12 November 1916 – “Too many Christians”

Back in June 1916, the “Grand Sherif” of Mecca had finally started the long awaited revolt against the Turks by putting together a large force of Arabs and had attacked various Turkish outposts in the Hejaz. The British have been encouraging this for a while in the hope of tying down Turkish troops and preventing them from being used against the Suez Canal.

By 10 July, Mecca had fallen to the rebels. In response the Turks started to bring reinforcements down to Medina by the Hejaz Railway and threatened to attack Mecca. Their progress was slowed, by continuous raiding of the railway and their convoys by Bedouins. The Turkish forces pushed slowly southwards nevertheless, and looked likely to reach Rabegh and use this as a base for an attack on Mecca.
In September 1916 the “Grand Sherif” wrote to the British Government for air support to assist in their revolt against the Turks, particularly in locating and assessing the size of Turkish forces. The British agreed and “C” Flight of 14 Squadron RFC gathered in Suez and was fitted and equipped for service in Arabia. On 14 October the flight, under Captain Vaudrey Adolph Albrecht MC, set sail for Arabia in the SS Georgian along with a with a company of the Bedfordshire Regiment who were to act as an aerodrome guard.

Two weeks earlier the commander of 14 Squadron, Major Edgar James Bannatyne DSO, had travelled to Rabegh to reconnoitre a landing ground. .He joined the Georgian on 17 October at Rabegh, but the whole expedition was ordered back to Cairo that day on account of their being “too many Christians” in the expeditionary force.

A month passed and the Turks continued to advance. The British decided enough was enough. “C” Flight was readied again and today embarked on the El Kahira for Arabia. This force is a little smaller this time and accompanied by Egyptian troops instead. In addition, Major Arthur Justin Ross DSO has taken command of “C” Flight. It is hoped that the fact that he speaks Arabic will help smooth over relations.

With Major Ross is his second in command Lieutenant Thomas Henderson, pilots – Captain Cyril James Bevan and Lieutenants Ernest Ayscoghe Floyer and Hugh Alexander Fordham, and observers – Lieutenants John Noel Wilkinson, William Scott Reid, David Norris Thomson, Guy Archibald Forrest and John Charles Watson. Also accompanying the expedition are Equipment Officers Lieutenants William George Stafford and Thomas Field Tomlinson.

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One thought on “12 November 1916 – “Too many Christians”

  1. sethspeirs Post author

    14 Squadron provided air support for the operations in Arabia and Major Ross was unsuprisingly friendly with T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia). On returning to the UK, Ross is believed to have donated his RFC wristwatch to Lawrence to assist in plotting his route across the desert to Akaba. Lawrence kept the watch for the rest of his life and it is now in the Omega museum in Switzerland.

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