 15 km of desert to El Arish.
- 4th – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR move back to Wilder Hod because of the poor watering arrangements for the horses at Kilo 139.
- 8th – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR move to Wadi el Arish. They join the Australian units of the Anzac Mounted Division, which moves off as a divisional column at 4 p.m. to ride 45 km to Rafah overnight and attack the isolated Ottoman garrison there.
- 9th – The CMR crosses the frontier into Palestine and overruns a police station north of Rafah, taking 170 prisoners.
The Anzac Mounted Division’s attack on Rafah begins at 10 a.m after a 30-minute bombardment. The CMR and the Auckland Mounted Rifles are to take the key defensive position, the redoubt at Point 255.
The initial advance is steady but slow. By 12.15 the attackers are within 500 m of the redoubt. No further progress is made against heavy Ottoman fire, and at 1 p.m. the Wellington Mounted Rifles moves into the line to assist the attack. By late afternoon the situation is becoming desperate, with Ottoman reinforcements approaching. At 4.30 p.m. Lieutenant-General Sir Philip Chetwode, in charge of the operation, orders a withdrawal. However the NZMR has launched an attack on the redoubt shortly after 4 p.m. Fire from Lewis guns and the New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron allows the New Zealanders to take the redoubt at bayonet point. With the redoubt and the high ground taken, resistance in the other position is quickly overcome by the Australian Light Horsemen and the Camel Corps.
As Ottoman reinforcements continue to approach, the CMR withdraws at 6 p.m. and goes into bivouac at Sheikh Zowaiid, 15 km south-west of Rafah, at 10.30 p.m.
The CMR’s casualties are six men killed and 19 wounded.
- 10th – The CMR moves back to Masaid, near El Arish.
- 17th – 5% of the officers and men depart for Cairo after being granted leave.
- 22nd – The NZMR joins the Anzac Mounted Division column and moves forward to Sheikh Zowaiid.
- 23rd – The NZMR and the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade leave Sheikh Zowaiid at 1 a.m. for Khan Yunis, 30 km to the north-east, which is reported to have been abandoned by Ottoman forces. It is hoped to capture Sheikh Ali el Hirsch, a suspected Ottoman spy.
Reports that the Ottoman Turks have left Khan Yunis prove to be premature when the Wellington Mounted Rifles, who have formed the advance guard, come under fire at 5.30 a.m. Despite making progress on the right flank, the CMR receives orders for a general withdrawal and the operation is abandoned. The CMR has sustained no casualties during the attack.
The CMR returns to bivouac at Sheikh Zowaiid.
- 26th – The NZMR conducts a day-long reconnaissance around Shokh es Sufi, 8 km south-east of Rafah. Elements of the advance guard make intermittent contact with Ottoman patrols but suffer no casualties. The column returns to bivouacs at Sheikh Zowaiid that evening.
- 28th – The NZMR conducts a day-long reconnaissance around Rafah. The column again returns to bivouacs in Sheikh Zowaiid.
Khan Yunis is abandoned by the Ottoman Turks and occupied by elements of the Desert Column.
As part of a reorganisation of the British forces operating against the Ottoman Turks, the 22nd (Yeomanry) Mounted Brigade is incorporated into the Anzac Mounted Division. The Desert Column now comprises the Anzac Mounted Division, the Imperial Mounted Division, and the 53rd (Welsh) Division.
- 3rd – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR conduct a day-long reconnaissance east and south-east of Karm Ibn Musleh, which is 6 km south of Rafah. The CMR returns to bivouacs at Sheikh Zowaiid.
- 7th – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR undertake a reconnaissance around Khan Yunis. The CMR returns to its bivouac at Sheikh Zowaiid at 6.45 p.m.
- 10th – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR ride to Bir el Malalha, on the coast north of Rafah, and sets up a new bivouac.
- 11th – The CMR and the rest of the NZMR undertake a reconnaissance towards Gaza. The CMR bivouacs at Bir el Esha at 6.45 p.m.
