HL Deb 21 May 1919 vol 34 cc761-6

THE EARL OF MAYO rose to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to the fine work done by the Indian Cavalry during the campaign in Palestine, and to ask why no mention has been made of their services in that campaign.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, there were two Divisions of Indian Cavalry—three Brigades in a Division—employed in Palestine, and with each Division there was a Yeomanry Regiment and also an Imperial Service Brigade. I believe I am right in saying they were all Indian. It is well known to the authorities at the War Office and to the military authorities that these Brigades did very good work indeed. They had tremendously hard work to do; so hard, indeed, that they were not the first troops to go into Damascus. That campaign, as we know, led to a most brilliant conclusion under the command of one of our greatest Generals, Sir Edmund Allenby. I do riot suppose that any more brilliant campaign was ever carried out before. General Allenby marched as a conqueror into Jerusalem. What I should like to ask is why the Indian Cavalry did not get sufficient credit for what they had done. They fought the Turk and they beat the Turk, and I think in the circumstances, remembering that they were Indian Cavalry, a little more notice should have been taken in the Despatch of the services which they rendered in the campaign. As far as I can make out there has been little, if any, notice taken of the work done by the Indian Cavalry, and I am informed that there is a great deal of soreness in that body in consequence. These are times of all others when our Indian troops should have that praise meted out to them which they deserve, especially when fighting other Orientals.


My noble friend complains that the services of the Indian Cavalry in Palestine have not been mentioned. I confess that I am rather anxious to know what made my noble friend put down a Question suggesting that no mention had been made of the services of these troops. I have here in my hands General Allenby's Despatch, and I am going to give some extracts from it. I shall be much surprised if any member of this House, after hearing these extracts, thinks there is the slightest justification for the charge that the Indian Cavalry have not been given high and honourable mention for the work they did in that campaign.

Perhaps I may give a little history of the formation of these corps for the benefit of my noble friend. At the end of 1917 the only Indian Cavalry serving with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force were the first Hyderabad Lancers and the Mysore Lancers, who were employed on the Palestine lines of communication. These were reinforced by the end of April, 1918, by ten Regular regiments from France—the 2nd, the 18th, 19th, and 29th Lancers, the 6th Cavalry, 9th Hodson's, 20th Deccan, 34th Poonah, 36th Jacob's, and 38th Central India Horse—and a third Imperial Service Regiment, the Jodhpur Lancers. The latter are specially mentioned by General Allenby in his Despatch of September 18, 1918 (London Gazette, November 6, 1918) as having played a distinguished part in a charge by a Cavalry Brigade east of the Jordan opposite El Henu Ford, carried out as a counter-attack on a Turkish force concentrating here. In this charge ninety Turks were speared and ninety-one captured, with four machine guns.

In the general reorganisation of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force carried out in August and September last, prior to the Palestine offensive, the Indian Cavalry (who had been previously split up between the 1st Mounted Division, the Australian Mounted Division, and the 21st Corps Cavalry) were reorganised into two Cavalry Divisions, the 4th and 5th, there being in addition one British Yeomanry regiment in each of the Brigades excepting the Imperial Service Brigade. I should like to give my noble friend the names of the regiments in each of these Brigades. First of all there was the 4th Cavalry Division, consisting of the 10th Cavalry Brigade (2nd Lancers, 38th Central Indian Horse), 11th Cavalry Brigade (29th Lancers, 36th Jacob's Horse), the 12th Cavalry Brigade (6th Cavalry and 19th Lancers). The 5th Cavalry Division consisted of the 13th Cavalry Brigade (9th Hodson's Horse, 18th Lancers), 14th Cavalry Brigade (20th Deccan Horse, 34th Poona Horse), the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade (the Jodhpur Lancers, Mysore Lancers, 1st Hyderabad Lancers, the 15th Kathiawar Signal Troop, and the Imperial Service Machine Gun Squadron). These two Divisions were included in the Desert Mounted Corps under Lieut.-General Sir Harry Chauvel, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.

