Away from the Western Front: 4th – 9th March 1917.

From El Arish to El Burj

Q57887 no 9 post right flank of El Arish.
No 9 post on the right flank of El Arish. It was here that the C R E* expected the troops to dig trenches in the shifting sands at an angle of 30 degrees.  © IWM(Q 57887)


The Ottoman garrison at El Arish had been based in the old Napoleonic fort by the town but this had been severely damaged by shelling from the Royal Navy anchored off the Mediterranean coast. The new military camp was outside the town and would grow to include a supply base, an infantry garrison and  a general hospital. A new defence system was being constructed around this camp at the time that the 54th (East Anglian) Division were there. Of course, the usual challenges of digging in the desert sand still applied.  Lt -Col Byrne’s comment on this picture hints at some disagreement with the orders of the Royal Engineers who were in charge of such infrastructure projects. The war diary, however, gives no information as to whether the Finsbury Rifles or any other unit did manage to dig trenches successfully at this position.

Date: 4/3/17

Work on defences for ½ Batt. Remainders Backing.

Date: 5.3.17

Work on defences for ½ Batt.2 Companies Training.

Date: 6/3/17

Work on defences for ½ Batt. 2 Companies Orders received for move to El Burj. Work on defences stopped.

Date 7/3/17

Batt. Engaged Striking Camp + preparing for Move forward.

Date 8/3/17

Batt. Parade 7.45 + proceeded by Route March to El Burj arrived

Location: EL BURJ

Date: 9/3/17

Batt. Engaged digging dugouts + generally settling down.

Q57750 Lt-Cl John brown and Capt WS Hammond in ruined fort destroyed by British gunboats
Lt. Col. John Brown (1/4 Northants)  and Captain W.S. Hammond, in a ruined fort which had been destroyed by British gunboats at El Arish.© IWM (Q57750)






Away from the Western Front: 23rd February to 3rd March 1917

At El Arish 

q54679 El Arish from the south west
El Arish from the south-west. ©IWM (Q54679)
Q57803 1 11 in camp at El Arish
1/11th London Regiment, 162nd Infantry Brigade, 54th East Anglian Division, in camp at El Arish, February 1917.  © IWM (Q 57803).

Once the brigade reached the small town of El Arish on the Mediterranean coast, bathing parades provided welcome relief from the heat and the accumulated dirt and sand of the march across the desert.

El Arish had been occupied by Ottoman forces from 1914 -1916. They had only retreated 2 months earlier just ahead of the Battle of Magdhaba. The RAMC who arrived there with the EEF shortly afterwards reported that the Ottoman forces

… on their departure, had not only carried off with them all men of military age, but had entirely denuded the town of foodstuffs. Those of the people who remained were practically starving, and to feed them was the first duty that confronted us on our entry. Our next was to cleanse the place. El Arish consisted of a wide-spreading jumble of houses … intersected by a
labyrinth of narrow lanes, courtyards, and cul-de-sacs. Human excrement, filth and garbage of all kinds, were heaped in every corner, and met the eye and the nostrils at every turn… latrine-pits, full to the brim with the accumulation of months, were spread indiscriminately over the whole town- area, each adding its stench to the already over- burdened air. There was a plague of flies in the place, and little wonder…..

Lt-Col Byrne’s photographs of the town provide a valuable record of  what life was like for its permanent residents at this time. The town itself was strictly out of bounds for Other Ranks.



Q57825 Women drawing water from well at El Arish
  Women drawing water from the well at El Arish. Men of the 1/10th London Regiment returning from a bathe in the sea. Others playing football on extreme right. February 1917.  © IWM (Q 57825) . 





Location EL ARISH Date: 23/2/17

Camping area allotted + Tents of 53 Divs. taken over. Remainder of day in usual fatigues

Date: 24/2/17

Bathing Parades by Companies. Usual Camp fatigues

Date: 25/2/17

Battl. Employed and Fatigue work + preparing defences.

Date: 26/2/17

Platoon + Company Training. Usual Routine.

Date: 27/2/17

General Camp Fatigue defining roads etc. 100 men working on defences.

