Charging Katia – 5th August 1916

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William had reached for his bayonet before the Colonel could utter a word.  Determination furrowed his brow, as he observed puffs of white smoke rising out of the dark green oasis palms below.  Sounds of exploding shrapnel and any hindering doubts about the outcome of the Regiment’s imminent charge were now in the back regions of his mind.  His total focus remained fixed on the target.

“REGIMENT – FIX – BAY’NETS,” Colonel Wilson’s voice boomed through the air, followed by the click-click-clicking of 500 bayonets. [1]

The gleam of shiny steel flashed in the sunlight as the mass of mounted men began to form up in readiness to charge.

“FOR-WARD!”

Excitement rippled down the line of men and horses, urging them into a brisk trot that soon fanned into an enthusiastic canter.  The momentum of the long sandy slope soon spurred five hundred horsemen into screaming fearless animals galloping into the unknown of Katia.

William was jammed into the mass of hot moving men and beasts, riding knee to knee, horse to horse.  He was a cog in a raging machine of galloping legs pumping like pistons into the sand. There was no turning back.  There was no time for fear.  He leaned forward along his horse’s neck, oblivious to his face being lashed by strands of mane that danced erratically on the winds of speed.  He willed the Oasis that rushed at him like a tsunami of sand and palms, silently shouting, Bring it on! I’m ready for you!  His thoughts kept a racing pace as he galloped forth on a blurry rush of adrenalin.

To his right, a sandbag trench stood unattended.  “Where are the guns? The parapet was empty. Without incident, he thundered on until his eyes widened at the sight of a line of men standing along the top of the Oasis Ridge.[2]  Will they shoot?  The thought passed as he was driven  forward by the wild hurricane of wide-eyed men and beasts that stormed its way through the line of bewildered Turks.   Palms crushed and crackled in their wake as they galloped through the Oasis into an open plain that was surrounded by miles of palms.

“HALT!”  The Colonel who had pulled his horse back on its haunches, held his hand high in the air. [3]

Suddenly, as he pulled on his reins, William found himself compressed by a mass of hot and sweaty screaming horses, thrashing about as they pulled up around the Colonel in a confusion of quelled fury.

“There are no signs of guns!”  Announced the Colonel. “They are not here.”

William heard the Colonel’s words, but the momentum of the charge still pumped wildly through his veins.  His heart still thumped loud and fast, awaiting that decisive moment.  He couldn’t turn it off. Questions flooded his being.  “Was intelligence incorrect?”  “Is this a trap?”

Then it came – that sickening thud of bullets hitting horse flesh cut through William’s thoughts. [4] Amidst the chaos of spraying bullets, the cries of pain and horror filled the air as men and horses with crimson chests fell to the ground.

 

References:

  1. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  2. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 135)
  3. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 136)
  4. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 136)

 

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Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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I am guessing I am in the same boat as lots of family historians who over time have accumulated boxes and boxes of old photographs and documents.  When you start collecting, it becomes known along the branches of the family tree that you interested in family history and thus you become a memorabilia magnet.  In my case, storage and preservation, have become a problem.  What began as small envelopes of photos and newspaper cuttings has developed into box loads.  The question is how does one store these items correctly in order to stop the ravages of time?

Many of the items I inherited, came into my possession in the old boxes that had been home for decades.  Despite the fact that the old boxes were not acid free, the contents have mostly weathered the years surprisingly well. Old photos and postcards have not discoloured too much, although newspaper cuttings have turned rusty brown.  Letters, on the other hand, have become brittle and break upon touch.  The spines of old books also tend to crack and split when opened.  With many of these items, the less they are handled the better.  So, I will share with you some of my solutions to this growing problem.

Old Letters and documents

If the letters have been folded and stored in the original envelopes for decades, they often become brittle, especially along the fold lines.  I have removed letters from envelopes and flattened out the folds (if possible without damage).  Archival storage boxes and envelopes/sleeves are available from various sources for the ongoing storage of items such as letters.  An alternative method, which I use, is to place the letters in the acid free sleeves of a scrapbook album.  The sleeves usually contain a sheet of acid free card that is great for providing support for letters.  Always place the original envelope in the sleeve with the letter, along with any other enclosures. To avoid handling, separate the pages of the letter.

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Old Photographs

I have been storing my larger photographs in large boxes, however, recently have scoured the internet for archival solutions.  Although you can purchase archival plastic bags or sleeves, an easy solution is to use zip lock food storage bags which are just as effective.  Store one large photograph per bag.  In my endeavours to bring some order to my collection,  I have just ordered some archival boxes for storing my larger photos.  Checkout this site. https://www.archivalmethods.com/video/drop-front-box-video

Meanwhile, I have gone through my collection of smaller photos and grouped them according to family names and placed bundles in small zip lock lunch bags.  For the moment, I have stored them in general photo boxes which are not acid or lignin free.  I have marked each bag with the contents and listed each on an index card.  This is a temporary measure as my current aim is to get organized. In time, I will purchase archival boxes.

