Away from the Western Front : 14th – 30th June 1917

Marina View

Sea at Gaza James Mc bey

Monitors bombarding Gaza, 1917. James McBey © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2950)

The 54th Division had moved to the sector of the front line near the Mediterranean Sea that was nicknamed ‘Marina View’. The Finsbury Rifles would have easier access to the sea for bathing and washing but this would come at a price. Marina View was frequently shelled by the nearby enemy artillery.

Work continued on reinforcing the defences in this part of the line. The working parties began early in the morning and finished just after midday due to the summer heat and the limited water rations. Sunstroke and heat exhaustion could be fatal.


Location MARINA VIEW. Date: 14/6/17

Day spent by Battn in clearing and squaring up new bivouac area.

Date: 15/6/17

Company and specialised training. Bathing parades by companies. Good foreshore. Bathing dangerous for indifferent swimmers. A Coy under command of Capt HEILGERS proceeded to HQ 1/10 London. Wart Hill for attachment during absence of a company of 1/10 London under training.

Date: 16/6/17

Company and specialised training. 9-12 noon. Lecture by Major Hammond to all signaller runners. Reciprocal shelling at intervals during the day.

Date: 17/6/17

Church parade abandoned owing to proximity to front line. Early morning communion services and voluntary evening services held instead by the chaplain (Capt.Rev. Dixon Spain). Battn furnished 1 officer and 100 men for work in connection with defences of WELSH REDOUBT. 2/LT Irwin reported from Zeitoun. 2 /LT Irwin and 2 LT Wynn Evans left battalion for 3 days DWS Gas course.

Date: 18/6/17

Specialists training – working party of 2 officers and 200 men furnished by battalion: for defences works of MERIONETH and Flintshire REDOUBTS. Hours employed 0700-1245 organised bathing parties by companies during the afternoon.

Date: 19/6/17

Battn employed on work on defences – 1 officer and 100 ranks for defences of Welsh Redoubt, 1 officer and 50 of Ranks to report to 270 Bde RFA and 1 officer and 50 of ranks to report to 163 Bde HQ ……by commanding officer, the Sand Bay ….of trenches, to the Coy of 1/5 DEVONS attached for instruction 3pm.

Date: 20/6/17

Battn finding 3 officers and 300 men for work on Merioneth, Flintshire and Welsh redoubts (0700-12.30). 2nd Lt  MACKAY AND 4 other ranks rejoined from the Red Camp at RAFA.

Date: 21/6/17

Battn finding working parties of 1 officer and 100 Other Ranks each for work on Merioneth and FLINTSHIRE REDOUBTS (0700-12.30). 2nd LT IRWIN 1/5 DEVONS AND 2LT WYN EVANS 1/11 LONDON rejoined from Divs Gas Course.

Date: 22/6/17

Battn finding working parties of 1 Officer and 100 Other Ranks each to work on MERIONETH, FLINTSHIRE and WELSH REDOUBTS (0700-12.30). Gas Helmet Drill for all ranks during afternoon.

Date: 23/6/17

Battn finding working parties of 1 officer and 100 Other Ranks each work on MERIONETH, FLINTSHIRE and WELSH REDOUBTS. Capt W.G COMBER and 2nd LT F.G. HEFFERON reported from Base details. 2nd LT MARGOLIOUTH (1/10 LONDON) 1/11 LONDON by 162 Bde for duty of 54 Divs BASE DETAILS. INSERAT

Date: 24/6/17

Holy Communion at Battn H.Q 0800. Voluntary Services for C of E and other denominations at 1800. Working Parties of 6 officers and 310 men found by Battn for night work on defences under orders of 161 Inf. Bde. Parties moved off 19.30, returned to Camp Area 0200 – 25th inst.2nd LT WINDSOR and 12 O/Ranks proceeded on 7 days leave to ALEXANDRIA.

Date: 25/6/17

Battn resting in morning. 3 officers and 300 men found for work in afternoon on dummy defences for practice purposes (Replica of UMBRELLA HILL) under orders of 162 INF Bde.