Date: 28/2/17

Company Training + Usual Camp Routine.

 March and April 1917

Date 1 to 2/3/17

Company Training. Usual Camp Routine. L. Tubbs late to report to R.F.C. Abukir.

Date: 3/3/17

Company Training. Bathing Parades + Usual Routine.

Q57789 camouflaged gun emplacements outside El Arish
Guns and emplacements camouflaged by violet dyed nets outside El Arish, February 1917. Copyright: © IWM (Q 57789)
Q57734 talking to shopkeepers in El Arish
Lt. Colonel John Brown, 2nd officer from right, speaking to shopkeepers in El-Arish. 1917 © IWM (Q 57724)

Away from the Western Front: 7th February – 22nd February 1917

The Advance across the Desert : Romani to El Arish


croppedmap kantara


Q57770 Desert Column on way to El Arish. note separation between the camels, mules and men.l
The Desert Column on the way to El Arish. Note the separation between the men, the mules and the camels in the distance. ©IWM (Q57770)

Captain FH Garraway, the adjutant of the Finsbury Rifles, wrote the daily entries in the battalion’s war diary in the approved style – terse and strictly factual. His counterpart in the 1/5 Bedfordshire Regiment, another battalion in 162 Brigade, included more detail and often mentioned the weather. For example, on 11.2.17 he recorded that there had been heavy rain and hail late at night following ‘brilliant lightning and some thunder’.

With the entire brigade on the move, the animals were kept in strictly separate parts of the supply columns to avoid a stampede. The British forces had often learnt the hard way the age-old fact that mules and camels do not mix. Mules were tethered at night on metal chains. This was to prevent them chewing through rope picket lines and wandering over to tents in search of food or water. Meanwhile, there were casualties amongst the camels because of exposure and illness.  Having dead animals near the evening camp increased the amount of flies and added to the general challenges of sanitation and health.


The brigade halted half-way across the desert at Mazar for a week. The ‘rest’ routine there included more training and lectures. The EEF was now within range of enemy aircraft. German squadrons were based near Beersheba so the brigade practised ‘in four files extend’. This procedure ‘on seeing hostile enemy aircraft’ aimed to limit casualties in case of a bombing attack. Parades and inspections continued as well as the ominously named ‘route march for bad marchers’.

Q57769 Dead Camel in the desert on march
Dead Camel in the Desert.  IWM© (Q57769)



Date: 7/2/17

Bathing Parade and usual fatigues and Camp Routine. 2nd Lt Perrin and 80 other ranks are from Base Depot Mustapha.

Date: 8/2/17

Orders received to proceed. Battl engaged packing and sorting kit for move.

Location RABAH Date: 9/2/17

Battn proceeded by Route March to Rabah, arrive 1600. Camping area allotted and bivouac prepared.

Location RABAH/KHIRBA Date: 10/2/17

Battn proceeded by March Route to Khirba, arrived noon. Camping area allotted and bivouac prepared.

Location BIR EL ABD Date 11/2/17

Battn proceeded by March Route to Bir El Abd, arrived noon. Camping area allotted and bivouac prepared.

Location SALMANA Date 12/2/17

Battn proceeded by March Route to Salmana, arrived noon. Camping area allotted and bivouac prepared.

Location TILUL Date 13/2/17

Battn proceeded by March Route to Tilul, arrived noon. Camping area allotted and bivouac prepared.

Location MAZAR Date 14/2/17

Battn proceeded by March Route to Mazar, arrive noon. Camping area allotted and bivouac prepared.

Date: 15/2/17

General Fatigue, Tents issued. 2 Companies finding Outpost line.

Date: 16/2/17

Under Company arrangements. Usual Routine.

Date: 17/2/17

Under Company arrangements. Usual Routine. Zeitoun Party reported.

Date: 18/2/17

Brigade Church Parade, 2nd Lieut Cane proceeded to Base Camp Romani to join details surplus to establishment.

