It gives me great pleasure to write a few words of introduction to Lieut.-Col. Preston’s History of the Desert Mounted Corps, which I had the honour to command. In writing this History Lieut.-Col. Preston has done a service to his country which I am sure will be fully appreciated, particularly, perhaps, by those who served in the Corps, and who feel that the part they played in the Great War is but little known to the general public. As a work on Cavalry Tactics, I trust it will be of some value to the student of Military History, and, if it does nothing else, it must demonstrate to the world that the horse-soldier is just as valuable in modern warfare as he ever has been in the past. Indeed, the whole of the operations in Palestine and Syria, under General Allenby, were text-book illustrations of the perfect combination of all arms, both in attack and defence, and the last operations in this theatre, which led to the total destruction of the Turkish Arms and the elimination of Germany’s Allies from the War, could not have been undertaken without large masses of Cavalry.
Lieut.-Col. Preston is well qualified to undertake the work. First of all in command of one of my finest Horse Batteries, and subsequently as C.R.A. of the Australian Mounted Division, he was often in touch with my Staff, being constantly employed on reconnaissance duties, in which he was peculiarly[Pg viii] expert. He served throughout the whole of the operations of which he writes, and had considerable previous experience in the Sinai Campaign, in which the Horse Artillery of the Desert Column played so conspicuous a part.
This History commences with the reorganisation of the British Troops in the Egyptian theatre of the War, on Sir Edmund Allenby taking over command in June 1917. The troops operating East of the Suez Canal had hitherto been known as the ‘Eastern Force,’ which had been successively commanded by Sir Herbert Lawrence, Sir Charles Dobell and Sir Philip Chetwode, who were again directly under the orders of the Commander-in-Chief in Cairo.
The advanced troops of ‘Eastern Force,’ viz., all the available Cavalry, Horse Artillery and Camel Corps, with from one to two Divisions of Infantry, had been organised into what was called ‘The Desert Column.’ Sir Edmund Allenby decided to take command of the troops in the Eastern Field himself. The available Infantry was formed into two Army Corps, and the Cavalry of the Desert Column was formed into a Cavalry Corps of three Divisions (subsequently increased to four on the arrival of the Indian Cavalry from France early in 1918). The name of the original Desert Column was preserved as far as possible in the title of the new Cavalry Corps, as most of the troops composing it had fought throughout the Sinai Campaign, and by them much had already been accomplished. The Turk had been driven from the vicinity of the Suez Canal, across[Pg ix] the Sinai Desert to the Palestine Border and beyond, and several hard-won battles had been fought. Also, covered by these operations, a railway and pipe line had been constructed, without which, under modern conditions, the further invasion of Palestine could not have been attempted.