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The Cameliers

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The Cameliers
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Author(s): Oliver Hogue
Date Published: 2008/08
Page Count: 180
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-523-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-524-6

The famous camel borne infantry of the Middle East campaigns
< br>Oliver Hogue's account of the Imperial Camel Corps in action during the desert and Palestine campaigns of the First World War is one of the first books written on the subject shortly after the events themselves took place. Hogue was a serving Australian soldier with the unit and so had the advantage of witnessing the events portrayed here at first hand. His is an easy reading, personable and journalistic style-very much of its day—which weaves a romance into this story of war against the declining Ottoman Turkish Empire and it's German allies. There are very few books concerning the Camel Corps and this is a true rarity and its re-publication after so many years will be warmly greeted by aficionados of the subject.

Three roads now lay invitingly before the British, and along these the army pushed towards Amman. Then the weather—which had been fine—swung round all in favour of Abdul. It rained day after day. The rough mountain tracks became almost impassable. The Walers ploughed through. Infantry struggled on up to their knees in mud, frequently fording wadis in spate three feet deep. Camels slithered and slid all over the place. Pack animals laden with explosives gave their drivers hair-raising thrills every minute. The Cameliers dismounted and led their mounts all the night—a night they will long remember. It is on record that one patch of mountain track was so precarious that in twelve hours the column covered less than 200 yards. Now and then a pack camel, top-heavy with explosives or ammunition, would lose its footing and topple over a precipice. Once a beast slipped and fell over the cliff, turned numerous somersaults, then to the surprise of all landed on its feet and started grazing contentedly. Then on they went in the mud, mud, mud.<br>
In due—or overdue—course the Flying Column reached their objective. The Anzacs, with impetuous dash, charged at Es Salt, and captured the garrison amid the plaudits and thanks of the populace. Then they swept on to Amman. But the German ‘planes flying over the Plains of Jericho had seen the league-long columns of horse, foot, camelry, and artillery crossing the Jordan. Reinforcements were hurriedly entrained and sent down from Damascus. If the rain had held off another day or two, all would have gone swimmingly; but the Turkish reinforcements reached Amman in time to be thrown into the firing line. Our information was that the town was garrisoned only by a few hundreds. But when our attack developed Abdul had several thousands to oppose us, and more on the way. The demolition project was, however, persisted in. The Cameliers swung round on to the Hedjaz Railway, blew up Kissir Station, some culverts, and five miles of the permanent way. The Light Horse brushed aside all opposition, and, reaching the line, blew up the main arches of the railway bridge over the wadi. Unfortunately the damage done here was not beyond repair. But the stiff defence put up opposite Amman itself prevented the blowing up of the railway tunnel.<br>
Opposed to the strong force of Turks now in Amman the Flying Column only had two companies of London Irish and a portion of the Camel Brigade, with Light Horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and the Bing Boys’ battery of mountain guns operating on either flank. The Turks, with a dozen guns skilfully concealed, were posted on a commanding eminence, Hill 3039, and this had to be taken. At three in the morning, in the midst of a cold, misty rain, the Cameliers—English, Scotties, and Anzacs—attacked. Creeping up under cover of darkness, they were upon the Turkish trenches before the alarm could be given. Then with a wild yell the Cameliers threw themselves upon the dazed defenders. There was fierce bayonet work, scores of Turks were killed, and the remainder threw up their hands. The first line having surrendered, the Cameliers pushed on to the second trench. But this left unguarded a number of Turks and Germans in the front fine who had yelled for quarter. With Teutonic treachery several of these grabbed the rifles they had thrown down and fired on the backs of the men who had spared their lives. In this way was Lieut. Newson killed, one of the most popular officers in the Camel Brigade. Some of the Cameliers, with ‘Matt’ in the van, charged right on till they reached Amman itself. But their ranks had been thinned, and Turkish reinforcements were still coming up. So they retired to the hill, dug in, and awaited developments. Then came the getaway.