Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment timeline

Page 4 – 1916

The Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment (WMR), 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.

January

Reinforcements bring the WMR 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 WMR and the rest of the NZMR leave Zeitoun Camp for the Suez Canal, 140 km to the east. The WMR bivouacs overnight at the village of Nawa. The journey takes seven days in all.
  • 29th – The WMR completes its journey with a 5½-hour trek from Moascar to Serapeum, near the canal. A camp is set up and the WMR resumes training alongside the rest of the brigade.

February

The WMR spends the month training, playing sport and swimming in the Suez Canal.

  • 19th – Major James Whyte assumes temporary command of the WMR.

March

  • 1st – Lieutenant Allan Wilder of 6th (Manawatu) Squadron is appointed Regimental Adjutant.
  • 5th – The WMR moves from Serapeum Camp to Ferry Post railhead, near Ismailia, where it bivouacs for the night.
  • 6th – The WMR relieves Australian infantry in the Suez Canal defences at Ferry Post railhead.
  • 9th – Lieutenant-Colonel William Meldrum resumes command of the regiment.
  • 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 unofficially as the ‘Anzac Mounted Division’ by its officers and men.
  • 31st – The strength of the WMR is 30 officers, 546 other ranks and 562 riding horses.

April

  • 3rd – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR are relieved by Australian troops and move back to Serapeum.
  • 6th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR move to Moascar to farewell the men of the New Zealand Division, who are soon to embark for France.
  • 7th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR are concentrated at Salhia, in the desert north-west of Ismailia.
  • 9th – A New Zealand Mounted Rifles Training Regiment is formed at Moascar. Major Albert Samuel is transferred from the WMR to command this regiment and promoted to lieutenant-colonel. Four other WMR officers are attached to the training regiment: Captain Philip Oldham and Lieutenants William Foley, William Janson and Reuben Bird.
  • 23rd – The WMR and the rest of the Anzac Mounted Division receive an urgent order to move to Kantara in response to a Turkish raid on British outposts near Katia. They cover the 40 km from Salhia to Kantara overnight.
  • 24th – The NZMR arrives at Kantara in the morning and takes over part of No. 3 Section of the Suez Canal defences. The WMR and Auckland Mounted Rifles man an outpost line near Hill 70, 10 km north-east of Kantara.

May

  • 4th – The WMR conducts a day-long patrol around Point 331.
  • 7th – The WMR moves to Romani, near the coast 40 km north-east of Kantara, and occupies the outpost line there.
  • 8th – The WMR returns to the camp at Hill 70.
  • 12th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR advance from Hill 70 to Bir Etmaler, just south of Romani, to cover the wells at nearby Katia.
  • 14th – Major James Whyte is detached to the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade as brigade major.
  • 16th – A patrol from the 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Squadron suffers severe heatstroke casualties on a hotter than usual day – a temperature of 52°C is recorded inside the hospital tent at Bir Etmaler.
  • 29th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR ride overnight to Debabis, 25 km south-east of Bir Etmaler.
  • 30th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR ride overnight to attack an Ottoman Turkish outpost at Salmana, 20 km north-east of Debabis.

June

  • 1st  – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR return to camp at Bir Etmaler after a successful attack on the outpost at Salmana. The Ottoman Turks mount an air raid on the camp later that day, but hit the tent lines of the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade instead of the New Zealanders.
  • 5th  – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR leave Bir Etmaler at 2 p.m. and ride for 4 hours to Oghratina.
  • 6th  – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR leave Oghratina at 3 a.m. for Bir el Abd, 20 km to the east, to clear the area of Ottoman troops.
    By 7 a.m. it is clear that there are no Ottoman forces in Bir el Abd, and orders are received to return to camp at Bir Etmaler, which is reached at 5.15 p.m.
  • 10th – The WMR and Auckland Mounted Rifles move east to Oghratina to support reconnaissance patrols by the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade.
  • 11th – The WMR arrives back at Bir Etmaler at 5.15 p.m.
  • 15th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR move to Katia to assist a reconnaissance sweep by the Australian Light Horse.
  • 16th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR return to Bir Etmaler.
  • 21st – The WMR act as covering troops at Katia for the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade. 
  • 24th – The WMR returns to Bir Etmaler and is attached to the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade (in exchange, the 5th Australian Light Horse Regiment is attached to the NZMR).
    The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade is under the temporary command of Brigadier-General John Royston while its usual commanding officer, Brigadier-General Granville de Laune Ryrie, attends an Empire Parliamentary Conference in England (Ryrie is the MP for the Australian federal seat of North Sydney).
  • 29th – The WMR carries out a reconnaissance to Bir el Abd.
  • 30th – Finding no Ottoman forces in Bir el Abd, the WMR is ordered to continue its reconnaissance towards Salmana. The regiment returns to bivouac at Bir Etmaler around 5 p.m.
    The strength of the WMR is 25 officers, 481 other ranks and 556 horses.

