Ross Smith, image courtesy State Library of South Australia B6101
Smith, Ross – July 1916
The following is an extract of a letter from Ross Smith to his mother dated 19 August 1916.
My dearest Ma,
… Before telling you the story of the actual fight [Romani] it will be necessary to tell you something about the country it was fought in and also a few things which led up to it.
Romani is I think the name of a well but there is no village or anything of that sort as one would imagine. … Our camp is situated on some high ground which falls away steeply to the north and east into undulating sandy desert.
To the South & west it falls away more gradually but everywhere there is a succession of soft sandy ridges covered with low bushes, and there are groups of date palms … at frequent intervals.
The sand is very soft and loose and some of the hills are very steep which makes them very hard to climb, especially if one is carrying a machine gun or several belt boxes of ammunition. The whole position is an excellent one from a defensive point of view except from the South & we knew they would tackle us from there. When we moved out here at the end of May our job was to patrol the country eastwards for about 30 miles & watch for any Turks that might be about.
Their forward base was at El Airish 70 miles from here & they used to patrol towards us also & we frequently had small brushes with their patrols. It was very tiring and monotonous work and we used to do the job turn about with our 2nd Brigade and these “stunts” as we call them came about every 5 or 6 days.
Most of our travelling was done at night and on one occasion we were in the saddle for 14 hours, then had a few hours “rest” in the boiling sun & then marched back to camp that night.
It is a most heart breaking feeling to have to keep awake on horseback when one is absolutely tired out. The motion of the horse seems to make it worse & the white sand plays strange tricks with ones eyes, and it appears as if the sand is really about 20ft. below you. Then you have to shake your head to get it clear again.
Of course fresh water is very scarce and one or twice we were very thirsty.
These stunts went on until about July 20th & we were all getting fed up and wondering if there really was a war on, then one day an aeroplane dropped a message saying it had seen thousands of Turks & camels marching West & that they were at Bir-el-Abd (Bir el = well of) about 20 miles from here.
We all threw our hats in the air at the news because we knew it meant a fight and an end of the long stunts for a time at least.
The 2nd. Brigade were sent out and got in touch with them and from then on we kept them under observation & kept worrying them.
That is one of the principal duties of mounted troops, to keep constantly in touch with the enemy and try & find out his strength & plans. For 2 weeks we did not have a single night in bed and as before we worked turn about with the 2nd. Bgde. We would leave camp at night, relieve the 2nd Bgde at dawn & hang onto the Turks until relieved by the 2nd. the following dawn.
It was hard work but interesting & our artillery used to come out & pound them occasionally and that always livened things up considerably. The enemy kept coming on slowly, entrenching as he went & we kept falling back until he got to Katia, 5 miles from Romani…