The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War
Umbrella Hill raids, July 1917
Egypt and Palestine leading up to the Umbrella Hill raids
After the evacuation of Gallipoli December 1915 and January 1916, the British and Commonwealth forces entered a phase of defensive warfare that lasted until the spring of 1917. The East bank of the Suez Canal was an entirely defensive operation until the West bank was cleared of the Senussi tribesmen that had been stirred up by the German and Turkish Armies to fight against the British and Commonwealth forces in the area.
Eventually, the Allied forces subdued the roaming, nomad-like yet well organised tribal armies to the West and concentrated their efforts on forcing a passage into Palestine, where they believed the Turkish Army could be brought to battle and beaten.
So, late in 1916 the Allies started to clear the Turkish outposts around the Palestinian borders and by early 1917, the way into Palestine was clear. Laying roads, railways and water pipes as they went, British and Commonwealth forces marched across the border until they came to the heavily fortified and defended coastal city of Gaza.
Following the failed attempts to capture Gaza in March and April 1917, the allied army settled in front of the Turkish defences and effectively mimicked what was happening in France and Flanders. Both sides held their defensive trench systems, bombarding and continually raiding the others, in order to disrupt and harass the enemy.
The massive battles and horrendous losses on the Western Front resulted in several Divisions being drawn from the Middle Eastern campaign that summer, which seriously limited the possibilities for advancing into Gaza and beyond. In June 1917 General Murray was replaced by General Allenby, who's approach was entirely more methodical and deliberate than that of his predecessor. He built the Allied position up slowly using subterfuge and misdirection, deliberately misleading the Turks into believing the inevitable attack would fall onto a different area than it eventually did. Bit by bit, month by month, he carefully prepared to take Gaza once and for all before the onset of the rainy season stopped campaigning in Palestine.
In the period leading up to the eventual fall of Gaza in November 1917, the 5th Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment was assigned to conduct a major raid on Turkish positions in front of Gaza. They held the line opposite the Turkish positions on Umbrella Hill, which would be the target of their attentions.
The raids would be that successful that all future raids in the theatre were prepared and executed in precisely the same way that the Bedfords conducted them on those two nights. In addition and perhaps more importantly, the 54th Divisional symbol would become an Umbrella blown inside out "because of the success of these two operations and the credit they reflected upon the Division as a whole".
The positions on the south-west sector of Gaza: Umbrella Hill can be seen at the bottom of the map in the centre.
The first Raid -20th to 21st July 1917
Umbrella Hill was a 500 yard long trench system, around 500 yards away from the Bedfords in their trenches. The wire that protected the trenches was four feet high and four yards deep, with additional knife rests protecting the western side. The front firing trench followed the line of the crest and was supported by a support trench at the base of the reverse slope, littered with dug-outs and being connected by communications trenches.
The Umbrella Hill position
Training and preparation for the raid took over two weeks but nothing was known about the dispositions of the Turks before the raid, or the strength of the garrison holding the small hill in front of them.
Captain H.S. Armstrong led the party with Lieutenants H. Wilkin, B.W. Smythe, W.A. Shaw, Second Lieutenant R.H. Smith and 231 Other Ranks making the raiding party. By 8.15pm on the 20th July, the raiding party was assembled and in place, ready for "Zero Hour", which was set at 9.00pm.
At 8.55pm "two flashes in the distance were seen & after what seemed a long time two dull roars & a heavy droning noise growing louder & louder were heard, then two vivid flashes on UMBRELLA HILL followed almost at once - the tremendous crash of two 8" shells exploding shook the night". Every two minutes, this repeated until 9pm, when "a veritable inferno started". Flashes constantly lit the sky from both behind them and on Umbrella Hill as the barrage rained down on the Turkish in their trenches. The Machine Gun barrage that joined the cacophony at 9.25pm could hardly be heard, such was the din.
At 9pm, the raiders scrambled from their trenches and disappeared through the gaps in their own wire into the pitch black that was no man's land. The advance was so quick that they had to halt for one minute to avoid running into their own barrage at Beanfield, and they laid down 150 yards in front of Turkish positions. At 9.06pm the advanced screen under Lt B.W. Smythe dashed forward - despite shrapnel bursting over their heads - found the gaps in the Turkish wire and shouted the positions back to their comrades over the din of whining shells and horrendous explosions. A minute later the Bedfords fell on Front Trench, furiously bayoneting the defenders they found there before moving on to clear their assigned positions of the enemy. Captain Armstrong fixed his HQ position there as the teams loaded their rifles and went about their dreadful business of locating and eliminating the enemy.
