Nir Moshe Forest: The Yeomanry Regiments Route

This scenic dirt road links two sites with strong connections to military campaigns waged in the Land of Israel during the First World War

  • Geographic location-

    Northern and western Negev
  • Area-

  • Target audience-

  • Track length-

    4 km
  • Track type-

    Walking path
  • Difficulty-

  • Season-

  • Duration-

    1-2 hours
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks

General information

Type of route: A trail suitable for vehicles of all types, including private cars.
Length of route: Approximately 4 kilometers
Departure point: The gate of Moshav Nir Moshe
Finishing point: Route no. 334, adjacent to the Sycamore Ranch (Anemone Hill)
Map: The Negev Coastal Plain excursion map with marked footpaths (sheet no. 13)

Guided tours of the area (for groups, for a fee): The Society for the Heritage of World War I in Israel recommends its member Reuven Geffen, who is a resident of Moshav Nir Moshe, as a tour guide. He can be contacted at 052-2782276.

Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 or email for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.

About Nir Moshe Forest

The Nir Moshe Community Forest is a smallish woodland that extends over 923 dunam (approx. 230 acres) as part of the Western Negev’s Shovalim Forest. In the 1950s KKL-JNF began planting this widely dispersed greenwood along the shallow loess channels characteristic of the area in order to prevent rainfall from eroding the soil and damaging cultivated farmland. Planting was resumed in the 1990s, and today the woodland consists mainly of different varieties of eucalypt, cypress, jujube and tetraclinis, a North African conifer similar to the cypress. In the gullies, where water is comparatively plentiful, West Australian golden wattle (Acacia saligna), which is considered an invasive species, flourishes. Here and there the planters have added an occasional specimen of carob, tamarisk, sycamore and casuarina.

Nir Moshe Forest takes its name from nearby Moshav Nir Moshe. Thanks to donations from KKL-JNF Switzerland and local community efforts, the woodland has undergone a facelift and an upgrade and roads negotiable by private cars, two recreation areas, signposts and scenic-lookout seats have all been added. Between late January and mid-February visitors can enjoy the sight of innumerable anemones in flower.

KKL-JNF has recently laid a road from the entrance to Moshav Nir Moshe to “Anemone Hill” on the Sderot-Ruhama highway (Route no. 334). This area was the site of fierce fighting during the First World War at the Battle of Huj, in which British Yeomanry Cavalry played a decisive role, and the route, which is suitable for private cars, is today known as the Yeomanry Cavalry Road.

Eran Tirosh, chairman of the Society for the Heritage of World War I in Israel – which works together with KKL-JNF on sites that provide information about the Great War that concluded the Ottoman chapter in the history of the Land of Israel and ushered in the British Mandate – writes in this article about the battle that raged at the site.

The Yeomanry Regiments Route

The 3.7-kilometer dirt road connects two sites that offer panoramic views and history related to the period of military combat in this region during World War I, when the British and Ottoman empires confronted each other. Explanatory signs in different parts of Israel today recount some of the events of this war, and now the Yeomanry Regiments Route adds hitherto little-known information about this period.

Who were the Yeomanry?

The Yeomanry were units in the British army, a few of which still survive today to take pride in their glorious heritage. Originally, from the end of the 18th century onwards, the Yeomanry were voluntary regional cavalry units and formed part of the Territorial Force that defended Britain on its home ground. The term “yeomanry” comes from the social class to which these cavalrymen belonged: a yeoman generally was a small farmer who owned his land and belonged to a middle class much admired for its skill and hard work – and, indeed, the word is still used today: expressions such as “he did yeoman service” bear lasting testimony to the esteem in which these farmers were held. Yeomanry officers were drawn from the nobility and local gentry. The Yeomanry units active in the Land of Israel came from the English counties of Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

Military deployment on Anemone Hill in 1917

Early in 1917, the forces of the British Empire and its allies completed their conquest of the Sinai Peninsula and arrived at the gates of Palestine. After two British defeats in battles around Gaza in March-April 1917, the front line was now in the Nahal Besor area, where it remained for about six months. During this period significant organizational changes were made to both armies.

General Edmund Allenby replaced General Archibald Murray at the head of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (this was the official name of the multi-national army composed of soldiers from the British Commonwealth and other allies who fought under British command against the Ottoman army in Palestine). Allenby breathed new life into the forces under his command, received reinforcements and reorganized the troops. Among other things, he created a framework for cavalry in the form of the Desert Mounted Corps, some of whose units took part in the battle fought in the environs of what is now Moshav Nir Moshe.

Friedrich Kress von Kressenstein commanded the Ottoman forces that had successfully defended Gaza in March and April of 2017. The Ottoman army, too (which included both German and Austro-Hungarian forces), made major structural changes: reinforcements were brought in and the troops reorganized as the Yildirim (“Lightning” in Turkish) Corps under the command of General Erich von Falkenhayn. Two new armies – the seventh and the eighth – were created, and Kress von Kressenstein was placed at the head of the Eighth Army in the western sector of the front.

