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First World War - 1918

1918

Jerusalem had surrendered (9th December) and Jericho was to be captured on 21st February, enabling the British to have a footing in the Jordan Valley and Jaffa had also been secured.

On 24th April the whole division marched north to Junction Station, then east to Jericho, arriving on the 30th. May and June were spent watching forts and bridges southwards towards the Dead Sea and constant outpost work, involving a number of skirmishes with the enemy. On 13th July the regiment began a march back to Ramleh, arriving on the 17th.       

In a final bid to dispel the Turks from Palestine, Lt Gen. Allenby embarked on a three-part plan. Firstly he concentrated his troops on the Sharon Plain to engage and defeat the 8th Army. The strategy was that the infantry would forge a passage through the enemy entrenchments thereby allowing the cavalry to advance rapidly and secure the important communication posts. By the morning of 18th September, the 4th Cavalry Division had been concentrated a few miles north of Jaffa, on the following day the battle of Sharon commenced. The infantry quickly opened a gap in the enemy’s defences and the Dorsets, leading the Brigade had passed through; within two hours the infantry had captured all the enemy’s main positions and the cavalry forged across the rolling downs and by 7 pm had reached Kerkur-Beidus, from whence it led the Division in a night march to seize the Musmus Pass in the Samarian Hills. By 3 am the Pass had been captured, without opposition.

At dawn with Mount Tabor and the hills of Nazareth visible, the brigade forged on by way of Megiddo and had taken El Afule by 8 am. After a short rest for watering and feeding, the Dorsets lead the way over the 17 the long miles to their next objective. Shortly before 6 pm  the village of Beisan was in sight and, with a “halloa” and a gallop the Dorsets captured the village at 6:30, taking 100 prisoners, 3 howitzers and the great quantity of arms and ammunition. The 4th Cavalry Division had covered 68 miles in just 35 hours, including halts and delays, and the total casualties in horses were only 15.

Now for the second phase; the 7th Army astride the Nablus road had to be dealt with and the scene had been set. Four divisions of horse were now firmly behind the enemy in the North and the artillery had been triumphant to the south. Moreover, Nazareth had been captured.

On 21st   September, when the Dorsets were again on outpost duty 3 miles to the south of Beisan and advance troops reported site of a large enemy column, with motorcars approaching from Nablus. A mounted patrol was sent out and, having made contact engaged in a fire-fight, which lasted through until 10 pm. It was a bright moonlit night and the terrain was favourable, so a charge was initiated which resulted in the Turks surrendering and the taking of 158 prisoners. By now it was clear that the enemy was totally demoralised and on the following day, 4,000 had surrendered and for a distance of 3 or 4 miles, the ground was strewn with thousands of castaway rifles, machine guns, bombs and even band instruments.

Within days the Turks west of the Jordan had been smashed; all that remained was the 4th, now beginning to retreat northward towards Damascus.

On 26th   September the 4th Cavalry Division crossed the Jordan and headed directly for Deraa. Approaching the village of Er Remte a leading squadron encountered an enemy location which was charged and successfully taken. A number of retreating Turks made for village centre  and promptly white flags, supposedly in surrender, were raised on various buildings. However on entering the village, two officers were wounded, one mortally and two other ranks killed and two wounded by bombs hurled from the upper story of a building.

Maddened by this treachery, the white-flag building was rushed in gallant style by Lt Montezuma and Cpl White, who dashed up the staircase and killed the occupants.[1] The Dorsets then secured the capture of the village, taking 4 machine guns and 100 prisoners. The whole action was over by mid day; 2 other ranks were killed and 13 officers and men wounded, two of whom   subsequently died.

On the following day the cavalry division headed for Damascus, not certain as to whether the remnants of the Turkish Fourth Army would offer any resistance.

By 6 am on 1st October Damascus had been taken. For three days, following a triumphal march through the city, the regiment remained enjoying whatever luxuries were obtainable. On the 6th the 10th Cavalry Brigade marched the 60 miles, by easy stages, to Baalbek. It was here that a virulent outbreak of influenza and malaria broke out in the brigade. Sadly the men were worn and susceptible and the epidemic raged for a fortnight during which time the death rate was as high as 10% of admissions to hospital. The British suffered more heavily than the Indians, and in the whole Division, 400 succumbed. The division was incapable of further immediate marching and therefore took no part in the eventual capture of an Aleppo on the night of   25th October.

 Within days the Armistice between the Allies and the Turks came into force.

The regiment remained at Baalbek for almost a month but on 25th  November departed and arrived at El Aluzia, just south of Beirut on the 28th . At last the troops could enjoy warmer weather and they had the luxury of good sea bathing. The regiment remained until July when demobilisation commenced, at a speed. . On the 13th all those who were non-demobilizable had been transferred to the Stafford Yeomanry and the remaining officer and three other ranks proceeded home.

“For the yeomen of Dorset there was no collective home-coming with cheering crowds and waving flags. From the mobilisation camps they went into two’s and three’s to their respective towns and villages, there to meet with welcomes not less hearty for being homely. For four years and more they had upheld the honour of their country in active service in three continents.[2]” The Roll of Honour records 15 officers and 170 other ranks killed in action. That they fought with gallantry is beyond dispute in that the records show the following Honours; C M G 1, DSOs 4 + 2 Bars, MCs 11, DCMs 23, MMs 8  MiDs 46. OBE 1 in addition there were 10 foreign decorations.

But what about the horses? In his book, Major General Thompson comments: “a share of the honour and glory reaped is due to the endurance and patient service of the horses. They were marvellous. Often they were at work from 48 to 56 hours without water; on one occasion a whole squadron was under watered for 72 hours, without any ill effect. They learnt to drink only once a day, and throve, like chickens, on gram, peas and military. Many started the trek unclipped, and yet took no harm from the great heat. Wounded, they still carried on; grooming they had little of, and, if the truth must be told, they smelt horribly in consequence. Gallant horses, you worthily carried the yeomen of Dorset!”

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Lt Montezuma received the Military Cross and Cpl M J White, the Military Medal.

[2] final chapter, Records of The Dorset Yeomanry 1914-1919, by Major-General C W Thompson, CB, DSO.