The Hejaz Expedition 1916-17
|[ Home ]||[ Hejaz ]|
by Captain Thomas Henderson M.C. A.F.C. T.D.
brought up to date by Roger Bragger.
1916 – 1917
A narrative of the work done by the Arabian
Detachment of No 14 Squadron R.F.C. while
attached to the Hejaz Expedition.
Captain T. Henderson. M.C.
T.E.E.; R.E. & R.F.C.
In June 1916 it was reported that the "Emir" or "Grand Sherif" of MECCA had at last revolted, and with his four sons had gathered together a large force of Arabs and had attacked various Turkish garrisons and outposts in the HEJAZ.
On June 16th it was reported that JIDDAH had surrendered to the Sherifial forces and that the EMIR was marching on MECCA which was then fairly strongly held by the Turkish garrison. It was not until July 10th that MECCA completely capitulated. ABDULLAH, the EMIR'S eldest son, had in the meanwhile laid siege to TAIF. The other three sons were also busy. Several towns and fishing villages on the shores of the Red Sea fell or rather surrendered to their arms, including the towns of YENBO and UMLEJJ.
TAIF unfortunately was a longer business as it was then very strongly held, but it eventually fell on September 23rd
During this period the Turks brought reinforcements down to MEDINA by the HEJAZ RAILWAY and threatened an offensive on MECCA. But their progress was slow, as their line of communication the HEJAZ RAILWAY was being continually raided, and their convoys harassed by the Bedouins.
Nevertheless the Turkish forces pushed southwards and it was apparent owing to the exigencies of the country, that the town of RAGBEGH would probably fall into their hands and be utilised as an advanced base for the attack on MECCA.
Owing to the very mountainous nature of the country, and the ignorance of the Arabs, the SHERIF had great difficulty in estimating the numbers of the invading force, and their line or lines of attack.
In September 1916 a letter was received in Egypt from Hussein Ibn Ali, the "Emir" or "Grand Sherif" of the Hejaz asking the British Government to provide aeroplanes to assist in their revolt against the Turks. The Middle East Brigade R.F.C. Cairo, was approached in the matter, and "C" Flight of No.14 Squadron was fitted and equipped for Arabia. The concentration of this flight took place at Suez; and on October 14th. the Flight, under Captain Albrecht M.C. embarked on the S.S."Georgian".
Major Bannatyne D.S.O. who then commanded No.14 Squadron, had about a fortnight previously left Egypt for Arabia to find out about the possibilities of a landing ground at Rabegh. They got into communication with him on H.M.S."Dufferin" and he came on board them in the Red Sea and directed them to Rabegh where they arrived on the morning of the 17th. But no landing of troops was effected, for at noon that day a wireless message was received from Cairo ordering the immediate return of the whole expedition. This was the result of there being too many Christians in the expeditionary force.
About a month passed and the Turkish forces pressed slowly southwards endeavouring continually to `buy in' the Arab tribes with whom they came in contact but without any marked success. Nevertheless it was decided that something must be done, so on November 12th. "C" Flight again embarked at Suez for Arabia. This time smaller in "personnel" and "materials" and under the command of Major A.J.Ross D.S.O., who with his excellent knowledge of Arabic eventually proved invaluable to the Hejaz Expeditionary Force.
For a record of the Flight the following were the names of all the officers who embarked on the "El Kahira" for that was the name of the Khedivial Mail Steamer which had been chartered by the Middle East Brigade to be their Depot Ship :
They arrived on 16th. November and anchored in Sherm Rabegh, with the aid of a jetty built by R.N. ratings from H.M.S. Minerva, which was acting as our guardship, on the 17th. they commenced unloading.
Stores and machines were towed ashore on two longboats coupled together and planked over. With the aid of about 500 Egyptian troops under the command of Major Joyce they were able to"man-handle" a lot of the equipment. Two tenders with trailers quickly transported the equipment from the jetty to the Aerodrome where a working party of mechanics were busy erecting hangers and machines. The road across the sands became very bad and it was necessary to construct a road between the jetty and the Aerodrome. This road proved most valuable when the winter tides came flooding the land between the jetty and the Aerodrome plateau.
