The 1916 war diary of 2nd Lieut. Dick Willis Fleming
June 1916 archives
Although I forgot to say 'rabbits' we had a surprise packet quite early in the day. About seven o'clock this morning the machine guns down at Railhead began blazing away and the next thing we heard was bombs dropping. We soon made out an aeroplane, which by her cut was clearly a Boche, making straight for our camp flying at a great height. She came straight over our mess tent and then shut her engines. We could clearly see the black crosses painted on her wings. By a great stroke of luck she had tossed off all her bombs at Railhead so had none left for us, though when she shut off her engines we thought something was coming. Our machine guns at once opened fire, but they might just as well have been shooting at the moon. She cleared off after having a look round, I only hope she didn't spot the guns, they are well concealed.
Busy digging again this morning, a lovely bathe about midday, and digging again this evening. Kenning came up with the news from Railhead this evening. The plane devoted all its attention to the camp of the Australian Light Horse and dropped six very heavy bombs, killed an officer and nine men, wounded a great many more, and killed 40 horses and a few camels. Most of the Anzacs managed to cut their horses loose, and at the first bout there was a wild stampede, horses and camels running neck and neck in all directions, all thoughts of shying gone to the winds.
The Anzac reconnaissance report tonight says that the Germans have brought five more aeroplanes from Beersheba to El Arish, so they evidently mean to have a strafe here.
Improving the emplacements in the morning. Major Daniell O.P. Essex RHA came this afternoon for a three day stay.
An interesting intelligence report in this evening: a Turkish and a German general are reported to have arrived at El Arish.
On duty at the O.Pip this evening.
Stood by before dawn and dismissed about five o'clock. After breakfast, I was very busy putting some 2 hundred rounds of ammunition, which came last night, into the gun limbers and 1st line wagons, which we had empted into the ammunition dugouts at the gun emplacements.
Bathed about midday - quite rough this morning, so had good fun with the breakers.
Finding mangos with the one man range finder most of the evening.
Intelligence bulletin tonight reports Turkish, German, and Austrian troops concentrating at El Arish. The 155th Infantry Brigade began arriving at Romani tonight, I think they mean to have one or two divisions out here eventually.
Service in our mess tent this morning. I think we are the only Church of England unit in the 156th Brigade. I spent nearly all the rest of the morning bathing and basking. A very quiet day.
Poulteney arrived here this morning with fifteen men from the Ammunition Column to take over the ammunition dump here.
An official report in tonight that there has been a big naval action in the North Sea and that each side has lost fifteen ships.
The colonel and about six others of the 2nd Scottish Horse, with Major Daniell, Major Jeans, and myself, started off soon after five this morning on a reconnaissance for the mobile column we shall form if the chance comes when the Turks come along. We had a troop of the Glasgow Yeomanry as escort, but didn't see anything.
We went to reconnoitre the ground from Blair's Post towards Katia. We found the going over Saklet El Romani very treacherous and boggy, in some places the horses went in right up to their bellies, certainly not suitable for guns, but we found a very good camel track round the edge. We went on though Hod El Sofiyia and Ghazlan, till we came to Bir Abu Haura, just a date palm grove, with a brackish well and a good many Bedouin huts made of palm branches and scrub. There were no Bedouins there, most of the are fighting with the Turks. The date palms were covered with big clusters of dates, but they were very small and green. They aren't ripe here till September I believe.
We went on beyond Bir Abu Haura to the top of a small rise from which we had a good view of the Katia oasis, but we didn't go down into it as it isn't a very healthy spot just at present as all the horses of the Worcester and Gloucester Yeomanry killed on Easter Sunday are still above ground.
We came back by the Romani wells and past Railhead and followed the line to Mahamdiya. They are getting on a tremendous pace with it and it won't be many more days before it reaches us here. The one that is being run out along the coast from Port Said is also coming along very quickly and is only about five miles off now.
Bathed this afternoon. Quite a rough sea. Digging on the gun emplacement this evening. We haven't heard anything official about the naval fight in the North Sea yet, but there are a lot of rumours going round.
Mail this evening. Some topping snapshots from home of the horses.
I am on duty at the O.Pip tonight.
A very strong wind got up during the night, which of course brought on a sandstorm. I was sleeping just outside the dugout and got nearly buried alive. I stood by at three am and dismissed the detachments about five. When I got back to camp, I found several tents flattened out, including my own, and the contents buried in sand.
