The development of the rapidly firing machine gun had been gathering pace throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century. By the time of the Great War it had reached a point of deadly and devastating efficiency. Now, specially trained units of men within all armies were trained to bring this lethal weapon to bear on the enemy. This book concerns a group of such men-within the British Army-as it and they fought the Army of the Ottoman Turkish empire in the Middle East Campaign. This was a more mobile war than the gunners of the Western Front experienced, that had its own challenges including disease, blistering heat, flies and difficult terrain. This is an intimate story of a small tightly knit unit operating in an interesting sideshow of the greater conflict.
The forced march to Tahta (a distance of 22 miles), all through the night, after the previous operations, was “killing”. The horses, however, stood the fast going over rocky ground remarkably well, and a part of the distance was even covered at the canter! A faint glimmer of dawn was just visible over the tops of the surrounding hills when the Brigade, on the morning of the 28th November, arrived, tired, dusty and dishevelled, in the vicinity of Beit ur et Tahta, a desolate native village, about 12 miles north-west of Jerusalem and situated at the end of a wadi along the centre of which ran the road leading from Jimzu.<br>
Immediately upon arrival the horses were off-saddled and fed, the “dixies” were unearthed from off the pack-saddles and everything pointed to an early mug of tea and a much-needed rest. Unfortunately, the fates decreed otherwise, for just as the water was “on the boil” a terrific fusillade of rifle-fire broke out, seemingly from all sides. Previously to this, there had been intermittent shelling just to the north of the village, and on the commencement of the rifle-fire this increased in intensity until things began to look extremely awkward. A quick glance up at the hills surrounding the wadi gave no indication as to the source from which the firing emanated, until, a few minutes later, when several men were seen “doubling back” down the slope of the hill on the western side of the wadi. These men were afterwards found to be those holding the outposts in that particular point of the line. They came with the ominous news that the outposts were driven in and the Turks were upon us! Almost at once this was seen to be the case, as the enemy reached the top of the ridge and his fire began to take its toll of men and animals.<br>
To gain a proper appreciation of the serious predicament in which the Brigade was placed at this moment, it will be necessary to understand the nature of the ground thereabouts. On both sides of the wadi were high banks, or hills, 60 to 80 feet high, the surface of these being strewn with large rocks and boulders. The wadi itself was about 20 yards wide with the road winding its tortuous way down the centre between rocks and boulders worn smooth by the passage of water which, ages ago, had run its course from the hills. Packed in this wadi was the Brigade, absolutely at the mercy of the withering fire of the enemy, almost from overhead.
Immediately everything became an orderly bustle and excitement. Squadrons of the two Yeomanry regiments were dispatched to take up defensive positions. The Officer Commanding ordered “E” Sub-section to come into action on the side of the hill, about 400 yards away to the left, against a Mosque which was strongly held, and whence most of the fire appeared to be coming. They “man-handled” their guns and took up good positions, the rocks affording them a certain amount of cover. The gun-teams at that time consisted of four men each, who were naturally rather exhausted after the “trek” and rush-into-action, carrying the guns.<br>
These teams were composed as follows:--<br>
Lance-Corpl. Grice <br>
Lance-Corpl. Thompson. <br>
Pte. Joiner <br>
They opened fire upon the Mosque at a range of 700 yards with good effect, silencing two enemy machine-guns.<br>
After being in action about half-an-hour the “S.R.Y.” sent to Lieut. Price to deal with a party of Turks who were bringing fire to bear on their rear. The Turks were found to be in a trench with a machine-gun. Fire was opened on them, and all were killed except one man who escaped, mounted. Attention was then directed to the Mosque, where the Turks were still causing some trouble. “Covering-fire” was given to the “S.R.Y.” who attacked, but without entire success and had to withdraw. In the end the Turk was ejected, however, and he was not able again to occupy it.
During the day’s fighting Pte. Crossman had been wounded.<br>
At night both guns were placed about 50 yards apart, facing up the hill. Working hard during the night, the enemy built a breastwork on the top of the hill, and the flash of their machine-gun fire could be seen directed from that position across the front of the Mosque, apparently to prevent it being occupied. About midnight Lieut. Price was walking along the line having a look-out and had just passed his right-hand gun when he was unfortunately hit by a bullet in the groin. Lance-Corpl. Grice at once had him bandaged up and carried down to the dressing station by Ptes. Baker and Roberts. To the sorrow of all his comrades, however, he died in the Field Ambulance. He was taken to Ramleh, where he was buried.