All the Arab forces camped at Rabegh were under the command of Sherif Ali, the eldest son of the Grand Sherif. He was greatly interested in the erection of the machines which was going on in the open and he was very keen to see them fly. On the 24th. November two machines were completed and were flown and tested, causing much excitement among the Arab troops who flocked to the Aerodrome to see the machines land. A photographic reconnaissance was also done to Mastura, a well on the Sultani route. This flying created a precedent which was maintained throughout the Flight's sojourn in Arabia.
By the 28th. we had four machines flying, these being BE2c's serial numbers : 4478, 4483, 4488 and 5421, and from that date daily reconnaissances were undertaken. It was not long before it was realised that the maps supplied were practically useless and it was therefore set about to construct a new one by aerial traverses and information from reconnaissances, and also native intelligence which was rather difficult to obtain but which was successfully dealt with by Major Ross of whom the Arabs thought a great deal.
From the shore for about 20 miles inland the ground is very flat and bare. Practically speaking, their is no vegetation except thin wisps of grass and a little scrub here and there. After this the ground becomes more broken and low lying plateaus of " harrah ", or lava, are met with. No vegetation of any description grows on this harrah; the whole scene is one of desolation. Beyond this rise the foothills of the larger ranges. These hills vary from 500 feet to 2000 feet and eventually merge into the mountains which reach the height of 7000 and 8000 feet.
There is no definite drainage system, wadies flow in all directions, the main mountain ranges run parallel to the coast line as also do the main wadies. Some of these wadies are about one mile in width and in many places thick brushwood and vegetation grows. In several places the Arabs deflect the rain floods with dams, and cultivate small tracts of the wadi bed, which in many cases, is very sandy.
Naturally these main wadies are used as the caravan routes, as water may be obtained in the wells dug occasionally in the wadi beds. The two main wadies running in the direction of Medina to Rabegh are the Wadi Gaha and the Wadi Fura. It was by one of these two routes that the Turks were expected to advance.
On December 1st information was received in Rabegh that the enemy were rapidly moving southwards. Sherif Zeid, the youngest son of the Grand Sherif, and an Arab force, set out to intercept them in the mountains. At this time considerable reinforcements were arriving in Medina and on the 4th December the Turks were reported to have advanced as far south as Bir Said and Hamra, both places being out of aerial reconnaissance from Rabegh; so a landing ground was prepared at Yenbo to enable this reconnaissance to be done. On the 8th of December this reconnaissance was made by one machine, and photographs of a small Turkish force on the move near Bir Said were obtained. The reconnaissance machine landed and filled up with petrol at Yenbo and returned by coast route to Rabegh.
Sherif Faisal who had made Yenbo his base, advanced to meet the Turks, and on the 10th came into contact with the enemy near Bir Said, where he engaged them, but owing to tribal trouble among his own force he had to retire on Yenbo, whereupon the Turks occupied the villages in the Wadi Nekhl down as far as Nekhl Mubeirik. To assist Faisal, Sherif Ali moved out with a force from Rabegh up the Derb-El- Sultani to Bir-Ibn-Hossani.
On the 16th December in compliance with a request from Captain Lawrence who was with Faisal at Yenbo another reconnaissance was made, utilising the Yenbo landing ground. This time a large force was observed in the Wadi Nekhl, and another seen about 10 miles south of Bir Said moving southwards. Great excitement prevailed in Yenbo on receipt of this news and the Town was put in a state of defence.
During the period of the 1st to the 16th it was reported that the Turks were also advancing through the mountains by another route and they were at El Ghayir a place that up to this time had not been located, as the map showed it on the Fura Route. So several reconnaissances were made up the Wadi Fura but without any apparent success.
The Turks, having seen our machines flying over Hamra and Bir Said, realised that they were British and with Christian pilots, offered large rewards to the Arabs for our capture, dead or alive. It was also rumoured that crucifixion in Medina would be our fate if taken alive.
At this time the weather conditions were not good. Heavy rain fell frequently, and thunderstorms with hail took place nightly. On Christmas day a severe storm of wind and rain raged all day and endeavoured to remove our hangers and camp. The tides, too, were abnormally high. For a few days the Aerodrome was too soft to be used.
