The 1916 war diary of 2nd Lieut. Dick Willis Fleming
July 1916 archives
The Colonel and Borrit arrived this morning to stay till Monday. This evening Col. Robertson, the Major, Franklyn, and I walked along the shore to the ruins and back, and then had a bathe. A very rough sea. Elliott came up from Romani this evening. We've got sixteen men sent back to Kantara with dysentery, but only a few of them are bad cases.
Bathed at six this morning. Had a slight touch of dysentery today. Up in the O.Pip tonight.
Dismissed at 4:30. The Colonel and Borrit left for Kantara this morning and Garside arrived to take over all the veterinary work for the troops up here. He is going to mess with us.
Poulteney had a wire from the War Office this evening recalling him to England.
I have practically recovered today, but still a bit limp.
Poulteney left about four o'clock this morning. A broiling hot and very monotonous day.
Gen. Murray G.O.C. in C. Egyptian Expeditionary Force came up here today for a day or two and went round the defences this evening. We hear they are going to send up a howitzer battery and two more batteries to Romani shortly.
Pease of the Essex Battery came up here from Kantara this evening to see our position. Mail in the evening. Up in the O.Pip tonight.
Very clear morning, dismissed at four thirty.
A Boche plane came over during breakfast this morning, flying at about 5000 ft. He played about over us for about half an hour despite a very heavy fire from all the machine guns round about, but didn't drop any bombs. The mountain battery fired one gun at him but the shell burst about a thousand feet below him. Two of our own machines arrived from Kantara about half an hour too late.
Bathed this morning. Small mail in this evening; heard from the Jacker. Pease left this evening. Good news in the official telegram from Flanders tonight, also from the Russian front.
Nothing much doing today. We hear from Kantara today that the Essex Battery have got over fifty men in hospital. There are rumours of leprosy, but we've not heard what it is yet. The rest of the Battery have been put in quarantine.
An agent who has just returned from the Turkish lines reports that he visited Shellal, Bir Saba, and Hassana; that the Turks are about twenty thousand strong, inclusive of Germans, Austrians, Afghans, Syrians, and Arab horsemen, and intend attacking down the Northern Route in the late summer.
One of our battleplanes was circling about over us from about seven till eight this morning on the chance of the Boche turning up, but there was nothing done. Bathed this morning; old Garside bathed with us - his first for 15 years. He really is a marvel, over sixty and yet skips about out here like a two year old.
The major has gone down to Kantara to see the General, so Elliott has come up here tonight from Romani.
I heard from Cecil Ellis tonight, he has got his captaincy and seems to be having a great time. Up in the O.Pip tonight.
Stood by at 3 am, dismissed at four thirty when everything was reported all clear, and came down to camp and finished my snooze.
Church parade in our mess tent this morning. I had to read the lesson as the padre had forgotten his glasses.
The major got back from Kantara this evening, and had heard good news from the Flanders and Russian fronts.
Mail in tonight, a lot of news from home. Jo and his squadron have gone to France with the 60th Division. Heard from Ben Stephens; he's been invalided home after five months on Mudros and the Peninsular and three months here.
Very full intelligence report in tonight, the Turks are reported to have thirty thousand troops now.
Bathed this morning. One of the 261st Bde. has come up to be attached to us to take charge of the ammunition dump, and Simpson of our brigade column, who has been doing it since Poulteney went, has gone back to Kantara.
I went down to Romani tonight as I've got to go to Kantara tomorrow to draw some money and pay off four men who are going home.
I went down to Kantara by the six o'clock train from Romani this morning. I had breakfast with the ammunition column when I got there. Drew some money from the Field Cashier and payed off the men. I went and had a bathe in the canal with Jackson and Hawkins of the West Riding Battery. The water was very greasy and full of jelly fish. I lunched with the column, they were in great form.
The West Ridings are coming up to Romani within the next few days, so everything was in confusion. The Essex Battery are still in quarantine; it is paratyphoid they've got. When they are fit I believe they are coming to take our positions up here, and we are going to Romani to act as a mobile battery for any stunt that may come off. A battery of 60 pounders is also coming up here I believe.