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Books

Some of the old books that I inherited were in good condition, until I began to read them.  Handling causes the spines to crack and pages to come apart.  One particular book in my possession is an historical volume and fortunately I found it available for reading online.  As with photographs, I have placed books and diaries in zip lock food storage bags for safekeeping and refrain from touching them as much as possible.

These items are the tip of my iceberg.  At least I have made a start.  I now intend to go through each box of my Lyons Family collection and group items together – postcards with postcards, letters with letters, etc.  The overall task seems overwhelming, however, I figure that if I do one box at a time, the task seems more doable.  Hopefully, my suggestions might be helpful to anyone out there faced with the same dilemma.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving for Katia – 5th August 1916

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William felt the cool air bristle his face and neck as he stood to attention in front of his horse. The camp at Dueidar was a stream of moving shadows in the 3 a.m. moonlight.  Since the attacks on 23rd April, he had become an old hand at early morning starts.   Days and nights had blended into one.  Dates were unimportant, just insignificant numbers in a world where numbers stood for casualties or reinforcements.  For weeks, William’s world has consisted of night patrols in preparation for an enemy that outnumbered them.   Since the annihilation of Katia, he had heard the old Colonel saying over and over, “I will never let this regiment be taken by surprise!”

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Colonel Wilson – Photo: Australian War Memorial

The morning’s early start was of no surprise to William. The booming of gunfire and artillery thundered across the sky for most of the preceding day, along with enemy planes droning back and forth over their camp.  Word came through last night of the Turkish attack on Romani.  He heard stories of fierce fighting resulting in many casualties and the capture of Mt Meredith, Wellington Ridge and other positions from the Turks.  Awake for most of the night, he was waiting, fully dressed, for that shove, that whisper telling him it was time.  He knew the time was nearing for the regiment to finally face the enemy’s angry agenda.

“Mount!”  The order echoed down the lines of men and horses.

William, holding the reins against the neck of his horse, used his foot in the stirrup to help propel himself into the saddle.   He needed no prompting, he was a machine who could switch into gear upon hearing a single word or signal.  Colonel Wilson had ensured that every man could react without thought at a moment’s notice.  William had great faith in the Colonel’s judgement.  He had seen the man in action at Gallipoli.  He also witnessed what his regiment was capable of during the last three months of training, in anticipation for this moment.

“For-ward!”

Nudging his horse with his boot, William moved into line with the troopers in front of him.  As they slowly navigated the rocky trail to the top of Ridge 383, dawn lured them with a fiery crimson sky. ¹ Peering back from the elevation of the ridge, he thought how the column of New Zealand and Australian Mounted troops looked like a deadly giant khaki serpent glistening in the golden pink light as it slithered in and out of the rocky outcrops that marked the eastern route to Katia.

By the time the column reached the oasis of Bir-el-Nuss, the sun’s early morning softness had given way to stabbings of fiery heat that William felt through his shirt.  He was grateful for the chance to water his horse and retreated to a patch of speckled shade between the palms.  Removing his hat, he wiped the sweat off his brow and took a swig from his water bottle.  Laughter, chatter and snorting of eager horses sang a song of immunity against the ominous war cry of guns booming violently in the background.  All were oblivious to the long lines of ambulances rolling by.

What a strange world this is!” He thought to himself. “How is it, that we can appear so blasé?”  He knew that they all had their own coping mechanisms.  For now, the regiment was a collective arm of protection that gave a sense of security.  Sadly, the time was drawing near when each man would be fighting for himself.

Turning his back on the background banter, William wasted no time in checking and double checking the equipment strapped to his horse.  Making a mental checklist, he pored over the saddle and his various pouches and saddlebags.  Tightening the girth and stirrup straps, he was finally satisfied that he was done.  Straightening up, he preened his hat and feathers before placing it on his head.  Despite his small stature, he emanated an inner strength, borne out of experience.

During the two hours of wait, reinforcements began to arrive.  Brigade after brigade filed into the Oasis until it was a crowded entanglement of men and horses.  The light-hearted chatter and joking died as men noticed the faces of the new arrivals.  Horse after horse, with large brown staring eyes carried men, haggard in appearance, faces grimy and clothes splattered with dirt and blood.  No explanations were needed.  William had seen those staring eyed faces before.  They were the living dead, the survivors of the previous night’s fight.

“Mount!”

Once more, the column of men filed out into the fierce heat in the direction of a thunderous argument which had increased in intensity.  To the rut-tut-tut beat of machine guns, thousands of horses’ hooves pushed through the burning sand.  William scanned the rocky outcrops that protruded from the sand, looking for a glint of a rifle or field glasses.  Nothing.

