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The Battle of Romani

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The Battle of Romani

It's likely that Sergeant William's horse - seen here at Katia - was one of almost 10,000 horses who travelled by sea from New Zealand.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-ALB-214-p21.

After Gallipoli, the men and horses of the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade returned to Egypt. As part of the newly formed Anzac Mounted Division, they were back in action at Romani in August 1916.​​

Mounted forces in the desert

The Suez Canal - which provided access by sea between Europe and Asia -was strategically important to both the Ottoman and Allied Forces. Despite several Ottoman attacks, the canal remained under Allied control. 

Troops travelled with their own water supplies - carried by camel.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-ALB-214-p21-3.

To the east of the canal was the Sinai Desert - a difficult desert region with sandy dunes and little drinking water. The Ottoman objective was to bring its railway (and therefore heavy artillery) to the Sinai Desert, within striking range of the Suez Canal. 

First they needed to take control of the Romani area to enable supply lines and avoid counter attack. In 1916, British and Anzac troops re-enforced the area around Romani in the Sinai Desert in anticipation of an attack.​

Mounted Allied forces were to play a pivotal role drawing the enemy across the desert towards the well prepared defences at Romani. 

On the night of 3 August 1916 Ottoman forces attacked the Allied troops at Romani. ​The battle lasted for two days before the Ottomans retreated.

A camera suitable for a saddlebag

Many of the photographs of Romani in our collection are from the albums of Sergeant Edward Gordon Williams of the Wellington Mounted Rifles.

Sergeant Williams in his bivvie, a week after the Battle of Romani.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-ALB-214-p21.

Many of Sergeant Edward Gordon Williams' photographs of the Sinai campaign were taken during the Battle of Romani.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-ALB-214-p15.

The images suggest a camera of the larger folding variant, suitable for a saddlebag. The WMR had seen regular engagement with Ottoman forces through patrols in the area, one of which revealed the likelihood of an attack on Romani.

Numbering over 500 men and horses the WMR was held in reserve along with an Australian Light Horse brigade, attending the battle but not initially in direct engagement. However, on 4 August the WMR saw action into the night and joined the pursuit on 5 August, after the Ottoman retreat.

Although the overall objective of Allied presence in the region was initially defensive, it progressively moved towards pushing Ottoman forces out of the Sinai Desert. The WMR and Allied forces continued to push eastward through Ottoman outposts such as Bir el Abd​, which were often oases and therefore vital water supply lines. Eventually the enemy was forced to withdraw to El Arish on the coast.

Further reading

Cite this article

Higgins, Shaun. The Battle of Romani. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 2 August 2016. Updated: 5 August 2016.

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