Sherif Ali had returned to Rabegh as the Turks had been reported to be at El Hajar, a small village 25 miles due East of Rabegh. Arrangements were therefore made for evacuating the Flight from Rabegh. A landing ground was prepared at Jiddah where the machines would fly to in the event of evacuation. When the Aerodrome was hard enough again a reconnaissance of El Hajar was made which found the recent reports groundless. So Ali again set out with his forces up the Derb-El-Gaha.
He reported an enemy advanced force at El Hafa which is situated among the southern foot-hills of the Jebel Ashayer. On the 6th of January 1917 El Hafa was bombed with good effect by three machines, and on the 16th El Hafa was found to be evacuated and a larger post located on a "saddle back" between Jebel Ashayer and Jebel Wargan which was found later to be called El Ghayir. Sath El Ghayir proved to be very strongly held with outposts along the southern face of the cliff and several mountain guns on the surrounding spurs.
The camp on Sath-el-Ghayir was an excellent target for bombing so a raid was duly planned. We learnt from our last raid on El Hafa that several bombs did not explode so we experimented with the next lot and found 50% were duds. To remedy this the TNT was removed and the bombs filled with gelignite. On experiment they were found to be excellent.
On the 25th January twenty-four gelignite bombs were dropped on El Ghayir doing considerable damage. Sherif Ali in the meanwhile had crossed over to the Wadi Fura and was marching on Mijz - a Turkish post just out of range for a non-stop flight. On the 27th information was received in Rabegh that Ali had captured Mijz and was awaiting reinforcements. In the meantime he retired to his base at Abbud where an advanced landing ground was being prepared under the direction of Nuri Bey - a good fellow but ex- Turk and now commanding Ali's troops.
Sherif Ali had always expressed his displeasure when the use of advanced landing grounds were suggested, but on the 29th a letter was received in Rabegh from Sherif Ali stating that Turkish aeroplanes had bombed his camp and would we send out two aeroplanes to Abbud to protect him and his troops. The following four days our machines patrolled near Abbud but it was not until sometime afterwards that we heard that two hostile bombing machines on seeing our patrol had returned home!
About this time the Turks evacuated Hamra in the Wadi Safra and it was rumoured that they were concentrating at Bir Derwish, about 25 miles S.W. of Medina, on the Derb-el-Sultani route.
The Turkish outpost of El Ghayir was bombed on the 7th of February with the remainder of our "gelignite" bombs which did considerable damage materially and morally; then again on the 8th by three machines. During this raid a larger enemy camp was located at Khutayia which is situated among the northern foothills of Jebel Ashayer. This camp was also bombed with good effect.
Sherif Ali being very keen to attack Bir el Mashi - the most southern post held by the enemy on the Fura route but was out of practical reach for non stop reconnaissances from Rabegh - still persisted in asking for a reconnaissance and eventually saying he had a forward landing ground prepared at Abu Dhibaa in the Wadi Fura, and also asked Major Ross to come out to inspect it before it was used by the aeroplanes. But as this landing ground was too near to Rabegh to be of any practical use it was never used. But by this time the landing ground at Abbud was ready. This landing ground was unfortunately only used once, as co-operation was practically impossible owing to lack of communication with the Rabegh base which was about 100 miles away.
But Nuri Bey was not to be disheartened. At Mijz, to which place Ali's forces next advanced, he prepared an excellent though dangerous landing ground situated in a small basin with hills surrounding it; but nevertheless this landing ground was used with success on several occasions, one of which was the reconnaissance to Medina by two of our machines on March 5th when again three hostile machines were seen in the air but did not give battle.
About this time the main Turkish retirement on Medina commenced and our reconnaissance of February 22nd stated that the outpost camp at El Ghayir had disappeared.
On the 25th February Sherif Ali moved out of Rabegh along the Derb-el-Sultani with about 3000 men to attack the Turks near Bir Derwish. On March 2nd a message was received from Ali asking Major Ross to come out to Bir Abbas and select an advanced landing ground which might be used during the attack on Bir Derwish; so in compliance with Ali's request Major Ross set out for Bir Abbas by camel on March 7th. On this date also at a conference on H.M.S. Northbrooke, Colonel Wilson decided that the flight should be moved to Yenbo, so stores etc. were prepared for transport.