Left Kantara by the four o'clock train and got here about six thirty. Divisional Headquarters are up here now and the new general was coming up in the train tonight. He has been brought from Salonika. General Lawrence has handed over the 52nd Division to him, and he himself is going to command No 3 Section Canal Defences, The Colonel came up for the night this evening as Brigade Headquarters are moving up here tomorrow.
A very heavy dew early this morning. Stood by at 3 am and dismissed at 5.
Busy helping Brigade Headquarters who arrived this morning. Bathed later. The Col., Kirk, and the padre messed with us today. A Bosch plane came over here yesterday while I was at Kantara. The mountain battery had four shots at it, but she was well out of reach.
The West Riding Battery arrived at Romani today and are going to dig themselves into a position there.
A very heavy mist up until breakfast time this morning. Had some section gun drill. My day in today, so I didn't bathe, but the others saw three sharks down there.
Somebody who was staying with General Lawrence the other day told Garside this morning that he had told him we are going to make a big push here in October. I hope it will be cooler then. At present we are of the opinion that if the Kaiser really wants a place in the sun, he is welcome to come and shrivel in Sinai.
Section gun drill early. Bathed this morning; water very hot and not a bit refreshing, though cleansing. Up in the O.Pip tonight.
Stood by and dismissed as usual. I went down to Romani this morning, and rode out on a reconnaissance this afternoon with the Colonel to Bir El Rabah. Apparently they are going to send a strong infantry brigade out there and our battery is going with them to protect the railway till it gets to Katia, and then I suppose we shall shove on again. Kitty went very well this afternoon.
We came back here this evening.
I went down and had a bathe before breakfast. We've started doing some of Muller's exercises now, generally before bathing, as they are supposed to strengthen the middle against the attacks of gippy tummy. Checking the lines for the guns this evening. Intelligence report in today: apparently the Bedouin in Sinai have been informed of the revolt of the Sheriff of Mecca, but at present there are no signs of them turning against the Turks.
One of the men killed a snake this morning, 5 ft 1", rather the colour and markings of an adder, a most poisonous looking brute. A Boche plane came over during breakfast, the mountain battery loosed off at him, but he was flying at a great height and they couldn't touch him.
Bathed this morning. Good news from the French front in the official telegram this evening. Up in the O.Pip tonight.
Stood by at 3 o'clock and dismissed at five, nothing doing. Bathed this morning, water a bit cooler. Small mail in this morning; heard from Mrs Pellatt.
One of the officers of the Ayrshire Battery of the 1/2nd Bde. came here tonight to see our positions, as the Essex are still in quarantine. They are going to come up here temporarily to take over till the Essex are fit, and we are moving to Romani the day after tomorrow, preparatory to pushing out further, probably to El Rabah.
Busy filling up wagons and limbers with ammunition before breakfast. Bathed later this morning. The Ayrshire Battery arrived tonight and took over our emplacements.
One of our aeroplanes came back from a reconnaissance this evening, and we've just had her report in. 3500 Turks and Germans, with seven thousand trotting camels are at Bir el Abd, which has for the last month or so been clear of the enemy. Five thousand more Turks are in an oasis a mile or so behind it, about twenty two miles from us. An attack is expected tonight, and the Ayrshire Battery are in our emplacements. We've got to get ready to move out on mobile column at a minute's notice. It looks as if our long wishes for a chance is now an absolute certainty.
If we are not attacked tonight we are going down to Romani at six o'clock tomorrow morning and shall advance from there when things begin to move.
I went up to the O.Pip at two thirty this morning to give the Ayrshire observing officer any help he could have wanted with regard to the zone. I was up there till five but there was no attack. At six o'clock we had 35 camels, struck our camp, and sent it onto Romani and followed on with the guns; we've come into action in the open here, behind the first line redoubts. They sent up three more battalions from the 42nd Division tonight.
From our reconnaissance today the old Turk at last means serious business. One of the Anzac patrols went out to Ogratina this morning but found it held by an advance guard of two hundred Turks who drove them back, though luckily with only a few casualties. This afternoon an Anzac patrol to Katia captured a patrol of these Turks.