Anemone Hill: The headquarters of the Ottoman Eighth Army

Kress von Kressenstein changed the location of his headquarters several times. Initially, before the formation of the Yildirim Corps, his command post was in Beersheba. After the fighting in Gaza, however, reasoning that the Gaza area would continue to be the principal theater of activity, he transferred his HQ to Tel Shari‘a (Tel Shara, around 4 kilometers to the northwest of Mishmar HaNegev). In July 1917, in the wake of repeated bombing attacks from the air, Von Kressenstein moved his command center once again, to the environs of the village of Huj (Khirbet Khoja on Google Maps), to the west of Anemone Hill.

The new command post consisted of tents. A railway line was laid to the site, with an airstrip alongside so that German pilots who patrolled above the British lines could land beside the HQ and report their findings at once to Von Kressenstein. However, the Huj command post was too close to the front line, and Von Kressenstein feared that a successful British attack and a resulting forced Ottoman retreat would leave him unable to command his forces efficiently. Accordingly, at the end of September, only three months or so after the move to Huj, he moved his HQ once again, this time to the environs of Huliqat (near Heletz). The Huj area continued nonetheless to operate as an important logistics center for the Ottoman forces – and this fact links us to the Yeomanry Cavalry’s attack on the area of Nir Moshe Forest and the moshav of the same name, to the south of Huj.

The Egyptian Expeditionary Force’s attack in southern Palestine

On October 31st, 1917, Allenby’s troops attacked the Ottoman front at Beersheba. After the capture of the township, the Ottoman forces retreated slightly to the north, to the strong line of fortifications they had established along the Nahal Grar gully and its tributaries, and blocked the continuation of the British advance. This stubborn stand by the Ottoman defenders delayed the Egyptian Expeditionary Force’s progress by about a week, and not until November 6th-7th did the British manage to break through the line of fortified compounds and occupy it. The Ottomans, together with German and Austro-Hungarian units, renewed their retreat northwards towards Nahal Shikma (Wadi al-Hasi). Their rearguard troops continued to fight a delaying action against the British to allow the Ottomans to retreat in an orderly manner and give them time to evacuate their camps and compounds such as Huj.

Nir Moshe Forest: The scene of the 5th Yeomanry Mounted Brigade Charge at Huj

On November 8th the British 60th (London) Division advanced toward Huj while the Ottomans were busy evacuating their forces and large quantities of equipment. Anything they could not take with them they destroyed, including wells. At around 2 pm the British advance was halted by heavy artillery fire from a ridge to the south of Huj, and division commander General Shea appealed for help from nearby cavalry.

This mounted force, which formed part of the Australian Mounted Division’s 5th Yeomanry Mounted Brigade, consisted of some 170 cavalrymen from the two British Yeomanry regiments of Worcestershire and Warwickshire. They faced Ottoman, German and Austro-Hungarian cannons covered by around 300 infantry armed with rifles and machine guns.

The cavalry surged into action at once, even though they had no auxiliary fire at the time. Making skillful use of the terrain, part of the small British force advanced to the flank, where it split up into sections, one of which attacked a nearby Ottoman infantry force before pouncing on some of the cannons (all this took place in the area of Nir Moshe Forest). The other section launched a frontal attack and, with swords drawn, fell upon the main area of gunners (to the west of the moshav). Both sides sustained heavy losses. Some 50% of the attackers suffered injury during the offensive, and 26 men and 100 horses were killed. During the fighting 11 cannons and a number of machine guns fell into British hands. This daring attack by the Yeomanry Cavalry to the south of Huj, which is mentioned in all books that describe the fighting in Palestine, was immortalized in a famous painting by Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler).

An excursion along the Yeomanry Regiments Route

At the entrance to Moshav Nir Moshe, turn northwards and follow the signs to the Yeomanry Regiments Route. After 200 meters you will come to a junction. If you choose to begin your excursion with a picnic, you can turn left here, and 150 meters further on you will arrive at a disabled-accessible recreation area that offers drinking-water facilities.

Should you choose to drive straight on along the Yeomanry Regiments Route, after 100 meters you will arrive at David Yasur’s Wind Chimes sculpture, which consists of a wooden frame standing on a base of pinkish gravel. Fourteen metal tubes of varying lengths are suspended xylophone-style from the frame, interspersed with seven round clappers. When the wind blows, the clappers strike the pipes and play a pleasant tune.

The road continues northwards, running alongside Nir Moshe forest to the left. After about 900 meters you will arrive at a small parking lot and a very short disabled-accessible path that climbs up to a wide seat hidden among the trees. This is a wonderful spot to rest, to contemplate the surrounding wheat fields and to remember those cavalrymen who stormed the Ottoman positions.

From here we drive for another 2.5 kilometers among the wheat fields that stretch from one side of the horizon to the other and park at a spot where the road bends to the left, just before Route no. 334. From this point we can climb on foot to the top of Anemone Hill (there is an “official” opening in the gate in the fence). In the past this hill was topped by a building dedicated to Nebi Huj. Today, instead, within a fenced plot, lie Israel’s eleventh prime minister Ariel Sharon and his wife Lily.

The village of Huj was situated slightly west of this point, at Khirbet Khoja. Prickly-pear hedges and sycamore trees mark the site. The village’s name would appear to be an Arabic version of “Oga,” a town that appears on the 6th century Madaba map. The Arab village was founded in the early 19th century. After its capture in Israel’s War of Independence, its population was evacuated.