Sherif Ali now being in a position to attack Bir Derwish, two machines reconnoitred that place on the 13th March, using the new forward landing ground which Major Ross had prepared at Bir Abbas. This reconnaissance took 61/2 hours, machines filling up at Bir Abbas. Close to this landing ground - which was situated among the mountains - we found an Aerodrome that had been abandoned by the enemy, and we also picked up bits of a crashed machine.
On landing at Bir Abbas we met Ali and Major Ross conveyed to him the intelligence concerning Bir Derwish, which Ali attacked, and took with great success about a week later.
CHANGE OF BASE TO EL WEJH
It was intended that the Flight should co-operate with Sherif Ali during this attack but on the 15th orders were received that the R.F.C. had to move immediately to El Wejh - a small port, just recently taken by us, on the coast about 300 miles N. So the following day three machines left by air for El Wejh, following the coast all the way. A stop was made at Yenbo where they spent the night and filled up. The morning after, two machines reached El Wejh and landed at the new Aerodrome which had been prepared by the advanced party. The third machine which had had engine trouble followed on two days later.
This change of base also altered the objective. We now aimed at the Hejaz Railway, the enemy's sole line of communication, along which he was very busy bringing in supplies of food and ammunition and at the same time evacuating the civil population.
The depot ship, The El Kahira, transported the remainder of the Flight. The sick, mainly typhoid, having been previously evacuated to Port Sudan
The country there was found to be more mountainous than that south of Medina towards Rabegh. The main wadi being the Wadi Hamdh, ran approximately S.E. of Wejh to the Railway, which was about 150 miles away.
It was therefore deemed advisable if possible to find an advanced landing ground, as at present the railway was out of practical range of our aeroplanes. So on 21st March Major Ross set out from El Wejh on the first ground reconnaissance, by tender, which proved a great success. He succeeded in finding a possible landing ground at Um Jarad in the Wadi Hamdh about 100 miles from El Wejh.
While this landing ground was being cleared by Sheikh Ahmed and his followers under Faisal's orders another excellent ground at Baidah or Bide was located and utilised. This ground unfortunately was not close enough to the railway, being only 60 miles N.E. of Wejh.
On 30th March two machines reconnoitred the railway near Hadiya, using the new forward landing ground at Um Jarad with success. One pilot during this reconnaissance got lost in a sandstorm on the return flight from the line and eventually came down - through lack of petrol - in the plain near Jebel Raal, where luckily he was found by a search machine the following day.
In the first week in April information was received that the Turkish aeroplanes had been moved to Tebuk - a station on the railway about 150 miles N.E. of Wejh. It was also reported that the enemy were advancing on the port of Dhiba, about 100 miles along the coast.
On April 9th the landing ground at Um Jarad was used; but as our petrol consignment which was sent out on camels about four days previously had not arrived the proposed bomb raid on the railway had to be abandoned.
The heat was now beginning to make itself felt and on this particular flight three engine cylinders were found to be cracked. The cracking of cylinders eventually proved to be a great and consistent cause of trouble during the next few months.
An attempt to reconnoitre Muadhdham on the 13th failed owing to this cylinder trouble and with the result that two machines had to remain in the open at the forward landing ground at Baidha for nearly a week. But on the 19th Muadhdham was successfully reconnoitred. The previous day Colonel Newcombe attacked Muadhdham with a small party of Arabs and succeeded in taking several prisoners.
On the 22nd Major Ross handed over the command of the Flight to Captain Stent who had been sent down to relieve him. Again it was fortunate that Captain Stent could speak Arabic which proved most useful.
The machines were now beginning to show signs of deterioration. The fabric was soggy from the sun and the wood dry and inclined to crack. Luckily we possessed good mechanics and a very capable technical equipment officer, in Lieutenant Stafford who saw to the general efficiency and reliability of our engines which had long since completed their time. This, with the extraordinary working conditions, made the running of the flight doubly difficult and it was only to the conscientiousness of the N.C.O.s and men that the majority of the flying officers owed their lives, as there were many times when on long flights over mountainous country that an engine failure would have meant probably a fatal result.
