Before dawn on 23rd April 1916, as thick sea fog moved inland from the Bay of Tina, a 5000 strong army, under the command of German General Kress Von Kressenstein, was being mobilized. Taking advantage of the fog, they launched simultaneous attacks on British posts east of the Suez Canal, including Oghratina, Bir Katia and Bir-El-Dueidar, The latter, which was attacked by 700 camelmen, was the only survivor. Out of a stronghold of 120 Royal Scots Fusiliers and 36 Bikanir Camel Corps, 23 men were lost.¹
William felt his aching head pumping against the swell of his rolled great coat. His mind was dense and foggy, barely able to absorb the details of the day’s events as they were revealed around the campfire. His headaches had become more frequent of late. Whether they were caused from the sun or lack of water, he didn’t know. For now, he needed to wrap himself in a warm cocoon of darkness and quiet, although he knew that peace in his world was a luxury. At any moment, the wall of safety could come crashing down, with a sudden outburst of rifle shots, as it did that morning.
The circle of faces, that joined William around the soft orange fire, all sagged from varying degrees of exhaustion. Eyes stared blankly into the lethargic flames, barely reacting to the story of the day’s events as they unfolded.
“We can thank our Sentry’s poor wee terrier that any of us survived,” ² A young Scottish man recalled, shaking his head whilst staring into the fire.
Some men drew slowly from burning cigarettes, savouring the moment before illuminating the night sky with white streams of smoke. One man stoked the dying flames with pieces of palm fronds. But no one spoke or interrupted the young man who told the tale.
“The little chap barked furiously and jumped up onto the parapet, trying to shield his mate as the enemy loomed out of the thick fog.” He continued in his clipped Scottish accent.
“He saved his master. That is for sure. The wee dog’s barking and growling awoke him from his sleep, then…..”
The storyteller paused and closed his eyes.
“Then, he was dead,” He finally said.
“What happened to the poor little begger?” An Australian trooper asked.
“He was bashed with the butt of a rifle.”
The voice of the storyteller droned on as William laid back with his eyes shut, too tired to react. His head was still thumping and his mind racing around and around with details of the day. He wished he could shut it down. But the memories of those poor dead men that were buried that afternoon kept playing like a tragic newsreel.
Then, out of the fog, Cis and the boys appeared, smiling and waving as his train pulled away from Minehan Siding. That day feels like a lifetime ago! Cis you are so strong. You’re a survivor. But I do so worry about you. Was it fair of me to leave you for a war that seems to be going nowhere?
The buzz of planes³ overhead seized the moment and all eyes looked skyward. They weren’t the enemy, but any disturbance at 8.30pm on a quiet desert night was unnerving. What’s next? As if the collective worries of those men were answered, the faint boom of guns echoed out of the darkness.
- The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess – Page 76
- The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess – Page 75