- 18th – The CMR and the Wellington Mounted Rifles leave their bivouacs at 3.15 a.m. and conduct a patrol around Um el Kelab with the intention of capturing any Ottoman patrols in the area. No Ottoman Turks are found, and by 9.15 a.m. the two regiments withdraw to the area around Khan Yunis to protect a party of Royal Engineers working on the wells. The CMR returns to bivouac at Bir el Esha at 2.30 p.m.
- 23rd – After receiving orders from Brigade Headquarters, the CMR begins preparations for an operation on the 25th which will result in the Battle of Gaza.
- 25th – The NZMR moves out of Bir el Malalha at 2 a.m. for Deir el Belah, 15 km from Gaza. The NZMR and the 22nd Mounted Brigade are to provide security for the Desert Column while it moves up to and crosses Wadi Ghazze.
- 26th – First Battle of Gaza: The NZMR leaves its bivouacs at 2.30 a.m. to take part in the Anzac Mounted Division’s operations against Gaza. The division is to block the roads to the north of Gaza to prevent an Ottoman withdrawal or the arrival of reinforcements. The Imperial Mounted Division will play a similar role east of Gaza. The 53rd (Welsh) Division and a brigade of the 54th (East Anglian) Division are to attack the town from the south at 8 a.m.
The CMR arrives at its blocking position at Tellul el Humra at 10 a.m.
While the NZMR carries out its initial role, the infantry attack from the south faces more difficulties. Fog obscures the routes across Wadi Ghazze. The infantry is in position to begin the assault at 9 a.m., but there is further confusion about the location of some of the assault force, and the artillery is slow to come into action. By the time the assault is launched at 11.45 a.m. the Gaza garrison is well prepared and precious time before Ottoman reinforcements arrive has been lost.
With the infantry attack difficult and slow, the Anzac Mounted Division launches an attack from the north-east at 4 p.m. to assist. The Wellington Mounted Rifles advances on the left, the CMR in the centre and the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade on the right. With most of the Ottoman defenders facing the infantry attack from the south, the mounted regiments make good progress and quickly break into the town. One of the CMR squadrons occupies the abandoned redoubt on Ali Muntar at the same time as British infantry arrive from the south. But with Ottoman reinforcements getting closer and darkness approaching, Lieutenant-General Chetwode, in charge of the operation, makes a controversial decision to withdraw across Wadi Ghazze.
The CMR receives the orders to withdraw around 6.45 p.m. It takes some time for the regiment to fully extract itself, its wounded and its prisoners from Gaza. The CMR rejoins the Anzac Mounted Division at Tellul el Humra. The divisional column rides through the night.
The CMR’s casualties are one man killed and six wounded.
- 27th – The CMR arrives back at Deir el Belah during the morning. After resting for the day, the CMR and Wellington Mounted Rifles form an outpost line between Inseirat and El Iaire.
- 28th – The CMR is relieved by a regiment of Australian Light Horse and moves to a new bivouac by the beach at Deir el Belah.
- 29th – The CMR moves back to the outpost line between Inseirat and El Iaire.
- 30th – The CMR is relieved by a yeomanry regiment and moves back to bivouac in Deir el Belah.
- 2nd – The CMR moves back to the outpost line between Inseirat and El Iaire.
- 3rd – The CMR is relieved by a yeomanry regiment and moves back to bivouac in Deir el Belah.
- 8th – The CMR moves to an outpost line in the Deir el Belah area.
- 9th – The CMR is relieved from the outpost line and moves back to bivouac at Deir el Belah.
- 16th – The CMR receives orders to move inland to Shellal (15 km south of Gaza) to take part in the second attempt to take Gaza. The regiment leaves Deir el Belah as part of the NZMR column at 6.30 p.m.
- 17th – Second Battle of Gaza: The CMR reaches Shellal at 6 a.m.