Date: 19/2/17

Outpost Schemes under Company arrangements. Routine as usual

Date: 20/2/17

Outpost Schemes under Company arrangements. Routine as usual

Date: 21/2/17

Battl striking Camp. Proceeding by March Route to Maadun arrived

Location: MAADUN Date: 21/2/17

Noon camping ground attacked and bivouac prepared.

Date: 22/2/17

Battl proceeds by quick march to Bardawill, arrived 1 pm Camping area arranged and prepared for night.

Location: BARDAWIL Date: 23/2/17

Battl. March Route proceeded to EL ARISH arrives. 2 pm

Q57824 El Arish from the lines of the 1 10th London
 El Arish from the lines of the 1/10th London Regt., 162nd Brigade, 54th East Anglian Division, February 1917.  © IWM (Q 57824). 

Away from the Western Front: 1st – 6th February 1917.

The Advance across the Desert

Q57821 FR halted at Gilban, 1st stop during march from Kantara, 1st February 1917
The 1/11th London Regt. 162nd Infantry Brigade, 54th East Anglian Division, halted at Gilban, the first stop during  the march from Kantara, 1st February 1917. Q57821 © IWM

Crossing the Sinai Desert was wryly dubbed ‘Our 40 Days in the Wilderness’ by the Finsbury Rifles. Although the journey only took 3 weeks, it was an exhausting and unpleasant experience with the heat by day, the plummeting temperatures by night, heavy storms and as before, sand everywhere.

There were no metalled roads in the Sinai Desert and not enough time to construct one. ahead of the advance. Instead, a wire netting roadway was invented by the Royal Engineers and laid by the Egyptian Labour Corps. It was made out of two or four rolls of rabbit wire; one-inch mesh wire rolled out side by side, wired together with the edges fixed into the sand with long steel or wooden pegs. The men marched on this springy track carrying their full kit which included heavy blankets. The officers rode, although some marched for part of the time alongside their men, the guns and ammunition travelled by mule while camels carried the rest of the baggage and water. Each camel could carry 50 – 70 litres of water in specially constructed metal containers. This was only enough for just over 2 litres of water per man per day – nowhere near enough to quench thirst.

The march each day began early so that that the journey could be completed by noon. Temperatures were in the low 20s ( warm British summer weather ) but dropped sharply at night when the blankets were definitely needed.

The battalions were now camping overnight in small bivouac tents. While far less comfortable than the standard military bell tents, they were better suited to daily moves and the unforgiving terrain.

Q57764 Advance across the Desert along the wire road though scrub desert
February 1917. The Advance across the Desert: The long lines of the Desert Column on the march along the wire road through scrub desert between Bir el Mazar and Bardawil.  Q 57764 © IWM



Away from the Western Front: 15th – 31st January 1917.

Preparing to Move

The Military Service Act of 1916 stated that men graded A1 were able to march, see to shoot, hear well and stand active service conditions. In addition, they were fit to serve overseas in terms of their physical & mental health and training.  ‘B’ class men could stand service in garrisons in the tropics and were free from serious organic disease such as tuberculosis. However, it was accepted that they were only fit enough to complete a short 5-mile route march.

The debilitating conditions at the Suez Canal defences had taken their toll on the Finsbury Rifles. Septic sores and sand-fly fever as well as frequent attacks of diarrhoea accounted for many who appeared on sick parade. With the Sinai Desert to be crossed and the prospect of action ahead, this was a good time to take on replacements.

Making sure that all kit was in order was also an important task for the battalions about to depart. Replacing missing or broken items would be a far harder task away from the supply bases of Egypt.

Q67047 Grendier Guards with kit laid out for inspection 5th battalion at Wellington Barracks
5th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards with kit laid out for inspection at Wellington Barracks. Q67047 © IWM


Date: 15/1/17

Battn Training and usual Camp Routine.

Date: 16/1/17

Battn Training and usual Camp Routine.

Date: 17/1/17

Brigade Route March. Battn finding Brigade Duties.

Date: 18/1/17

Battn Training and usual Camp Routine.

Date: 19/1/17

Brigade Training and usual Camp Routine.

Location SUEZ CAMP Date: 20/1/17

Company Training. Kit Inspections.