Here, as at Rabegh, our depot ship, the El Kahira, with its condensing plant produced our drinking water and also sufficient for the Egyptian troops. It is true that at Wejh there were water cisterns, but most of them had been fouled by the Turks prior to the evacuation. It is needless to say that without doubt our troops would have had a very great deal greater percentage of sickness had they been forced to drink from the native wells. It was therefore necessary for the El Kahira to return shortly to Suez for coal for the condensing plant.
THE ATTACK ON THE HEJAZ RAILWAY
On April 25th in compliance with a request from Colonel Wilson a special endeavour to reconnoitre El Ula was made by two machines. El Ula was a fair sized station on the Hejaz Railway. It also was a refilling depot for the trains. It possessed water tanks and wood fuel dumps; ( as the Hejaz Railway engines were fitted for the utilisation of wood fuel.)
The forward landing ground at Um Jarad was used during this reconnaissance and both machines filled up there. On the 26th El Ula was successfully reconnoitred, but on the return journey one of the machines was forced to land in the Wadi Hamdh owing to one of the engine cylinders blowing off. Unfortunately the pilot of the other machine did not see this one come down and returned to El Wejh thinking he had missed him on the way.
But as this machine did not return at noon that day another machine left Wejh in the afternoon in search of the missing machine. The afternoon search proved to be unsuccessful and the searching machine landed at Um Jarad and spent the night there. The search was continued at sunrise the following morning, this time with success. The missing machine was located in the Wadi Hamdh. The pilot had succeeded in landing on a small patch of sand about 80 yards in length. The remainder of the Wadi about this locality was densely covered with brushwood and " hamdh " bushes - hence the name - standing about 10 feet high. After several attempts, the rescue machine succeeded in landing on this clear patch but not without slightly damaging the undercarriage as a " pancake " landing was necessary. Nevertheless the first pilot succeeded in flying the machine out and so back to El Wejh where a tender was despatched the same day. Unfortunately the second day out the tender became immobile in the Wadi Hamhd about 80 miles from home owing to back axle trouble, thus delaying it by about three days, as the necessary parts and spares had to be taken out by air. In delivering these necessary parts, owing to the extraordinary difficulties that had to be contended with when landing in these gorges, one of the machines, 4483, was completely wrecked. The car party nevertheless obtained the necessary new parts for the back axle of the tender, which was made serviceable the same day. In due course both machines were salved but not without considerable work and perseverance of all concerned. Almost every day water and food for the salvage party were delivered by air, for in these parts there were no wells for many miles. The heat at this time was intense and at mid-day great discomfort was experienced as exceedingly hot winds with loose sand blew consistently down the gorges, parching the throat and burning the eyes.
On 6th May a tender party led by Captian Henderson with Captain T.E. Lawrence, A/Lt Stafford, Sgt Wright and 1/AM Warr left Wehj with a Crossley tender and a ford car to salve the wrecked BE 2c 4483. During this trip several photographs and sketches were made.
These appear in the route report - Wejh to Mathar via the Wadi Hamdh.
But that was a digression, this particular account was mainly to give an impression of one of the many incidents which unfortunately happened and frequently caused a deviation from the actual work of the campaign.
On May 11th the depot ship El Kahira left El Wejh for Suez for coal. The flight personnel was therefore transferred to the shore and went under canvas at the Aerodrome.
On May 15th two machines left to reconnoitre and bomb El Ula and if possible, Medain Saleh which had not so far been reconnoitred. Twenty bombs were taken twelve of which were eventually dropped with effect on El Ula camp and station. Again on this reconnaissance one of the machines was forced to land owing to the blowing off of a cylinder. The machine was landed safely and the pilot put out the necessary ground signals, a code having been previously arranged. Whereupon a new cylinder was taken out by the other machine which landed and both machines were flown back to Wejh.
At about this time Sherif Ali was still battering intermittently at Bir-El-Mashi - the most southern outpost of the defence of Medina. To assist him, it was suggested that the flight might be sent south again. Its object being to bomb Bir-El-Mashi and also attempt co-operation in a more potent offensive against that place.
Accordingly Colonel Wilson asked that the Flight might be moved to Yenbo which was to be the main base, Bir Abbas being the advanced base for operations. Thereupon a ground reconnaissance left Yenbo for Bir Abbas to find out the possibilities of transporting stores, bombs and petrol from Yenbo to Bir Abbas. It was found impossible, so the scheme fell through and the Flight remained at Wejh.