The situation facing the Allied forces has become more difficult since the First Battle of Gaza. The 18,000 Ottoman troops now holding the line between Gaza and Tel el Sheria occupy more elaborate and extensive defences. A frontal assault from the south is now the only practical option. This is undertaken in stages. On the 17th the infantry move up close to Gaza. The artillery move into place on the 18th, with the final assault to be made next day.
The Desert Column has two subsidiary roles in the assault: to protect the right flank of the infantry; and to keep the redoubts at Atawineh and Hareira (10 to 12 km from Gaza) busy, preventing the Ottoman commanders there moving men to the main battlefield at Gaza.
The CMR remains in the vicinity of Shellal during the day.
- 18th – Second Battle of Gaza: The CMR moves up to Point 550 in the morning and returns to Shellal at 9.30 p.m.
- 19th – Second Battle of Gaza: It is decided that the Imperial Mounted Division will attack the Atawineh redoubt to assist the infantry assaults. The NZMR is placed in reserve with a view to exploiting any breach in the Ottoman line.
The CMR receives orders at 2.30 a.m. to move forward and assist the Wellington Mounted Rifles, who are trying to clear ‘Sausage Ridge’. By the time this order is given the CMR can do little to help the Wellingtons renew their attack. Instead the CMR endures shelling and Ottoman counter-attacks.
The Ottoman attacks are repelled, but the day does not go well for the Allied force. The assaults by both the infantry and the mounted horsemen are unsuccessful and it is decided to abandon the attack and withdraw.
The CMR receives the orders to withdraw at 5.45 p.m. Once clear of the Ottoman defences it rides back across Wadi Ghazze to Tel el Jemmi, 10 km south of Gaza.
Three CMR men have been killed and 28 wounded; 12 horses have been killed.
- 20th – During the night it is decided not to renew the assault on Gaza because of the strength of the defences. The Allied units are redeployed to defensive positions.
At 10 a.m. the NZMR moves to a point near Sheikh Nuran, where the CMR occupies a redoubt.
- 21st – The CMR is relieved by the 7th Australian Light Horse Regiment and moves to a bivouac at Abasan el Kabir, east of Khan Yunis.
- 22nd – The CMR moves into an outpost line at Point 310.
- 27th – The CMR receives 13 reinforcements.
- 29th – The CMR is relieved from the outpost line and moves to a new bivouac at Tel el Fara (south of Shellal and about halfway between Rafah and Beersheba) for a short period of rest.
- 1st – The CMR acts as advanced guard for the NZMR on a reconnaissance to Goz el Basal. Ottoman patrols are fired upon but there are no casualties. The CMR returns to its bivouac at 5.30 p.m.
- 6th – The NZMR and the 6th Mounted Brigade concentrate west of Goz el Basal at 9.15 p.m. At 10 p.m. the CMR moves towards Kh Khasif to try to capture Ottoman patrols that are reported to be in the area.
- 7th – No Ottoman Turks are found at Kh Khasif and the CMR starts back for Tel el Fara at 6.45 a.m.
- 11th – The NZMR leaves bivouac at 3.30 a.m. and moves towards El Buggar, 15 km to the east, to look for 2000 Ottoman Turks who are reported to be in the area. Only Ottoman patrols are contacted. The CMR returns to bivouac at Tel el Fara at 5 p.m.
- 16th – The CMR crosses Wadi Ghazze to provide an outpost line in front of the infantry defences.
- 17th – The CMR returns to bivouac at Tel el Fara at 7.30 a.m.
- 20th – The CMR receives 20 reinforcements.
- 22nd – The NZMR moves out of bivouac. The New Zealanders hold a defensive position in the desert to provide a link between the Imperial Mounted Division, which is conducting a demonstration against Beersheba, and the Australian Light Horse, which is demolishing as much of the Asluj–Auja railway (south of Beersheba) as it can. The raid is a success, destroying 11 km of track and five bridges. The CMR returns to Tel el Fara next day without making contact with Ottoman forces.