July

  • 8th – The WMR and the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade ride to Katia in preparation for a reconnaissance.
  • 9th – The WMR and the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade undertake a reconnaissance to Salmana. The WMR returns to Bir Etmaler at the end of the day.
  • 15th – The three NZMR machine-gun sections are reorganised as a single autonomous unit, the New Zealand Machine Gun Squadron. The WMR transfers two officers (Lieutenants Dudley Batchelor and Richard Chapman), 52 other ranks, 72 horses, three Maxim guns and one Vickers gun to the new squadron. 
    Lewis guns are issued to the NZMR regiments.
  • 19th – Late in the afternoon an aerial reconnaissance mission, with Brigadier-General Edward Chaytor acting as the observer, locates long columns of Ottoman troops advancing westwards on a 12-km front in the vicinity of Bir el Abd and Bayud, 30 km east of Romani.
    The WMR and the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade are ordered to establish an outpost line at Katia. They are to maintain patrols and make a fighting withdrawal towards Romani if attacked in strength.
  • 20th – A WMR patrol clashes with a small Ottoman force near Oghratina, 6 km east of Katia. It takes prisoners who reveal that the Ottoman Turks intend to attack the British railhead at Romani.
  • 22nd – WMR patrols clash with Ottoman forces near Sagia, 12 km south-east of Katia. A patrol from the 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Squadron captures seven prisoners.
  • 28th – Patrols from the 2nd (Wellington West Coast) Squadron discover a strong Ottoman force at Hod Umm Ugba, less than 10 km from the Romani defences. Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum receives permission from Brigadier-General ‘Galloping Jack’ Royston to attack the position and drive the Ottoman Turks out. Meldrum allocates two squadrons supported by two guns from the Ayrshire Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, to the attack, which is carried out that afternoon. The operation is a success. The Ottoman force is driven out of Hod Umm Ugba, losing 16 men killed and eight captured. The Wellingtons’ casualties are two killed and three wounded.
  • 31st – The strength of the WMR is 25 officers, 461 other ranks and 516 horses.

August

  • 3rdBattle of Romani: The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade takes over the role of watching the Ottoman advance from the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade at Katia. The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade returns to Bir Etmaler that night.
    The Battle of Romani begins shortly before midnight when the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade outpost lines report that a large Turkish force is moving in front of them.
    The first wave of Ottoman attacks commences shortly after midnight. Concentrated against the Australian position on a sandhill known as Mount Meredith, these are thrown back by the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade. 
    The WMR and the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade are ordered to stand to but are not committed to battle.
  • 4thBattle of Romani: A second wave of Ottoman infantry assaults that begins around 2 a.m. is pressed home with much more determination than the first. Intense fighting takes place all along the line. By daybreak the Turks have forced the Australians off Mount Meredith and pushed the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade back towards Wellington Ridge, south-west of Bir Etmaler. 
    The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade is sent into action to support 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade on Wellington Ridge. The WMR is ordered to take up a position on the northern slope of the ridge as the brigade reserve. The 6th and 7th Australian Light Horse Regiments go into the line alongside the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade. 
    The 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade is driven off Wellington Ridge by the Ottoman infantry and falls back towards Bir Etmaler. The WMR moves up to cover the withdrawal of the now exposed 6th and 7th Australian Light Horse regiments to new defensive positions.
    At approximately 11 a.m. the NZMR and British yeomanry launch a counter-attack on the Ottoman southern flank at ‘Mount Royston’, a large sandhill at the western end of Wellington Ridge. The Ottoman attack falters and the battle swings decisively in favour of the British. Fighting continues until nightfall, when the Ottoman force begins to retreat.
  • 5thBattle of Romani: The WMR joins in the pursuit of the Ottoman forces. It overwhelms Ottoman rearguards and gathers prisoners until halted at daybreak by heavy fire from Katia.
    At 10 a.m. Lieutenant-Colonel Meldrum is informed of his appointment as temporary commander of 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade. Brigadier-General Royston was wounded in the previous night’s action. Major C.R. Spragg assumes command of the regiment.
    During the morning and early afternoon the rest of the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade and the Anzac Mounted Division arrive at Katia. An attack launched at 2.30 p.m. is driven off by the Ottoman rearguard. The WMR’s casualties are one officer and nine other ranks wounded, several mortally.
  • 6th – The WMR and the rest of the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade are ordered to stand down. Men and horses are exhausted.
  • 8th – The WMR joins in a general advance by all mounted units of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force to Bir el Abd, 25 km east of Katia, to which the Turks have retreated.
  • 9th – The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade approaches Bir el Abd after an overnight ride. At 5 a.m. the WMR spearheads the attack and seizes high ground 1 km in front of its start line, where it comes under Ottoman artillery fire. 
  • Later that morning the WMR makes another advance under fire and takes its objective as part of a general attack on the Ottoman positions. But the overall attack bogs down, with the Ottoman superiority in numbers and firepower proving too much for the Anzac horsemen to crack. In mid-afternoon the Ottoman troops counter-attack and by 4 p.m. a general withdrawal is ordered (although the NZMR is delayed in doing so until nightfall).
    After collecting the wounded the withdrawal is completed and the regiment bivouacs at Oghratina overnight. The WMR’s casualties are three other ranks killed in action and three officers and 26 other ranks wounded.
  • 10th – An outpost line is established to observe Ottoman movements at Bir el Abd.
  • 12th – Patrols confirm that the Ottoman Turks have pulled out of Bir el Abd and retreated 10 km to Salmana. They soon withdraw to El Arish, with an outpost at Mazar.
  • 13th – The WMR returns to camp at Bir Etmaler.
  • 27th – Lieutenant-Colonel William Meldrum relinquishes command of the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade and resumes command of the WMR.
  • 31st – The WMR moves back to Swing Bridge Camp, near Kantara.
     The strength of the WMR is 22 officers, 407 other ranks and 437 horses.