During Colonel Wilsons' stay at Wejh it was arranged that some of the troops under Major Joyce and Major Davenport should attack El Ula - a station of importance which has already been mentioned. It was also decided that the Flight might assist in this attack and at any rate be able to safeguard the attacking force from being cut off by enemy troops from Medain Saleh - also on the line, where a large Turkish force had concentrated.
With this object in view, artillery co-operation was practised with the Egyptian Army artillery, very lights and improvised code being used more successfully than the orthodox " Clock code "
During one shoot several direct hits were obtained in a very short time. The guns in question were 5" howitzers, they were never used in action, as the intervening country was impossible for the transport of these guns.
The plan of action for the attack on El Ula was that Sherif Faisal with his Arab force and the Egyptian troops were to concentrate at Gayadah, were it was reported that there was plenty of water and palms. Gayadah had never been reconnoitred by air so on 30th May a machine went out to find its exact locality. Then on the 31st a ground reconnaissance with a Crossley tender and Rolls car of the Armoured Car Section left Wejh to find out the possibilities of Gayadah as an advanced base, and also to ascertain the watering conditions.
Unfortunately this reconnaissance was recalled by message dropped by aeroplane, as Sherif Faisal thought the risk too great, his Bedouins having reported that the Turks too had decided on Gayadah as a base for an attack on El Wejh.
On the 4th June another reconnaissance led by Captain Stent left for Gayadah and returned on the 6th having found water in abundance ( for the Hejaz ) and also possible landing ground on a plateau about 3000 feet high. Gayadah itself is situated in a narrow gorge and is nothing else than a palm grove, where there is a small spring which bubbles out among the shingle of the wadi bed. This was the only place he had witnessed running water in the Hejaz and the Arabs delighted in it. All around are mountains about 5000 - 7000 feet above sea level; the most important being Jebel Shihub, Jebel Kharrah and Jebel Wird.
REPORT ON BOMB RAIDS
On the 8th June two machines set out from Wejh to test the possibilities of the landing ground at Gayadah. Both machines landed there but one was damaged in getting off. Owing to its altitude the ground was pronounced dangerous as a base for bomb raids, as great difficulty was experienced in getting off. Nevertheless we got the Arabs to increase the ground. They cut down numerous bushes and cleared away large rocks and boulders and eventually made quite a good landing ground about 300 yards square, which was used with success during the bomb raids in July.
With the attack on El Ula in view, a machine was sent off on June 12th to photograph El Ula and its defences, using the forward landing ground at Um Jarad as a refilling base. Two machines left El Wejh but owing to the petrol and food cache having been tampered with by the neighbouring tribes near Um Jarad the reconnaissance had to return with its object unfulfilled. On the 17th these were successfully obtained.
ALMOST A TRAGEDY
A reconnaissance party became lost among the "Harreyey" Hills.
Owing to the roughness of the country between Wejh and Gayadah a tender and working party left on the 14th to prepare a suitable road for the advance of the Sherfial troops and the Egyptian force. Several rough patches were successfully negotiated and ways clearly marked, making transport for the howitzers and armoured cars possible. A certain R.F.C. officer ( Lieutenant W G Stafford ) in charge of this tender and his working party, 6984 1/AM Porter W., very nearly lost their lives. He and his driver having run short of water owing to losing their way among the mountains were forced to subsist on their own urine to quench their thirsts for two days. They were eventually brought in by Bedouins who found them just in time. Having drank all the available water they had succeeded in running the tender using a mixture of grease and petrol in the radiator for engine cooling.
A formal programme to help in such an event was used to help in the search.
Lt. Stafford, the officer in charge, left under a stone this note which was discovered later by the search party.
On June 25th a car reconnaissance left Wejh to find out if it were possible to prepare an advanced forward landing ground in the Wadi Jizzil which runs almost parallel with the Hejaz Railway and about 10 to 12 miles away from it. The following day the Egyptian troops mounted on camels left Wejh under the command of Major Davenport taking with them only one 5" howitzer. Our petrol and bombs were also taken out by this convoy and were dumped at Gayadah. On the 30th of the month our Car reconnaissance got back and reported no possible landing ground in the Wadi Jizzil and moreover no water at Thajja which was to be the base for the Sherifial operations. This information concerning the absence of water at Thajja altered the whole scheme of the attack as the water question was of vital importance in a base so advanced.