Lt Smythe dashed across the open to Cross Cut and cleared a position of enemy machine gun teams so they could not lay an enfilading fire onto the Bedfords as they went about their work, and held the position for the raid.
The left section under Lt W.A. Shaw bombed their way along Side Trench into Silk Alley and finally made contact with the Right Section at Tassel Corner. Bombing sections were quickly pushed along Cover Alley and Side Trench. The Turks were noted as being that demoralised that in most cases they had to be bombed in their dugouts. Each dugout had between three and six men that "refused to come out or indeed to do anything except cower down on the ground". Some Turkish soldiers made a stand in Cover Alley but they were "speedily overcome".
The Right Section of the raiders under 2nd Lt R.H. Smith entered the Turkish trenches at Stay Alley, swept through Echelon Trench at the point of the bayonet and made their way to Tassel Corner but were stopped from further progress by the "congestion of troops". They climbed from the bottlenecked trench, sprinted across the open ground, and fell on Dug-Out Alley killing "a large number of Turks". As the evacuation signal went they had reached the bottom of Dugout Alley.
Meanwhile a bombing section had been working its way along Echelon Trench, where they killed over ten Turks in hand to hand combat, had taken several prisoners and put a large Minenwerfer out of action "very ingeniously".
While these four sections had been "at work killing or capturing the garrison", a party of Royal Engineer's under Lt Mendham of the 484th Field Company of the Royal Engineers had been systematically destroying the enemy sangars and wrecking the trenches. They left several heavy charges of explosives in the main Turkish dug-outs which were exploded after the evacuation by time fuses.
At 9.35pm, the raiders evacuated the trench system and sprinted back across no-man's land, leaving carnage, destruction and an extremely confused enemy firing in all directions.
On their return to the British lines, and by "sheer bad luck", the Turks put an "intense bombardment" down almost on top of the assembly area and caused almost all of the casualties, except "probably two or three killed…& perhaps 8 or 10 [of the] wounded". This caused "considerable confusion" and much of the raiding party and supporting units ran forwards to their own front lines to take cover, unwittingly running straight into the enemy barrage. Realising what was happening, Captain Christopher Miskin sprinted out through the flying shrapnel and hastily reorganised their return route into the relatively safe front trench. The several hundred men crammed into the trench to watch the barrage that covered an area between fifty and on hundred and fifty yards behind them, over a front of two hundred yards. Following some quick reconnaissance, they were moved to the flanks around Samson's Ridge and Sniper Spur, taking them away from the barrage areas. By 1.30am on the 21st, all bar the wounded had been evacuated. It is incredible that the wounded were not in the hundreds, considering that around 500 Turkish shells fell into the HQ and assembly areas that were packed with returning raiders.
The large number of wounded were finally evacuated by 2.30am and an hour later a six strong patrol went out into no man's land, towards Beanfield (about 150 yards short of Umbrella Hill) looking for the missing men but found nothing. A month later, it was discovered that five Bedfords posted as missing were actually Prisoners of War:
200497 Sergeant Frederick William Cleaver
200573 Pte A.G. Cook (Died 4th November 1918 in captivity)
201316 H.A. Pte Miles 201326
201326 Pte William Patterson (Died 30th October 1917 in captivity)
200696 Pte Frederick D. Smith
Gallantry Awards from the first raid, 20th July 1917
Two days later, Major General S.W. Hare, commander of the 54th Division presented 19 Military Medals in connection with the raid on the 20th. 16 of the 19 were awarded to the Bedfords alone. Five Military Crosses were later awarded to the officers involved in the raid.
Details on the individuals who won gallantry medals can be seen here.
Casualties from the first Raid, 20th July 1917
The Bedfords' War Diary Appendix includes the casualties inflicted onto the Turkish during the raid, and only includes those that the Bedfords themselves inflicted:
'Enemy Casualties. No count was possible in COVER ALLEY & STAY ALLEY & those killed by our guns are not included. The counted casualties are: ECHELON TRENCH 24, FRONT TRENCH & CROSS CUT 15. Side TRENCH 1 officer, 30 O.Rs. DUGOUT ALLEY 35 Total (Turkish Casualties) 105.'
Their diary also lists the British casualties:
"21 Jul 1917 The dead of the expedition including  RAMC, 1 Div Sig Coy, 1 484 Coy RE & 1 M.G Coy, 1 unknown & 16 BEDFORDS were buried in a cemetery near HQ of the Raid viz K 39 trench."
However, there were actually 24 men from the 5th Bedfords and 7 from the 2nd/1st East Anglian Field Ambulance, RAMC killed during the first raids against Umbrella Hill on 20th July 1917, as shown below, including:
The Hull brothers from Luton, neither of whom were found
Three friends from Ipswich serving in the RAMC were all killed whilst rescuing survivors in no-man's land as the Turkish barrage plastered the assembly area after the raid.
