By Harchand Singh Bedi & Harprabhjeet Singh Bedi Malaysia.
General Sir Edmund Allenby on his horse saluting the Sikh Battalion outside of Jerusalem's Jaffa Gate on December 11, 1917. Photo credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division
Mr. G. V. Furphy J.P. has received the following interesting letter from Major Jack Kendall of Shepparton, Australia dated, October 2nd, 1918 Amman, the Mountain of Moab.
"Just a little over a week ago there was an army of 80,000 to 90,000 Turks and Germans, all good, big strong men, standing up against our force. Today between 60,000 and 70,000 of them are prisoners, and the remainder gone to dust (for a body only lasts a few days in this climate). So you can see what may happen in a very little time. I understand it was one of the greatest feats of the war, practically to wipe out a complete army in four days, and at the same time advance from Jerusalem to Damascus, over 100 miles".
KHUDA BUKSH, GHULAM MUHAMMAD, MANBIR RAI, BIRMANI GURUNG, SULTAN SINGH, GULAB SINGH, KARTAR SINGH and many others, were all children of British India. They travelled far from home to fight the Ottoman Turks in Palestine. They must have expected, or at least hoped, to make it back to their families. They were instead felled by bullets, shrapnel or disease and remained in 7 cemeteries in Israel, from Jerusalem to Ramleh to Haifa.
According to Commonwealth War Graves Commission, a large number of Indian soldiers, nearly 900 (816 WW1, 66 WW2) are cremated or buried in cemeteries across Israel demonstrating the major sacrifice that was made, and act as an immortal testimonial for their heroism.
On 23rd September 1918, the 15th Imperial Service Brigade comprising of the Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers undertook one of the most famous cavalry actions in the Great War and recaptured the city of Haifa in Palestine. This day is commemorated by the Indian Army each year as 'Haifa day' to honour this famous charge.
General Allenby's vast encircling operation in Palestine, which commenced in September, 1918, was undoubtedly one of the most effective of the whole war, and helped considerably towards the final collapse of the Central Powers. It resulted in the smashing up of the Turkish resistance, and as far as the Palestine campaign was concerned was a complete victory in every sense of the term.
General Sir Edmund Allenby wrote that, one feature of this battle has been the magnificent dash of the Indian troops. The veteran soldiers of India were expected to do well, and have lived up to their high reputation.
'Their only fault was a too great of eagerness, to push on '
"Whilst 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. Maj. Thakur Dalpat Singh, M.C., fell gallantly leading the charge."
"No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign. Machine gun bullets over and over again failed to stop the galloping horses even though many of them succumbed afterwards to their injuries…" This remains the only known incident in military history when a fortified town was captured by cavalry on the gallop.
In the big battle which has ended so gloriously, the soldierly qualities of courage, endurance, and discipline are most essential, it is the very link of the fighting chain. The divisional commanders tell me that they were delighted with the Indians valour under all conditions. Forty seven hours continuous fighting and marching tested them to the utmost.
They behaved superbly. Their only fault was a too great eagerness, to push on'.
Lieutenant General Sir Henry (Harry) Chauvel (Australian Imperial Force) wrote in his Despatches;
"The Lancers dashed over the narrow defile in extended order and galloped over this plain of Armageddon, and crashed into the infantry and machine gunners with the lance, killing ninety and wounding as many more. They took 410 prisoners. The charge was most brilliantly executed. The cavalry had to gallop over exposed ground against heavy rifle and machine gun fire, but it never faltered. Each wave of horsemen rode through the enemy, and those who were not killed threw up their hands". 1,350 enemy prisoners were taken, including 2 German and 35 Ottoman officers. The Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers combined lost 1 officer, 7 soldiers and 60 horses. 6 officers and 28 soldiers were wounded, as were 83 horses.
The Indian Troops played a prominent part in achieving this success and General Chauvel's short history of the operations holds a special interest for all who take a pride in these men who suffered the discomforts and hardship of a desert campaign, and performed almost impossible deeds of valour.
They fought like seasoned warriors. They cheerfully answered any call.
These Indians took the place of some of the Londoners who were sent to France. They were tremendously keen to preserve the record of the division of Indians with the Londoners, who were first into Jerusalem and first over the Jordan. They wanted to be first through the coastal defences. They succeeded. They went on and secured the crossing of the Wadi Falik for the cavalry. They then advanced north-east wards to Tulkarm, covering the astonishing distance of 22 miles in thirteen and the half hours, including trench fighting and actions in the open. This wonderful performance is an example of what the young Indian battalions are capable of. All are practically of the same quality. These young Indian battalions came through the ordeal magnificently. They fought like seasoned warriors. They cheerfully answered any call.
"For skill in hill fighting it would be hard to find a parallel for this incident".
There was a stern struggle for the Bietlid hill, 5 000 yards from Nablus, on Friday. When it was captured it was decided to take a station which was commanded on the south by a high steep hill. A Sikh battalion crept up the irregular slopes in the moonlight, caught the garrison entirely unprepared, rushed and surprised the German machine gunners, and captured over 200 prisoners, besides killing and wounding others. There was not one single casualty among the Sikhs.
'Indian cavalry of the Jodhpore and Mysore Lancers, 16th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade passing through Haifa following the city's capture from Turkey (Ottoman Empire), 23rd September 1918'. Q 12335. Courtesy of Imperial War Museum London
Deeds of Heroism
The exceptional bravery and supreme sacrifice of Major Thakur Dalpat Singh and his men, will be remembered forever and continue to inspire generations to come. Major Dalpat Singh was conferred upon Military Cross and the entire saga of bravery is described in history textbooks of Israel. He was anointed as the "Hero of Haifa"
Captain Aman Singh Bahadur and Dafadar Jor Singh were awarded the Indian Order of Merit and Captain Anop Singh and 2nd Lt. Sagat Singh were awarded the Military Cross in recognition of their bravery in this battle.
Wonderful stories of their gallantry, dash, and initiative in the war are told in a special supplement of the 'London Gazette,' recording the conferment of a large number of decorations for bravery in this battle.
Thakur Dalpat Singh, Jodhpur Lancers.
'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. This officer, accompanied only by his trumpeter, charged an entrenched machine gun, killing and scattering the crew and capturing the gun. At the same time he captured the commandant of a regiment and another officer'.
Captain Thakur Anop Singh, Bahadur, I.O.M. Jodhpur Imp. Serv. Lancers.
'On the 23rd September, 1918, during the attack on Haifa, he led his squadron with the greatest dash and ability, when he successfully charged the enemy's position, capturing three guns, four machine guns, and many of the enemy. He then led his squadron through the north portion of the town, capturing many more prisoners, and rejoined the regiment at the final objective. He showed throughout the utmost contempt for danger'.
2nd Lieut. Kunwar Sagat Singh, Jodhpur I.S. Lancers.
'For gallantry and devotion to duty. On the 23rd September, 1918, during the advance on Haifa, he twice went back under heavy fire to give orders to squadrons in the rear, afterwards rejoining the head of the regiment. Throughout the action he gave an example of complete disregard of danger and showed great coolness'.
The Official History of the War (Military Operations Egypt and Palestine: Volume II
State Library of NSW. Soldiers Dairies
Life of the Dead The Indian hero of Haifa
The Battle of Haifa Part 1
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Imperial War Museum London
Library of Congress