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Beersheba – October 1917

An hour before dusk on 29th October, the Battalion was formed up for the first of the two night marches prior to the dawn attack on the 31st, but first, everyone was closely inspected to check that everything but essentials had been dumped. I think essentials came down to knife, fork and spoon; mess tin, spare socks. Dress was drill shorts; shirt, wool cardigan – but no tunic. All carried a second water bottle and extra 120 rounds of ammunition in a cotton bandolier.

At the last minute, I was pulled out and told to report to Brigade Headquarters and one other signaler – Douglas Foulkes. There, I found two signalers from each of the other three battalions in the Brigade and one runner from each battalion, and got my orders – which were brief and to the point. “The Brigadier has formed his Battle HQ, consisting of himself, the Brigade Major and Brigade Intelligence Officer. You signalers and runners are the communications team – and it’s your job to make it work”. It must have worked all right as that was still my function when the war finished eleven months later – but it does mean that from here on, I worked as much with the other battalions of the Brigade as I did with my own battalion.

We left El Shauth at dusk and, before dawn on the 29th, were settled down in a wadi at Essani where the strictest instructions were enforced forbidding any movement not absolutely essential during daylight. This night march of some 10 to 12 miles was over some of the finest and deepest soft sand we came across anywhere.

Surprise in the attack at dawn on the 31st, of course, depended upon our move forward not being discovered during daylight on the 30th. In this, we were successful, but discovered later that was due to good luck for, during the 30th, one of our aircraft shot down a German plane with a camera, which had a clear picture of our forward concentration of troops. It was fortunate it was shot down and luck, too, that it fell into our territory.

At dusk on the 30th, we moved forward to the position from which the dawn attack was to start and got there without alarming the other side.

We, of the 180th Brigade, were the Reserve Brigade of the Division as the whole show went like a dream. We were not called upon – but had the best possible view of the proceedings from the front row of the stalls.

On the right, the 179th Brigade had the London Scottish and Civil Service Rifles in front and, on the left, 181st Brigade had the 2/22nd and 2/24th Battalions leading. These two Brigades also each had one battalion in close support and one in close reserve. Behind them, of course was the Divisional Reserve – 180 Brigade. This distribution of strength was almost always the attack formation of the Division.

The first objective was a strongly entrenched hill about 500 yards in front of the Turk main line, marked on our maps as “Point 1070” and this was on the front of 181 Brigade. Our guns opened at first light on the wire in front of 1070 and this seemed to last a long time, with long pauses necessary to allow dust to clear. It must have been about 0900 hours that 181 Brigade went in. They had been lying close up to the wire and, as our guns lifted, they were on their feet and into the trenches, which covered the hill.

An hour or so later, we, of the Reserve Brigade, moved forward as the two front line brigades prepared to assault the main line. Again, the wire cutting by the guns seemed to take a long time with long pauses for dust to settle so that the artillery observers could see the effect of their shooting. Soon after midday, all was ready and the two brigades went in.

About ninety minutes later, the whole of the main line was in our hands, our neighbours on our left, the 74th Division, had taken all their objectives and it only remained for the Desert Mounted Corps away out in the blue somewhere on our right, to ride into Beersheba through the back door. This they did in the early evening. The fight was over and everybody had a quiet night. I think it was at this point that most of us decided we would be mounted in the next war.

This seemed a civilised way to fight a war and, with few exceptions, this was usual. The Turk would fight hard to keep a toe hold on ground of little value to him – until dusk, when he would fade away and be all ready to welcome us at dawn. But it would be on ground of his own choosing.

So this, the first offensive action of the 60th as a Division had gone off to perfection and the infantry of the Division had seen the terrific work of their own Field Artillery. It was a good party all round.