'C' FLIGHT, 14 SQUADRON RFC
On 14 October 1916, the first Hejaz Expedition sailed from Suez in the SS Georian, but did not disembark at
Rabegh owing to a fairly important misunderstanding of Arab procedures and traditions. Unfortunately, prior notification to and agreement from the Arab authorities, precluded the unit landing, as no white man/Christian was allowed on the holy land of Mecca, So the force was recalled to Suez. It was not until 12 November 1916 that the Expedition sailed again, this time in the Mail Steamer El Kahira. The Red Sea route was safe in the hands of the Royal Navy who completely controlled the passageway. This fact enabled our forces and the Egyptian Army units on our side, free access to their main bases in Egypt. Also, many men of the RFC were able to live aboard various ships moored at Rabegh and other ports, which was a more pleasant way of life for them than under canvas ashore.
What were to be the duties of the Arabian Detachment? Undoubtedly, the major requirement would be aerial reconnaissance on behalf of the Irregular Sharifian ground forces and Captain Lawrence, but also possible bombing and gunning of the enemy, especially their railway security parties, lines and stations.
The presence of the RFC in the campaign also acted as a great morale-booster. The equipment of the Detachment finally consisted of a total of six BE2c machines, 4473, 4478, 4483, 4488, 4529 and 5421, along with the necessary spare engines etc. Also sent were three Rolls Royce armoured cars, two Rolls Royce tenders, at least three Crossley tenders and a Ford 'T' light car. The Crossleys were fitted with double wheels all round which proved absolutely correct when they had to negotiate the area's extremely rough ground and loose sands.
The second Expedition was under the command of Major A.J. Ross DSO. It landed at Rabegh on 17 November 1916, (one month after Lawrence's arrival in the Hejaz), and preparations were at once put in hand to establish an aerodrome with two portable canvas hangars. No offensive operational flights were undertaken at first, but aeroplane and vehicular reconnaissances were carried out to get the lie-of-the-land and review sites for possible advance landing grounds. Wireless communication was via ships' equipment to keep in touch with Suez and GHQ Cairo. The strength of the Detachment comprised 12 officers and around 47 other ranks.