Passing a small oasis, he looked down at a collection of bloody ambulance stretchers abandoned in the sand, some occupied by dead men.²  His grim thoughts of what had transpired were broken by the clattering roar of rifle fire cracking the air.  Holding the reins in one hand, he automatically felt the presence of his rifle with the other.

“Halt!”  “Taube!”  Taube!”  shouted down the line.³

William tugged the reins to stop moving.   His horse complied as he had practised the drill hundreds of times over the last three months.  The plane droned overhead, unable to see the thousands of horses and men who dotted the sandy floor.  It never ceased to amaze William how the enemy could not see so many horses and men, so long as they were still.  He found the experience unnerving nonetheless.

Machine guns began to rattle again, clashing with the cracking of rifle fire.  Then came the drone of more planes.  William looked up to see their own planes circling and Turkish shrapnel exploding around them.  His stomach tightened with that old familiar feeling.

Reaching the top of a ridge, the men dismounted whilst the Colonel and a group of officers discussed their plan.  William, standing nearby, watched the Colonel point to the Oasis in front and say:

“A battery of Austrian guns has been found in that Oasis. We will have to charge and take them.” (4)

 

REFERENCES:

  1. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 131)
  2. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  3. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  4. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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In case you are all wondering, the story of William Lyons has not ended.  On the contrary, I have been searching through a minefield of history appertaining to his regiment’s activities in the Sinai Desert in the year 1916.  For a year that I assumed was lacking in significance, it is proving to be so action packed that I am a little overwhelmed. What do I include and what do I leave out?  That is my current dilemma.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some family history with my followers who are descendants of William Lyons.  His Granddaughter, Kay Lyons, recently travelled to Ireland in search of our roots.  Prior to departing she asked me for details of the family tree.  Thanks to Terry Drapes, Grandson of William’s brother Edwin, I have extensive details of the family tree.  If any of you are interested in a copy, I am happy to share as Terry has done a wonderful job of recording the Lyons family history.

Before I tell you about Kay’s discoveries, I’ll share some details of the family members who left Ireland for Australia.  William’s Grandparents, were Elizabeth (nee Sullivan – born approx. 1804 in County Cork) and Daniel Lyons (born somewhere between 1796 and 1814 at Kiltankin, Tipperary, County Cork).  They had ten children:  William, Alice, Patrick, Daniel, Honora, Johanna, John (Father of William), Thomas, James and Ann, all born in Tipperary.

The eldest two children of Elizabeth and Daniel, (William and Alice) left Ireland for Australia on the ship “Duchess of Northumberland”, arriving in Moreton Bay in February 1851.  The remainder of the family emigrated the following year aboard the ship “Meridian”, arriving at Brisbane in September 1852.

Now, back to Kay’s adventures.  Whilst in County Cork, she typed Kiltankin (the birth place of Daniel Lyons) into the hire car’s GPS, thinking it was the name of a village or town.  The instructions led them down a labyrinth of narrow country roads until a dead end, upon which the GPS announced “you have arrived”.   A farmhouse peered through the trees, so Kay set out on foot to find out at least where they were.

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Her knocks on the door were answered by a nice young man in his thirties.

“Hello,” Kay announced. “my name is Kay Lyons, I’m from Australia and I am trying to trace my family history.”

“Well, you are in the right place.” She was told.

Now, in case you are wondering, John Condon, the man who answered the door is of no relation to the family.  He lives on the neighbouring farm. However, he was able to furnish Kay with the details of the last living descendants to live on the Lyons Farm prior to it being sold about ten years ago.

Kiltankin is the name of the area and the farm amounts to about 100 acres.  Mr and Mrs Lyons (names yet to be ascertained) were in their seventies when they sold the farm and have since died.  They had no children.  Mr Lyons was involved in an accident which caused the death of a man who worked for him.  Riddled by guilt, he sold up.  They walked out, leaving a lovely old house full of furniture and a beautiful rose garden.  Local villagers looted the contents and the new owner lives in the city and allows sheep to live in the house and stores hay in the rooms.  From 10 years of neglect it looks as though it has sat in ruins for 100 years.  The house as you can see from the photos is very old, possibly between 100 and 200 years old.

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No doubt this old farm house will eventually be bulldozed, including the last remnants of our Irish roots in that area, although there are bound to be living descendants still residing elsewhere in Ireland. It is a matter of finding them.  If you google “Lyons family of County Cork”, you will find that the family name was prominent in the county and that they were landed gentry.  On the Kiltankin property, there are also stables and the remains of cottages that were once home to the peasant families who worked on the property.

I hope you enjoyed this little journey into our past and I must thank Kay for sharing her journey with me.  I only wish I was standing beside her as she explored this little treasure.