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4th August 1916: The Battle of Romani

Romani trailhead

“The Turks attacked Romani this morning but did not come to our little camp as we expected. They attacked at twelve o’clock last night, and we were ‘standing too’ from them until daylight. They seemed to be moving round towards us on their flank about mid-day…Our outpost was surrounded by Turks last night. All of them were captured, except the sergeant who managed to get inside our lines. There has been dozens of Taubes around all day and one of our machines came down at Duidar this evening, owing to something going wrong with the engines.” Excerpt from the diary of 13/2054 Trooper Leslie Angus McInness, Auckland Mounted Rifles 

Following an Ottoman attack which began in the middle of the night, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade took part in a 2-day conflict in the Sinai Peninsula which became known as the Battle of Romani. The confrontation lasted from 3 – 5th of August 1916 and saw 1130 Allied casualties, with the Anzac Division taking the brunt of the losses.

The Battle of Romani was part of the larger Sinai Campaign, which aimed to secure the Suez Canal against the danger of Ottoman attack. The confrontation marked the beginning of an offensive that eventually saw the Ottoman Army retreat to Palestine. Yet, Ottoman forces weren’t the only challenge that New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade faced during the campaign. They also had to endure the harsh and isolated conditions of the desert environment. As Allied forces advanced into the Sinai, a railway and water pipeline was constructed to provide the army with much-need water and supplies. The image above shows a patrol from the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, whose role it was to protect the construction against Ottoman attack, at the rail-head near Romani, 1916.

The exhibition Sand in the Apricot Jam, features works by artist Rebecca Holden which acknowledge the role of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles during WWI. The artist’s grandfather John (Jack) Culleton served as a trooper with the 4th Waikato Squadron of the Auckland Mounted Rifles. Holden’s paintings honour the characters of and sacrifices made by the men who fought under the demanding conditions of the Middle Eastern theatre of war.