The Canal being Britain's lifeline to India, it had already been decided even before Turkey's entry into the War that Imperial forces (Indian, Australian, and New Zealand in this case) earmarked for France would train in Egypt. They would therefore be available to defend the Canal if it was threatened. Once Turkey joined the War, it was decided to station some of them there and deploy them for use in the region. A Territorial Division, the 42nd (East Lancashire) were sent out from Britain as well.
|Gen. Sir John Maxwell|
The incident I want to talk about today occurred only two days after Zeki was transferred and well before Djemal had reached Syria, and it did not involve Ottoman regulars. On November 20, a small force of the Bikaner (or Bikanir) Camel Corps was attacked by mounted, pro-Turkish bedouin in the Sinai only about 20 miles east of the Canal.
|Bikaner Camel Corps in Egypt|
|Gen. Maharaja Sir Ganja Singh|
The actual clash on November 20 was a minor one, a patrol of 20 men of the Camel Corps attacked by about 200 mounted bedouin. Here's the account in the British Official History:
Meanwhile, on the 16th November, the Indian troops destined for the defence of Egypt reached Suez, and battalions were moved as quickly as possible to Ismailia and Port Said. Major-General A. Wilson, arrived from India, was appointed G.O.C. Canal Defences. The Sirhind Brigade was relieved and sailed on the 23rd to rejoin its division in France. At the same time Sir J. Maxwell was informed of Lord Kitchener's project of bringing the Australian and New Zealand contingents to Egypt for war training. The intention was to send them later to France, but temporarily they would be available as reserves in Egypt, where their appearance would undoubtedly impress public opinion.The map below shows the location of the attack at Bir al-Nuss, about 20 miles east of Qantara on the road to al-‘Arish.Though nothing more would happen on this front until January, the attack on British Empire forces just 20 miles from the Canal was a warning, and Britain began to strengthen the Canal defenses.
On the 20th November occurred the first hostilities. A patrol of 20 men of the Bikanir Camel Corps, under Captain A. J. H. Chope, was attacked at Bir en Nuss, 20 miles east of Qantara, by 200 Bedouin, who approached it under a white flag. The party extricated itself creditably, though with casualties amounting to more than half its numbers. Unfortunately this affair proved that the loyalty of the camel troopers of the Egyptian Coastguard, several of whom accompanied the Bikanirs as guides, was extremely doubtful, since they allowed themselves to be made prisoners in a manner virtually amounting to desertion.