20 March Rutherford and McNamara
Out in Palestine, further preparations are proceeding for an attack on the new enemy positions. The Royal Flying Corps is making daily tactical reconnaissances of the defences at Gaza, Abu Hureira, and Beersheba. These have been photographed and from the photographs trench maps prepared.
The construction of a branch railway line from the main line at Et Tine through El Qastine towards Gaza was closely followed, and the course of the railway from Sheria to Junction station was plotted. Bombing attacks were made on Junction station, on Ramie aerodrome, and on various points along the railway north of the Wadi el Hesi.
Today, during one of these attacks, Lieutenant Frank Herbert McNamara, an Australian officer of No. 67 (Australian) Squadron, was involved in an action rescuing Captain D W Rutherford, for which he received the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to a flying officer in the Middle East. McNamara’ diary notes:
“Two BE2e’s (Rutherford and Drummond), two Martinsydes (Les Ellis and self). We each took six 4.5 Howitzer shells (35lbs) to bomb a section of railway just across WADI HESSE. Shells had delay action of 40 seconds.Ellis started bombing railway and when a Hun appeared turned his attention to it. I followed him dropping 3 on train and 2 on railway. No.5 exploded prematurely wounding me in the right buttock. Planes ripped about but engine unhurt. Dropped two smoke bombs for other machines and started off home. Looked again at railway curve and saw Rutherford (2c) on ground with the smoke bomb out. Lots of smoke about. Turkish cavalry approaching 2c near railway. Switched off, landed and taxied up to Rutherford. Latter trying to burn his machine at fuselage. Yelled him to hurry. He ran up and climbed on to engine cowl in between centre bay. Opened up, turned around and started to take off. Right leg pretty dud. Machine doing about 35 mph on ground when started swinging to left. Could not counter with right foot. Swung around crashing prop, lower left plane and undercarraige. Got out fired bullet into petrol tank followed with Very Light. Rifle fire from the Turks. Started to Rutherfords BE which was not on fire yet. In landing he had ripped off a tyre, broken centre section wires, cracked a longeron, dropped a lewis drum under rudder bar. Just now the remaining 35lb shell exploded! Blowing Martinsyde to pieces. Leg pretty dud and bullets whizzing about. Reached Rutherfords machine. Sat in pilots seat, enticed stuff from under rudder bar. Rutherford gave prop a swing ‘Contact’ and she started. He jumped into observers seat. Turned machine around to take off. Opened up throttle. She stuck 3 times on soft ground, then lifted off ground. Just in time to escape rush. Nearly fainted on way back. Put wind up Rutherford. Took about 1hr 20min to reach 143. Landed alright – 3 bombs still on rack. Evacuated on Hospital train 7.15 pm.”