- 28th – The CMR moves to Abasan el Kebir, 5 km inland from Khan Yunis, and sets up a new bivouac.
- 2nd – Major Percy Acton-Adams assumes command of the regiment.
- 8th – The NZMR moves to Marakeb, just north of Khan Yunis, for a period of rest and training.
Lieutenant-Colonel Findlay resumes command of the regiment.
- 18th – The NZMR moves to Kazar.
- 30th – The strength of the CMR is 23 officers and 451 other ranks. During the month 73 men have been evacuated to hospital; two officers and 64 men have arrived as reinforcements.
- 3rd – At 11.45 p.m. the NZMR leaves for Taweil el Habari to support a reconnaissance towards Beersheba by the Australian Mounted Division.
- 4th – The AMR returns to its bivouac at Kazar at 11 p.m.
- 6th – The NZMR moves to Tel el Fara.
- 8th – The CMR takes part in a day-long reconnaissance east of Issiri with the Anzac Mounted Division. The regiment returns to bivouac at 9 p.m.
- 10th – In the early hours of the morning the CMR takes part in an NZMR operation to capture Ottoman patrols in the Khasif–El Buggar area, 15 km west of Beersheba. No Ottoman Turks are found and the CMR returns to bivouac at 8.10 a.m.
- 12th – The CMR patrols around Point 630 observing Ottoman positions.
- 13th – The CMR returns from its reconnaissance at 8.15 a.m.
- 14th – The CMR moves to Ghabi and occupies the redoubts there.
- 19th – The CMR is ordered across Wadi Ghazze to respond to an Ottoman reconnaissance. Ineffectual shellfire directed against the regiment causes no casualties. The CMR returns to bivouac at Tel el Fara at 10 p.m.
- 20th – The CMR moves out of bivouac at 12.30 a.m. and takes up an outpost line at Goz el Basal. The CMR and the Wellington Mounted Rifles advance to Hill 720. The CMR returns to the bivouac at Tel el Fara at 2.30 p.m.
- 23rd – The NZMR undertakes a reconnaissance to Beersheba to investigate false reports that the Ottoman Turks have abandoned the town.
- 26th – The CMR, less the 1st Canterbury Yeomanry Cavalry, conducts a reconnaissance along the Abu Ehawish Road, south-east of Beersheba. 1st Canterbury reconnoitres the Sana redoubt.
- 30th – The CMR escorts a section of the 91st Heavy Battery to Goz el Geleir, where it fires on the Hereira Tepe redoubt. This force withdraws at the end of the day.
- 31st – The strength of the CMR is 20 officers and 431 other ranks. During the month four officers and 46 other ranks have been either evacuated to hospital or sent for training. One officer and 26 other ranks have arrived as reinforcements.
- 4th – The CMR moves to Ghabi, relieves 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade and occupies the defensive works there.
- 11th – The CMR is relieved from the Ghabi defensive works and returns to Tel el Fara in the late morning. The NZMR leaves Tel el Fara at 7.25 p.m. to support a raid on Sana redoubt by the Imperial Camel Corps. The CMR returns to Tel el Fara at 5.30 a.m. the next day.
- 13th – The NZMR leaves the bivouac at 6.25 p.m. to support an operation by the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade. The CMR returns to Tel el Fara at 8.30 a.m. the next day.
- 14th – The CMR receives seven reinforcements.
- 16th – The CMR assists an Anzac Mounted Division operation in support of a reconnaissance by the Desert Mounted Corps to the south of Beersheba.
- 18th – The Berkshire Yeomanry relieves the CMR, which – along with the rest of the NZMR – moves to the beach at Marakeb for a period of rest.
- 20th – Major H.C. Hurst assumes command of the regiment.
- 27th – Lieutenant-Colonel Findlay resumes command of the regiment.
