Postcard of the R.A.M.C. during the Great War.
The transport lines of a field ambulance.
Desert hospital train.
R.A.M.C. on the march.
Desert ambulance drawn by four camels.
The advance across the Sinai Desert from Romani to El Arish called for a vast amount of work on the part of the Royal Army Medical Corps, distinct from its Field Ambulance and hospital duties.
Our Mobile Column had moved continuously ahead of the main body of our troops, and was often encamped many miles from the railhead, its supplies, including water, being carried to it by means of camels, no wheeled transport being possible in that terrain. The difficulty of maintaining an adequate supply of water in this way was enormous, owing to the large number of animals employed. Everything was done, therefore, to discover and develop such natural sources of water as might exist on the route chosen, in order to minimise the problem of transport from the base.
With this object in view, water reconnaissance parties were organised and sent forward in advance of the column. These parties consisted of detachments of the Royal Engineers accompanied by their attached Medical Officers. They worked under an escort of mounted troops, and were often away from the base for weeks on end, pricking the ground in all likely spots by means of Norton ‘s Tubes, and, where water was … Read the rest
The decisive rout of the enemy at Romani denoted the final destruction of his hope of effecting the invasion of Egypt from the east; it also marked the inauguration of a new British forward policy in this arena of the war.
The greater issue, however, must not concern us here ; nor did it nearly concern any in Egypt, high or low, at the time with which we are dealing. The immediate problem in Sir Archibald Murray’s path was simple, and as difficult as it was simple. He had to get his army into Palestine. But the way to Palestine lay over some 200 miles of roadless and practically waterless desert, with the way barred by an enemy still powerful and possessed of great resources, despite the thorough trouncing he had received. We had shown that we knew how to deal with that enemy when and wherever we should come to further grips with him. But how to get at him? How to deal with the great trackless torrid waste that lay between?
There was only one way to convey an army of the magnitude necessary for our new purposes across such a wilderness. It was to construct a railroad … Read the rest
On the Eastern Front, after the Katia affair at the close of April, 1916, when the Turks made such a determined attempt to forestall us in the possession of that important water-bearing area, a prolonged lull in hostilities ensued. Some ten or twelve weeks elapsed before the opposing armies again came to the brunt of battle ; and this fact alone is sufficient proof, if proof were needed, of the severe handling on the part of our mounted troops and airmen which had been dealt out to the retiring foe.
The interval, however, was full of activity on both sides. For our part, having once secured the point of vantage for which we had been striving, we had no intention of forcing on a Desert campaign during the hot season that had now set in. Clearly our policy was, after thoroughly establishing our new defensive line, to confine ourselves to making preparations for the future, while at the same time carrying out such reconnaissances in force as might attain a useful object, and ceaselessly harassing the enemy by air-raids.
But the Turkish point of view was very different from our own. Though after the Katia engagement the Turk had withdrawn … Read the rest
While plans for the defence of the Suez Canal against an attack from the east were being carried into effect, as already narrated, the protection of Egypt on its western front had been by no means neglected.
The problem here in the west was very different from that confronting us in the Suez Canal area. Egypt has been very aptly described as a streak of mud drawn through a desert of sand. This streak, conterminous with the course of the Nile, stretches from Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast due southward to the Sudan, a distance of about 600 miles. Leaving out of account the wide and fertile Delta, this streak of deposited river mud, perhaps the richest soil in the world, has a breadth of from one mile to fifteen miles. There is also the coast-line, more or less cultivable on account of its appreciable rainfall, stretching westward from Alexandria for a distance of about 200 miles. Throughout the Desert, lying within and near the vast right-angle formed by these two streaks, there are numerous, though widely separated oases, inhabited by various Bedouin tribes. It was against these tribes that we were now called upon to protect the western frontier … Read the rest