by Stuart Hadaway OGB Publishing Hythe 2016 pp.50
If the Palestine Campaign of the First World War means more than Peter O’Toole, and you’ve decided to read this review, then you probably have some knowledge of what the ‘affair’ of Qatia is: the fight between British yeomanry cavalry drawn from three Midland counties, and the Ottoman Turkish attacking force (led by a German officer), in the Sinai desert at the end of April 1916. If you have done any research on Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire casualties in the Great War, you’ll know all too well that the impact of this small clash of arms has had, (easily overshadowed by events in Dublin the following day, and on the Somme two months later), on the society of these still predominantly rural counties of the West Midlands, is out of all proportion to its size.
Stuart Hadaway has strong credentials to tell this story: not only is he an established military historian, with two strong books on the wider Egypt and Palestine campaign Pyramids and Fleshpots: The Egyptian, Senussi and Eastern Mediterranean Campaigns, 1914-16 and From Gaza to Jerusalem: The Campaign for Southern Palestine 1917, he also draws on his time working with the Worcestershire Yeomanry Museum, which accounts for how the book is well illustrated with clear maps and rarely seen images from the museum archives. Similarly, there is also an effective use of first person accounts by both officers and enlisted men, in many cases drawn from post action reports. While the presence of “C”, MacMunn, and Falls is a necessity, it is very good to see Gloucestershire Hussar Bob Eaton’s account in print at last.
What Hadaway has written is a very tight and well-organised account of the 5th Mounted Brigade’s action on the 23rd April 1916, which can be extremely bewildering with its rapid cavalry manoeuvre. The description of the fighting avoids the cliché of dogged British resistance in the face of overwhelming odds and operational failure: instead, we have authentic contemporary accounts which show how many of these Yeomen sold their lives very dearly indeed, crouching in the sand with a Lee Enfield rifle.
What the text isn’t is an extensive biography of the officers and men and a survey of the impact their loss had on their home towns and villages; this isn’t the book to do that, but there are some fascinating stories still to tell: Hugo Francis Charteris, Lord Elcho, son of one of the famous Edwardian socialites or ‘Souls’, whose batman pleaded with his ANZAC rescuers to search for his body; Brian Hatton of the Worcestershire Yeomanry whose career as an artist ended in the desert; the involvement of Colonel Coventry in the Jameson Raid, and the no less important stories of the ‘other ranks’, railway porters, farmers, butchers who made up the fabric of their communities.
Stuart Hadaway does an accomplished job of clarifying the military significance of this action and placing it in the context of later operations of the reformed 5th Mounted Brigade and finds room to acknowledge the grim Ottoman captivity that many of the yeomen endured for the remainder of the war. Blood in the Sand is part of an expanding series of short works from OGB that covers the war in Egypt and Palestine, a theatre of the Great War which still struggles to wean historical attention from the Western Front. With ever-escalating tensions throughout the ‘former Ottoman territories’, this is a timely and thought-provoking little book.