Working out ranges and switches on the right section most of the morning. Bathed about midday. It was about the roughest sea we've had here so far; really big waves that knocked us flat.
Began digging an alternative O.Pip for the left section this evening. An interesting intelligence bulletin in this evening which contained a report by one of our agents who has just been to El Arish. He said he heard it said there that the Turks mean to attack us on or about the sixth of June, with a large force including six hundred Germans. Being June 6th this evening we may expect some liveliness. The report also said that the Turks expect a big force of Bulgarians to join them at El Arish shortly. They seem to be getting a very motley crowd together.
At work at the guns this morning; bathed about midday. At two thirty General Koe, the brigade major, and Major Jeans, Franklyn, and myself, rode out on a reconnaissance. We were escorted by a troop of the Glasgow Yeomanry. We were reconnoitring the ground for the flying column; I only hope we get the chance of being able to use one. We rode about five miles due East of this position, a great deal of it through big dry gypsum lakes, then we turned and went into Bir Abu Haura from the northeast and then back here by way of Blair's Post.
This morning a large flock of fifty goats was captured by a yeomanry patrol on the shore about half a mile in front of our entanglements, but they could find no sign of anyone with them. They brought the flock in, and the general thinks it is the forerunner of the Turks' attack, as they send on large flocks for supplies under the care of would-be shepherds who are really spies, having the excuse that they are shepherds if they are found. I only wish the patrol had got hold of those with this flock; they are probably back in El Arish with a good deal too much information about our position.
A very cheering official report has come in tonight, if it is true, that the Russians have captured thirty thousand Turks and are within six miles of Baghdad.
Nothing much doing today except odd jobs. Our report about the Russians getting hold of thirty thousand Turks is all a myth - it sounded to good to be true. Another rumour in tonight says that the 'Hampshire' has been sunk with Kitchener on board, who was on his way to Russia. We are still in hopes it is only an empty rumour.
The intelligence bulletin in tonight was very full of information. The Turks apparently intend to attack us after Ramadan (some sort of religious feast or fast) which takes place in few days time. The sooner they do attack the better for them as the place is getting stronger every day with wire and trenches.
On duty in the O.Pip tonight.
I warned the gun detachments to stand to at three o'clock this morning. We had to keep standing by until six as there was a very heavy mist, just the morning for an attack, but all was quiet.
Battery gun drill this morning. Bathed about midday.
At 2:30 pm the major, Elliott, Franklyn, and myself rode out on a reconnaissance. We went on practically the same ground as the day before yesterday, and a mile or two further on. The Glasgow Yeomanry provided us with an escort.
We saw a jackal jump out of a patch of scrub about fifty yards ahead of us and we galloped him for two or three hundred yards, but we couldn't get a shot in, and he went like a flash of lightening straight towards Katia. On the way back we started a fox out of some scrub, but didn't have a hunt. We came back along the shore, and it was alive with crabs, literally thousands; a sort of land crab that live in holes in the sand. They have very long legs and eyes that stick up like periscopes, and they run like blazes as soon as they see you coming, either into their holes or into the sea.
A very interesting intelligence report tonight, I think we shall have plenty to do shortly. The Admiralty have confirmed the report about Kitchener, it is a great blow.
Battery gun drill this morning. Bathed about midday. The colonel arrived for lunch; he has come up from Kantara for a day or two.
Practicing for night firing this evening with lamp signalling.
Got a little news today: the Russians seem to be giving the Austrians a bit of a dressing down in the Pripet Marshes.
A small mail in tonight - heard from Bill Broadhurst.
The intelligence report tonight says the Turks at El Arish have been further reinforced by two 'taburs' (about 2000) of Afghan troops. I wonder who they will get for us next?
A fairly quiet day. When the major was bathing this morning he saw two sharks come in within fifty yards of the shore so he made a hasty exit. They told us there were plenty of them about here - we shall be keeping our weather eyes open more now.
A Boche aeroplane appeared shortly after lunch, flying very high. He circled over us and Railhead for about half an hour, in spite of our machine guns, but he was evidently on a reconnaissance as he didn't drop any bombs. He looked like the same one who visited us before, painted white except for the two black crosses on the lower wing. White is a very hard colour to see in this bright light.
Elwiss of the West Riding Battery and Worrall of the Essex came up this afternoon to have a look round and spend the night.
On duty in the O.Pip tonight.
Stood by at three o'clock this morning and being a clear morning I was able to dismiss the detachments at four-thirty. Improving the right section alternative gun position during the morning. I bathed later on in the morning. The water was exceptionally warm today. One of the men bathing caught a turtle, although not a very large one.
