Volume 1: Letters written on active service, A-L, 1914-1919 - Page 24
["Patrolling the Desert", continued]
This camp was named Romani, a fortress in a sense,
Well hemmed in with sand hills which made a fine defence,
So they made it our headquarters while we scoured the country round,
And for 20 miles east, north and south, we've searched each inch of ground,
The first few days were busy, reconnoitring everywhere,
We came across two battle fields, and signs of much despair.
One was out at Katia, six miles from camp about,
The other, Oghratina, some six miles further out.
This is where Black Jacko had surprised the Tommy camps,
Where they'd smashed, and killed, and plundered, like ruthless desert tramps.
There were many dead, some wounded, these last in sorry plight,
Lying in the burning sun since the morning of the fight.
We got them up on camels, they were game and no mistake,
The flies had nearly sent them mad, they'd wondered if they'd bake.
With some the Turks left water which didn't last them long,
Bedouins pinched their boots, and coats, a murderous, thieving throng.
We'd shovels on a packhorse one of the lads had led,
So started on the gruesome task of burying the dead.
By the way we found them lying they'd made a good game stand,
Heaps of empty cartridge shells at each dead man's right hand.
And now out on that desert land are bones of shattered horses,
And lonely little mounds of sand upholding rough-made crosses.
The next few weeks we spent in scouting far and wide,
Collecting hostile Bedouins and straggling Turks beside.
While out one morning early, patrolling here and there,
I came across a fellow sound asleep, without a care,
His back was turned towards me, part underneath bush,
No tunic, boots, or putties, and I couldn't see his "moosh."
From the look of him in general I took him for a Turk,
And thought, 'Well if they're all like him, it's pretty easy work.'
So rode up pretty close to him, my gun up ready too,
And shouts, "Hey, Jacko, on your feet, I've got the drop on you."
He took no blooming notice, so called on him again,
Then I started thinking, "they're heavy sleeping men,"
So jumping off the old bay horse I poked him with my gun,
To find that I'd been talking to a man whose days were done.
We never came in contact with any Turks in force,
They'd cleared right out and got away beyond the reach of horse,
We thought we'd catch their rearguard with some of the loot they'd grabbed,
Some five and twenty miles away, at a place called Ber-el-Abd.
So saddled up one evening and rode all through the night,
Two Regiments in strength were we all spoiling for a fight.
A silent march we stole that night across the moonlit sand,
Expecting that the dawn might find us fighting hand to hand.
But the Turks had smelt us coming, for when we reached the place,
We found an empty firing line, of Abdul, not a trace.
We cursed a bit and started back, our luck's just double-jointed,
Rode into our camp that night, dead tired and disappointed.
Once again we tried it, with little more success,
Sighted Turkish outposts, a dozen, more or less,
They were mounted well on camels and got away, of course,
For in the soft and heavy sand the camel bests the horse.
We did get one, however, a fat, well-fed young jay,
He and his gorgling, smelly mount, comprised the bag that day.
And so the weeks went slowly by, each day as hot as Hell,
Tending to our horses, scouting, cooking meals as well.
At night we'd put our gear on and trudge out through the sand,
To line the ridges all around, lest old Turk should try his hand.
All the night we'd be there taking turns at "Sentry go,"
While "Picket lines, and Sentry groups" took forty winks or so.
At 3 a.m. we "stand to arms" until the break of day,
Then back into the camp once more we'd wend our weary way.
Feed the horses, then ourselves, and so the day would start,
"Carry on" as usual, buck up, and keep good heart.
The heat was what harassed us, we often cursed our fate,
The hottest day a killer, when the glass read one two eight.
Once we had some swimming, we'd ridden to the coast,
Troop-linked all the horses, then in like mad, almost,
We had two lovely hours, "Gee Whiz" 'twas wonderous nice,
Forgot there ever were such things as deserts, flies and lice.
Three weeks age they moved us, relieved by other men,
We've come in nearer the canal, to rest and sleep again.
Don't know where we're going next, but they say that we've a chance,
Of packing up and moving off to join our boys in France.
These are a few lines describing one of our desert trips. It did not end up as the last verse suggests, we "about turned" and went into the wilderness again instead of to France.
1079, Trooper Byron Baly,
7th Australian Light Horse Regiment.