Date: 21/1/17

Brigade Church Parade. Battl on duty. Routine as usual.

Date: 22/1/17

Battn Training and Usual Camp Routine.

Date: 23/1/17

Brigade Training and Usual Camp Routine.

Date: 24/1/17

Brigade Route March. And Usual Camp routine.

Date: 25/1/17

Battn. Training. Routine as usual. 60 0R joined from Base Depot.

Date: 26/1/17

Battn Training.  Routine as usual. Lt Col S.C. BYRNE Cmndr Brigade in absence of [Brigade Commander]. 60 OR joined from Base Depot.

Date: 27/1/17

Company Training. Usual Interior Economy.

Date: 28/1/17

Brigade Church Parade. Orders received re move to Kantara.

Date: 29/1/17

Battn on Duty. Camp Fatigues etc.

Date: 30/1/17

Striking Camp and General Fatigue. 40 OR proceeded Base Dept. Permanent B class

Date: 31/1/17

Battn employed Loading and Entraining for Kantara and Roman


Q57740 open rail trucks halted on journey from Suez to Kantara Jan 17
The Advance across the Desert: Open rail trucks full of soldiers of the 1/11th County of London Battalion London Regiment, 162nd Infantry Brigade, 54th East Anglian Division, halted during the journey from Suez to Kantara. January 1917.
Q57740 @ IWM. Byrne, Stanley Cesnola (Colonel) collection
























Away From The Western Front:1st January 1917 – 14th January 1917

Packing up and the march to Kubri

The intense boredom and sand filled discomfort of life for those manning the Suez Canal Defences, described by a soldier in the 1/5 Essex as “a very laborious and tedious sojourn in the wilderness ” was drawing to a close. Orders came through for the battalion to move to the railhead at Kubri where they would be joined by other units of the 54th (East Anglian) Division. The orders given to the 1/5 Bedfordshire, another battalion in 162 Brigade show what was needed to make sure that both troops and equipment would end up in the right place at the right time. The move to Kubri was just the 1st stage in the epic crossing of the Sinai Desert by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

Suez Canal Defences July 1916 via Great War Forum



Location: ASHTON Date: 1/1/17

Routine as usual and Training.

Location ASHTON Date: 2/1/17

Routine as usual and Training. Orders received to concentrate at Kubri. RAILHEAD.

Location SALFORD Date:2.1.17

Routine as usual and Training

Location ASHTON Date: 3/1/17

Routine as usual and Training. Lt.NORTH 9th Queens, 2nd Lt HEFFERON. F.J 15th KINGS LIVERPOOL attached for duty with battl.

Location SALFORD Date: 3/1/17

Routine as usual and Training. Half battl. striking Camp for move to Kubri RAILHEAD. Marched from ASHTON 2pm for SHALLUFA,

Location ASHTON Date: 4/1/17

Routine as usual and Training.

Location SALFORD Date: 4/1/17

Routine as usual and Training

Location: SHALLUFA Date: 4 to 5/1/17

Battln proceeded by Route March to KUBRI RAILHEAD 0900, remainder of day spent in pitching Camp

Location KUBRI RAILHEAD Date: 6/1/17

Battn Training (1st day). Usual routine.

Date: 7/1/17

Orders received to concentrate SUEZ camp. Battn employed on baggage fatigues.

Date: 8/1./17

Battn striking camp. Proceeding to Kubri by march route to Bivouac night 8/9.

Date: 9/1/17

Battn Proceeded by March Route to Suez Camp (0815). Rest of day spent in squaring camp.

Location: KUBRI Date: 10/1/17

Battn concentrated with remainder of Brigade. 2nd Lt F.CLARKE on duty, Company 4. Usual Routine. Lt HEILGER returned from hospital.

Location SUEZ CAMP Date: 11/1/17

Company Specialist Training. Usual routine.

Date: 12/1/17

Battn training. Repitching camp. Usual routine.

Date: 13/1/17

Company training. Battn finding Brigade Duties

Date: 14/1/17

Brigade Church Parade. Routine work.


Blog at

Up ↑