Wednesday, 19 April 2017

"Earth Shook" - 10th KSLI & the Second Battle of Gaza

Early in 1917 Turkish troops defending a line stretching from Gaza and south east to Beersheba, blocked the only viable passage for British forces advance into the heart of Palestine.

On 14 April 1917, the 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Bn. King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (10th Bn KSLI), moved from Khan Yunis to Deir el Belah the concentration area for the 74th (Yeomanry) Division. The Division comprised three Infantry Brigades, the 229th, 230th and 231st, the 10th Bn KSLI being part of the latter.

These moves were preliminary to the Second Battle of Gaza, in which the 10th Bn KSLI was to play a supporting role. The First Battle of Gaza took place on 26 March, and was unsuccessful, although Sir Archibald Murray presented it as a victory. Murray’s despatches resulted in the War Cabinet ordering a second attempt on Gaza.

The Second Battle of Gaza began on 17 April, with three infantry divisions, the 52nd, 53rd and 54th advancing and gaining a line from the Sheikh Abbas – Mansura Ridge to the coast. The 18th was then spent in consolidation and the main attack on the town launched on the 19th.

Map showing the movement of the 10th Bn KSLI
At 0030 hours on the 17th, the 10th Bn KSLI marched from Deir el Belah to a camp 3 miles to the north at Raspberry Hill, arriving at 0300 hours, and dug in. There they remained until 2030 hours on 18 April, when they marched out with the 231st Brigade, reaching a position 2000 yards south east of the Mansura Ridge at 0400 hours on the 19th, and again dug in. There they remained in reserve throughout the day.

The attack on the 19th began with a bombardment at 0530 hours after which the three infantry divisions moved forward. Serving with 10th Bn KSLI, and in reserve, Lance Sergeant Thomas Minshall in his ‘Notes on Palestine’ recorded his what he saw:
“We were aroused by the roar of guns after being on the march all night; everybody was very tired but the booming of the guns from land and sea very soon made us realise a great battle had begun. The air and earth fairly shook, shells of all calibres up to 11 inches, tore slits into the elaborate Turkish defences, the battleships pouring a deadly fire into the forts on the hills around the city.”
The infantry encountered the fiercest opposition and none of them were able to make the progress anticipated, despite use of such modern weapons of warfare as gas and a few tanks.
“I saw the men walking across the plain before Gaza, every man a hero, they moved forward with splendid steadiness through a shower of shrapnel and high explosives and owing to the open ground many brave fellows dropped, never to rise again as I watched them advance.” (T.B. Minshall, ‘Notes on Palestine’)
The tanks that took part in the battle, despite some useful work, had a bad time of it, most being destroyed by the extremely accurate Turkish artillery.
“I saw a tank ploughing through the ground, and in spite of deadly fire stood with her nose in the air and poured rapid fire right and left down the Turkish defences.” (T.B. Minshall, ‘Notes on Palestine’)
The desert terrain
Officers of 10th Bn KSLI climbed a small hill near to their positions to view the opening of the battle. It was here that the Battalion suffered its first casualty, when Captain R.T. Jones was severely wounded in the knee when a shell dropped close by them.

Early in the afternoon it was obvious that the attack was unlikely to succeed without further support. The 74th Division had been ordered to stand to, but on receiving information that the attack had not drawn the Turkish reserves General Dobell decided not to deploy the men and the division did not go into action. For the men though, who had been stood in reserve all day, there were mixed emotions:
“Great excitement arose when orders came to “saddle up”, at last we were required, pals shook hands and exchanged remarks about those dear to us at home. We were just moving forward, when orders were cancelled, what had happened I cannot say, I suppose we ought to have thanked God but when one gets strung up to a fighting pitch, danger does not enter your thoughts and we moved to another position somewhat disappointed.” (T.B. Minshall, ‘Notes on Palestine’)
It was while standing to that the 10th Bn KSLI was to suffer the loss of two men. The Divisional history refers to a bombing attack by two Turkish aeroplanes, while the Battalion War Diary simply notes, “2 OR killed by bomb from aeroplane”. Thomas Minshall was a witness to this and graphically describes the moment when the aeroplane swooped down and bombed their position; “fragments flew all around us, several were hit within two yards of me and two poor fellows were blown to pieces about thirty yards away.”

The two men were Privates Henry Griffiths (killed in action 19 April 1917) and Thomas Beeby (died of wounds 20 April 1917).

Private Henry Griffiths
No. 230397
10th Bn. King’s Shropshire Light Infantry

Henry Griffiths was born in 1895, the son of Walter Griffiths and Emily Ann (nee Jones), at Dilwyn, Herefordshire. Walter was a farmer and hop grower there, at The Firs.

Walter married Emily at Dilwyn in 1887 and they had twelve children; Mabel, Ellen, Emily, Walter, Thomas, Henry, Violet, Kathleen, William, George, Constance and Andrew.

In April 1915 Henry Griffiths enlisted with Shropshire Yeomanry (Private, No. 2465).
Killed in action: Palestine on 19 April 1917.
Private Thomas Beeby
No. 230245
10th Bn. King’s Shropshire Light Infantry

Thomas Beeby was born in 1892, the son of William Beeby and Sarah (nee Mallinson), at Great Salkeld, near Penrith, Cumberland.

William married Sarah in 1891 in Cumberland and they had four children; Watson, Thomas, James and Joseph. In 1896 William died and in 1902 Sarah married Joseph Hetherington with whom she had two daughters, Margaret and Doris. Sarah was an inn keeper at Great Salkeld, and by 1911 Thomas was employed as a groom in Starbeck, Yorkshire.

1917 was not a good year for Sarah, he second husband, Joseph died that year and two of her sons were killed in the war; Thomas in Palestine and Watson (serving with the Royal Field Artillery) in France.

In August 1914 Thomas Beeby enlisted with Shropshire Yeomanry (Private, No. 1882).
Died of wounds: Palestine on 20 April 1917.

The next morning, after General Dobell’s decision not to continue the battle, the 74th Division moved back to a position two miles to the south. It was anticipated that there might be a Turkish counter-attack and the Division was given responsibility for protecting the east flank of the Force. Arriving at 2000 hours and in the dark they dug in on a 1400 yard front on the Sharta Ridge. Two days later, on the 22nd, they took up another position half a mile south of ‘Charing Cross’, where two tracks met in the desert. The period 22-27 April is covered by the Battalion War Diary with four words "Work in trench line", and for 28 April notes "Handed over trenches to 229th Brigade." The 231st Brigade with the 10th Bn KSLI was withdrawn about three miles to the south west to the junction of the Wadi El Imaain and the Wadi el Ghuzze near a hill called Tel el Jemmi.

The official British casualties (killed, wounded and missing) from the 17 to 20 April 1917 were 6,444. Turkish casualties for the same period were less than a third of that figure.

Lives of the First World War:
Private Thomas Beeby
Private Henry Griffiths

Further reading:
First Battle of Gaza – Wikipedia
Second Battle of Gaza – Wikipedia
From Gaza to Jerusalem: The Campaign for Southern Palestine by Stuart Hadaway
The Battle for Palestine 1917 by John D. Grainger
Palestine: The Ottoman Campaigns of 1914-1918 by Edward J. Erickson

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