Thursday, 2 March 2017

Yeomanry become Infantry

In March 1916 the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade and South Wales Mounted Brigade, comprising six yeomanry regiments, were posted to Egypt.

Welsh Border Mounted Brigade | South Wales Mounted Brigade
  • Shropshire Yeomanry
  • Cheshire Yeomanry
  • Denbighshire Yeomanry
  • Pembroke Yeomanry
  • Montgomery Yeomanry
  • Glamorganshire Yeomanry
The Brigades had been dismounted in November 1915, and their cavalry equipment handed in and changed for infantry. In Egypt the two Brigades were amalgamated to form the 4th Dismounted Brigade. Although trained as yeomanry they were to be utilised as infantry and served on Suez Canal defences, and in operations against the Senussi throughout 1916.

By November 1916 Cheshire Yeomanry knew that it was to be formed into an infantry battalion. However, because the establishment of an infantry battalion was so much greater than that of a cavalry regiment it would be necessary for some amalgamations to create  new battalions. Cheshire Yeomanry were to amalgamate with Shropshire Yeomanry to form a Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, and the yeomanry regiments undertook a period of infantry training in preparation for their new role.

On 1 March 1917 Shropshire Yeomanry arrived from Sherira at Helmieh Camp, Zietoun, near Cairo. The following day Cheshire Yeomanry arrived at the camp from Alamein. Here the regiments amalgamated to form 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Bn. King's Shropshire Light Infantry.

On 14 January 1917, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Egyptian Expeditionary Force Sir Edmund Allenby had given orders for the reorganisation of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Dismounted Brigades of Yeomanry and for their redesignation as the 229th, 230th and 231st Infantry Brigades. The Brigades were organised as the 74th (Yeomanry) Division under Major-General E.S. Girdwood and began to assemble on 4 March 1917 near El Arish.

74th (Yeomanry) Division

229th Infantry Brigade - Commander: Brigadier-General R. Hoare, D.S.O.
  • 16th (Royal 1st Devon & Royal North Devon Yeomanry) Bn. Devonshire Regiment
  • 12th (West Somerset Yeomanry) Bn. Somerset Light Infantry
  • 14th (Fife & Forfar Yeomanry) Bn. Black Watch
  • 12th (Ayr & Lanark Yeomanry) Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers
  • 4th Machine Gun Company & 229th Light Trench Mortar Battery
230th Infantry Brigade - Commander: Brigadier-General A.J. McNeill, D.S.O.
  • 10th (Royal East Kent & West Kent Yeomanry) Bn. The Buffs
  • 16th (Sussex Yeomanry) Bn. Royal Sussex Regiment
  • 15th (Suffolk Yeomanry) Bn. Suffolk Regiment
  • 12th (Norfolk Yeomanry) Bn. Norfolk Regiment
  • 109th Machine Gun Company & 230th Light Trench Mortar Battery
231st Infantry Brigade - Commander: Brigadier-General E.A. Herbert, M.V.O
  • 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Bn. Kings Shropshire Light Infantry
  • 24th (Denbighshire Yeomanry) Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers
  • 25th (Montgomery & Welsh Horse Yeomanry) Bn. Royal Welsh Fusiliers
  • 24th (Pembroke & Glamorgan Yeomanry) Bn. Welsh Regiment
  • 210th Machine Gun Company & 231st Light Trench Mortar Battery

The insignia of the 74th (Yeomanry) Division was a "Broken Spur"

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Streets And Houses Of Minia

Cheshire Yeomanry arrived at Minia, some 150 miles south of Cairo, around 2:00am on 19 April 1916 – strength was 23 officers, 440 other ranks, 6 horses and 4 mules. The Regiment had been sent to Minia to prepare for operations against the Senussi, a religious sect in Egypt, Sudan and Arabia, who were persuaded by Turkey to attack the British. By June squadrons were being detached from headquarters, which remained at Minia until September 1916, to assist in operations associated with the capture and occupation of the Baharia Oasis.

