CHAPTER IX. CRUSHING THE TURKISH LEFT
Now we return to the operations of XXth Corps and Desert Mounted Corps on our right. After the capture of Beersheba this force was preparing to attack the left of the Turkish main line about Hareira and Sheria, the capture of which would enable the fine force of cavalry to get to Nejile and gain an excellent water supply, to advance to the neighbourhood of Huj and so reach the plain and threaten the enemy's line in rear, and to fall on his line of retreat. It was proposed to make the attack on the Kauwukah and Rushdi systems at Hareira on November 4, but the water available at Beersheba had not been equal to the demands made upon it and was petering out, and mounted troops protecting the right flank of XXth Corps had to be relieved every twenty-four hours. The men also suffered a good deal from thirst. The weather was unusually hot for this period of the year, and the dust churned up by traffic was as irritating as when the khamseen wind blew. The two days' delay meant much in favour of the enemy, who was enabled to move his troops as he desired, but it also permitted our infantry to get some rest after their long marches, and supplies were brought nearer the front. 'Rest' was only a comparative term. Brigades were on the move each day in country which was one continual rise and fall, with stony beds of wadis to check progress, without a tree to lend a few moments' grateful relief from a burning sun, and nothing but the rare sight of a squalid native hut to relieve the monotony of a sun-dried desolate land.
The troops were remarkably cheerful. They were on their toes, as the cavalry told them. They had drawn first blood profusely from the Turk after many weary months of waiting and getting fit, and they knew that those gaunt mountain ridges away on their right front held behind them Bethlehem and Jerusalem, goals they desired to reach more than any other prizes of war. They had seen the Turk, and had soundly thrashed him out of trenches which the British could have held against a much stronger force. Their confidence was based on the proof that they were better men, and they were convinced that once they got the enemy into the open their superiority would be still more marked. The events of the next six weeks showed their estimate of the Turkish soldier was justified.
The 53rd Division with the Imperial Camel Corps on its right moved to Towal Abu Jerwal on November 1 to protect the flank guard of the XXth Corps during the pending attack on the Kauwukah system. The infantry had some fighting on that day, but it was mild compared with the strenuous days before them. The 10th Division attacked Irgeig railway station north-west of Beersheba and secured it, and waited there with the 74th Division on its right while the Welsh Division went forward to fight for Khuweilfeh on November 3. The Welshmen could not obtain the whole of the position on that day, and it was not until the 6th that it became theirs. Khuweilfeh is about ten miles due east of Sheria, the same distance north of Beersheba, and some five miles west of the Hebron road. It is in the hill country, difficult to approach, with nothing in the nature of a road or track leading to it, and there was no element in the position to suggest the prospect of an easy capture. When General Mott advanced to these forbidding heights the strength of the enemy in these parts was not realised. Prisoners taken during the day proved that there were portions of three or four Turkish divisions in the neighbourhood, and the strong efforts made to prevent the Welsh troops gaining the position and the furious attempts to drive them out of it suggested that most of the Turkish reserves had been brought over to their left flank to guard against a wide movement intended to envelop it. It afterwards turned out that von Kressenstein believed General Allenby intended to march on Jerusalem up the Hebron road, and he threw over to his left all his reserves to stop us. That was a supreme mistake, for when we had broken through at Hareira and Sheria the two wings of his Army were never in contact, and their only means of communication was by aeroplane.
The magnificent fight the 53rd Division put up at Khuweilfeh against vastly superior forces and in the face of heavy casualties played a very important part in the overwhelming defeat of the Turks. For four days and nights the Welsh Division fought without respite and with the knowledge that they could not be substantially reinforced, since the plan for the attack on Hareira and Sheria entailed the employment of all the available infantry of XXth Corps. Attack after attack was launched against them with extreme violence and great gallantry, their positions were raked by gunfire, whilst water and supplies were not over plentiful. But the staunch Division held on grimly to what it had gained, and its tenacity was well rewarded by what was won on other portions of the field.