201103 Private Edward ARNOLD KIA 20/07/1917.
Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born, enlisted and resident of Bristol
200959 Private Percy BALL KIA 20/07/1917.
Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted Bedford, resident of Rushden Son of Mr. and Mrs. F. Ball, of 9, Trafford Rd., Rushden, Northants.
200712 Private Cecil BLAYDON KIA 20/07/1917.
Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted Luton, resident of Leagrave
200662 Corporal Bertie BREED KIA 20/07/1917, Aged 36.
Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted and resident of Luton Husband of Lilian Breed, of 111, Talbot Rd., Luton, Beds
15883 Corporal Frederick Ernest BUTCHER KIA 20/07/1917, aged 30.
Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born, enlisted and resident of St Albans Son of Mr. and Mrs. F. E. Butcher, of 43, Upper Culver Rd., St. Albans, Herts
200992 Private Frederick James BYSOUTH KIA 20/07/1917.
Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted in Bedford, resident of Luton His brother, 201304 Private H BYSOUTH also from Luton, was KIA 02/11/1917 in the 5th Beds at the battle at Gaza, and is also buried in the GAZA WAR CEMETERY.
200398 Lance Corporal Arthur Samuel CAVES
KIA 20/07/1917, aged 21. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted Bedford, resident of Marston Shelton, Beds Son of Joseph and Jane Caves, of Marston Shelton, Ampthill, Beds.
200343 Private Horace Thomas COOK
KIA 20/07/1917, aged 22. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted and resident of Bedford Son of Mrs. Sarah Cook, of 51, Queen St., Bedford.
201203 Private Stanley FARR
KIA 20/07/1917, aged 23. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born and enlisted Shoreditch, Middx, Resident of Hoxton, Middx Son of Mrs. Farr.
203179 Private Thomas FELKS (FELKES)
KIA 20/07/1917, aged 33. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Born, enlisted and resident of Luton Son of John and M. Felks, of 23, John St., Luton. His brother, 33000 (33600 on SDGW) Private S FELKS was KIA 22/03/1918 in the 2nd Beds near St Quentin, France. Also born, enlisted and resident of Luton.
200760 Private William FLITTON
Died of wounds 21/07/1917. Buried in Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted Bedford, resident of Limbury, Beds
201209 Lance Corporal Isaac Frederick GILLETT
KIA 20/07/1917, aged 22. Remembered on the JERUSALEM MEMORIAL. Born Stretham, Cambs, enlisted Chatteris, Cambs, resident of Somersham, Hunts. Son of Isaac and Elizabeth Gillett, of Holmwood Crescent, Somersham, St. Ives, Hunts.
201220 Private Bertie GIRDLESTONE
KIA 20/07/1917. Buried in Gaza War Cemetery. Born, enlisted and resident of Dovercourt, Essex.
201216 Pte William James GRANGER
KIA 20/07/1917. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born, enlisted and resident of Brighton
200294 Lance Sergeant Charles HULL
KIA 20/07/1917. Remebered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Born & enlisted Luton, resident of Bury St Edmonds BROTHER OF:
200592 Pte Frederick HULL
KIA 20/07/1917. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Born, enlisted & resident of Luton
200034 Lance Corporal RJ Cecil MOATE
KIA 20/07/1917. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Enlisted and resident of Luton
201321 Private William NEWMAN
KIA 20/07/1917. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Born and resident of Cheshunt, enlisted Hertford
200802 Private William Frederick PERRY
KIA 20/07/1917. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Enlisted and resident of Harlington, Beds Enlisted in May, 1915. Son of John and Sarah Ann Perry, of Westoning Rd., Harlington, Dunstable.
201335 Private Walter James PRATT
KIA 20/07/1917. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born Hemel Hempstead, Enlisted Hertford, resident of Hackney Wick, Middx.
201369 Private Walter John STEVENS
KIA 20/07/1917. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted St Albans, resident of Harpenden, Herts
201399 Private Frederick SWAIN
KIA 20/07/1917. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted St Albans, resident of Sandridge, Herts Husband of Emily Collins (formerly Swain), of Sandridge, St. Albans
200236 Private Percy THURLOW
KIA 20/07/1917. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born ,enlisted and resident of Luton
KIA 20/07/1917, aged 27. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted and resident of Luton Son of William and Milly Watkins, of St. John's Wood, London; husband of Maud Watkins, of 14, Highbury Rd., Luton, Beds
Royal Army Medical Corps casualties:
473300 Sergeant John Frederick BARNARD
Royal Army Medical Corps, 2nd/1st East Anglian Field Ambulance KIA 20/07/1917, aged 34. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery Born, resident and enlisted at Ipswich. Son of the late John Frederick Barnard, husband of Ethel E. R. Barnard, of 90 Croft St., Ipswich.