Date: 26/6/17

Battn finding working parties on communication trenches at MERIONETH, FLINTSHIRE and WELSH REDOUBTS of 2 officers and 150 O/Ranks, I officer and 50 O/Ranks respectively. Also party of 1 officer and 50 O/Ranks for 8th HANTS H.Q. SHEIKH AJLIN (0700-12.45). CAPT W. S. OWEN reported for duty from Staff Course MENA HOUSE, Cairo. 16 O/ Ranks returned from Hospital. 2nd LT RODGERS to Hospital. ENGLISH letter and parcel mail received.

Location MARINA VIEW Date: 27/6/17

Battn: finding 2 parties of 1 officer and 50 of other ranks each for work on WELCH and FLINTSHIRE REDOUBTS, also 2 officers and 150 men for work on communication trenches of MERIONETH REDOUBTS and a party of 1 officer and 50 other ranks  OC 1/8 HANTS REGT. SHEIKH AJLIN (0700-12.30). Gas Helmet Practice for all ranks 1700-1800. 60/Ranks rejoined from Hospital.

Date: 28/6/17

Battn finding working parties of an aggregate of 5 officers and 300 men for work on LEFT SECTOR DEFENCES under orders of O.C1/6 ESSEX REGT (night work 20.15-23.45). Gas Drill as usual for all ranks. Orders received for relief of 1/5 BEDFORDS in line of Redoubts (Merioneth, Flintshire and WELCH Redoubts).

Date: 29/6/17

Specialists and Gas Training. CAPT P.C.P. TATTERSHALL DSO rejoined from hospital. Bathing parades. Heavy reciprocal shelling during the morning of trench lines.

Date: 30/6/17

Battn finding working parties of an aggregate of 5 officers and 300 men for work on LEFT SECTOR defences under orders of 163 Brigade (0700-12.30). Usual Bathing Parades. Commanding officer visited LT Col E.W.BRIGTHEN CMG, 1/5 BEDFORDS as regards the relief of his LINE. Inspected MERIONETH, FLINTSHIREand WELCH LINE of redoubts with a view to taking over. LIEUT MURCH granted 4 weeks leave in ENGLAND.


Away from the Western Front : 1st – 13th June 1917

Training opposite Gaza

Gaza from Samson Ridge

A view of Gaza from Samson Ridge. George Westmoreland collection. © IWM (Q 12585)

More time was now being allocated for training now that the system of communication trenches had been dug along and behind the new front line facing Gaza. New officers and other ranks were joining the division and it was important that high standards were kept in up in all areas.

The 54th Division provided some of the specialised instruction. The signal sections attended a demonstration and lecture about carrier pigeons. The divisional veterinary section gave several lectures to officers about the management of and diseases in horses and mules. Camels were still used for bringing supplies up from the railhead on the coastal plain south of Gaza but mules were suited better to the rocky terrain ahead.

Conditions in the trenches deteriorated as the summer heat set in. It was recognised that well-trained and informed officers were key to managing good camp hygiene and thus keeping down the sickness rate..Lectures on sanitation were provided by the divisional medical sections

Following the boot and clothing inspection, new supplies reached the battalion. Greatcoats were needed at night when the temperature dropped.

Location DORSET HOUSE  Date: 1/6/17

Platoon and specialised training during morning. Reconnaissance by Commanding Officer of the Apex of SHEIKH ABBAS position for best route of approach in the event of a move by night from the battalion present position at Dorset House.

Date: 2/6/17

Platoon and specialist training till 1100. 1100-1200 Inspection by Company Officers of Men’s Clothing Boots..half holiday. Reciprocal shelling at intervals throughout the day LT WYNN EVANS  2013 arms (?) reported to B Coy CTC for  course of instruction  in Camel Management.

Date: 3/6/17

Divine Service under Rgt arrangements. Voluntary ……Servicing. LT H MA Goldschimdt reported to HQ 54 Div for instruction  in duties of Liaison Officer.

Date: 4/6/17

Early morning parade. Physical field TC. 9-12 Company Training. Battn finding working party 2 officers and 80 O/Ranks. Road marking under orders of Eastern Force RE. Officer.

