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With the Cameliers in Palestine


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John Robertson, b.a., b.sc., the author of this book, was Inspector of Schools in Otago when he volunteered for service with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force at the end of 1915. He arrived in Egypt in January, 1917, and was posted to the Imperial Camel Brigade in February.

The armistice between the Allies and Turkey came into force on the 31st October, 1918, but the New Zealanders did not leave Egypt for repatriation till July, 1919. On the 29th December, 1918, Robertson became a 2nd Lieutenant and Temporary Major, and with this rank he was appointed Assistant Director of Education to the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, which was, before its departure, located at Rafa in Egypt. In this capacity he served till the embarkation and also during the return voyage on the s.s. Ulimaroa. After his return he resumed his duties as Inspector of Schools, becoming Chief Inspector in Southland and later in Auckland.

The story of the Imperial Camel Brigade (or Imperial Camel Corps as it was generally known) from 1916 to 1918 has not been adequately told, and the author of this book has filled a gap in providing a very interesting record of unique experiences during the campaign in Sinai and Palestine. He was well qualified to do this as he served in the 16th Camel Company from the time of his enlistment till the brigade was disbanded in June, 1918.

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Colonel Guy Powles, c.m.g., d.s.o., in his book, The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine, alludes to the formation of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, but makes only slight references to their activities.

Readers will be fascinated with the story of the "Camel" as told in Chapter III and with the numerous photographs descriptive of the animal which will adorn the book. No doubt they will endorse the claim made that "New Zealanders would hold themselves up as authorities on these animals and all things connected with them." That the claim is quite justified so far as the writer of the book is concerned can be realized from the description he gives of the animals, what they eat, and also because of the many references to what has been written about them, starting with the story in the Book of Genesis—of the camel forming part of a shady transaction that Abraham had with Pharaoh regarding Sarai, his wife, and leading up to Kinglake’s description in Eothan of the crossing of the Sinai desert about the year 1860.

In this same Chapter III it is claimed that "to be of some practical value a treatise on the camel needs to give a detailed analysis of the physical, mental, and moral qualities (if it has any of the latter)." The reader will find evidence of mental activities, which are of a type not unknown to the human being, but possibly more vigorous. The moral qualities are probably not lacking, but as with the ordinary man, the evidence of them is often not very clear.

Chapter II tells of the growth of the I.C.C. to a brigade of two thousand eight hundred, of which the two New Zealand companies provided twelve officers and three hundred and thirty-eight other ranks.

As the campaign progressed we learn that the camel country was passed over; the brigade was reorganized into a cavalry force and "the Australian and New page 11Zealand Cameliers said good-bye to their camels, which had carried them in comfort over desert and wilderness." The training for campaigning, the nature of the country in the Sinai desert and elsewhere, with the difficulties appertaining to lack of water supply, are graphically described.

As to the part taken by the I.C.C. the reader is told of the fights on the border line between Sinai and Palestine in Chapter VIII, of the failure of the first two attacks on Gaza (Chapters IX and X), and how Beer-sheba and Gaza were captured, in Chapter XIV. In this same chapter is a very interesting record of the Gaza to Beersheba line, through the centre of which the Camel Corps and other troops carried on a pursuit of the retreating Turks for some seventy-five miles.

General Allenby took over the command in June, 1917, and six months later Jerusalem was surrendered "without a shot being fired in its immediate vicinity."

In Chapter XXI we read of the "Big break through" when "The Cavalry Force advanced fifty miles in twenty-four hours, made a raid on Nazareth to attempt to capture the Turkish Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Liman von Sanders, and his Staff. It is said Liman von Sanders hurriedly departed in a motor car clad only in his night attire."

The author’s knowledge of history has enabled him to enlighten the story of the fighting and educate the reader by very many historical references, dating from the passage of forces across the Sinai Peninsula, 4000 B.C., down to 1191 A.D. when Richard the Lion Heart with 100,000 Crusaders defeated 300,000 Saracens under their renowned leader Saladin.

The story is also brightened by references to the daily life of the men, and much interest will attach to the reading of chapters which tell of "The Visit to the page 12Dentist," "All in the Day’s Work," and Chapter XX, "Cameliers at Play."

This foreword must not end without calling attention to the very interesting reference in Chapter XXII to the Plain of Esdraelon, about which Mr. Robertson writes: "No other level space of ground of equal size on the surface of the earth could muster such a gathering of the harvest of war.Is it to be wondered at that the writer of the Book of Revelation should select this plain as the site of the Battle of Armageddon, the final battle between the forces of good and evil? It is from Megiddo, the supposed site of Armageddon, that Lord Allenby has taken his title, Viscount Allenby of Megiddo." In reading this same chapter one’s feelings are soothed and at the same time stimulated by the reminder that, near that same plain within sight of Nazareth, "in a humble carpenter’s house was reared the Son of Man."

J. Allen.