September

The WMR is at Swing Bridge Camp undergoing training and sending men on leave.

October

  • 10th – The WMR returns to Bir Etmaler in the Sinai.
  • 23rd – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR leave Bir Etmaler to begin an in-depth reconnaissance between the railhead at Ge’eila and Mazar, looking for Ottoman outposts and oases.
  • 24th  – The NZMR reaches Ge’eila after a 40-km ride and begins a month of intensive patrolling.
  • 27th – The WMR moves to the outpost line at Mossefig, 11 km east of Salmana.
  • 31st – Major Arthur Batchelor assumes temporary command of the regiment.
    The strength of the WMR is 23 officers, 479 other ranks and 453 horses.

November

  • 6th – Major James Whyte assumes temporary command of the regiment.
  • 13th – The WMR and the rest of the NZMR establish a new base of operations at Mustagidda, 23 km east of Mossefig. Patrols are pushed as far as the fortified town of El Arish.
  • 30th – The strength of the WMR is 22 officers, 430 other ranks and 525 horses.

December

  • 8th – Lieutenant-Colonel William  Meldrum resumes command of the WMR.
  • 20th – The WMR, the rest of the Anzac Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps ride overnight to attack El Arish at dawn.
  • 21st – The WMR and the rest of the attacking force arrive at El Arish to discover that the Ottoman garrison has abandoned the town three days ago. However the Ottoman outpost at the hamlet of Magdhaba, 37 km to the south-east, is still garrisoned. The Anzac horsemen are ordered to again ride overnight, this time to Magdhaba, as soon as British infantry arrive to secure El Arish.
  • 22nd – Scottish soldiers of the 52nd (Lowland) Division march into El Arish, allowing the Anzac Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps to strike out for Magdhaba.
  • 23rd – After an all-night ride across the desert, the Allied raiding force halts about 6 km from Magdhaba, in which campfires can clearly be seen. The tiny village is defended by five redoubts interspersed with trenches. Despite the element of surprise these prove harder to take than was expected. The attack goes on all day, with the Ottoman garrison putting up stubborn resistance. In late afternoon the attackers begin to break in to the Ottoman defences and the redoubts are soon captured in swift succession. The WMR is involved in some close-quarter fighting during the final stages of the capture of ‘Redoubt No. 5’.
    The WMR’s casualties are one officer and three other ranks killed in action; another man dies of his wounds.
    After rounding up the surrendered Ottoman garrison (1282 prisoners) and gathering as much enemy weaponry and other material as they can, the WMR and the rest of the raiding force return to El Arish by night march – their third in four days. Men and horses are exhausted.
  • 24th – The WMR bivouacs on the beach near Masmi, 5 km west of El Arish.
  • 27th – As the WMR moves to a new bivouac beside the beach at Masaid, a storm that will rage for 12 days begins.
How to cite this page

'1916', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/war/wellington-mounted-rifles/1916, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 29-Aug-2014