Date: 5/6/17

Early Morning parades 9-12 Company training. 2 officers and 137 other ranks (3 platoons) attached to the Battn for instruction in various subjects connected with the operation in Palestine. One platoon of Devons posted to A.B&D companies respectively. The Battn innoculated against cholera.

Date: 6/6/17

Early morning parades 9-12 company training. Commanding Officer and adjutant visited 156 Inf Bde H.Q with a view to new position to be taken up in forthcoming move by the Battn.

Date: 7/6/17

Company training, Lieut HHA Goldschmidt returned from 54 Divis (Liaison Course) commanding officer proceeded to Nantern subsection as president of G.C.M Convened for 9th inst.

Date: 8/6/17

Commanding officer. 2 /LT W.Evans returned from 4 days course with Camel Transport Corps. Major T.S.Hammond (2nd in command) visited 1/4  R.Scots with regards to taking over on 13th inst.

Date: 9/6/17

Company training and nil inspections. Orders received in respect of the Battn relieving the 1/4 R.Scots at Marina View – Half Holiday.

Date: 10/6/17

Brigade Church Parade. Reciprocal shelling.

Date: 11/6/17

Company and specialised training. C.O. returned by night train from KANTARA. Heavy night reciprocal shelling. Successful raid by 52 Divs on an enemy strongpost. Garrison of 30. 45 man all captured or killed by us. Further we captured…(?) Lewis gun and 20 rifles. We sustained no casualties.

Location DORSET HOUSE Date 12/6/17

Company and specialist training. CAPT PRIDHAM 1/5 DEVONS all 1/11 Londons proceeded to Leiturn for Range finding course.

Date: 13/6/17

Early morning parades. Remainder of day spent on striking Bivouacs and clearing camping area preparatory to morning to relieve 1/4 Royal Scots of 52 Div in left sector, Marina View. Battn moored independently by companies starting at 1800. Relief completed by 2045. Battn area at Dorset House together with area stores taken over by 1/5 KOSB.

Away from the Western Front : 18th – 31st May 1917.

  In reserve at Dorset House

iodine bottles

Conditions in the trenches facing Gaza were particularly unpleasant ; intermittent shelling from the enemy plus flies, extreme heat and lack of water .  Battalions only stayed there for a few weeks at a time, moving between the front lines and the rear sector on a regular basis. However, being ‘ in reserve ‘ was no rest cure as the men were still working hard to improve the defences  as well as training.

By mid-May 1917, the Sanitary Corps had been able to oversee the erection of incinerators, latrines and some  washing  facilities. Anti-fly solution was sprayed regularly too but the sickness rate had begun to creep up again as men fell victim to  septic sores. These were difficult to treat in the dust and sand of the  trenches and dug outs. Usually men had to be evacuated back to hospitals back in Egypt. Stationed alongside the Finsbury Rifles, the 1/5 Bedfordshire battalion issued a bottle of iodine and cotton wool to each company. It was to be applied to any graze or cut, no matter how slight, that the men received when building the defences and dug- outs . Prevention was better than cure!

Date: 18/5/17

Battn in support. Battn relieved by the 24th Welsh Regt of 231.move completed about 2000.

Location DORSET HOUSE Date: 19/5/17

Routine as usual. Battn in reserve area.

Date: 20/5/17

Divine service. Routine as usual.

Date: 21/5/17

Routine as usual. Speculative training and working party Res.

Date: 22/5/17

Routine as usual. Speculative training, usual working parties.

Date: 23/5/17

Routine as usual. Speculative training and working parties – following words of the underranking officer NCOs and men and after ……Talltreadle DSO. Lieut D.H Robertson Military Cross 450.925. Sgt RW Leord. 451.471 Rfn GS Brughton: 453.120 Rfe W Dox. Military Medal. Apps etc. Lieut 286 117 5/17.

Location DORSET HOUSE Date: 24/5/17

Routine as usual. Speculative training. And usual working parties.

Date: 25/5/17

Routine as usual. Speculative training and usual working parties. Lt and Adj. A.L.GARRAWAY returned from hospital.

Date: 26/5/17

Routine as usual and speculative training.

Date: 27/5/17

Divine service under Rgt arrangements. Working party of 100 men furnished. Usual routine.