At two o'clock this afternoon General Koe and his staff, several officers of the Scottish Horse and Royal Scots, Major Jeans, Worrall, and myself went on a reconnaissance. When we got to Hill 90 we were joined by the general and staff of the 153rd Brigade at Romani, and all rode on escorted by a troop of the Glasgow Yeomanry, and also a troop of the Bikaner Camel Corps, to a small oasis called Bir El Rabah about a mile north of Katia. There it is intended for the mobile columns of the 156th and 153rd Brigades to meet if we have to move out. I think they are going to give us one practice turnout shortly to see that everything works alright.
I had my hair cut this evening and it needed it badly. The colonel and Elwiss left today. We had one of the Scottish Horse majors in to mess this evening.
Mail in tonight - had all the news from home. Jo's division have been inspected by the King on Salisbury Plain and expect to go soon now.
Section gun drill this morning, followed by a bathe. A very hot day today and no sea breeze. Section gun drill this evening. I walked down by the line tonight; they are getting on at a tremendous pace and it's all ready for laying the lines. The light railway round the coast from Port Said (32 miles) has reached here too.
The Australians got back from a reconnaissance today with two Turks. They came on a patrol of eight of them, but their trotting camels streaked away from the Anzac horses, and they only managed to wing these two.
Worrall went back to Kantara today.
Reveille at 4:30 this morning, then digging a signalling pit from five till eight. I didn't get a bathe in till this evening, and the water was almost too warm by then to be really nice.
Orders came in this evening that the mobile column has got to turn out at some unearthly hour tomorrow morning. We've got to get to Kilo 48, which is about eight miles from here near Bir El Rabah. It will be a very hard job for the horses as the going is awful, very damp sand in some places and wet salt marshes in others where it is ten to one we shall go through the top crust and get hopelessly bogged. But still, we hope for the best. I've got to be battery guide tomorrow for the first eight miles or so out, as I know the country pretty well now. Hope is running high that we may be going on a strafing expedition as an unofficial report came though from Port Said last night that we had landed troops at Jaffa, which is just above El Arish. Anyhow I believe we are to bivouac for the first night somewhere near Katia, and the general himself doesn't know yet whether we shall be going on further the next day. The mobile column of the 155th Brigade at Romani is also going out, so it looks as though there may be something up.
An Anzac mounted division and the Bikaner Camel Corps are going out before dawn tomorrow to screen our advance. We are only taking three guns out tomorrow; Badcock is staying here with the other one to support the infantry if things go badly with us and the place is attacked.
Buckley of the Essex Battery came up from Kantara tonight to see the positions line.
Rather a hard day today. Reveille 1:15 am, breakfast at 2 am. We moved off soon after four with ten horses in each team, and they worked splendidly and although the going was atrocious, we got to Bir El Rabah within four hours. When we got there the engineers seemed to have made no effort at all to find any water. The major found a likely looking place and made them dig, and with the help of a pump and a canvas trough within a few hours there was enough water for the horses. It was brackish but they were thirsty and most of them drank it well. The camel transport brought enough drinking water for half a gallon per man so we didn't do so badly.
We didn't get any food from two o'clock breakfast till after four in the afternoon, so the bully went like smoke when we got at it. Towards evening General Laurence came out and said the columns were too far forward and must move back half a mile, and then later orders came in that we were to go to Romani for the night, so it ended with the horses having another very hard three hours work over, if anything, worse going than this morning, and it was a very hot evening. The horses couldn't have worked better and we got here soon after nine.
General Parker came out to see us this evening and told us they are going to give us mules for draft instead of horses, much better for these conditions, and I wonder they haven't done it before, but we shall be very sad at parting with the horses we've had so long now and they are by no means a bad lot.
Stayed at Romani all day and rested the horses. None of them seem any worse. We left Romani at 5:30 this evening and had a very hard three hours pull up to Mahamdiya. They have finished the railway up to here now, and are starting again from Romani to push on forwards to El Arish.
The horses have gone back to Romani. They've worked awfully well the last few days. 'Kitty' was full of beans too.
Intelligence report tonight rumours 10,000 Germans at Damascus, but it sounds unlikely.
They've just brought a force of seven thousand men from the Egyptian Labour Corps to help on the fortifications and also flood Lake Bardawil. If they manage to do that, it will make this place practically impregnable from that side.
