IN THE PROMISED LAND
Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Marshall
This relaxed scene was inspired by the descriptions of Ion Idriess of the 5th Light Horse Regiment as his squadron entered the Promised Land.
First he describes hearing rumours of unbelievable delights ahead, while his squadron is still in the depths of the sandy desert;
"January....The whole desert column is excited. A Light Horse patrol came in saying they had ridden over miles and miles of green grass. We don't believe it. We know no particulars; our squadron is isolated so many miles away from the troops...this afternoon ,we hear that the 1st Light Horse Brigade made a reconnaissance to the big village of Sheik Zowaid, halfway to Raffa from El Arish. Rafa is the border, the Turks have strong redoubts there. The men bring back strange tales of having seen a plain of grass...Anyway he bought back a dozen hens from the sheikh, and hens lay eggs. We don't believe it. "
...They tell us when they crossed the wadi(old river-bed)at El Arish that it was in brown flood - "spate" the Arabs call it. We are beginning to think, what with grass and floods and hen's eggs, that we will soon be in the land of "milk and honey". p172, 173 ,THE DESERT COLUMN, Ion Idriess
Then follows their, and their horses reaction to arriving in the Promised Land themselves.
"February24th-...The desert became harder. Excitement rippled amongst us...Presently from the screen away out in front floated a wild shout...Men in the screen stood in their stirrups ; they turned and waved, pointing excitedly. Surely they must see the Turkish cavalry. We rode on, curious as possible. Presently came shouts at the head of the column - men were standing in their stirrups and pointing across the desert. Our horses pressed on. Then we saw them. Scarlet poppies! Wild flowers and scarlet poppies. They might have been born of the very love of Anthony and Cleopatra; we though them as wonderful as if they had been. Could this really be the end of this everlasting desert! p177, THE DESERT COLUMN, Ion Idriess
We gazed toward Khan Yunis. A low ridge sprinkled with trees...Miles of small ridges under a carpet of grass, the flats and hollows a foot deep in wheat and barley. And poppies, daisies, lilies, irises, cornflowers (I hadn't seen these since I was a boy), pimpernels, buttercups, and sweet flowers no one knew.
We forgot all about fight until-crack! crack! crack! plip-plop, plip-plop, plip-plop. All the fields were covered with Bedouins ,some running hot haste toward villages, others gazing at these strange white horsemen on the skyline, others hurrying flocks of goats, cattle, or camels towards the grim fortifications of Shellal. Dotted along the flats were date groves, and men were there too. Cultivation, flowers everywhere, intense blue sky, a lark singing, We were in the Promised Land.
Our horses had gone mad - the sound of their chewing was one mighty crunch, crunch, crunch. They nosed their master out of the way as he stood before them holding the reins, a man was continually being pushed and nosed and nudged off the grass." p179, THE DESERT COLUMN, Ion Idriess