At a "pow - wow" at Gayadah Colonel Newcombe D.S.O. - who was in command of the operations against the Hejaz Railway - decided that the attack on El Ula should not take place but that various small stations between El Ula and Hadiyah should be raided and the railway line cut in places. Nevertheless it was deemed advisable that the R.F.C. should continue with the original scheme which was the bombing of El Ula, and if possible the destruction of the engine sheds at Medain Saleh.
Owing to the fast of "Ramadan" taking place at this time the Arabs did not shew any eagerness to advance and after much persuasion and exhortation they trekked to the base at Gayadah where they remained inert for many days.
In the meanwhile Davenport's force advanced to Bir Salem where they cut the railway regularly causing much inconvenience and discomfiture to the Turks. At this time too the line was being cut North of Medain Saleh, very many hundreds of rails being destroyed.
Captain Henderson left Wejh with Lt. Gilman, Armoured Cars Section, to make neccessary arrangements of using Gayadah as an advanced airbase. Col. Newcombe and Jaffa Pasha went out with the same car party.
(See route report - Wejh to Gayadah)
On July 8th our machines flew out to Gayadah where they remained for nearly a fortnight in the open. Petrol and bombs had previously been sent out by camel by Davenport's force. These and other stores were dumped alongside our landing ground where we prepared a small camp.
We gathered from native information that Akaba had fallen owing to the persevering efforts of Captain Lawrence who had trekked N in that direction about a fortnight previously. This information caused great elation among the Arab forces here at Gayadah. Throughout the nights "tom toms" were beaten with regularity and much energy was expended in dancing round the fires to the low and monotonous chants of the wild-eyed though happy onlookers.
Three machines left Gayadah to bomb El Ula on the 11th July. One machine, 4529 Lt. Batting, crashed in getting off, hitting a bush just after leaving the ground. The two other machines, Captain Stent and Lieutenant Henderson, continued to El Ula where 14 bombs were dropped doing considerable damage to camp and station buildings.
Again the following day two machines, 4488 Lieutenant Henderson and 5421 2/Lt. V.D.Siddons, left the advanced aerodrome at Gayadah with 8 bombs each. Sixteen 20lb bombs were dropped on El Ula station doing damage; the enemy opened fire upon our machines with four high angle guns firing shrapnel. All bombs were dropped from a height of 2500 feet.
Unfortunately we now found ourselves short of petrol as many tins had been lost or damaged in transport and several had burst with the heat of the sun, which was intense. Nevertheless more petrol was urgently despatched from Wejh by fast camels. In the meanwhile the machines were exposed to the burning sun and the sandstorms of the day, and the drenching dews of the night. The result was that very soon the machines began to shew obvious signs of deterioration. They were pretty bad in the first instance; now they were dangerously bad. In several cases the "longerons" were crashed and in every case the fabric was perished. At about noon daily we were attacked by "sand devils" - a whirlwind of sand and small stones - which very often carried the machines bodily about fifty feet. Luckily they gave one warning as the large whirling tower of sand would appear somewhere down the Wadi bearing down on the camp and machines. Everyone would stand to and hang on to the machines. The tents went down every time, sometimes they went up. Afterwards all was chaos and the noise of the sandstorm was only equalled expressions of discontent by the R.F.C. personnel and the wailing of the Arabs. The fourth raid on El Ula was carried out by three machines, 4488 Lt. Henderson, 5241 2/Lt. V.D.Siddons and 4478 Lt. W.L.Fenwick, on the 16th of July. This time the water tower was hit and much material damage done.
On July 31st loading of all machines and stores on to the steamer "El Kahira" was completed whereupon it steamed out to H.M.S. Dufferin, transferred everything over on the 1st August and proceeded to Egypt.
Another attempt at Topography
This last attack on the Railway was successful in a way and no doubt caused the enemy much trouble and inconvenience, but at the same time it did not bring the capitulation of Medina any the nearer.