Date: 28/5/17

Routine as usual. Specialised training and usual working parties. Lieut H.A Goldschmidt returned from hospital.

Date: 29/5/17

Battn being inoculated against cholera. Specialist training.

Date: 30/5/17

Battn attended. Gas demonstration at 1000 – specialist training.

Date: 31/5/17

Specialist and platoon training. Working party supplied to Eastern Force R.E Officer. Usual camp routine.

Lt Col. Comdy 1/11 London REGT.

Away from the Western Front : 1st – 17th May 1917

Digging Decoy Trenches in the Front Line


Ottoman machine gunners near Gaza 1917

After the failure of the two attacks on Gaza  it was clear that the EEF needed to have far higher levels of manpower and equipment in order to be able to break through the Ottoman defences. This would take time to put in place. The front line was now the trench system to the south of Gaza where the Finsbury Rifles were to spent the next few months.

The 54th (East Anglia) Division instructed its battalions to construct dummy trenches and machine gun posts.  The war diary shows that the Finsbury Rifles spent much of their time digging trenches and dug outs. This was no mean task in summer heat with so little water available to drink. Did these decoy defences mislead the enemy into wasting ammunition on destroying them as intended? There are frequent references to heavy shelling and enemy sniper fire throughout the summer so it is likely that they did.

Date 1/5/17

With the exception of heavy shelling of gully the day has been quiet and usual digging in on our trenches.

Date 2/5/17

In Bivouac. Fatigues to right of working party, improving next dugout. Desultory artillery fire on both sides.

Date 3/5/17

In Bivouac. Fatigues to right working parties in front improving next dugout, reciprocal artillery fire.

Date 4/5/17

Dug out, reciprocal artillery fire. Capt W.S Even left for ‘Staff Bravo’ Mena and Cairo.

Date 5/5/17

Fatigues as required. Battn under orders to relieve 156 Brigade.  Mansora Ridge. Usual artillery fire relief affected, Battn took our left sector from Gaza.  Mendur Track. R17 6.10.15 (M of L) Large 1/40,000. High amount of artillery fire.

Location MANSORA RIDGE Date: 7/5/17

Battn in front line trenches, quiet day, during day, work was put in on dug out in next area; during night work on ……..front line trenches was carried out leapt Capt (?)  RAMC left for …..being replaced by Capt N.M Cumming RAMC.

Date 8/5/17

Battn in front line trenches, usual artillery fire, work in day on dug out in next area during night work on improving. Front line trenches.

Date 9/5/17

Battn in front line trenches, usual artillery fire, work in day on dugout, in rest area.

Date 10/5/17

Battn in front line trenches, usual artillery fare, other than that, quiet day.

Date: 11/5/17

Battn in front line trenches about…night two Turkish….taken, usual artillery fire…etc.

Location MANSORA RIDGE Date: 12/5/17

Battn relieved on the front line trenches, by the 1st 5th Bedford Regt work on communication trenches.

Date: 13/5/17

Battn in support, usual work in communication trenches.

Date: 14/5/17

Battn in support, usual work in communication trenches.

Date: 15/5/17

Battn in support, usual work in communication trenches.

Date: 16/5/17

Battn in support, usual work in communication trenches.

Date: 17/5/17

Battn in support, usual work in communication trenches

Away from the Western Front : 20th – 30th April 1917

 On Sheikh Abbas Ridge

Trenches before Gaza James mc Bey

Trenches before Gaza,1917. A view across a series of trenches.James McBey ©IWM (Art.IWM.ART.1591)

After the disastrous Second Battle of Gaza as part of the 162 Brigade , the Finsbury Rifles retreated behind the Sheikh Abbas ridge. Over a third of the battalion had been killed, wounded or posted as missing   – all recorded as casualties in the battalion war diary. In spite of the heavy losses, it was business as usual. A new communication line and trenches had to be dug while shelling continued from the enemy artillery behind the Gaza defences.


Date: 20/4/17

Owing to heavy casualties Total reorganisation of battn necessary. Fairly quiet day with reciprocal artillery fire. 2nd Lt A.R. ALDERS to hospital.

