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On this occasion the bridge
invented by the British Mission. Umteiye, our wounded prisoner being considerably better as the result of the copious draughts of strong tea and "Black and White" which I had given him, against the advice of one of the cardrivers, who, in virtue of having done a St John's Ambulance Course ten years ago, thought he understood medicine. Our route lay over cultivated ground of rich loam, mostly barley or maize stubble, which made progress slow. We passed one village-El Taiyibe
The tender broke a springbracket in this adventure, but was admirably and cunningly repaired by one of the drivers, who blocked it up with scantling. In addition to their other qualities, G. of the armoured cars and his officers and men were "tigers" at keeping their cars in order under the most adverse cireumstances, and at executing run- where the very Anatolian ning repairs that would have baffled nine motor mechanios out of ten.
Then, having looted what was worth taking in the blockhouse, we hurried back to El Umteiye before the Turks could have time to send the armoured train that they had in Deraa. As a matter of fact, Deraa had, according to plan, just been bombed by two British flights from Palestine, and it was fair to rely on the Deraa command being in a somewhat disorganised state-especially as it was almost their first experience of being thus treated. The aeroplanes had passed over us as we were on our way down to the railway, and, as they ploughed steadily in regular formation through the steely blue sky, they gave one a ourious sense of security and British solidity in this wild land that we were in. The message seemed to be, "You are all by yourselves, but 'the Ball' and his strength aren't so far off." At break of day, next morning, we left El
and non-Arab-looking population were not very friendly, and impeded our progress through their village by clambering like monkeys over the cars: steps, mudguards, the bonnets of the cars, nothing came amiss to them as seats, and the lightness of their fingers surpassed those of a Derby Day pickpocket. They tried to steal ammunition out of the men's bandoliers, drinkingoups, petrol-tins, and anything they could lay hands on-truly a very poisonous set of people.
We reached the main body at about 8.30 A.M., just as the operation of forcing and crossing the railway north of Deras was commencing. This General Nuri had decided to do close to the hill Tel Arar, which, though well out of rifle-range of Deraa, was not too far north to make it impossible to reach, on the same day, the bridge at Mezerib, on the Deraa-Palestine branch line, which we wished to blow up. On the railway, near Tel Arar, was a Turkish sangar, well sand-bagged, and its occu
pants, a score or so of Turks, gave some trouble until the French mountain-guns came into action against it and finally smashed it up and killed the remnants of the garrison. Much more serious was the waspishness of the nine Turkish 'planes in Deraa, who bombed and machine-gunned us continually as we approached and occupied the line. They would empty their loads of bombs, and then coolly return to Deraa, alight, and reload in our sight, and then return. The continual crashing of what the Arabs graphically call "boombas" made the whole affair unpleasantly like modern warfare instead of the bashi-bazouk fighting that we understood. However, the bombs caused relatively few casualties, and the Shereefian regulars were wonderfully steady under this ordeal as they advanced slowly across the railway. The company who attacked the blockhouse especially impressed me with their morale. They had to advance over perfectly coverless ground, bombed and machinegunned from above, and under fire, until our French guns started, from the Turks behind their sandbags; yet they kept excellent order. Deraa possessed, apparently, only one long-range gun, and I do not think it caused us a single casualty. Our own four little French guns, save for their brief pulverisation of the blockhouse, spent their time in attempting, not very successfully, to scare off the 'planes.
At last the column was over
the line and in possession of the hill Tel Arar, which made a sortie of the Deraa garrison improbable. The Deraa troops consisted of a garrison battalion, plus a number of men employed in the railway repairing-shops and ordnance, and at the aerodrome, amongst whom were a considerable proportion of Boche Unterofficiers and N.C.O.'s. Our armoured cars and Ruweilah "cavalry " made it inadvisable for them to leave the trenches with which the town was surrounded, whilst an assault by us on the town, apart from the fact that it was no part of our object, would have meant far heavier casualties than we could have evacuated with our limited medical resources. So, especially whilst in possession of Tel Arar, we had little to fear from Deraa, except from bombs, but everything to fear from Damascus and the North, who, sooner or later, must hear of what had occurred, especially as one of the Deraa 'planes had gone off in that direction, and the tremendous explosions, just north of Tel Arar, where the Egyptian Camel Corps demolition party and their Gurkha allies were at work, on the line and a bridge, must have been giving warning of trouble to the blookhouses up the line north, all of whom were in telegraphic communication with Damascus.
As soon as we were over the line, a hurried conference between
the various leaders decided that the Arab regulars, plus those of the Ruweilah "cavalry" who felt
inclined for the adventure, and two of the French guns, should push on, accompanied by L., to Mezerib, whilst the Egyptian Camel Corps and the British armoured cars should hold Tel Arar and the high ground opposite on the east of the railway, a demolition party continuing to do all the damage possible to the line.
Just as the conference broke up, one of our 'planes, a B. E.12 from Azrak, appeared in the distance (the other one had been put hors de combat in an air-fight three days before), and promptly three of the Deraa 'planes rose to fight him. L., grasping the danger the airman was in, rushed to get the "T" landing signal from
neighbouring car, whilst every one else, Arab, British, and French officers and men, worked feverishly at getting the worst of the boulders off the only available possible piece of landing-ground. Clearly it was our airman's only chance of life, as he had nearly finished his petrol, and the three Halberstadts were closing in on him and subjecting him to a raking fire, to which he responded as well as he could, coming lower every minute. He landed without being hit, but in "taxying" crashed into
at us as we stood round congratulating the airman, returned to Deraa, and we were not bothered by them again to any great extent that day.