Badcock a bit rough tonight, though he thinks only an upset inside.
Buckley left for Kantara this afternoon.
Reveille at 5 am. Laying out the lines for 'C" sub section gun again, and finishing the signal pit. Heard some fairly heavy firing this morning; it might be the monitors bombarding Jaffa or El Arish again.
Bathed this morning but the water was really too warm to be refreshing. A shark was seen very close inshore, but I didn't see him. Badcock on the mend this evening, ought to be fit again tomorrow.
On duty in the O.Pip tonight.
Stood by as usual at three this morning and dismissed at four thirty. A clear morning. Church parade at our mess tent at eight o'clock.
I saw a shark this morning. The brute came right in under the breakers in about three feet of water. I thought he was only a dolphin at first. He looked about six or eight feet long.
No enemy plane came over to disturb our Sunday siesta this afternoon.
We hear the Essex and West Riding Batteries have had their draft horses taken and been given mules instead, but I believe there may be a chance of our keeping our horses after all.
From 5:30 this morning till 7:30 we were digging a signalling trench. I had a topping bathe this morning; digging again in the evening.
The horses didn't come up from Romani this evening as now the 155th Brigade have made a strong position down there, there is no need for them to come up unless we are ordered out on mobile column.
We had a big, and I believe successful, strafe on El Arish yesterday, so we are rather expecting them to return the compliment here in a day or two.
General Parker and his staff came up this morning and inspected our positions. He told us we lost three aeroplanes on our raid to El Arish on Sunday, but they think they smashed up one Fokker which was on the ground outside its hangar. They saw ten hangars there altogether.
Bathed this afternoon - a rough sea. Buxton from the Essex Battery came up this evening to see our positions here and stay a day or two. Topping mail in this evening. Up in the O.Pip tonight.
Stood by before dawn and dismissed just before 5 am. Bathed this morning; we were in the water about two hours. It is impossible to get cold in it.
Interesting intelligence report in tonight.
Buxton left this morning.
A wire came in this afternoon that an officer was to go down and report at Romani at once. I went down and when I got there I was ordered to go out with two teams with an Australian convoy of three hundred camels to Ogratina. They were taking out supplies to the 7th Australian Light Horse, who've been out on a stint to Bir Al Abd and are going to bivouac at Ogratina. But no further orders as to what our share in the stint was to be were forthcoming, so I just had time to get together rations for 24 hrs and had to start straight away.
We got to Katia about seven pm and halted there for a few minutes, which was quite long enough as the stink of dead horses was awful. We then pushed on the remaining six miles to Ogratina and got there at midnight. It was a very slow march but the camels can't get along very fast and I had to go at their pace as there was only a rather limited escort and we all had to keep together.
Watered the horses at a well at Ogratina and tied them up to some palms for the rest of the night. It was pitch dark and no moon.
As soon as it was light, had a look round to see who was in the oasis besides ourselves and the escort. I found the Light Horse had not come back, so I went and pinched a sack of barley and a bale of tabin from their supply, and after a little difficulty got hold of a fantasse of filtered water.
We found two wells in the oasis - only one was so brackish the horses wouldn't look at it, but they drank from the other one.
No one seemed to know what we were wanted for till about ten o'clock - when a message came through that it was one of our aeroplanes down near Bir Al Abd and they had wanted me to try and drag it in. But as they had found it was bashed about they were going to burn all except the engine and Lewis gun etc which they were going to bring in from there on camels.
We stayed in the oasis all day, and went and had a look at the place where our yeomanry post was cut up about a month ago. Nothing to be seen except graves and litter. The Bedouins had been there before the Anzacs and even stripped all the clothes off the bodies - and actually taken the food and water, which the Turk like a gentleman had left with the wounded. They are brutes these Bedouins.
The 7th Light Horse came in about three o'clock, pretty done up; neither they nor their horses had had any water for 24 hrs. They brought in what was worth saving of the aeroplane, also four Bedouin prisoners who they'd found sitting round the aeroplane waiting to hand over to the first Turk patrol. The Anzacs told me that these four had tried to clear off as soon as they saw them coming, but as where they fired at them the Bedouins stopped and took off their baggy white trousers and waved them over their heads as a sign of surrender.
