Finsbury Rifles

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



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