Our last aeroplane to reconnoitre tonight has come in with the news that the Turks have now got eight thousand men and six guns at Ogratina (12 miles away) and are digging themselves in there. Their main body is at Bin el Abd.
Divisional headquarters have warned us that the attack is very imminent, and will in all possibility be tonight. If the chance offers, we are to go out on mobile column, but otherwise shall fire from our positions here.
We've got about ten thousand men in all here, including the Anzacs and the 157th Brigade at Mahamdiya so ought to be able to hold them; but the worst of it is they attack at night always and not by day.
One of our gravest problems here is the native labour corps. There are about eight thousand of them, and three time during this evening they have tried to break through the front line. They know what's on just as well as we do, and there is no shadow of doubt that half of them are in the pay of the Turks, but the infantry have now rounded them all up and marshalled them back about three miles down the line.
It is very much a case of sleeping with one eye open tonight.
We heard late during the night that the Turkish outposts were in Katia. We stood by at the guns at three, but there was no attack. An aerial reconnaissance out towards Ogratina at dawn this morning reported 12 battalions of Turks with seven mountain guns leaving and marching southwards. It looks as if they mean to try and work round behind us and cut the line between us and Kantara. Three Turks was caught in the Gippy Labour Corps lines last night, and they said that their main force of about thirty thousand was advancing to Ogratina.
Finished getting the camp straight this morning and then altered the position of the guns, so we can shoot South and West as well as East, so can protect our flanks to a certain degree.
Two enemy planes made a reconnaissance over us about five o'clock this evening, our battleplane at once went up after them but they had too much start. The Ross Mountain Battery got some shells bursting pretty close to them.
Troops and stores are still pouring up here. The 156th Bde. which was resting at Sidi Bish Camp in Alexandria, have been recalled and arrived here this evening. They packed off another big train of Labour Corps natives to Kantara this evening, and by the row they were making, they seemed to be glad to be out of it.
I am the F.O.O. tonight, so am just off there. The staff warn us that they expect the attack by the Turkish main body within the next 48 hrs.
Got into communication with the battery once every quarter of an hour during the night. The moon was very late getting up so it was lucky really there was no attack as I couldn't have observed at all, and it would have had to be guesswork.
Two large train loads of natives were sent back to Kantara early this morning and two battalions of infantry from the 53rd Division came up later on the morning. About eight o'clock this morning an enemy plane came over; the mountain battery at once opened fire, but all the shells burst a bit too low.
Our aerial reconnaissance this morning has located the Turkish force which left Ogratina yesterday at Mageibra (supposed to be Joseph's well) which is south of us. They also saw two thousand more Turks dug in at Ogratina, and their main body at and near Bir el Abd and Hod el Bayud.
Two more big troop trains packed with infantry came up from Kantara this evening. Our outposts have had a skirmish with Turkish patrols this evening, as some Anzac wounded have been brought in, also nine Turkish prisoners, including one officer. They don't think it so likely that there will be an attack tonight, as the old Turk evidently doesn't mean to be hurried, and is going to wait until he is quite ready.
Stood by at the guns at 3:30. About eight o'clock an enemy plane came over; a hot fire was opened by the mountain battery but it was not effective. Our battleplane went up and both planes got so high up we couldn't see them owing to the bright glare, but we heard their machine guns going and the enemy plane was eventually driven off.
Another eighteen pounder battery, also a sixty pounder battery, came up from Kantara this morning.
The report in this morning said the situation is unchanged. The Turk has firmly entrenched himself at Ogratina, also at Mageibra, and evidently means to wait for us to come out at him, so we are hoping a mobile column will be sent out in a day or so.
We have dug a new well behind our camp. The water is pretty brackish but the horses know by now it is that or nothing, so drink it fairly well. We moved the horse lines up near the new well this afternoon.
The officers from the 60 pounder battery came in to mess tonight.
A convoy of eight hundred Indian transport camels came up tonight, so it looks as if we may be contemplating a mobile stunt. The administrative commandant told Elliott tonight that we have now got eighteen thousand troops up here and only three fantasses of fresh water, so if the Turks cut our communications there will be another Kut here.