473383 Pte Walter Augustus CARTER
Royal Army Medical Corps, 2nd/1st East Anglian Field Ambulance KIA 20/07/1917, aged 29. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born Brixton, resident of Battersea, enlisted from Ipswich, Suffolk. Son of Thomas and Marie Carter, of 59, Corunna Rd., Battersea, London.
473274 Pte Eric IXER
Royal Army Medical Corps, 2nd/1st East Anglian Field Ambulance KIA 20/07/1917, aged 20. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery Born, resident of and enlisted from Ipswich, Suffolk Son of Mr. and Mrs. W. M. Ixer, of 31, Waterloo Rd., Ipswich
61766 Pte Garibaldi William DAVIES
Royal Army Medical Corps, 2nd/1st East Anglian Field Ambulance KIA 20/07/1917, aged 31. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery Born Newport, Pembroke, resident of Blarngarw, enlisted from Cardiff Son of William and Martha Davies, of Bryn Hywel, Efailwen, Clynderwen, husband of Margaret Elizabeth Davies, of 29, King Edward St., Blarngarw, Glam.
104658 Pte Fred DEWHURST
Royal Army Medical Corps, 2nd/1st East Anglian Field Ambulance KIA 20/07/1917, aged 27. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born, resident of and enlisted from Nelson, Lancashire Son of John and Elizabeth Dewhurst, of Nelson, Lancs.
63863 Pte Henry George DONALDSON
Royal Army Medical Corps, 2nd/1st East Anglian Field Ambulance KIA 20/07/1917, age unknown. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Born Newington, Middx, resident of Peckham, enlisted from London
33162 Pte William NELSON
Royal Army Medical Corps, 2nd/1st East Anglian Field Ambulance KIA 20/07/1917, age unknown. Buried in the Gaza War cemetery. Born St. Clements, Forfar, enlisted from Lochgelly
The second raids against Umbrella Hill
Following the success of the raids on the 20th July, fresh orders were received on the 24th to repeat the raid a few days later. The Bedfords again organised themselves and trained in preparation for the night of the 27th / 28th July, but with some adjustments that would almost prove disastrous. In light of the confusion caused by the sheer number of men on the first raid, only five Officers under Captain H.S. Armstrong and 111 Other Ranks were used the second time.
The moonlight was a lot brighter than a week before, with no artillery activity whatsoever leading up to the raids. Zero hour was again set for 9pm, and as a hurricane barrage opened up on the enemy positions, the raiders set off through the gaps in the wire promptly at 9.02pm. Turkish Machine Guns opened fire at 9.03pm, catching the party in no-man's land but they swept forward, ignoring the bullets flying all around them. After again laying down in Beanfield to avoid the barrage as it crept forward, they set their bombs and bayonets upon the forward machine gun posts, silencing them by 9.06pm, and fell upon the defenders of Front Trench. Stubborn resistance was met all along the trench with considerably more defenders holding it than there were attackers, but each objective fell after "some hard bombing duels".
Number 1 Section fought its way along Stay Alley towards Echelon trench and met a low barricade after only about fifteen yards. Having bombed the defenders out they made it another thirty yards to the entrance of Echelon trench where a higher barricade had been erected. This was also bombed out and rushed at the point of the bayonet but the raid came to a close shortly afterwards, so their incredible progress stopped there.
Number 2 Section met a considerably larger force of determined Turks in Rib Alley and although causing considerable casualties could not dislodge them.
Number 3 Section was held up by the fight in Rib Alley but they advanced bravely along the crest in full view of Turkish machine guns, just making it to their objective and bombing the Turks out as the raid ended.
Number 4 Section had the hardest fight of all as they captured a Machine Gun on Front Trench parapet, bayoneting the gunners as they fired at them at point blank range. Having passed the gun back to the supporting men, they bombed their way along Side Trench but were held up by an extremely strong position opposite them in Cross Cut and could make no further headway during the raid.
As the Turks started wavering, thinking they were being attacked by a "small battalion", a whistle blew calling the raiders back to their assembly positions. The whistle later proved to have come from none of the Bedfords, so was assumed to be a false call from a Turkish Officer that brought the raid to a halt.