Date 21/.4/17

Usual artillery fire and otherwise quiet day. 4 Officers, 300 Other Ranks digging new line and communication trenches during night 21/22 April.

Date: 22/4/17

Usual artillery fire, otherwise quiet day. 2 officers 300 other ranks digging new line and communications.

Date: 23/4/17

Usual artillery fire, otherwise quiet day. 2 officers, 300 other ranks digging new line and communications.

Date: 23/4/17

Usual artillery fire otherwise quiet day – 2 officers 300 OR digging our line and communications.

Date: 24/4/17

Usual artillery fire. Otherwise quiet day – 2 Officers 300 OR digging over line and communications: 2nd Lieut AR ALDERS  returned to duty.

Date: 25/4/17

Usual artillery fire: Battn on front line trenches. Patrol work on trench line in accordance with brigade working.

Date: 26/4/17

Usual artillery fire, Battn on Front Line Trenches. Patrols, work in trench line, long sniping by the evening.

Date: 27/4/17

Heavy artillery fire, Battn in front line trenches. Long Patrol at Waddi Mukademe work in a trench line,  general observations of enemy line. 2nd Lieut AR & Alders re-entered  hospital.

Date: 28/4/17

Usual artillery. First sniper brought in and battn on front line. Usual trench work in trench line and communications trench.

Date: 29/4/17

Usual artillery fire, 4 prisoners brought in from front line trenches work and trench line and communications. General observations of line.

Date: 30/4/17

Usual artillery fire, work in trench communications in accordance with Brigade working together

Away from the Western Front : 18th – 19th April 1917

 The Second Battle of Gaza


Having failed to take Gaza by surprise,  Lieutenant-General  Murray  drew up a more cautious plan for a second attempt to capture the town. While the Royal Navy would shell Gaza from the sea, three  infantry divisions would attack together, supported by an intense barrage of artillery fire as well as new technology – tanks and gas shells. This meant that the EEF would be attacking across open ground in full view of the enemy – a risky tactic.

However, the Ottoman forces had not waited idly for the next offensive. More troops had been sent in to reinforce the garrison and the defence system in and around Gaza had been strengthened. Now it stretched 12 miles to the east along the key route to Beersheba.

The artillery commanders had queried the order to bombard the enemy. They warned that the distance between the artillery lines and the enemy was simply too great to guarantee accuracy. They also knew there was a danger that they would run out of ammunition during the course of the attack.

Inevitably, their protests were overruled by GHQ and inevitably those on the ground were proven right.

…This bombardment was the most futile thing possible resulting … only in warning the enemy of … the attack and in gross waste of ammunition …

The Second Battle of Gaza was a failure with heavy losses. General Murray’s days as commander-in-chief of the EEF were numbered. His general staff and officers had lost confidence in him as well as the War Office in the United Kingdom.


Location INSEIRAT independently Date: 1/4/17

Orders received for the battalion to move to line Y 16.8.3 (point 300) W31C 8.3 and deploy for attack on that position of SHEIKH ABBAS RIDGE from w26b1.8. to w25b1.8. 165 Brigade (1/8 HANTS) on our right, 1/5 BEDFORDS on left. Move forward from position of deployment at 0745. Position taken after slight opposition. Casualties 1 killed 12 wounded.

Location SHEIKH ABBAS Date: 18/4/17

Reciprocal shelling by artillery. Further advance orders for tomorrow.

Date: 19/4/17

Advance orders to commence at 0730 after 2 hours bombardment by artillery, the first 40 minutes of which to be by “special” (gas) shells. Battalion to move in support of 1/4 Northants and 1/10 LONDON on objective (trenches) from w15b8.7 to WADI MUKADDEME. As soon as time of advance arrived men went over ridge in artillery formation. Enemy at once putting up a barrage of H.E and Shrapnel causing heavy casualties. 10 London on left were soon held up but 4 Northants pushed on. 11 London then pushed on with them. The two battalions (11 London and 4 Northants) eventually establishing a firing line about 500 yards from objective and overlooking the BEERSHEBA ROAD. Enemy’s trenches slightly semicircular, the flanks being pushed forward.

