Water Carriers at Gallipoli, 1915, Official History of Australia and the War, Charles Bean, Volume 12, no. 66

For many Australians and New Zealanders Gallipoli was all about the ANZAC’s but many other nations also served alongside the ‘diggers’ during this campaign. The English, Irish, Scots and French are among the better known but the war also brought Indians, Sudanese, Maori, and Gurkhas to Dardanelles. One of the least known groups however was a small Jewish Mule Supply unit which was also the first Jewish Corps formed by the British Army. John Patterson was the man appointed to command this unit.

He was an English career soldier who had served in the ‘King’s African Rifles’ in East Africa and Uganda; the ‘Cape Mounted Rifles’ in South Africa; the “Waffs” in West Africa; as well as with the mounted brigades in Canada. One of the units main duties in Gallipoli would be to supply the troops in the trenches with water and an Alexandrian firm had been ordered to make some thousands of kerosene oil tins. Wooden frames had also been ordered to fit on to the pack saddles, so as to enable the mules to carry the tins.

Although it was a supply unit made up of roughly 500 men, 20 riding horses and 750 pack-mules they were not limited to simply providing water for it was also a fighting unit, something which made the men very proud to serve under the ‘Shield of David’. On the 19 March Patterson was appointed his new command and left for Alexandria where the men were gathered. This unit was made up mainly from refugees who had fled from the Turks in Egypt and Palestine, and while many were of Russian nationality they identified with their Jewish faith. To oversee the men Patterson had five British, eight Jewish officers, and the Grand Rabbi of Alexandria who was appointed their honourary chaplain.

They were ‘sworn in’ at Gibbari four days later by the Grand Rabbi who delivered a stirring speech comparing them to their forefathers who had been led out of Egypt by Moses. One of the things that was immediately clear to Patterson was the Jewish education system meant many of these soldiers brought skills and experience to the unit that would prove as useful. in war as they had during peacetime. Some like Mr. D. Gye, was from the Egyptian Ministry of Finance and he along with the two Rolo brothers had excellent logistical  and organisational skills. One of the eight Jewish officers, Captain Trumpledor, had been a soldier in the Russian Army and had been through the siege of Port Arthur in 1904.

In addition the ranks included men of every conceivable trade and calling. A fully-qualified medical man, Dr. Levontin, was appointed surgeon, while the tin-smiths would prove to be invaluable when it came to improvising containers for carrying water to the front lines. On 2 April the men, and their mules, began their training at Wardian, near Alexandria just three weeks before their scheduled departure for Gallipoli. However the speed with which the unit was formed meant the British did not have enough weapons and the men were issued with rifles, bayonets and ammunition captured from the Turks when they made their assault on the Suez Canal earlier that year.

In late April, they were ready for embarkation but it was around this time that Patterson received news that the Corps was to be divided into two parts, the Headquarters and two troops going on H. M. Transport Hymettus, and two troops on H. M. Transport Anglo-Egyptian. Even worse news was to follow for the Commander and on 23 April, just a day before they were to head out from Lemnos harbour for the Gallipoli peninsula, he was told the first would be going with the 29 Division to Helles while the second was to accompany the Anzacs. The first group were forced to board HMT Dundrennon with the help of the Indian and New Zealand troops already aboard when the Hymettus ran aground on a sandbank in Lemnos Harbour.

They sailed for Helles at 9am on 25 April and landed at the southern end of the Peninsula where Patterson described the scene on their arrival … when our turn came, at V Beach, a little cove to the east of Cape Helles. As we approached near to our landing-place, we could see through the haze, smoke and dust, the gleam of bayonets, as men swayed and moved hither and thither in the course of the fight, while the roar of cannon and the rattle of the machine-guns and rifles were absolutely deafening.

The second group sailed for ANZAC cove without their commander and a combination of lack of experience and mismanagement saw them sent back Alexandria after a couple of weeks’ service. Between 25 April and 1 May when they were sent back to Alexandria six officers and 240 other ranks worked tirelessly transporting food, water and munitions to the ANZAC’s. The first group of the ‘Zion Mule Corps’ worked transporting food, water and munitions to the soldiers at Helles right up to the evacuation in December 1915.  It was eventually disbanded on 26 May 1916, and during this brief period 15 men were killed in action and 55 others were wounded or hospitalised.

References With the Zionists in Gallipoli, John Henry Patterson, George Doran and Company, New York, 1916. Donkeys and Mules on Gallipoli 1915, Tony James, http://tonyjamesnoteworld.biz/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Gallipoli_Apr2010_2.pdf

by-saGeoff Barker, Research and Collection Services Coordinator, Parramatta Council Heritage Centre, 2015