Following the evacuation of Gallipoli, the Turkish army was reorganized by German Commander, Field Marshall Von Der Golz. They became a formidable force. ¹
In March 1916, the British made repeated failed attempts to defeat the Turks in Iraq. They then recognized the need for increasing the mounted forces.¹
In April, the Light Horse Brigades began their move to defend the northern regions of the Suez Canal.
At 9.30am on 4th April 1916 ², a train departed Serapeum loaded with 4 wagons of baggage, 16 horses³ and a small contingent of men. The remainder of the 5th Light Horse Regiment began their march on horseback, following the railway line, and camped the night at Moascar. They arrived at the town of Salhia the following day.
“What a sight for a soldier’s sore eyes,” William gasped as he looked out on the horizon.
The town of Salhia began to materialize like a mirage out of the desolate wasteland. As shapes began to form, his hand relaxed on the reins that rested upon his horse’s neck. Soon the minaret tower shimmered like a silver sword against the blue sky. It was an awesome feeling, finding oneself in a place that existed in history books. One could usually only dream of such places, and yet here he was, witnessing the realization of those dreams.
The lush green fields of cultivation seemed to enliven the rest of the regiment as the waving grove of date palms ushered them into the village. Following the weeks spent in the heat and sand at Serapeum, the change of scenery was a welcomed change. The new reinforcements who had grown tired and frustrated from the continuous round of training, patrols and outpost work, were now gripped by excitement. Leaving behind the tiredness of their daily struggle against the sun and sand, they found themselves being drawn into this Garden of Eden with a renewed vigour. They were ready to fight the war they enlisted for.
William listened to the distinct Australian drawl as the banter bounced along the column. The slow laconic snippets of conversation sounded distinctly out of place against the background of quick indecipherable gibberish spoken by the locals. A colourful collection of Arabs and Egyptians populated the narrow street that wound its way through a market place. Shaded by structures made from tree branches and palm fronds, many family groups peddled fresh produce, some sat cross-legged on the ground tapping away at tin objects with large hammers, whilst others stood watching the procession of foreigners enter their town with guarded curiosity.
William inhaled the sights and sounds with his senses on alert. He savoured the smell of lamb roasting on a hearth. He marvelled at the symmetrical displays of woven baskets holding an aromatic collection of spices. His eyes scanned an anonymous Arab woman slowly walking by, balancing a large clay urn on her shoulder.
“What secrets are you hiding?” He wondered with a smirk.
He could never imagine Cis hiding behind a veil. The thought made him laugh with pride. He could hear her defiantly snapping, “I’ll do no such thing Will Lyons!” if he so requested.
Continuing to absorb the elements of history that paved the streets, William listened for echoes of the past that were embedded in the ancient mudbrick walls. He straightened in the saddle and repositioned his hat as he thought how he and his fellow troopers were following in the footsteps of the great Napoleon. He prided himself in being able to remember and recite significant dates and places. February 1799 was when Napoleon set out from this very town to invade Syria. William made a mental note to add 5th April 1916 to his list of facts. He hoped to tell his sons that on that day, their father rode in the shadow of the Great French General, with the objective of pushing the Turks from the Suez Canal.
The column pushed on past the railway station as they neared their camp. A group of Bedouins and their camels stood by the roadside. Wearing rough robes of goat’s hair, the big wiry desert men stared up at the passing column of Light Horsemen. William felt his neck muscles tighten as his eyes locked with one of them. The man’s jet-black eyes, shadowed by the black cowl of his head dress, stared out of a face that was almost totally void of expression. However, William sensed something about the slight upward curve of the man’s pursed lips, an uneasiness he could not readily explain. He slowly felt for the presence of the tiny revolver he kept hidden up his shirt sleeve and then tightened his grip on the reins as he urged his horse on.
According to family, William did own a tiny revolver that he kept up his coat/shirt sleeve in case he was taken off guard and could not access his rifle. He brought it home at the end of the war.
William also had a penchant for facts and figures. He had a very curious mind and kept lists of facts on notes throughout his belongings. The fact that they were riding in Napoleon’s footsteps would have impressed him, I’m sure. When my father was young, he and his cousin were often sent by their Grandfather to find the answers to his many obscure questions. More times than not, they couldn’t find the answers.
I found the photos in this post in a bundle of photos wrapped in a receipt from “Thos. Cook and Son (Egypt) Limited. I’m assuming that was where he had his film developed for the cost of 13 shillings. Nothing is written on the photo backs, so I have no idea exactly where they were taken although receipt is dated 24/9/1917.
- The Light Horsemen by Roland Perry
- The Desert Column by Ion Idriess
- Fifth Light Horse Regiment War Diaries