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W.T. Massey - How Jerusalem Was Won. Allenby's Campaign in Palestine

journeying in comparative ease in light motor ambulances over the Plain of Ajalon.

The arrangements for the withdrawal worked admirably. The 8th Mounted Brigade, covering the
retirement so successfully that the enemy knew nothing about it, held on in front of Beitunia till three

o'clock, reaching Foka before dawn, while the 22nd Brigade remained covering the northern flank till

almost midnight, when it fell back to Tahta. The Division's casualties during the day were 300 killed and

wounded. We still held the Zeitun ridge, observation was kept on Ain Arik from El Hafy by one

regiment, and troops were out on many parts north and east of Tahta and Foka.

On the next two days there was nothing beyond enemy shelling and patrol encounters. On the 24th
demonstrations were made against Beitunia to support the left of the 52nd Division's attack on El Jib, but

the enemy was too strong to permit of the yeomanry proceeding more than two miles east of Foka. The

roadmakers had done an enormous amount of navvy work on the track between Foka and Tahta. They

had laboured without cessation, breaking up rock, levering out boulders with crowbars, and doing a sort

of rough-and-ready levelling, and by the night of the 24th the track was reported passable for guns. The

Leicester battery R.H.A. came along it next morning without difficulty. I did not see the road till some

time later and its surface had then been considerably improved, but even then one felt the drivers of those

gun teams had achieved the almost impossible. The Leicester battery arrived at Foka just in time to

unlimber and get into action behind a fig orchard in order to disperse a couple of companies of enemy

infantry which were working round the left flank of the Staffordshire Yeomanry at Khurbet Meita, below

the Zeitun height. The enemy brought up reinforcements and made an attack in the late afternoon, but

this was also broken up. The Berkshire battery reached Tahta the following day and, with the Leicester

gunners, answered the Turks' long-range shelling throughout the day and night. On the 27th the enemy

made a determined attempt to compel us to withdraw from the Zeitun ridge, which is an isolated hill

commanding the valleys on both sides. The 6th Mounted Brigade furnished the garrison of 3 officers and

60 men, who occupied a stone building on the summit. Against them the enemy put 600 infantry with

machine guns, and they also brought a heavy artillery fire to bear on the building from Beitunia, 4000

yards away. The garrison put up a most gallant defence. They were compelled to leave the building

because the enemy practically destroyed it by gunfire and the infantry almost surrounded the hill, but

they obtained cover on the boulder-strewn sides of the hill and held their assailants at bay. At dusk,

although the garrison was reduced to 2 officers and 26 men, they refused to give ground. They were

instructed to hold on as long as possible, and a reinforcement of 50 men was sent up after dark - all that

could be spared, as the division was holding a series of hills ten miles long and every rifle was in the line.

This front was being threatened at several points, and the activity of patrols at Deir Ibzia and north of it

suggested that the enemy was trying to get into the gap of five miles between the yeomanry and the right

of the 54th Division which was now at Shilta. It was an anxious night, and No. 2 Light Armoured Car

battery was kept west of Tahta to enfilade the enemy with machine guns should he appear in the

neighbourhood of Suffa. The 7th Mounted Brigade was ordered up to reinforce. The fresh troops arrived

at dawn on the 28th, and had no sooner got into position at Hellabi, half a mile north-west of Tahta, than

their left flank was attacked by 1000 Turks with machine guns. The 155th Brigade of the 52nd Division

was on its way through Beit Likia to rest after its hard work in the neighbourhood of Nebi Samwil and El

Jib, and it was ordered up to assist. At midday the brigade attacked Suffa but could not take it. The Scots,

however, prevented the Turks breaking round the left flank of the yeomanry. The post which had held

Zeitun so bravely was brought into Foka under cover of the Leicester and Berkshire batteries' fire, and

very heavy fighting continued all day long on the Foka-Tahta-Suffa line, but though the enemy employed

3000 infantry in his attack, and had four batteries of 77's and four heavy camel guns, he was

 

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