Enemy very strong in machine guns bringing very hot machine gun fire causing heavy casualties; practically all at Lewis gun  wiped out, also nearly all men who got on a ridge facing Battn’s objective at about 400 from it. The dead and wounded on this ridge remained as a line of skirmishes the Turks sweeping them with M.G fire at intervals through the day consequently men wounded early in day, were killed and all men were riddled by bullets. Greatest difficulty in getting up ammunition and in establishing communication from front line to Battn H.Q.    Messengers time after time becoming casualties. Front line held on until dusk but by that time men reduced to small parties of one or two. At dusk 1/5 Bedford relieved 1/11 LONDON and 1/4 Northants, both of which Battns had lost heavily. Line taken up by 1/5 Bedford considerably nearer bivouac area than the day time. Casualties: Officers 13, other ranks 366.

second battle of Gaza map 10.30am

©Cyril Falls and George MacMunn (maps)Official History of the Great War Military Operations




Away from the Western Front : 22nd March to 16th April 1917.

The First Battle of Gaza – 26/27 March 1917

1st battle Gaza

An Ottoman gun amongst the hedges near Gaza.    Wikimedia Commons

Although the initial role of the EEF was to defend the Suez Canal and keep it open for Allied shipping, the overall aim of the campaign had shifted since 1915. Now it was clear that the EEF would be fighting an offensive campaign to defeat the Ottoman Forces and bring down their empire in the Middle East.

Capturing Gaza was an important first step. Part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries, the city’s strategic location at a crossroads of trade routes and markets meant it controlled access to the north and west. Supported by German and Austrian units on the ground and in the air, the Ottoman forces in the area were commanded by General Kress von Kressenstein.

The Finsbury Rifles played a supporting role during the ill-fated 1st battle of Gaza . 162 Brigade of the 54th (East Anglian) Division remained in reserve, protecting the forces who were acting as a screen for those divisions actually attacking Gaza. However, they came under fire and supplies of food and water did not reach them or the other battalions in the brigade. According to their respective war diaries, the 1/10 London (Hackney Rifles) had only one bottle of water per man for 30 hours while the 1/5 Bedfords consumed their iron rations.

Foggy weather as well as poor communication played a part in the outcome of the battle. This painting by James McBey, an official war artist gives an impression of how such weather affected visibility.

A Morning Mist James McBey

A Morning Mist. James McBey. © Art.IWM.ART 1436


Date: 22 to 23/3/17

Training + Backing Parades – Usual Routine

Date 24/3/17

Batt. proceeded to Rafa 0800 by Route March arriving 1300

Batt. On outpost duty night 24/5. Orders received to move

Date 25/3/17

Batt. Proceeds to In Seirat via Khan Junis where day spent in bivouac arriving In Seirat 2200.

Location SEIRAT Date: 26/3/17

Batt. Proceeded at 0630 to El Meshrefe  for day moved out at 2000 to outpost line Tel El Ahmar and dug in.

Location: Tel El Ahmar  Date: 27/3/17

Digging continued on outpost line which was consolidated under heavy shell fire which continued throughout the day resulting in 18 men wounded. Sudden orders received on about 1900 that force would withdraw at about 2200 and proceed to bivouac in SEIRAT. Throughout the period Batt was away from front, with difficulty supplied with rations and water entailing heavy work on ranks day and night.

Date: 28/3/17

Batt. resting in bivouac.

Date: 29/3/17

Batt.  part of new outpost line – started digging operations.

Date: 30/3/17

Digging a defensive position. One Company on outpost duty.

Date: 31/3/17

One Company on outpost duty. Remainder of + fatigues.

Date: 1/4/17

Batt. Reserve. Bde Divine Service.

Date: 2 to 7/7.4/17

Batt. finding various guards duties also Companies for work in connection with coming operations. Batt. also covering Companies for other troops working obey(?) and outpost Line.

Date: 8/4/17

Brigade Divine Service. 17 Other Ranks arrived from Division Base. 2 Companies on duty, ie one digging in pipe line and one covering Troops working beyond Outpost Line.

Date: 9/4/17

One Company performing Covering duties, remainder of Battn on Training. Usual Camp Routine.