I slept at the guns last night. Had great trouble with the Indian camel transport, who tried to bivouac all round the guns. Saw the communications were all right at three o'clock, and took the horses out for exercise at five. Dug another well this morning, about 100 yards from our other one; the water is not nearly so salty and the horses drink it much better.
There is no change in the situation tonight. The Anzac patrols had a few casualties. The Ayrshire Horse Battery who are attached to the Anzac Mounted Division, went out with the 7th Light Horse and shelled the enemy trenches at Ogratina, lucky devils; I hope they send us out on mobile column soon.
Another troop train came up this evening. Up in the F.O.O. tonight.
Kept in communication with the battery during the night. I don't think the Turks will try a frontal attack now, we are getting too strong. Another troop train in this morning early.
About seven thirty an enemy plane came over, followed by a second at about eight o'clock. The mountain battery and several machine guns opened on them but without result. About ten o'clock a third Turkish plane came over, and was greeted with the customary ineffective fusillade. She dropped a message with long red, white and blue streamers attached to it, saying that they found it hard to distinguish our hospital tents and would they be more clearly marked in the future. They evidently mean to have a bombing strafe. The old Turk is quite a gentleman.
Another troop train this evening. We've sent back about twenty of our poorest horses to Kantara and have got mules up from the brigade ammunition column to take their place - great whackers, some of them seventeen hands.
Our first excitement this morning was when a machine gun section of the 156 Brigade thought it would do a little practice into the bottom of the hill on top of which our camp is pitched, but when the bullets began to whistle round the mess tent, the major thought it was time to send down and stop the practice.
I went out on a reconnaissance this morning to Hill 110, which is south of Lake Bardawil and northwest of Ogratina. We heard an Anzac patrol having a slight difference of opinion with a Turkish one away to our east.
We saw a section of the Ayrshire RHA going out for a strafe as we got back. The major went out for a reconnaissance for positions for us and went up into the Ayrshire F.O.O. station, and said they were shooting hopelessly and we shall knock spots off them when we go out. We heard them shooting from here.
Franklin went sick this morning and had to be removed in an ambulance sand cart, but I don't think there is much wrong with him. Brigade Headquarters are moving their camp up near ours, so they've all been in to mess with us tonight. A topping mail in from home tonight.
From what the general said this morning, we are shortly going out on a mobile stunt and shall try and give Johnny Turk something for himself.
No Boche planes over today; perhaps they've been busy overhauling their machines for a good bombing strafe tomorrow. The latest report is that the Turks have advanced their positions a little west of Ogratina and are strongly entrenched from there down to Mageibra.
Enemy plane over about seven thirty this morning. The mountain battery did some pretty shooting but their guns weren't made for anti-aircraft. They have left for Salonika today and they are going to send us some proper "archies" up here, so we may bring one of those Fokkers down before long.
Got the detail out for the whole mobile column today; we shall be going out with the 156 Brigade when the stunt comes off. At present I am in charge of the right section but am very much afraid I shan't take them into action as Franklyn will have in all probability got over his indisposition by the time our strafe comes off. But still, you never know your luck.
Situation unchanged today. I am in charge of the telephone communication between the battery and F.O.O. tonight.
Enemy planes came over about seven thirty this morning, but no mountain battery to open fire on her. News came in this morning that the Turks were shelling Hill 100, and later they were reported to be advancing in force on Katia and the Anzacs falling back.
Stood by at the guns for the rest of the day, but I think they won't attack before dawn tomorrow. We've made a new F.O.O. which commands a much better view of our zone. We are in readiness now to turn out a mobile column. They are pretty certain to send one out tomorrow I should think, if the Turks entrench at Katia.
Franklyn is back from hospital, but the major doesn't think he is fit enough to go out, so I shall be taking the right section into action tomorrow if we go out and Franklyn shows no signs of being fitter.
The men are as keen as mustard and longing to get out at the Turk. I am just off to the F.O.O.