Some time, likely in April or May 1916, Corporal Thomas Minshall of “C” Squadron, Cheshire Yeomanry, gained permission to visit Minia. He later wrote the following notes for his wife Eva which describe the sights he saw. Sadly, the associated additional letters and drawings Thomas refers to have been lost during the last 100 years – however several photographs from this time survive and accompany the notes.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Baharia Expedition

By late August 1916, five blockhouses had been built and a sixth (B.6) was nearing completion along the Darb el Rubi track, from Samalut on the Nile towards Baharia. The light railway too was expected to reach B.6 by early October. During this period the main Senussi force, estimated at 1,800 men, was in Dakhla, the richest of the oases.

By October, Sir A. Murray was ready to reoccupy Baharia, and ordered the new Western Force commander, Major-General W. A. Watson to commence operations against it. News leaked to Sayed Ahmed, who had advanced from Dakhla to Baharia with most of his force. Ahmed retreated to Siwa from 8–10 October. An attempt was made to try and cut off the rear guard by a concentration of light cars but despite their weakened state due to hunger and illness they were able to escape.

The "warders of the desert"

It was now known that the force in Dakhla was much smaller and likely to retire soon. Watson decided to attack from Kharga. The force contained sixty men with a Rolls-Royce armoured car and a tender, six Fords and twelve motorcycles, two Vickers and two Lewis guns supported by a company of the Camel Corps. The cars reached Dakhla on 17 October, 48 hours ahead of the Camel Corps, but it was found that most of the Senussi had gone, apart from a party of about 120 men at Budkhulu in the middle of the oasis, who were taken prisoner. With the arrival of the Camel Corps on 19 October, 40 more prisoners were taken. With further patrols in the area the oasis and its 20,000 occupants had been cleared of the Senussi by the end of October. Garrisons were installed at Dakhla and Baharia and civilian government restored.

The Senussi had played the game, from their point of view, extremely well. That had kept a very considerable force from participating in the war against the Turks for many months. The result had been the expenditure of vast resources in building the block houses and the railway, all now of limited value. They had waited until the last possible moment when the block house line was completed and the railway very nearly so, before disappearing.

Sayed Ahmed was attacked and defeated at Siwa at the beginning of February 1917, by a force of aroured cars from Sollum under Brig.-General H.W. Hodgson. This finally liquidated the Wester Desert campaign by discrediting Sayed Ahmed and destroying his influence.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Band of Oases

Commencing in February 1916 Senussi forces under Sayyid Ahmed, occupied the Baharia, Farafra, Dakkla and Kharga oases to the west of the Nile. This necessitated the 53rd Division and three brigades of dismounted Yeomanry being distributed in garrisons in Upper Egypt from Fayum to Assiut, for the whole summer.

Initially posted to Minia, some 150 miles south of Cairo, the role of the Cheshire Yeomanry was to assist in the capture and occupation of the Baharia Oasis.
“The main difficulty of the operation was the lack of any water between the Nile and the oasis. On top of this, the desert was extremely difficult to cross in places. The advance, therefore, had to be gradual in order to enable supplies to keep pace with it. To protect the lines of communications, block houses were built every ten to 12 miles. They were known as B.1, B.2, etc. Railhead for the Baharia Expedition, as it was called, was then at Samalut, close to the Nile, while the advance post was at Shusha some ten miles to the west. It was from Shusha that the block house line ran out into the desert in the direction of the oasis. At the end of April, B.4 was nearing completion. 
“As regards supplies, all food, petrol, stores and a great deal of the water required for the maintenance of the Shusha garrison and the block houses, has to be sent up from Samalut. The same was true for the materials required for the construction of the new block houses.” (The Cheshire Yeomanry, by Lt.-Col. Sir Richard Verdin, 1971)
At the same time as the block house line was gradually extended a light railway was being constructed into the desert. Progress was rapid thanks to the efforts of the Egyptian Labour Corps.

The Light Desert Railway constructed
at the rate of a mile & a half a day
Friendly natives
who are employed on the railway
(photographs by T.B. Minshall of "C" Squadron, Cheshire Yeomanry)