Date: 10/4/17

Two Companies employed on Work and Covering Troops. Remainder of Batt Training.

Date: 11/4/17

One Company employed on field works, remainder of battn training a Draft of 41 other Ranks reported from Base Depot.

Date: 12/4/17

Batt Training. One Company on Bde Fatigue Work.

Date: 13/4/17

Batt Training. One Company acting as Covering Party to RE

Date: 14/4/17

Batt Training. One Company engaged on Field Work under RE.

Date: 15/.4/17

Bde Divine Service and Usual Camp Routine. Operation Orders received for forthcoming attack.

Date: 16/4/17

Batt engaged preparing for Operations against GAZA.

Away from the Western Front : 10th – 23rd March 1917.

 Precautions against cholera


IWM ART2939 bacteriologist inspectin test tube James McBey

Bacteria: in the lab of a field hospital the London specialist and his assistant examine the contents of a test tube. ©IWM(Art.IWM Art 2939)


The army medical infrastructure in Egypt had been set up to treat casualties from Gallipoli. During the 1916 when much of the EEF was tied up in defending the Suez Canal against a largely absent enemy force, the Royal Army Medical Corps was able to refine sanitary arrangements. Each division had its own Sanitary Section. This section was in charge of making sure all camp areas were fit for purpose and the importance of  good practice was dinned into all officers and men. As a result, the overall  sickness rate during 1916 and early 1917 was extremely low – only 0.2 % amongst the 54th (East Anglian) Division.

It was well known that cholera was spread through the contamination of water supplies by human faeces. As the campaign advanced through the Sinai Desert and into Southern Palestine, the RAMC was at the forefront of making sure that an outbreak of cholera remained a threat rather than a reality. As well as maintaining high standards of hygiene and sanitation,  soldiers were also vaccinated. 90,000 units of cholera vaccine had been sent out to Egypt. It was only effective against cholera if administered in 2 stages and before any contact with the disease.

This description of El Arish in December 1916 shows some of the challenges the RAMC encountered in keeping disease at bay.

… 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…Well might the officer commanding our R.A.M.C. Sanitary Section have despaired at sight of … El Arish. But of course he did nothing of the kind. He and his men wasted no time in looking at the job; they just took off their coats and went at it. Organisation won the day.

Date 10/3/17

Bathing Parades – ½ holiday – Batt. Command inoculation against cholera. Capt. Rev. Dixon Spain reported from 3 days leave.

Date 11/3/17

Divine Service postponed on account of Sandstorm. L. Col. S.C. Byrne left for England via Alexandria. Major A.H. Windsor takes over command of Batt.

Date: 12/3/17

Company Training. Usual Camp Routine.

Date: 13. To 17/3/17

Company Training. Backing Parades. Batt. On outpost duty every 4th night.

Date: 18/3/17

Brigade Divine Service. Routine as usual.

Date: 19/3/17

Brigade outpost Scheme for night 19/20. 11 London in Receiver. Battalion on Brigade Duties.

Date: 20/3/17

Returned from outpost Scheme + prepared to move same day to Sheik Zowaid. Batt. Moved 1715. Arr. Sheik Zowaid 2000 & prepared

Location: SHEIK ZOWAID Date: 21/3/17

Battn engaged in squaring up bivouac.

Date: 23/3/17

Training + Backing Parades – Usual Routine

Date 24/3/17

Batt. proceeded to Rafa 0800 by Route March arriving 1300

Batt. On outpost duty night 24/5. Orders received to move

Date 25/3/17

Batt. Proceeds to In Seirat via Khan Junis where day spent in bivouac arriving In Seirat 2200.

Location SEIRAT Date: 26/3/17

Batt. Proceeded at 0630 to El Meshrefe for day moved out at 2000 to outpost line Tel/El Ahmar


After serving more than 25 years with the Finsbury Rifles, Lt – Col Stanley Cesnola Byrne returned home to England via some of the well-known sights of Egypt. His battalion would remain in the Middle East for another two years.

Q57786 Lt col SC Byrne at the Sphinx March 1917

Lt-Col S.C.Byrne at the Sphinx , March 1917.© IWM (Q57786)



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)