- 31st – The strength of the CMR is 22 officers and 473 other ranks. During the month four officers and 67 other ranks have been evacuated to hospital or sent to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Training Regiment (TR). Six officers and 109 other ranks have arrived as reinforcements.
- 2nd – Lieutenant-Colonel Findlay temporarily takes command of the NZMR. Major D.S. Murchison assumes temporary command of the CMR.
- 7th – Major Hurst returns to the CMR and takes temporary command of the regiment.
- 12th – Major Acton-Adams returns from hospital and takes temporary command of the CMR.
- 18th – The NZMR leaves Marakeb and moves inland to Fukhari for a month of training.
- 30th – The strength of the CMR is 23 officers and 492 other ranks. During the month 38 other ranks have been evacuated to hospital or sent to the TR. One officer and 67 other ranks have arrived as reinforcements.
- 2nd – Lieutenant-Colonel Findlay returns to the CMR and resumes command.
- 24th – The CMR spends the day preparing to move. At 5.15 p.m. it leaves with the NZMR for Esani, 20 km west of Beersheba. This move is part of a concentration of forces for a third assault on the Gaza line.
- 28th – The CMR leaves its bivouac at 5 p.m. and rides 10 km south-east to a new bivouac north of Khalasa.
- 29th – The NZMR leaves bivouac at 5.30 p.m. and proceeds to Asluj, 15 km further south-east.
- 30th – Third Battle of Gaza: The CMR moves out with the Anzac Mounted Division to ride through the night to take part in the assault on the Gaza line. In the Second Battle of Gaza the emphasis was on a frontal assault. This time 21 Infantry Corps will threaten Gaza at the western end of the Ottoman line, but the main attack will come from 20 Infantry Corps and the Desert Mounted Corps (including the NZMR) around Beersheba at the eastern end of the line. After the Desert Mounted Corps captures Beersheba, 20 Corps will roll up the Ottoman line from the east and ultimately take Gaza. Beersheba must be captured quickly before the Ottoman Turks can blow up the wells there. The Desert Mounted Corps and 20 Corps are operating away from the coastal railroad that supplies the Allied forces. Without Beersheba’s water, implementing the plan will be difficult, if not impossible.
- 31st – Third Battle of Gaza: At 8.45 a.m. the CMR receives orders for an operation against Tel el Saba, a 300-m high hill 5 km east of Beersheba. Its occupation by the New Zealanders will greatly aid the Australian assault on Beersheba. The Auckland Mounted Rifles is ordered to attack Tel el Saba from the south-east, while the CMR moves to the north and fires on the rear of the Ottoman positions.
The CMR works its way around Tel el Saba under heavy fire. Meanwhile the Auckland Mounted Rifles slowly makes inroads into the Ottoman defences. Reinforced by the Australian Light Horse and the Wellington Mounted Rifles, it reaches the summit at 3 p.m. This allows the 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade, supported by the 5th and 7th Mounted Brigades, to charge into Beersheba on horseback. By 6.30 p.m. the town and most of its vital water supplies are in Allied hands. The infantry can now outflank the main Ottoman defences and advance on Gaza.
The CMR spends the night in bivouac on Tel el Saba. During the day it has lost one man killed and six wounded.
- 1st – Third Battle of Gaza: The CMR moves to the north-east of Beersheba during the day and by nightfall has captured the high ground east of Mikreh. The regiment is relieved at 8.30 p.m. and returns to bivouac at Tel el Saba.
- 2nd – Third Battle of Gaza: The CMR moves into the Judean Hills and takes over an outpost line at Bir Imshash, 17 km east of Beersheba. Men and horse soon suffer from a shortage of water.
- 4th – Third Battle of Gaza: The NZMR is ordered 20 km north to Khuweilfe to relieve the 5th Mounted Regiment, which is in contact with Ottoman forces. Five men are wounded by shrapnel during the day.