As before, Turkish artillery plastered the area assigned to the withdrawal but more "elastic arrangements" meant that the raiders avoided the area and found ways around the cauldron of red hot metal. None of the casualties from the raid were caused by the Turkish barrage this time.
Despite being fooled by the Turks blowing a whistle and thereby calling the attack off before it's time, over 50 were killed, almost four times as many wounded, but no prisoners were collected as they evacuated immediately upon hearing the recalling whistle. The Bedfords counted 3 of their own killed, 7 missing and 23 wounded during the ferocious bombing and bayonet brawls.
The raiders were all safely back to their own front line trenches by 9.35pm and by 2.20am on the 28th, the wounded were all cleared from the British firing trench and the raiders were sent back to rest areas.
Gallantry Awards from the second Raid, 27th July 1917.
Eleven further Military medals were awarded to the Bedfords and one Bar to the MM (being a second MM), all of which can be found here.
Casualties from the second Raid, 27th July 1917
All bar 2 of the men lost in the second raid were killed in the vicious hand to hand fighting in the Turkish trenches, and could not be recovered, hence have no known grave. 2 of the 9 Bedfords killed during the second raids against Umbrella Hill on 27th July 1917 had won a Military Medal for their courage during the raids only a week earlier. Those killed in action that night were:
203114 Private John William CATLING
KIA 27/07/1917. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Born, enlisted and resident of Whittlesea, Cambs
201222 Private Arthur Cyril GARRETT, MM
KIA 27/07/1917. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Born Takeley, essex, enlisted Bishops Stortford, resident of Great Dunmow, Essex Arthur won his MM a week earlier during the 1st raids against Umbrella Hill.
201248 Private William HIPGRAVE
KIA 27/07/1917. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Son of Mrs. Elizabeth Hipgrave, of Roe Green, Hatfield, Herts. Born and resident of Hatfield, enlisted Hertford. His brother, 4/6992 Corporal John HIPGRAVE was KIA 02/12/1914, aged 42 in the 2nd Bedfords in Flanders. He is buried in the Ration Farm Military Cemetery, La Chapelle D'Armentieres. His other brother 4/7005 Private Frederick HIPGRAVE was KIA at Hill 60 on 20 April 1915, serving in the 1st Bedfords in France, and is remembered on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial to the missing.
201050 Private Harry JOHNS, MM
KIA 27/07/1917. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Harry was born, enlisted and resident in Bedford, and won his MM a week earlier during the 1st raids against Umbrella Hill.
200626 Private Joseph LOMAS
KIA 27/07/1917. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Enlisted Bedford, resident of Clophill, Beds Son of Mrs. S. A. Lomas, of Clophill, Ampthill, Beds.
200868 Private William MILLS
KIA 27/07/1917. Remembered on theJerusalem Memorial to the missing. Enlisted and resident of Bedford.
200327 Private William MOSS
KIA 27/07/1917, aged 25. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Born Headley, Hants, enlisted Bedford, resident of Watford Son of the late Joseph and Emily Moss
200942 Private Sidney ODELL
KIA 27/07/1917, aged 20. Remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial to the missing. Born and resident of Stantonbry / New Bradwell, enlisted Bedford Son of Mrs. Ellen Miller, of 26, Bridge St., New Bradwell, Wolverton, Bucks
203465 Private Charlie SELLS
KIA 27/07/1917. Buried in the Gaza War Cemetery. Enlisted Bedford, resident of Hitchin, herts Charlie was formerly 522437 of the Royal Engineers
As a result of the raids, in addition to the gallantry medals awarded, almost every General in the area sent congratulatory telegrams to the Battalion. One such telegram was from the General Officer Commanding (GOC) Eastforce, being General Allenby himself. It read:
"Eastforce wire begins. The GOC congratulates the 5th Bedford regiment who have certainly set the pace for the rest of the force by their fine work."
Some years after the war a senior Iraqi officer was attending a British Army school in India when he unknowingly bumped into Colonel Brighten, who was the Lt-Colonel commanding the 5th Bedfords in the war and by then was an instructor at the school. After chatting for a while they both realised who the other was, as the Iraqi officer had been in command of Umbrella Hill during the second raids! Other than being full of praise for the conduct of his men during the two raids he also shed a little light on one of the mysteries of the raids - why was the position so heavily defended on the night of the 2nd raids?
It turned out that a relief was in progress when the Bedfords charged the positions the second time, which explained why twice as many Turkish troops were in the position when the Bedfords fell on them! With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the Turkish defenders hesitated, as they truly believed they were being attacked by a considerably sized force and could not establish where the attack was focusing. This hesitation, added to by the Turkish falsely blowing the evacuation whistle ironically saved the Bedfords from "an extremely hard time"!
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