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A Gunner's Crusade

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A Gunner's Crusade
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Author(s): Antony Bluett
Date Published: 2008/01
Page Count: 236
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-381-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-382-2

The Great War in the Middle East as seen by a British artilleryman

Antony Bluett, a serving member of the Honourable Artillery Company, has given us a vital account of the Great War as it was fought in the Egyptian Desert, across the Sinai peninsula into Palestine, the capture of Jerusalem and on to victory in Lebanon and Syria. He tells his story as he saw the war from with his battery of guns-which played its part in this untypical theatre of fluid manoeuvring that brought about the fall of the declining Turkish Ottoman Empire. His was not simply a war of artillery duels and the ever present danger of bombs from enemy aircraft. The very environment was an enemy, fluctuating between searing daytime heat and freezing cold nights on difficult terrain. We are introduced to the difficulties of handling horses, guns and wagons in a war far different to that of the Western Front. The entire campaign is entertainingly recounted including lively accounts of the activities of the Welsh, Scottish and London infantry regiments, the colonial light horsemen and Cameliers together with the long suffering Egyptian labourers who carved camps, fortifications and roads out of the most inhospitable landscape.

Soon the infantry diverged to the left, and the columns, moving toward the sea, were presently lost to view beyond the low western hills. We continued our flanking movement eastward, with cavalry screens thrown forward and the remainder advancing in beautiful order over the undulating plain. Within a couple of hours or so we had reached our appointed place, whereupon some of the cavalry galloped forward to keep in touch with the other mounted division operating toward the north, the armoured cars disappeared swiftly on their lawful occasions, and the Imperial Camel Corps went off to attend to the needs of such Turkish reinforcements as were to be found. We had not long to wait before an enemy aeroplane arrived and, locating us at once, dropped a smoke bomb. Hardly had the little puff dispersed when the first shell arrived with a hideous, screaming whine, and exploded with a shattering roar on the hillside some hundred and fifty yards in our rear. It was followed instantly by another which burst a similar distance in front—a perfect bracket, and we were in the middle of it. It looked any reasonable odds that the third shell would arrive in the middle of us, for we offered a splendid target: thousands of horses and men in a shallow saucer-shaped depression the range of which the enemy evidently had to a yard. <br>
Even the most confirmed optimist could scarcely help feeling that in a few seconds we were likely to be put out of action—polite euphemism!—before striking a blow. But the God of battles was with us, for the third shell, to our utter astonishment, not unmingled with relief, never came! The reason was soon apparent: a battery of horse-artillery was seen galloping madly over the stretch of level plain a mile or so in our rear, in the direction of the Turkish big guns. With beautiful precision they swung into action and in a few seconds were firing round after round in a determined effort to put their larger adversary hors de combat. Whether the Turkish gun-positions were known beforehand and this effort part of a pre-arranged plan I do not know. As we saw it, it looked like a spontaneous and magnificent act of self-sacrifice.<br>
It was David and Goliath over again, but unfortunately the luck on this occasion was with the latter. He plastered the battery with his heavy shells; one of them, bursting near the battery-staff, put almost the entire party out of action from the concussion alone. There was not a scrap of cover either for horses or guns, and soon the gallant gunners were forced to withdraw. They had, however, succeeded in their object—if it were indeed to create a diversion in our favour—and had in addition completely destroyed the crew of one enemy gun. With the exception of a parting round which burst near the field-ambulance on our left we had no further trouble in this direction. Subsequently we went forward without let or hindrance, except from enemy aircraft, whose bombs disturbed quite a quantity of earth.
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