Thursday, 29 September 2016

Band of Oases

Commencing in February 1916 Senussi forces under Sayyid Ahmed, occupied the Baharia, Farafra, Dakkla and Kharga oases to the west of the Nile. This necessitated the 53rd Division and three brigades of dismounted Yeomanry being distributed in garrisons in Upper Egypt from Fayum to Assiut, for the whole summer.

Initially posted to Minia, some 150 miles south of Cairo, the role of the Cheshire Yeomanry was to assist in the capture and occupation of the Baharia Oasis.
“The main difficulty of the operation was the lack of any water between the Nile and the oasis. On top of this, the desert was extremely difficult to cross in places. The advance, therefore, had to be gradual in order to enable supplies to keep pace with it. To protect the lines of communications, block houses were built every ten to 12 miles. They were known as B.1, B.2, etc. Railhead for the Baharia Expedition, as it was called, was then at Samalut, close to the Nile, while the advance post was at Shusha some ten miles to the west. It was from Shusha that the block house line ran out into the desert in the direction of the oasis. At the end of April, B.4 was nearing completion. 
“As regards supplies, all food, petrol, stores and a great deal of the water required for the maintenance of the Shusha garrison and the block houses, has to be sent up from Samalut. The same was true for the materials required for the construction of the new block houses.” (The Cheshire Yeomanry, by Lt.-Col. Sir Richard Verdin, 1971)
At the same time as the block house line was gradually extended a light railway was being constructed into the desert. Progress was rapid thanks to the efforts of the Egyptian Labour Corps.

The Light Desert Railway constructed
at the rate of a mile & a half a day
Friendly natives
who are employed on the railway
(photographs by T.B. Minshall of "C" Squadron, Cheshire Yeomanry)