I had a good deal of trouble during the night with the telephone line from the F.O.O. to the battery. It was broken three times. An enemy plane came over at 7:30. Kenning came up and relieved me at the F.O.O. soon after eight.
There was heavy rifle firing from Katia this afternoon, also some gun fire. The Turks have dug themselves in at Katia. One of the Australian Light Horse Brigade had a go at them this afternoon but got driven back.
News came in early this morning from the 158th Brigade Headquarters that the Anzac patrols which went out this morning towards Katia had been forced to retire, and Turkish patrols had followed them up to within a mile of redoubts, but Franklyn, who was in the F.O.O., didn't get a chance to open fire.
Church parade at Brigade H.Q. this morning. Went up to the F.O.O. at midday and was relieved by Kenning at seven o'clock this morning. The infantry have been hard at work wiring just in front of our F.O.O. all day.
Two monitors were lying off Mahamdiya today, but steamed away in the direction of Port Said this evening.
We hope to get more fresh water here soon now as they have been fixing up a condensing plant at Mahamdiya, and are going to condense 26 thousand gallons a day. The Essex Battery came up today, they are out of quarantine now, but have had a pretty rough time of it. Fifty odd men down at the same time with paratyphoid, and two died.
The Leicester Horse Battery came up today.
263rd Brigade R.H.A.
Egyptian Expeditionary Forces.
July 31st 1916.
My dear Betty,
Just a line to wish you very many happy returns for August 10th. I hope this will reach you in time for your birthday, but if it doesn't, better late than never.
You must be getting a grown up old thing now. I suppose the hair stays up permanently now. You will understand I can't send you a little token from this place, but perhaps after the war there might be "something she fancies".
Things are still exciting here and we're very busy. This morning during breakfast four Boche planes appeared and dropped between twenty & thirty bombs, some unpleasantly close to the horse lines. I was "fair skeered out of my life". We may get a home mail in tonight with luck, but anyhow in a day or two. Thank you so much for the 'Fragments from France' you sent me last mail, they are killingly funny.
I suppose old Fuzz is now back, give the little knave my love. I suppose you are having some small tournaments at Puckhouse now, but must find it rather hard to get men don't you?
You would have laughed this morning if you could have seen some old camels when one of the Hun's tender little messages came rather close to them - it's a fact, but I never knew it before, a camel can gallop!
Have you had any news of Jo lately, I shouldn't mind exchanging weather with him for a bit, we hear France is nearly under water at present.
I wonder who you've got on the Island instead of Mr Davey - I expect you miss him very much don't you. I suppose you are bathing regularly in Fishbourne creek now - it must be topping. I hope the dinghy and the Grey Lady are giving you some good sails - has old Packham taken you out yet? I suppose the old boy will last the next winter all right, I am hoping for some good sails with him next summer. You ought to get some hunts in with 'Beagle' Young this summer, and don't forget to make him tell you the story of old man Carter and the Belgian Refugees.
I am longing to hear you've had some good team drives and the horses go well together - I suppose Ida is handling the ribbons this summer and old Fuzz manages a note or two on the horn.
There is no more news now. Best love and a happy birthday.
Your very loving Dick
About seven thirty this morning four Boche planes came over and dropped twenty four bombs on us; we spent a most uncomfortable half hour, the worst of it is you can't hit back. They seemed specially to go for the artillery horses and one plane devoted its attention to ours and the Essex, but by a great stroke of luck they didn't get a direct hit. One fell close to the Essex lines and two within a couple of hundred yards of ours. The Leicester RHA lost a few men and horses, also the 157 Brigade Transport and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers caught it a bit. It was our first experience of high explosive, a good deal different to shrapnel. Considering the number of bombs dropped, the damage was slight. They made one particularly good shot in dropping a bomb right in the centre of No. 6 redoubt, but luckily there were no casualties.
The efforts of some of the old camels to raise a gallop were very funny. There was an armoured train on the line today between here and Kantara, two twelve pounders mounted 'fore and 'aft and several machine guns. Another troop train of infantry came in the evening, also a battery of Howitzers (4.5s I think). I am responsible for the communications between here and the F.O.O. tonight.