In the plan for the offensive which commenced on September 19, the 21st Corps (Lieut.-General Bulfin) were to attack and break through the Turkish defences on the coastal plain and open a way for the Cavalry. The latter were to advance along the coast and cross the hills of Samaria into the plain of Esdraelon, thus intercepting the Turkish line of retreat. The whole Desert Mounted Corps was detailed for this part, less the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division, who were to operate east of the Jordan. The magnificent success achieved was largely due to the great efforts of the Cavalry. General Allenby, in his Despatch of October 31 (London Gazette, December 30, 1918) says— The Desert Mounted Corps took some 46,000 prisoners during the operations. The complete destruction of the 7th and 8th Turkish Armies depended mainly on the rapidity with which their communications were reached, and on quick decision in dealing with the enemy's columns as they attempted to escape. The vigorous handling of the cavalry by its leaders and the rapidity of its movements overcame all attempts to delay its progress. The enemy's columns after they had out-distanced the pursuing infantry were given no time to reorganise and fight their way through. I do not understand, when expressions of this kind are used, how my noble friend can suggest that no mention was made of the work of the Indian Cavalry in Palestine.

But there is more to come. In this fine achievement of the Desert Mounted Corps in general, the Indian Cavalry regiments took their full part. General Allenby, in the Despatch from which I have just quoted, especially mentions the following units: The 2nd Lancers, who during the first day of the operations charged a Turkish force who were coming up to reinforce the Musmus Pass at El Lejjun, killing forty-six and capturing 470; the 36th Jacob's Horse and the 29th Lancers, who on September 23 charged a column attempting to escape across the Jordan at Makhadet Abu Naj (five miles south-east of Beisan), killing or capturing the lot; the 18th Lancers, who on September 22 attacked in the moonlight part of the garrison of Haifa which was attempting to reach Tiberias, killing a large number and capturing over 300; the Mysore Lancers and the Jodhpur Lancers, who distinguished themselves in the attack on Haifa on September 23. I will read to your Lordships what the Despatch says— While the Mysore Lancers were clearing the rocky slopes of Mount Carmel, the Jodhpur Lancers charged through the defile and, riding over the enemy's machine guns, galloped into the town where a number of Turks were. speared in the streets. Colonel Thakur Dalpat Singh, M.C., fell gallantly leading this charge. After these operations in the plain of Esdraelon and the valley of Jezreel the Cavalry was pushed on to Damascus, which was entered on October 1 after some opposition from the remnants of the 4th Turkish Army. The two Indian Divisions pressed on Rayak and Zahle on October 5. Still pressing the pursuit so as to give the enemy no time to reorganise, the 5th Cavalry Division reached Baalbek on October 11, Horns on October 15, and Aleppo on October 25. On October 26 the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade gained touch with a strong Turkish rearguard south-east of Haritan. The Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers charged "most gallantly," but "were not strong enough to complete the victory and were withdrawn till a larger force could be assembled." Summing up the achievements of the 5th Cavalry Division General Allenby says Aleppo is over 300 miles from our original front line. The 5th Cavalry Division covered 500 miles between September 19 and October 26, and captured over 11,000 prisoners and 52 guns. During this period the Division only lost 21 per cent. of its horses. I think that my noble friends here who are familiar with Cavalry work will say that you could not have a finer tribute to the work of any Cavalry than is paid in this Despatch.


Might I ask whether that is the last Despatch, which we all saw in The Times?


It is dated Monday, December 30, and so far from there being no mention made of the Indian Cavalry, I say that it is saturated through and through with praise of the Indian Cavalry, and I do not think anybody could read that Despatch without saying that it is a most complete tribute to the work which the Indian Cavalry did. I deeply regret that any noble Lord should get up and suggest., as is suggested by this Question, that insufficient and inadequate mention is made of the great services which were rendered by the Indian Cavalry in that most successful and dramatic campaign.


I beg to thank the noble Viscount for his statement. It is a complete answer to my Question. I have certainly to a certain extent been misled.


I am much obliged to the noble Earl.

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