- 5th – Third Battle of Gaza: The CMR holds its position at Khuweilfe against Ottoman attacks that include accurate shellfire. During the day six men are killed and 49 wounded; 23 horses are killed and 24 wounded.
By now the NZMR’s horses have had no water for 48 hours, and it is decided to lead them back to Beersheba for watering.
- 6th – Third Battle of Gaza: The NZMR is relieved by the Imperial Camel Corps during the morning. The brigade marches 8 km north-east to Khurbet el Ras and occupies an outpost line.
The brigade’s horses arrive that night after being watered. The brigade remains at Khurbet el Ras until the 9th. The horses are led to Beersheba each day for watering.
- 7th – Third Battle of Gaza: The Ottoman Turks abandon Gaza and are pursued north.
- 10th – The CMR and the Wellington Mounted Rifles move back to Beersheba.
The CMR receives five reinforcements from the TR, and 12 remount horses.
- 11th – The CMR and the Wellington Mounted Rifles begin a two-day ride to Hammame, near the coast 25 km north of Gaza.
- 13th – The CMR and the Wellington Mounted Rifles move to Yebna, 30 km further north, where they are joined by the Auckland Mounted Rifles.
- 14th – Battle of Ayun Kara: Following the collapse of the Gaza defensive line, the Ottoman defence of Palestine is centred on Jerusalem and Jaffa. The Allied plan is to cut communications between the two towns and then attack each separately. The NZMR is ordered to advance to Kubeibeh (10 km south of Jaffa) and conduct reconnaissance towards Surafend, 6 km further north-east. Kubeibeh is reached at 9.30 a.m., but when the CMR moves towards Surafend it comes into contact with Ottoman troops. The NZMR launches an attack at 12.30 p.m. The Auckland Mounted Rifles is on the left, the Wellington Mounted Rifles in the centre and the CMR on the right. By 2.30 p.m. the attack has come to a halt and Ottoman forces are counter-attacking with increasing vigour, particularly against the Auckland and Wellington regiments. The New Zealanders withstand the pressure, and by 4.15 p.m. the Ottoman counter-attacks have stopped and the Ottoman Turks pull back.
With the CMR having had only a limited role in the day’s events, its casualties have been light: one man killed and six wounded.
- 15th – During the morning Ayun Kara is found to be clear of Ottoman forces. At 12.15 p.m. the NZMR moves forward and sets up an outpost line near Richon le Zion, a Jewish village 8 km south-east of Jaffa.
- 16th – The CMR moves back to Ayun Kara and sets up a bivouac.
The Ottoman Turks withdraw from Jaffa before Allied forces arrive.
- 17th – The CMR moves into Jaffa and bivouacs in nearby Sarona. The regiment supplies parties for garrison duties.
- 20th – The CMR occupies an outpost line on the south banks of Nahr el Auja.
- 23rd – The CMR is relieved and moves into reserve.
The CMR receives eight reinforcements.
- 24th – The CMR and the Wellington Mounted Rifles cross Nahr el Auja at 1 p.m. and quickly establish positions on the northern bank. By nightfall the CMR has secured Sheikh Muwannis, which it hands over to the British 161st Infantry Brigade. The CMR bivouacs on the south bank of the Auja.
One horse is wounded during the attack.
- 25th – Early in the morning the Ottoman Turks counter-attack against the newly won ground on the north side of the Auja. The CMR crosses the river at 8.15 a.m. to assist the defence, but all Allied troops are forced to withdraw to the southern bank of the river during the morning.
The CMR has had two men killed and four wounded. Four horses have been killed and six wounded.
- 4th – The NZMR relieves the Imperial Camel Corps in muddy trenches at Sakia, 7 km south-east of Jaffa.
The CMR receives seven reinforcements.
- 10th – The CMR is relieved by the 10th London Battalion and bivouacs at Ayun Kara.
The CMR receives 13 reinforcements.
- 13th – The CMR moves 30 km south to a new bivouac at Esdud.