Wednesday, 19 April 2017

"Earth Shook" - 10th KSLI & the Second Battle of Gaza

Early in 1917 Turkish troops defending a line stretching from Gaza and south east to Beersheba, blocked the only viable passage for British forces advance into the heart of Palestine.

On 14 April 1917, the 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Bn. King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (10th Bn KSLI), moved from Khan Yunis to Deir el Belah the concentration area for the 74th (Yeomanry) Division. The Division comprised three Infantry Brigades, the 229th, 230th and 231st, the 10th Bn KSLI being part of the latter.

These moves were preliminary to the Second Battle of Gaza, in which the 10th Bn KSLI was to play a supporting role. The First Battle of Gaza took place on 26 March, and was unsuccessful, although Sir Archibald Murray presented it as a victory. Murray’s despatches resulted in the War Cabinet ordering a second attempt on Gaza.

The Second Battle of Gaza began on 17 April, with three infantry divisions, the 52nd, 53rd and 54th advancing and gaining a line from the Sheikh Abbas – Mansura Ridge to the coast. The 18th was then spent in consolidation and the main attack on the town launched on the 19th.

Map showing the movement of the 10th Bn KSLI
At 0030 hours on the 17th, the 10th Bn KSLI marched from Deir el Belah to a camp 3 miles to the north at Raspberry Hill, arriving at 0300 hours, and dug in. There they remained until 2030 hours on 18 April, when they marched out with the 231st Brigade, reaching a position 2000 yards south east of the Mansura Ridge at 0400 hours on the 19th, and again dug in. There they remained in reserve throughout the day.

The attack on the 19th began with a bombardment at 0530 hours after which the three infantry divisions moved forward. Serving with 10th Bn KSLI, and in reserve, Lance Sergeant Thomas Minshall in his ‘Notes on Palestine’ recorded his what he saw:
“We were aroused by the roar of guns after being on the march all night; everybody was very tired but the booming of the guns from land and sea very soon made us realise a great battle had begun. The air and earth fairly shook, shells of all calibres up to 11 inches, tore slits into the elaborate Turkish defences, the battleships pouring a deadly fire into the forts on the hills around the city.”

Monday, 3 April 2017

Into Palestine with the 10th Bn. KSLI

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.

The first three weeks of March were spent in reorganising and equipping, followed by strenuous training in infantry work. During this time reinforcement of 69 O.R. arrived from King's Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) base in England. On 24 March the Battalion moved to Kantara, where a further reinforcement of 16 O.R. arrived.

Zietoun had not been popular with the men and the move to Kantara brought a considerable improvement, including bathing in the Suez Canal. At Kantara the Battalion formed the 231st Brigade with the 24th and 25th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and the 24th Welsh Regiment.

On 2 April 1917 at 17:50, the 10th Bn. KSLI entrained at Kantara East. As they were going into an operational zone all kit had to be strictly limited to 50lbs and the remainder left behind at Kantara. Their destination was Khan Yunis, and the Battalion War Diary simply notes that they arrived there at 15:30hrs on 3 April, encamping 1 mile east of the station. Lance Sergeant Thomas Minshall, 10th Bn. KSLI, provides some insight into the journey:
“After 22 1/2 hours packed like sardines in open trucks, we arrived at the rail head on April 3rd/17, unloaded our trucks, marched inland a short distance, and bivouaced for the night on the side of a high ridge from which we had a splendid view of the surrounding country and the Mediterranean Sea.”

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.

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.