In this the Turks had been quite ingenious. They had succeeded in evacuating the civil population and had also succeeded in importing into the town sufficient supplies to last about ten months of siege. After this last show the Flight was rightly recalled to Egypt to refit with material and personnel, both of which sadly needed replacing. Nearly all the men had been with sickness at some time or other and as for the machines and engines they had served their purpose exceedingly well and had lasted a great deal longer than was expected when the expedition left Suez. It is interesting to note that the officer personnel had almost entirely changed. Only one pilot, Lt. Henderson and the equipment officer, Lt. Stafford, remained of the original Flight which left Suez.
The roll of officers of the Flight at the conclusion was as follows:-
The last named being the Medical Officer who by dint of consistent good work maintained a very excellent standard of health among troops working under the very trying conditions. He also assisted Major McConnochie - attached E.A. - in the running of the civil hospital in Wejh, where between them they carried out successfully many dangerous and skilful operations on the Arabs. A portion of the depot ship was formed into a hospital for white troops where every attention was given them. Convalescent cases were usually evacuated to Suez or Port Sudan.
The desert reconnaissances proved invaluable as we were able to ascertain whether the wells were dried up or not and also enabled us to find suitable forward landing grounds. The reconnaissance was usually done by one Crossley tender and sometimes accompanied by a Ford car. The Rolls Royce car of the Armoured Car Section proved too heavy but eventually did good work when the armouring was removed and the cars lightened generally. But they could not compete with the Crossley which when fitted with double wheels on all four would go anywhere.
On several trips useful bearings on conspicuous objects were taken, enabling us to compile a fairly accurate map, as the maps with which we were originally supplied proved to be practically useless as they were incorrect both in distances and direction.
A plentiful supply of water was always taken as it was a very easy matter to get badly "bushed" among the mountains if one was not careful in noting the direction and landmarks on the outgoing journey. A small pocket compass was usually carried but owing to the magnetic properties of some of these doubtless semi-volcanic hills it did not always shew the true meridian. A sextant would have been invaluable and is recommended to be carried for long desert treks when topographical work is to be done en-route. It would also give one's exact position on the map provided that a definite course had been adhered to. A reliable liquid compass with bearing plate too should be taken. An aero-type compass would do excellently.
Communication was kept up between aeroplanes and the car parties by means of ground strips and smoke signals. The ground signals were as usual four strips of white cloth about 15ft x 2ft. These were placed on the ground to represent letters - a code having previously been arranged. A smoke signal was let off to attract attention when an aircraft was observed in the vicinity.
The climate was, I think I may say, healthy but perhaps rather trying at times, especially to Europeans. Rain fell heavily once or twice during the winter months and about Christmas time and the New Year we were subjected to severe storms and gales.
In June and July the heat was intense especially inland where the cooling breeze from off the sea did not reach. The “harrahous” mountains throughout the day became intolerably hot and such wind as there was blowing down the wadi beds and gorges was exceedingly hot and dry and burning to one's eyes. The nights were delightfully cool and fully compensated for the discomforts of the day.
There were very few places where the Bedouin has attempted cultivation. These places are usually to be found in main wadi beds somewhere near a well or water hole. In most cases the Bedouin dam the main wadi and deflect the flood of the winter rains to the place they wish to cultivate.
In the majority of cases the Arab prefers to wander from place to place with his flock of goats or sheep, seeking new grazings and waterage. With this object in view he travels very far from place to place each year but generally keeps within his own tribal boundary.
There is little wild game worth mentioning gazelle being the most numerous. Herds of these animals inhabit the larger of the wadies, and feed on the brushwood and tufts of long grass which is often collected by the Bedouin for camel fodder.
Ostriches are to be found further inland in the Hail districts. They are seldom, if ever, seen on the Red Sea littoral.
Ring-doves and sand grouse there are in plenty and they form a valuable addition to the stock-pot. Of the bigger game lions, leopards, and hyenas inhabit the rocks and prey upon the gazelle in the valleys.
Reptiles and insects are fairly common. A green variety of the former was often seen varying from 2˝ ft to 4 ft in length. Scorpions and tarantulas swarm in large quantities causing unpleasantness. Mosquitoes were troublesome and more common near the stagnant marshes in the wadies and near the coast.