I borrowed two ambulance sand carts from the Light Horse, got the aeroplane engine onto one, and the Lewis gun wheels and seat etc onto the other. Started off about five o'clock in the evening as I wanted to save as much daylight as possible as last night was the first time I'd been out this way and didn't fancy getting lost. An R.F.C. observer who'd been out with the Anzacs to dismantle the machine rode back with me. It was only the second time he'd ever been on a horse, so wasn't exactly happy and got rather sore. We got a bit sore too as we'd not had time to put on breeches when ordered out, so were riding in shorts.
We got to Katia at seven, just as the sun was going out of sight, and halted for ten minutes. There were about thirty dead horses still on the lines, just as they'd been shot down, also a few odd camels, so there were flies innumerable and a stink indescribable.
We passed on again heading straight for Katib Gannit, the big sand hill above Romani which we could see in the distance, and luckily hit a camel track.
Eventually, after one or two short breathers, we got to the Romani wells about nine, and from there down to our wagon line camp near Railhead and stayed the night there with Elliott and Kenning. The remains of the plane is going down by rail to Kantara tomorrow.
Left Railhead about ten and rode up to Mahamdiya. Went straightaway and had a swim and felt a bit cleaner.
On duty at the O.Pip tonight.
Stood by at three this morning and dismissed at four thirty. A quiet day.
A report was sent in to us tonight that the enemy forces at Bir El Mazar have been greatly increased. It is an oasis about forty miles east of us and the authorities are rather expecting the enemy to try a reconnaissance in force shortly, so we may have an attack soon. But I think they will find they are up against it when they come here as, besides our battery, there are fifteen machine guns and seventeen Lewis guns, while the brigade at Romani have got the Ross mountain battery and the Anzac division.
I don't suppose the Turks will be able to bring anything heavier than mountain guns against us.
Gun drill. Bathed about midday.
Mail in this morning.
Up in the O.Pip tonight.
Stood by before dawn as usual, dismissed at four thirty.
At six thirty our old friend the white raider appeared, flying very high. He circled round a bit and flew off in the direction of Kantara, but I don't think he would have got so far as he was back again within 20 minutes flying much lower, and looked very pretty with the sun on him - much more graceful lines than our machines too. He was just circling over us when to our great delight we saw one of our machines coming from the direction of Port Said and flying about the same height as the raider. As soon as the Boche saw him he turned tail and there was a thrilling chase right over the camp. Our machine seemed to catch up a bit and then the Boche opened fire on him with his machine gun and it looked as if our own plane was hit, as he turned off at once and went away over the sea towards Port Said. The raider disappeared too, but about ten minutes later came back again much higher, finished his reconnaissance, and cleared off.
Bathed this morning, but the water was too hot for pleasure.
Out early this morning digging an observing station.
About nine o'clock the same Boche plane as yesterday flew over, but one of our battle planes, which had been waiting about on the chance of his turning up was soon after him, and we saw a thrilling air fight over the camp. The Boche was about five thousand feet up and our battle plane was a bit above him, and chased him over the camp. Both machines blazing away with their machine guns and they disappeared in the direction of El Arish. Our machine came back about an hour later, flying very badly and made a very bad landing on the shore near the sea - but they managed to right her alright and got off with just a shaking.
The plane had sixty bullet holes in her, and the oil tank shot through, but neither the pilot or observer were touched. They told us they had chased the Boche for 30 miles but his machine was an Aviatik with a machine gun mounted so as to be able to shoot astern, and our plane was so badly hit about they had to give up the chase.
One of the Scottish Horse came into the mess tonight; he brought a rumour that on the Western Front we've advanced and broken the German line in nine places.
But we've heard so many rumours before.
Digging this morning. After breakfast Badcock and I rode along the shore to the ruins of the Roman fort and on about a mile to where a gang of natives are cutting a channel through from the sea to try and flood the gypsum. It doesn't look as if it will be a success. Found a big turtle on the shore, but he was dead; he was about two ft long and one and a half across. Bathed when we got back.
Intelligence report this evening reports a good deal of activity at Hassana where there are now about three thousand mixed Germans, Austrian, Turks and Syrians, also guns. Agents report that El Arish, El Anja, and Bir El Saba have about three to five thousand men at each place, and nine aeroplanes at the latter place. Up in the O.Pip tonight.
A very thick wet fog this morning, so I couldn't dismiss the detachments till 6:30. Bathed this morning.
General Casson has taken command up here in place of General Koe. Our water ration has now been increased to 1.5 gallons a day per man, as a lot comes up on the railway now it is finished.
The intelligence report tonight reports a considerable increase of enemy troops at all their advanced posts, and the R.F.C. think it is quite probable we shall be attacked in about four days time.