With the 7th Light Horse at Nalin
George Lambert: Gallipoli and Palestine Landscapes, Exhibition
The war diaries for the Light Horse have gone online and I have been madly scanning the pages for references to Lambert's travels during 1918 and 1919. Lambert was accompanied by experienced Light Horse officers and fortunately there are a couple of references to him in the diaries. Lambert stayed with the 7th Light Horse Regiment for 5 days from 18 to 22 February when they were stationed along the front line at Nalin. Most interesting for me is that the diary for the regiment records Lambert's arrival and provides an insight into the activities the artist would have witnessed.
The regiment had moved up to Nalin from its rest camp at Wady Hanein on 4 February and relieved the Canterbury Mounted Rifles. On 18 February just before Lambert arrived they were visited by the Brigadier General (Sir Granville de laune Ryrie) commanding the 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade who arrived by motor car: "They inspected the position and work which had been done here and were well satisfied with the work carried out." (war diary 18 February 1918) Shortly after, Lambert and three other men from headquarters arrived and over the next few days the artist made sketches of what was going on around him.
The 7th Light Horse's position was close to the small village of Nalin and, although the local residents were told to stay away, Arabs often wandered through the lines as they tried to go about their regular business. On 20 February Lambert made a drawing of a party of Arabs taken in for questioning. The incident report stated: "They said the Turks had ordered them to go to Nablus, but they decided to come back through the lines." Two men were taken on to Ramleh for further questioning while the others were allowed to proceed on their donkeys.
Although this was considered the front line the 7th only saw sporadic action; during the day the regiment observed any movement by the Turkish troops and at night patrolled the line. Patrols went out to reconnoitre the ground and locate water supplies and occasionally those in the line shot at passing Turkish planes. The daily routine also included rifle range and target practice. Most of the men were engaged in constructing and improving roads, digging trenches and reinforcing the sangars - fortified positions built from rock that served as observation posts and sniper positions. Material to reinforce the sangars was in short supply so they quarried and blasted stone. Travelling around the site on horseback, Lambert made sketches of the quarrying activities and two oil studies of the troops in the sangars.
Jebel Saba, near Nalin was painted on 21 February - a rainy day according to the unit diary. It shows troops in an observation post. Set amongst boulders and weathered limestone outcrops, Lambert has included the smaller details of the landscape - the cacti, an ancient tree and a spot of red, perhaps indicating a flower - to convey the essence of the landscape the troops inhabited. His other oil sketch Front line sangar, with the 7th Light Horse gives us a close up view of how the sangar was constructed and its prominent position in the landscape. The war diary notes that the walls of the sangars were about 8 feet thick at the bottom tapering to 4 feet at the top and inside there was a trench which was blasted out of the rocks.
On 20 February Colonel John Arnott, commander of the training centre at Moascar, visited the regiment. Lambert made a quick pencil sketch of Arnott meeting with officers in their mess - basically a makeshift table set up in a small cave or tomb. Lambert also made more detailed studies of the commander of the 7th, Lieutenant-Colonel George Macarthur-Onslow and Lieutenant Clive Holland the officer who compiled the diary entries.
On 22 February - another rainy day - George Lambert is noted as leaving the 7th Light Horse at Nalin to report to divisional headquarters at Jerusalem. The 7th Australian Light Horse Regiment was relieved just over a week later on 7 March 1918.