J. S., the airman, K., and I established ourselves on a little knoll north of Tel Arar, where we got a good view of the railway line, its shimmering telegraph - posts stretching away towards distant Damascus.
On the far horizon, westwards, was Mezerib, and in the late afternoon from it came the sounds of gun-fire, followed by the welcome roar of explosives and a great fire, evidently that of the store of grain and petrol which we knew was there. This could only mean that our project had succeeded, and that north, south, and west of Deraa the sole lines of supply for the Turks' Palestine army had been out, all within the space of twenty-six hours, and about the same time before Allenby was due to attack at midnight on the 18-19th. Whatever happened now-and if we ourselves were out off and finished our excursion as prisoners in Damasous, which seemed at the moment quite likely—the Turks would be hampered by the fact that at least sixty hours must elapse before communications could be restored, and hampered at a time when they were going to experience the heaviest bombardment and strongest attack of the whole eighteen months' Palestine campaign.
Night came with no actual news from L. and the column, but about 11 P.M. a messenger arrived from the Arab officer
commanding the escort to the two French guns on Tel Arar, saying that he and the French gunner officer had orders to join the main column for an attack at dawn on another bridge, and that Mezerib Station, together with its stores, rolling-stock, and two lorries, had been taken and burnt. The message suggested that the armoured cars and tenders with J. and the rest of us should retire to El Umteiye, where the column would return within the next thirty-six hours. This, after a very weary time all through the rest of the night and most of the next morning, getting the "tenders" over the railway (moving a car at night over a roadless country is the height of unpleasantness, especially when you never know when you may be attacked) and collecting the armoured cars and the Egyptian Camel Corps, we did, reaching El Umteiye at noon; our friends of the previous day, the hooligans of Taiyibe village, speeding our parting with several shots at the rearguard.
Arrived at El Umteiye, lunch was the first consideration after a breakfastless morning, and we had soarcely finished it when information came that a train, apparently a construotion train with a repair gang, was stationary on the line south of Deraa, close to where we had destroyed the bridge two days previously. This was too good an opportunity for our guerilla band to lose, and it was decided that an armoured car, accompanied by & tender with the airman
and myself (the former armed with his aeroplane Lewis gun, to which he had been affectionately olinging since his crash), should make for the train and try and capture it. Our previous experience of the miserable half-starved Armenians and Syrians who did navvy work for the Turks did not lead us to believe that resistance would be very formidable. Off we went, and as we got nearer, we saw the seven or eight men who were working on the broken bridge, which had a scaffold on it, rush back to the train, seemingly in great confusion and alarm. When about 1500 yards away we stopped, and it was decided that "the airman,” with his beloved gun, and I, should proceed on foot to a very good position in front, which seemed to be well within rifle-fire of the train. Meanwhile the armoured car was to go round to a flank and machine-gun the occupants from the same spot from which it had attacked the Turks on the 16th. Hardly, however,
had the airman and I set out than there were some puffs of smoke from an innocent-looking box-truck, and a couple of "whizz-bangs hurtled over our heads and landed unpleasantly close to our tender. As we could obviously do nothing against a train with guns on board, we pocketed our dignity, boarded our car, and in company with the armoured car pelted across the plain for home. Thanks to Messrs Rolls-Royce, Ltd., both cars accepted uncomplainingly the ordeal of being driven at about
forty miles an hour over ground late in the season, and El
every yard of which had enough water-channels and large stones to smash the axles and springs of most cars when proceeding at a crawl. Until out of range, the train's two guns shelled us with very fair accuracy, but without a hit. It was one of the few occasions that brother Turk round Deras way had reason to smile in those few days, and when we reached El Umteiye, our brother buecaneers were full of inquiries as to where the prisoners were, and how many "tulips" we had planted, having witnessed our discomfiture from afar!!!
Sleep that night was very welcome after forty hours of excitement without it, and I did not wake until well after dawn. From the ground where I lay one got a fine view westward across the rolling plateau to the railway and beyond to the dim outline of the Palestinian hills, and the first sound that came to my ears was the dull "thud, thudding" of distant gun-fire. It was much the same indistinot but arresting booming in one's ears that I had heard more than once that summer at home in Sussex on leave, when there was a big attack in Flanders, and it was obviously the aftermath of Allenby's attack which had begun some seven hours previously. A few minutes later, as I lay propped on one elbow, drinking my morning cup of cocoa, and trying to solve the problem of doing so without divesting myself of my blankets, or exposing more than my mouth and hand to the cold of the morning (it was sufficiently
Umteiye was sufficiently high up to produce bitterly cold nights), there came the sound of shelling very much nearer, followed by several white puffs of smoke over the skyline towards Deraa. This woke J., S., and "the airman," who, like me, had been sleeping the sleep of complete exhaustion, and we all scrambled up and hurried off to a neighbouring ridge, from where we could see the rest of the column returning, according to plan, to rejoin us at El Umteiye, and being shelled by our friends of the night before, the guns on the train. They were, however, on our side of the line, and so there was not much to be feared.
Presently L. and his bodyguard arrived, none the worse for forty-eight hours' almost continuous "trekking" and fighting. He told us that they had failed to destroy the big bridge, but had made a complete end of Mezerib, and smashed the line there to some purpose; also, they had again blown up the railway south of Deraa, thus imprisoning our gun-train between two missing bridges, and got back with very few casualties. L. had just seen an enemy 'plane land near the railway, apparently because of engine trouble, and was anxious to return immediately with an armoured car and attack it. This he did, accompanied by "the airman,' whose zest for adventure had been by no means cooled by his experiences in the last forty-eight hours. Arrived at the spot, they proceeded to